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The Blog Boost

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When Southwest Airlines 18 months ago launched its employee-written corporate blog (www.blogsouthwest.com), Brian Lusk, the company's manager of customer communications and corporate editor, barely knew what a blog was. Today, Lusk, Southwest's official "blog boy," said it's a big part of the company's marketing program, and one that will expand this year as the airline adds upgrades that will, in part, increase the blog's visibility on search engines.

Southwest joins a growing number of companies looking to improve natural search engine rankings with the use of blogs—and for good reason. A 2007 Forrester research brief said blogs can shorten sales cycles when they "connect decision-makers to the designers and thought leaders who shape new products and services."

Yet only a small portion of Fortune 500 companies have their own blogs today, according to Forrester—despite the fact that blogging is inexpensive and easy compared with other marketing tactics. This is slowly changing as marketers realize the benefits of blogs, both on and off the search engine, said Amanda Watlington, the owner of Searching for Profit, a search marketing consultancy.

"Blogs are fabulous for search because of the way they are set up," she said. "They are template-driven, so they are reasonably search-friendly. They also satisfy a search engine's need for frequency, "recentness" and good, solid material. Blogs are typically keyword-rich, too."

With Yahoo and Google consistently ranked the No. 1 and No. 2 most frequently viewed sites on the Web (comScore said Yahoo had 136.6 million unique users in December 2007 while Google had just fewer than 130.0 million) it pays to get noticed on these engines. It also saves money, said Tara Lamberson, VP-marketing and strategy for interactive agency MindComet, because people are more likely to click on an organic search link than a paid search link, especially if the same company's links show up on both.

Getting Started

Although blogging may cost a lot less than a print or banner ad campaign, it still requires resources and commitment; you have to put effort into it so it gets indexed by the search engines and make it interesting enough that people will frequent it.

"There are certain factors that make a blog do well in search engine rankings," said Chris Baggott, co-founder of blog technology provider Compendium Blogware. "You'll want to have a title. You'll want lots of keyword use—but relevant keyword use. A lot of successful bloggers blog with a sticky note on their screen to remind them which words to use. The blog should be updated often, and you might want to think about allowing moderated comments to build credibility."

John Tawadros, COO of search marketing company iProspect, said it's also important to choose a good publishing platform. "Look at the top blogs and see what technology they use," he said.

Some of the most common include Blogger, Movable Type, TypePad and Word Press, and several of these have search engine optimization tools to help improve search engine rankings, Watlington said.

Who at your company should be blogging? Bloggers must be passionate about their topic and willing to commit to regular posts. Baggott said the more people who blog, the better, which may be why Southwest Airlines' blog has done so well. More than 30 Southwest employees blog, from executives to pilots to marketing folks, Southwest's Lusk said.

If your topic or product is technical, consider engineers and tech folks who can address both questions and problems. Marketing people can build awareness for upcoming releases. Even customer service agents or salespeople, who speak to customers most often and hear about trends and issues first, are good sources to tap.

You may have plenty of bloggers already and not even know it, Baggott said. "You can do a search on Technorati and find 30 employees with their own blogs," he said. "This can be a problem because you have no control. You need to get control and make sure you own your content."

Getting the Word Out

Once your blog is created, link to it from every page on your main Web site and refer to it in your other marketing efforts.

IProspect's Tawadros suggested using content from your blogs to populate your e-mail newsletter. "This is going to entice people to come to the blog and get people talking, which creates more content," he said.

He also suggested posting those e-newsletters on your Web site and linking them directly to the blog so you're creating even more ways for people to find them.

Once visitors find your blog, they will stick around if you're engaging them in a compelling conversation. One of the reasons blogs are so hot is that there is an actual person behind them with a personality, point of view and a fresh take on the world, a specific product or company.

"The most important thing we tell people about blogs is that they should be authentic," Lamberson said. "People should be encouraged to comment, and bloggers should be going out and posting on other blogs in the vertical. And comments should be responded to within 24 hours. You can set up alerts to let people know that they've got a comment on their blog."

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