Blogging as a Tool for Private Practice Marketing

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Staying with the idea that content is king, blogging provides one of the most convenient ways to deliver your content to users — and it brings some additional benefits in terms of attracting traffic.

What is a Blog?

The blog (short for ‘weblog’) began as an easy way for individual writers to publish a sequence of articles, and for visitors to comment on those articles. Blog entries are often very brief and personal and off-the-cuff — like a personal journal — although they can also be much longer and more polished.

Blog software makes up a subset of content management systems, discussed in our article on options for building your website (“Building a Website: Options for the Mental Health Practitioner”); as such, they organize your content for you and automate the task of delivering your content to web visitors. In their default configuration, many blogging software packages display full posts one after another, as one long column of text, organized by date (most recent first). Often, links to archives organized by month are provided in another column, together with links to other blogs or other sites the author likes.

However, advanced bloggers can take advantage of many different built-in capabilities that can transform the look and feel of a blog into something almost unrecognizable to users accustomed to the default configuration. In fact, some advanced users of blog software actually use the content management features of the software simply to run ‘static’ sites with none of the ‘temporal’ features like daily updates that most people associate with blogs.

So the definition of a blog is actually a little slippery: not all sites which use blog software are actually publishing what most people would consider to be a blog, and not all bona fide blogs actually look like the usual long column of text entries which many users recognize from the default configuration for most blog software. But as a rough working definition of a blog, we can say that a blog is a chronologically organized sequence of articles, usually with a facility for visitors to write their own comments on those articles.

What’s So Special About a Blog?

Some pundits say there is nothing special at all about blogs: they say that blog software is nothing more than a fairly easy to use personal publishing system, and that it is merely another way for individuals to make web pages.

Others say blogs represent a great step-change in the evolution of the web: they say that blogging is a completely new technology which will completely transform the way content is produced and delivered on the web.

In my view, the truth is somewhere in between.

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In one sense, it is true that blog software provides an easy way for individuals to publish their content on the web — one that doesn’t require learning complicated XHTML or dealing with the guts of a server. But it is false to say that this is all that blog software does.

Blog packages include built-in features for syndicating part or all of blog posts via RSS, the technology used by many sites to provide their content or headlines across the world to newsreader software. Blog packages also include built-in features for automatically displaying comments written by other authors, on other sites, about articles published in the blog. (The two technologies which enable this are called trackbacks and pingbacks.) Blog software is also usually designed to inform other chosen sites automatically whenever content is updated, or a new article is published.

These features, taken together, mean that blogs have become particularly effective at enabling interested readers to find blog content, to interact with that content, and to do both of these more quickly than they could with content published in some other ways. Does all this mean that blogs really are a great step forward in the evolution of the web? In my view, the answer is probably not, despite all the hype about blogs which routinely appears in the mainstream press. But it does mean that blogs are especially good at attracting targeted traffic, and for that reason they merit attention as a marketing tool for the private practitioner.

What Can a Blog Do For My Private Practice Marketing?

As described above, blogs are particularly good at attracting traffic to a site. Does that mean you should start a blog, just to get traffic?

The short answer is ‘no’. Why? Because a blog itself won’t do anything for your traffic! You still have to produce original content which will be useful and/or interesting to visitors. (Actually, that’s not true. A recent article in the blogging section of our own blog describes ‘blog-lifting’, the ethically dubious practice of just re-publishing the work of others; regardless of whether some in the mental health field do continue to generate traffic in this way, however, I cannot recommend the practice.)

However, if you do have something original to say — and let’s face it, just about everyone does! — and you want to write regularly, then blogging could be just the thing to enable you to publish your content and make it available to users. Via the built-in technical features of blog software, your content can be made available quickly to just those users who will be most interested in what you have to say. And, as explored in our article “Strategic Internet Marketing: Why Content is King”, this matches up exactly with the central feature of any successful strategic internet marketing campaign: content that attracts targeted visitors.

Many bloggers use their blogs as a sort of public ‘interactive journal’, and for some the activity may be therapeutic: after all, the blog provides an excellent platform from which to ‘speak your mind’ and get feedback from peers who are interested in what you have to say. Since it happens in public, the process also carries counter-therapeutic risks, for example as a result of peers undermining or even abusing bloggers in their comments about posts.

But for mental health professionals, particularly those in online practice, another aspect of the therapeutic use of blogs is worth considering: what role might your personal blog play in your activities as a therapist, counsellor, or other mental health professional? How might you feel if one of your clients posted a comment on one of your blog entries? How might you handle the introduction, by a client, of personal information they read about you in your blog, into a therapeutic session? How would you feel about writing personal thoughts in a forum where clients might not only read them, but might also read what others have to say about them? What impact might the availability of a personal blog from ‘their’ counsellor have on your clients?

These types of questions are probably all fairly obvious, but depending on your own particular circumstances — including your overall site design and other available site content, your personal writing style and topical interests, your style of working and specific client base, and more — there will no doubt be others worth considering before launching into the blogging experience.

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