If You Build It, They Won’t Come (Unless Invited)

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It’s time to talk about blogging again. Why? Because I’ve become convinced it’s the second-best sales tool for consultants. (The first is the phone book, where a stunning number of prospects still turn in this age of “All Things Digital.”)

What makes blogging so vital and useful is the fact that it’s so easy. TypePad, Blogger, WordPress — at least a dozen platforms can help you get a blog up and running in 30 minutes, and some are free. Then, poof! You have your own Web site. You’re spared the headache of messing around with Photoshop, Dreamweaver, HTML, XML, Perl, PHP and more.

A blog is a living, vital site you can update weekly or even daily. If you use it well, it never gets old. And if you restrict your blog to your field of expertise — database design, network intrusion detection, HVAC systems or Cisco routers — you can write post after post that shows off your knowledge.

Driving traffic to your blog, however, is no mean feat. You have to invite readers and invite them daily through about half a dozen ways. Here’s how.

1. Pinging
In the blogosphere, pinging simply means telling a blog-based search engine — Technorati or Weblogs, for example — you’ve posted something new to your blog. Each time you ping an engine, it will list your new post, which becomes one more route to your door.

2. Comments and Trackbacks
Want traffic? Go for a visit — to other blogs. Leave comments on their posts and include your URL in your comments. Second method? Trackbacks. Write about someone’s post on your site, then send a trackback to theirs. A trackback is like a ping to another blog. It lets the blog’s owner know you’re writing about him or her, which tends to draw that owner to your site.

3. Ads
If you’ve got the money, use Google’s Adwords program to target viewers on Google search engine results pages (SERPs). You can even limit your ad to display to viewers in your city or state, if your consulting business is mostly local.

4. SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a large, unwieldy field that claims to maximize your Web visibility. SEO experts and advice come in all flavors from aboveboard, common-sense tactics (often called “white hat” SEO) to dubious schemes that trick search engines into ranking your posts higher. This is known as “black hat” SEO, and it is highly discouraged because it can get your site de-listed from major engines.

SEO is too big a field to describe here, but a simple Google search will give you enough advice to fill the Library of Congress. In brief, one well-reviewed tactic is to publish each post on your blog on its own page and not merely bundled in one long monthly archive. Hence, there’s more for a search engine to find, and more for it to list. But even more, search engines rank a page by the relevance of its content, so if you publish each post on its own page, its content remains undiluted and is more likely to rank higher and get more hits.

5. Viral Campaigns
Let your readers publicize you. Drop an “E-mail this post” script into your blog, so readers can tell their friends about your brilliant musings. And give them links to Digg, del.icio.us, Simpy, Spurl and other Web 2.0 sites for news aggregation and bookmarking.

6. Introduce Yourself
E-mail people. It’s easy. Just drop them a brief, polite note and let them know about your blog.

7. And Above All …
Remember: What you write and how well you write is just as important as how well you market it.

Hence, post often. Write well. If you’re not sure about the difference between “its” and “it’s” or “there” and “they’re” and “their,” get thee to a grammar book. Clients want their consultants to communicate well, especially if they deal in highly technical, arcane topics that need to be explained in layman’s language.

Make your language light, personal and professional. And more than anything, remember to write something useful. Content, as they say, is still king. If you give people a reason to read, you’ll give them a reason to become clients too.

David Garrett is an IT consultant and former IT director who writes about the nexus of business and technology. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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