If you haven’t added a blog to your online store, given the state of the economy, now is a good time to consider doing so, as they can be an affordable way to market your e-commerce site.
For some Web shop owners, it is the perfect forum for offering insider tips and sharing your expertise, while for others, it’s a great way to involve customers in the buying experience by either discussing products or topics pertinent to your business or by simply keeping them updated on company news in a more personal way.
To help you decide if blogging will add value to your online store I’ll explain what blogs are, how to integrate one into your site and explain what a blog can do to help you build your brand.
A blog is different from a traditional Web site in that it is more like an online diary where the blog owner posts short messages on a semi-regular basis. These blog posts are organized chronologically with the most recent post at the top so a visitor can browse down the page to read earlier posts.
This chronological layout is very different to the hierarchical layout use for most online stores. While it makes for easy reading, it isn’t optimized for finding things quickly so you wouldn’t use a blog to sell product, for example. What you will use a blog for is to stay in contact with your customers and to communicate with them about your business and products.
Unlike most Web sites, blogs are indexed regularly by search engines like Google. So, the text and images you post to your blog will be indexed within days and will appear in search engine results more quickly than changes to your Web site. By posting details of new products and any changes you make to your store to your blog and adding links back to your e-commerce site, you can feed customers to new Web site content well before the new content has been indexed.
What Should You Post?
When you add a blog to an online shop, be aware that the blog and its posts reflect on your business. While many bloggers post a lot of personal information, indeed treating their blogs like an online diary, this is not typical of a business blog. While it’s acceptable and recommended that a business blog has a personality because it should be an interesting read, it’s best to focus on providing your customers with usable information and advice about the things they buy or might buy from you.
|The folks at GetGoRetro use their blog to advertise products that are for sale in their online store and to give tips on buying vintage and retro gear.
(Click for larger image.)
To get customers to buy into your blog so it becomes a valued resource to them, invite them to participate by becoming a “guest blogger” where they can write a blog post showing how they use your product. Another idea is to use the blog as a place where you can profile a “customer of the week.” This helps you showcases how your business values its customers and it helps build customer loyalty.
Create a Blog
Most blogs are created using free or low-cost online sites such as Blogger from Google (blogger.com), WordPress (wordpress.com), and Moveable Type (typepad.com). These services are simple to use and you can configure and have your blog up and running in less than an hour. Some sites like Blogger give you a hosting choice — they will host your blog for you or you can host it on your own Web site. To host it on your site you will need to provide your site’s FTP details and, each time you create a new post and publish it, the blog software will upload it to your server for you.
Add It to Your Web Shop Site
When creating your blog, design it so it has a similar look and feel to your Web store so they look like they belong together. Most blog tools offer blog templates and it’s relatively easy to choose one that has a layout similar to your site and to customize its colors and fonts. Alternately, you or your Web designer can design a one-off blog template that matches the look of your site.
Your blog shouldn’t exist in isolation to your online store. You need to add a link to the blog in your shop’s navigation system so customers can find it easily. Likewise, your blog should link back to your store as it may be the first point of contact for visitors. To make it simple, add the navigation system from your store to your blog and the two will be linked seamlessly with each other.
It is also possible to incorporate a blog into a Web site by having it appear inside a page of the site. This is a very slick solution which requires additional programming and generally requires that you host your blog on your own server.
Keep It Updated
Before committing to a blog, be aware that setting it up and linking it to your store is the easy part. Keeping the blog updated, active and topical is the hard part. Ideally, you should blog once a week so you stay in contact with your customers. The more you post useful and relevant content to your blog, the more value it will have as a resource for your customers, especially if you add a search tool to it.
Having a blog will differentiate your business from others in terms of the level of service that you provide to your customers. A regularly updated blog also reassures customers that your business is active and functioning.
While it takes time to write and publish your posts, the actual technical work involved in doing this is quite simple and much easier than adding content to most Web sites.
Most blog tools provide an online text editor into which you type each post. There are buttons for formatting text and a simple dialog for uploading pictures — the program will even size them for you. In this sense it’s far quicker and easier to post to a blog than it is to update a Web page or create a new one. It’s this simplicity that makes a blog particularly attractive as an adjunct to an online store as you can update the blog quickly and without having to spend hours coding pages or tweaking style sheets.
If you’re looking for a way to develop and maintain customer loyalty particularly in lean times a blog is an inexpensive and attractive method for doing so. Blogs are simple to update and they offer you a way to help build brand loyalty with your customers.
Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com.
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Article courtesy of E-Commerce Guide