Many elements work together to make a blog successful, from a well-designed layout to fancy technical widgets, but none of those elements can substitute for good content aimed at the right audience. In fact, if you write (or podcast or take photos or produce video) incredibly well and you’re reaching readers who are engaged by your style and content, you can actually be successful without spending much time at all on your blog’s appearance. Amazing content can even make your readers forgive an awkward interface or missing bells and whistles.
So, if you do nothing else to make your blog succeed, focus on producing great content. Know what your audience wants and deliver it consistently.
Most blogs include a written component or are predominantly word based, so this chapter offers pointers on writing well for the web and understanding what your audience expects from your blog. While all the other aspects of blogging, from choosing the right platform for you to promoting your blog via social media, are certainly important, content is still king. For that reason, I’m going to spend quite a bit of time on this article demonstrating the importance of putting out great content for your audience.
1. Know Your Audience
First things first: How well do you know your audience? Are you hitting the right notes to attract the readers you want in the quantity you want them? And if you’ve not yet begun your blogging journey, who is your target audience?
Not all bloggers care about the number of readers they get, but they do care about getting the right eyes on their words. Regardless of whether you’re number-obsessed or just focused on your niche, you need to understand your audience and what your readers are looking for.
You can get an idea about your audience by
- Using statistics software to track the number of visitors to your blog and which posts they visit
- Noting the content that elicits the biggest and best response from your readers (or the response that you want, even if it isn’t the biggest)
- Looking at the blogs of others in your subject area to see what you can find out from their comment activity, search engine rankings, and other data
You might have to wait a while for statistics and comments, but you can easily look at others’ blogs, even if you’re still developing your own blog.
2. Being yourself
Blogging is quite a personal, conversational medium, and textual blogs have a strong feel of the author and his or her personality. The first blogs were actually online diaries, and even today, most bloggers choose to use words such as I or my in their blog posts, creating an intimate and open feel — even on corporate blogs. This first-person writing differs dramatically from most corporate communication, which at best refers to the company as our and at worst only refers to the company by its full and official name.
Writing in the first person isn’t as easy as it looks (or reads). After all, many people spend years training to write more formally, and they commonly produce all kinds of documents in which first-person writing is emphatically not suitable: memos, reports, news stories, invoices, and so on. You may have trouble finding an authentic, genuine voice that really feels comfortable. My best advice is to just practice, practice, practice.
If you’d like your blog to have a casual tone, think of your blog posts as being like letters or emails. Speak directly and simply, as you would in a personal note or letter. Try not to overthink your words, but don’t go right into stream of consciousness (which is fun to write but hard to read).
Don’t be afraid to show emotion in your blog posts. In fact, some of the most popular content I’ve ever created resulted from an extreme emotion: joy, grief, anger. Part of what makes blogs so popular is that the reader can relate to the author. The best way for people to relate to you is for you to be yourself and not hold back.
3. Remember proofreading and editing
While I know that the typical blog reader does not have my interest in proper grammar or correct spelling — or perhaps more accurately, my aversion to errors — it does remain important for good content to be shored up with careful proofreading and judicious editing. For starters, most blog software and all word processing programs come equipped with spell-check tools. Do not simply ignore the squiggly red lines under your creatively spelled words! Be sure to take the time to correct the spelling in your posts, even the most informal ones.
Proofreading goes beyond simply spelling words correctly. I once assigned a high school English class the task of comparing the movie version and the book version of the same story. Imagine my shock when one student handed in a paper comparing the movie virgin with the book virgin. In his hasty typing, he did not realize that his fingers were spelling a different version of a similar-sounding word. And because virgin is a correctly spelled word, there were no red squiggly lines to save the day. Much embarrassment can be prevented by reading over your writing carefully before hitting publish.
I highly recommend reading your words aloud to yourself! Many errors have been caught by turning the written word into the spoken word. One tip: If you tend to work in coffee shops or shared workspaces, you might want to wait until you’re in the safety of your own home before putting this advice into practice.
So how does editing differ from spell-checking and proofreading? Well, in spite of my earlier encouragement to write lengthy blog posts with some real depth to them, it is still a good idea to edit your words for characteristics such as clarity of thought, missed points, unnecessary repetition, and yes, unnecessary length. While I encourage you to say all that you want to say — in the end, it’s your blog — you do need to be mindful of how your readers will receive your writing if you’d like them to stay your readers.
4. Use content calendar
While blogging began as a somewhat free-flowing medium with a focus on personal storytelling and journaling, many bloggers today actually prefer more structure in their blogging life. One popular blogging tool is the content calendar, a way to plan future content.
Content calendars are a great way to keep your blogging consistent and organized. They provide you with the ability to see your upcoming content at a glance, helping you find the perfect place for last-minute content ideas or sponsored content. They also offer a way to organize your thoughts on future posts in those moments when you have a burst of creativity. When writer’s block comes to call, as it does for all of us from time to time, a nicely filled-in content calendar can be the answer to your prayers!
Have you heard the term evergreen content? Some blog posts stand the test of time! If you’ve got space on your content calendar and can’t come up with a new post idea, consider recycling a post from the past that worked well for you then. I suggest that you begin such reposts with something along the lines of, “This post was originally published on….”
Beyond keeping you organized and providing a way out of an idea drought, a content calendar is a great opportunity to create a blog strategy. Are you trying to establish yourself as an authority in a specific area? Your content calendar can act as your plan of attack. Considering utilizing guest posts from other writers? A content calendar helps you give those writers enough lead time so that they’ve got a post ready for you when you need it.
Creating a content calendar doesn’t need to be complicated. I’m a huge fan of downloading and printing free online calendar templates for everything from my kids’ doctor’s appointments to sports team practice schedules. I even print them out on old-fashioned paper!
If you’re more of a web-based tool user than a pen-and-paper kind of person, I suggest starting with the free calendar tool in the Google suite of products. Google Calendar allows you to create a simple and straightforward content calendar with easily replicable recurring posts. With just the input of an email address, you can share your calendar with coauthors or even invite guest contributors to add to your calendar.
5. Write Catchy Titles
What makes you click on a headline to go on to read the actual article? Do you click on any content that seems like interesting subject matter, or does the quality of the headline itself play a role in whether you click through or you click away?
For most readers, a catchy blog post title is the initial point when they consider visiting a website. With the endless amount of constantly updating content available today, bloggers need to be thoughtful about how they title each post.
Think about your target audience. What title is likely to make them click? For example, if your site is mostly visited by readers looking for stock tips, a title that teases a hot new stock recommendation is likely to draw clicks.
Try to use strong language, catchy alliteration, and include keywords that might turn up in a search engine query. Be careful not to mislead your readers, though. There’s nothing quite so frustrating as being sucked in with a spicy title only to find that the actual content is really quite bland.
6. Include videos and photos
I am a bit of a purist in that I miss the days of blogging content being ruled by the written word. But with that said, I’m here to tell you that multimedia content is a very large component of what draws in readers, or maybe viewers. If you spend a bit of time perusing the world of food blogging, for example, you’ll find that the typical post is one gorgeous image after another with only a small amount of text anchoring each photograph. And if you ever want to locate the actual recipe, you’ll need to scroll way past the images to the bottom of the post.
Pictures draw readers in to your blog, encourage them to share your content, and keep them coming back for more. Photographs and video of course work well for bloggers in certain niches such as travel, food, fashion, beauty, DIY, and design. But just because you blog on a topic that might not immediately bring to mind media rich content, don’t completely dismiss the idea of adding compelling images and video to your posts.
7. Follow what’s trending
Sometimes the best way to create great content — especially when you’re struggling to come up with topic ideas — is to check out the latest trends. Blogging about topics people are already talking about makes it more likely that your content will be found and read. Take time each week to visit social media and news sites to find popular hashtags and hotly debated topics. I suggest keeping an eye on the trending topics list on Twitter, perusing Instagram, and checking out Facebook to see if there are common threads in what your friends are sharing and discussing.
Another great tool to follow current trends is Google Trends. Check out what searches are popular right at this moment as well as what searches have been popular throughout the year. You can enter your own search terms or view suggested and currently trending keywords.
8. List with listicles
A listicle is not only a delightful word to say, but it is also a type of blog content. Listicles are blog posts that are primarily comprised of a numbered list. Examples might be “15 Items to Pack for Your Grand Canyon Vacation” or “12 Ways to Know That Your Spouse is Lying.”
Listicles have become very popular in the blogging world, and while I wouldn’t recommend that you create an entire blog of list-based posts (although that could be fun!), I do believe that they’re a great way to offer your readers easily consumed content that is often fun or helpful.
9. Create content worth referencing
We’ve all seen it happen. A blogger writes a post that someone finds overwhelmingly powerful, surprisingly helpful, or maybe even highly controversial. That reader shares the link with all her friends who share it with all their friends. Very quickly your entire Facebook newsfeed is filled with links to that singular post, shared by everyone from your high school football coach to your mother-in-law.
A surefire way to reach more readers is to create content worth referencing. This does not mean that you need to create a how-to blog. It may be that you share your well-informed and educated thoughts on the latest political happenings or take on the latest parenting debate such as whether or not to vaccinate. The point is to create content that someone is likely to read and then refer back to either in social media shares or in real-life conversations.
10. Add links to your posts
Links — you need ’em. You may worry that by providing a link to a news story or online article, you’re sending your readers away from your site into the black hole of the Internet, never to return. Your readers might, in fact, click the link and go read the article. But they probably won’t forget where they found the link.
When adding a hyperlink to your blog content, be sure to change the outgoing link settings to “open in a new window.” This keeps your blog post open on the screen rather than sends the reader away.
On a blog, links are just as much a resource as any other information that you provide. In fact, many blogs actually consist of collections of links around a topic or theme, pulled together to inform or entertain the blog’s readers.
If you’re providing good content and expanding on that content by using links, you’re doing your readers a service that they won’t forget — one they likely come back to you for.
Links are the currency of the blogosphere. A lot of bloggers point their readers to blog posts that they find especially interesting, even going so far as to quote the other blogger. In general, bloggers are generous about linking to other blogs and websites because the favor is frequently returned. As the saying goes, “You have to spend a little to make a little.”
Adding links to your posts is a good thing…unless you’re irresponsible about what you link to. Take your responsibility as a publisher seriously, and don’t send people to suspect resources or throw them into an adult-oriented site without warning.
When you link to a blog post, be sure you link to the permalink URL, not the blog’s home page. A permalink is the unique web address for an individual blog post — the permanent link to that page. You should use the permalink because the blogger might update the blog any time after you create the link, pushing the post that you mention down or even off the blog’s home page.