Blogging is an effective method to draw in prospects, establish a business as a thought leader and eventually convert visitors to customers. Here are some things I?ve learned after starting a number of business blogs. Pick your Poison: Cloud-based or Self-hosted Cloud-Based Blogs These are sites like Blogger.com and Wordpress.com. They do not require hosting and all users must do is go to these websites, sign up for an account and start writing. Pros of Cloud-Based Blogs Quick to set up No technical knowledge required Custom domain names can still be applied You don?t have to worry about security No extra hosting fees (these blogs are free) Cons of Cloud-Based Blogs Customization is limited (note that some like blogger.com can be highly customized but some more advanced coding techniques cannot be done). They cannot be attached to your current website (it would essentially be a separate website from your business website which isn?t the best for driving traffic to your business). In rare cases, service providers can choose to take your blog down if it receives complaints or the content does not jive with their guidelines. You may be limited in the type of advertising you can place on the site. Self-Hosted Blogs These are pretty much the same as traditional websites in that they are a package of files hosted on a server that you maintain or that a service provider maintains. Pros of Self-Hosted Blogs Webmasters have complete control over design, layout, and any code they want to insert into the blog. Virtually any kind of content can be put on these sites (as long as its legal) without having to follow third party guidelines. These blogs can be made to be a part of a business owner?s current website. The bonus here is that you can mimic the look and feel of an already established website so users never know they are actually looking at a content management system built onto your business site. You are free to sell advertising space to whomever you want or place ads wherever you want on the blog. You can take advantage of various plugins and widgets available for popular content management systems. Cons of Self-Hosted Blogs Technical knowledge required for setup. Many hosting providers have easy-to-use interfaces that allow you to install popular blogging systems like Wordpress and Joomla. Otherwise you will need knowledge of file transfer programs and a basic understanding of how websites are installed on a server. Your self-hosted blog is more vulnerable to security threats. More expensive. At the very least you will need to purchase a hosting plan which can run about 10-20 dollars per month at the low end. You may incur more expenses if you can?t do a lot of the design and programming work yourself. Naturally a self-hosted blog can be a bit complicated for those without a lot of technical knowledge. If you still want to pursue that, here is a link to a tutorial for setting up a self-hosted Wordpress blog without using the cPanel of your hosting provider. http://michaelhyatt.com/ez-wordpress-setup.html Tips for Managing Content Create an Editorial Calendar Plan out your content and how frequently you are going to post. Then schedule your posts out for at least the next two months. That way you can develop a consistent schedule and you won?t burn out. Nothing is worse than running out of things to write about and its usually easier to come up with a whole bunch at once than it is to come up with something at the last minute. Schedule your Posts Depending on the platform you are using, you should have the ability with most mainstream blogging platforms to schedule posts. You don?t have to schedule all of your planned content however try and write your planned posts the week before and then schedule them so you don?t have to remember to do it. Configuring your posts Length You may hear differing opinions on this but when it comes down to it, length isn?t very important in terms of how much content you produce. You should be focusing more on the benefit that the content provides. If you are just trying to make an article or post long by adding nonsensical fluff, don?t bother because it won?t help your post rank any better in search. Headers Headers are very important for blogs posts and for SEO. Headers help break up your post into sections so that readers can scan through and find information that is most important to them and they also make the post easier to read. They give a clue as to the content that follows them. Images Images are important on a number of levels for blog posts. One reason is that they help to break up the text. If someone really wants to read a page full of text, they will; even if it is nothing but huge paragraphs. For casual readers who are just scanning text looking for information, huge blocks of words are a big turn-off. Images not only give visual aids to ideas and concepts, they break up text so it doesn?t look as long and tedious to read. Images can also help play a role in search engine optimization by allowing you to insert keywords in the architecture of the image (i.e. its file name and attributes of the image tag in HTML). Linking When you post content on a blog, it is a smart tactic to link both to external pages as well as internal pages of your own website. When there are contextual cues during the natural course of writing, you can link to other pages in your website or even other blog posts. This helps PageRank flow through pages and it also helps readers discover other content that may be of value to them. Linking to external sites can help bolster an argument and it can also help build natural backlinks. If webmasters of sites that you are linking to notice that you are referencing their content in your posts, they may be likely to do the same for you in the future. Video You don?t always have to have video in a blog post but you should always be looking for opportunities to use it. People love videos if they are useful or entertaining in some way. Like images, they can also help support an idea or concept. Embedding videos in your blog via YouTube or Vimeo is super simple. SEO One of the bonuses of having a blog (even if you didn?t intend your blog for it) is being able to optimize your site for more keywords than you otherwise could. Each post is an opportunity to target a keyword phrase. Of course you don?t always have to do this but you should take the opportunity if you can. Make sure you only use one keyword phrase and its variants per post. Keywords should be at the front of title tags, meta descriptions of posts, in headers, and in the content underneath the header. Don?t over-use your keywords. The number of keywords per post should be about 2-3%; this is known as keyword density. Depending on the type of blog you have set up, there are lots of great SEO plugins available on the web. Engagement Posts become much more discoverable in search and companies can gain new customers by promoting engagement on their blog. You should have some type of commenting system installed on your blog to enable people to comment on your content. You should also encourage them to do so. Having a short snippet of text at the end of every post that is bolded so that it can?t be missed is a great way to do this. A simple question about how the content relates to the user as well as a call to action for sharing their thoughts is all that is required. Call to Action Make sure you have a call to action at the end of every post. This could relate to engagement or to something else but have a purpose for your posts. Try and get people involved. What tips do you have for starting a business blog?