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Blogger is one of the easiest ways to start a blog for a small business. Easiest, but not the best respected. To the blogging elite, the blogspot.com address has become a kind of badge of shame.
However, Blogger continues to introduce new ways to make your blog look good and work for a small business. Despite all the peer pressure to use WordPress, the secret is that what you share is more important than where you share it.
I’ve used WordPress, TypePad, Posterous, Tumblr, and more as blogging platforms and content management systems. Blogger still works for me and my small business. It’s up to you to decide. Use the tools that suit you best.
Why I like Blogger for Small Business
I’ve talked about the small business website problem before. I think many more small businesses would benefit from having their own web presence, even if it just contained the basics on this website checklist. Here’s why I like Blogger as a potential solution for a small business.
1. It’s easy.
Almost any person can set up a basic information page about their business in a couple of hours without any professional help. Here’s the basic page for my liquor store. Blogger makes this easy. If you have used Word or Publisher to create document layouts on your computer, you’ll be able to do your own setup.
With WordPress, you have to like tinkering around. It is more like advanced page layout software, with many things to get right before you get good results. You have to decide on a hosting provider, and then get WordPress installed on your hosting. Many hosts, but not all, make this a simple process. Then you can get started on making your basic info site. So, much like page layout, you might need to hire a pro to help you get good results.
2. Customization is possible, even for beginners.
Blogger’s Layout Designer makes it possible for most anyone to make changes to their design. Want it a bit wider? Adjust the slider. Want different colors or a new background photo? Play around until you are happy. Want that page element in a new location? Drag it over there.
WordPress can only approach this with helper software. The premium Headway theme, for example, provides an excellent Visual Editor that includes most of this functionality and more. If you are a beginner wanting to use WordPress, I highly recommend Headway.
3. Updates are automatic.
Are you a WordPress fan?
If you are interested in using Blogger for your small business, I’ll gladly share what I’ve learned. Here is my third updated list of tips for using Blogger effectively.
Use an outstanding template:
- Use the new templates in the Template Designer. It’s single best thing Blogger has done in years. There are several flexible, easy to customize templates available now. I love them all! It’s a huge improvement over the old template system.
- Customize your template. It’s easy to adjust the width, change the background image, pick your own fonts and colors. Play around until you find a setup that looks good for your blog.
- Replace your header with a custom image. You can use any graphics program create a banner to suit your site and theme, and post it from the Edit Layout section. It’s amazing how much a custom banner can dress up the look of your site.
- Add custom CSS for extra customization. You’ll probably never need it, but CSS allows you to customize formatting in additional ways. It’s available now in the Template Designer, under Advanced, then scroll down to Add CSS. (Need help? Search for “Editing CSS in the Template Designer” in the Help section.)
- Experiment with Dynamic Views. Blogger has built in some advanced views that load your content in a dynamic way, even letting the reader choose among the dynamic views. You’ll just have to play around with them to see how cool they are.
Get your own identity:
- Get your own custom domain. Register your own .com URL, and set it up to work with Blogger. Go to Blogger Help and search for Custom Domain to get detailed help. Your old blogspot.com address will automatically redirect, and your search results in Google will still find you.
Change Settings like a pro:
- Your site is automatically mobile-friendly. Blogger simplifies your template to display nicely on mobile phones and tiny screens. It will automatically display on most mobile phones. To see it on any browser, just add “/?m=1” to the end of your address, like this: http://www.allensretail.com/?m=1
- Use the MORE feature to split up posts. Put just the teaser on your home page. Let readers click through for the rest. Especially good for posts with lots of photos.
- Test more cool features with Blogger in Draft. Instead of www.blogger.com, go to draft.blogger.com. You’ll get to try all the new features as they come out, much earlier than their “official” release.
Add the best Gadgets:
- Add the Google Search Box, and keep it near the top. It’s incredibly common for readers to want to search for something specific in your blog. Make it easy.
- Include your blog Archive. I’m partial to the hierarchy style, myself.
- Add your Labels list. If you Label each post with logical categories, then your Labels list in the sidebar is a terrific index for readers.
- Show off your Popular Posts. Once you have been blogging a while, you’ll have some terrific gems in your archives. Google’s Popular Posts gadget will show them off.
- Use the Feed gadget to add automatically updated content. The sidebar for my liquor store keeps an automatically updated list of posts in important categories, like Liquor References and Wine Basics. I used the feed for that label or category, and put it in a Feed gadget for each category. Search for help on feed URLs to see how to get your own label feed.
- Drag gadgets to alternate page positions. You have more than just a sidebar. Put items above and below the posts, and all the way down in the page footer.
- Use LinkWithin to show related posts under each story. The LinkWithin tool brings up a photo and title of three related posts. Highly recommended!
- Make the most of the Blogger banner. The Share feature makes it easy for readers to Tweet your stories. Point it out to them. Change its color in the Layout Editor.
Make it easy for readers to comment:
- Use the inline comment form. Under Settings, on the Comments tab, set the comment form placement to be “embedded below post.” That keeps it on the same page as your posts. This is a big improvement over the old separate comment page or the even-worse pop-up window. (Both of those are still options!)
- Open up commenting. Turn off the word verification and comment moderation. Allow anonymous comments. Don’t worry; you’ll still get less spam than WordPress users. If you ever have a problem, you can selectively turn these controls back on as needed. Even with 21 blogs on my Blogger Dashboard, I hardly ever have spam comments to delete.
- Use Blogger’s comment moderation page on your Dashboard. The Comments tab gives you a list of all comments on all your posts. You can easily delete or mark the spam comments. It’s terrific to have them in one place when a spammer goes on a spree, leaving you half a dozen little gifts across different posts. When you mark the spam comments, you help Blogger get better at detecting spam, too.
- Use the Comment Form Message to encourage comments. Tell people what kinds of comments you want, or just give a friendly encouragement. You’ll find it on the bottom of the list on the Posts and Comments settings.
Manage your blog:
- Use Pages for static content, like “About us.” Blogger supports static pages for things that don’t change often. My liquor store has a page for our business hours. Blogger will link to the pages for you, or you can set up your own linkbar in the gadgets/layout section.
- Check the Stats. Basic statistics are now built in to Blogger. You can learn a lot about what your readers are searching for on the Traffic Sources tab, under Search Keywords. If you need more advanced statistics using Google Analytics, you can add the Analytics Web Property ID under Other Settings.
- Schedule posts ahead of time. Build your editorial calendar, work ahead, and set Blogger to do the work of posting. This is how I handle posting while I’m away at a conference or on vacation.
- Post via email or SMS. It’s under Email on the Settings tab. You can set it to post automatically, or to save emailed posts as drafts. This is the easiest way to introduce absolute newbies to blogging.
- Host images at Picasa Web Albums. Images from your posts are automatically uploaded to a Picasa Web Album. You can also use it to host badges, RSS buttons, or other images you want to upload separately and place in a gadget. Yes, you can still use images from any other source.
- Let Blogger worry about traffic spikes. Even when my traffic spikes due to sudden popularity of a post, my Blogger site stays up. That’s pretty darn cool, and exceptionally tough for other hosts to manage.
- Backup your blog with one click. OK, two clicks. On the Basic Settings tab, there’s an option to export. You get an XML file with your whole blog you can save to disk. It works lightning quick. Because you are relying on an unpaid service with Blogger, it is imperative that you back up your posts.
- Use Tumblr (or another service) for an automatic backup of your Blogger blog. Any service that allows posting by email can work. Enter the “post to” email address in the BlogSend Address, on the Email and Mobile Settings. That will send each of your posts to the other service, and it will keep it up-to-date, a shadow of your posts from your Blogger blog. If anything happens to your Blogger blog, you can quickly redirect to the shadow site.
- Use Custom Redirects to fix URL errors. Sometimes, another website will link to one of your posts that you’ve moved, or maybe they just got the link wrong. Go to the Search Preferences settings. Put in the wrong URL, and then where you want it to go now.
Updated in June 2014.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.