By Kathleen Furore
Everywhere you turn, the business world is buzzing about social media. Companies not communicating via Facebook, Twitter and a website risk looking dusty in this digital age; and even those that do are being upstaged by competitors whose blogs tout the latest news about products, promotions and industry trends.
“Business that don’t have a blog lose out on a great new channel for bringing in business. A blog offers the opportunity for a potential customer to get to know the business by reading what they have to say,” says Daniel Decker, internet marketing strategist and owner of One Marketing (www.onemarketingagency.com), a company that specializes in web design and internet marketing, direct marketing, graphic design, and strategic consulting for small and mid-sized businesses. “It’s a much more personal introduction than a standard website. Businesses without a blog will also generally be out-performed in the search engines by businesses that do blog.”
Since tile dealers and distributors are no exception, understanding how to create and manage a blog is key to your social marketing success.
What is a Blog?
“Blog” is an abbreviation for “weblog”—a term used to describe web sites that maintain an ongoing chronicle of information. “A blog features diary-type commentary and links to articles on other web sites, usually presented as a list of entries in reverse chronological order,” information from WordPress, a self-hosted blogging tool and full content management system, explains.
While blogs’ style and content vary, most include a main content area with articles listed chronologically (usually the newest on top, and often organized into categories); an archive of older articles; a list of links to other related sites (sometimes called a “blogroll”); and “feeds” like RSS, Atom or RDF files.
High-quality blogs also let visitors comment about posted articles and even message each other—an important feature that distinguishes blogs from static websites, industry information says.
The Benefits of Blogging
Blogging is valuable for tile dealers and distributors for several reasons. It demonstrates industry expertise, increases exposure on Google and other popular search engines, and keeps tile businesses connected to potential clients and the industry as a whole.
“Blogging establishes the expertise of the dealer or distributor. It helps them build the perception of being an industry expert, which in turn makes customers more likely to do business with them,” Decker explains. “Studies have shown consumers are more likely to buy products and services from people they know. You might not be able to personally meet potential customers, but a well-written blog can leave them feeling like they know you. It’s an ideal place to demonstrate your expertise and let your personality shine through.”
The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) benefit is a very important plus, Decker adds. “Greater visibility means more website traffic, and more website traffic means more sales. That’s something we all want!” he says. “Search engines love content, and your blog is the easiest place to deliver fresh content that is relevant to your business. Your blog will dramatically increase your visibility on Google, which will lead directly to more traffic and more sales on your website.”
Blogging also helps tile professionals stay up to date on industry trends and remain “in the loop” as a participant in online conversations.
“Your blog gives you the opportunity to deliver branded content to customers, potential customers and, perhaps most importantly, to search engines,” Decker says. “Your blog gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and your personality while simultaneously increasing the online visibility of your company.”
Statements Tile and Stone (www.statements.com) is one company delivering content and reaping rewards with Ciao! (ciaotile.com), the blog that Statements’ president, Ryan Calkins, launched five years ago.
“We started the blog in September of 2007 to provide a more informal source of information for our clients. Our website, much like a product catalog, needs to be clear, detailed and somewhat technical. It’s not conducive to the conversational tone that a blog can have,” Calkins explains. “For events, interviews, less conventional information and client-generated content, the blog is a much better format. And of course, our goal with the blog was to engage new and existing customers to encourage them to use us as their tile source.”
Calkins says the blog—which includes such categories as Sustainability, Style + Design, Vendors and Trends, plus links to Facebook, Twitter and “Ideabooks by Statements”—has met those goals.
“Ciao! has helped us to build a brand as a personal, local, and engaging business. It deepens the client’s sense of who we are, and creates additional spaces for people seeking tile options to find us,” he says.
Another upside: Blogging can help build a brand at no cost. “It’s possible to blog without spending a penny. It’s a no brainer,” Decker stresses. “If you’re not blogging already, it’s time to get started!”
Ready, Set, Blog!
So it’s time to get started. But what does it take to embark on the road to successful blogging?
While Decker advises tile dealers and distributors to seek professional help to create a blog, he says anyone can tackle the task.
“It is certainly something that can be done by an individual. Sites like WordPress.com and Blogger.com allow anyone to create and maintain a blog completely free of charge,” Decker says. “Anyone with basic computer skills should be able to set up a functioning blog that looks and works just fine.”
Calkins, in fact, turned to WordPress when Statements debuted the Ciao! blog.
“I personally had some experience with blogging for a non-profit, so I was able to set up a rudimentary blog using WordPress,” he recalls. “Aside from a few adjustments to the template, we have not changed the format all that much.”
The story is similar at East Coast Tile (www.eastcoasttile.com), which now boasts two blogs, according to Director Stacey Mednick.
The company’s website blog debuted three and a half years ago, while Everything Tile and Stone is two years old.
“The website blog was part of the design of our then-new website. I believe we announced its launch in eblasts,” Mednick says. “Everything Tile and Stone was created through a company called HiveFire using their Curata (www.curata.com) technology. Neither were difficult to set up, but we spent time designing the look of the blogs and deciding on the types of content.”
The blogs, Mednick explains, have separate missions.
“The goal of our website blog is to inform customers about our products, unique customer service and store locations. Everything Tile and Stone is set to help inform everyone on the Internet searching for topics about ceramic, porcelain, glass and metal tile, stone and flooring,” she says. “We felt the blog on our website was limited to our own customers’ reviews, product mix and store events. Everything Tile and Stone let us branch out into the whole tile and stone industry.”
Posts on Everything Tile and Stone, for example, cover topics ranging from design ideas and shopping tips to “green” tile options and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects.
Maintaining your Blog
Once a blog exists, the only real upkeep is site maintenance—a time-consuming but necessary task.
“We recommend adding content once per week. At a minimum, the blog should be updated twice per month,” Decker recommends.
Calking says his company adds at least one post a month—usually product-related—to the Ciao! blog, and over the past two years has shifted some posts to Facebook and Twitter, as well.
“We have multiple people who can update the blog, each with a different emphasis. Our audience loves to hear about our ‘extracurriculars.’” Calkins says, noting that topics about Statements’ community involvement are popular. “A couple of months back, unbeknownst to me, someone took a picture of me relaxing with my feet up on my desk and posted it under the caption, ‘working hard or hardly working?’ That was one of our most popular posts all year!”
A similar blogging strategy is at work at East Coast Tile. New posts are added to the website blog a few times a month, while updates are added to Everything Tile and Stone every weekday. Mednick shares responsibilities with other employees for the website blog, and is responsible for the daily additions to Everything Tile and Stone.
“For the website blog, I typically ask a few key managers and salespeople to periodically come up with content. For Everything Tile and Stone, the popular tiling topics on the Internet guide my posts. The most popular ones are typically design-oriented,” Mednick explains.
While each tile dealer and distributor will have different ideas about what content to include, current bloggers share basic advice about how to best manage blogging.
Mednick recommends finding a few quick writers who are knowledgeable about specific topics. “For example, find one person who can write for contractors, another for design and another for DIY. Have them each be responsible for a certain number of blogs a month,” she suggests.
“Find somebody in your business who is passionate about social media and let them run with it. If it’s just a chore for someone, that sense will come across on the blog,” Calkins adds, noting that maintenance and security are key. “A blog is another window into your company, and therefore needs to be monitored,” he stresses.
Clearly, blogging has become a marketing “must” for most small businesses. But creating and maintaining a blog can be challenging, especially from a time-management perspective, the experts acknowledge.
“Blogging takes time, and business owners are always short on time. The key is to develop a system and stick to it,” Decker says. “One of our most successful clients dedicates an hour to blog writing every Tuesday, usually from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Choose a time that works for you and schedule it into your week. Treat this time as importantly as you would a meeting with a potential client. It’s not optional!”
Next up: Marketing your blog for maximum exposure and profit
Getting a blog up and running is just the first step toward a successful blogging future. Learn how to maximize your marketing efforts to increase traffic to your blog in Part 2 of the blogging series, coming in the next issue of TileDealer.
A Dictionary of Blogging Terms
Archive: A way to keep track of articles on a site. Many blogs feature an archive based on dates. The front page may feature a calendar of dates linked to daily archives. Archives can also be based on categories featuring all the articles related to a specific category. You can also archive posts by author or alphabetically.
Blogroll: A list, sometimes categorized, of links to web pages the blog’s author finds worthwhile or interesting. The links in a blogroll are usually to other blogs with similar interests. The blogroll is often in a “sidebar” on the page or featured as a dedicated separate web page.
Feed: A feed is a function of special software that allows “Feedreaders” to access a site automatically looking for new content and then post updates about that new content to another site. This is a way users can keep up with the latest information posted on different blogging sites. Some Feeds include RSS (alternately defined as “Rich Site Summary” or “Really Simple Syndication”), Atom or RDF files.