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August 2009

Webinar: Using a blog for your website and ecommerce

The Small Business Blogs division of Typepad regularly organises Free Webinars with Andy Wibbles.

The next one on August 26 relates perfectly to my latest post on Why I Use Typepad for Business "Blogging":

Using a blog for your website and ecommerce - Learn how to use your blog to create a lightweight website with a product catalog integrated with PayPal or other ecommerce systems. Time: 11.00am PST = 7pm BST
(Follow the link to register for free)

If you can't make it, the recording of the webinar will be published later - as soon as it's up I will tell you where to go for it.

Side-note: don't think I agree with the term "lightweight" website though ;-)


Why I use Typepad for business "blogging"

I've lost count of how often it is asked (anywhere: forums, twitter, off line) which blog platform a small business can best use. Plenty of choices out there: from paid for online software, self-hosted 'free' software, free and hosted by software creator, to small and rather unknown WYSIWYG software.
Typepad, Blogger, WordPress.com (free and hosted by WP) and WordPress.org (self hosted 'free' software) are the four most well know and most used platforms. I always discard Blogger and WordPress.com because of the limits they have - when used as web presence for small businesses - which leaves Typepad and WordPress.org.

As with everything online: you have raving fans for the one and equally raving fans for the other option. This review will focus on my own personal experiences with both platforms and why I recommend Typepad for business owners who want/need an easy to use, SEO ready and quick to edit/add platform.

Why would any business use a blog?

Why would any business use a blog 

So far I've come up with 7 key reasons, see here for the long version

  1. You're in control - always (not your web designer or IT department)
  2. Better Listings On Google (BLOG)
  3. It works in real simple syndication with online directories (RSS)
  4. Notify your prospects/clients of new content instantly (email marketing)
  5. Interact with your website visitors (throught the comment box)
  6. Combine static website and "blog" on one platform (fixed page as 'front page')
  7. Become known as "The Expert" (build trust by publishing good content in abundance)

No matter what type of business you are in, service or products, using a blog (or as I prefer to call it: a dynamic and interactive webpresence) is one of the fastest ways to grow your presence online in a sustainable and none-time consuming way. It depends on the amount of time you want to spend and your knowledge of IT, CSS and HTML which of the two most used blog platforms will suit you and your business best: "paid for" Typepad or self-hosted "free" WordPress.org.

Why Typepad?

Why Typepad 

Let's face it: Typepad (from Six Apart) is a "paid for" blog platform starting from $ 49.50 annually (+ £ 32.00) I normally recommend to opt for at least the Plus account for more functionality, although IMHO the Pro account gives you even more, such as creating you own template (without having to know much about CSS or html)
The software of WordPress.org is free to download, but you have to have your own domain, hosting and FTP access to set it up, the reason why I always place "quote marks" around the word free where it concerns this platform.

With a Typepad account the hosting is included where your account name is part of the domain name, e.g. http://woodyoulike.typepad.com/furniture/ From the Plus account on you can domain map any of your blogs on your own registered domain name (without the need of having FTP access) e.g. www.woodyoulikefurniture.co.uk
Or "mapping" your blog to a subdomain of your main domain will change the http://woodyoulike.typepad.com/tips/ to faq.woodyoulike.co.uk

Another pro for opting for Typepad is the included Technical Support that comes with any account type. Besides an extensive knowledge base you can submit tickets to the support team and it is my experience these are quickly and adequately addressed and answered.
WordPress.org is a free open source which has "how to" documentation on many items and forums on various subjects where you can ask for help from other users. However I found 2057 pages (x 31 questions) that received no answer at all. Fortunately there are many WordPress.org users who write blog posts and even training manuals for you, like my friend Martin Malden. (expert on all things WordPress.org)
"Free" is good, but in cases where you're stuck it pays to pay for support.

Speed and ease of creating your (first) "blog"

Typepad: 10 minutes tops from starting your 14 day free trial (by creating your account), editing your design and style of your (first) "blog" using one of the 1000 plus templates Typepad offers you to publishing your first page or post. I'm pretty experienced in setting this up, but all my blog-studio students never take any longer to do the same.

I've asked my friend Martin what his best ever time was to do the same with a WordPress blog (from downloading the software, uploading it to the server your domain name is hosted on to editing the css for one of the two standard templates and publishing a first page or post): 20 minutes (and he's very experienced in this). He does state that including searching, finding, uploading (1-click install on most hosting providers), editing a different theme and getting ready to publish a first post/page a "first timer" should allow for up to one hour.

Speed and ease of creating more than one blog on a single account.

Speed and ease of creating more than one blog on a single account. 

Then there is the matter of creating a second (or third, fourth) blog (our business has two divisions: natural wooden flooring and natural wooden furniture - both with their own dedicated "blog" - and then there are various other subjects I write about  - each with their own blog, our family blog plus the community blog we manage for our village).

With Typepad Plus account you can instantly create 3 individual blogs, with the Pro account it is absolutely "limited less" - limited only by bandwidth (10GB) and storage (1000MB). All individual blogs on your account can have their own specific design and settings AND share custom made side-bar items (the typelists).

Again, I asked my friend Martin Malden if you can manage more than 1 blog on WordPress.org account as easy as with Typepad. 'Fraid not: either you have to create a WordPress account per intended blog or download and install WordPress MultiUser. The readme text of this product starts with:

"WordPress MU is a multi user version of WordPress.
If you're not comfortable editing PHP code, taking care of a complex webserver and database system and being pro-active about following developments of this project then run, don't walk, to http://wordpress.com/ and sign yourself and your friends up to free blogs. It's easier in the long run and you'll save yourself a lot of pain and angst."
Third party widgets (plug-ins): one click only

Both Typepad and WordPress.org have standard widgets and allow you to add third party widgets to your blog (of which most will end up in your side-bar). Most third parties have "quick" install options to add their widget to the three most common blog platforms: Blogger, Typepad and WordPress. Clicking the Blogger or Typepad Quick Install options sends you to your existing account and the widget is automagically added to your side-bar items. Quick install = log-in  - drag new widget to where you want it to show in the side bar (Design - Organise Content).

WordPress.org account holders are directed to an instruction manual because the widget (plug-in) has to be uploaded to the plug-in folder of their self-hosted domain and from there it can be activated through the WordPress account. Quick install = download - upload - activate - drag new widget (plug-in) to where you want it to show in the side-bar (Presentation - Widgets)

Automated improvements - new versions

Another advantage IMHO that a paid for blog platform like Typepad gives you is not having to download, upload and activate newer versions than you first started with. WordPress.org is on stable release 2.8.4 at the moment and have improved the Automatic Upgrade but you still have to deactivate all your plug-ins.
I know that plenty of WordPress.org users are still on the version they originally installed because to the 'hassle' and time involved having to go 'through it' all over again. (Friend of mine is still on version 2.2.2 and told me he truly cannot find the time to upgrade).

Typepad is constantly evolving its features, options and possibilities. Once everything is de-bugged through the Beta-team everyone having a Typepad account automagically benefits from the newer version without having to lift a finger.

SEO ready

SEO ready 

Both Typepad and WordPress.org platforms are SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) ready. To be honest the speed of how quick one of my new blogs gets indexed by Google and other search engines keeps amazing me.  My latest project had one of the posts listed on page 1 within 2 days! (On a Google.com search that brought up 5,310,000 results).

Improving search results on both platforms are easy, add relevant keywords and/or tags to your posts and pages - besides of course your overall general keywords and key phrases that are relevant to the subject of your blog. Alt Text (text behind an image or a link on your blog) can be added easily too on both platforms.

Plus all blogs come with an integrated RSS feed (Real Simple Syndication): an standardised format to easily share headlines and content online. Regard it as a "What's new on your site" automated feature. It also means your blog content is picked up by many more online services and channels than just search engines.
Side-note: 'burning' your blog feed through Feedburner gives you plenty of more options to be picked up and shared than just relying on the rss feed on its own.

Integrating a blog with a standard site in one go

Many businesses already have a website - designed and managed by a web designer - over which they hardly have any control (at least that's the complaint I hear often). Adding new content to the site takes communication between owner and designer, time from the designer and money from the business owner.
You can add a blog to any existing website and start managing your frequently to be updated content yourself. All your designer has to do is add a link on your website to the blog.

There is however a more simpler way: set up your blog as if it is your standard website (with fixed pages) and use the 'blog-index' feature as integrated blog.
Three big advantages here:

  1. total control for the business owner on content, frequency of updating and layout
  2. design and layout for both the 'standard' website and the 'blog' are exactly the same
  3. both 'standard' website and blog profit from the benefits a blog platform gives you.


A few (IMHO) fine examples:

Plumbing & Heating Service in Glasgow (note how Tony informs his potential clients about every aspect that is involved in the works without any 'hard sell') - "Need to know" is the blog-index

Better Water Solutions (again note how Peter too informs everyone about issues and even news items regarding fresh water supply to your home) - "Tips, Advice & FAQ's" is the blog-index

Community website: Lovely Charing where "What's On and News" is the blog-index informing the village and the Charing Businesses there's always something going on. Using an AWeber blog-broadcast brings every new article straight to the inbox of everyone who subscribed to the so-called blog or news-alerts.

Conclusion

Conclusion 

As said in the beginning of this article: both blog platforms have raving fans.
My own opinion is that if you are looking for:

  • a simple,
  • easy to implement and manage blog platform
  • that has standard 1000+ design templates to choose from (which all can be combined with 10 different standard lay-outs)  
  • that comes with many added extras without having to upgrade to a newer version
  • and which gives you instant results

Definitely Go for Typepad

(For business owners I recommend to opt for the Pro account, or at least the Plus account.)

Update Feb 2010:

Open a Typepad Plus or Pro account before the end of FEB 2010, enter the promocode:

RESOLVE2BLOG2010 when creating you account and receive 20% discount for life (yes, that's as long as you keep your Typepad account life).

Get A Professional Looking Blog Today!