How can a blog help your Ecommerce business? For starters, it can establish you as a "subject matter expert" in your field, improve your visibility to search engines, help you connect with customers on a more personal level, provide your customers with additional product information and support, and create new ways for people to find your store.
Before you put on your blogging shoes, it would be good to ask yourself a few "who, what, where, when, why and how" questions. Here are a few for starters:
- Who is your target audience and how will you reach them?
- What is the business justification?
- Where does it fit in your sales cycle?
- When and how often will you publish?
- Why do you think you need a blog?
- How will you measure success?
The results of a Forrester Poll published in the Internet Retailer "Buyer’s Guide for 2011" reveal the percentage of retailers who are currently in the process of adding social shopping features to their sites. Of those who participated in the survey, only 26% have plans to implement a blog this year. Customer ratings and reviews, RSS feeds, and social tagging all scored a bit higher, coming in at 35%, 32%, and 28% respectively. It didn't mention what percentage of those polled already have a blog in place, but I suspect the percentage is relatively small.
If a blog can be such a boon to your business, why don't more Ecommerce sites have them? I posed this question to a successful merchandiser who manages numerous, high-volume Ecommerce sites for big names in the entertainment industry, and here's what he had to say:
Well actually, he never got back to me, so I guess he's probably too busy to write a blog.
The truth is, blogs—and social media in general—can be a real time sink. It's enough to make you wonder, "Don't these people ever get any work done?"
I've always found blogging to be cumbersome, requiring commitment to blog every day, and fiddling around with blogging software and blog design. As a result, I only keep it up if someone pays me to. Otherwise, my personal blog moves in fits and starts. And blogging in fits and starts is a recipe for failure; you need to keep a regular posting schedule to keep people coming back.
Working Smarter, Not Harder
So how can you reap the benefits of a blog without creating unnecessary work for yourself? Is there a way to use the technology to work smarter, not harder?
My friend and almost neighbor, Mitch Wagner, finds Twitter to be a good match for his style because he can post a little snippet, and then expand it later as a blog post if he wants. He says that social media like Twitter and Facebook are “great for people who blog intermittently.”
The Online Merchant as Publisher
Online merchants today find themselves pulled in all directions by a variety of publishing activities that include email campaigns, newsletters, data feeds, and blogs—not to mention the old standby, the printed catalog.
From a publishing perspective, it all comes down to distribution, distribution, distribution! If you're going to all this effort to create a compelling body of content, it doesn’t make much sense to sit on the sidelines and wait for people to come to you, now does it? Why not send it out, far and wide? You can and here's how... but first, some definitions:
Aggregators suck up syndicated information from data feeds and put it on their site. There are news aggregators, search aggregators, review aggregators, blog aggregators, shopping aggregators, and more. It is a fact that most online consumers begin by window shopping at an aggregator site, rather than going directly to the merchant's online store, which is how I found my chandelier.
Data Feeds are perhaps the most useful and powerful tool available to you as an information publishing Ecommerce merchant. A data feed is your vehicle for distributing your catalog and blog content anywhere you want. For example, you can send your catalog out to shopping engines, or your blog to social networking site such as Facebook. Your customers can subscribe to your blog feed, and you can even subscribe to your own blog feed from your online store (which is an interesting solution for those who don't have a blog integrated with their Ecommerce platform).
- RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a family of web feed formats used across the Internet to distribute information that is subject to frequent change.
- Atom is a newer XML-based format used for publishing web feeds. Google news feeds are based on the Atom format, rather than RSS.
Some sites support one format or the other, or both. The same orange icon is used to indicate a data feed, regardless of format.
Feed Readers are applications that bring summaries of the feeds you subscribe to in a format that can be easily read from your desktop computer or mobile phone.
Where Have All the Blogerati Gone?
According to Mitch, the Blogerati have all gone to posterous.com. Posterous is a free service that lets you send blog posts by email from your desktop or mobile phone. You can attach documents, pictures, music, and videos, and it will format them automatically and post them instantly to your blog. It automatically updates all your social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and any others can think of. Posterous is integrated with Google Analytics and FeedBurner, so you can analyze your traffic and track subscriptions to your RSS feed.
I created a Posterous account and it's amazingly easy. You can choose from a selection of predesigned templates, or design your own if you want to go to all that trouble (which I don't). You can also point it to your own domain, which is very cool.
Posterous is hosted on the Rackspace Cloud, and I notice that Guy Kawasaki has a blog there. All in all, that's a pretty good recommendation in my book. (Although one might ask, where doesn't he have a blog?)
So if you're part of the 74% of Ecommerce merchants polled who don't plan to implement a blog this year, Posterous might give you reason to reconsider. Check it out!