Des says, "I suggest that some reasons for blogging, from a winery owner, could be useful for the consideration, not just of others in the wine business, but for time-strapped business owners generally."
Of course the first step is to choose a blogging platform, and there are a lot of great ones out there that make blogging so easy you can start writing and posting to the web within minutes. Once you’ve decided to launch a blog and chosen a blog interface, whether it’s custom-designed, self-hosted, or a popular service like
If your site is going to be very informational, with multiple fact boxes and links, then a 3-column layout may work best. It will give you more space to post information, and you will be able to place titles and boxes higher on the page so readers will see them when they first log on.
However, if you plan to write in a personal essay style, the 3-column layout is too busy—it will distract readers from your message. For this type of blog, a simple 2-column layout is best, one for writing, and one for links and information.
Choose a color scheme that is similar to your website, but give some thought to what colors mean to people. For the Women Wine Critics Board I chose strong colors, dark blue and orange, because the people writing for that site have strong, sensible opinions (and it’s also a subliminal protest against pink "women’s" wine sites and Barbie doll connotations). For Dover Canyon, I chose sky blue and green because they match the blue of the winery buildings, and have a connotation of sky and earth—which is a big part of the winery product and story.
Busy backgrounds—plaids and prints—draw the eye away from content and slow down the page loading time. Also, backgrounds that look to others like grandma’s wallpaper may be intuitively perceived as unprofessional. Use these designs sparingly, in thin blocks or borders, to add emphasis and visual interest.
2. Simplify the sidebar
Don’t feel you have to use every option and widget available. If a calendar function or photo albums are not pertinent to your blog, then don’t use them.
Do use pictures in your sidebar. It breaks up the text and draws attention to important links. Long lists of links are boring and hard to read, so a long blogroll should go at the end of the sidebar. Put your shortest and most pertinent lists at the top. If you have a lot of friendly links to share, try to categorize them, or at least alphabetize.
3. Evaluate your blog’s appearance
First impressions are important, and the appearance of your blog can attract or detract regular readers. As computer and laptop screens increase in size, a font which looked good a year ago may be too small now. Look at your blog from several different computers and platforms so you can evaluate how it appears to others.
Dark backgrounds with red or light fonts are extremely difficult to read. If you want to stick with a black or dark background, use it for the header, margins, and sidebars, with a lighter shade of gray, blue, or a contrasting background like buff for the main body. Tom Wark's blog Fermentation makes effective use of black as a background.
Change them up! Approach your topic or business from several points of view. When I first started blogging, I had a list reminding me to alternate posts among topics—wine releases, vineyard and vintage updates, winemaking vignettes, and industry news. With practice, you will begin to naturally discover a rhythm and explore fresh angles on every subject.
Another approach is to ask employees, or even customers, to contribute short articles and photos for the blog. Anne Amie Vineyards in Oregon (pronounced "ohn-amee") features posts by the entire winemaking and marketing team.
Sometimes it’s easier to write several shorter posts on a topic which is currently interesting to you—a new brand, impending legislation, current products or projects—and then set aside some of those pieces for later publication. Most blog interfaces offer a publishing feature that allows you to schedule posts for future dates. This is useful if you are going to be on vacation, or if you find yourself writing on the same topic frequently—you can schedule posts on that topic to publish at regular intervals, and interject other posts to keep the material and viewpoint fresh.
5. Use photos
Photos provide color and interest, and they can also be used to emphasize a point. Look for people and action, or the quirky and eye-catching. Group shots are boring, as are static small-town style shots of people shaking hands and holding checks. Look for people physically helping others, laughing, getting angry. Keep it personal.
Twisted Oak Winery snaps attractive females doing strange things to the winery's rubber chicken. Although not a blogger, Casey Hartlip at Eaglepoint Ranch participates in vintage weather threads and posts great photographs of the vineyard on his website.
6. Frequency and length
Try to post at least once a week. I am guilty of not posting frequently enough, but when I have time to write, I will often write several short pieces at once. Blog posts should not be as long as magazine or newspaper articles. Keep it short and to the point.
Blog readers often subscribe to a number of blog feeds, a service which emails excerpts from new posts to subscribers. To attract readers, put your most pertinent information in your first paragraph, and again in your blog excerpt. On the other hand, some readers are annoyed by daily feed announcements. To keep both camps happy, post several short bursts in one day—it will seem like a lot of fresh news, but is consolidated on feed announcements.
Mondays and Wednesdays are good, as many readers check their blog feeds from their office computers. If your feed sends announcements on the following day, then try to post on Sundays and Tuesdays.
Activate the RSS feeds in your blog software, and subscribe to a feedburner service like Google’s Feedburner. Set your RSS feed to deliver the entire post electronically—many people will want to access your blog from their PDA's, and they would like to be able to read the entire post, not just a teaser. I set my Typepad RSS preferences to send the entire post, and my Feedburner notifications to send just an excerpt.
7. Link, link, link to your blog!
Keep your marketing emails to customers short and simple, and link back to specific posts on your blog, where you can provide in-depth information on your products, suppliers, and customers. In our tasting room, we include color postcards that clearly state our blog address in each purchase. Print your blog address and a marketing blurb for your blog on all of your advertising, packaging and handouts.
Cultivate cross-promotion in the blog community. A good way to do this is to write a catchy ‘top ten’ article from your industry viewpoint. Josh at Pinotblogger wrote "Top 10 Wine Myths," which was picked up by a heavily trafficked network of online marketing gurus (whom, we hope, have some disposable income and might enjoy wine). As Tom Wark at the Fermentation blog points out, everybody loves a top ten list.
With success, you will develop a long blogroll of mutual links—sites in your industry that either link to your site or that you recommend. You can help your readers select from your blogroll by creating a shorter section of featured links, with a brief comment on each site. It can be a permanent or rotating feature.
8. Engage your readership.
Your writing style—a topic worthy of another 10 tips—should be personal and insightful. When you're a company blogger you can quickly lose your readership if you present only the company line—new releases, events, employee of the month—blog-as-brochure syndrome. Blog readership is still not widespread, and those who do read and bookmark blogs expect in-depth articles, professional writing, passion and surprises. When you are writing for your blog, the kind of writing that your readers will expect is small, personal, detailed. No pontificating. No broad brush strokes. No gushing. Get real, get personal, communicate, and make a connection. While that may sound scary, the good news is . . . shorter is better. Small slice-of-life vignettes, moments of self-deprecating humor, photo essays on how your product is made, and visits with a client or customer are all good choices for a business blog.
Getting your readership involved is also key. It creates buzz for your blog, and creates feedback for you. Offer free t-shirts, sponsor a contest to name a new product, or feature key customers.
9. Don’t be afraid of controversy.
Opinion is good. It sets you apart as a leader in your industry. And it invites discussion.
10. Offer a "Guestbook"
Dedicate a post for visitor comments, and link to the post from the sidebar. It’s a good way to engage visitors and find out more about your readership. Questions and comments from readers may even provide fuel for further article ideas.