By Jan Zimmerman

A blog (short for web log) is an easy way to add content without having to know how to program and to encourage others to comment within an ongoing conversation. A blog acts almost like a two-way website. In June 2011, BlogPulse identified almost 165 million blogs!

The expansion of social media networks blurs the once-bright line around blogs. Within Facebook, Twitter, and many other social media channels, readers can comment on content just as they do on blogs. Furthermore, popular blog postings frequently cascade over social media by way of announcements, repostings, and links.

At the same time, many blogs accept uploads of photos and videos, making them more like networks. Blogs with videos and graphics are read and cited more often than text-only blogs. Full-featured blog components can be installed within networks such as Ning or by using a Facebook app.

Watch for changes in the blogosphere over the next few years. Many blogs and their audiences may be absorbed by social media networks while the software platform itself continues to thrive as an easy way to build a web presence.

Blogging demographics and usage

Confirm that your target audience uses blogs before investing significant effort in this effort. Technorati, one of the largest blog directories, sheds additional light on the composition of members of the blogging community in 2010:

  • Two-thirds of bloggers are male.

  • Sixty-five percent are ages 18 to 44.

  • Bloggers are more affluent and better educated than the general population.

  • Seventy-nine percent have college degrees; 43 percent have graduate degrees.

  • One-third have a household income great than $75,000; one-quarter have income greater than $100,000.

  • Eighty-one percent have been blogging more than two years.

  • Professionals have an average of 3.5 blogs and blog more than ten hours per week.

According to a 2010 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, only 32 percent of adult American Internet users across all age levels read blogs and only 10 to 19 percent write them. The percentage of use for either reading or writing declines with age.

Deciding what to blog about

Blogs written by professionals, whether self-employed or within the corporate setting, are popular for business and technology, whereas hobbyist bloggers, unsurprisingly, are more likely to blog about personal musings.

A blog is a particularly appropriate platform for publishing quickly changing or controversial information in areas such as politics, news, environment, celebrity gossip, or entertainment.

Search BlogPulse to find current hot topics within your area and see where they’re posted. Then you can add your two cents’ worth. Select only among the top ten percent because there’s not much point participating in a blog that is viewed by only its writer and a few friends. For your first filter, try Technorati.

Whatever business topic you blog about, keep your posts short and end them with a question that invites others to comment. Blogs are meant to be a dialogue, not a monologue! IdeaPaint’s self-hosted blog, is a good example of active conversations.

By offering a valuable platform for customers to describe how they’ve used IdeaPaint or to ask questions, the blog becomes an excellent marketing tool, encouraging others to try their product (paint that turns almost any surface into an erasable white board).

Optimizing blog postings for SEO

Whether you’re writing your own blog or posting on someone else’s, you can optimize individual posts to make them more likely to be found in search engines. Simply include keywords in the first sentence of your post.

If you need quick suggestions for good blog keywords, install the free tool at Wordtracker.com/SEO-blogger. It sits next to a blog editor on the screen so that you can consider keyword suggestions as you write.

To view a well-optimized posting and its source code, take a look at the Changing Aging blog from Ecumen, a nonprofit organization specializing in senior housing and services. Note how the entry at ChangingAgingBlog.org/Ecumen includes the phrases senior living or senior housing in its URL, post title, tags, categories, and text.

The source code (right-click and select View Page Source to see the code) uses the same term in the title and keyword tags and indicates that the Ecumen Changing Aging blog has both an XML site map and an RSS feed.