Integrate your brochure site into your blog (updated advice)

Recently I offered some advice for how small businesses and independent professionals who aren’t very tech-savvy could expand their existing simple brochure sites into sites that will actively help build their business.

…Because the way the internet works today, a static brochure site is like a car up on blocks: You can sit in it, you can show it to people — but it ain’t going far.

After discussing some issues in the comments to that post with my friend maiki interi (a talented and thoughtful Web developer), I’ve decided to correct an important piece of advice.

Originally I advised: “You can create a blog using a free service like WordPress.com and integrate that into any site.” Maiki correctly observed:

“Seems to me to be [that may be] massaging the truth, on a technical level. Of course it depends on what you mean by integration.”

I was thinking over what it would really take to integrate a blog into a static site. It can be done, but yeah, it’s a lot of hoops to jump through. Plus, there are many ways this integration could be done badly. Also, it’s not reasonable to expect a non-technical business person to know what to request from a web developer on this front.

So here’s what I’m going to recommend instead: Integrate your brochure site into a blog, not the other way around.

This does NOT means starting over from scratch. You can still use most or all of what your web designer originally built for you. However, you’ll be strapping it to an engine that will play nice with the internet and actually get your business moving.

This also does not mean your site has to look like a conventional blog. It can still mainly look like a brochure, if that’s what you want.

So here’s what the nontechnical people can do to reconfigure their brochure sites…

1. Set up an account on a blog hosting service

If you’re willing to live with some limitations on design and layout, you can use a free blogging service. I recommend WordPress.com. If you need more control over design than those services offer, try Typepad (which isn’t free, but it’s pretty inexpensive: $15/month for a pro-level account, which I recommend if you have custom design needs). Squarespace is another popular blogging service that can handle this job. (Pro level: $14/month)

Whichever blogging service (also called “blogging platform”) you choose, make sure it allows you to create a blog that includes pages, not just posts.

A blog page is like a page on a brochure-style site: It’s a good way to publish information that doesn’t change much, like your “Services” page. Blog posts are items that will be listed in reverse chronological order in the blog part of your site.

I don’t recommend using Blogger (another popular free blogging service) because it doesn’t allow you to create pages, only posts.

Make sure you set up the account yourself. It’s easy. But you want to own your account, make sure your e-mail is associated with it, and that you’re getting billed for it (if you choose a not-free service).

2. Ask a web designer to recreate your brochure site as blog pages.

This means taking all the design elements and assets (logos, colors, etc.), code (HTML), and content (text, photos, etc.) that comprise each page of your existing site and copying it into a corresponding page on your new blog-based site. You’ll end up with a set of pages that exactly replicates your original site.

Ask the web designer to make the new page addresses (URLs) and page titles (the Web designer will know what this is) EXACTLY match those from the pages on your original site.

Also, don’t change any content on your pages — yet. The shift to your new site will go much more smoothly if all you’re trying to do at this point is recreate your site exactly in its current form.

If you’re not technical, you must give your web designer access to your blogging account to do this work. So make sure it’s someone you trust, and tell them not to change the login. They cannot get access to your credit card information (if you’re using a paid service), but a nefarious or clumsy designer could end up locking you out of your account.

3. Map your domain name to your new site.

Once your site has been copied onto on your blogging service, you need to tell the internet it’s there. This involves something technical called domain mapping, and you’ll probably need help from your web designer or another tech-savvy person for this.

A domain name is the main address of your site on the web. Typing a domain name into a web browser takes you to that site’s home page. (For instance, the domain name for this site is Contentious.com.)

If you’ve already bought and are using a domain name for your existing site, you’ll want to get that domain applied to your new site. This is very important for making your business easily findable through search engines, and for people who already know your site.

After your new site (which so far is just a carbon copy of your old site) is up and running, ask your web designer to map your domain to your new site. Here are domain mapping instructions for WordPress.com. This is an extra service that costs about $10/year. Typepad offers domain mapping as part of its base fee.

Domain mapping takes a little time. After the technical work is done to map your domain, it’ll take a few days for servers around the internet to notice and start routing the traffic to the new site. So be patient.

Once your domain is mapped to your site, when you type your domain name into your web browser, your new site will pop up. As long as the new pages have URLs that exactly match the URLs from your original site, the search engines won’t get confused and existing inbound links won’t be broken.

4. Create your blog within your new site

In my experience, small business owners and independent professionals typically don’t want to spend a lot of time posting content online. If you don’t think you’ll post fresh content (articles, observations, photos, specials, etc.) frequently, then don’t put your blog on your site’s home page, because it’ll just make your site look stale.

Instead, tell your designer to designate one of your new site’s pages (recreated from your original site) as the home page. Then, create your blog as a section of your site and list it in your site’s main navigation bar. I recommend calling it “News and Views” to give you flexibility in what you can post there.

5. Learn how to post to your blog

Once your new site is set up, log in to your blogging service and post an item to your blog. Follow the blogging service’s instructions

Make your post short and relevant — just 2-3 paragraphs is perfect. If you’re not immediately comfortable writing in the blogging service’s posting form, then draft your post on your computer and copy it into the form. However, use a text editor (like TextEdit or Notepad), not a fully-featured word processor like Microsoft Word

I recommend picking a story from current news headlines that’s very relevant to your business or field of expertise, link to it, and write up a few short observations about it. The point is to quickly demonstrate your value and relevance. Do you disagree with the local paper about the potential impact of proposed parking regulations near your business? Is a new technology potentially important to your clients? Did Time Magazine overlook an important point about international shipping?

Practice creating links. If you’re referring to a specific news story, look it up online, copy its web address (URL), and link to it from your post. Both WordPress.com and Typepad make this very easy.

Work your links into the flow of your writing, don’t just say “click here” or “see article.” For instance, a link in your post can look like this:

“Philly.com reported today that SRS Energy is building a new solar roofing tile plant in Montgomery County. This project is funded partly by state programs promoting a green economy in Pennsylvania. I think more local companies should be aware of and could apply for these programs…”

…From there you could add a little more information, maybe list a couple of business sectors that you serve that could benefit from this information. And then maybe link to the program’s web site, or provide a contact phone number or e-mail for the program. And that’s enough for a post!

The point is to emphasize, not expound. You don’t have to be comprehensive in order to be useful, timely, and interesting. Make your first few blog posts quick hits. Make it easy on yourself and useful for the people you hope to reach.

Now your new site is really ready for action.

From here you can follow the rest of my advice: steps 1, 3, and 4 from my earlier post.

Try posting to your blog at least a couple of times a month, if not weekly or more often. After you’re comfortable with posting, learn more about categories and tags — tools that will make it easier for people and search engines to understand what your site covers.

This strategy should work much, much better for your business than a stale, limited, hard-to-update brochure site. It’ll be easier to stay connected to your current and prospective clients and allies.

Of course, if you’re creating a web site for your business for the first time, it’s best to use a blogging service right from the start. It’s always easier to do things the right way the first time.

…Honestly, it kinda burns me up that some designers are still selling small business people on static brochure sites that don’t allow blogging, and which often they can’t update on their own. I see no point to brochure sites for a business. For an individual product? Maybe. But for a business? No way.

Have fun with your better business site!

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4 thoughts on Integrate your brochure site into your blog (updated advice)

  1. Pingback:   Expanding a business brochure site into something that will really help your business — contentious.com

  2. I think this is a much better set of steps to follow to get a site up and running.

    One thing that I think we should push for on the internet is basic comprehension of CMS templating. That is to say, what “content” is, and how a CMS separates it from the design. For instance, I bet a lot of people think they need a third party to edit “pages” on their sites, instead of using a CMS to edit the content.

    I will, of course, go over this in a future workshop. ^_^

  3. Thanks maiki.

    Yes, content management systems (CMS) are very important to make it easier to publish online without bowing down to a technological intermediary.

    That said, I think the jargon “CMS” is offputting to nontechnical folks who really just care about their business, not the internet.

    So a tutorial like this one is mainly a way to back them gently into the CMS concept by focusing on their needs and goals.

    I think after they start using a CMS (because a blogging platform is just a kind of CMS) and seeing the results, they’ll be hooked on the CMS concept and then they can start dealing with it directly. It won’t be foreign, then.

    – Amy Gahran

  4. Pingback: Squarespace Review » Posts about Squarespace as of October 27, 2009

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