First things first: This is nowhere near a comprehensive guide to blogging. There are dozens of good books written about creating, growing, and maintaining a blog, and if you’re interested in going down that path, we’d recommend you find a few you like. We hope, though, that this chapter provides enough background to give you a solid understanding of whether or not it’s the right endeavor for you.
As web publishing has gotten easier, blogs have become more prevalent. Individuals with little to no technical experience can start up and run a blog using any number of different platforms. Consumers read blogs at greater rates now than ever before. Exact numbers are difficult to find, given how widely distributed blogs are, but there are more than 33 million new posts each month using WordPress alone.
What does the blogosphere look like?
There are an estimated 31 million bloggers in the US alone. (source)
In one survey, almost 87% of bloggers had been actively blogging for at least two years. (source)
57% of bloggers report having more than one blog. (source)
35% of businesses blog at least once every month. (source)
Nearly 2/3 of influencers earn revenue from blogging, but 80% of them report earning less than $10,000 per year. (source)
How are people using blogs?
Every blog has its own set of objectives. Some are run by individuals, some by companies, and others by some combination of the two. While you can find a blog covering just about anything, there are several overarching buckets they usually fall into:
Corporate: These blogs are written by a company for its consumers or stakeholders. They are often found on the main company website or a dedicated subdirectory/subdomain therein. (Side note: there’s good evidence that says a subdirectory is a better choice than a subdomain.) Topics can vary from news and announcements to product launch info and even community relations efforts.
Personal/diary: Bloggers who keep a personal journal online may have aspirations to develop them into other types of blogs, but their primary function is sharing their lives and experiences and generally target existing friends and family.
Hobby or interest: These blogs are focused around a theme. It could be professional in nature (tech blogs often fall under this banner) or completely personal (involving something like fashion, beauty, sports, etc).
Professional: These folks are in it to make a profit. They may base their income on ads or even affiliate sales, or they may have other means of income; the key is that these blogs earn them a paycheck.
Community/communal: This category often looks like what is often called hyper-local news. A local Seattle blog, the West Seattle Blog, is a great example of this working quite well. The blog covers news related to its particular neighborhood and has rich user forums that often generate a great deal of the content.
Strategies and tactics for success
Successful blogging is a lot of work. Depending on what success means to you and your company, it can involve any number of people—marketers and product managers are just the beginning. A blog is your opportunity to showcase your company’s culture and personality while shedding some light on the products you offer.
Authority: Your blog should be used to help establish authority through content that adds value to your industry as a whole. That said, how you set your blog up can impact the authority in some niches. A self-hosted blog is going to be the safest bet for everyone. It is an extension of your website and should be treated just as professionally.
Content: Depending on your industry and the frequency with which you’d like to publish, content creation can be a challenging task. The key is to stay creative and think like your users. What kind of information would they like to see? What kind of information would help them use your products more effectively, or would make their lives easier? What would entertain them? You can get to the bottom of many of these questions by looking into your site analytics. It’s a bit more trickier with Google now masking people’s search keywords with “(not provided)” in your GA dashboards, but there are plenty of other sources of valuable information about your users. If you’re using AdWords, you’ll still have access to some keyword data.
You can also look to your competitors’ sites, social conversations, your inbound Q&A, customer service requests, and any other feedback channels you have. Just look around you, and you’re bound to come up with other ideas. Another idea is to open the conversation to your colleagues, and even the customers themselves, to make it a group effort. Creating a content calendar where you can organize these ideas will work to keep you on track and prevent you from losing any of those great ideas.
Timing: Timing isn’t actually everything, but it sure is an important part of the puzzle. It is especially important today, when we receive a constant flood of information from social channels. The perfect timing will depend on your audience. Ideally, you want to find the time and day when your community is most available and willing to receive and share your content. This is going to be a time when they’re very active, but not so active that the your message is lost among the noise. Try experimenting with different times of day until you get a feel for what that “optimal” time is for you. Tools like Followerwonk can help. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for industry happenings, news, and other major events that may impact the attention span and appetite of your community.
Style: Blogs afford you an opportunity to step outside the bounds of the heavily vetted copy on the rest of your site and really develop your company’s brand voice. Take advantage of that opportunity, and don’t be afraid to show the world who you are. Raise that brand flag with pride!
At the same time, make sure your choices are intentional. Have a good sense for what your voice sounds like before you use it, and stick to it. That’s not to say that individual authors or even individual posts can’t have different tones, but they should all pivot from one primary brand voice. While this may sound limiting, it actually makes content easier to create, because you have a good sense for how your brand persona would approach a particular topic or situation. There’s only the writing to figure out from there. That’s the easy part, right? 🙂
Frequency: The only thing worse than never blogging at all is starting to and not maintaining the effort. As a visitor to a company’s blog, it is disheartening to see that the most recent post is from several months ago. This gives the visitor no reason to subscribe or participate. You certainly don’t need to blog every day, or even every week for that matter. Find an attainable cadence, set expectations with your audience, and stick to it. Perhaps you only do a monthly industry roundup. That’s cool. Just tell people in advance so they know what to expect.
Engagement: As we’ve mentioned before, engagement is where the real magic happens. Posts really come alive when they start to see comments and conversations from the audience. Engagement is also where a community starts to take shape. The biggest key is how you moderate it. Comments left unchecked are a golden ticket for spammers, who are crawling the Internet for opportunities to drop links. Not to mention the trolls. There are a several good ways to moderate the comments on your blog, depending on your goals. Some people choose to have an approval process, but the more popular a blog becomes, the more labor intensive that strategy becomes. Some choose to have a site-specific log-on and profile, but this can cut down on engagement for those unwilling to take the time to create one. It’s up to you and your own workflow to determine what the right strategy is for you.
Beyond the comment moderation, there is a lot of work that can go in to actually responding to comments and engaging with the audience on your blog. The same fundamental truths we outlined for social networks apply on your blog, as well. Be respectful, prompt, honest, and personable. Oh, and don’t feed the trolls.
Consider creating a “reader’s bill of rights” for your blog as your community grows. This document should outline what the standards for your community engagement are, including what the behavioral expectations are for both your community members and for your employees. It can help to not only keep you honest, but instill a sense of fairness and faith in your audience. At the highest level, it can be the “True North” you get to point to in times of conflict.
What success looks like
Successful blogs become known as reputable and enjoyable sources of information, earning the trust and admiration of their readers by providing valuable content on a regular basis. Valuable content, though, can take different forms for different people. Take a look at these success stories for a few examples.
West Seattle Blog: Perhaps one of the most celebrated hyperlocal blogs there is, the West Seattle Blog represents a small, but civically active neighborhood in Seattle. The blog began when a power outage in the neighborhood sparked the need for an instant and neighborhood-specific news source. From there, it has only grown. Now averaging a nearly half a million visits each month, the site has an avid community forum where discussions regularly end up on the front page of the blog, and from there, sometimes even the evening news. The West Seattle Blog is a regular source for reporters in the area and a “first-thing-in-the-morning” read for most residents in West Seattle and beyond.
Moz Blog: Born in 2004 as a venue for Rand Fishkin’s thoughts, struggles, and discoveries as he learned SEO, the Moz Blog has expanded its scope alongside its parent company. The blog is now a hub for thought leaders in the inbound marketing industry, with an average of a million page views each month and many posts garnering more than 100 comments. With its focus on educational content that empowers readers to make effective decisions, the Moz Blog has become a must-read for anyone looking to learn more about inbound marketing.
OkCupid: The dating site struck gold when it turned its lens inward to dig up content for its blog. It pulled back the curtain and showcased the data behind their users’ behavior, which is not something many sites like theirs are too eager to do. It paid serious dividends. Their blog alone has over 38,000 backlinks from nearly 900 linking domains, and while they stopped posting quite a while ago, they stand as a great example of success even today.
WordPress: One of the most popular blogging platforms in existence, WordPress is a free and open-source tool that can be hosted either on WordPress or on another domain of your choice. Incredibly flexible and easy to use, it is often the default option for both advanced and novice bloggers. There is an entire industry built around the creation and sale of custom themes and skins for WordPress, making the otherwise templated platform more personalized and customizable. WordPress can be used with existing sites as well, making it an frequent choice of businesses and consumers alike.
Blogger: A free blogging platform built by Google. This tool is quite similar to WordPress in theory, but without many of the features and flexibility. Blogs here can either be self-hosted or left on blogger.com. It’s much better-suited for a casual personal blogger than a business or professional blogger.
Google Analytics: Measurement is a must if you’re interested in tracking your progress against business objectives (which you really should be). Google Analytics (GA) is a free analytics tool that provides insights about user behavior, traffic, and social behavior on your website. Your GA account can provide tons of useful data that will help you get to know your customers, what they’re looking for, and how you can better serve them.
Comment Plugins: Most of the blogging platforms come with built-in commenting features, but for one reason or another people may choose to go with a different tool (often because of features, sharing, or concerns about spam). Some of the most popular are Disqus, Facebook, and IntenseDebate.
Google Alerts: Another free Google tool, this one helps you keep an eye on your online reputation across the web. You can freely program the tool to send you alerts via email whenever it finds a mention of a keyword or keyword string you specify. You can set these up for yourself, your business, and even your competitors. When you’ve put some muscle behind a particular piece of content, it’s also a good idea to set up a Google Alert for the title of that post. This will help you identify extensions of the conversation that you will want to get involved in. This is also a useful tool in protecting your content, as it can help you identify when your work has been stolen or scraped.
Linkstant: By keeping an eye on when people are linking to your blog, you can follow the conversation. People will often read a blog and then start a conversation on their own site, usually linking back to the original spark—your blog. By participating in the conversation on the new site, you can usually generate a circular flow of traffic and engagement driving your readership, traffic, and links. This tool will alert you via email every time someone has linked back to your site, helping you uncover these opportunities.
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