When I teach Blogging for Beginners at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, we get everyone's blogs set up, but that’s the easy part. Learning how to use Wordpress, Blogger, or SquareSpace will get your blog online, but it won’t make you a great blogger. Great blogs have five things in common—quality design, great content, clear layout, consistent posts, and audience engagement. Here are a few tips for making your good blog great:
Photo courtesy of John Stansbury via Creative Commons
If you’re not sure whether you like blogging, start with a free template, but if you’re ready to take blogging seriously, browse the premium designs or, if you can afford it, hire a web designer to custom design your blog. (If you know graphic design, even better. Do it yourself.) A beautiful design can make or break a blog. And you don’t want to use the same template hundreds of other blogs are using any more than you want to be wearing the same outfit as everyone else at the party. You want your blog to be unique.
The content of your blog matters more than everything else put together. Your posts should be A) Full of useful information B) Entertaining C) Insightful D) Moving E) Beautiful or E) All of the above. The titles of your posts should be as sharable as possible. For example, I subscribe to Contently’s Freelancer blog, and at least twice a week I read the title of their blog posts and either share them or bookmark them to read later. They’re well written, full of great content, and targeted specifically at me—a freelancer. In Blogging for Beginners, we spend an entire class defining the focus and audience of our blogs because it is so important to know for whom you are blogging. Students? Professionals? Moms? Other writers? What are their hobbies and interests?
Once you nail your audience down and arm yourself with a good long list of blog post ideas (I suggest starting with fifty), write five to ten great blog posts before you publish even one on your blog. Write them like you would a newspaper article or a personal essay. Do your research, include some links. Make them as professional as you would if you were writing for a magazine.
You don’t need to know graphic design to lay out your posts. Just break up the content into digestible chunks separated by white space. Subtitles, bullets, numbers, and photos can be used to make a long post easier on the eye and on the brain.
Frequent, consistent posts
All professional bloggers post frequently (anywhere from multiple times a day to once a week) and consistently. Choose a day or days of the week you plan to post and stick to that schedule. Post every Thursday, every Tuesday and Thursday, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday—it doesn’t matter. Just stick to a schedule. That way your readers will know when to expect your next post and will visit your blog on that day. If you post three times one week and none the next, your readers won’t know when to come back and will eventually stop coming at all.
Respond to comments. Visit the blogs of your readers by clicking on their names when they leave comments. If they’re smart, they’ve linked their names to their own blogs. Leave comments on their blogs. Link to your posts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. Respond to comments, @replies and retweets in response to your posts. Share and like the tweets and posts of your readers. Engage with your audience on all of the social networks you use. Go to conferences. Make friends. There are so many great ways to engage with your audience. Pick the ones you like best and focus on those. Don’t feel like you have to do it all. You can't. But make an effort to engage. Social media is, above all, social.
What about you? What are your favorite blogs? What do those blogs have in common?