5 Reasons to Build Your Web Site on Your Own Domain

Build your web site on your own domain for a solid foundation.

Build your business web site on your own domain -- to give it a solid foundation.

It’s safe to say that most small businesses these days know they need a web presence.

But there are a couple of mistakes that some businesses are making when they decide how to get their business online. And both mistakes are related to not having their site at their own domain name.

The first mistake is blogging with a free subdomain on a blog host like wordpress.com (or blogspot.com or another free blog provider). This is different than using WordPress to build a blog on your own domain, which is available for all EarthLink Web Hosting customers .

The second is relying entirely on Facebook.

So, what’s wrong with not having your site at a domain you own?

These are the top 5 problems with not creating a web site at your own domain…

1. Branding – We are Facebook fans at EarthLink. EarthLink and EarthLink Business have Facebook pages we’re proud of.

But if Facebook is your only online presence, you are diminishing your brand and putting it second to another company: Facebook.

As cool as it is, your Facebook page is at a Facebook.com URL. As well designed as it is, your Facebook page has a Facebook logo in the top left corner where you would expect to see your logo. We encourage you to get a business page on Facebook, but your brand also needs a place of its own to be #1. So build your website at your own branded domain.

With a blog at yoursite.wordpress.com you can avoid the issue of having another company’s logo a the top of your page (blogspot.com blogs have blogger.com logos and other blogger.com links), but the Web address will still be a wordpress.com URL. Since  your URL represents your business in many places, that’s not an ideal situation.

2. Confusion – This issue is closely related to the branding issue. When your webpage or URL is not entirely your own, it can cause some confusion. And when there is confusion online, business suffers. You especially don’t want someone thinking they may have gone to the wrong site if they end up at a wordpress.com URL – especially with phishing scams and other online security issues.

3. Control – If you don’t own it, you don’t control it. And that’s certainly the case with Facebook.com. If it were fully your page, you wouldn’t have put Facebook’s logo at the top, would you? You may be a fan of the Facebook timeline format, but many businesses aren’t, and they’re still stuck with it. Likewise, many businesses weren’t happy about changes to the tabs and other design and functionality changes Facebook has unilaterally rolled out.

It’s safe to say, Facebook will continue to change their site, which means they will continue to change your site, whether you like it or not, if Facebook.com is your only presence.

On your own domain, you decide what you want and what you don’t. On Facebook, Facebook decides.

This is a less obvious issue with a free subdomain on wordpress.com since the page looks more like your own and you can choose from a wide variety of themes and layouts.

But WordPress can still change requirements and you would either have to accept them or leave (which presents very real problems for your business). WordPress.com also runs its own ads on free subdomain sites (though you can pay to remove them).

4. Analytics – Facebook has recently released what they call Insights for business pages. Insights offer some visibility into your Likes, reach, and demographics of your audience, but it’s not nearly the amount of information and insight you can get from a full-fledged analytics program such as the free Google Analytics, or the built-in analytics available in our EarthLink Web Hosting Control Center.

WordPress.com offers more robust Stats than Facebook, but they still may not be everything you are looking for.

5. SEO – Facebook business pages and WordPress.com subdomains can both rank on search engine results pages, but each has limitations when it comes to search engine optimization or SEO.

Compared to a website on a domain you own, Facebook presents a more limited opportunity to develop content targeted to specific keywords to help your SEO. Facebook limits the number and kind of pages/tabs you can have.

Facebook also presents some challenges with Google search result sitelinks. Sitelinks are the extra links Google sometimes returns along with the link to your homepage. Ideally these are the most important pages on your website.

With your own domain website, you have some control over these links through Google Webmaster Tools. But Facebook pages sometimes appear with sitelinks under your main Facebook page that aren’t even from your page at all.

EarthLink’s Facebook page sometimes appears alongside links to unrelated pages that look from the search results like they are affiliated with us. Since we don’t control Facebook.com, we cannot exclude these links in Webmaster Tools.

With a subdomain site on WordPress.com, the biggest SEO issue comes if you want to move your site to your own domain after you’ve developed lots of SEO-enhancing links to your wordpress.com site.

WordPress.com does now offer some services to help you establish 301 redirects so you don’t lose the value of your incoming links, but it is an add-on service that you’d need to continue paying for as long as you want the redirects live (which could be…forever).

Your biggest SEO problem using either Facebook or WordPress.com would be if they went out of business (or changed their business dramatically).

It certainly doesn’t look likely, but it has happened before. Geocites was once an enormous provider of free websites. Then they disappeared. Google is still running blogger.com, but they have recently closed down many other businesses, so you never know. It is also possible that future problems with other sites on the larger blog domains could spill over and negatively impact SEO on your site.

When you own your own domain name, you own it independent of the company that hosts your site. Even if you sign up for EarthLink Web hosting and choose your business’s domain name in that sign-up process, it is your domain and will continue to be yours as long as you keep renewing your domain registration, no matter what hosting company you use.

 

Common Blogging Mistakes that Can Sink Business Blogs – Part 3

Don't sink your blog by making these promotion & optimization mistakesA couple of weeks ago, we started a three-part series Common Blogging Mistakes That Can Sink a Small Business Blog. The first part focused on mistakes setting up your blog. Part two focused on blog writing mistakes.

Today, in Part 3, we’re going to cover promotion and optimization mistakes that can prevent your small business blog from succeeding.

We hope we can help you avoid making these common mistakes and give your blog the best chance for success.

1. Not optimizing blog post Title & Description tags for search engines (SEO)

Your small business blog will be more of a success if customers and potential customers can find your blog posts when they’re searching on the major search engines, such as Google and Bing.

The first step in making that happen is having good content, which we touched on last week. The next step is optimizing the blog page for search engines.

Start with the page’s TITLE tag. This is not the blog’s headline, though they may be similar or identical; rather, it’s the name that appears in the browser tab when on the page and the main link to the page in search engine results.

Best practices for TITLE tags:

  • They need to be unique for each page on your website.
  • They should be under 70 characters long (including spaces); any words beyond 70 characters won’t show up in most search engines.
  • They should lead with the most important keywords for the post, the terms that will be most searched for and have potential to drive the most traffic.
  • In most cases, don’t worry about promoting your brand in blog post TITLE tags; the relevant keywords are most important here.

You should also work to optimize the meta description tag for each post/page. These descriptions no longer have the SEO value they once did, but they often appear in search results and can either positively or negatively affect whether searchers will click to visit your site.

Most SEO experts think there’s no more reason to include meta keywords, though some still do. Sometimes adding meta keywords is a good reminder to you to make sure the post is written with a focus on certain keywords. If you are having trouble deciding what keywords are most appropriate you may need to edit your post a bit.

If you use WordPress for your blog, adding an SEO plug-in such as All-in-One SEO or WordPress SEO by Yoast will make it simple to add good titles, descriptions, and keywords if you want to keep using them.

2. Not promoting your posts enough

Don’t count on your SEO efforts to promote your blog. SEO is important, but it takes time. And even when you have good content and good on-page SEO, you won’t necessarily rank until you start to generate traffic, buzz, and incoming links.

So…you need to actively promote your posts.

Make sure you have a Twitter account that you work to get customers and other relevant people to follow. Then, when you have a post, make sure you promote it on Twitter. It is OK to promote the one post more than once a day, but don’t blast out the same Tweet over and over. You’ll lose your followers. Try tweeting the same link several different ways with some time between your tweets.

The same principles apply to Facebook and Google+. You want a Facebook page for your business with as many relevant Friends as possible. Then you want to promote your posts there.

Other less popular but still important social media properties to promote on include StumbleUpon, Reddit, Delicious and LinkedIn. LinkedIn can be an especially good place to promote if you are active in groups related to your business.

Another good way to promote your blog is to do guest posts on other blogs. It’s a good way to help position yourself as an expert in your field and you’ll typically get a link or two back to your blog (which is good for both direct traffic and long-term SEO).

3. Not making posts easy to share

When people share your post, that’s like free marketing. What’s more, word of mouth marketing like that, is more trusted and effective than paid marketing since it’s coming from people who were genuinely interested enough in your post to want to share it with others they know.
So make it easy for your readers to share.

The first step, as we’ve mentioned before, is having good timely content. Having a clear keyword-focused headline for your post also helps in sharing since the headline is often what shows up in social media feeds.

But the next must-have is social media sharing buttons. If you want people to re-tweet your article on Twitter, Like or Share a post on Facebook, or pin a photo on Pinterest, you need to make it easy for them.

If you use WordPress, a simple way to do this is to get a social sharing plugin such as AddThis. Here are other WordPress social sharing plugins.

Inbound marketing leader HubSpot also published a great post called The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Creating Social Media Buttons which can walk you thorough your options for implementing these social sharing buttons one by one.

4. Not optimizing URLs for SEO and sharing

URLs or web addresses are often an overlooked opportunity to optimize for search engines and social sharing.

Make sure that URLs for your posts aren’t mostly numbers or codes that are meaningless to search engines and customers. If someone sees the web address of one of your posts, they should be able to figure out what the post is about from the URL alone.

That means you need keywords in your URLs. Some people favor replicating the entire, word-for-word headline or title tag in the url; others an abbreviated version. Either way, both search engines and people should be able to predict the content of your post from the words in your URL.

Use-hyphens-between-the-words-in-the-URL-for-your-blog-post-so-the-keywords-are-easier-to-read.

For example, our first blog post in this series on blogging mistakes for business blogs had this URL: http://blogs.earthlink.net/blogging-mistakes-that-can-sink-business-blogs. In this case “blogging mistakes” and “business blogs” are the most important keyword phrases, so they are included in the URL with “blogging mistakes” in the most important position at the beginning.

5. Never linking out, never linking back

Blogging isn’t really considered “social” media, as social networks like Facebook and Twitter are, but blogs often succeed because they foster a sense of community.
There is the community of readers (which may be apparent in you blog’s comments) and the wider community of people in your industry or area of interest.

Don’t wall yourself off from the larger community you blog should be a part of. Read related blogs and comment on them. Link to other blogs in your niche. Don’t worry about diluting your SEO or losing out to the competition if you mention them. Blogging can be a win-win rather than zero-sum platform when you link out to other blogs.

For different reasons, don’t forget to link back to your own blog (earlier posts) and your website when appropriate. When linking to sales pages, just make sure they are relevant to the post and don’t make the post seem overly commercial.

Linking back to your site and blog will not only generate more traffic for you but also help with conversions and long-term SEO. And remember, you probably have new readers who didn’t know your blog when you wrote the post you are linking back to.

So this is a way to leverage the hard work you did before to provide ongoing benefits to your blog and your newer readers.

6. Not monitoring analytics

To make smart decisions about your website and your blog, you need data. To get that data, you need to have website analytics installed.

EarthLink Web Hosting & Ecommerce customers have access to analytics in their Web Hosting Control Center. If you aren’t an EarthLink customer, the most popular choice is Google Analytics, which is free.

But installing analytics is just the first step. You need to regularly monitor the data being generated. Sometimes you’ll notice a sudden drop in numbers that indicate there’s a problem with your site, and you can fix the issue before it has a great impact.

Mostly, however, you are monitoring blog analytics to see what content is most popular. Don’t just guess what people like. Make sure the numbers back up your intuition. You’ll also want to monitor which kinds of posts drive the most traffic to your main site and, best of all, which lead to conversions.

Best of luck to all you bloggers. From our blog…to yours.

And if you’ve made (and corrected) any of these mistakes, let us know how it’s working out  by posting a comment below. Thanks!

Common Blogging Mistakes That Can Sink a Small Business Blog – Part 2

Don't sink your blog by making these writing mistakesLast week, we started a three-part series Common Blogging Mistakes That Can Sink a Small Business Blog. Part one focused on mistakes in setting up your blog.

Today, in Part 2, we’re going to cover writing mistakes that often hinder the success of small business blogs.

We hope we can help you avoid making these common writing mistakes and give your blog the best chance for success.

Blog Writing Mistakes

1.     Writing is too promotional

Yes, you are writing your blog, ultimately, to promote yourself or your business.

But your blog won’t succeed in that mission if you don’t build and maintain an audience of readers. And you won’t do that by writing an endless stream of promotional material.

When writing your blog, you need to educate. You need to entertain. You need to help. You need to inspire.

You don’t need to sell, sell, sell.

The magic of your blog is that if you do all those things well, you will also sell. Because people will like you and respect you and want to do business with you.

 2.     Not focusing your writing on your audience

This second mistake often happens because you’re making the #1 writing mistake: being too promotional.

You can, of course, weave your products or service into your posts when relevant. But focusing largely or exclusively on yourself and your products is a turn-off to blog readers.

Focus, instead, on your audience (your readers and your customers) and good things will happen for you.

Write about the topics you know they are most interested in (and if you don’t know what they are interested in, ask them).

Write to help them solve problems. Write to answer their questions. Write to save them money.

Make your customers’ lives easier somehow and they’ll make it easier for you to succeed online.

 3.     Writing blog posts that are hard to scan

The first two writing mistakes were about content, or what you should write about. This one is about the structure, or how you should write.

You may have heard…people are busy. They are rushed and distracted, their attention is divided and hard to focus.

So you have to make it easy on them.

Especially on the Web, big blocks of copy scare people off. Readers online like to scan through copy quickly and your writing needs to facilitate that.

Yes, you will need to write some long posts to tackle tricky subjects or to establish yourself as an authority. And being too brief can lead people to think you aren’t an expert.

But be as concise as possible while achieving your goal of establishing authority.

Also, break up long posts into sections with headers to help readers visually navigate your post.

Keep paragraphs short. No more than a sentence or two.

Take advantage of bulleted lists or numbered steps. They are very easy to scan and are a more visually appealing way to present your copy.

4.     Headlines aren’t clear enough

Headlines are vitally important to your blog.

First, many people will only read the headlines. It is your job to make sure that your headline gets as many as possible to move on and read the blog post itself.

But many won’t start reading and will abandon your blog if you don’t make it clear what you are offering them for their time.

Headlines that are trying to be clever or mysterious are often simply dismissed by readers. Most don’t have the time or patience to give you the benefit of the doubt and start reading a post when they don’t know what it’s about.

Clarity in your headlines is also especially important for social sharing and SEO.

When people share your post, it’s typically the headline that others will see. And when your post appears in search engine results, it’s the headline that will be the link searchers see first.

Your headline also works to tell search engines what your blog post is about and therefore what keywords the post should rank for.

So a focused and clear headline that features relevant keywords will help your SEO efforts.

 5.     Too many mistakes: grammar, punctuation, spelling & facts

Don’t let this one intimidate you if you’re one of the many non-writers who are writing blogs for their businesses.

Mistakes happen…and you will make them. Just work to minimize them.

While online readers are pretty forgiving about certain kinds of grammar mistakes (especially if they seem to be part of the writer’s voice and contribute to the energy of the writing), a post that is riddled with mistakes will turn readers away and damage your brand.

How to you minimize writing mistakes?

First, know your weaknesses. You probably know certain words you spell wrong all the time. Keep a list and double-check those words in your posts.

Use spell-checkers, but don’t trust them 100%. They are good at spotting certain kinds of spelling errors, but if you misspell one word and your misspelling is another word, it may not be flagged. They’re also not as good if you’re writing about a field with many technical terms or jargon.

Read your posts out loud, slowly, to make sure they sound right. Keep a grammar guide handy to check any issues you aren’t sure of.

If possible, get someone else to read and/or proof your posts. It’s typically harder to catch your own mistakes than to spot them in someone else’s writing.

Also, be very careful to fact-check your posts.

You certainly don’t want to damage your credibility, tarnish your brand, and loose readers and customers by posting inaccurate information.

 6.     Not writing substantial enough posts encourage links & shares

You will have many goals for your blog, but many of them will be harder to achieve if you don’t write posts of substance.

You won’t succeed if all you’re posting are brief “me too” responses to other bloggers, one-sentence intros that link to content on other sites, or posts that are too shallow to really add value to the subject you’re writing about.

While you want to be as concise as possible, make sure you take the time to write thoughtfully and show that you know what you’re talking about.

Substantial content will not only help your brand, but it will also help you generate links to your site (which will then help your SEO) and encourage readers to share your blog post via social media or other referral methods.

People want to be confident that if they share your post, the people they share it with will be impressed with your content.

If you hit the right topic or right tone, a short post can definitely generate links and sharing, but you’ll be safer if you mix in longer, more authoritative posts as well.

 7.     Not writing frequently enough

It’s hard to build up your readership if you don’t write enough.

Quality is, of course, very important, but if there’s not enough quantity to keep people coming back, they won’t.

More frequent blogging will generally mean more traffic to your site.

But there is no magic number for how often you should post to your blog.

The right amount will depend on the type of posts you are writing, the length of the posts (mostly short posts should mean more frequent posts), your audience, and your business goals.

Whatever the frequency is, it’s good to try to be consistent. If you are trying to post once per day, having lots of multi-day gaps can be problematic for building up readership.

People want to know what to expect. You should get them into the habit of checking for posts at certain intervals. Habits are your friend, so you need to post frequently enough that you can get people in the habit of reading your blog.

Blogging frequently also helps the many people who will randomly check out your blog, because it means they’ll be seeing fresh and timely content.

It even helps SEO. Search engines like sites with fresh content. And frequent posts mean you’ll generate more content for search engines to index.

So post, post, post. Every day if you can. Every few days, or weekly, if that’s all you can do. Some business blogs do post monthly, but it’s rare.

It may be hard to achieve your blog’s goals if you can’t post at least once a week. But do your best!

We hope you’ll come back for part three, which will cover promotion and optimization mistakes.

Common Blogging Mistakes That Can Sink a Small Business Blog: Part 1

Sinking ship - Don't sink your blog by making these mistakesWe’ve been doing some blogging about blogging lately. We hope our recent Blogging Tips for Small Business Owners and Blogging for Small Business: How to Generate Ideas have gotten some of you started blogging and others at least excited about starting a blog.

Today, we’re going to start a three-part series entitled Blogging Mistakes That Can Sink a Small Business Blog. The hope, of course, is that we can help you avoid making these common mistakes and give your blog the best chance for success.

Part 1: Blog Set-Up Mistakes

 1.     Not choosing the right platform

You want to choose a blog platform that’s easy to use, offers a wide variety of templates, offers powerful plug-in options, and has a large user base that can offer guidance and support.

In other words, you probably want to go with WordPress. Most top blogs run on WordPress. EarthLink web hosting and ecommerce hosting customers: remember you have access to a free WordPress installer in your Web Hosting Control Center.

Other popular blogging platforms include Google’s Blogger and TypePad.

 2.     Not hosting the blog on your own domain

You can get a free blog hosted on the wordpress.com domain, but don’t do it if you want your blog for business. It’s the equivalent of opening a store inside someone else’s store. You want your blog at a domain you control.

And you shouldn’t publish your blog on a separate domain either, even if you own and control it. If you do, you won’t get all the SEO, branding, and traffic benefits for your main business website.

There are, of course, great stand-alone blogs, but if you want your blog to promote your business, publish it on your business website. The most common places are on a sub-domain (blog.yourdomain.com) or folder (www.yourdomain.com/blog/).

 3.     Not linking prominently to your main site

No matter where you end up publishing your blog, make sure it is prominently linked back to your main business website.

You want to make it as easy as possible for customers or potential customers to go from your blog to the areas of your website that pay the bills.

So your logo and/or Home link should link back to your business homepage, not the homepage of your blog. And you should look for other places where you can seamlessly add links back to your product pages. Just make sure you don’t go overboard and make your blog a billboard.

 4.     Not setting up analytics to monitor your blog’s success

Business blogging is typically hard work. So you should make sure you have the analytics in place to measure its success. Sure, there are other ways you can get a sense of your blog’s success, such as lots of enthusiastic comments after your posts, or Tweets and Likes in social media. But you’ll want to know more than that: how much traffic is your blog getting, how much traffic is your blog sending your main site, what the most popular exit pages are, which blog topics are most popular, conversion rates for blog referrals, and other insights only website analytics such as Google Analytics http://www.google.com/analytics/ will tell you. EarthLink Web Hosting customers can easily access built-in analytics from the Manage tab in your Control Center.

 

5.     Not creating an effective team to do all the work

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can do it all yourself – even if you’re an amazing multitasker. That can lead to burnout. Rope in others in your business to offload some work and leverage their expertise. If you don’t have any co-workers, consider outsourcing some of the work to freelancers (or at least getting some advice from friends). You want to make sure you have the resources to blog frequently enough, keep your quality high, and keep the blog going long enough to evaluate its success. So, get some help if you can.

 

6.     Not planning for the long term

Blogs are rarely successful overnight. Many top bloggers report that they were writing for years before things really took off. But you should expect to wait at least a few months to start getting traction with your blog and then at least several more months to evaluate how you are doing. Try to stick it out for a year before you decide to pull the plug.

Some blogging benefits, such as search engine optimization, accrue only over time as you generate a greater depth and breadth of content that establishes your site as an authoritative destination for more search keywords.

We hope you’ll come back for part two, which will focus on blog writing mistakes, and part three, which will cover blog promotion and optimization mistakes.