For all of you who aren't Web geeks, let's start with some blogging basics -- and then talk about how having a blog on your Web site can increase your customer base.

What exactly is a blog and how do you start one? A blog is a "Web log," or a running account of information and ideas published on the Web.

How do you publish a blog? Simple, Web-based software allows you to quickly and cheaply post text, pictures, videos and links on a Web page that stores and organizes each of the posts. There are dozens of blog platforms that make it easy to get started, including WordPress, TypePad and Blogger. Most of these services are easy to use and cost very little (some less than $5 a month).

Blogging is important because it provides a simple way to continually communicate with your customer base.

A good blog can increase traffic to your site by 30 percent, according to research conducted by MerchantCircle, a network for small-business owners. It produces a steady stream of content (which helps search engines find you) and it creates a connection between you and your customers. Blogging allows you to interact directly with your customers -- because they can comment on your blog and you can respond, allowing you to e-mail each other back and forth.

Anyone can have a blog, but not everyone has a good blog or one that attracts attention. The vast majority of the more than 100 million blogs in the world languish away in internet anonymity, pontificating about things that no one will ever care about. So how do you make your blog successful? I posed this question to the most successful blogger I know: GigaOM.com founder Om Malik.

Malik first started blogging back in 2001, when few people even knew what a blog was. At first he did it to promote a book he was writing, but Malik's blog became so successful that he now employs 12 editorial staff members and is one of the most respected voices in the technology industry. He offers these simple rules to follow when setting up your blog:

  1. Know your audience: If you're going to be courting customers, you need to know what they are interested in and offer useful, engaging and even entertaining information. Your blog is not an advertisement. So if you run a gardening supply shop, for example, don't blog about the great new fertilizer you're selling. Instead, blog about the best ways to grow a vegetable garden in your backyard. Offer relevant and useful tips, says Malik, and "you'll attract the very same people that would be likely to buy the fertilizer anyway."
  2. Present an opinion on your blog: "You need to have something to say," says Malik. Passion and knowledge are what drives people to blog content. If people want facts and news, they'll go to newspapers sites. If they want pure entertainment, they'll go to YouTube. If they want opinion, they'll go to blogs. Keep it light, though.
  3. Make your blog fresh and fun: A blog doesn't have to be BusinessWeek or The Wall Street Journal, but it does need to be original and entertaining, and you need to update it regularly if you want people to come back and read your next post. It's also a good idea to say how often you update your site, in order to bring readers back for more visits.
  4. Not a writer? It's OK to ask someone else to write your company's blog: If you're not a good writer, just find the best storyteller in your company, the one who makes everyone laugh in the lunch room, and put that person to work. Some people are born for blogging.

Now you know enough to get started -- so enter the blogosphere and let me know if your Web traffic starts to grow. Happy blogging!