Many entrepreneurs and small business owners start a blog to support their business. A blog, they figure, will allow them to illustrate their knowledge to clients, build a reputation and brand, get people to check out their work, and take the place of that pesky enewsletter they started a year ago but never seem to have time to write these days.
But in many cases, the errors or glitches that these bloggers can make end up undermining their owners’ businesses in subtle ways. Ultimately, their blogs actually serve to lessen the blogger’s reputation among clients and prospects. Here are the most common errors I’ve seen.
1. Technical errors.
Technical errors include everything from typos to broken links and missing images. To my mind, they also include the my-13-year-old-cousin-was-the-designer blog skins. Given the usable nature of most blogging platforms today, these kinds of errors shouldn’t exist — and the vast majority of web users know this. If your blog contains technical errors, it reflects very poorly on you and, ergo, your business.
Apart from using all the tools at your disposal to ensure that the content you publish contains no technical inaccuracies, bloggers may need to periodically review old content to ensure that, for example, the links still work.
After a given period — say, a year — few users will expect to be able to rely on the links in your content, but if they’ve arrived at that content directly, through a search engine, they may not realise that the content’s old, so a broken link may still undermine your credibility. If linked content is crucial to a given post, you might need to consider building a regular review of those links into your content management plan to ensure that the post remains usable.
2. Factual errors.
Factual errors are a separate issue from technical errors. If technical errors are a baseline of business competency, factual errors mark the baseline for industry or discipline competency. The first might make you look slap-dash, but when users spot factual errors in your work, your professional reputation slides downhill very quickly.
The only way to avoid factual errors is research. Don’t trust any single source — research to find at least two unrelated sources for the same information every time, and cite or link to them in each case. This will obviously impact the time it takes you to produce a blog post, so you may need to alter your writing and research approach accordingly.
Factual errors are problematic, but they’re even more of an issue when the blogger uses them as the basis for opinion pieces.
3. Ill-informed opinion.
When you use erroneous information as the basis for an opinion piece, you do yourself a serious disservice. It’s one thing to report information that, while you’ve seen it presented elsewhere, is inaccurate. But to build that information into your world view suggests to astute readers that you’re gullible, or ignorant, or both. Now the problem isn’t just a matter of misinformation; it’s a matter of personalities.
Opinion pieces should therefore be carefully researched and planned, and their possible implications considered at length. To me, planning an opinion piece is a bit like playing chess: you need to think ahead as many moves as possible to ensure that, whatever happens as a result of the piece, I’ll have a strategy that lets me respond with grace and intelligence. The problem is, if your opinion piece is based on poor information, readers may simply disregard it — and your blog — as garbage without bothering to comment.
4. Poor comment responses.
If it’s your blog, you need to manage it — and its readership. Failing to respond to comments is poor form; responding off the cuff to negative or controversial feedback can be extremely damaging.
Blog comments represent a huge exercise in PR: this is a very visible forum in which you’re responding to your business’s public. So it pays to think like a PR consultant and plan careful responses to negative feedback that show your professionalism, honesty, and genuine interest in what your readers have to say. After all, your clients and prospects are reading this thing — perhaps they’re even the people commenting. Your responses aren’t just a question of good manners; they may have real financial implications.
5. Poor content planning.
Poor content planning shows on business blogs, and can make the blogger seem flaky. If your blog is unreliable, it’s all too easy for readers to extrapolate that to mean that you’re unreliable. And no one wants to do business with someone who’s unreliable. Readers don’t just need to know what types of content or information themes to expect: they also need to know when to expect updates. As we all know, there’s nothing that’s more disappointing than going to a much-loved blogger’s site to find that they haven’t updated it since you were last there.
Of course, the other question of content planning relates directly to your goals for your business-supporting blog. Do you want to use it to direct clients and prospects to freshly-released projects or your updated folio each time you have something to show? Will your clients have any issues with your discussing their projects publicly? What kinds of content and posts will you use to communicate directly — and productively — with prospects? These questions all come down to your blog strategy. If you haven’t got these kinds of issues straightened out, your readers may find it difficult to work out whether your blog is intended for them.
There are, of course, other content questions you’ll need to consider. Do you want to cross-promote special offers on your blog through your Facebook page? Will you tweet every blog update, or provide a blog RSS feed, so that readers know when to visit? If so, you’ll likely need to consider how your blog updates will fit with the other content your feed through these media. Obviously, having a decent content plan will help support your blog’s — and your — professional appearance.
These are the five most common pitfalls I see on business-supporting blogs. Have you fallen into these traps? What other problems — or pet peeves — do you encounter as you rad business blogs?