After I offered “7 Tips for Encouraging Bloggers to Write About a Conference,” Gabe Moretti, the editor of the DACeZine, asked me to contribute an article on blogging (I guess that could have been my eighth tip). It appeared in the June 26 DACeZine. What follows is a version of the article appropriate for a blog post: same content, more links. I think these tips are actually useful for any software start-up.
History & Definitions
Blogs are a “new” social software technology that have been in use for more than a decade. The name “weblog” was coined by Jorn Barger in 1997 and shortened to “blog” in 1999 by Peter Merholz. Both describe a website with one or more of the following characteristics:
- Permalink: each page or article has a permanent URL called a permalink that allows other sites to reference it uniquely for the life of the website. This inhibits link rot and allows useful references and backlinks to accumulate over time.
- Reverse Chronology: there is normally an index that presents the articles in reverse chronological order (newest first) which answers the question “What’s New?”
- Comments: each article has a footer that allows readers to add comments. Registration can be required to inhibit spam, but in effect, each article can have a forum thread associated with it.
- Trackbacks: notifications to other blogs (and content management systems that accept them) that they have been referenced in a published article. These trackbacks may be appended as comments after the referenced article on the remote site to let readers know who else is referring to it.
- Categories: may be defined in an ad hoc way for a site and appended as tags (metadata) for each article. Sometimes, these tags may be shared between blogs to facilitate easy reference about common events or issues.
- Syndication Feeds: typically based on one or more versions of RSS and Atom, allow readers to aggregate content from many blogs. They are essentially a machine readable format of “What’s New” that tracks and displays a summary or the full text of the last few articles published.
- BlogRoll: a list of other blogs that are suggested reading by the blog author(s).
There are many blogging systems and not all of them support all of these features. Not every blog has all of these features enabled, but a minimum feature set would normally include permalinks, a reverse chronological index, and syndication feeds.
There are more than 70 blogs relevant to Electronic Design Automation, and the first “EDA Bloggers Birds of a Feather” meeting was held at this year’s DAC. As a part of the preparation for that event, I developed a list of “Bloggers Covering Electronic Design Automation” that David Lin of Denali published on Netvibes.
Starting the Conversation
Tim O’Reilly has observed that a blog acts as a dial tone for a website: it signals a commitment for interaction and participation on the part of the authors. Current blogging activity substantiates that a start-up is open for business. This can be an issue when the website has not been updated for six months!
EDA software and consulting services both require an ongoing relationship for a customer to get full value out of the initial decision to engage. This means that a purchase decision, especially for start-ups, can look a lot like a hiring decision. By exposing your thinking and demonstrating your expertise on your blog, you allow your prospects to get to know you better even before they write that first email or pick up the phone. Whether they see you listed at a tradeshow, see an article you’ve written, or hear about you from a colleague, they will almost always check your website before contacting you. If you let them get to know you and proactively answer their likely questions, you allow them to make more productive use of their time and make your first conversation that much more useful for both of you.
Key Benefits From a Blog
- Using permalinks for your content means that the highly linked articles accumulate a higher preference in search engines (e.g. Google) which means you are more likely to be found, especially if you are blogging about something of interest to your prospects.
- Using feeds means that new articles will get into the search engine caches, where they can be found by prospects; in a matter of hours rather than waiting for an indexing spider to visit your site every two or three weeks.
- A blog allows you to respond frequently and in real time to events, issues, and new information that are relevant to your prospects and your business. News releases still have a role but are better reserved for key communications.
- A blog also replaces the “What’s New” page for your website with a much more powerful structure that’s better connected with other websites.
Tips for Better Blogging
- Plan ahead. Map out a calendar of subjects to cover one or two a week for the next month or two; this will help you focus on these topics in other media and help you avoid writer’s block.
- Offer Perspective. Don’t just rehash other articles, blog posts, and news stories. Add your own insights and expertise—and keep the content clear, focused and professional.
- Report. Tie your subject matter to topical events such as talks, conferences, seminars, or trade shows you’ve attended, adding your own insights from those events.
- Focus for effect. Pick a set of topics that are relevant to your business and your (prospective) customers. (For non-business-related topics, create a second personal blog.)
- Do it often. Shorter, more frequent posts are best (around 200 to 400 words and at least once a week). Try making just three points per issue relevant to your intended audience.
- Choose clear titles. Keep titles short and use words that are familiar and relevant to your readers.
- Cite references. Include links for your citations to increase your credibility and make your blog more useful, reliable and better integrated into the blogosphere.
- Write with Integrity. Disclose all relevant information about your financial interests in the topic and only write what you know to be true.