As a central and stable hub for sharing detailed and valuable information with your audience (and sharing it), a blog is not only a fantastic way to build authority in your business niche, but also a place where you can repurpose content from social media, amplify your brand’s voice, personality, and core values, and ultimately sell to a legion of engaged customers.
When people share your content, Google listens – the more your blog posts are shared, the better your site will rank in search engines and the more visitors will find their way to you.
Of course, there are a whole host of other factors that contribute to blog success, such as website SEO, plugins, copywriting skills, and more – far more than I can cover here. Instead, in this article we will explore some of the ways you can prepare your blog for the social world, and introduce some of the best types of content you can create to engage your audience.
1. Integrate social sharing into your blog, include a call to action
No blog worth its salt will forgo the installation of good, clear social sharing widgets to allow users to easily share its content to the biggest social networks including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Even the best bloggers in the world don’t have their work found without a little help from their readers, so you need to empower people to easily share your blog posts with their social connections.
Visit any popular blog and you’ll see an array of social sharing options above or below (or above and below) each post, often coupled with a call to action to encourage people to hit “Like”, “Tweet” or “Share.”
There are plenty of ways to install and customize the way your blog’s social sharing buttons display (some of which we’ve already covered earlier in the book), but one of the easiest and most popular options is through AddThis (http://www.addthis.com), which is a plugin that will place the buttons on your page in just a few clicks.
As well as the established social media sharing options, provide a ‘Subscribe via RSS’ button in a prominent place on your page, so that people can have your posts pushed to them in their Google Reader or RSS feed as soon as soon they are published.
Ways to encourage social sharing and encourage engagement also extend to the blog content itself, whether it’s through pre-populated tweets containing valuable snippets of the article’s information (ClicktoTweet (http://clicktotweet.com/ will facilitate that), or teasing the article but not revealing all of it until they share your link (the WordPress plugin Social Locker does this).
As the latter requires people to act before they have even read your content, I would use it with great caution – reserved for premium content you believe people will desperately want to see.
2. Produce top content, make some of it evergreen
First and foremost, always aim to produce inspiring and educational content on a regular basis that is shareable. At the core of many great blogs is a set of evergreen posts (articles that will never go out of date, or are updated periodically to make sure that they won’t).
Evergreen blog posts can act as the backbone of your brand and its expertise online, position you as an authority figure with your finger on the pulse, and help to drive interest in your company. The types of evergreen posts that do best include articles that are written to help beginners (the people most likely to be searching online for assistance), e.g. “The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Your First Electric Car,” and ones that answer FAQs, e.g. “Is Paragliding Safe? Here’s Everything You Need to Know.”
As I mentioned above, be sure to revisit these posts from time to time to keep them up to date and the definitive online resource for whatever the topic might be. To promote evergreen content and give site visitors a clear point of reference, think about creating something like a “Start Here” page, a menu link to training guides, or a “Top posts” widget in the sidebar of your site.
3. Write effective headlines: be clear and concise
Learn to write keyword-rich headlines that will make people want to read the rest of your article, especially if all they have to go on is the blog post title they see in a list of search results or within a tweet.
Don’t try to be too clever or cryptic with your headlines; be as clear and direct about what the post will offer someone who might come across it, e.g. “Hot or Cold? The Experts Tell All” is pretty ambiguous next to something like “Hot or Cold Water? Expert Opinion on How to Shower.”
Some tried and tested ideas for powerful headlines include asking questions, e.g. “How Do I Craft Amazing Blog Post Headlines?”, teasing content to attract click-throughs, e.g. “When one man’s son was on the brink of flunking college, three words changed his whole life around…”, or making references that tie your content into readers’ interests or scenarios they often encounter, e.g. “This is how America’s #1 Mom Potty Trained Her Kids in 24 Hours.”
Think about which keywords your customers will be using to find the content that you provide; replicate them in your blog post titles. For example, a customer is much more likely to search for “how to bake chocolate cake recipe” rather than “Omnomnom, check out our great chocolate cake recipe”. So your heading might read, “Recipe: How to Bake A Delicious Chocolate Cake.”
4. Popular blog post frameworks for highly-readable posts
Sometimes you’ll have the best idea for the subject of a blog post, but trouble in finding a way to structure it in a way that is concise, clear, and easily read by your audience. Here are a variety of common ways to give a framework to your blog post ideas:
The power of the Internet has given consumers more choice than ever when it comes to buying products and services, or deciding between one idea or another, so much so that the decision is often overwhelming. A great way to solve this dilemma, and put together a great blog post, is the X vs. Y article.
For example, a company that specializes in beds and mattresses might write a blog post explaining the pros and cons of sprung mattresses as opposed to memory foam. Similarly, “What is the best X?” types of posts work in a similar fashion. These types of posts help consumers make a sound decision, make you stand out as a trustworthy authority figure – and are easy to put together.
One of the main reasons that people search online is to find solutions to their problems, whether it be how to sew a button back on to their shirt, how to house train their dog, or how a guy makes himself irresistible to the opposite sex.
Focusing on the solution to problems, especially for businesses, is a great way to come up with new ideas for blog posts and attract web traffic. Think about the problems that your customers want to solve – and then use your expertise to tell them how you (or your business) can help.
To use dogs as an example, a pet store owner might blog about the best way to stop your dog from barking, or how to teach it to sit or fetch. Think about how you can become an invaluable resource for your customers and for those searching for solutions to their problems on the Internet.
‘List posts’ are extremely popular in almost any industry, as they can be read quickly and are great for sharing, e.g. 10 Top Marketing Tips For Your Blog. There are three common types of list post:
Brief list posts are long, bulleted snippets of information that users can use as a platform to search for more detailed information elsewhere (sometimes useful, but not always the best way to keep readers engaged on your site!); detailed list posts provide more complex, valuable information – like these tips, and hybrid posts lie somewhere in the middle.
Break news, offer opinion, and ask questions
Writing blog posts about breaking news within your industry sector is not only one of the best ways to come up with new and original content, but it also positions you as an authority figure in the eyes of readers.
However, rather than simply regurgitating a press release or something you found on a big news site, frame your story in a way that makes it relevant to your audience, positions you as an authority, and encourages people to interact: offer an opinion, and ask readers to share their own as a way to drive engagement.
One of the easiest ways to illicit a response is to close your blog posts with a simple request, e.g. “What do you guys think? Tell us in the comments” You’ll be surprised how much interaction this garners, especially if the question you ask is simple and quick to answer.
Spin hot or detailed topics into multiple posts
One of the biggest challenges that many bloggers face is creating fresh content, week in, week out. One of the techniques you can use to combat this is called “spinning”. In a nutshell, it involves taking one important topic that you know your audience will lap up, and writing about it from a variety of different standpoints. Let’s take an article about painting a garden fence, for example.
Several different blog posts about that one topic might be: ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Painting A Garden Fence’; ‘5 of the Biggest Garden Fence Painting Mistakes’; ‘Video: How to Paint A Garden Fence in 5 Easy Steps’, or ‘How [Brand X] is Revolutionizing Garden Fence Painting’. Get the idea? Drilling down on individual topics like this (as opposed to being more general) may be beneficial in terms of attracting people hunting for more specific information or advice.
Offer to write guest posts on other influential blogger’s blogs, and provide a link back to your own blog at the bottom of the post in return, as part of the agreement. This is particularly useful if you manage to post on a blog that is much more popular than yours! As well as guest posting on other blogs yourself, be open-minded about other experts posting on yours, to help build a strong network of friends within your industry.
As traffic to your blog grows, celebrate this in specific blog posts, thanking readers for their continued support. Use these posts to highlight your most popular content so far, to encourage new readers to go back and revisit, increasing page views and time on your site.
Note: In an online world packed with strong opinions, research-backed blog posts are often more persuasive (and therefore popular) than those that are solely story based. For this reason, quoting authoritative resources, citing statistics and studies, or even showcasing your own data, can be an effective way to back up your arguments, emanate credibility, and create stellar blog content that stands out from the competition. For example, which blog post title would you be most likely to click on from the following: “How to Run Faster and More Efficiently” or “How to Run 20% Faster and More Efficiently in 4 Weeks”? Where the circumstances call for it, the data-backed title will always win out.
5. Use awesome images in your blog posts
Social networks like Facebook (and Google+) will pull in a photo from your blog to display when someone shares your blog link. If the photo is poor (or there isn’t one at all), then there is little chance of your plain link catching the eyes of people browsing through their news feeds. One blog post image is good, but several are even better.
Multiple images within a blog post help to break up long blocks of text, make your articles more memorable, and can be used to enhance a written fact or opinion.
Note: Adding alternative text (alt-text) to images is not just important for search engine optimization (they can’t see pictures, but do grab the text and include it in image searches), but it also acts as the description of images pinned to Pinterest. Alt-text is what pops up when you hover your cursor over an image, and it can be edited in the image upload process on most blogging platforms.
6. Encourage email subscriptions
The harsh truth is that when someone has visited your blog once, there is a good chance that they will not return for a second visit. To combat this, you need to position yourself to target these people in future at a location where it is hard to ignore you – their email inbox.
By gathering email addresses, you have a ready pool of willing contacts with whom you can share new blog posts and updates, and slowly help to convert them into more passionate brand ambassadors.
As well as placing a box for people to sign up to your newsletter in a prominent position on your home page, also add a sign-up box to the bottom of a handful of your most popular blog posts from the past (use Analytics to find out which these are).
Be sure to let visitors know what they are signing up for before they hit ‘Submit’ so that your emails are not considered spam, and consider including a discount code or free gift (like a PDF guide) as a way to sweeten the deal.
7. Add names, titles and bio to build authority and trust
It is common for readers to want to contact and communicate with the author of a great blog post after they have finished reading it – and not just in the comments section.
Bios and bylines also add authority and trust to the blog post with which they are associated, so be sure to include your name, title, and contact information at the bottom of each of your blog posts, so that customers can follow or contact you.
8. The blog post length
There is always plenty of debate about the optimum length of a blog post, particularly when you are dealing with an audience who is short of time, who can easily look elsewhere, and are forever skimming quickly through content.
I would suggest forgetting about the word count, at least to a degree. Instead, focus on creating interesting, well-formatted content that web and mobile readers will love, whether it takes 100 words or 1,000 (do note, however, that long form content generally has less competition). Don’t let worries about the length of your post dictate its overall quality.
9. Use descriptive URLs for SEO
For improved SEO, ensure every blog post URL is descriptive rather than just functional, e.g. www.yoursite.com/10-top-blogging-tips-for-business.htm instead of www.yoursite.com/post345.htm.
On most blogging platforms, the URL is normally generated from the words used in the blog post’s title. If you are able to edit the URL to make it even more optimized for SEO, and you think it can be improved over what has been automatically generated, go ahead and do it.
10. The ‘deep linking’ and ‘linking to other sites’ trick
Whenever you refer to a previous blog post while writing, be sure to add a hyperlink to it, so that readers can go back and check it out. On that note, you want readers to stay on your page as long as possible, so if you link outside of your website for any reason, be sure to set the link to open in a new window.
11. Comment on other blogs
One of the best ways to promote your own blog is to comment on articles in other blogs within your niche. Many blogs allow you to add a URL when you post (normally making your name clickable in the comment when it is published) – a great opportunity to network, as well as add a link back to your blog.
On that note, try to be the first commenter on popular related blogs, so that your name and website is the first that other commenters see. Make your comment complementary to the blog in question, or interesting or insightful, so that readers are more likely to take notice of it and tempted to click through to your content.
12. Make your blog mobile-friendly
As ever-increasing numbers of people browse the web using smartphones and tablets, they are hugely significant in the way you design your blog’s visual layout and write its content. Some of the biggest free blog providers (including Blogger and WordPress) will automatically display their blogs into a mobile- friendly format, so make sure yours does too.
From a mobile user’s view, there is nothing more off- putting than clicking onto a blog, only to have to keep zooming and scrolling to read the text. Try to avoid writing in long and complex sentences, and avoid extremely long paragraphs at all costs.
Web readers have a limited attention span and skim articles, but mobile users are likely to be even more distracted. If you are writing a long post, be sure to break it up into short paragraphs with individual headings in order to make it as digestible as possible.
13. Share and re-purpose your blog post for maximum exposure
Get shares from industry influencers
Not all shares are created equal. If you want to encourage your awesome blog content to be a runaway hit, think about how much easier this would be if you could get influential people within your field to share your link with their hundreds or thousands of loyal fans.
The best way to go about this is to work backwards. Spend time building a relationship with the influencer(s) first (commenting on their own blog, tweeting them to ask a question about their work or for a quote to use in your work, etc.) and at the same time analyze the type of content they are already sharing, so that you can reflect this in your own posts.
This strategy works because people love to share things they’ve been involved in, even if they weren’t directly responsible for putting it together.
Re-share evergreen content
As mentioned near the beginning of this book, automation on social media can, in the right circumstances, be very beneficial to you – a time saver, and a chance to give the content you slaved over as much exposure as possible.
One case where this is certainly true is the automated scheduling and posting of evergreen blog content across multiple social networks, which can help to give it a new lease of life over and over again.
For example, you could tweet a link to the same blog article two or three times in the same week, then keep the same frequency for the next few months using alternative post titles to see which performs best.
Some ways that you might want to restyle a social media post featuring the same blog article – as an alternative to [post title] + [link], include: posing a question as a lead into the post, quoting a striking sentence or statistic from the article, or showing off just a little, e.g. “Our most popular read from last month…”
My tool of choice is Buffer (http://www.bufferapp.com), which allows you to bulk-upload and organize content to be posted to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn at a date and time of your choosing.
14. Monitor progress with Google Analytics
Use Google Analytics to monitor the volume and quality of search terms which are driving visitors to your site. Use the information you find to tailor the direction of new content – expand on the most popular topics and tweak or ditch those that aren’t working quite as well. Check your Analytics regularly to ensure you’re always on the pulse with what your readers like and want.