A Coach’s Guide to Developing a Blog

A Blog or Weblog is described as an online diary. Modern blogs have derived from early online diaries in which people would keep accounts of their personal lives. Practically, a Blog is more like a ‘self-sustaining’ website which allows people with little or no programming skills to develop their own pages -and keep them updated at will.

In previous editions we’ve exposed several benefits of blogging for coaches, particularly when it comes to marketing. In this edition, we include an extensive guide to assist you develop your own successful weblog. Are you ready to jump-start into the Blogosphere?

Section I: Developing Your Blog

The Blogosphere has become a popular context for written, visual and audio communications. Blog platforms, web-based software, widgets, publishing tools, directories, and many other technological resources have backed up the infusion of millions of new Blogs – and encouraged anyone step into “an almost boundary-less” environment. Developing a Blog became as easy as making a pizza.

Choosing a Platform

The first step in developing a Blog is to choose which platform you are going to use. There are several platforms available, each with particular qualities and weaknesses. Following are 6 selected platforms that provide the necessary tools to get you started on the right foot:

– Blogger

– WordPress.com

– WordPress.org

– Typepad

– Movable Type

– MSN Spaces

Tip: choose your platform according to your ease with technology (e.g. HTML coding), the tools available, the hosting format (whether it is a stand-alone or hosted platform), and planned structure of your Blog.

Design and Structure

Most Blog platforms offer professionally looking templates. You should choose a template that fits your business’ image, but also, allows your content to be placed in a well structured manner. For branding purposes, we recommend you hire a designer to develop a unique banner (it could be a similar design to your website if you have one). This will add a notch of professionalism and help people remember where they are navigating.

You will also need to consider categories, post style, RSS feeds, links, archiving, and more. Following are some guidelines:

Create meaningful and concise categories to place your content: these play an important role in how attractive and professional your Blog will look.

Include interesting links and ensure they open ‘in a new page’: you don’t want to direct your visitors away from your Blog.

Have one or more RSS feeds and allow users to easily access the URL for syndication. Usually, the best option is to link it to an RSS logo or image.

Don’t add too much information on the side bars: you want your readers to focus on your Blog’s posts more than on the supporting information. Some blogs look more like link directories than anything else.

Let your readers know how they can contact you via the Blog (e.g. email form, link to your email address, etc). Also ensure that navigation is made easy and that your Blog doesn’t look polluted with information.

Widgets and Tools

The blogosphere’s popularity amongst internet users has been followed by the ongoing development of new tools and services known as ‘blog widgets’. Such tools can be easily accessed and most blog platforms offer them as free embedded services. Should professional bloggers use them to improve the quality of their blogs?

Yes – but with reservation. It is important to remember that when it comes to blogs, content is king. Although widgets may look good in your page, they are only tools which should facilitate your reader’s experience, whether it is by helping them find particular topics within your blog or the web, share information or communicate with others.

Following are common and useful Blog tools, or widgets, which can help improve your reader experience and get your Blog’s functionality up-to-date:

Search: Enable search mechanisms in your Blog. Most Blog platforms provide these as easy-to-install widgets at no cost. This function will allow your readers to quickly find content, thus improving the efficiency of your message. Tip: Blogbar is a free search engine widget that allows your readers to search any keyword within your Blog, the Web or the Blogosphere. The widget is provided in several different languages and it comes in a variety of colours and shapes. It is a great tool to assist your readers search keywords over the Internet.

Email Subscriptions: Have a newsletter or email launch with notifications to your readers. Each time you publish a new post, you can notify your readership and encourage them to comment. Tip: Feedburner provides a range of services for bloggers, many of them highly useful. An email subscription widget from Feedburner allows your readers to subscribe to email updates from your Blog. You can format this email the way you want it, and adjust the frequency and time it is sent out.

Bookmarking and Content Dissemination: There are many ways to get your Blog content out there. You could register in a variety of Blog directories; allow readers to bookmark your posts; syndicate your content via RSS feeds; create podcasts of your posts; and so on. Tip: Register your blog in directories such as Technorati, Google Blog Search and Blog Top Sites and link them back to your Blog. Use AddThis to easily bookmark your Blog posts using a variety of services such as Del.icio.us, Digg, Technorati, Google Bookmarks, and others.

Section II: Maintaining Your Blog

When considering your Blog’s content, make sure you consider your niche. If you are planning to develop a Blog to increase your profile, your content should reflect how you position yourself to your prospects. Therefore, write content that matters to them. Here are some guidelines to improve your blog writing:

– Write a minimum of 3-5 times a week

– Check and answer comments as much as you can

– Write unique content

– Write ‘How-to’, ‘Top 10’, ‘Ask the Expert’ kind of articles and posts

– Write Case Studies on topics of your expertise

– Use videos, images and audio when appropriate

– Write industry news and updates to your target audience

When it comes to Blog writing, part of your homework is to avoid pitfalls of blogging communication. Here’s a list of things you should never do, or avoid as much as you can:

– Promote criticism towards other Bloggers or writers

– Write controversial posts without basis or evidence

– Focus on form instead of content

– Breach copyrights or steal content

– Write opinionated posts about religion, sex, and other controversial topics

– Self-promote in excess, including too many advertisements

Direct Communication

If you are willing to spend some extra time with your readers, whether you want to get to know them better, conduct marketing research, or lead a TeleClass – there are several tools which you can take benefit from. Following are three great tools which will get your contact with your readers to a next level:

Instant Communication: Meebo Me provides an IM window in your page for instant communication with readers, and you can customize the colours, shape, size and location of your widget.

Do-it-yourself research: Vizu Pools is a widget that allows you to create a public pool and publish it on your blog. Your public pool can direct readers to your Blog, whilst your widget can help you find out what your readers have to say about…well…anything you want to ask! It can be a very useful tool to discover which products or services your readers would like to have developed – or what content they would like to see published.

TeleConferences: With knowledge, a headphone with microphone, a reasonably good PC, and Skype – you can use the Skypecasts widget on your Blog. This widget allows you to conduct teleconferences, teleseminars, group conversations, or any combination of these, easily and at no cost. It’s an invaluable tool for coaching bloggers who like to use education-based marketing.

Keeping It Up

The Blogosphere is a fast-paced environment. To keep your Blog up-to-date with technological advances, you need to keep an eye on what’s going on with the Blogosphere. Subscribing to a couple of eZines and RSS feeds from specialist Bloggers will do the job.

Meanwhile, keep looking for options to leverage your content. Developing educational products such as eBooks or TeleConferences is a great way to promote your business through your Blog. These products will assist you engage your readership and position yourself as an expert. Don’t forget to also link your Blog to your current website and other profile pages such as Find A Coach.