I speak at conferences and do some teaching, and the questions I’m asked the most about are about social media and blogging. At a recent conference, someone in the audience suggested I put a blogging tips article online that I could link to for writers’ reference. Great idea. I’ve been writing for the Internet for a decade, so these are some tips I’ve picked up along the way.
- Keep it short. The Internet has a very short attention span. Between BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, links flying down your Facebook feed, and Twitter's barrages of trending topics, most people do not take the time to read lengthy pieces online (there are some exceptions). The general rule is that people don’t like to spend time scrolling, so the typical online story is between 400-600 words, slightly longer for a news story, slightly shorter for something with photos or a video clip.
- Yes, social media. If you don’t share it, no one will see your post. Use Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus if you’re one of the 20 people who insists on still using that, or other social media to promote your blog post.
- Use grabby headlines. Ask a question, use humor or shock, but you have to make people want to click on something. There’s too much content zooming around for people to read through to uninteresting things. Pay attention to what the headlines you click on have in common and try to match their style.
- Know your audience. Even if you’re not a niche blogger, chances are that you have a distinct demographic that reads you. Know who they are, what they like to read, and try to provide blog post topics that will be of interest to them.
- Build community. It’s important to interact with people. They’re taking time out of their day to read your post, so especially if someone makes a comment, it is nice to let them know (even just by “liking” the comment) that you’ve seen their thoughts. Thank them for sharing your post. Comment on their posts, too.
- Be original. Far too many bloggers are simply using other people’s material to fill their blogs. “Guest posting” has been a popular way for blogs like The Huffington Post to create free content, but it doesn’t benefit the content creator as much as it does the content platform. Blogging about a video or another article can be a great idea for a blog post, but at some point in blogging, it really helps if you can actually craft together a decent 500-word original thought on your own.
- Proofread. The Internet is jam-packed with horrific grammar, spelling, and writing in general. Don’t be part of the problem. Create a blog post in Microsoft Word first if that’s how you like to run spelling or grammar checks, or at least pay attention to your blogging software's recommendations for fixing egregious errors.
Image: Justin Scott Campbell via Flickr
- Yes, Wordpress. I have worked on a half dozen different content management systems (CMS) in the past decade, and Wordpress is far and away the best. It’s the easiest to use, most flexible in design and most functional because of the many and varied plug-ins. Don’t blog on platforms that dot-something after your blog name. “.blogspot” and I’d even argue “.tumblr” are not unique URLs, which means that you’re blogging on someone else’s real estate, so you don’t have control over it. Invest in a unique URL and self-host.
- Respect the tech. For my blogs, I’ve always relied on design professionals to make them look good. I don’t know enough about html or web design to undertake these parts of running a blog. I feel like it’s worth it to pay someone to get the look you want for your blog.
- Update weekly. Blogs should be updated a minimum of once a week, more often is better. Set a goal of a day or days of the week that you’re going to publish—better during the week. Weekend Internet traffic is always slower.
- Blog for love, not money. Making money blogging is an entirely separate subject, and many people do that on personal blogs. But I’ve learned over 10 years that they’re in the minority. Certain niche blogs make money, but your blog should be your web real estate first. I’ve made some money from my blog, but not much. For me, it’s a venue to connect with my readers, a home on the Internet.
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