What’s in a blog?

Over the years, I’ve built a bunch of websites for a variety of clients. I’m a one-man shop, so my clients are usually small companies with modest needs and small budgets; and so a good part of my job has always been keeping the cost of the project down and getting the client to focus on what they really need from their website.

More often than not, however, what the client comes to me wanting is what everyone else has installed on their site, an unwieldy laundry list of new-fangled gizmos and buzzwords that only gets longer with every passing year. They read about people with thousands of followers and figure a complete suite of sharing tools will bring these people to their door. They’ve heard of Search Engine Optimization and wonder why their new site doesn’t always appear on the top of their Google search results.

But the one thing that never fails to roll my eyes is The Blog.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love blogs. I’ve been writing on blogs before most people had even heard of the Internet. I’ve built blogs, I’ve managed blogs, and I certainly subscribe to more blogs than is good for my productivity. And therein lies the first problem: blogging takes time. I can certainly set up a blog for you, I explain to the client, but someone is going to have to fill it with stuff, and I know you’re thinking that someone is going to be you, but don’t you already have a job? And if you want to take this seriously, it is going to take up a lot of your time, because your thousands of followers will stop coming back to your site if there isn’t something new to see there on a pretty regular basis.

And therein lies the second problem: there aren’t going to be thousands of followers. Oh you might slowly gather a small loyal fan base, but becoming famous on the Internet is just as hard as it is in the real world, and starting a blog is about as effective as hanging around the Schwab’s Drug Store in Hollywood waiting to be discovered. There are thousands of people on the Internet sharing their professional wisdom to anyone who will listen, but there was only one Lana Turner. And if you don’t become a blogging star, you’ll inevitably stop, and your website will be saddled with a few sad old posts, surrounded by gizmos that show nothing more but how infrequently people used to visit.

And so, if at this point your still determined to have this thing on your website, here are some things to consider:

  • Carefully consider your audience. Who is likely to visit your site? If you are selling a product, it’s going to be your customers or people looking to buy. Post news about the product and how it is being used. If you offer a service, offer up testimonials. If you’re a consultant, talk about the jobs you’re working on. Let your blog become your portfolio.
  • Turn on your comments and read them. If you’re lucky enough to get some useful feedback, act on it. Engage your audience. Turn your blog into a conversation.
  • Please don’t try to fill it up with the wisdom you’ve gained from your years in the field, because there are already lots of people out there doing the exact same thing. They probably write better than you, they may have even written a best-selling book on the subject, and if so, the chances are good that someone else is handling their publicity.
  • If you insist on ignoring that last point, consider linking to their material instead. Original posts are the most time-consuming of all, but great blogging empires have been founded by clever careful curators of interesting material. Just don’t forget the clever part. If you want to share something you find interesting, let your audience know why you find it interesting. Don’t end up looking like a link farm. Put something of yourself into every post.

In short, blogging is great, but before you dive in, let’s first decide whether it will be great for you. Then, if you’re still up for it, yes I will build you a blog.