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Why Business Blogs are not a Fad

by Brian Brown: May 19, 2009

Hulahoop

Business blogs are here to stay. They are not a fad. They are not going to disappear or lose importance over the next year, 3 years, 5 years, or even 20 years. They are a long-term and powerful marketing tool for your business.

Facebook is hot right now along with Twitter. Businesses are showing mixed results using these forms of media to spread their brand. Currently, each has a place for a company's marketing strategy, but neither is as obvious, nor as simple as a company blog. Furthermore, each of these tools show shortcomings that could wipe either of them off the face of the 'net within a couple of short years if a savvy competitor stepped in to challenge them.

Other forms of communicating with the public such as creating podcasts and online video will also continue to gain ground. However, the time commitment for either approach is substantial compared to blogging ensuring that they will be utilized by a very small portion of the business world for years to come.

Blogs, on the other hand, have several fundamental reasons that point to their long-term value for businesses:

1. Simple to use
Creating a blog post is just like writing an email.

2. Create value for customers
Blogs provide all sorts of information to people interested in your company. They provide answers to questions, details about products, company news, and an insight into the personalities of the employees.

3. Cost
Blogs range from nothing to a couple of hundred bucks a year unless you hire an employee to write the blog, which may very well be worth their salary.

4. Search engine rankings
Blogs score very well in search engines, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon. The reason is because search engines continue to get smarter and smarter, weeding out web pages that don't have very good content compared to search terms people search for. As these get weeded out, blog posts climb the ladder as web pages that contain useful information while being part of a large website.

5. All the advantages of Direct Mail, without the postage
Blogs allow your company to reach hundreds (thousands) of customers instantly...for free. RSS subscriptions and tools like Twitter allow you to inform your customers when you have written a new blog post, prompting them to visit your site to read it. While most of your posts will be strictly informational, there's nothing wrong with writing a purely sales-driven post every once in a while if it gives real value to your customers. Within minutes you can generate a measurable response to a sales offer and even test different sales approaches. In the past, this would take months and thousands of dollars in printing and postage costs. With a blog it doesn't cost anything.

6. Blogs are seemless
A customer often has to download a podcast in order to enjoy it. If you offer a video, they have to be in an environment that allows noise to come from your computer. Many companies put restrictions on audio or video in the workplace. But a blog is just a website. Blog pages show up in regular Google searches, they use regular web site navigation, and they don't require any kind of special plugin to read. Customers often don't even know they are reading a "blog," especially if the blog is designed with the same graphics as your normal web site.

7. Blogs evolve
Unlike Facebook or Twitter, blogs are not "owned" by any one company. As a result, the companies that create blogging platforms are constantly evolving, adapting, and reinventing what a blog means. New features and functions are constantly being added. These improvements will keep blogging at the forefront of internet technology for the foreseeable future.

Technology changes our internet experience very fast. The internet as we know it did not exist before 1994 (when Netscape Navigator was created). Blogs entered the non-tech world in approximately 2002, but took a few years to gain widespread recognition.

Here we are in 2009, not even a decade later. But blogging again may be compared to direct mail. While direct mail was popularized and turned into a science in 1923 (Scientific Advertising, Claude C. Hopkins), it is still perhaps the most effective form of advertising in terms of return-on-investment. The fundamentals of direct advertising apply to blogging, and this is why your business blog will continue to be an important and profitable marketing strategy through 2029.

[Photo: Hooray for Hula Hoops by JonDissed on Flickr. Used with permission under Creative Commons Copyright.]



10 Business Blog Guidelines

by Brian Brown: May 7, 2008

Teacher

1) Spelling
Use your blog platform's spell check. Even better, use the automatic spell check included with Firefox. To enable, choose Tools > Options > Advanced > General tab > check the check box for 'Check my spelling as I type.' Firefox automatically underlines misspelled words with a red dotted line just like typing in a fancy shmancy word processor.

2) Grammar
Equally important to spelling, grammar is a little more difficult to wrangle. Word processors like MS Word include a grammar check, but who wants to write their blog posts in Word and then copy and paste them into your blog program?

Instead, write conversationally, the way you would talk. Then, before you publish your blog post, save a copy as a draft and view the draft in the Opera browser. Use the 'speak' function in Opera to read the blog post back to you. This will usually expose any large grammatical errors, much better than simply rereading your post.

3) Write an effective headline
The vast majority of your readers on a given day will view your blog post in an RSS reader, or through a social media outlet like StumbleUpon, Digg, or Delicious. They are sifting through dozens or even hundreds of stories and deciding which ones to read based on your headline. Your headline must succinctly reveal what your story is about in a way that attracts readers to click on it. I've written more about headlines here.

4) Use a photo at the very top of your story
After headlines, photos are the main reason a person might begin to read your post. You should have a photo at the very top of your post because it will appear directly below the headline when viewed in an RSS reader. This one-two punch gives you the maximum chance to have someone click on your story. I've written more about photos here.

More... »



Wanted: Blogger for full time position

by Brian Brown: May 6, 2008

Photographer

Lets get this straight. I'm not offering a job (I can hear the thousands of back buttons being clicked now).

But if you are a company that does not yet have a blogger on staff (or maybe you've given the job to an already overloaded marketing peon), then you'd better put this ad in your local paper (or on problogger.net) soon:

WANTED: Blogger for full time position
Our super-duper company wishes to hire a person in the position of "blogger." Until yesterday, we didn't really know what this meant, but we did some research on the internets and realized we are really missing the boat here.

Writing
What we're looking for is someone who is good at writing. You might have a degree in English or communications or something, but the really important thing is that you can write. This includes spelling and grammar. We don't really care how educated you are as long as what you write doesn't make us cringe every time you use the word 'your' when you mean the word 'you're.'

Photography
Next, you should know how to take a photo. We've heard that photos really add value to a blog. Many people are much more likely to read a post if it begins with an attractive blog photo.

For this reason, you need to get out from behind a desk and explore our company. Look for interesting things to take pictures of. People are great subjects for photos because it shows we have real people working here with real names.

Reporter
You should have good interviewing skills. Perhaps you were once a beat reporter, or you've always dreamed of being one. You need to call people up, send them emails, and most importantly, walk into their office and interview them. We're not looking for news-breaking hard-hitting interviews. We want human interest stories. The kind that make readers really feel good about our company.

Editor
You will invite prominent experts in our industry to write reports and articles for the blog. You will be in charge of assigning them subjects to write about and editing their final drafts before they go live.

Engineer
You need to understand our products completely. You will be writing about how to use them, why our readers need them, how they can't live without them, and why ours are better than anyone else's.

Teacher
While you gain product knowledge, we want you to use what you've learned to create tutorials for our customers. The blog will be a tremendous resource for those who have purchased our products because you will be able to take a customer question from email and write up a tutorial that answers their question, and potentially the same question hundreds of others will have, all in the same day.

Spokesperson
Although you won't be the "official" PR spokesperson for the company, you will be expected to respond to company problems, scandals, or news items in a professional and timely manner through the blog. We recognize that our readers want honest information ASAP and you are one of the quickest direct links to the company. 

More... »



5 blog posts to write before you die

by Brian Brown: May 5, 2008

Redconvertible

So you're cruising through life, carefree, sipping a Coke, and then I slam this title on your screen. Sorry to break it to you, but you're going to die.

I know you spend most of your time denying this fact. You've got your new red convertible, you've added ten friends on MySpace in the past week, and you get all the jokes about Smallville. But someday, you're going to drop like a rock and your soul is going to pass its time somewhere else.

Before that happens, think about your blog, and how completely unsatisfying it would be if you hadn't written these 5 world-changing posts:

Paradise 1) "I wish I were somewhere else"
This is the post where you confess that for the moment, you are sick of blogging, your eyes are cracking because you haven't blinked in the last ten minutes, and if you have to deal with one more tag, you'll gag...one more stumble, you'll crumble...one more digg, you'll wig...one more feed, you'll bleed...and one more tweet, you'll jump off a bridge.

I'm not saying you always feel like this. I'm just saying that the one time you do, write about it. It will be totally off-topic and entirely entertaining.

More... »



Typepad support is worst in the industry

by Brian Brown: May 2, 2008

Angry When it comes to dealing with a technical issue on a web site, Typepad ranks dead last for all of the dozen or so services I've used in the past ten years.

It appears that Typepad is over-charging their customers and providing no service. A major problem with my blog was finally addressed 39 hours and 14 minutes after I contacted support. By "addressed," what I mean is that Typepad finally got back to me and told me they couldn't help.

What takes longer than an hour?
I have had many technical issues with web sites in the past, ranging from design, to login problems, to complex database issues. I don't recall any of those problems taking more than an hour to resolve except for when my gmail was hacked. In that case I was dealing with a company that was known for being difficult to get hold of and gmail isn't exactly their main product.

Typepad's "great" service
But Typepad tells you how great their service is, and their main product is hosting of blogs.

From Typepad's 'About' page:

We’re here to help. Here at TypePad, we’re passionate about customer service. We provide customer support 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We want you to get the answers you need, and we’ve developed a huge Knowledge Base and a responsive online help system to make sure that happens.

They pretend to appreciate me
Pajama Market has been featured as a Typepad Featured Blog. They have also interviewed me in their Typepad Featured Interviews. Finally, Typepad uses my quotes on their testimonials page, one of only 14 quotes they use. So it's not like they don't know I exist.

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How long will it take Typepad to respond to my trouble ticket?

by Brian Brown: May 1, 2008

Countdown

[UPDATE...5:09 PM. Here's a screenshot of my support ticket items.]

Staffresponse



Typepad customer support nonexistent

by Brian Brown: May 1, 2008

Tantrum Typepad has still not responded to my trouble ticket. It has officially been 16 hours and 2 minutes since I placed the request.

I did a quick check of other popular hosts:
GoDaddy: 24/7 phone or email support
Rackspace: 24/7 phone or email support
SiteGround: Resolves 95% of all critical issues in less than 15 minutes...damn!

If this blog were hosted with one of those companies with a different blog platform...say Wordpress...my problem would have been long fixed.

Since there is no way to directly converse with the support staff (I submitted a 'support ticket' last night...that's one-way conversation only and I'm beginning to feel like I was talking to a wall), I contacted a salesperson at Typepad just now via instant message chat.

My hope was that they might relay to the support desk that I was...annoyed. Read the rest of this story if you'd like to see how that chat went (hint: I don't think I'm their favorite person right now).

More... »



Where is Typepad support?

by Brian Brown: May 1, 2008

Yelling So...as you can see, I've messed up the layout of my blog pretty horrendously. This is what happens when you play with the style sheet and accidentally delete half of it without having a backup copy lying around.

Rather than try to reconstruct the many many parts that I deleted, I contacted Typepad last night through their support ticket service and asked them to replace my style sheet with the one that was being used on Tuesday.

I'm a little concerned though. That was about 13 1/2 hours ago and I haven't heard a peep from them. For most web hosts that I've dealt with, this wouldn't be too much of a problem. Usually, a web host will back up all the files on a server every few nights.

But I haven't heard anything one way or another. What exactly am I paying $15/month for?

Enjoy this "new" format while it's here. Limited time only (I hope).

Pajama Market with no format

[Top Photo: YELL AT YOU! by katiebate on Flickr, used with permission under Creative Commons Copyright.]



Flickr: spicing your posts up with other people's photos (legally)

by Brian Brown: April 29, 2008

Bobby When it comes to photos on your blog, beware the copyright cops.

They will knock down your door, tie you to a chair, and explain in great detail why you can't use someone else's work, even if the creator of the work has been dead for 42 years, the work itself is now 80 years old, and the law keeps changing specifically so the piece in question can be kept under the ownership of a multinational corporation.

But I digress.

Flickr is your solution to finding photos for your blog legally, quickly, and funly. Not bad for a website that doesn't use "e"s.

Flickr allows users the option to post their photos under a cool standard called Creative Commons Copyright. This allows you to search for photos that you can use and even edit for your blog. Awesome dude!

Hold on partner, don't just start grabbing Flickr photos for your blog. Not all photos on Flickr are usable. Here's how to find the ones you want to use:

  • Search for a photo. For this article, I chose 'London Police.'
  • When the search results appear, look for the 'Advanced Search' link next to the search button and click it.
  • Scroll to the bottom of the 'Advanced Search' page to find the Creative Commons check boxes.
  • Check all three check boxes because you are using the photo commercially if it's for your small business blog, and you probably will want to "modify, adapt, or build" on the image. (I almost always at least crop an image before it gets posted, for example.)

Now hit 'search' and all of your results will be free for the taking. Just remember, when you use a photo you must:

  • attribute! This means telling the world who took the photo. It's best to provide a link directly to the Flickr page where the photo appears.
  • declare that the photo in question falls under Creative Commons Copyright. This means that just as you used the photo, anyone else can come along and use the photo as well, even if you've altered it or added to it. Fair's fair. To declare, link the attribution to the license page for the copyright located here.

Some of my favorite post photos come from Flickr. You can see three of them here, here, and here.

And finally, here's the attribution for my 'London Police' photo at the top of the article (the photo itself is also a link to the Flickr page):

[Photo: Untitled by .craig on Flickr, used with permission under Creative Commons Copyright.]



AWeber: the ultimate pursuasion tool

by Brian Brown: April 28, 2008

Satan

I just found out that Satan himself uses AWeber for his maniacal ends. It's true, AWeber is so pursuasive that the devil is using it to build a huge database of potential minions.

Oh wait...you don't know what AWeber is? Let me explain...the quicker the better.

AWeber is a web site that offers "autoresponding" service. This is a form on your blog where readers give you their name and email address, and they are sent responses from you, automatically. Clever, huh?

Even though it seems that the Dark Lord is sending personal, timely messages to the weak of faith, they are actually just getting canned emails that one of Satan's copywriters (probably Brian Clark) wrote long ago.

Everyday, the poor soul waits impatiently for their next email from www.all-your-problems-vanish-I-just-want-one-thing-from-you.com, not knowing that the emails he is receiving are all personalized by AWeber ("Dear Elliot," instead of a generic, "Dear Soon-to-be-Damned,"), and even include a date-sensitive call to action such as, "Reply by Midnight, Friday, May 2, or this opportunity to have unlimited wealth, a date with Jacqueline MacKenzie, and the ability to fly will expire."

Think about how this can work on your blog? It's not just the eternally blazing that are taking advantage of automatically-sent emails. Businesses use them to send their loyal readers special coupons or buying opportunities.

Studies show that the average heathen takes at least 7 emails before signing away their soul with reckless abandon. AWeber sends 7, 10, 15 emails, or however many you want, automatically, effortlessly, and effectively.

I use AWeber because they are 100% legal (that means they are compliant with CAN-SPAM laws...or is it canned spam laws?), and readers can unsubscribe anytime, without any runaround.

The devil agrees:

I am not being paid to endorse AWeber automated emails. I am endorsing them because they work. AWeber makes things easy with video tutorials, step-by-step instructions, and guides and tips on how to make your mailings more and more effective. Give me your soul.

                                              -Mephistopheles

[Photo: "Tonight, the part of Satan will be played by Uncle Kage" by dmuth on Flickr, used with permission under Creative Commons Copyright.]



Google Analytics: tracking your visitors, prospects, and sales

by Brian Brown: April 23, 2008

Graph

Today is the first stat of the rest of your stats.

Every great journey begins with a single stat.

Make stats, not war.

Is it me, or does everything in life just seem to revolve around stats? Oh wait, it's not me, it's Google. That goofy "do no harm" company is at it again with a stat program that is totally armed and dangerous: Google Analytics.

The old way
I've been using Sitemeter for the longest time with Pajama Market. It's nice. It tells me how many visitors I have. What web sites directed those visitors to me. It gives me cool graphs to see the visitor numbers go up and down like my nieces hot air balloon. (Yeah, my niece is a hot air balloon pilot. What does your niece do?) What more could you ask for in a stat program?

The new and vastly improved way
And then Google came along and slapped me across the face three stooges like (or is it Marx brothers like? Or is it Honeymooners like? Quick, someone turn over to Nick at Nite and let me know!)

I pay like $5 a month for Sitemeter. Google Analytics is free. (Ok, sitemeter has a free version too, but then my stats are public. I don't want someone's dirty muggs on my stats.)

Blogtoolsweek Flexibility
Sitemeter shows you stats for today, this week, this month, or this year. GA shows you stats for any time period you want (from when you installed them on your site). GA is flexible like that cool slinky you had as a kid. The metal one, not the plastic one. The metal ones are so much better...until you step on them by accident.

Google also has about 487 additional features that other common stats programs don't have. Roughly.

As an aside, can I just say how much Typepad's statistics totally suck? I mean for $15/month you would think they would throw their users a bone and let them track referral links for more than a day. Ha! Fat chance. Good thing there's Google Analytics.

Track your goals
The real gem of the Google Analytics package for the small business blog is the "goals" section. If you are selling something from your blog, you can track a specific landing page, a page where someone is sent after they buy a product from you, to determine how well your blog is meeting its sales goals. I can't find that in Sitemeter.

We want faster!
The one, tiny tiny downside to Google Analytics, is that it is not live. There is a lag of a few hours between someone visiting your site and that visit showing up on GA. A small price to pay for...well, free stats.

To sign up, visit Google Analytics and add their code to your blog. You can add the code to a sidebar item pretty easily.



Feedburner: streamlining your RSS feed

by Brian Brown: April 22, 2008

Your blog comes with a feed. That's a fact Jack.

But, your feed is so vain, it probably thinks RSS is about it. And it's not.

Can your RSS feed tell you how many people are subscribed to it? Can it place useful links at the bottom of each and every blog post? Can it offer your readers services like sending your RSS feed to their email address?

I doubt it!

Unless of course you have signed up with Feedburner, the super-cool RSS feed totally legal growth hormone. It turns your wimpy vanilla feed into something that could star in Predator and then run for governor...that's governor of California and Minnesota!

And it's FREE, as in don't cost ya nothin'!

Easy to add
Add as many blogs as you want. Feedburner gives you the code to add a link or button on your site. Now when people look for your feed, it's a new-and-improved Feedburner feed that's part of your complete and balanced breakfast (yes, it's 8 am and I'm hungry).

Two super functions
I recommend Feedburner just because it tells you how many people are subscribed to your feed. That's enough for me to praise its glories. But the 'Feed Flare' is a tip top reason as well. That's where the cool links at the bottom of every post show up, such as 'Email This,' 'Subscribe to this feed,' 'Technorati Links,' etc.. And you get to choose what those links are.

Tons of extras
Have a podcast? Feedburner works with podcast feeds too.

Geotag your feeds if you want. Yep, that means telling the whole world your location so precisely that smart bombs could fly through your office window if they were programmed to those coordinates.

Feedburner can also give you visitor stats for your website. That's kind of cool, but later in the week we're looking at Google Analytics which makes Feedburner's stats look, well, erm, inadequate.

So if you haven't, sign up for free at Feedburner.com, register your blog and then add the Feedburner code to your blog. It's pretty simple, and you can always leave a comment here if something doesn't make sense. Cheers y'all!

[Photo: IMG 4861 by 7263255 on Flickr, used with permission under Creative Commons Copyright]



Opera: the browser that talks

by Brian Brown: April 21, 2008

Cat What? Huh? What did I say? I wrote what?

Yeah, that's what you'll think after you use Opera, the browser that talks (someone should trademark that phrase).

You don't write good
Lets say you're zooming along, typing 87 words per minute about cheesecake and BAM!!, you've got yourself a nifty blog post. Of course you don't notice that you wrote the word 'are' twice in one sentence, completely didn't type the words 'strawberry sauce' in another (although you thought them), and your grammar generally sounds like you just came off a legendary drinking binge.

Wait, there's hope. You click on the trusty Opera icon and the most ignored browser on the internet points out your ill-advised variations on the Shakespearean tongue. How? Glad you asked.

Opera's super-cool function
Highlight the text on any web page displayed in Opera. Right click on the text (Mac users do that Option+click thing), and choose 'Speak' from the menu. Opera will now blab about whatever text you've highlighted.

  • Unless you don't have speakers, or
  • Unless you don't have the volume turned up, or
  • Unless you can't hear anything like my brother who had his ear drum punctured from a rifle being shot next to his ear when he was a teenager (in all fairness, he was the one firing the rifle).

Blogtoolsweek Assuming you can hear Opera, it will sound like a computer trying to talk. More like a Stpehen Hawking type computer than a HAL 9000 type computer.

Why this is cool
Sit back and listen and hear all the stupid typing mistakes you make, like repeating words, misspelling words (even though the spellcheck doesn't catch it because you've typed a completely different word by accident), and missing words.

I've reread something several times and not noticed a typing (call it grammar if you want to) mistake over and over again. But listening to a post once uncovers nearly all of the post faux pas.

I recommend saving your post as a draft before publishing it and running it through Opera before posting it live on your blog. If you don't, the original post with the mistakes is generally the one that gets sent out on your RSS feed even if you correct the mistakes later.

[Photo: Singing Spring by tanakawho on Flickr, used with permission under Creative Commons Copyright.]



Next week: the 5 blogging tools you can't do without

by Brian Brown: April 18, 2008

Blogtoolsweek No matter what program you use for your blog, there are a few tools that every blog should consider using to make their life easier, more efficient, and happier. Next week we'll take a look at five that I use and highly recommend to anyone who is writing a professional blog.

We'll take a look at:

I hope you enjoy the series.



Niche market glue: keeping your target audience coming back and buying more

by Brian Brown: April 18, 2008

Boomerang

One of the biggest reasons (reason #2 on my list of 101 reasons to have a business blog) to have a blog for your business is to get return traffic. If your blog is any good, readers should return to read new posts again and again. Why? Because you have chosen a niche that they care about.

Blogs are the direct mail of the internet

When people care about a subject, they will read about it forever. The best direct mailing advertisements are often five or more pages long. They've discovered that customers will throw away a direct sales letter of any length if they don't care about the subject, but if they do care, they will read many, many pages.

Nicche This is critical because the more they read, the more emotionally invested they become with what you are saying. Longer letters create more sales. Some direct sales letters have been more than 20 pages long with highly successful results.

In today's world, a blog is that 20+ page sales letter.

Few readers will return to your blog
With great content and a subject your readers are interested and excited about, they will automatically become repeat visitors, right?

More... »



Back end products: the secret to niche marketing

by Brian Brown: April 17, 2008

Backend

A back-end product is something you sell to a customer after they have made their original purchase. Back-end products often result in more profit than the original purchase did, and sometimes makes the original purchase worth giving away for free.

Nicche Diabolical Gillette razors
Long ago, when I entered my beloved dormitory called "Upper Tupper" at the University of Vermont for the first time, I was presented with a box that held all kinds of nifty stuff for students. One of these super-cool items was a Gillette razor. I still remember the wood handle with notches every few millimeters that provided a steady grip under wet conditions.

Before going to college, my shaving experience included the joy of the Bic disposable razor, the elation of using a Schick disposable (because dad was out of the Bics), and the mystery of the electric razor, seemingly designed to give you a consistent 4 o'clock shadow with every shave. At my first day of college, for the first time in my life, I held a serious shaving tool in my hands, and it felt great!

More... »



Niche marketing will make you an expert

by Brian Brown: April 16, 2008

Archer
How would you like to be an expert in your field?

What makes someone an expert? The letters P, H and D come to mind, but lets not get too hasty. You hardly have to spend $120,000 and seven years of your life in order to be an expert in your field.

The secret of becoming an expert
Many years ago I met a man who told me a secret of becoming an expert. The secret was to pick a very specific field (a niche). If your field is specific enough, you can spend 3 hours a day reading, researching and studying on that subject and within two years you will be an undeniable expert in that field.

Sounds cheesy doesn't it? Yet this friend was speaking from experience. With no degree and no formal training, this man was giving lectures to medical doctors on the temporomandibular joint, better known as the TMJ, within a couple of years of personal study. I don't recall why the man had an interest in the TMJ to begin with. Perhaps someone in his family or even he, himself had a problem with the joint. The point is that he chose a very specific field and then did his homework.

Nicche One story inspires another
A little over a year after hearing this story of becoming an expert, I happened to be hitchhiking from Houston to Dallas (on my way home to Vermont!) when a businessman in a rental car picked me up for the four hour drive. As it turned out, he was an 'expert' in his field which was teaching a program called Lotus Notes. He told me he was one of the top 50 instructors in the country and had just finished a class with Motorolla in Houston. He also told me his income which was substantial.

Eventually, I asked him what his background was? Did he have a computer science degree? Did he work for Lotus (I think this was before IBM bought Lotus)? The answers to both questions was 'no.'

More... »



Niche marketing and the 80/20 rule

by Brian Brown: April 15, 2008

Chesspieces

The 80/20 rule:

  • 80% of your profit comes from 20% of your products
  • 80% of your sales are obtained by 20% of your sales force
  • 80% of your time is spent dealing with 20% of your business
  • 80% of your hassles are caused by 20% of your employees (especially problematic if you are the sole proprietor)

Sound familiar? People like to talk about the 80/20 rule in business, as well as everyday life. I wonder how accurate that ratio really is? It certainly seems accurate, and barring a study from Princeton to the contrary, I'm willing to accept the 80/20 rule as a reality in business.

Nicche When it comes to niche marketing, I think the most important aspect of the 80/20 rule is that 80% of your profit is made by selling 20% of your products. There is usually one or two products that really shine, relative to the others.

The reason to bring up the 80/20 rule in the first place is to take another look at our products, make our top selling product even better, and stop wasting our time on the 80% of the products that aren't giving us nearly as good results.

80/20 rule in action
Take your product...hand carved chess pieces, for example. Even with a highly unique product such as this, there is probably an 80/20 rule that emerges with sales. It may be a certain type of wood, or certain size chess piece totally dominates your sales. The question is how to capitalize on this.

More... »



Finding your niche in 7 steps

by Brian Brown: April 14, 2008

Nicche_2 What does your business do that no other business on the planet does? What distinguishes your customers from everyone who isn't your customer? Knowing the answers to these questions will greatly improve your marketing strategies, making your advertising more effective, less expensive, and far easier to produce.

So without further delay, lets find your niche...

Step 1
What does your business do? We have to start with the number one basic thing about your business. What does it get paid money for? If there is more than one thing, what is the main thing it gets paid to do (see the article on the 80/20 rule later this week to see why this is important)? Be very specific. "We sell hand-carved chess pieces made from a variety of woods that the customer selects."

Step 2
Who are your customers? Again, be very specific. Many of you won't really know who your customers are. You may have a store or office, and meet most of your clientele face-to-face, but what do you really know about them? It's time to find out.

The reason big companies conduct customer surveys with the Gallup Poll that cost tens of thousands of dollars (I know because I used to work there), is because the data they discover tells them exactly who their customers are and why these people have chosen their company to do business with.

"My customers are 30-50 years old with household incomes between $80k and $120k, they typically have college degrees, and are most like the 'Achiever' segment of the VALS psychographic chart."

More... »



Niche market week

by Brian Brown: April 14, 2008

Nicche Inspired by my last post on going after niche traffic, I decided to expand on the niche market concept this week by writing a series of articles on niche marketing. Here is what I have planned:

I hope you enjoy the series!



Blogging Dos #14: Go after niche traffic

by Brian Brown: April 11, 2008

Traffic
Niche traffic on your blog is the holy grail of having a blog in the first place. If you get thousands of visitors a day who don't care about what you're selling, it's wasted. If you get 100 visitors a day, five of which turn into life-long customers, you've got a gold mine.

Here's an example. Digg.com is a "social media" website that generates tons of traffic for anyone who makes it to one of their top tier pages. Think of Digg like a news website where the readers vote on each story, the stories that get the most votes get closer and closer to the top tier pages which is where most of Digg's visitors are. Getting "dugg," as it's called in the industry, can literally drive tens of thousands of people to your website in a matter of hours and has been known to crash servers hosting unprepared websites.

The problem is that very few of these visitors ever return or buy anything. Furthermore, it's a lot of work and luck to get your page "dugg."

Instead, work to get a steady flow of traffic from people who are genuinely interested in the subject matter you care about. Slowly, but surely, you will build a monster list of repeat customers who will likely subscribe to your RSS feed, or join your newsletter.

There are even a couple of examples of what not to do on Pajama Market. There are two articles off the top of my head that I shouldn't have wasted my time on. One was writing about a YouTube video that featured tons of online "stars." The other was writing about my Gmail getting hacked. Although these were fun to write, and they've generated some of the biggest traffic to this site, they bring in only casual visitors that don't really care about blogging for their small business. The time I spent writing the articles could easily have been put to better use.

I should have been writing a killer article on blogging, leaving comments on someone else's great blog post, or working on a video

[Photo: richardmasoner at Flickr. Used under creative commons copyright. Click photo to see more of his work.]



My office

by Brian Brown: April 10, 2008

My new office (aka the dining room)

I just spent 20 minutes installing my new white board. It cost about $15 and is 5' x 4' in size. It rocks! If you want to make one yourself, use this guy's website for instructions:
http://www.johnmurch.com/2007/10/20/diy-whiteboard-on-the-cheap/



Where the heck has Brian been?

by Brian Brown: April 9, 2008

Brian and JoeHi All!

I'm fascinated to see that there is still a steady stream of traffic visiting Pajama Market considering I haven't written an article since last September. I'm sure many of you are wondering, "What the heck happened to Brian?"

Well, I've had this distracting dream for a few years now, and I finally decided to pursue it full time. I began playing poker seriously about a year ago and found my way to the local casino in Milwaukee last summer where I did pretty well.

The thing with poker is that it's a lot like chess. I played chess fairly seriously about 12 years ago, and there is an incredible amount of study involved to become really good. Poker is very much the same way. The math involved is fairly complex, and there is also a huge amount of psychology to study. That's where my attention began wandering over a year ago, and it soon took up all of my time. For example, just the drive back and forth to Milwaukee was three hours.

In December, I was fortunate enough to win a tournament in Milwaukee, earning $12,400 on an entry fee of $200. This spurred me to make a major change in my life. I packed my bags and headed east to the largest casino in the world...Foxwoods in Connecticut. I chose Connecticut over Las Vegas simply because my family lives in Vermont, a mere four hours away.

The experiment went badly. The bankroll I had reserved for poker disappeared in about two and a half months, and I resigned to come back to Wisconsin to reevaluate what direction I wanted my life to go in.

One of the biggest influences was my good friend Bryan, who reminded me of all the passion I held for marketing, particularly online, and how much of a stick-in-the-mud I was when I was playing poker. It's true that blogging, marketing, advertising and writing all get me very pumped up, and his lecture gave me something to think about on the 20-hour ride home.

The result is that I'm typing today instead of shuffling casino chips. If you are a new visitor since I last wrote in September, welcome! If you are a returning visitor, welcome back!

I am definitely changing things with Pajama Market. I will no longer be reviewing small business blogs for a 'blog of the day.' Frankly, it's just too time consuming. Instead, my goal is to give small business owners tools to really maximize their marketing efforts online (in the 'pajama market'). Feel free to heckle me for this decision, but I think you'll like the results.

Incidentally, if you are curious about my experiences at the Foxwoods casino, I recorded my adventure in a blog (how else?) called A Fox in the Woods.

Cheers,
-Brian



Andrew Keen, the enemy of blogging, uses terrible example

by Brian Brown: September 25, 2007

Toilet

Andrew Keen is the author of The Cult of the Amateur, a book that takes a very critical view of Web 2.0 technologies.

In the article titled Blogged Down in this month's Entrepreneur Magazine, Keen describes how blogging is destroying big brands in the marketplace.

The article mentions a "damaging crusade" against Dell Computer by blogger Jeff Jarvis. The article then quotes Keen on ways to protect yourself: "don't allow anyone to post on your site anonymously."

Um...gee, Andrew. Jarvis published under his real name on his own blog. If Dell wasn't letting anyone publish anonymously on their blog, it wouldn't have made a bit of difference.

Give the article a read. It's short.

Also check out the reviews of his book on Amazon. This may be the first time I've seen a bestselling book rate 2.5 stars. If you look carefully, you will find my review of the book, which isn't complimentary.



Introduction to Facebook

by Brian Brown: September 24, 2007

Work

I finished an introduction to Facebook for businesses today for Work.com. The article is officially titled, "Guide to Facebook Basics for Your Business."

Check it out and feel free to give it a "10" rating.



Printable Gmail Shortcuts

by Brian Brown: September 24, 2007

Gmail

Printable Gmail shortcuts aren't super-easy to find, so I thought I would go ahead and make some. This is off-topic as far as blogging is concerned, but since I went through the work, I thought I would share the results with you in the hope it might increase your productivity.

I wanted them printed out because I didn't want to toggle back and forth between web pages. Since they appear on a webpage, they aren't necessarily print-friendly.

My solution was to copy and paste the info into a Google Doc, change the width of the tables to fit nicely on a printed page, and print 2 pages per sheet, black and white. It came out nice and I published the actual page I printed, so if you ever want to print these for yourself, just visit this page (Print-Friendly Gmail Shortcuts) and print away. Here' how they look:

Gmailshortcuts



Ahoy! It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day (ITLAPD)

by Brian Brown: September 19, 2007

Pirate

Arrr! That's right, it's the time of year to keelhaul grammar. September 19 is always International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and this yar be no diff'rent. This be about thar only Holiday celebrated liberally on blogs.

You'll be readin' a history o' the Holiday har.

Tis arly, yet bloggers a'ready in thar spirit be Twisted Oak, Savage Chickens, and of course, thar Official Osprey Publishing Blog.

And as last year, I didn't bother wit' thar spell check today.

Note: Photo provided by Brett L. under Creative Commons Copyright.



Warning: Are you missing out on Work.com's resources?

by Brian Brown: September 18, 2007

Work

I just finished writing a couple of articles for Work.com. If you haven't visited the site, it's a tremendous resource for businesses. They have tons of articles, most written by highly-credentialed experts in their fields.

My latest articles are:

Check them out and let me know what you think.



BlogRush creating legitimate blog traffic free?

by Brian Brown: September 18, 2007

Crazytraffic

On September 9, a new service to drive traffic to blogs was created called BlogRush. The idea is that if you display their widget on your blog, your blog headlines will appear on other people's blogs. Supposedly, your headlines only appear on "related" websites, but I found the categories that BlogRush uses are somewhat limited. For example, I chose "Marketing" for Pajama Market, which makes sense, but is a pretty big category.

Here is a video that explains how it works:

The service is free.

I'm going to try it for a few weeks and see if it has any real impact on my traffic.

Note: Links in this post are referral links. Traffic photo provided by SqueakyMarmot under Creative Commons Copyright.



The first place to advertise your blog

by Brian Brown: September 13, 2007

Advertising your blog to build traffic is almost as important as creating and maintaining the blog to begin with. So, what's the first step for promotion?

Get new business cards with the blog address on them.

This is one of the cheapest, and most effective ways to advertise to the people who are most likely to benefit from reading your blog...your current customers, and people you come into personal contact with.

The rule of thumb is that it's something like ten times more expensive to get a new customer than it is to get a current customer to continue buying from you. So don't spend money trying to get totally new people to visit your blog until you have done everything you can to advertise to people you are already doing business with.

Later, you can publicize your blog by getting your blog address in the signature of your email, leaving comments and trackbacks on other's blogs, or advertising your blog through online ads or with conventional advertising.

But first, get it on your business card.



Taking out the trash

by Brian Brown: September 12, 2007

I spent the day getting rid of comment spam that has accumulated over the summer. As strange as it seems, I have barely glanced at Pajama Market in several months now, thus the huge gap in posting dates (April to September?).

I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome back those of you who wondered where I was, and to welcome new folks who have found the site.

Oh...where was I? Well, on a journey of sorts. Exploring new horizons, trying some new things, and getting a different perspective on what has happened in the past few years and on where things are going.

I hope you won't hold my absence against me too badly. The change was good, and now it's time to get back to work.

Cheers.



Complete List of Internet People with links from Meth Minute 39

by Brian Brown: September 7, 2007

Here's an idea after my own heart. This blog is about other blogs. The video at the bottom of this post, is a viral video about other viral videos. Brilliant.

What does this have to do with business blogging? Well, using video is an emerging technology for marketing, and these videos are all examples of attracting millions of visitors. It might be something to look into.

But who are the people in the video? Here's the list, in order.

1) Dramatic Chipmunk

2) South Park (The Spirit of Christmas)

3) Star Wars kid

4) Numa Numa

5) Back Dorm Boys

6) Napster Bad

7) Winnebago Man (called Winnebago Guy)

8) Bert is Evil

9) Goatse (ewww...hint: it's the first alternate London 2012 drawing. For this one, you may need the Wikipedia definition.)

10) Jib Jab's This Land

11) G.I. Joe "Public Service" spots (which I find particularly hysterical)

12) You're the Man now Dog

13) We Love the Moon (another personal favorite...eventually made into a Quiznos commercial...yes, I am weird)

14) Andy Milonakus, The Super Bowl is Gay

15) Ask a Ninja

16) Danny Blaze

17) Lonely Girl

18) House of Cosby Clones

19) Chad Vader

20) Ze Frank

21) Lazy Sunday

22) Kid From Brooklyn

23) Bubb Rubb

24) George Lucas in Love

25) Kramer's racist remarks (Mike Richards)

26) MySpace the Movie

27) Chuck Norris List (or Facts)

28) The Geriatric

29) I Kiss You guy

30) Stanley Kubrick audition

31) Leroy Jenkins doesn't listen

32) Homestar Runner

33) Grape Stompin' Woman

34) Paris Hilton Sex Tape (I'm not touching that one)

35) All Your Base (Are Belongs to Us)

36) Diet Coke and Mentos

37) OK Go, Here it Goes Again

38) The Shining movie trailer (as if it were done by Cameron Crowe, director of Jerry Maguire and Say Anything)

39) Sneezing Baby Panda

40) Dick in a box

41) Amanda Congdon of RocketBoom

42) Yacht Rock episodes

43) Snakes on a Plane

44) Insane German kid

45) Otters holding hands

46) Dax Flame

47) Psycho bride cuts hair

48) Stephen Colbert at the 2006 White House Correspondent's Dinner

49) Little Superstar

50) Lightning Bolts from LARPing dudes

51) Kelly's Shoes

52) Oprah zapped by Tom Cruise

53) Weird Al, White and Nerdy

54) Kevin Federline playing Popozao

55) George Washington Rap

56) Ashlee Simpson's Saturday Night Live non-performance

57) Boom goes the dynamite

58) Lily Tomlin in a fight

59) Peanut Butter Jelly Time! or Family Guy version (which has even more views on YouTube)

60) House with Christmas lights

61) William Shatner (Captain Kirk) "sings" Elton John's Rocketman

62) Evolution of Dance

63) Bar Fight (Ok, there are a lot of bar fight videos, but I can't seem to find one where a drunk guy in a green shirt and white hat sucker punches a guy in a rugby shirt).

64) Webcam (Again, a lot of webcam candidates, but I didn't happen upon a blond, brown-shirted dude that may be the love child of Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Brian Dennehy).

65) Tay Zonday, singer of Chocolate Rain

66) Zombie kid likes turtles

What's frustrating is not knowing exactly where #63 and #64 are from. It's like a murder mystery trying to figure it out. If anyone knows, please let me know.

Here's the vid:



What is a blog?

by Brian Brown: September 6, 2007

For your viewing pleasure:



My Kurt Vonnegut post

by Brian Brown: April 13, 2007

This post has nothing to do with business blogging, so it will be short.

By coincidence, I began reading Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan five days ago. Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. I just finished the book. Here are the last lines of the book:

"Get in," he said

"And go where?" said Constant.

"Paradise," said Stony.

"What's Paradise like?" said Constant.

"Everybody's happy there forever," said Stony, "or as long as the bloody Universe holds together. Get in, Unk. Beatrice is already there, waiting for you."

"Beatrice?" said Unk, getting into the space ship.

Stony closed the airlocks, pressed the
on button.

"We're--we're going to Paradise now?" said Constant. "I--I'm going to get into Paradise?"

"Don't ask me why, old sport," said Stony, "but somebody up there likes you."

Goodbye Uncle Kurt.



RSS and Newsreader Tutorial, Part 5: Using the OPML to load and export multiple feeds

by Brian Brown: March 26, 2007

Suppose you want to switch Newsreaders. You don't like yours anymore or perhaps you just want to try a different one. You might be thinking, "What a pain it's going to be to add all of my feeds all over again from scratch."

That's what OPML was made for.

OPML stands for Outline Processor Markup Language and is used to import or export all of your feeds from one Newsreader to another. You can use this to take your feeds to a different RSS Newsreader than you are currently using, or you can use this to share your RSS feeds with other people. (For a more detailed explanation, see the Wikipedia article on OPML.)

In your Newsreader, there will be an option in your menus for 'Export.' Use this option and a file will be placed on your computer in OPML format. If this option isn't available as a link in your Newsreader, it is probably available in your drop-down menus. You know the ones at the top of your Newsreader program...File, Edit, View, etc. In Bloglines, the option is a link below my list of feeds and is called "Export Subscriptions." Nearly every type of Newsreader has this option available.

Exportopml

Once the file is saved, you can email the file or put it on your website to share with other people. To use the file, simply open the Newsreader and find the option for 'Import,' again either a link, or available in a drop-down menu.

Importing will load the feeds into your new Newsreader, although you will have to recreate the file/folder structure you were using in your old reader.

Please let me know if you have any questions with the basic use of OPML.



RSS and Newsreader Tutorial, Part 4: Loading the news feed into your newsreader

by Brian Brown: March 20, 2007

Certain types of websites create an RSS feed. What types? Nearly every blog, most news websites, many search websites, and "social media" websites where the public is constantly updating the content of the site. A great example of a social media website is Flickr.com where the public can upload and share photos. This website creates an RSS feed that allows you to subscribe to photos from, say, Janesville, Wisconsin. That way, whenever someone uploads a photo and "tags" the photo as being a photo of Janesville, I can automatically be informed of it in my RSS newsreader.

Regardless of what type of website you want to keep track of, in order to track it you need to load its RSS feed into your RSS newsreader. There are hundreds of RSS newsreader programs, most of them are free to use. My current favorite is Bloglines because there is nothing to download (it is web-based) and because it is straight-forward.

Keep in mind that no matter which newsreader you choose, you are not locked into that newsreader. There is a very easy way to transfer all your feeds from one newsreader to another which I'll talk about in Part 6.

How to get the feed into your newsreader
As I mentioned in the last part of this series, browsers are making it easier and easier to subscribe to your favorite websites' RSS feeds. If you use Firefox or Internet Explorer and find yourself on a page that produces an RSS feed, you will see the RSS icon appear in the address bar. Clicking on this icon allows you add the page's feed to your favorite RSS reader, assuming your favorite RSS reader is in the list that Firefox or IE provides.
Adressbar

What if your reader isn't in the list? Don't worry, you can always add a feed manually.

First, you need to find the feed for the website you wish to track. We tackled this in Part 4: Identifying the RSS feed on a blog, news website, or search.

But what...exactly...is a feed?
The feed itself is a webpage. What you are loading into your RSS reader is the webpage's address. When you find a feed on a blog and click on it, you might notice that you get taken to a plain text page with very little formatting that contains the same content as the blog you were reading. This page is the feed.

What's special about the feed is that it is automatically updated whenever the site it is linked to is updated. If a new story is added on a blog, it's feed automatically adds the new story as well. It's like a second version of the original website.

The difference between a website and its feed can be seen in the formatting. A feed has to meet very strict criteria that includes plain text, date and author information, and simplified formatting. This standardization is what allows it to be viewed in a hundred different RSS readers. But this also means most of the formatting and design of the original website disappears. A story from one blog looks pretty much the same, format-wise, as a story from any other blog.

Manually adding the feed
Once you find this page that displays the feed for a website, copy the URL of the webpage. In your RSS reader, find a link called "Add feed" or something along these lines. It will open up a form that asks you to type in the feed's URL. Simply paste the feed you have copied and your feed is now loaded into your RSS reader. Some readers may ask you to configure the feed just the way you like it, but this is essentially all there is to it.

1. Find a feed
2. Copy the URL
3. Click 'Add Feed' in your RSS reader
4. Paste the URL

Finally, some RSS readers don't even require you to locate the specific web page that contains the RSS feed. You can just use the URL for the homepage of the site, and the RSS reader is smart enough to search the website until it finds the feed associated with it. Not every reader works this way, but between manually loading the feed, using Firefox's and IE's shortcuts, and using newsreaders that find the feed for you, you will have a solution that produces tons of content for your reading pleasure in no time.

Next time we will look at transporting your feeds from one newsreader to another, or adding someone else's list of feeds into your list using a format called OPML.



RSS and Newsreader Tutorial, Part 3: Identifying the RSS feed on a blog, news website, or search

by Brian Brown: March 14, 2007

The three main types of websites that use RSS (really simple syndication) technology are blogs, news websites, and search engines. These are not the only websites that use them, but these are the websites with the most use for a business owner, at least right now.

Furthermore, while most blogs, news sites, and search engines use RSS, not all of them do. So how can you tell if the site you are looking at offers an RSS feed for your Newsreader?

Some RSS Newsreaders are able to detect whether or not there is a feed available on a website. Simply copy and paste the web address (URL) of the page you are on into your Newsreader, and it will tell you whether or not this page has a feed. Beware though, not every Newsreader is capable of doing this, and even if the website has a feed, the particular page you are on may not indicate the existence of the feed to your Newsreader.

For example, when I am on the internet, I use the Google toolbar in my Firefox browser. There is a 'Subscribe' button on the toolbar that appears orange when there is an RSS feed available for the page I'm on, gray when there isn't.
Rsson

Rssoff

Clicking the button automatically adds the feed to one of seven Newsreaders that you select from a list. In addition to the Google toolbar, Firefox has a similar RSS feed indicator in the address bar:
Adressbar

Internet Explorer (version 7+) includes an RSS button near the tabs:Ierss

RssIf you haven't noticed a common theme here, it's that a webpage with an RSS feed is represented by the little orange square that is now a standard on the internet.

If the options above are not indicating the page you are reading has an RSS feed (or if you don't use these options), you can usually manually find the feed on the page if it offers one. For example, on this blog, you will find the icon for the feed in the sidebar under the heading 'subscribe.'

Subscribe means one of two things on a webpage: 1) the page has an RSS feed and this link leads you to that feed, or 2) this page can be subscribed to through daily emails. Sometimes it means both. Usually this is the link to the page's RSS feed.

Some webpages don't use the standard icon to indicate a feed. This is usually due to the author of a blog using one type of RSS Reader (like My Yahoo! for example) and believing that most of the world uses the same RSS Reader (not a good thing to assume). In this case, the blogger might use the Yahoo! feed icon instead of the standard icon:
Yahoofeed

While this may mean something to those readers who actually use My Yahoo! to track RSS feeds, it means nothing to the rest of us who track feeds with a different reader. As a result, you may find sites that list multiple icons:
Rssicons

This approach tends to clutter a blog and isn't as useful as the author of the blog might hope. Displaying the standard RSS icon is just fine, more elegant than this collage of icons, and isn't likely to frustrate the person who uses the one RSS Reader you have forgotten to include.

Finally, RSS may not even be called 'RSS' on some webpages. It may be called 'Atom,' or 'RDF,' or 'XML' on some webpages. Don't be fooled, they are still RSS, just specific types of RSS. Every major Newsreader can use these types of feeds and produce the same end result with them.

Some websites even offer you a choice of two of these technologies (RSS or Atom, for example), but your RSS Reader really doesn't care which you choose. Why do they offer a choice? Because they can. In the old days (2 years ago), it may have made a difference in what the feed would produce. These days, it doesn't really matter.

When you click on one of these links, whether it's the RSS icon, the word 'Atom', or the word 'subscribe,' you are usually brought to the RSS feed for that website. It looks like the page you were on, just stripped of some of its format. When you reach this page, copy and paste the web address (URL) of this page and load it into your Newsreader. This is the page the Newsreader is going to display from now on. Load 20 blogs, or a Google Blog search, or the top stories from your favorite paper this way, and you may never have to visit the actual sites they came from ever again.

Next time, we'll look at exactly how the RSS feed is loaded into your Newsreader.



What is comment spam?

by Brian Brown: March 9, 2007

El Jefe of El Bloggo Torcido left a comment the other day that included a link back to his blog. This got me thinking about comment spam. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't consider El Jefe's comment as comment spam, but I realized it might be helpful to write about identifying and pointing out why it wasn't comment spam. [note: you can see the comment I'm referring to, and some witty banter, at the bottom of this post.]

Comment spam is when someone leaves a comment on your blog for the sole purpose of creating a link back to their blog. The theory is that this creates a link to their blog from another website and will boost search engine rankings, which is somewhat true.

The gray area is that it is OK to include a link back to your blog in the comments of another blog as long as it contributes to the conversations being discussed on the post and in the comments.

Eljefe That's why El Jefe's comment is perfectly fine, although it might not obviously appear that way. Taken out of context, it looks like El Jefe's comment is a blatant attempt at comment spam. However, El Jefe is a frequent commenter on PJ and when he says to check his blog out for great examples of what I'm talking about in my post (which happens to be the use of comments!), he's adding value to my readers because his blog is  a great example of how readers use comments to create a conversation.

Had I not been familiar with El Jefe and his blog, I may have flagged his post as comment spam. This means the comment would be deleted as 'junk' and his computer's IP address would be banned from ever leaving a comment on this blog again (fairly straightforward things to do on a Typepad blog). But since I've "spoken" with El Jefe many times, I know he's leaving the link to add value to my post, not for selfish reasons. Well, maybe a little for selfish reasons, but that's fine because it still adds value to my readers.

The real problem comes when computer programs are leaving spam comments. Your blog might end up with 100 comments a day that aren't even being written by real people, just to add links to someone else's website. Fortunately, the major blog platforms use methods to thwart such nastiness. Typepad has a nice feature called CAPTCHA, for example, which requires you to type in a secret code that is displayed on the monitor to ensure you are a real live human being.

As a result, most blogs on Typepad and Wordpress receive very little comment spam, and when we do, it's pretty easy to take care of.

Finally, the proper way to publicize your blog on other people's blogs is to leave good, constructive comments. As long as you are adding value to the conversations, it's pretty acceptable to add a link back to your blog if there is a particular post you've written that ties into the subject of conversation. Keep in mind that every comment you leave does not have to contain a link back to your site. Just add one when it's helpful and the numbers of visitors on your blog will steadily grow.



RSS and Newsreader tutorial: Part 2, Reading Feeds in a Newsreader

by Brian Brown: March 9, 2007

As I mentioned yesterday in Part 1, a Newsreader emulates email programs by providing a folder structure in the left-hand column, and the content of feeds in the wide right-hand column. Here is an example of the Newsreader Bloglines where I have a few feeds loaded on the left-hand side, and I am displaying the content of the "Small Business Blog of the Day" feed in the right-hand column (click on the image for a larger view).

Bloglines

In the left-hand column, you can see that your feeds may be organized into folders. For example, I have a local news folder that contains the RSS feeds for the Google News search for "Janesville, Wisconsin." Any time something gets posted to Google News with those keywords, it appears in my folder. Also, I have loaded the RSS feed to my local newspaper back home in Vermont. Many newspapers feature an RSS feed on their websites so you can do this. Unfortunately, my local paper in Janesville does not, so I use the Google News search instead.

Closeupbloglines_2

You will notice that in addition to the Burlington Free Press feeds and Janesville Google News feed, there is a feed called "AES." This stands for Applied Ecological Services, the firm my girlfriend works for. Using RSS allows me to track any news about her company as soon as it hits the web.

Notice that AES is displayed in bold with the number (35) next to it. Bold indicates there is something new to read in this feed and 35 is the number of new stories in this feed. This is just like how a folder tells you there are 35 new emails from a person in your email program.

Clicking on the feed displays the content of the feed in the right column. Notice in the first graphic that the content of "Small Business Blog of the Day" (the feed for Pajama Market) displays the same thing that is on the Pajama Market website (for March 8, 2007). After I save this post, this post will appear in the "Small Business Blog of the Day" folder about 15 minutes after I've saved it.

As you can see, the right column is kind of like a browser. It displays the same information that's on my blog, but with some of the design stripped away. For example, it doesn't display my logo at the top of the page, nor does it display my navigation bars. It only displays the most recent story I've written. That's what an RSS feed is, it's a stripped-down version of the stories you write on a blog. The RSS Newsreader displays this stripped-down version.

After I've read the story in the right-hand column, the story will disappear. This means the stories that appear are always new, things you haven't read yet. If you want to bring up an old story, you can always find it by searching, or by changing a setting that allows you to read stories you've already read.

This feature is great because you don't have to remember if you've read something or not. I've been on blogs where I get half way through the blog post and realized I'd already read it in the past. But if I read the post in my RSS Reader, I know the post is fresh.

Sometimes you won't be able to read the entire post. The author of the post will often have an option to allow the entire post to display in RSS Readers, or to only allow the first 200 words, or even just the headline to appear. I hate it when they do this because it requires you visit their site to read the whole story which very much defeats the purpose of using RSS feeds with RSS Readers.

Finally, although the Newsreader displays a stripped-down version of the story, it still includes the photos and the active links for the post. In fact, you can always click on the headline or the name of the feed's source and you will be brought directly to that blog/news website/search. But the beauty of a Newsreader is that in many cases you don't have to leave the reader to read the post. You can skim it and quickly go the next post on your list, reading several blogs in the same time it would otherwise take you to read just a few.

In Part 3, we'll take a look at how to find an RSS feed on a blog, a news site, or on a search website.



Happy Birthday to Pajama Market!

by Brian Brown: March 8, 2007

Cake Holy Cow! I nearly forgot, and then it hit me this afternoon. We're a year old! On March 8, 2006, I wrote my first PJ post about English Cut. Where has the time gone?

[Photo is from Kaptain Kobold on Flickr and used under Creative Commons copyright]



RSS and Newsreader tutorial: Part 1, What is a Newsreader? (Why would I want to use one?)

by Brian Brown: March 8, 2007

A Newsreader, also called an RSS Reader, is a program that allows you to read dozens of blogs, news websites, and searches, in the time it would normally take to read a couple.

The main thing is that Newsreaders save time. A lot of time.

How a Newsreader works
For most readers, they simulate an email program by using a two-pane system, folders in the left pane, content in the right. Folders contain the feeds you are tracking. When someone writes a new post in the feed you are tracking, it becomes bold and displays a number next to it showing how many posts are unread. This is just like receiving an email in your email program.

Bloglinesscreenshot When the reader shows that someone has written a new post, you simply click on the folder containing that feed and the post appears in the right hand pane. You don't have to actually visit the blog to read the post, the content of the post appears in the reader. In this way, you can quickly skim headlines and posts without actually having to visit dozens of feeds individually.

Every blog produces an RSS feed (though it may be called an Atom feed, or RDF feed or XML feed among others). In addition to blogs, these RSS feeds may be found at news websites, searches (Google News, Technorati), and with other websites where content is constantly being updated or changed by its users (Flickr for example). Any site that has a feed can be loaded into an RSS reader.

The benefit of tracking blogs this way is obvious...it cuts down on the time it takes to read several blogs at once. But using the RSS feed for searches can be even more useful.

For example, do a search for your company in Google News. This will list any articles written recently that include the name of your company. This search has an RSS feed that you can load into your Newsreader. Now, whenever someone writes an article that includes your company's name in the future, you will automatically receive a notice in your Newsreader that there is a new article.

Use this method to keep track of articles about your company, your competitor's company, or for individuals. Also, use this method to track keywords that important to your industry. Whenever someone writes an article containing those keywords, you know about it. It's completely customizable news.

Two great Newsreaders: Bloglines (web-based), and Great News (download the program to your computer).

In Part 2, we'll take a close up look at the components of a Newsreader to see how it works.



How to use RSS and newsreaders: 5 part tutorial

by Brian Brown: March 8, 2007

A new client of mine inspired me to write a short series on RSS and newsreaders. The client hired me to set up a newsreader for their company so they could keep track of any news related to their company and their competitors.

The tutorial will appear in four parts:
Part 1: What is a newsreader? (why do I want to use one?)
Part 2: Reading feeds in a newsreader
Part 3: Identifying the RSS feed on a blog, news website, or search
Part 4: Loading the RSS feed into your newsreader
Part 5: Using the OPML to load and export multiple feeds

Hopefully, this tutorial series will be thorough and clear enough to understand. I will rely on my readers to ask me questions in the comments if something doesn't work for them.



Welcome Fortune Small Business Magazine readers

by Brian Brown: March 8, 2007

River0307 A funny thing happened on the way to the office today...Ha ha! That's kind of funny since I work at home.

Anyway, Pajama Market has grabbed the attention of another major media outlet...Fortune Small Business Magazine. I'm not sure if the magazine is available on newsstands or is subscription only (I haven't had any luck locating a copy), and I only found out I was in it because a new client called me up as a result of the blurb.

Since I couldn't locate a copy of the magazine, the client was kind enough to scan the blurb and email it to me. I wasn't interviewed for the magazine, they simply printed an excerpt from an article I had written at the end of January. I had actually forgotten that Fortune called me in February to ask my permission to print the excerpt.

So for any readers who found PJ through FSB, "Welcome." I began this site to help small businesses create an effective blog to promote their company. If you have any questions about blogging, ask me (leave a comment or send me an email) and I'll post my answer in this blog.

I've included a photo from my "office" window this morning. The white speck at the top is the moon. I hope the snow is gone soon.



What's a Permalink?

by Brian Brown: March 7, 2007

Des Walsh mentioned the other day that when he first began blogging he wasn't real sure what a permalink was and how it was different from a trackback. Here's my confession...when I first started blogging I had no idea what either of these were.

I went over trackbacks a couple of days ago, so today I wanted to give you my straightforward explanation of a permalink.

When you write a post on a blog, it gets sent to the top of the home page. If someone else reads your post and wants to link to it, there's a problem, because if they link to the home page, a few weeks from now your article will no longer be on the home page!

The permalink comes to the rescue. The permalink is the website address that goes to that one individual article you have written. That's the link the other blog should use to link to your story. It will always go exactly to that one story.

Permalink You can find the permalink to a blog post at the very bottom of the blog. It's usually a link called "permalink" and oftentimes is near the "comments" link. Also, the title of the blog post is often the permalink to the story. To find out, just click on the title. If this brings you to a page that displays the article all by itself, it's the permalink, and you can copy and paste the URL in the address bar and use that to link directly to the individual story.

Sometimes the title isn't a link to anything. This used to be the case with Typepad (until they changed their format just a couple of months ago) and is still the case with some blogging formats. To make it even more difficult, some blogs don't call the permalink a "permalink." It might be the date and time at the very bottom of the article. If you can click on the date and time and it brings you to a page that displays only that blog post, it is a permalink.

Finally, the permalink can be deactivated on a blog, usually by accident. This stinks because it makes it extremely difficult to link specifically to that story. The last thing you want to do when linking to a story is make your reader go to a page that has 100 posts on it and make them wade through it to find the exact post you are writing about.

You can find out how I use permalinks to create links in my blog posts by reading my article called, Blog Dos #5: Link to websites within posts.



Comments: a business blogging weapon

by Brian Brown: March 7, 2007

Comments are one of the real weapons of blogging. "Traditional" websites don't have them. This is the reason that blogs create conversations instead of lectures.

While attending the University of Vermont, I sat through dozens of lectures in auditoriums with 200+ other students. It wasn't very personal, and frankly, they weren't very interesting. Each year, the classes got smaller and smaller until you were actually having a conversation with the professor and the other students. This is the time where you could ask questions, contribute your own ideas, and actually learn something.

Blogs are the equivalent of the "senior year" on the web. No longer are customers forced to sit through the lecture of a website where all you can do is receive the information the website wants you to, which usually isn't very much.

Blogs allow you to participate by clicking the 'comment' link found at the bottom of every article on a blog and adding your own thoughts and asking questions. Sometimes the author of the article will answer your question or further the conversation, and often times other readers will do the answering and the continuing.

This feedback results in tremendous value for your company when your readers:

  • ask questions you haven't thought of yourself
  • point out problems in your products or services you hadn't noticed
  • give you ideas for new products
  • start developing a relationship with you that eventually translates into sales

Negative Comments: the greatest weapon
The big fear my clients have with comments is the negative comment. No one likes to be criticized, particularly in such a public way. I will ask the client at this point if they are committed to customer service and they always answer, "Of course."

"Than it isn't a problem," I tell them. After I let them have a funny look on their face for a few seconds I explain that negative comments can be the best weapon of all. They allow you to address a problem in a very public and permanent way and show the world what a good guy/gal you are. Furthermore, your other readers will often jump in and defend you without you having to lift a finger yourself. And that's an awesome feeling when your customers come to your own defense!

Finally, should a comment go over the line and include profanity or really offensive language, you can always delete it (you can even pre-screen comments before they are 'live'). But don't delete the ones from folks who are just upset for a valid reason. Address their concerns and let the comment and your response become a testimonial of how committed you are to having happy customers.



Janesville Noon Rotary

by Brian Brown: March 5, 2007

ParkerpenI spoke to the Janesville Noon Rotary this afternoon. I was given about 20 minutes to speak about blogging which meant I had to talk fast and the President still had to cut me off so the Rotarians could get back to work!

My favorite part of the talk was receiving my pen. Every guest speaker at the Janesville Rotary receives a Parker ball point pen as a "thank you." The Parker Pen Company was started in Janesville, so there is a reason the Rotary does this. I think it's a great personal touch.

The crowd was really great even though I was warned that a dozen or so Rotarians were retired and didn't even own a computer. I didn't notice anyone falling asleep, which is good news, and the crowd asked me a ton of questions after the talk. It was really fun to hear the immediate questions folks had after their first introduction to business blogging. It reminded me of all the questions I had when I started writing about business blogging.

Finally, if you ever happen to find yourself in the Janesville, Wisconsin area, visit the Rotary Gardens. This is where the Rotary holds their meetings and includes the amazing botanical gardens built by the local Rotary for the community. The gardens were one of several wonderful surprises I discovered shortly after moving here, and for anyone visiting, they are a must-see attraction.



Blog Dos #13: Use Trackbacks

by Brian Brown: February 20, 2007

One of the most difficult parts of blogging for me to explain to clients is trackbacks. A major reason I'm writing this post is to clarify it for myself and provide a resource for my clients down the road (in the future I can just tell my clients, "Read my post on trackbacks," instead of trying to explain it to them on the spot, LOL).

What is a trackback?
It's best explained by telling you when you would use trackbacks...

Let's say you're reading someone else's blog. You find a post that you really like, and it inspires you to write a post on your own blog that elaborates on one of the ideas from the other blog. You will probably include a link to the other blog somewhere in your post that your readers will use to expand their knowledge of the subject and see where your inspiration came from.

But wouldn't it be cool if the readers of the other blog somehow knew you had written something further about that post's subject?

You could leave a comment on the other blog and link back to your new article to send readers to your story. That's very risky though, as this is often considered to be blog spam and may get you banned from ever leaving a comment on the other blog again.

Instead, you would use a trackback. A trackback places a short excerpt of your blog post on the other person's blog to let their readers know you have written further about this subject. The blogger at the other blog either approves the trackback, if they think it's appropriate, or deletes it. If they approve it, part of your blog post actually appears on their blog!

An example of a trackback
Des Walsh has added a trackback on my post titled A Perfect Blog Post. You will see the trackback at the bottom of the post, just above the comments. He wrote an article that linked back to my post, and adding a trackback allows my readers to know about it and read more at his blog.

How to use a trackback
First, keep in mind that the author of the other blog has the power to approve or delete your trackback request. For this reason, I recommend always linking to their post somewhere in your article. That's only fair, right?

Second, the trackback feature has to do with a blog's programming. Some blogs offer trackbacks, some don't. Typepad and Wordpress, for example, offer trackbacks. You will know if the blog you are writing about offers trackbacks if the word 'trackbacks' appears at the end of the post next to 'comments.'

Third, click on the word 'trackbacks' on the other post and it will show you other posts that are using a trackback with this article (if there are any), and it will also show you the trackback URL. Copy this URL.

Trackbacks Finally, add this URL to the trackback section of the post you are writing. Whether you are using Typepad, or Wordpress, or another blogging platform, there is usually a an area to type in a trackback URL. This is where you paste the URL you have copied.

In Typepad, this area is labeled "Send a Trackback to these addresses" and appears below the area where you type the body of your post.

After you submit a trackback, the author of the other blog usually has to approve it before it appears on the other blog. This can take 5 minutes or it may take months.

But once it's active, you have created a two-way street for your readers. Your readers find the other blog through a link, and their readers find your blog through the trackback. Very cool.



Formatting photos on your blog post

by Brian Brown: February 19, 2007

El Jefe from El Bloggo Torcido (one of my favorite small business blogs...a winery), left a comment this morning on how difficult Typepad is to format photos in a blog post.

I wanted to address this issue in a post of its own, because it's so important. Specifically, El Jefe expressed frustration with a particular post he wrote on February 18 that contains several photos (warning: this post contains some, ah, adultish material). The problem was getting the text to wrap correctly around the photos was a pain in the butt.

Do you remember when the first line of a paragraph used to be indented? If you pull a book off your book shelf and read it, you will see that the first line of paragraphs is always indented to give the reader a visual reference to begin a new paragraph.

But something happened on the way to the web. It turns out that creating code to express that first-paragraph-indent on a webpage is very difficult. So over the years, a new convention appeared, which is simply to have a line space between paragraphs when you are reading something on the web.

Now you might be asking what all this has to do with photos? It's the same problem...displaying photos and how text wraps around photos is straightforward in print, but exceedingly difficult on the web. The web, and particularly blogs, have come up with its own rules as a result.

For this reason, I recommend not getting too frustrated over formatting, and keep to a few simple conventions. After all, people are not reading your blog because it looks cool. They are reading it because the writing, and the photos, are cool (at least to them). I don't know a single person who returned to a slick-looking blog because they liked the graphics!

One or two small photos

Feel free to wrap text to the left or right of photos if there are only one or two photos in your post, and there is enough room so that your text doesn't look scrunched. I like to leave at least a 200 pixel wide space for text if I'm going to have text next to a photo.

A large photo or multiple photos
When a photo is large enough to take up most the width of your blog post, then turn off the "wrap text" option in Typepad so that text automatically goes beneath the photo instead of next to it. (Technically, the text begins next to the photo at the very bottom, but hitting 'enter' once drops it below the photo.)

When using multiple photos to tell a story (a very effective type of post on a blog), don't try to wrap text. It's a pain, and you spend a lot of time trying to get the photo size just right so that the text next to it applies just to that photo (I believe this was the source of El Jefe's frustration).

Instead, introduce the photo with a paragraph, then add the photo beneath the introductory paragraph. Turn the 'text wrap' feature off, and write the next paragraph to introduce the next photo. Repeat.

This is a linear approach, no fancy formatting, but it's very effective and easy for a reader to understand. More importantly, it's easy for the blog writer to do and contains zero frustration.

Captions
If you are using "text wrap", save your captions for the end of your post. If you have turned "text wrap" off, you can add photo captions directly beneath each photo.

I've probably opened a can of worms here, so if you have a particular post that you have a question on, let me know in the comments and I'll take a look.

Remember, the main goal is to keep your blog posts simple, and stress-free. If writing posts is painful, you will never enjoy blogging enough to have a successful one.



How to add Google search to your blog

by Brian Brown: February 17, 2007

Pjsearchbox Adding Google search for your blog is easy. Real easy. See the search box on Pajama Market? It's a Google search, but it only searches Pajama Market. Google is great and returns very accurate and relevant results for your search terms.

Not everyone can use Google search on their blog. You can only use it if Google is currently listing your blog in their regular searches, a process called "indexing." As long as your blog is "indexed" by Google, your blog can use a Google search. Being indexed by Google can take up to six months, but many blogs get indexed much faster, sometimes in as little as a week after they've been started.

Finding out if your blog is indexed by Google
Simply visit Google.com and do a search for your blog's name...like "pajamamarket". If your blog appears for this search, or for any search, then your blog has been indexed. Another way to tell is by checking your site statistics. If you notice that visitors are arriving at your blog because of a search they did in Google, then it must mean you are being indexed by Google (this is often how bloggers first discover that Google has indexed them).

Add the Google Search Typelist for Typepad blogs
To place a Google search on your blog, create a new notes-style Typelist called something like "Search" and add the following code for the Typelist's item:

<form method="get" action="http://www.google.com/search">
<div>
<table border="0" cellpadding="0">
<tr><td>
<input type="text"   name="q" size="20"
maxlength="255" value="" /><br>
<input type="submit" value="Search" /></td></tr>
<tr><td align="left">
<input type="checkbox"  name="sitesearch"
value="www.pajamamarket.com" checked /> only search PJ<br />
</td></tr></table>
</div>
</form>

Replace "www.pajamamarket.com" with your blog's URL, and replace "only search PJ" with "only search YOUR BLOG'S NAME." Click "Save" and you've just created your Typelist. After activating the typelist and deciding where in your sidebar you would like the search to appear (I recommend the very top), you can start using your new search tool.

That's it. You're done. Enjoy!

(PS: If you need some instruction on activating or ordering Typelists, just let me know in the comments. I'll be happy to point out where to go.)



Writing a blog post is as easy as writing an email

by Brian Brown: February 16, 2007

I received a comment this morning from Gabe where he made the point that "usability is key" for clients having success with a blog. If a blog is difficult to post to, it's not going to have a lot of posts.

I have found that many of my clients are intimidated by a blog when I first introduce the idea to them. So I pull out my favorite phrase to explain how hard it is:

Writing a blog post is as easy as writing an email.

And I mean it! Take a look at the Typepad interface:

Typepadinterface_1

Like writing an email, there is an area to write your post, some text formatting options for things like bold or italic, and a button to add a photo (similar to adding an attachment in an email). Click save at the bottom (like clicking 'send' in an email), and BOOM, you've created a blog post.

Of course this assumes the blog already looks the way you want it to look, has the features you want it to have, and is getting the exposure you want it to get. Also, you need to have something to write about.

But that's why you might hire a blog consultant (me) to design the blog, maximize the exposure tools, and even show you where to find things to write about. In the end, all you should have to worry about is writing the post, which really is as easy as writing an email.



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