Make It Click

Setting up a blog, while time-consuming, can be a great way to generate interest about your products and bring visitors to your site.

By Melissa Campanelli

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Blogs are a trendy way to publish online, and if done right,they can be an effective way to maintain solid relationships withinternet customers.

While blogs may be used regularly by the techno-savvy, only 38percent of all internet users know what blogs are, according to aJanuary 2005 Pew Research Center survey. And their use as amarketing tool is still in its infancy.

What's more, the stats on blogs indicate they have yet tomake a real difference with prospective customers. In its report"Seven Practical Tactics to Turn Your Blog Into a SalesMachine," MarketingSherpa estimates that only 0.03 percent ofthe 34.5 million existing blogs are driving sales or gettingcustomers to contact companies. While the figures might sounddiscouraging, those actually using blogs to reach out to customerswould say you shouldn't let that stop you.

Early Bird

Daniel Thralow, founder and president of Thralow Inc., believesin the effectiveness of blogs. His Duluth, Minnesota, companyoperates more than 20 e-tailing sites and expects sales of $21million this year. One of his websites, Binoculars.com,which sells binoculars and related accessories, started a blog inJanuary called Birderblog.com. Targeted at bird-watchers, the blogwas designed and programmed in-house. Well-known ornithologistLaura Erickson writes a daily entry about birds, bird-watching andtools of the trade--including binoculars.

Thralow uses the blog to direct people to Binoculars.com (andvice versa). When binoculars are mentioned in the blog's text,the reference is hyperlinked to a page featuring the product onBinoculars.com. The blog also includes banner ads promotingBinoculars.com.

So far, Thralow has spent $60,000 on Birderblog.com. Withadditional development costs, he anticipates spending another$50,000 on the blog during its second year. Costs include thesalaries of the blogger and tech staff to create and maintain thesite, hosting costs for the site and ancillary costs. WhileThralow--who doesn't expect a return on his investment for atleast a year--chose to spend thousands of dollars on his blog, itcan be done for less money.

"If the passionate blogger is also the business owner, thelabor could be free," says Thralow, 40. And community blogs,which have free or practically free hosting and software, are apopular and cheap option to consider. The trade-off, though, is notbeing able to control the advertising.

Susannah Gardner, author of Buzz Marketing With Blogs forDummies, agrees that businesses should install solid bloggingsolutions on their own servers: "Hosted blog software is aneasy way to get started, but independent blog software gives muchbetter flexibility in branding, design and functionalitycustomization."

Taking Off

Thralow has done many things right while launching his blog.First, he uses a qualified expert who is honest in her opinions towrite the blog. Sometimes, her reviews about products sold onBinoculars.com are negative. "The goal is that it'shonest," he says. "People can sense when someone'sbeen bought."

Gardner agrees that an unbiased approach is important. "Igenerally don't recommend that marketing and PR people writethe blog posts for a business blog," she says. "Instead,find someone who the public doesn't usually have access to,someone with real experience and knowledge, who can writepersonably and directly to the audience. Blogs aren't aboutspin or marketing-speak."

There's also a contact e-mail address on every page ofBirderblog.com, and the blogger answers incoming questions andleads very quickly.

Third, Birderblog.com is updated daily, which can betime-consuming for an entrepreneur trying to handle the entries onhis or her own. Says Thralow, "You have to have a certainconsistency, or it will die."

Gardner adds: "Be flexible, and above all, post when thereis something of value to say."

At the moment, Thralow's blog enjoys modest success. Onlyabout 400 people per day visit Birderblog.com, compared to the morethan 10,000 per day who visit Binoculars.com. "However, thepoint is that it is continuing to grow," says Thralow. Hemakes sure to measure qualified prospects by keeping tabs onclick-throughs to the e-commerce site and any sales that resultdirectly from Birderblog.com.

Publishing a blog won't necessarily guarantee more sales,but if it takes off, it can be a powerful way to connect withprospects and customers. And the best part is, blogs can work forany kind of business. "Any product can align itself with ablog; there is no limit," Thralow says. "Everybody has ahobby of some sort."


Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer inNew York City.

Melissa Campanelli

Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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