As a designer, whether or not you publish a design blog as part of your online marketing day-to-day is a decision that only you can make. A design blog has some very real advantages in promoting your budding practice, but some downfalls in the upkeep department.
A design blog can help you get some decent search engine placement pretty quickly, an advantage over a graphics rich site, which as a designer, you’re likely to have. While those lovely portfolio pieces may look nice on your logo gallery, they won’t accomplish much in the SEO department. Google, Yahoo and other search engines like ‘real’ content (text) and a blog is one method to develop lots and lots of text, manna for search engine spiders. Accordingly, maintaining a design blog can be a rewarding activity, both creatively and in terms in fairly rapid marketing (the point of this exercise).
The main investment – time
On the flip-side, a blog can be a royal pain in the ass to upkeep if your heart isn’t in it. Keeping a blog can be enormously time-consuming – either writing complete posts, writing parts of posts for later publication (I started this article back in October) or researching news feeds, graphic design forums and other blogs for information.
When I’m blogging full-tilt, I’d say I spend about 2-3 hours a day on this blog and that includes weekends. At other times it takes real effort to write even the simplest post. Sometimes I just get bored with my own blather. Often, I’m bereft of ideas and there isn’t any design news to write about or ‘pad’. If the weather’s good, my shiny red Yamaha is a lot more appealing than writing another article about the latest logo design news, or yet another rant, about yet another logo contest. Overall, maintaining a blog (at least one that’s going to help you market your design services) represents a sizable time investment and to be effective, requires consistent tending.
If you’re not ready to dedicate a least 3 – 6 hours a week in developing, writing and promoting your blog, it probably isn’t for you. A really nice blog will take longer. And that’s every week, often easier said than done. There have been times (recently for example) – too busy at the shop, summer, family responsibilities – when I haven’t posted on The Logo Factory studio blog for weeks on end. That’s never a good thing – defeats the entire purpose of having a design blog in the first place. When your last published date is weeks, or months ago, you’ll quickly lose any regular readers you’ve managed to attract, and a dated blog is certain to be viewed as a sign that your design business isn’t active, or even out of business (ironically, the opposite is probably true – you may be too busy with client work to actually get around to writing anything).
What to write about?
And then there’s the pressing question – what to write about. Writing new posts on a regular (if not daily) basis can be trying – especially when you’re limited to design as a subject, and particularly if you want to make your blog entertaining and informative to read, rather than an endless number of entries all extolling the advantages of your creative talents. Even if that is the real point. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use your blog as a press release delivery system. You should. But you’ll also need to surround these promotional pieces with interesting tid-bits, tips (like this post), design tutorials, examples of your artwork and news pieces you’ve managed to salvage from various sources on the web.
Fair use and copyright
If you’re going to use news pieces from other sites, design blogs and forums, don’t just quote a few paragraphs (ever mindful of ‘fair use copyright laws) with a link to the original. This is fine for news aggregators, but not so cool for a design-themed blog. Use the source material as a framework for your post. Tell readers what you think. Try to give them your perspective on the design-related piece you’ve found on Google News or the New York Times website. Visitors to your blog don’t want to read a re-hash of material from other sources – they can read the original for that. Instead, present your angle on design related items, turning them from ‘news’ into ‘views’. That will help you develop a loyal readership. It’s also a good idea to keep your comment section open. That encourages readers to feel like part of your blog community, and will result in return visits and in-bound links, the lifeblood of any website.
Linking to other blogs
In my backyard, many logo design companies seem to use blog posting as a search engine technique, rather than a way to communicate to either clients or to engage other designers in a themed discussion. Constant bleating about why they’re better, cheaper, faster sorta thing. Boring. Many of these firms are reluctant to link to other resources, blogs or websites, not wanting to promote other sites that they view as ‘competition’, or risk losing that logo sale by directing visitors outside their domain. While philosophically sound, this ‘trapped rats’ mentality certainly isn’t the soul of the internet (also, if a blog and website is decent, people will come back after visiting another linked page) and doesn’t help with being a part of the blog community. If you find something that’s interesting – even on a ‘competing’ blog or website, discuss it and link to it.
Length of articles
When it comes to the length of blog articles and posts, the schools of thought are varied. I tend to write one or two monster pieces – we’ll call them ‘authority’ posts – a week, buttressed by smaller, bite-size articles that readers can skim in a few minutes. Obtaining a balance between the two will depend on how much time you’re willing to invest, as well as your long-term online marketing goals. Site analytics tell me that smaller design posts receive more readers, longer ‘authority’ posts obtain more in-bound links. Authority pieces also set your design business as a source of ‘expert’ opinion, a very important distinction when it comes to marketing your services to clients. Competing against other design companies using price as a barometer has become a futile exercise, especially on the internet – something you’ve indicated an interest in by reading this far. There’s always someone who will design this or that cheaper. By laying claim to ‘expert status’, you have a ‘hook’ that lifts your design services above the crowd advertising $50 logos with unlimited revisions. Authority posts help you develop that status. Bite-size features add excitement. By balancing the two, you can turn your blog (and by extension your design business) into a ‘hub’ of activity. Clients like that sort of thing.
Ease of use
On the upside, a blog is relatively easy to update – much more so that a standard HTML site. It’s easier to link all the various bits and pieces together, and if you organize posts into various categories, you can quickly develop a respository of design based posts. From a search engine perspective, blogs weigh in on the plus side. Due to the ‘newsworthiness’ of most blogs, they tend to gend picked up by Google much faster than standard HTML pages with most blog software ‘pinging’ various directories, including Google, the minute you hit the ‘publish’ button. Published entries get added to the blog directory and main listings (SERPS) rather quickly – often within minutes. From my experience, the initial addition to the main listings is temporary, and you’ll find that many posts will disappear after a short while, only to return permanently a few days, or weeks, later. In order to keep your blog posts high in the directories, you’ll have to publish items fairly regularly, getting a ‘bump’ every time you do.
Offsite or onsite?
After weighing the pros and cons, you’ve decided to jump into the blog-publishing area. You’ve assembled design articles, instructional features and scoured the internet for the latest news. Probably time we spent some digital ink on the brass tacks – how to actually get your blog off the ground using the technology at hand. When it comes to how you should host your blog, there’s two main choices;
1) Onsite – hosting your blog on your server as part of YourDesignSite.com (usually in a sub-directory) or as a sub-domain (ie: Blog.YourDesignSite.com).
2) Offsite – using a hosted blog solution such as Blogger or WordPress.
Which it better? Hard to tell really – there are several schools of thought. Using an offsite solution is easy, fast and requires very little technical know-how. It’s also free. The offsite blog directories have huge search engine strength already established, and get indexed very quickly. If you already have your website up-and-running, linking to it from your blog on Blogger or WordPress will send page rank ‘home’ and you’ll have two sites waiting to be found in Google and Yahoo searches. Alas, free services like this are packed with other blogs and tons of spammers (who use the service to create splogs – keyword soaked jibberish designed to generate traffic to either Google Adsense accounts or to another web site) so it can be fairly difficult to rise above the noise.
Hosting your design blog as part of your main site requires a little bit of technical know-how including how to set up MYSQL databases (though many web hosts now include blog platform software as part of their regular services). Publishing an onsite blog promotes your site as an ‘entity’ and if graphically set-up like your main site, adds to your overall brand. In terms of SEO benefits, I’d say that a blog certainly helps, but when we first published our first post (back in 2005) The Logo Factory main site took a sizable ‘hit’ in logo design search engine placement before returning to normal a few months later. Granted, things have changed since then (and blogs have a since developed a new level of ‘respect’) so I’d expect such dramatic changes to be rare nowadays. Most blog software can be downloaded free-of-charge, is relatively easy to install and operate, and in my personal opinion is well worth the effort to install as part of your overall website, the method we employ here. We’ve always published The Logo Factor in a sub directory of our main site and it has to be fairly effective – you’re reading this, aren’t you?
Monetizing a blog
Making money directly from your blog – referred to as monetization – using Google Adsense (Adsense is when you feature Google keyword ads on your site, Adwords is when you place your ads somewhere else) is a personal decision. Some think that ad banners plastered all over the place cheapens the ‘image’ of an otherwise upscale effort. Others will be more pragmatic, figuring a few bucks here and there is worth the shelf space you ‘lease’ to big G. On the financial side, it might be worthwhile, but don’t expect to retire. I run Adsense on the actual post pages of The Factor (while keeping them off the front page) which nets us a couple of hundred dollars every few months. Not a terribly big deal, but as part of your bottom line, can be added into the overall income of your design business.
Having said that, you should also keep your expectations realistic. See the revenue as a way to pay for your hosting charges. Maybe your cell phone bill as well. Sure, there are people who claim they make thousands upon thousands on blog ad revenue. And perhaps they do. But they’re not in a niche market like design, where the keyword payouts are much, much, lower. The amount you’ll make depends entirely on the subject of the keywords – triggered by what Google views as the central theme of your blog, in this case, something to do with design. Design keywords don’t bid out as high as other subjects.
Other methods of ‘monetizing’ your blog include affiliate links – you receive a portion of a sale when a visitor clicks through to another site and they purchase something. You’ll probably want to feature links to design related products – books and software from Amazon for example. One excellent method is to write reviews of the latest graphic design books, or design software, and link the piece using your Amazon affiliate code (you can sign up here).
So there you have it. The ins-and-outs of publishing a blog as a way of promoting yourself, including online logo design services as we do around here. I’ve tried to broad-stroke the main stuff, but I’m sure other folks may have other opinions and/or advice (you’re welcome to comment if you do). At the end of the day, running a design-themed blog can be beneficial to your business, a decent way to get yourself ‘out there’ and a fairly rapid way of entering the online market.
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