Why you should read weblogs

January 13, 2005

You’re a busy person, and you already spend all of the time you can afford keeping up with your industry.  Should you bother taking the time to learn about weblogs?  You betcha — the benefits to your business and your bottom line can be immense, and once you do, you’ll wonder what you were waiting for.

The most common misconception about blogs is that they are all written by teenage girls writing about their angst-ridden love lives, shut-in geeks talking about what they had for lunch, or wannabe political pundits trying to overthrow the government.

Well, okay.  All of those things are out there.  But you don’t avoid the newsstand simply because it carries teen magazines and the occasional comic book, do you?

The reality is that the weblog has also become a powerful tool for business communication, for both the writer and the reader.  Weblogs tend to speak in personal voice, and often provide powerful, content-rich, timely and topical information.  With millions of blogs now in use, there are very few industries or interests that are so narrow or vertical that you can’t find several well-written weblogs that cover them.

For the reader, the key advantage to the weblog is the “backend” — most blogs provide what is called an “RSS feed” (for “Really Simple Syndication”, or “Rich Site Summary”, depending on who you ask) that contains either excerpts of each new article (or “post”), or the entire text of it.

You don’t read an RSS feed directly; this feed goes into what is called an “aggregator” or a “news reader” — a program that takes lots of these feeds, and presents you with an easy-to-scan overview of all of the new articles on weblogs that you are tracking.

Skipping the geek-speak for a minute, this means that you can use a program that will let you scan hundreds of articles in a couple of minutes, and find the handful that you really want to read.

So, you’ve got timely, content-rich topical content that is fast and easy to find, scan and read.  That’s a combination that will keep you ahead of the game for a long time.

So, how do you get started?

First, you’ll need an aggregator.  There are a lot of nice programs ranging from free to thirty dollars or so, but I don’t use any of them.  I use a web service called “Bloglines.”  Bloglines is free, easy to use, and powerful.  You can use it from any web browser, and log into your account from any computer you happen to be on at the moment, and it will know just what you’ve read and what you haven’t.  What’s more, since more people read blogs through Bloglines than any other method, they give you the ability to search millions of blogs instantly for information.

It takes about 30 seconds to sign up for a Bloglines account.  If you click here, you’ll not only get the signup page, but it will also add the RSS feed for this site to your new Bloglines account.  (Yes, this article is published by weblog software — you’re soaking in it)

How do you find blogs to read?

Finding blogs that are topical to your interest area is fairly easy.  The simplest way is to use Bloglines’ search box and search for keywords or phrases that you’re interested in.  You’ll get a list of articles that contain that phrase, and you can browse through them, find articles from sites that are to your taste, and tell Bloglines to add a subscription to the site.  Bloglines also has an excellent directory of weblogs, and will often suggest additional sites that are like the ones you already subscribe to.

Your interests and my interests are probably rather different, but you can find a view of the 250 or so various feeds I subscribe to in Bloglines right here.  It contains not only business related sites, but personal interests, news sites I watch, etc.  Do I really read 250+ sites?  Not on any sort of regular basis.  Some of them I read every day,  or even several times a day — others I ignore for weeks at a time.  The beauty of the service is that you can get just the information you need, when you need it, fast — if you’ve got a few minutes, you can see what all is happening right now in a particular field.  If you’ve got a little more time, you can dive in and read in depth.  You can clip articles to your own clippings collection, e-mail them, or mark them to stay new until you have a chance to read them.

So, that’s all fine and good, but you’re here to learn how to improve your website — can reading blogs do anything for your website?

I’m glad you asked…

If you are reading blogs in your industry, you have at your fingertips one of the best ways to get additional links and traffic to your own site.  Most blogs allow people to comment on their articles, and most of them will let you (encourage you, in fact) to add a link to your own site along with your comment.  That’s an instant one-way link, from a relevant site.  In general, the more of these you have, the better your search engine results will become. Moreover, other readers of that article are also interested in your industry, and if you say something interesting, they just might follow that link on over to your site.

Beware, however — you cannot just comment in order to get a link.

That’s commonly referred to as “comment spam”, and your comment will be deleted and you’ll probably be roundly reviled.  Instead, leave comments on articles that you can add to, say something topical about, etc.  They’re providing a link to you, you need to provide a bit of value for them too…

If you have a weblog as part of your site (and if you’re getting the impression that you should, you’re absolutely correct), leaving comments and adding links to your site that go to other weblogs in your industry is liable to result in many of those sites also adding links to you.  In blogging-speak, this is known as a “blogroll”, and it’s a great way to get reciprocal links (links where both sites link to each other).

If you write an article on your own weblog that refers to an article in another weblog, it’s common practice to put a good link to that other site in the article.  This can often lead to others doing the same with your articles, garnering you even more traffic.  There is also a mechanism called “trackback” that will automatically link articles between multiple sites together, that we will be talking more about in the business blogging teleclasses coming up in a few weeks, along with a lot of additional details about how to maximize your sites potential by adding a weblog.

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2 Responses to “Why you should read weblogs”

  1. Guillaume du Gardier on January 16th, 2005 3:36 pm

    Nice overview ! I would like to add that one of the intersting aspect of Bloglines is that it’s providing information on how is subscribing your RSS feed, as son of course as the Bloglines acount is configure as public and not private. But even if it is privatize, it gives you an idea of how many “bloglines readers” you have, knowing that bloglines is handling about 15 % of the RSS readers…

  2. Chuck on January 16th, 2005 4:53 pm

    Hi Guillaume!

    You are absolutely correct — BlogLines will give you at least an idea of what the traffic on your RSS feed is like. I was concentrating here more on getting people familiar with what blogs are and how they work, but from the standpoint of a business weblog owner, there are several great reasons to be sure that someone is reading it in BlogLines — even if you subscribe to your own feed just to be certain.

    In addition to watching statistics, just having your blog indexed by BlogLines means that articles in your RSS feed are searchable by BlogLines users, and so that’s yet another source of traffic, and yet another way for people to discover your site. If a BlogLines user finds one of your articles in a search, it’s only a single click for them to add it to the sites they are viewing.

    As far as RSS statistics go, something that I’ll be posting about soon is using FeedBurner to get an even better idea of traffic — I’m a big, big fan of FeedBurner, and use it on 4 – 5 sites currently (including this one)

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