By Heather Gooch
The term “blog” is a shortened form of "web log," which is essentially an online journal. Blogs can have as wide or narrow of a focus as the author sees fit, offering opinions, analysis or even just a diary entry of how one's day went.
In fact, some companies have taken things to the next level: Their business models are based on such niches as offering, on a specially designed and hosted site, engaged couples the chance to chronicle their wedding preparations online (http://www.mywedding.com, for example) or new parents keep friends and family updated on the trials and tribulations of their pregnancy and beyond (http://www.babyjellybeans.com, for example).
For artisans, though, blogs can have several benefits:
• Blogging can strengthen your relationship with your customer base. By adding a blog component to your established website — or even serve as your main website page — you let people get to know who the artist is behind the designs or products. For the most part, consumers like to buy from someone whom they feel they know and trust, even if they may never meet you in person. And for customers who have met you at a show, shop, class, etc., it’s a way to keep that connection going.
• Blogging can keep your business focused. By consistently (and yes, consistency is key when maintaining a blog) setting aside some time each day, week or month to focus on what you want to say to the online world, you start to develop a deeper understanding of what your business is all about. Writing about how personally excited you are about your holiday card line, for example, can help you fine-tune your sales points for your next show.
• Blogging is an easy way to optimize your site for search engines. In laymen’s terms, the more times key words and phases like your company’s name and product names are mentioned on a given Web page, the more likely it is to be ranked near the top of a search engine’s results for those particular words. This is essentially what that buzzword phrase “search engine optimization,” or SEO, is all about. Posting something like the inspiration behind your new Halloween soap, for example, and using the name of the soap throughout your explanation, will raise the visibility of your new product’s name when customers go searching for it on Google, Bing.com, etc.
• Blogging is an inexpensive way to spread the word about news for your business. If you’re stuck with fall inventory, create a post with product photos and the announcement that you have a clearance sale going on. Host a contest, with your merchandise as prizes. Survey your readership to get input on your spring color palette. Treat your blog space as you would a conversation with a guest in your studio.
• Blogging can lead to feedback on how the public perceives you and what they like about your business. As alluded to above, the interactive nature of blogs — letting readers comment and/or contact you — is a very important feature. Even negative feedback can at least spark some thought about “What could I be doing better?” However, some negative comments should be taken with a grain of salt —the anonymity of the Internet lets some people hide behind a username and say things they would never otherwise say.
First, decide how you want to handle your blog. Is it a feature that can just be turned on by your website provider, or will you have to sign up for WordPress, Blogger or other third-party blogging platform site? Many of these sites offer free hosting and easy setup.
Next, decide on content. Ideally, try to sketch out how often you want to update it, and even some ideas for each post. For example, this week maybe you want to talk about your most recent show (ending with a plug for where you can be seen in the coming holiday season). Next week, you might give a sneak peek at what you’re currently working on. The week after that, give a shout-out to other artisans who inspire you — it brings the added opportunity of starting dialogues with them. Regardless of how you approach it, having at least a few “evergreen” ideas waiting in the wings helps you avoid the “What am I going to write about?” panic that can otherwise set in. Only you know your editorial schedule, so only you would know when you stray from it. This means you can include an inspirational photo from your summer hike, for example, when you had on your calendar to write about how to dye yarn. After all, there’s always next week!
Photos and links enhance the reader’s experience, so try to incorporate both whenever possible. Also, an occasional guest blogger can change up the pace (and give you a break!).
Finally, promote your blog as much as possible. Put a link to it on your main site (and vice versa), include it on your business cards, share it wherever you can. The goal is to incorporate your blog as an everyday part of your business.
For excellent tips specifically for artisans who blog, check out Etsy’s Guide to Blogging here: http://www.etsy.com/storque/how-to/etsys-guide-to-blogging-2460.
Gooch is an editorial marketing specialist and co-owner of Gooch & Gooch LLC, Medina, OH. Visit her blog at www.positiveyarn.com. Heather Gooch wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (www.DebbieMay.com), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.