Good blogging requires more than good writing. Blogging as part of a content marketing strategy requires awareness of purpose, ideas, the audience, design, writing and promotion.
Regardless of whether your blog is for business, pleasure, vanity or to serve an interest group, the best advice is to start with some editorial planning. In this article, I’m going to examine several areas for you to improve your own blogging.
Before we get started, let’s get a niggle out of the way. I don’t like it when people refer to a blog article as “a blog”. Blog is short for “web log”, which is a collection of articles. A blog is not one article, which would be a blog post or an article. So, when I refer to your blog, I am talking about the whole thing, not just one story.
Knowing your audience
First, you need to know your reader. Unless the reason for your blog is just to please yourself, you need to think about who will be reading. Are you talking to people who just want to hear whatever you have to say? Is your audience focused on one industry or one product? Do they come to you for movie reviews, or political commentary?
Woman’s Own magazine is unlikely to run an opinion piece on nuclear disarmament. Private Eye magazine is unlikely to run a review of the latest Adobe product. They know their audience and what they like to read.
Thinking about your blog as a magazine is a good approach – you can produce a range of content types as long as they all fit the bill for your audience. The magazine mindset is a key part of the Vertical Leap approach to content marketing.
Picture your ideal reader
Some radio presenters say they keep a picture of their ideal listener in their heads. They imagine talking to that one person much like they talk to a friend – this helps them to come across in a relaxed and natural way.
Good radio presenters sound like they are talking just to you, instead of a crowd. In the same vein, think about your writing style and how you address your audience.
Will you address your readers as a crowd (eg, ‘our readers’, ‘you all’ or ‘everyone’) or will you just address them singularly? Will you use ‘you’ (my preference) or the more passive and polite ‘one’?
Develop a house style and tone
Your blog content should have a house style. If you want to be taken seriously, at the very least make sure you can string a sentence together without littering it with spelling or grammatical errors. Are you writing in American English or British English? If you are writing British English, will you go with ‘realise’ and ‘specialise’ or ‘realize’ and ‘specialize’? British headlines are written with only the first letters and proper nouns capitalised, whereas American headlines have capitals on each word.
Tone of voice is important too. Will you write as you speak, or will you adopt a more formal style? Do you want to sound authoritative, confrontational, impartial? Will you invite guest writers and will they need to adopt the same tone as you? If you are going to outsource your blog content, trained journalists will bring quality and experience to the table.
Stick to the plan
You know why you are blogging and you know the audience. Now stick to the theme. If your blog is designed for news and information, then you suddenly post a review of a hotel you stayed in, it will seem odd – unless you make it fit in with your theme.
If your blog is full of your personality and about you talking to your audience, allowing other writers to contribute may dilute the character of the blog. Or it may enhance it.
Make sure your house style and your tone are consistent. Use a spell checker and proof read your work; ensure you don’t change your tone between posts. Just as you know your ideal reader, your ideal reader should be able to feel like they know you – like they are being spoken to by a person and not reading a cold, faceless essay.
Hatching article ideas
Story ideas can come from anywhere – an ideastorm meeting, or when you pop down the road for a coffee. Here are some of the structured ways you can gather content ideas.
Google News alerts
Set up some alerts in Google for subjects related to your sector or to your audience. Google News will then send you links to articles that may provide inspiration for your blog content. Sometimes, a topical news story will be something you can write an opinion on, or you could write your own analysis article, linking to a range of articles on other sites, or the news will simply alert you to a hidden story related to your customers that they may not have seen, so you can simply write your own version of it. You can’t copy and paste other people’s work, but you can copy their ideas to recreate your own.
Look in-house for stories
Most companies have a steady stream of news, from announcements about staff changes and product launches to news about events, exhibitions and new pieces of content on the website. Perhaps there’s a new offer to talk about or a white paper to share. The key, however, is making sure that it’s not all about you but is valuable and/or entertaining for your readers. So, instead of just writing about your new product, why not write about the solution it provides to your readers’ problems and mention your product at the end?
Blog about other bloggers
One popular way to create articles is to write about what other bloggers are writing about. That’s not as insular as it sounds because you can put your own spin on someone else’s article. Take a topical subject, for example. Each time Google announces changes to its algorithm, lots of bloggers will give their opinion on it. If you think your customers need to know about the subject but you are not fully informed yourself, you could aggregate the information and views supplied by other bloggers, quoting them and linking back to their original articles. If you do this journalistically and in a valid way, you are serving your reader – don’t just write content for Google.
Write a ‘best of’ round-up
I’ll tell you now, I love articles that show me the ’10 best wordpress plugins’ or ’25 great page designs’. Those kinds of articles help me, very quickly and visually, to select something I may be looking for. I am sure if I find them useful (as I have on many occasions) you do too. So, think about how you can come up with similar ideas for your audience, while trying to do something that hasn’t already been done to death.
Images are powerful pieces of content because they bring so many benefits – for social sharing as well as SEO – but they also make your articles much more attractive. The ‘best of’ idea, described above, works well when it has images.
Infographics are particularly beneficial because many people love finding and sharing infographics, and if you come up with something unique and attractive, other bloggers may share it and write about it, linking back to you.
Ask the audience
If you have the kind of relationship with your audience that garners two-way communication, ask them what they would like you to write about. You could do this through an email newsletter or on your Twitter account or Facebook page.
You can also gauge audience response by viewing your Analytics to find which articles were the most popular, which ones received the most comments and the most social shares. Write more articles along the same lines.
Work out your schedule
Sometimes finding the time to write is hard because of other commitments. I like to sit down with a piece of paper and make notes on several articles to start ordering in my head the information I need to gather – then write three or four articles and schedule them for different publication dates. If you spend a morning writing four blog articles and scheduling them to go live on successive weeks, that’s a month’s worth of content sorted.
There are lots of reasons for writing and publishing a blog. Some people just like to write about random musings, others like to talk about products they have bought or places they’ve been to. There are professional bloggers who focus on a theme, much like a magazine might be tailored to an interest group, and there are business blogs, used for promotional purposes, or the dissemination of information.
The first and most important thing to decide with a blog is who you are writing it for. Are you talking to friends and family (where jokes and colloquialisms would be acceptable) or to customers and potential customers, or are you talking to people who share a particular interest, who you perhaps don’t know?
Headlines that work
A picture may paint a thousand words, but the words in your headline can be more important than any image you have in your article. Take Twitter, for example, you have 140 characters in which to promote a headline and a link and perhaps a hashtag or two. No images to catch the eye. The headline must be clear, punchy and enticing. It is your sales pitch.
A headline can also set the tone of an article, because you can use it to inflect attitude or mood. For example, ‘Why my XXX phone drives me crazy’.
Short headlines win every time
Headlines that make statements and bold claims are often shareable, as well as those that offer solutions to problems. (eg, ‘How to get more YouTube subscribers’, ‘The 10 best image libraries’, ‘The secret of cheaper car insurance’).
Short is sweet for Twitter, and remember that people scan pages, so they won’t really read the whole headline anyway. In fact, people in scan mode often read only the first two or three words before jumping to the next headline in a list of articles, so you might want to think about word order.
Is, for example, ‘Cheaper car insurance tips’ better than ‘How to get cheaper car insurance’? If ‘cheaper’ is a better trigger word than ‘how to’, perhaps yes. If it encourages people to stop, read the whole headline and then the article, that’s a good thing.
Test headlines with split testing
You can test blog content headlines a number of ways. Put a few sample headlines together and run a mini focus group, in the office, among customers or online. You could run a series of articles with different headlines and track which ones get the most visits and the most social engagement. This would work best with some kind of split testing, which you could do with an email newsletter – where you send one version of the email to half the audience and another (with different headlines) to the other half and then compare the click-throughs.
Write the headline first
I often like to write an article to fit a headline. Sometimes I write the headline first, then the article turns out to not match what I thought it would say and I come up with a more suitable headline afterwards. The great thing about writing the headline first is that it’s like coming up with a great product you know people will want to buy, then working out the technical and manufacturing details later.
Sir Alan Sugar used to come up with product ideas and put a price on them before he even knew how he was going to make them. He knew the product and the price would drive demand. He filled in the details later. Writing your headline first is a bit like that – make the announcement, then make sure the offer (or the text) backs up the announcement.
Write the headline last
Also, you may find it better to write the headline last. You may have a mediocre headline written and you don’t want to slow down the writing process. If you don’t have a snappy headline, leave it till last. Then the story will help you think of something.
Have pun with it
Use humour and wordplay in your headline writing where you can. Even if the subject matter is serious and business-like, you can still use great wordplay (eg ‘Efficient chips: takeaways go digital’). Puns don’t have to be as groan-inducing as the one I used above. You can use the double meanings of words and phrases to induce cleverness (eg, ‘How to lose pounds whilst saving a few quid’).
How to construct your blog post for publication
Do architects have a right to call themselves house builders? They draw up the plans for the building, but they need other people to bring the plan to life.
Even the builders can’t claim to be the creators of a house because a building does not become a home without electricity, gas and water being plumbed in. In order for an architect’s drawing to be turned into a fully fledged home, there are several factors that need to be brought together.
The same goes for creating blogs.
Magazines are not written, they are compiled
Great articles in magazines start with the writer turning a story into words, but they are only great articles once they have been designed with great headlines and images.
An editor thinks not only about the words but also the presentation and the promotion. Blog publishers should think this way, but many blog authors think it’s all about the words.
Writing an article for the web is only half about the words, the other half is about design, presentation, images and possibly even links to other reference sources.
How to construct a blog post instead of just writing it
Here are some tips for things you should do when planning and preparing your blog articles, to maximise their readability, shareability and their longevity as evergreen articles.
- Choose a strong, clear and punchy headline
- Use at least one good image of at least 200×200 pixels, so it can be shared.
- Make sure the image has a sensible file name, such as how-to-write-a-blog.jpg.
- Use sensible, descriptive ALT text behind your image. No ALT text is bad, spammy ALT text is also bad. ‘Picture of a writer, writing a blog’ would be a good ALT text, ‘blogging blog tips how to blog’ would not be good ALT text.
- Use secondary headings to break up the text.
- Edit the text to make your message clear and simple – eschew superfluosity!
- Think about other useful links.
- If it is looking a little wordy, add in another image – like this.
Promoting your blog posts
If you think the hardest work with blogging is coming up with the ideas and getting those ideas down on the page in a sensible and meaningful order, think again. Promotion of your work can take as much effort and mental energy again. Not only do you need to engage in the physical activity of promoting your blog on social networks, or of syndicating it, you should also spend time on keyword research and on engagement – both of which I explain below.
As I have written previously, keyword research can boost your evergreen content – if you know what phrases people use when searching on Google, you can tailor your writing for maximum effect. This is what you might call pre-promotion. Knowing the right keywords can help you write great headlines, which will suit both search engine visibility and social media sharing. Let’s say, for example, you are writing blog content about how to find cheaper car insurance. You can do keyword research to find out which phrase people use the most when searching on Google – is it ‘cheaper car insurance tips’ or ‘how to get cheaper car insurance’? Do they use the phrase ‘car insurance’ more than ‘auto insurance’?
Promoting on social networks
You should be active on social media networks. You can share a link to your blog posts on your Facebook profile (or page, if you have one), your Twitter account and on LinkedIn as well as Google Plus, Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Delicious and other social bookmarking sites. Your great headlines should do the work of selling your articles but remember to also use action words, which can encourage other people to share your content or at least click through to read it (eg, ‘Please retweet’ or ‘Please share this’ or ‘Let me know what you think’).
If your content is video based then it’s a good idea to post it on a YouTube channel and then share it from there into your blog post and share the content from there or from YouTube direct. If you are using great images, you can set up a Flickr gallery, as well as a gallery on Facebook or Google Plus; share the images on Pinterest, Pinspire, Weheartit or any number of social pinboards.
Promoting your content on social networks helps to gain visitors directly, but it also helps the search engines see your content being linked to in a number of places (and hopefully by lots of people, which then gives your articles more authority).
Engage with your audience
If you are lucky enough to receive genuine comments on your blog (ie, from people who aren’t just spamming), respond to them in the blog but, if appropriate, follow them on Twitter or LinkedIn, if you can see who they are. If they liked one of your articles, there’s a chance they may retweet or share another one, and even more so if you are engaging them in conversation occasionally on social networks. Growing your conversational relationships is a good way to encourage people to share your articles with their friends – as a favour if nothing else.
This approach to site promotion is like pushing a boulder up a hill. At first you are doing it alone and the hill is very steep, but persevere – encourage people to like you and want to help you – and it will soon be a lot easier and the boulder will roll faster.
You can syndicate your content in a number of ways. Syndication is not bad as long as you remember that Google doesn’t like to show too many copies of the same content, so you should always try to ensure any syndicated copies of your articles contain a link back to the original, so that Google knows which is the official one.
Blog promotion directories
There are some well respected directories of blogs which you can link up with, including Technorati, Blog Catalog, BlogBurst, My Blog Log, Feedburner and Business 2 Community. Some of these will allow you to post articles or they will syndicate articles from your RSS feed.
So, you want a quick summary?
Building a good blog takes time. Here are the main points of this article, summarised.
- Make sure you know your audience. Are you targeting a specialist niche or just writing about a range of things?
- Organise your list of ideas, and come up with a range of articles that complement each other, so you can link between them.
- Don’t think about a blog as just the writing. Presentation, personality and structure are important, too.
- Come up with a headline that is snappy, engaging and easy to share in a tweet.
- Use the promotional channels open to you to get your blog out there.