October 30, 2017

20 best practices for effective business blogging

WHAT IS A BUSINESS BLOG


Simply speaking, a business blog is one that promotes a business. It can be part of the main website, or it can be a standalone blog.

I assume that you already have a website, because no business - except perhaps nomadic or hyper-local trade - can survive without a website these days.

Normal websites are static in the sense that their content does not change too frequently. Even if some part of it is dynamic [e.g. share quotes in an equity investment website] or a part is updated fast [e.g. websites introducing or reviewing new products], the updation is part of the core of website. On the other hand, the blog is there for updating on matters that the website may not do routinely (We'd come to that in the third section).

Business blogging
photo courtesy: Pixabay
The blog is not only an extension of the website but also a platform to engage existing and potential customers. But unlike Facebook and Twitter,  the blog is not a 'quickie' social networking platform. It is of a more permanent value and so it needs a special treatment from the business owner/ firm.
  

WHY MUST BUSINESSES BLOG


Businesses big and small must blog. If you, as a businessman, are not convinced, do read this section. Otherwise jump to the next section.

Without taking time, let me tell the main advantages of a business blog:
  • By its very nature, i.e. because of its fresh content, the blog is better search engine optimized and so can quickly climb to the top of search engine pages.
  • It drives relevant traffic to landing pages. It has been found through studies that websites get significant traffic when they are linked with a well-maintained blog.
  • It is also an additional channel for suggestions and feedback.
  • The bonds built on the blog are of much higher value than those through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • As the blog grows older, its value increases because of growing resources and reputation. You can also re-purpose its content for giveaways.
   

HOW BEST TO DO EFFECTIVE BLOGGING FOR BUSINESS


Let me present a list of 20 best practices for using blog for business functions: engagement and feedback, promotion, brand building and sale.
  1. Give the blog an identity that will enhance the your brand's recall.
  2. Host the blog on a paid host (Don't open the blog on a free website builder/ blogging platform).
  3. Invest a bit of money in buying a professional theme for the blog.
  4. Write information beyond what is given on your main website. Think of having blog pages on the range of products you offer even if these are on the main website; just write these in a more informal style. Give a page on FAQs on your product, use blog to give updates on your new products, and so on.
  5. Give a variety of useful information: on your product, on industry, on how to solve problems or create things by using your product, other useful information that is not directly related to your product. Sometimes even give away your secrets. Well, these won't be your business secrets or patented tech, just helpful bits of info deep into your area.
  6. Have the content tagged to different categories and link each category with a menu on a well-laced menu bar on the blog.
  7. Announce new products, talk about discounts and seasonal sale, share if you have opened a new branch office... but do not indulge in vulgar promotion. Try to give detailed information rather than asking for a buy. People don't like to be fooled; so, if you are itching to promote your product on the blog, be open about it. A good practice is to write an informative article and at its bottom give links to other relevant content, including a promotional/ landing page.
  8. Whenever you write a post on the blog and whenever you want to refer to a blog post for detailed information, don't forget to give a link on your social networking entities. Link relevant posts, but avoid too much internal linking, especially deliberate and artificial looking links with the landing page.
  9. Write posts regularly on the blog. It has been found that the traffic on business blogs grows proportional to frequency of posting up to 2-3 posts a week.  
  10. Make a regular schedule of posting. Reinforce the regularity with subtle sign-off announcements such as this: We will meet next Sunday with discussion on... 
  11. Have a comment box at the end of posts, and respond to each comment. Thank people who give useful information/ feedback or endorse your product.
  12. When you get an angry response, ask publicly how you could help and what might have gone wrong. Offer help, e.g. by giving phone number, and suggesting other ways of grievance redressal. When you get an abusive comment, write back politely, but don't engage in abuses. If needed, remove the comment and make public that you removed the comment as it could not be shared publicly. Do not malign, threaten or expose the abuser, unless required for legal or such other reasons.
  13. Think of using the blog to seek experiences. When you get personal stories from users, share them on the blog.
  14. It helps if you have a public face to write on the blog, rather than the firm's name or your designation.
  15. Use in first and second person ('I' and 'You'), to make a bond with the visitors.
  16. Have an opt-in form to get subscription to the blog. E-mail subscribers are a very prized audience for any blog.
  17. Don't think of the blog as a social networking platform. Write much more valuable content on the blog than what you'd write on Facebook, Instagram, Google Plus or Twitter. Reserve Twitter etc for networking, quick updates and answering queries.
  18. If you are a medium or big sized firm, you can use the blog as house magazine. Encourage staff to write on the blog, and reward them for it.
  19. Once the blog has enough resources, you can bind them into e-books and offer them as free giveaways for subscribing to the blog.
  20. Do a bit of ethical SEO so that your blog comes on top of search results for your type of products or services. 
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October 24, 2017

Best Indian literary blogs in English in 2017

Indian English blogging is undergoing a sort of transformation. New, especially young, bloggers now create professional blogs as they no longer need blogging for their personal social media needs. Personal shares and networking are done on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and other social networks, not on blogs.

People who are active in literature - both as readers and writers - mostly open blogs for satisfying their literary urge. Till some years back, literary blogging was limited to sharing good reads and using the blog as one's extension for expressions. Then came authors who opened blogs to promote their books, and readers learned to use blogging for reviewing books on payment. Many literary agencies and book publishers opened blogs as part of their portals to share updates. Many writers have created a blog to just express themselves through poetry and fiction, and for published authors, this works beautifully as their extension of published life. 
  
In India, the literature niche is not as rich and engaging in English blogging as in local language blogging, mostly because English is not the mother tongue of over 95% Indians and they can express themselves much better in Indian languages. The professional/ earning segment is even smaller because Indian bloggers are unable to monetize their content for two reasons: (i) digital transactions are not yet as prevalent as in the more developed societies, (ii) not many Indians regularly read English literature, and (iii) Indian web surfers are miserly when it comes to paying for content.


topmost 2 dozen literary blogs in India


I have taken out the topmost blogs out of ITB Blog Directory for 2017; I then did a lot of web search and found a few more excellent literary blogs. I present these best Indian literary blogs in English. I might have missed one or two. If you have seen such fine blogs, please tell me and I will include them here.

ajaykontham - The Shaded Shadows
anieshabrahma - Aniesha's Musings
anureviews - Anu Reviews

artofleo - I Rhyme Without Reason

bookgeeks - bookGeeks
ddsreviews - b00k r3vi3ws
fatema - Life As Freya
geetaavij - Fabric of Life
inderpreetuppal - Inderpreet's Eloquent Articulation
jaiarjun - Jabberwock
kaapitimes - Hot Cup of Kaapi

knownturf - Known Turf 
literarism - Literarism
meotherwise - Me Otherwise
nishitak - Nishita's Rants and Raves
privytrifles - Reviews & Musings….

saffrontree - Saffron Tree
saurabhchawla - Saurabh's Lounge
shanayatales - Shanaya Tales
shoooonya - …shoooonya…
soumya-hintofme - LOL: Life Of Leo
sundarivenkatraman - Flaming Sun
tabularasabookblog - Tabula Rasa
the-long-walk-home - The Long Walk Home
thereaderscosmos - The Readers Cosmos

theshimsybookworm - The Whimsy Bookworm
uspandey - One Grain Amongst the Storm

vishytheknight - Vishy's Blog

October 22, 2017

dipanwita

Cocktails Mocktails And Life
http://dipanwita.com/


On this nicely designed blog, Dipanwita Chakraborty writes about travel in various forms: travelogues, photo stories and travel advice.
Travel blog by Dipanwita Chakraborty
She also has a personal and creative section in which you could read her poems and musings.

October 18, 2017

Social media and blogging updates: Yahoo account hack, Twitter's going 280 characters, social media and democracy...

Yahoo! admits to all its accounts getting hacked in 2013


In one of the worst hacking attacks in history, the world first learned that 500 million Yahoo accounts had been compromised. Yahoo then admitted that hackers had in fact stolen data from a billion accounts. Now, it is reported that some 3 billion accounts had indeed been hacked - all the accounts that were is use at the time of the attack.
  

Facebook and other IT giants a silent threat to democracy?


An interesting debate is going on these days on the role of Facebook and other social media in political discourse and advertising. I give a glimpse of the major threads here; if you are interested in points and counter-points in detail, do check the links.

Jon Snow, Channel 4 newscaster, blames Facebook for not doing enough to check 'fake news' and rues that Google and Facebook together control majority of world news flow and their algorithms decide what people should know. Telegraph story on Jon Snow's views on Facebook

Bloomberg reports that there is growing perception in Europe about American social media giants that their targeted advertising can be a threat to democracy. EU antitrust official, Margrethe Vestager has been quoted in the report as having argued thus: If political ads only appear on the timelines of certain voters, then how can we all debate the issues that they raise? How can other parties and the media do their job of challenging those claims? How can we even know what mandate an election has given, if the promises that voters relied on were made in private? You can read the report here: Democracy never faced a threat like Facebook

In the US itself, starting with the role of social media in the 2016 Presidential elections, there has been a lot criticism, and some of it was reported by ITB earlier. Now, the 'misdirection of public opinion' and fake news on Facebook and its peers have come for heavy criticism. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has his own explanations on the matter. You can read a good New Yorker piece on it here: The failure of Facebook democracy; and this one in Gadgets Now, on use and abuse of social media for political purposes.  


This one gets punished for milking sympathy and identity theft on social media


On social media, emails and chat groups, you often get messages asking you to help people in distress. You resist, as you feel that it could be a fake. But some persons - gullible, very sensitive or  burdened with guilt - open their purse-string. 

Kati Ringer, a woman in the UK, did just that and made money before she caught up with the law. She stole photos of babies from at least two Instagram accounts, called them her own and approached people saying she needed money for one's treatment and the other's funeral.

Worse, when confronted by real mothers, she threatened the worst for the babies.

She has been served a severe punishment of  a suspended jail term, legal costs, a community work order and a ban on her using any social media account.


Twitter's little birdie to become fat?


Twitter has already rolled out its 280-character format to a few chosen ones. The facility is going to be given to more people in the coming weeks before Twitter decides about its universal use. 

People wrote a script and found a workaround to make their own 280 character tweets but that has been fixed by Twitter.

Twitter says, its data shows that about 9% tweets in English face the 140-character limit - which can be frustrating while trying to express oneself on Twitter, so this experiment. Interestingly, Chinese, Korean and Japanese tweets hardly ever go to even 140-character length!

October 14, 2017

GST on blogging income in India: Doubts cleared about income limit

This article is on applicability of Goods and Services Tax on blogging income, and relates to bloggers in India or advertisers / ad networks/ affiliates selling ads to Indian bloggers.
 
We carried this article earlier on applicability of Goods and Services Tax on bloggers in India. The information given in the article is still valid to the extent it has not been edited there, and some new clarifications have come from taxation experts and government. 

Many bloggers have petitioned CBEC and we at ITB have given them written representations and requested them on their Twitter handle to clear bloggers' doubts, but they seem to be busy in bigger things and have not given convincing answers except some that I have quoted in this post. Some taxation experts have interpreted the law in detail as it applies to bloggers. But after the GST Council meeting on 6.10.2017, there is great relief to bloggers. 

No GST for blogging income up to Rs. 20 lakh


Before the latest decision of GST Council, all  bloggers who earned anything by selling their services attracted GST. There was no exemption  regarding applicability of the limit of Rs. 20 lakh for bloggers because they traded in inter-state services.

The good news is that all service providers of any kind are now exempt from registration and payment of GST if their turnover is less than Rs. 20 lakh. Pl look at the factoid issued by CBEC on 6th October:

GST for bloggers


 This was followed by a tweet on FAQs, issued on 12th October:

No GST for bloggers in India


So, this clears all doubt that small bloggers with turnover below Rs. 20 lakh (=2 million)do not require to register for GST or pay this tax.

October 10, 2017

7 proven SEO best practices for new blogs

When you create a blog for the first time, the thrill of it being there is immense, isn't it? You preview it, make changes in color/ design/ layout/ whatever else the theme allows, write something, publish it and again view it...

That happens, whether it is a hobby blog or a professional blog. In the second case, when you start the blog with the aim to earn money, worries start when it does not get the projected number of visitors because traffic is the basic requirement for the blog's earnings, isn't it.

SEO or search engine optimization is a set of techniques that make the blog come high on search pages when people search for something on the web. What we observe is that in a hurry to get lots of traffic, new bloggers adopt SEO practices that are either not effective or are not really necessary for new blogs or are harmful in the long run because they are unethical. 

Let's go straight to what are the SEO best practices for new blogs.

 

1. Give the blog a memorable and relevant identity.

Since yours is a new blog, the world needs to know it. So, give it a small and memorable URL, an apt title and a crisp description. 

While humans are influenced by a good identity, search engines get good inputs for indexing the blog when the URL, title and description point towards the topic of the blog. 

Google likes 'relevant' identities. It also says, it thinks websites in which there is an 'About us' page are likely to be more real and genuine.  


Relevant identity helps in SEO.

2. Promote the blog, especially when it is new.

A new blog must be shared so that people know that it exists. All good writing will fail if the blog is not discovered, and it will take years for it to get discovered on the strength of quality. So, promotion is very important to give the first push to the blog, and sharing it on different platforms is the easiest and cleanest way of promotion. 

Promote the blog as well as individual posts. Share them on social media, write about a new post to other bloggers/ influencers/ friends, share it on bookmarking sites (e.g. StumbleUpon).  

Do not look cheap while promoting it, don't over-promote. 

When your blog is shared on different platforms, and other websites refer to it, search engines take note and use this feature to rank the blog for search. 


Share blog for more traffic, good SEO.

3. Engage, participate on social media.

Bloggers need to be active on social media so that people discover the blog and know about its updates. But engaging is much more than self-promotion; it requires that you discuss topics, comment on others' writings, offer help if needed, join (and participate in) communities/ groups/ forums, and so on - and not ask others to favor you, like your post, put a link of your blog on theirs, etc.  

Engagement is not directly a signal for search engines, but when others share and talk about the blog in a natural, appreciative way, that is a great signal!


Engage on social media for more traffic, good SEO signals.

4. Gain authority by maintaining high quality.

A professional blog needs to gain reputation of being very informative, highly resourceful, having expert opinion, genuine, and with high-quality content.

Authority needs quality, which in turn comes from hard work, research, good quality of language and originality. 

Do not copy-paste others' content. Do not fake yourself as expert in areas where you really are not expert.

A website's authority is the topmost parameter that Google is reported to be looking when deciding the ranking of websites for search.


Authority and genuineness is what Google likes the most on websites.
  

5. Write regularly.

Blogs are liked by search engines more than static websites because blogs keep producing fresh content. People are likely to soon desert a blog if they don't find it updating itself. 

Make a schedule of posting and stick to it.

Google insiders have often been writing that Google likes fresh, updated, content.


Blogs must be updated regularly.

6. Proactive link-building is a must for SEO.

When other websites link to your blog, Google and other search engines get a signal that your blog has content relevant to the subject for which it has been linked. If you get such a link from a highly reputed and popular site, you get that much better ranking for search. 

Links come naturally when your blog and its posts have authority but you need to work to get links - and you should get links mostly from authoritative site.

For natural link-building, link your URL when making comments on others' blogs or websites; even request well-placed bloggers to consider a link yo your blog if your blog supplements the information given by them in their blog.

You must link your older posts on new posts when talking about the same topic. That not only leads to re-discovery of old content but also increases the relevance of your blog post to that topic, in the eyes of Google.

However, avoid link farms, link exchanges, links from bad sites and links in return for link back.


Link-building still is very important for search optimization.

7. Keyword optimization is very important for professional blogs/ websites. 

Well, some experts might tell you that keyword optimization comes on top of SEO. I have kept it as the last SEO technique because it is so obvious but is prone to over-doing. It is also the last as I will like to discuss some more about it from a newbie blogger's point of view.

Search engines regularly look at websites all over the world wide web, and then they index web-pages topic wise. When someone makes a search, they do not search the whole web but look for the search expression in this index

The best way for search engines to know the search expressions for which your blog should be indexed, is to look at your blog's identity (URL etc) and the content. 

If your blog is on 'climate patters in north Europe', Google will likely index it for 'climate' and 'Europe' if it finds the blog full of content in these topics. Google and other modern search engines apply syntax and related connotations of the exact words in the query to decide what to serve to the searcher. Now, if somebody searches for 'climate in Germany' and your blog is a great resource on climate in north Europe, it is likely to come high on the search page.

Therefore, it is of paramount importance that you not only write great stuff on the topic of your blog, you must also optimize your posts (and URL, title and description of the blog) for the expressions (=keywords) people are likely to search for.

In the above example, your blog URL could be europeclimate.com (If it is not already taken!), its title may be 'All that you know about the climate and weather patterns in northern Europe', its description could answer what/ how/ where and other questions about north Europe's climate. In individual posts, you will definitely be writing about all aspects of Europe's climate, will be giving impactful headings to each post, placing good photos and illustrations on most posts, composing some static pages on the broader topic 'climate', and putting the keywords here and there in the post but in a natural way.  

Do not stuff posts or identities with keywords. Use variations. In the above example, if you talk about wind patterns, heat maps, seasons, individual country's climate etc - they all will count towards 'climate patterns' and you need not (and should not) overly use the specific expression 'climate patterns' in the copy.  


Keywords tell search engines whether the website is relevant for a topic.

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October 6, 2017

Bias against Blogger platform: doctored by Wordpress users?

On any discussion on blogging, you come across a debate whether Blogger is better or Wordpress. In most cases, the winner is Wordpress.  But in nine out of ten cases, the debate itself is flawed because you cannot compare apples with oranges.

I feel, and most Blogger users will agree, that most of this bias is deliberate, though in some part it could be due to ignorance. Perhaps because the Wordpress users' loyalty and their sense of superiority over Blogger users does not allow them to remain unbiased. Perhaps there are commercial reason (which I'd explain later).

Let's see the facts. 


How Blogger and Wordpress really compare

  • Blogger is a free blogging platform, which you can reach through blogger.com. Similarly Wordpress has a free blogging platform - which you reach through wordpress.com.
  • Blogger and Wordpress free platforms have many similar features that make it very easy for bloggers to open blogs with a few clicks and further customize them using free tools.
  • Millions of blogs are created using these free platforms.
  • Blogger is just one entity - the blogging platform.  Wordpress has two similar looking products. Besides the free blogging platform, it also has Wordpress Content Management System (CMS), which can by reached through wordpress.org. 
  • A CMS is something like a website builder. Millions of blogs and websites are built using Wordpress CMS. The CMS is very user friendly, customizable, stable and secure.
   

Myths around Wordpress superiority over Blogger

  • "Wordpress runs 25% of the web." It is not a myth if you consider Wordpress CMS because among all available CMSs, Wordpress is supposed to be the most popular, especially for blogs. But it is a myth when it is touted in favor of the free Wordpress platform.
  • "Wordpress is so customizable while Blogger is just dumb." This is not only a myth but its opposite is true when you compare the free platforms. A blogger on Wordpress.com cannot customize the blog without paying money for every additional feature beyond the basics: he cannot monetize it, put videos on it, put widgets and plugins beyond what is allowed by the platform, change the code of the blog and so on. Even mapping the free blog to an independent domain costs you. [On the other hand, Wordpress CMS is fully customizable - but everything is to be paid for and the CMS is just a software that is available free.] On Blogger platform, you can customize almost everything including the code of the blog!
  • "Wordpress blogs look professional while Blogger blogs don't." Well, there are themes available for Wordpress blogs (the free blog can use only one of the few approved ones) and can be applied on the blog on payment. Blogger's inbuilt themes too have limitations - but, you can apply themes available free or on payment - and Blogger doen't charge for that, unlike Wordpress! In addition, if you are a coder (or have some HTML knowledge and want to experiment), you can yourself customize the available theme in zillion ways.
  • "Forget Blogger if you want to be a professional blogger." This is preposterous when you compare the free platforms. Blogger allows you customization, monetization and mapping to an independent domain - the three requirements of professional blogging. Wordpress.com allows none of these for free. [Yes, if you are talking about Wordpress CMS, there is no doubt that with its range of tools and options, it is a great platform for professional blogging (but then, you pay for everything except the CMS).]

The truth, therefore, is that diehard Wordpress fans force people to compare Blogger free platform with Wordpress CMS and Wordpress free blogging platform together. What do they get out of this, you might ask. This is what I reckon:
  
  • Like all fans, Wordpress fans too are highly biased in favor of their muse. Like other fans they too are blind. Just so that Wordpress is liked by all, they let the mix up happen between the CMS and free Wordpress platform.
  • Users of Wordpress CMS, even when they are not its fans, love it. And because they use the  product, they tend to be proud of it and turn its brand ambassadors. This form of praising Wordpress over other CMSs and blogging platforms is natural and mostly not with any bad intent towards competitors of Wordpress.
  • The all-pervasive anti-Google feeling. Geeks and nerds of IT world are a sentimental type. They love and hate IT biggies. They do not like arrogance, they don't like exploitation, they also don't like monopolies. You will find thousands of them hating Microsoft for its proprietary products; they worship Steve Jobs for his creativity; they hack government sites; when they compare Wordpress with Google's Blogger, they favor the former. Well, if they come to read this, they will find it absurd, nonsense. But that is how it works!
  • People who have a commercial intent in promoting Wordpress obviously praise it and deprecate all others. Since almost everything around Wordpress (themes, integration/ migration, web hosting, site design...)
    needs payment, thousands of techies and intermediaries earn by recommending Wordpress and then offering products and services related to Wordpress.  
  • The worst form of conduct in this game/ debate comes from those who have commercial intent but hide it behind myths and distorted information. They show themselves as great votaries of quality websites... they claim to be great experts... they present false or exaggerated or out-of-context quotes from supposedly great bloggers... Somewhere in their great 'unbiased' advice, they hide the 'call to action' so that gullible folks are trapped. 

Please do not misunderstand me, Wordpress fans. I am not saying Wordpress is bad; in fact, I love Wordpress CMS. I am against wrong opinions. Let people be shown the pros and cons of all available options, in a dispassionate manner, so that they choose the product that suits them the best.

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