Should designers blog

Marketing online design services with blogging prowess

As a designer, or owner of a design company, 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 blog has some very real advantages in promoting your budding practice, but some downfalls in the upkeep department. A blog can help you get some decent search engine placement pretty quickly, an advantage over a graphics The Logo Factor designer editionrich site, which as a designer, you’re likely to have. While those lovely logo design examples and art pieces may look nice in your online portfolio, 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 themed blog can be a rewarding activity, both creatively and in terms in fairly rapid marketing (the point of this exercise.)

Weighing the time investment.

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 or researching news feeds, graphic design forums and other blogs for information.

Coming up with ideas.

When I’m in full crank-posts-out mode (alas, that’s not recently) I’d say I would spend about 3-4 hours a day on my blog, including weekends. That’s a big investment and at 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 logo 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 design news, yet another screed, about yet another logo design contest site, or yet another rant about the latest outrage de jour. 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.

Hard to build a readership. Easy to lose.

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 – too busy at the shop, summer, family responsibilities – when I haven’t posted on The Logo Factory studio blog for weeks on end. A few times for several months. That’s never a good thing – defeats the entire purpose of having a newsy 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.) The point of the exercise here is fresh content.

Engage not copy.

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 tidbits, tips (like this silly little post about drawing a perfect cog in 20 seconds,) design tutorials, perhaps some articles on famous logos, examples of your artwork and news pieces you’ve managed to salvage from various sources on the web like Twitter and Facebook.

Turn news into your views.

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 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. Keep in mind that open comment sections are a siren call to spammers, so lock yours down well with anti-spam plugins, and close them up as they become older (our comments automatically close up after 120 days.)

Trapped rats.

In my backyard, many design companies seem to use blog posting as a search engine technique, rather than a way to communicate to 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.) It certainly build a sense of community. If you find something that’s interesting – even on a ‘competing’ blog or website, discuss it and link to it . This is extremely important, because it will encourage people to link back to your blog, an SEO benefit we’ll discuss later.

How long should posts be?

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 and random logo news that readers can skim in a few minutes (I post them as Snippets.) 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 tells 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 ‘design 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 $5 logos or boasts of “unlimited design revisions.” Counter that with an authority post on designing original logos. 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. We try to mix things up too, featuring everything from logo trivia and online quizzes, to random snapshots from my iPhone that have featured everything from sock puppets to hideously ugly shoes (and what they can teach us about logo design,) to open letters about copying logos.

Ease of updating and keeping current.

A blog is relatively easy to update – much more so that an ecommerce 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 repository 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 get picked up by Google much faster than standard 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.

Hosting a blog. Onsite or offsite?

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. And if you’re going to blog, you also need to be aware of content scraping, when other people nick your content to use on their sites.

Hosting your own.

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 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 add as part of your overall website, the method we employ here.

Monetizing your 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 used to run Adsense on the actual post pages of The Factor (while keeping them off the front page) which netted us a couple of hundred dollars every few months. I stopped because I didn’t like how they wrecked the layout. If you’re going to runs ads, don’t expect a big deal, but as part of your bottom line, can be added into the overall income of your design business.

Don’t expect to retire.

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 some other subjects.

Affiliate links.

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 book releases, or design software, and link the piece using your Amazon affiliate code.

Conclusion.

So there you have it. The ins-and-outs of publishing a blog as a way of promoting yourself, as we do around here. I’ve tried to broad-stroke the main stuff, but I’m sure other folks may have other opinions. 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.

Fun too.