Blogging Best PracticesLast updated Mar 24, 2006.
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If you've been following my earlier articles, you'll know that I've been focusing on blogging, on producing compelling, interesting and beneficial content for your business by using the popular weblog management tools available today.
What I haven't talked about yet, however, is best practices in the blogging world, so I thought it would be useful to spend some time exploring what makes a blog tick, how to make a blog maximally effective and how to transform your Web site into a discussion venue rather than a publishing venture.
Why You Should Allow Comments
Let's start with that last point, actually, since I think it's the crux of what makes blogging such an interesting tool for businesses: that you can finally go beyond the uninteresting "brochureware" of the typical Web site (and goodness knows enough companies have that nowadays!) and create a site that fosters and hosts a lively interaction between your customers, members of your business segment and your own employees. Think of it as a perpetual focus group or trade show party and you'll start to see why it's so much more valuable.
For a site to foster discussion, it must actually invite visitors to leave comments and empower them to do so through simple and easily understood tools. In blogging parlance, I'm talking about comments and while it's perfectly feasible for a weblog to disable comments from readers, you should think long and hard before you do so.
I liken it to the difference between walking into a party with a sign around your neck saying "I have interesting things to say. Come listen." versus having a sign saying "I have interesting things to say, and I want to hear your thoughts too!"
Having said that I encourage you to allow comments, I will hasten to add that I believe that your weblog is your personal publishing empire and that you should decide where your site will exist on the continuum between allowing anything, from spam to porn, and deleting even the most vaguely critical comments, state that editorial policy on your site and stick with it.
On my Web sites I delete about 10-20% of the comments that are submitted, usually due to incoherence or because they're clearly pranks from bored kids rather than anything that helps the discussion along. I know of other people who have far more stringent comment moderation policies, and I know of others who have business blogs but allow almost anything.
Less Easy: Include Timestamps?
Another cornerstone of common blogging practice is to have each entry timestamped with the date and time of publication, but I have to admit that I diverge from common opinion in this matter. For some weblogs, having a timestamp makes sense as it helps people judge the age of a given article or opinion. For many other blogs, however, the date of publication is irrelevant and publishing the date sets up certain expectations of publication frequency.
That's an important point best illustrated with a scenario: after doing a search, you end up on two blogs, both of which quite overtly display the date of each posting. On one, it's immediately obvious that the blogger updates their site on a daily basis, but on the other, there's an article that's two weeks old, then there's a three week gap before finding the previous article. Is one weblog necessarily better than the other? Of course not. But by including timestamps, the blog that's less frequently updated comes across as stale and out of touch, an impression that its owner surely doesn't desire.
The ideal is for that blogger to post new content with greater frequency, but that is often unrealistic for people, after all, as business people ourselves, there are plenty of other things we need to accomplish on a given day.
The solution? For some bloggers it's simply to either make the timestamp very, very subtle, or to even remove it entirely. On my parenting site, for example, I don't display timestamps on the entries because it really doesn't matter whether it's something I wrote yesteday or four months ago. Haven't received even one complaint about it.
External Links Are Good
Let's flip to something that I think is obvious, but many bloggers don't seem to realize: links to external sites that are relevant and related to a given blog entry are a very good thing and help the Web hum along happily. Don't go wild with these links, of course, making every instance of "the" a pointer to The Health Entrepreneur or similar, but if you mention a company, product, service, geographic location or person, and they have some sort of legitimate Web site or weblog, link to them.
Being generous with outbound links also encourages others to link to you more frequently, which will benefit you with search engine results too.
Frequency Of Posting
Speaking of how often to submit to your weblog, I strongly encourage clients to post 2-3 times per week. Each posting should also be at least 250 words so that there's enough content for search engines to figure out what you're really trying to say in that particular content.
On the other hand, it's better to post less frequently and ensure that each of your entries are smart, thoughtful and consistent with your business goals, so don't post for the sake of posting, because that's not going to do you any good in the big picture.
The real best practice for any weblog is to product good quality unique content with a minimum frequency of least two or three times a week. Make sure, however, that you know the focus and theme of your weblog (you do have one, right?) and that every entry you submit is consistent with your theme and helps your potential customers solve problems or decide whether to purchase your service or product.