Business Advice

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!


In search of conversations

In these days of online conversations - aka Social Media Tools - many businesses are engaging with their prospects and clients on the Internet. Through blogs - which I prefer to call dynamic and interactive web sites = "blog-sites" - YouTube, Facebook, MyBlogLog, LinkedIn, various forums and Twitter.

In December and January I dipped my toes in the Twitter world, in search for mini conversations: twittering or tweeting to followers in 140 characters. And on 21 January I had enough and 'untweeted' myself. The post I wrote about it focussed on what I experienced as seeing only one side of the conversation. I didn't get it.

February saw an avalanche of white papers, blog-articles, free reports and even handbooks on how Twitter is working for so many businesses. And as many of you know I'm never averse of publishing comments left, right and center about my own experiences. The avalanche became so thick and quick I almost decide I didn't even want to 'get it'.

This decision was halted at the end of last week.

Martin Malden - the WealthyDragon - wrote: "Is Twitter the New List?" on his blog Creating an Awesome Home Business. And low and behold, someone else had already left a comment that reflected my own feelings towards the subject.

"I can see this approach working for a very large company. It’s free and easy to blast a short message to throngs of people. If they pick up on it, great. If not, who cares?

For a home business, this just isn’t the case. You’re trying to establish deeper relationships with less people and I just don’t see that happening in 140 characters. Quality versus quantity."

Chris O - Referral Key - Your Trusted Referral Network

I followed suit with my own comments on list building. And a very interesting discussion started, listing experiences and 'tactics' about using Twitter for list building.

The 'tactics' - in the best meaning of the word - Martin listed made me think. Specially when he talked about using Twitter's search function on specific keywords to find other Twitters asking questions on subjects Martin feels he can help with.

Questionmark So, what if you forget about Twitter as "conventional" Age of Conversation Tool and use it as a "finding Tool" for those in need of your expertise? The search on keywords can be rss-feeded into any 'blog-reader'.
Instead of watching the one side of conversations of those you follow, you use Twitter to contact the Twittee (?) who asked the question. You offer help in the form of a link to an article, blog-post or even, as Martin frequently does, write a whole new article/post to address the question.

Now, that's in my 'conventional' web-marketing eyes a perfect way to build a list and start a conversational relationship with new leads, prospects and clients in more than one way and in more than 140 characters. Twitter as start, not as "only on".

Don't you just love it when inventions turn into an innovation

"So are you saying that invention is merely the creation of some technology, but that the innovation is the idea of applying it to a previously unexploited market?"
Arthur M Gallagher

I can see that work for every small business: turning the invention Twitter, the mini-blog tool, into the innovation for finding those in need of your expertise/knowledge/experiences and as start of the relationship building conversation. Now that's what I do get.

You know what's funny (in my eyes at least)? I only realised this through an 'old fashion' multi-contributors discussion in the comment box of Martin's blog. Would the same have happened through mini-blogs of 140 characters?

Directions Next project: setting up a new Twitter account for Wood You Like and we'll be in search for those needing help on all matters related to wooden flooring. Our FAQ & News site (aka business blog) has plenty of useful articles already we can direct them to and if needed we will write a special post for the answer.


A new hobby horse: Web 2.0 for community building or growing your business?

Web20 Coming back to a recent article on the Kiss2 blog-site: Calling a spade a spade and some recent blog posts I read from well-known A-list bloggers.

To most bloggers, specially those who are deeply involved in social media communities, a blog should mainly be used to create a community. Conform to the expectations of Web 2.0

As a ‘brick and mortar’ company director and owner of various blog-sites I have a very different idea about what a blog can be. In that recent article mentioned above I consider any accessible entity on the world wide web as a ‘web-presence’, also those created on a blog-platform.

A web-presence build on a blog-platform is an effective marketing tool – a very simple, self-manageable tool that so easy gathers visitors to it – due to its embedded search-engine friendliness – and drives qualified traffic to your (if you have/need one)  ‘static’ website and/or webshop.

For small businesses – be it "brick and mortar" or services – it is not specifically about building a community that Web 2.0 advocates have in mind; it’s about growing your business by building trust.

Building trust by writing articles about your products, services. Written with – if I may be so bold – an educational value in mind: explaining to your web presence visitors in all honesty when, where and why your product/service might be the most suitable for them at that specific moment in time or later.

Educational because that’s what the world-wide-web is used for too: searching for information, specially when looking for new products/services to purchase. Perhaps that’s the most significant reason most ‘surfers’ (or is that a too much out-dated term?) start up their browsers for: looking for information.

And write in all honesty, because that’s nowadays also a very significant feature – if not the most significant for most of us - of the world-wide-web: almost every statement about your product, service you make can be checked against other statements, reviews by users or respected web journalists. Tell a porky nowadays and you’ll be ridiculed/told off/slapped on the wrist/loose credibility in no time at all! There are many global brands out there who know how true – and painful – it is by not taking this aspect of the world-wide-web for granted.

Building trust, because no matter how much information is out there on the world-wide-web, everyone will still look up to the ‘expert’, to the one who turns information into knowledge – and is very willing to share his/her knowledge to all who come looking for it.

And using a blog-platform - that self-manageable, search-engine friendly, simple to set-up, use and edit to your own likings, plus enormously interactive if you choose so – to establish all points mentioned above is IMHO the best ‘invention’ the Web 2.0 brought us as one of the most effective and powerful marketing tools any small business could ask for.

It is a rather low-instep media also. Anyone who is able to create a Word-document can write and publish an article on a blog-platform. A media that doesn’t need extra hosting, specific web-design or HTML-coding knowledge (if you do have those it can only work to your advantage but it is absolutely not a pre), can be edited by yourself without having to spend extra money (and time to explain your ideas to) a web design business.

It’s like using follow-up messages to any of your prospects and existing clients: if you don’t use this honest and effective marketing tool you’re definitely leaving money on the table. In these economical different times perhaps even more than ever.

Yes, I know. This is turning into a kind of ‘hobby horse’ of mine, but as managing director of a small brick & mortar business and owner of 7 blog-sites I see the positive results of using a blog-platform to grow your business on a daily basis.

I definitely plan to write more about this particular ‘hobby horse’ of mine in the near future and have already written other articles on using blogs and webmarketing to grow your business in a simple, effective and honest way. If you like you can pop-in your name and email address in the top right corner to subscriber to the free and ever growing number of articles. They will land in your inbox at regular intervals, so you can learn and use them on your own pace.

Greetings from the 1 plus 1 makes 3 experts

Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)


How far should you take email-marketing?

As businesses we would like to contact as many (targeted) prospects as possible, knowing the statistics that only a small percentage will end up as one of our new paying clients.

I'm highly in favour of email-marketing, as long as it is based on Permission Marketing, because it can be so cost-effective and automated. Our own business (retail wooden flooring) uses this method daily and with great results.

There are however companies who IMHO take email marketing a step too far (make that a whole mile!), and I think it'll do exactly the opposite of what they're trying to achieve.

Last week I received an email apparently from my sister-in-law in The Netherlands. Translated it goes like this:
Hi info (part of my email address before the @), xxxxxx (my sister-in-law's name without a space between first and surname) sends you this message to videomail together. Through the weblink below you can send your video-message to xxxxxxx. And then you will receive a video-message from xxxxx back as soon as possible.

Regards
xxxxxxxx

When I checked out what this was all about I ended up the landing page: Welcome to invite.net (in Dutch uitnodigingen.net). There it states that as soon as I agree to the condition I can send my sister-in-law the promised free video-message.
The condition: At the same time all your MSM-contacts will receive a request to send you a video-message.

And absolutely no way around it, no opt-out box like "I don't want you to contact my contacts, I will send them an invite myself if and only if I think they would be interested in what I'm about to discover can be done with your program. At the moment I still have many doubts if it's really worthwhile to trouble them."

No wonder that email-marketing is still fighting to get rid of its bad (just spam) name! I gracefully declined the offer to send my sister-in-law a video-message; we have other, more practical and ethical ways to do so.
Wonder how many 'contacts' will take the trouble to have all their contacts spammed with a ridiculous promise.

If you, as business owner or marketing manager, want to start off on the right foot when exploring the possibilities of mass-targeting prospects - whatever good it will do - give at least an opt-out option. You might end up with a larger number of prospects.

A better way of course is to make sure you only target qualified leads instead of mass-targeting. The more qualified your target (i.e. already looking for a product or service you can supply), the more he/she will take you up on your offer. And then a whole worthwhile, honest, ethical relationship can start. No trickery needed.

Greetings from the 1 plus 1 makes 3 experts

Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)


Automated 'snail-mail'

Email marketing, when done ethical and effectively, is a great way to turn qualified leads into prospects into clients. It gives you the ultimate chance to build up trust with your leads and prospects who will - if you do your job correctly - start to recognise your as the 'expert', as the only business that can solve their problems.

A mistake made by many businesses is dropping the conversation once the prospect turns into a client. The only message then received by your valued client are invoices. Strange not? You've put so much effort into converting your prospect into a paying client, written interesting messages to him/her, promised high quality products and/or services, answered all the questions they might have had and took away any remaining doubt. And then, when they hand over their first cheque most businesses just simply ignore them further.
Or if the client is lucky he will receive a monthly general newsletter or leaflet with offers (still better than nothing at all).

It is proven that regular contact between your business and existing clients improves the relationship, extends the time they are your clients and hence extends/improves their life-time value to your business. Email is easy and can be very cost-effective but don't forget the normal, sometimes disrespectful named 'snail-mail'. Receiving a real letter through the letter-box is in the eyes of most of your clients regarded as a great, personalised way to hear from you.

You've got Mail!

And regular contact with your highly valued clients can, like email marketing, be automated very simple. As with automated email marketing your dedicated existing client messages can be a logical sequence of interesting and worthwhile additions (the follow-up messages through AWeber come to mind, where with every message you tell and explain more to your prospect).

Every time we - supply and installation of wooden flooring - finish a particular job the end-date of that job is noted in our CRM-system (customer relationship management, part of our accounting package Mamut Enterprice3). This system allows you to design/create 'templates' you can mail-merge with address details of a selected group of clients. Again, like with AWeber, you create the content once but the CRM-system merges it time after time into a interesting, worthwhile and personalised message from you to your client.
We inform our clients regularly this way: 4 weeks after the wood floor is delivered to remind them of the maintenance care they should give their new floor-covering, 6 months later again etc. Automated, all we have to do is select the group of clients (sometimes just one client) to receive the next message in the predetermined sequence.
We do sell an awful lot of maintenance products and even maintenance services this way: simple add-ons so easily forgotten by many other businesses.

Greetings from the 1 plus 1 makes 3 experts

Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)