Search engine optimization is a close cousin to public relations. In fact, they could be twin siblings. Much like traditional PR firms will focus on pitching your story to the Wall Street Journal, search engine optimization firms pitch your Web site to the search engines in the hopes they will find your information credible and rank-worthy.
And in the same way that part of public relations is the management of customer relationships, there is a part of SEO that performs the same role: corporate blogging.
Last week, in Blog Your Way to the Top, I touched on three benefits of corporate blogs in developing and enhancing your online presence. Today, I'll hone in on one of those benefits – perhaps the most important one of all – customer relationship management (CRM).
Nurturing Your Existing Customers
It goes without saying that CRM is a necessary aspect of every organization's PR and marketing structure. Multiple studies have proven that customer retention and cross-selling can cost far less than focusing solely on new customers to replace the fluctuations of a returning customer base.
It's simply more profitable to maintain existing customers. Not only will a satisfied customer continue to purchase products and services, he or she will also become a proud product evangelist who markets your company for free. This advertising is priceless, and you can begin developing this loyal customer base with your corporate blog.
Most customers want to be heard. They have ideas, suggestions, complaints, questions – you name it. You can differentiate your business from the competition by being the one organization with a reputation for interacting and respecting the voice of the valued customer. Your customers are going to discuss your products and services online; that's a given. The question is whether or not you will have the ability to respond in a manner that strengthens those relationships.
Many times, a customer will visit your Web site and look for answers or a way to share their input. If none is found, they will look elsewhere. But most customers want interaction and answers before they begin to slander a company's reputation. This is your window of opportunity to nip it in the bud.
Starting a Corporate Blog
If you don't have a company blog, by all means start one immediately. Obviously, I recommend a professionally designed look and feel that fits well with your Web site brand image. But even if it will take you a few weeks to get to a professional design, start by tomorrow. When it comes to blogging software, I'm partial to WordPress for its functionality and ease of use, but other options include Movable Type and Drupal.
Most of our clients elect to use our custom content management system, which was built on an open source blogging platform. This means that our Web design clients automatically have blogging functionality at their fingertips. But even if you don't, you can add WordPress quickly.
Why take the time to write in a blog? Simple: Blogs give your static Web site the ability to provide updated information on your company, products, services, and industry related events. When something newsworthy occurs in your industry, how will it affect your customers? How does it affect your company? What about new technologies? If you're in retail, you will never run out of relevant topics because the products and your customers' shopping habits are constantly evolving.
Addressing Customer Issues
With a corporate blog, you can address each and every type of customer question or complaint, thus developing an archive of answers to address current and future customer issues much like an FAQ section. Even for customers who don't feel comfortable complaining, your company image will benefit from showing these "watchers" that you care about the needs and concerns of your customers. Just being a company that cares is enough to retain a noticeable percentage of customers.
With the rising popularity of social media sites like Digg and Reddit, a blog post submission to either of these sites will launch your CRM efforts out into the rest of the Web, drawing more readers and potential clients back to your site to read the full story.
A word of caution: While blog comment spam will always be an issue, take care that you don't eliminate valuable user comments from your blog. Double check your spam blocking software or plugins to ensure you don't lose valuable feedback. Why go to all the trouble to give your audience a voice if you're not going to ensure that their comments are posted?
Using Customer Feedback
Encourage your blog readers to comment. Make sure it's easy for readers to find and read existing comments, as well as respond to what you've written. Some pre-made blog templates are not as user friendly as others, so test it out on your employees and friends to see if navigating through the blog, commenting, and finding archived information is easy and well-explained.
Work your cross-sell techniques into your blogging. When mentioning other services or products, link to those pages within your Web site. Add voting capacity to each post so your readers can click a button to vote thumbs up or down on each post. Offer prizes to the user who offers the most relevant comments per month (think gift cards, discounts, sample products, vacation packages, etc). Another awesome tactic is to create membership levels based upon number of approved comments. This encourages readers to keep interacting in order to reach intermediate and expert comment levels.
Do whatever it takes to involve your customers in the discussion of your brand, your products, your services, and your industry. Not only will you retain more customers, you might just come across the next great company idea for free.