SM & Your Eyecare Business: Be a Blogger - Lesson 3
Not too long ago, most of the information and news we received was filtered through major media organizations controlled by a few very wealthy individuals or corporations. We heard what they wanted us to hear based on what they chose to publish or not publish.
Their opinions became the opinions of large portions of society and their power increased as the popularity of their periodical or television show increased. The information people were exposed to was heavily biased and an individual had no way to get their message to a large audience, while media outlets historically provide and censor news to suit their bias. The New York Times is often described as having a liberal bent and Fox News as being conservative.
Blogging has changed all that.
A blog is basically a publishing tool. The “blogosphere” has taken power away from major media outlets, putting it in the hands of the individual. Blogs, or “web logs,” have created a “new media” where anyone and everyone can publish and immediately receive exposure of their content to a worldwide audience. We’ve become our own editors and there are no barriers to what we can or cannot say. The power of this “new media” is awesome not only because our opinion can be heard, but because we have the ability to filter through a ton of media posted by other bloggers and are no longer limited in what information we take in through just a few major media outlets. Blogging has created competition for the mass media and tempered its ability to influence events that occur on the world stage; it has put the power of the media in the hands of the individual for possibly the first time ever.
Your blog will be important to your practice marketing efforts for four reasons:
(1) It enables you to build and strengthen your relationships - Blogging is about content. It gives you have the ability to update content and provide information to people regularly.
(2) It will help raise your profile - Frequent updates to eye care relevant information is recognized by major search engines and will help you get ranked higher in search results.
(3) It raises your relevance within social media suites - The more you utilize sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and others within your practice, again the higher you’ll rank in major search engines.*
(4) It can establish relevant links to and from other internet sites – Linking in your blog is the most important activity you can undertake for your efforts to gain relevance and show up more prominently in search engines. (This will be discussed in detail in a future post.)
* Just a reminder – the major purpose of your social media efforts is to appear more relevant to the “conversation” happening on the internet; relevance is rewarded by higher search engine rankings, so while your efforts may draw few people directly into your establishment, those searching for an “eye doctor” in “Washington DC” will be more likely to find you if you are ranked higher.
If a “blog” is essentially a website, why blog? The answer is because blogging provides a way to post information, opinions or reviews with regularity without having to hire anyone to post it for you. It is your online journal. If you want to add text to your website, unless you know how to write code, you likely have to pay a webmaster to code and redesign the face of your website to add it and make it look nice. With a blog you can post commentary, graphics, images, discussions, news or anything you want much more easily. Additionally, readers are able to leave interactive commentary about what they have read.
Blogging takes place through web services known as “content management systems” or CMS, a fancy way of describing a page that you can intuitively and easily edit whenever you want, with whatever you want, without using a webmaster or having any knowledge of how to HTML code. There are many CMS out there such as Blogger, Wordpress, Yahoo blogs etc. Each system is slightly different from the other, but most of them let you easily post content and change it at will.
To establish your blog, I recommend you use a software content management system, as opposed to one of the public or open source, CMS available like Wordpress and Blogger, which can be viewed as somewhat unprofessional. I started my blog on Wordpress.com a long time ago and it has taken on a life of its own, so I keep it there, but if I could do it over again I would have done it differently. If you do want to use a public content management system I have been told it is best to start with Blogger, which is owned by Google, and in theory may get preferential search engine listings compared to other content management systems. (Although I cannot verify this is true.)
On that note, your blog should be linked directly to the homepage of your website with a prominent button that enables people to easily navigate to it from your homepage. By regularly updating your blog and having it linked to your website, Google Search “sees” that the content on your website is regularly updated and will assign it a higher “grade” than a website that is not regularly updated and the result is a boost to your website in the search engine rankings.
How To Use Your Blog
Putting something on your blog is called “posting.” I recommend posting new information on your blog at least 3 times a week. Typically blog authors compose their information in a web-based interface built into a blogging system. The information is usually anything from a simple paragraph that discusses new research findings on glaucoma, or your opinion on LASIK to a long, detailed article like this blog post (yes, this is a blog post!).
On the sides of the blog there are often links to other pertinent or non-pertinent internet sites - possibly lists of what you have posted on Facebook or Twitter - this is called the “blogroll.” Blog posts are listed chronologically, placing the newest posts on top and more accessible to visitors. The older articles are archived. A new post can be an interesting photo (I recently posted photos of blue-eyed celebrities and had my biggest day of hits yet), or just a link to some press you received. It can be a video too. People seeking information on eye and vision care do not want to be marketed to, so you should post informative, educational or interesting news posts and refrain from posting about your “trunk show” or self-promoting your practice. You are promoting your practice by having a blog; links to your website and information such as your practice name, address and phone number are easily visible, so people who visit it will appreciate the content you post and seek you out if they want. They are more likely to do so if your blog has a professional appeal without a marketing bent. Of course every once and a while it is OK to plug yourself or a promotion you are having, but refrain from doing that too often or you will loose visitors. Search engines will pick up your blog, and I suggest you list your blog on blog search engines, such as Bloglines, BlogScope and Technorati to increase your visibility in the blogosphere.
Your blog will eventually become the centerpiece of your social media campaign and the vehicle with which you promote on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and elsewhere. I will describe how this is done after I post about Facebook and Twitter. As a blogger, you will develop your own media persona and as a result your blog will take on a life of its own. It will build slowly at first – don’t be in a rush to have 50,000 followers – that will come. In the beginning get a feel for being a publisher. I found it difficult at first to find my blogging voice, but after a while I started to realize that I was in control of what I published and there were not only no limits to what I could post on my blog, but there was no one telling me how or what to post. That feeling empowered my marketing efforts and still does.
Blogging and Linking
In a future post I will discuss the importance of link-building to your social media campaign. Link building is the single most important reason to have a blog. For now, the simplified version goes like this - when another website or blog references your website or blog in the form of a “link” (highlighted text that “clicks through” to your campaign when clicked on), you score a “point” in the relevance search. The more websites and blogs that recognize you as a source via a link, the more relevant your effort becomes on the internet and the higher you get ranked in Google or other search engines.
Who links to you is important as well. A link from the National Eye Institute gets you more “points” than a link from a non-related or unpopular website, so ideally you want sites with high-level reputations to link to you. You get these links by linking to blogs and/or websites that are highly relevant to the content you are creating. You create these links by simply clicking the appropriate button on your content management site and you can even use certain websites to help you determine who you should be linking to that will help increase your relevancy. When you link to hundreds of other sites, some webmasters will recognize that you linked to them, visit your site and some will like your content enough to link back to you. That is how you grow your link profile. Keep an eye out for more on this in a future post. Additionally, blogs are ranked by Technorati and other blog search engines based on the number of incoming links (links formed by other blogs or websites to your blog).
Blogging and Tagging
Tags are phrases that people are searching for. When people search for an “optometrist” in “Rockville” and “Maryland,” each word typed is a tag and chains of tags are searched when put in the Google search bar. Google in turn pulls up the most relevant sites or blogs to the particular search tags entered. Relevance comes from linking and social media relevance. On your content management page, there is an area where you can enter the tags you feel are relevant to the content you post. If you are writing about macular degeneration, you want to post the tags “macular” and “degeneration.” You also want to post terms that appear in your post. Your post will do more for you if you can also get the name of your town and practice in the same post, and type tags for “macular, degeneration, Rockville and Maryland” in my case. This is where blogging becomes an art. You need to find ways to include the terms that are relevant to the people finding you in your posts (which often have very little to do with your practice) and then create the appropriate tags and links within your post. This is how your blog post will float to the top - the more posts you have written where the tags are positive and get linked to, then the more recognition from the search engines and the more likely it is to result in a higher ranking for you. Thus more recognition from people in your geographical region when they search for a particular topic you’ve blogged on.
Blogging can result in a range of legal liabilities and other unforeseen consequences so be sure to post original non-defamatory content. The rules for legal action online are still being written, but better not to step on toes.
To get started with Wordpress, visit http://codex.wordpress.org/Getting_Started_with_WordPress. I find Wordpress to be one of the easiest and most intuitive of the blogging content management systems.
In a future blog post we will get into other topics important to blogging such as feeds, blogrolls, pingbacks, trackbacks, permalinks and syndication, so stay tuned!
- Alan N. Glazier, OD, FAAO
Shady Grove Eye and Vision Care
Twitter Handle: @EyeInfo