“First they told me I needed a website, now they’re saying I need a blog. What’s the difference and what do I do?”
We hear that often from small business owners, in person and on social networks. Don’t feel bad if that’s you, because many in bigger businesses are trying to figure out the same things. Many of those still trying to figure it out have fallen behind competitors, but it’s not to late to catch up and even get back out front.
Keep in mind, though, there is not a single “right” answer that fits every business. What you need depends on your goals and strategies. A business’s presence on the web is not an end in itself but a means of accomplishing your objectives.
Some businesses don’t see a need for a standalone website or blog, using instead platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest or Google+ to conduct business. Some have found success doing so. In fact, there always seems to be someone saying websites are dead, that the other platforms are the only presence a business needs to succeed. That may happen at some point, but the internet has been declared dead at times before and seems even strong than ever today.
Blog or Website?
In some ways “blog or website” is a trick question, because a blog is a type of website, though all websites are not blogs. This can get confusing fast so we’re going to keep it straightforward.
From a technical standpoint, a blog is a type of website that is comprised of a series of articles or other content (commonly called “posts”) that is typically arranged in chronological order, such that the most recent post pushes each of the prior posts down in order.
That’s the simple definition and many blogs are just that, a series of posts to which the writers add over time. Hopefully they do, anyway, as many blogs are started but for whatever reason content stops being added after a period of time – – but that’s something to cover in a future post.
For some businesses the blog IS their website, and their full online communication with customers and potential customers. For many others, the blog is a menu item on their business website, which also contains other pages such as information about the company, product descriptions, and more.
Blog as a Conversation
Blogging success seems to come with seeing the business blog as a conversation between the business and its customers and prospective customers. While the pages on a typical website are fairly static – and too often stale – a company that takes its blog seriously updates it on a regular basis, using the blog to “talk” to visitors.
What does a company say in its blog? This is another area in which there’s no one-size-fits-all success strategy. I think the best use their blogs to show they understand customers’ needs and situation and provide a basis for customers/prospects to feel that what the company offers can help meet those needs. That doesn’t mean the blog should be a sales pitch (though it is for some). To the contrary, many avoid selling or even talking about their products directly, choosing instead to communicate their expertise to the reader – – which often leads to sales.
Conversations That are Two-Way
When we talk about conversations, interaction is key. That is part of the beauty of a blog you don’t see elsewhere in websites. Readers can talk back by commenting on what the business has expressed in the post, asking questions or even refuting what was written. Becoming engaged in a conversation with a business takes extra work by customers and thus something that is prized by the wise business blogger. Of course, when people take the time to talk back, and especially if they ask questions, the business needs to continue the conversation through comments (or offline if more appropriate).
Given the benefit of comments, it is a disappointment to encounter a business blog that doesn’t allow comments. I’ve heard many reasons for doing so, but none that seem to outweigh the benefits of hearing back once the conversation has been started.
Should You Blog?
There is no prescription here but to sit down and decide what’s right for your business and your customers (those are probably the same thing!). Even many of the biggest businesses, though, are seeing a benefit in starting a running conversation with their customers and prospects through a blog. It might just be good for your bottom line, too.