Building a Better Blog with Denise Wakeman

IMG_6110a_sm Rich: I want to thank my guest, blogger extraordinaire, Denise Wakeman, whom I've know for years, of The Blog Squad.

Denise, you were one of my first blogging friends online. I don't know if you knew that, but you have been somebody that I have been following for years. And we were lucky enough to meet up and have some face-to-face time at the last couple of Blog World Expos. So thank you very much for the interview.

Denise: Thank you. It's a pleasure for me to be here and to connect with you. I always enjoy our conversations. I was thinking about that as well about how long we've been connected 'virtually'. I think we go back to 2005.

Rich: It could be. I remember just as I was starting to get serious with blogging that I discovered you and started following your stuff. You had an ebook and some audio recordings. I read it and listened to quite a bit of that and found them to be really helpful. They really helped me on my way.

How did you get into blogging? What were you doing as far as web marketing before you got into blogging?

Denise: I got into blogging kind of by accident.

I had been working online since about 1996 using the web as a marketing tool. Up until that point, I had been using the typical ways that people do to have a business on the web.

I had a website, I had an ezine, and I was doing some teleseminars. So those were the basic ways that I was marketing my business on the web.

I had an internet marketing consulting business and I was working with a client who had hired me to help her with her marketing. One day I got an email from her saying, "I just started a blog." I thought, "Uh-oh." She wasn't really technically savvy, so I knew that I'd be getting a lot of questions about it.

This was in 2004. At that time, I was aware of blogs because there was a lot of buzz around blogging in the political sphere. That was during the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean. He was really using the internet and blogging specifically to get his message out. So I knew about blogs, but I had never really thought about them as a business tool.

So when this client told me that she had started a blog, I knew I'd better start a blog right away. So I did. I set up a blog on TypePad.com because that was where she had set up her blog and I thought, "That's where I should set up my blog so I can help her."

Almost literally, it was like the light bulb went on immediately when I realized what a simple tool this was, especially for service professionals who were my clients, to get a site on the web that was easy to use and easy to manage to get their message out at pretty much free or low cost. So I was pretty excited about blogging when I discovered it almost five years ago. My five-year blogging anniversary comes up in September.

Rich: Excellent. It's funny because I was just few months behind you. My first blog, also in TypePad, was in November 2004. It was also a client who was a fan of Howard Dean that said, "I want to start a blog. You should too." That's kind of how I fell into it too. So I guess we can thank Howard Dean for that.

You work with a lot of different companies and service professionals as you mentioned. What do you think are some of the biggest reasons that businesses should be blogging?

Denise: There are a bunch of reasons. Primarily, I think that first of all, it's a very simple way for them to get their content on the web that they can manage themselves. Forgive me for saying this because I know that you're a web company, but many of my clients have been held hostage, let's say, by web companies where they get stuck waiting forever to get updates done. I see the blog as a really simple tool for businesses to actually manage their own site.

Beyond that, I think they're a phenomenal way for businesses to connect and engage with their clients and their prospects by creating content that engages and entertains, and is helpful and useful in some ways so that people can actually get to know who they are, what they do, their beliefs, their values, etc. and start creating those conversations that lead to business because very often it does.

I also think that they are a fabulous tool for creating visibility on a global level. While not every business wants a global audience, many local businesses also benefit from having a blog. I have a lot of local businesses who have started blogging recently when they finally realized that they can go beyond their own little tiny network that they may know physically walking into their business. They can actually reach out to more people in their community, so I think it's a good visibility play.

Also there's the search engine benefit. All that content being indexed on a regular basis by the search engines only helps a business become more findable on the web. That's a good thing.

Rich: Absolutely. Those are some great reasons and great ideas.

Although flyte new media is known for how quickly we turn around work, ;) I have heard horror stories of other web development firms who are a little bit slow in doing updates. Or just in case you want to make an update or something happens over the weekend and your web developer has gone home for the weekend, with a blog you can certainly update that website yourself.

Denise: Exactly. And that was certainly no comment on your company because I would certainly imagine that your company does not do all those poor practices that I've heard about.

Rich: Certainly there are people who have concerns about blogging. What do you think are some of the downsides or pitfalls to blogging? What should people be concerned about when they start to get into this?

Denise: The very biggest concern I hear expressed—I hear it almost every single day—is time. It's the time that people think it will take to manage a blog.

I usually try to turn that around for them and say, "It's not about blogging per se. It's about marketing your business on the web." As I said, if you can't be found online, you pretty much don't exist because everybody goes online now. Whether it's local or international, people go online to find out information about the businesses that they want to connect with. Even if it's your local pizza place, you want to see, "Are they online? Do they have a menu online? Can I order online?" etc.

When people say to me, "I don't have time to blog," I kind of think that maybe there's an education process that needs to happen about the importance of marketing your business online. It's not about blogging per se. It's about creating content that attracts the right people to you.

Maybe that would be a downside, but otherwise, I can't really think of downsides to blogging because I think it's a very powerful marketing tool.

Rich: You brought up some good points. Time is definitely a concern that a lot of people have. I like how you rethink it or reframe it so that it's more about the marketing. Don't consider it as blogging time. Consider it as marketing time. I think that might help a few more small businesses and entrepreneurs kind of wrap their head around it.

This brings up a good point. How much time a week do you spend on blogging? Do you also spend time commenting and following other blogs? If so, how much time does that take up too?

Denise: That's a good question because of course I'm constantly advocating that people obviously make time to post content on their blogs.

What do I do personally? I have two primary blogs that are for my business. My goal is generally to post on each of them two to three times a week. I would say I spend between 10 and 30 minutes on each blog post. Some blog posts are simple announcements or Q & A. Some are more complex or much more content-rich. So it really depends on the blog post.

I would say that in general I spend probably one to two hours a week blogging. That includes doing some research, making sure I have all my links correct and adding images to illustrate my points. Or I'm doing video blogging, creating videos that I post on my blog instead of actually writing content, because that's another way to get around the "I hate to write" argument that I didn't mention in the downside, but that comes up too.

As for commenting on other blogs, I probably don't it as much as I should, a big confession there. But I do try to keep track of what people are talking about in my niche. I use Google Alerts and I use TweetLater to get Twitter alerts on keywords in my niche. I try to pay attention to what other people are talking about and then follow through those links if there's something interesting that I need to comment on or connect with.

I'm tracking probably 30 to 40 blogs and I probably comment several times a week if there's something that's relevant to what I should be commenting on.

Rich: You consult with a number of different professionals and businesses on starting their own blog or on improving their own blog. What kind of research does a business need to do if they're just getting started or kind of revamping their blog? How does somebody find out what they should be blogging about?

Denise: I usually recommend that a business start off by finding what other blogs exist in their niche. There are some great sites that can help do that. Technorati.com is the largest blog directory on the planet, basically. I think they index 130 million blogs or something like that. The number is probably higher by this time.

There are also curated sites like Alltop.com. By curated, I mean that they don't just index any blog. You have to submit your blog for approval to be on their site. There's also Blogs.com which is run by Six Apart which owns Movable Type, TypePad and Vox. That's a great site too for going very specifically to subject matter and finding out what other people are doing in your niche.

That's where I usually tell people to start. Then I look at what's the core message that they want to be spreading out there in the world. What do they want to be talking about? I ask them to take their core message and maybe break it down into seven to 10 subtopics or, in blogging language, 'categories'. What, underneath that big umbrella of a subject, can they talk about?

Then within each one of those categories, what are five sub-sub categories that they could actually talk about around that subject matter? That usually helps really focus and refine the message. When people see that, they can see, "Yes, we do have something to talk about.' There's how-to, there are opinions and there's Q & A from your customers.

That's the way I try to position it for people to figure out what their content will be.

Rich: A lot of people think of blogs as marketing tools, which obviously they are, but in some ways they need to be promoted as well. What do you do to promote your own blog and the individual posts on the blog?

Denise: That's a great question.

First and foremost, I have a way for readers to subscribe to be notified when there are new updates. I use an email subscription form. There are a couple of ways you can do that. I use Feedblitz.com because that's who I started with years ago and I stuck with them. I think they've got a great service. But also FeedBurner offers an email subscription option.

The reason I really emphasize email is because even though RSS, or 'really simple syndication' for those who don't know what that means, is a geeky, wonderful thing for those of us who know it, it's still slow for people to adopt because they don't understand it. I'll be honest. I never look at my RSS feeds, but I always see my email. I always subscribe by email to blogs I want to keep up with. This is a great way to make sure that people keep coming back. So I promote individual posts that way.

I am also part of a couple of bookmarking clubs. If I feel like I have written a post that is worthy of attention, I can let people in those groups know that if it works for them, I would like them to bookmark it or tweet it or put it on Facebook or comment or whatever. I don't do that for every post, but for ones that I think are meatier or pithier than others.

I also make sure that my blog posts are fed into my Twitter stream. Some people don't agree with this, but I don't blog 20 times a day, so I don't think that it's a problem to get two or three tweets in a week that have blog posts in them. I also make sure that they're pushed out to Facebook.

Occasionally, I will send emails to my ezine list saying, "Hey, I think this is a blog post that's really relevant for you. If you're an author, I just wrote about 'XYZ - Using a Blog for Writers'," or whatever. I'll pick posts that way to promote.

Rich: Tell me more about this bookmarking club. Is this just kind of like an ad hoc group of friends and co-marketers where occasionally it's a 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' kind of thing? As long as there's quality content, are you promoting each other's work to get them into Digg and to get them into Delicious and some of these other similar sites?

Denise: Yes.

Rich: There's nothing wrong with that. The bottom line is that even if you had somebody do this, if it wasn't good quality, it wouldn't take off. If it is good quality, this just gives it that initial jump to get enough interest so people can decide, "This is also something I'd like to Digg or something I'd like to suggest to StumbleUpon."

Denise: That's exactly right. And, of course, there's never any requirement that anyone Stumble or Digg or bookmark any piece of content. It's entirely up to them. It's just like, "Here's something. If it works for you, go for it." I don't Stumble or Digg everything that comes across my path.

Because of the way these sites work, it's better if somebody else does it rather than you because you can get banned from Digg or StumbleUpon if you're bookmarking and Stumbling and Digging your own stuff too much.

Rich: As you mentioned, you have been blogging for quite some time. What things have you seen change since you started blogging?

Denise: I think that the blogging platforms have become much easier to use for the non-techie. It's easier to design and manage blogs now, for example, just TypePad alone. I know that a lot of people use WordPress too and I also have sites on WordPress. But just for example, TypePad, their platform has evolved tremendously in the last five years to the point that I would say it's comparable to WordPress in terms of what you can do with it.

They're so much easier to use now. Before, you kind of had to really spend some time figuring out how a platform works. Now I think it's much more intuitive.

Rich: That's really funny what you say about TypePad because, like you, I started on TypePad and now, in part because of whom I've hired, we're developing most of our stuff on WordPress these days. I work on both platforms.

I always used to recommend TypePad for people because I thought it was so easy. I have actually found that WordPress finally caught up from a user interface and maybe even surpassed TypePad.

But the bottom line is that those are the two platforms that I find most easy to use for business people who really don't want to worry about anything else than creating compelling content for their audience.

Denise: Exactly. Those are the two I recommend also. I always say, "It depends," when somebody asks me.

I have a reputation of being a TypePad fanatic, but that's not really totally true. It's just that I happen to use TypePad and I know it inside and out. I don't know WordPress as well. I always found that WordPress was a little bit more challenging for me, not being a real techie geek. I had to hire people to help me with it and that has never been my message. My message has been that you should be able to do it yourself if you want to. I have heard that it's getting much more user-friendly for the non-techies, but I just haven't had time to focus on checking that out.

I recommend them both, depending on what somebody is looking for.

I also have found, as far as changes, that of course more people are blogging. That's huge that more people are finally seeing that a blog can really be a very powerful tool and that a blog doesn't have to be just a blog. The blog or journaling aspect of blogging can be integrated with your site and with other tools. People are using blogging platforms as the foundation of their websites. So that's a huge shift.

I also think that it's more important than ever to stay very focused on your message in order to stand out from the crowd of blogs out there. There's competition in just about every content niche. You just have to be really focused. You have to be constant and you have to be consistent. Those are the blogs that will stand out and be successful over time.

Rich: Obviously, social media is all the buzz these days with things like Twitter and Facebook and YouTube. How are you leveraging some of these tools to promote and to increase the value of your blog?

Obviously, blogging is a part of social media. There is a very social aspect to blogging that you don't find on a traditional website. So how are you integrating some of these tools into what you're doing with your blog?

Denise: First of all, I do agree that a blog is a social media tool by the very nature that it can be interactive through the commenting features, so you can connect with your readers that way and that makes it social right there.

As I mentioned before, I make sure that my blog posts are automatically fed to my Twitter stream. I use tools to automate this. I use TwitterFeed to send my blog posts to Twitter. I use the 'Notes' application in Facebook to make sure that my blog posts are sent to my Facebook profile and my Facebook fan page. I use what I think is called the 'Blog Link' application in LinkedIn to make sure my blog posts are sent to LinkedIn.

In my view, there are so many sites out there now. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of social networking sites and you never really know where somebody is going to find. Somebody who is a LinkedIn contact, for example, may not even know that I have a blog. They've only seen me through LinkedIn because they were referred to me by somebody else. So by having my blog content fed into my LinkedIn account, they can see some of my content. And if it's compelling to them, they'll click through and go to my blog.

My personal opinion is that the blog is really my home base. It's my hub. It's the hub of all my activity because there's only so much you can say in 140 characters on Twitter. I can go deep and intimate with people on my blogs. That's where they can really get to know me. They can get to know my values and my beliefs.

I'm actually more of a pragmatic writer on my blogs. It's more about 'how to' and, "This is why you need to do this. This is how you need to do this." That's just my style. I'm not a big philosophical kind of person. But I get a lot of compliments for that because people want to know how stuff works and why they should do it.

People who are interested in that will follow those links if my headlines are compelling enough. A key there is making sure that your headlines are well-written.

Also, I've noticed in the last probably nine to 12 months that probably 40% to 50% of my traffic to my blogs is now coming from social network sites, specifically Twitter and Facebook. So that's a no-brainer to make sure that my blog is linked there.

And what I've noticed is that the people who are coming from those sites are much chattier. They're much more inclined to comment. I'm getting way more comments now on my blog posts than I ever used to because people are used to conversing on the social networking sites and they're comfortable posting comments.

Rich: I want to thank you because you've given us a lot of stuff to work on. You've constantly been a source for me to turn to in terms of improving my own blogging.

Why don't you tell us a few of the places that we can find you online?

Denise: I'd be glad to. My first primary blog is BizTipsBlog.com. That's my original first blog that debuted in September 2004. It mostly revolves around internet marketing and creating online visibility. That's a big thing that I've really been focused on lately, so I talk about those things there.

Then BuildaBetterBlog.com is where I write specifically about business blogging. I keep that very, very focused on all things related to blogging.

My 'about me' kind of stuff is at DeniseWakeman.com.

Rich: Denise, thank you very much for your time today. I really appreciate it. I'll talk to you soon.

Denise: It has been my pleasure, Rich.

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You can follow Denise on Twitter at @denisewakeman

You can follow Rich on Twitter at @therichbrooks

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