Odds are you know someone who has a blog.

The phenomenon started in 1994 when a college student began publishing an Internet-based diary. Since then, blogs have blossomed to include content that’s personal, professional and everything in between.

Requiring little-to-no expense and accessible by a

community of literally billions online, blogs are proving an exceedingly economical means of communication. They’re also now a premier source of instruction and information.

“As disconnected as it is — like any Internet-based relationship, [blogging] is still one of the primary connection points for our society,” says Brent Surman, operations manager at SCP branch 120, Murrieta, Calif. “When you need something, where do you go? Whether it’s research or advice, people now turn to the Internet.”

A handful of industries have clearly embraced the trend, for example legal blogs are so common they’re often now referred to as “blawgs.” However, professionals in many other fields are just learning the ropes. And though blogging is not common in the pool industry, there’s reason to believe that it could bring real benefits, whether in marketing, networking, customer service or driving more visitors to a company’s Website.

Be the expert

Ken Sehr has been blogging regularly since November. The president of Runaway Bay Pool & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., targets mostly consumers on his blog, which can be found on his company’s Website, www.runawaybaypoolandspa.com.

One recent post explains the importance of pH; another tells why and when to drain and refresh your pool water; yet another addresses the effect of rainwater on pool chemistry.

He tries to post new entries at least twice a week.

“In the beginning, it was just something fun that we thought would be different,” Sehr says.

Each entry is relatively short — typically no more than a few hundred words. And they fluctuate between the familiar and the technical.

While it often takes months for blogs to develop a core of loyal readers, Sehr likes the potential.

“[The blog] gives our existing customers more of a personal connection with us, and that can only help us in this economy,” he says. “It puts a personal touch on everything. And if we can help people learn about how to take care of their pool, then maybe we can generate sales in another direction, whether it’s repairs or renovations or even toys for the kids.”

Choosing a topic isn’t always easy, he adds. Fortunately, Sehr draws inspiration from a number of sources. It may come from a question e-mailed by a customer, a news article or even a chat with a fellow industry member. “Things you pick up from different conversations,” Sehr says.

“Basically, it’s a way to speak that allows me to continue a train of thought,” he says, adding that the blog has successfully achieved its original goal: increasing traffic to Runaway Bay’s Website.

Embrace new technology

In today’s tech-driven marketplace, the key to a successful online presence is a concept known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. It’s what determines the exact order of the “hits” that appear after you type a word or phrase into a search engine like Google.

It’s been said that if your business does not rank in the top 20 spots on the major search engines, you might as well be in the millionth spot. In other words, unless your site appears among the first few pages of search results, it’s practically useless — nobody will ever find you.

Improving your SEO is achievable, but not cheap — services typically cost between $5,000 and $10,000 a year.

Blogs, however, present an affordable alternative. Here’s how: Search engines base their rankings on a number of factors. These include link popularity, where entries connect to other well-read sites, as well as regularly updated and clearly indexed content, such as news articles or blogs.

“[Blogging] is something that makes your company seem current,” says Blair Lynch, operations manager at Mermaid Pool, Spa & Patio in Anderson, Ind. “And we want customers to see us as a company that’s knowledgeable and current.

“Plus, when customers come into the store they already feel like they know you because they’ve read your entries online,” he adds.

Lynch has been planning to launch a blog on Mermaid’s site since late 2008. It’s been slow going thus far — he’s still figuring out who in the company can make regular contributions — but it’s something he knows customers are looking for.

“I’m sold on it,” Lynch says. “It’s always been in the back of my mind. Now it’s just a matter of getting the page on our site set up and us doing it.”