Blogging (blog comes from the term Web log which is similar to an online diary) is a marketing tool many businesses foolishly do not use. When a blog is done well it creates a conversation between you and your client community, driving traffic to your site as the result of search engine results. You can share news about your business, information and resources and ask for input from readers. Blogging is easy and not necessarily time-consuming.

You should already have a Web site for your business, so adding a blog won’t be difficult for your web manager or hosting company. It is generally just an additional feature. While we can’t do an overview of every software package that includes blog add-ons, whomever is managing your site for you should be able to do this without problems. If they cannot do this for you or you don’t have a Web site, there are free blogging tools on the Internet. Blogger, WordPress and Typepad are all user-friendly and you can simply have a link from your main site to the blog. The sites vary in how much you can customize a blog, so start off with a simple template.

You should add a blog post no less than once per week and as often as daily. Posts can range from 200-600 words and should be written on a variety of topics based on your industry and customers’ needs. Continually ask yourself “what might my customer want or need to know about my business and this industry”? If you own a dry cleaning business, sharing tips on fabric care, stain treatment and tailoring or alterations could be topic categories. If you own a restaurant, new menu items, wine recommendations and reviews and social events would be helpful. Whatever you do, be patient. It will take some time for your blog to gather steam and a following.

Be sure you link to other sites within your blog posts. The dry cleaner might link to club soda giant Schwepps, the restaurant to Gallo as appropriate in the site. Why is this important? When someone does a search for Schwepps or Gallo, your article is likely to pop up, driving traffic to your blog and thus, your Web site and you.

Interact with readers. Ask questions in the blog like “how have you handled this?” or “what are your concerns about that?”. This prompts them to engage in the discussion or comments section and helps push your statistics up as well as increase your Web traffic.

When you add a “blogroll” to your site, you improve your online relationships and goodwill. A blogroll is a list of links to other blogs that are appropriate to your readers and which you recommend. Doing so provides an additional service to your customers and builds rapport with other leaders in your industry.

Add images and videos. A graphically pleasing blog draws more repeat readers. You can get free or low cost (generally around $1.00 or less) images at several sites. Search “free and low-cost images” to find some of these vendors. Once you download your image you can store it off your hard drive at a site like Flickr or Photobucket and use the URL to add the image. Videos can be found online and will generally have an “embed” feature that gives you HTML code to allow you easily embed the video in your site. Use these judiciously. An article about raising capital lends itself to an image of money. An article about productivity might feature a video of your favorite motivational speaker.

You may be frustrated by this article because you feel you cannot write or you do not have the time. Don’t worry! There are plenty of affordable, professional writers available. Posts will run between $5-$15 each, or less, and you can purchase in a monthly package to drive down costs even further. Most “probloggers” can handle everything including adding images, tags and categories for you as well as review your comments. Go to freelancing sites like GetaFreelancer or Elance to shop for a writer. Prepare to communicate with them quite a bit in the beginning until they understand your “voice” (how you, personally, would present the information).

Blogging can be very enjoyable and does not have to be time-consuming. You get to build relationships with industry leaders and your customers, provide real information for them while you increase traffic to your Web site. Blogging is a must for those of you who are trying to establish yourselves as experts in your field.