Blogs come in all shapes and sizes. They are at their simplest a chronologically ordered list of posts, each of which can be anything from a one-line comments to a 100,000 word tutorial. For a business, they are a way to post content to a site on an ongoing basis, and to engage with site users.
The benefits of running a blog are plentiful. A well run blog will help a company to get more traffic, both directly and indirectly (through helping to attain better search rankings). A blog is a chance to show off your expertees over a long period of time, which should go some way to helping reassure potential customers that you are experts in your field and that they aren't your first customer.
With regard to customers, a blog can help you to communicate changes in your business to them. Offering a new product or service? A blog will give you a platform from which to shout about it. A blog gives you a chance to talk about things that your customers, existing and prospective, would not normally have the chance to hear about.
A blog can improve your reputation among your contemporaries, increasing the potential for referred work and future partnerships (and in some industries, can lead to networking event invitations and speaking engagements). You can use a blog to share knowledge and educate, both people in your industry and your customers.
With all these positives, you would think starting a blog would be a no-brainer. However, it is when people start to look into the practicalities of running a blog that their enthusiasm is replaced by fear and doubt.
Running a blog is not without its potential problems. At worst, a blog can be ignored by a company after starting and can make a site look stale and old. Even a successful blog will incur costs and requires constant attention.
Blogging is often considered to be a slow way to build traffic and reputation - most blogs take serious time to get a significant regular readership and starting a blog is not going to double your traffic overnight. Given the cost of it, putting the same money into PPC with its instant traffic and measurable returns sounds like a more attractive prospect.
Of course, every pound you spend on PPC is gone forever, whereas the pound you put into blogging is money that keeps on earning. Yes, it will be slower to generate a return, but once it starts it will continue indefinitely.
It is also often thought that blogging is expensive. An hour a week per post, minimum, can quickly add up, especially if you have several people writing on the blog regularly (and without that you run a serious risk of the blog looking stagnant and unloved, and nothing turns visitors off more than that).
In many businesses, though there might be people in-house with the knowledge to write, those people may not be comfortable writing for an online audience. An editor, or a blog manager, may be required to proof read and/or rewrite content, again bumping up the potential expense.
You get more from having people spend time writing about what they do than simply content. People who actually take time to think about what they do and how they do it, and actually take the time to write and talk about it (to each other and to customers), are more likely to find ways to improve what they do. It's a way to encourage people to step back from their work and think critically about it.
Most people relish a change in their workflow, and save work like blogging for when they need to do something different for a while. You're cutting into their internet time, not their work time. And most people find it terribly exciting, when they start blogging, to see people reading and responding to their work (and who doesn't want to raise their profile?). It can be a very motivating activity.
Finally, even if a post does take an hour to write, it is content that your business can post to your site (and most business websites are sorely lacking in content), and will grab a share of search traffic indefinitely. Search engines and users alike love content - each quality blog post can generate links from other sites to yours, and each will rank for a different set of keywords related to your business.
Monitoring and managing the blog and its comments is a common concern of businesses worried that the comments section, if left unmoderated, will quickly become a place for competitors to damage the company's reputation. A blog without management will not be updated often, making conversations in comment threads look disjointed, and a lack of ongoing management can make a blog look stale and abandoned.
Managing a blog keeps the quality of the blog high and consistent. Without a manager keeping tabs on a blog, posts turn up in clumps, rather than being released sufficiently far apart that they have a chance to be read. Comments go unanswered, which leaves users feeling ignored. Worse, you run the risk that the blog becomes stagnant as nobody takes the time to write.
Meanwhile, a blog with a single person with responsibility for it, and a clear schedule, will have fresh content going live often enough to make it worth visiting. Comments will be responded to promptly (and abusive ones removed quickly).
And finally, the technological implications of running a blog can be daunting. Design changes are needed to incorporate the blog, and the blog itself will require design time. It needs to be installed, configured and customized, and that's if you're working with an off-the-shelf system - a custom blog could run into thousands of pounds of development.
Unfortunately, there are few options to reduce the cost of development. There are some great open source blog platforms that can be cheap to install and set up, but to integrate them with an existing site, and customize them to work the way you want will take some work on the part of your design and development people. On the plus side, development costs tend to be one-time costs rather than painful monthly expenses.
A blog, as part of a decent website, gives your business a rare chance to communicate with your customers and to show off your differences. It can generate enquiries and sales almost indefinitely, can motivate staff and help spot areas for improvement in a business. Finally, it is an essential part of any modern internet marketing strategy both for building reputation and getting the web talking about your business.