Archive for ‘Blog University’

August 10, 2011

8 tips on promoting your blog and building a loyal audience [Blogging 301]

So you’ve started a blog and now you’re wondering why nobody is visiting. You’ve done everything in Blogging 101 and Blogging 201, but you feel invisible.  Your next step is to start sharing and promoting your blog to drive readership.

Promotion of your blog should be a part of your overall blogging strategy. Remember, you won’t be an overnight success, as it may take months and months of consistent blogging and promotion to build a loyal following, but here are a few tips to get you on the right track.

1. Set goals. If you fail to set goals, you won’t have a target to aim for and you will have no way of knowing if your blog is a success. I can assume that if you are reading this post, you’ve already made the decision that you want more than just friends and family to be reading your posts and you want to reach as many people as possible, right? So set some goals, and be realistic. Would you be happy with 100 pageviews a week? 1,000? How about 20,000 page views a year? Really think hard about how successful you think you can be in your first year and shoot for that target. You don’t have to just set pageview goals: think number of comments, interactions, and shares too.

2. Leverage your social networks. Here’s an easy one – use your existing social networks to spread the word about your blog and each new blog post.

Twitter is by far my most useful referral tool. Be sure to use relevant hashtags to insert yourself into conversations, thank people for RTing and commenting on your work, and tweet at the best time of day (for most industries that’s between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.). This behaviour helps to encourage feedback, shares, and comments.

At the same time, as you are promoting your blog on social networks, you should also be actively trying to continue to build a following  of your target audience on these networks. For example, if you are writing about local food, seek out, follow, and interact with those who like to post about food in your city.

Facebook and Google+ are starting to provide some decent traffic for my blog, and don’t forget about social bookmarking: reddit, digg, stumbleupon, etc.

3. Think SEO when writing content and headlines. Admittedly, I’m not an SEO expert, but we can all use a few key principles to help make our content more attractive to search engines. First, be sure to use common search terms in your headline. You can check out Google Adwords or Google Insights for some help in determining what they should be. Second, in your body copy, be sure to use these same search terms and link them, where possible, to other posts on your blog, or major sites online (i.e. Wikipedia). Finally, if you have images on your blog (and you should), be sure to use these same keywords in the name and title of the image file.  There’s way more to SEO than this. For a more complete tip-sheet, check out this list by Reverse Delta.

4. Share the “link love”. Often ideas for your own blog posts will stem from what you’ve read on others. If I’ve pulled an idea, topic, or infographic from another blogger or website, I always reference where the material came from and reward them with a link-back to their site. The link is still the currency of blogging. Simply put, the more influential pages you link to, and who are linking to you, the higher your blog will return in search results.

5. Get other people talking about / sharing your content. Start by doing the simple stuff. Make sure your comments are open and include buttons to share, like, tweet, rank, email, stumble, digg, etc. The easier it is for your readers to share, the more referrals you can expect. Next,  Join the conversation with other bloggers by being active in the blogging community. You should be liking, commenting, reviewing, and critiquing (professionally) other blog posts. If the idea for your latest blog post was a reaction to something you read on another blog, be sure to return to that blog and post a link to your reaction in the comments section; remember, your are continuing the conversation, not attacking the other opinion.

6. Consider guest blogging.  If you are an established blogger, be open to the idea of contributing a guest post to another blog with a similar focus. You may also be approached to have your existing content syndicated on other blogs: this is a good step too.  Another way to expand your audience is to invite another thought leader in your field to contribute a post to your blog. This not only provides your readers with new content and a new perspective, but also it avails you to the loyal following of your guest blogger…who, I would assume, would help to promote his/her post on your blog to his/her readers.

7. Use offline promotion techniques.  So you want to turn pro? Well, I’m not there yet, but consider the use of traditional marketing materials to drive traffic to your website. This can take the form of almost anything: posters, flyers, stickers, post cards, club cards, t-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, etc. If you choose to do this, be sure to include a unique, and trackable URL, so you can evaluate how many visitors your campaign has generated. At the very least, you should include a URL to your blog on your business card.

8. Don’t over promote. Sometimes you just need to give it a rest. All bloggers can admit to themselves that they may have crossed the line when promoting their blogs, but it’s good to not make a habit of it.  I try to promote my posts for about 24-36 hours, then let them flow down stream.

Is there anything else that should be on this list? Leave a comment and let me know.

May 11, 2011

Blogging 201: Nine tips on creating engaging blog content

Content is the most important ingredient for any media, and blogs are no exception. Coming up with, and delivering, quality content is often challenging, so here are a few tips to help you generate content to keep your readers coming back.

1. Stay on topic. Be sure to only blog about things that are relevant to your blog.  For instance, if you blog about fashion, don’t include a post on why your favourite restaurant or sports teams. If you start to stray from your original focus, your blog will no longer be about your passion/interest: it will be about you and, as mentioned in blogging 101, nobody really wants to read a blog about you.

2. Limit yourself to one main idea per post. Often there’s a lot to say, but you can’t say it all in one post.  Here you should pick out your most important point and stick to it. If there really is too much to say, consider using the series approach where you blog several times about the same topic… i.e. this ongoing blogging series.

3. Pick a side and share your opinion. You don’t need to be negative about it, just have an opinion. These posts often generate a lot of traffic and comments as people want to contribute to the conversation.

4. Write about news and current events. Find something in the news and blog about it. There is not always an obvious connection between your blog topic and what’s hot in the news, so it’s up to the blogger to find, or create, that connection. For instance, I wanted to blog about the recent Canadian Federal Election, but the question was what to blog about. Once I saw a news story about how job postings were made to hire people to post right-, or left-, wing comments, I knew I had found my topic.

5. Be useful. You want to add value for your reader. Consider sharing a resource, experience, expertise, etc. Don’t be afraid to share some of your “industry secrets” and how-to posts are always popular if you can help people with a common problem you’ve solved.

6. Vary the types of posts you make. Consider using different formats to present your information to keep the reader interested. You may want to use how-tos, top 10 lists, opinion, infographics, reviews, case studies, or even  interviews.

7. Write straight-forward and catchy headlines. People decide if they are going to click on your post based on the headline, so it’s important to capture what your post is about in as few words as possible. The strongest headlines add the elements of interest, wordplay, and/or humour. I’m always writing, and re-writing, my headlines to be sure I come up with something that fits. Reading other blogs can often help get the headline juices flowing. For more on effective headline writing, check out Blogging 301.

8. Make sure your content is consumable. People don’t read the internet, they scan it. Use a combination of lists, images, graphs, charts, and different formatting options to make your key points stand out. Also, make sure to include a photo, image, or video in each post – this helps to visually break-up your text and adds interest to the post.

9. Set a schedule and stick to it. Being regular is important. If you set a regular, and achievable,  schedule to create new posts, you and your readers will get into the routine of creating and consuming your content.  Professional bloggers often post everyday, but others who have a different day-job will post once a week, or a couple times a month.

April 20, 2011

8 great steps to start a blog: The “Blogging 101″ checklist

Often I hear “I want to start a blog, can you help me get started?” The more I answered those questions the more obvious this blog post became – A simple list of steps to help guide others through starting their own blog.

There’s so much to cover, so I’m going to break up my “blogging” series into a number of posts: the first, “8 great steps to start a blog,” followed by a post on “content creation,” then a post on “blog promotion,” and finally one on “blogger tools (free software and apps).”

Let’s get started, and yes, the order is important.

1. Decide what you are going to blog about. This may seem obvious, but it’s critical to put some concrete thought into your blog topic before you go any further. The biggest mistake when starting a blog is that people are too diverse in what they want to blog about and just write about what they are interested in. This approach ultimately makes the topic of the blog about the author and, to be honest, nobody really wants to read a blog about you, what you do in your spare time, what your favourite restaurants are, how great your amateur band is, etc. The key is to pick a topic that you are knowledgeable about, passionate about, have experience in and stick to it.

2. Determine who your intended audience is. Who will most likely want to read your thoughts about this topic? Be specific and really start to think about the ideal demographic profile of the person who will be reading your blog. Consider age, gender, career level, industry, education, etc. This can change and grow as your blog matures and you get some insights from your web traffic analytics, but always write with an intended reader in mind.

3. Choose your platform. You know what you are going to blog about and who you are writing for, now it’s time to choose a blogging platform. You want to spend a bit of time on this because you need to make sure you will be happy with your choice now, and for years to come. I use WordPress.com, and I’m quite happy with it. It has several free, well-designed, functional themes that are customizable – very important in my decision.  WordPress (and other sites) also provide “site stats” to help you learn a bit more about who your readers are. Besides WordPress, you may want to also consider Blogger, Posterous, Live Journal, Tumblr, and Typepad. Here’s a decent comparison of some of the tools from bizchickblogs.com.

4. Choose a design template for your blog (often called a theme). This is where WordPress leads the way. They have so many free themes to choose from ranging from highly customizable to the very simple what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Spend a day or two looking at dozens of theme options to find one that serves your needs just right.

5. Customize the look and feel of your blog. Your chance to really make your blog your own. Once you have your theme, there are often many options you can use to make your blog like none other. Try to avoid using too many default design and layout settings. The first thing to do is choose a colour scheme (palette) that you will use in all of your design decisions . For those of us with a less-than-perfect design flair, www.colourlovers.com can help you figure out what looks good together and what doesn’t.

Next step to customize your blog is to incorporate your colours and name of your blog into your header. Your header should be simple. Include the name of your blog and a recognizable image that fits with your theme. Not all blog themes have a custom header capability, so take  a quick look through a few of your options on WordPress.

6. Make sure there are social components to your design. This is what social media is all about. Shares, comments, rankings, etc. You have to add these elements when you are customizing your theme, but it is such a critical component I decided to make it it’s own entry on this checklist.  The idea is to empower your readers to share your blog with their own networks, and also provide you feedback on what readers like and don’t like about your blog.

On the sharing front, I encourage my users to share using Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg, and email. For feedback, I enabled the ranking system and also allowed open comments – this means that all users who want to comment on a blog post can do it without moderation (I am yet to have to remove a comment due to inappropriate content).

7. Buy your domain name. This may not be for everybody, but if you want to communicate professionalism you are going to want to buy a unique domain name. It costs about $20 a year and is well worth it. It takes your blog from the appearance of a free, homemade diary, to a very professional and focused image. If the blogger thinks their content is worth investing some money in, the reader may think it’s worth investing 90 seconds of their time to read the blog.

8. Stop worrying that people will think your ideas are stupid, and start writing. Now your fingers hit the keys. After you are all set up with your blog, it is ultimately your content that will determine how much response you will get.  One of the big stumbling blocks for bloggers (both rookie and veteran) is they may be worried too much about what others think. Stop worrying about it and start writing, and you’ll be able to figure it out as you go. After all, nobody is going to shut your blog down for a few bad posts.

My next post in this “blogging” series will be “Blogging 201: tips on creating content”. Look for that in a few weeks.

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