April 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

A Marketing Geyser

(Page 2 of 2)

“We saw a demand from consumers who had an avocado bathroom and no idea what to do with it, or who wanted to know how to get rid of a popcorn ceiling,” she says. The answers contain links to relevant products sold by Homevisions.com, though they also suggest products, like paint, the site doesn’t sell.

Given the hot online competition in the home décor space, an improvement in search rankings was a primary reason to launch a blog, Tosyali says. “We knew one of the benefits would be spider-friendly content, but even we were surprised at how good a tool it is,” she says. “People find us with very targeted terms like ‘avocado bathtub,’ but we also get a large volume coming from more generic terms like ‘teen bedroom.’”

LuckyOliver.com, a stock photography site, blogs primarily to develop relationships with its lifeblood: the photographers who submit pictures to be sold. Live since June 2006, the site included a blog almost from the beginning, says founder Bryan Zmijewski.

“Sites typically do a bad job of opening up dialog with their customers,” he contends. “The blog is a way for us to create a discussion. We use it to announce contests, give tips on increasing sales, talk about ways that people are using photos they’ve purchased and introduce site improvements. Blogging requires momentum, and you have to be religious about it.” LuckyOliver.com creates a new blog post at least every other day.

LuckyOliver’s internal programmer set up the blog in just a few hours, hard-coding it into the site through the open-source development framework Ruby on Rails. The only incremental cost is staff time. Most of LuckyOliver’s small staff takes a turn at blogging. “Whoever is in charge of something creates a post about it,” Zmijewski says.

The e-commerce site’s photographer clients have embraced the blog. Initially, very few posts attracted comments, but now many generate lively discussions, Zmijewski adds.

The tools it takes
While LuckyOliver built its blog in house, GourmetStation uses Typepad.com to host its blog, paying $6.95 a month. Other blog hosts include Blogger.com, WordPress.com and LiveJournal.com. Both SteveSpangler.com and Homevisions.com host their own blogs using the WordPress software package, on the advice of Netconcepts’ Spencer.

“It’s feature-rich, free, open source, extensible through plug-ins and search-engine friendly,” he says. “And because it’s so popular, it’s easy to find web developers to work on it.” Other blog software packages include Movable Type, TextPattern and Expression Engine.

Another reason to blog is to become a recognized expert, advises Spencer, who himself has received interview requests from The New York Times and San Jose Mercury News on the strength of his blog posts. The strategy can work especially well where there’s an established body of knowledge. “A blog about stamp collecting, with interesting trends, news tidbits and insightful commentary, would position an online stamp store as a credible, trusted, expert source.”

Who should write the blog? It depends on the objective, says Bloomberg Marketing’s Toby Bloomberg, a consultant who advised GourmetStation. “If you’re writing a topical blog rather than one that gives an inside view of a company, then hiring a copywriter is fine,” she says. “Otherwise, go for someone internally who enjoys writing, knows about the company and the products, and has a passion for blogging. It could be the CEO or an administrative assistant.”

Steve Spangler and the LuckyOliver crew blog as themselves. DesignTalk uses an outside writer-but while the blog has a distinctive voice, that voice is nameless. Donna Lynes-Miller is the primary voice of Delicious Destinations, but she blogs under the pseudonym T. Alexander.

Anyone who wants to bother can easily ascertain T. Alexander’s true identity, but Lynes-Miller says her alter ego helps keep the blog from getting too promotional. She pays guest bloggers, including a wine expert and a team specializing in Italian food, in food or links to their sites. “Our guest bloggers add so many dimensions,” she says, “and they keep the blog from being a promotional thing.”

Elizabeth Gardner is a Riverside, Ill.-based freelance business writer.

Blogging basics

Stephan Spencer, president of consulting firm Netconcepts, the brains behind the blog strategies of SteveSpangler.com, Homevisions.com and others, offers tips for e-retailers pursuing blogs.

Do’s

  • Post often: daily if possible, but at least a few times a week. A couple of weeks of inactivity makes readers feel there’s nobody home. Plan on 10 to 15 hours a week for blogging activity.
  • Let a personality shine through. And introduce a blog with an About page and photos.
  • Have an angle. Jeweler Ice.com has a tabloids-style blog focusing on jewelry worn by celebrities. Homevisions.com’s DesignTalk answers decorating questions from readers.
  • Cultivate relationships with other bloggers by commenting on their posts and linking to their blogs. Plan to spend the same amount of time doing this as writing the blog. E-retailers who pick up news from another blog should give credit (aka a “hat tip”).
  • Enlist the help of passionate guest bloggers if there are customers willing to evangelize on a product or topic.

Don’ts

  • Don’t try to fool readers by using a ghostwriter pretending to be someone from the company. Shoot for a newsier approach and don’t byline posts if a ghostwriter is used.
  • Don’t regurgitate news. Instead, include analysis.
  • Don’t abandon a blog. If you can’t keep it up, take it down.
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