There has been a lot of buzz around certain viral blogging systems, and how small businesses can use these things (whatever they are) to grow their business. But the truth is that “viral” is just another hyped buzz word and these products have no real value for real-world small businesses. In fact, what you may not have realized because of very clever marketing tactics and a whole lot of misguided affiliates, is that these blogging platforms are actually MLM-style pyramid schemes.
So let's take a look at what they offer, and why you should steer clear of these types of products.
What is Viral Blogging Anyway?
You've probably heard of blogging, or blog, and may vaguely understand that it means to write content and put it on the web. If you have never looked into it, you may think of people blogging about unimportant things in their lives like what they had for breakfast, or the summer vacation road trip they took last summer.
But blogging is what drives a lot of the content that you find on the web. It's a way for anybody to write content about anything they want, and have it found in search engines. Blogs can be personal, they can be for business, they can be for fun, or for profit. Really, anything goes. I have a blog about making homebrewed beer for example, and One More Cup of Coffee is a blog. You are reading a blog post right now!
The word “viral” just means that something has gained popularity rapidly and unexpectedly. This can happen to a YouTube video, a picture, or other things, but most often it's limited to those two types of media.
“Viral blogging” is no different that regular blogging. There is no way to guarantee that what you write will be popular, and in fact, there's a very good chance that writing about your business is not going to catch the attention of the media in such a way that will interest a general audience. Viral material is often shocking, funny, weird, or moving. Unless you are pushing the envelope, it's unlikely you'll get that type of exposure – but you never know, that's the beauty of going viral.
So, proponents of the viral blogging system have simply hijacked the word to make their blogging platform sound more credible and useful than other types of platforms. It is not. In fact, it may produce the opposite effect.
What They Don't Tell You
In fact, the majority of these places use a version of WordPress, which is a free CMS (content management system). Yes, it's free. And yes, they are trying to charge you for it.
Because WordPress is Open Source, it can be edited by anyone and used to create something slightly different to fit the needs or a person or organization. With minor tweaks here and there, you can use the basic WordPress setup and add restrictions, new features, etc.
So, fair enough, these MLM companies have created something that is their own, but the basic WordPress CMS still stands. Millions upon millions of individuals, businesses, and organizations use the standard WordPress platform and hare happy with the results. Remember, you can get that for free. But add a few bells and whistles from these places and suddenly you are paying $20 per month.
Two Gigantic Issues You Need To Be Aware Of
Aside from all the viral and blogging jargon above, there are two, very clear, very important issues with using systems like this for your small business. Most of the time you will not see these issues addressed because a large portion of affiliates of these companies are not small business owners, and do not fully understand the product they are promoting.
You Don't Own The Domain
In order to make use of their not-so-unique blogging platform, you have to use their domain. This means that you do not own the domain or URL for your own business. If your business is called Bob's BBQ Shack, you will be putting your website on bobsbbqshack.mlmscheme.com instead of bobsbbqshack.com.
They OWN your website.
And if you break any of their terms of service, they can, without warning, lock you out of your own account and they don't even have to apologize. If you have 3 years and 300 blog posts of tens of thousands of words, they can legally kick you off. Didn't you read their TOS? Probably not.
They will likely tell you how associating your business with their main domain will give you a boost in rank because of something called Alexa Ranking. This is 100% not true – Alexa Ranking is a joke, and has no bearing on the popularity of a website. My own site has a decent Alexa Rank and I am certainly not popular. The technical details are not important, but they are discussed here and here, among other places.
So because borrowing their domain has no advantages, and one huge disadvantage, you are much better off buying a .com domain for your business, and having full ownership of the domain and the content placed on it.
If you own an autoshop in California, would you rather have
californiaautorepair.com or californiaautorepair.siteiveneverheardof.com?
Would you place the brand name and logo from another business right beside yours in real life? probably not.
But many of these “borrowed” domains + site builders have customization restrictions placed on them. Very often, part of those restrictions is that you MUST have an advertisement from the parent company somewhere on there.
This can be very confusing for your clients, whom have probably never heard of that company. They may be left wondering what it is, if you endorse it, and how it relates to your business. Why would a donut shop be selling janky WordPress websites? Does Jack ice cream store owner participate in MLM?
What if their brand or company has different values from your own? A great example is if I have a strong believe in traditional family values, but the owner of this viral blogging system is a known philanderer and uses excessive profanity to promote his product, I certainly don't want to associate my brand image with that sort of behavior.
Or let's say I am a fiduciary and my job is to help people make smart financial decisions, yet the brand that owns my domain frequently sends high-pressure emails and cold calls to clients encouraging them to invest large amounts of money into dubious business ventures.
Clearly there are some philosophical and moral conflicts that can arise. Some may not be apparent at first – so what happens of the pivot comes years later, after you have worked so hard on your company's website to rank well in search engines and grow you client base.
Again, the disadvantages clearly outweigh the non-existent advantages to borrowing a domain from companies like this.
One last advantage that is touted by these ridiculously uninformed and snaky companies is that their system is “easy” and can help small business owners that are not technically skilled or internet savvy.
There's an easy answer and a hard answer to this.
The easy answer is that setting up a website is a lot easier to do nowadays, and there are tons of free instructional guides on YouTube, Google, and even here on my site. I show you how to do it here. It's targeted towards folks without their own businesses – guys and gals that want to promote other business's products through affiliate marketing – but you can use the same guide to build your own site and just ignore the stuff that doesn't apply to you.
The difficult answer (aka tough love) is that you are a freakin' business owner. If you can figure out how to pay taxes, hire employees, and deal with clients, then you can figure out how to start a website. Read. The information is out there. You know how to take calculated risks, otherwise, how did you start your own damn business in the first place? If you are really interested in growing sales, clients, or brand and want to leverage the internet to do it, invest the time and energy to do it right. Taking a short cut is only going to come back to bite you in the butt later.