Blogging is as varied in its applications as using the telephone or taking a picture. The tool doesn’t predict the output. You might be using your blog to post recipes, or to inform the local community about information you find elsewhere on the web. Maybe you’re just trying your hand at writing, and the web is as good a place as any.
If you’re looking to go beyond that, however, you’ll need to take steps to improve your blog from at least five different perspectives. In 50 Ways to Take Your Blog to the Next Level, I wanted to share my thoughts on how you should consider your goal, your design, your content, how you promote it, and the business aspects of your blog. Please add to these ideas in the comments, and let’s grow the list out.
Make Your Goal and Target Audience Crystal Clear
My point with this entire post, but most especially this section is to ask you to admit what your real goals are with your blog. If you’re not sure, that’s fine. You might not really want to take your blog to the next level just yet. But if you’re feeling as if you want to get serious (in whatever direction that takes your efforts), give strong consideration to the following.
- If your goal is to be an entertainment or news blog, be very clear that it’s that and not a “fun” blog. Consider splitting off your personal or fun blog.
- If your blog is to be your business, treat it like that. Get into stats. Get into building audience. Get into delivering something unique. Don’t straddle back and forth on this.
- If the goal is to be a great community resource, mix your blogging time with time spent reaching out to the community you propose to serve. If that’s an offline opportunity, like something local, be there. Be active. Be a connector.
- If you’re going to be a professional about your blog, carve out the time to do it right. Never, ever, ever post a “sorry I haven’t posted lately” blog post again. Ever.
- Up the ante on delivering original material. Get outside the echo chamber. Writing a me-too blog isn’t the way to build your blog to the levels you seek to attain.
- It’s okay to use a personal voice. In fact, there’s no point blogging if you’re going to write like a cold robot. But keep personal and useful in balance.
- If you are attempting to do real business via your blog, look for ways to convert readers into customers.
- If it’s just an ad revenue business, compete, and be honest about that. Compete with others in your space for audience, value, and better deals. My point in this regard is that going halfway into the water doesn’t make you less wet.
- If your blog is the premier source of information for nonprofits, for photographers, for whatever, then be sure you’re scouring news feeds and finding information outside the blogosphere to keep that relationship informed.
- Make a point of engaging your community often in the comments section, on their blogs, on the other social networks where you cross paths.
Beauty Is More Than Skin Deep
Consider the design elements of your blog. They do change the way people perceive your work. And, they can help you improve your potential business opportunities.
- Get your own unique URL. It matters in the long run, especially should you choose to change hosts. For instance, if you move off a blogger account at *.blogspot.com , you lose all link equity and page rank for that domain. This means you’d have to start again from scratch. Already in that position? Make the switch now.
- Consider moving to a hosted blog. You can get a hosted WordPress blog set up and running for only $10 USD a year at Bloghost.me. (Note: if you use code “brogan,” you can get it for $9 a year. Andy’s a friend.)
- Consider using a professional theme. I am an advocate for Thesis by Chris Pearson. There are other premium themes out there, as well.
- Consider getting a customized WordPress theme. That link goes to Nico Pin, who designed [chrisbrogan.com]. There are others who do this kind of work, obviously.
- Are there several unnecessary widgets on your blog? Review them and decide which add value to your audience.
- Is your layout readable? Are your fonts clean and easy to read? Are your color choices all they can be? A little time with your stylesheet goes a long way.
- If you have ads, are you choking your community with them? Do you actually endorse the products on them? How effective have they been?
- Is your blog design and layout configured well for SEO? Several blogging platforms now have SEO plug-ins/add-ons to help with this. That doesn’t beat having a professional take a swing at improving your blog’s SEO, but it’s a good first step.
- A logo and matching favicon doesn’t hurt. You can find various price points for this, and many different people offering the service. Mine was created by Justin Evans and his team at StressLimit Design. I also have friends in California that I highly recommend, as well.
- Consider the graphics you post on your site. Do they add to the story you’re trying to tell? If not, seek upgrades. There are many freely available graphics at Flickr, if you search by the appropriate Creative Commons license level.
Make Your Content Top Notch
Growing quality blog posts isn’t magic. We don’t sprinkle cookies all over the house and hope that the Blogging Fairy comes along and writes us posts in exchange for the cookies. It takes lots of work, and a strong commitment. And if it doesn’t come naturally, you CAN learn how to improve.
- Put your blog posts on a diet. Read them with your audience in mind. Can you thin them out? Remove unnecessary words. Make them tight.
- Lead with the main point. If you’re attempting to be a quality news or opinion blog, make your main point at the top of the post. Don’t make us dig.
- Link. If you’re writing about another person, post, or website, link appropriately and thread the web. It fleshes out the story, gives us places to explore, and shows a “good neighbor” practice.
- Vary up post lengths. If you write a “feature length” post, have something brief come next to avoid reader fatigue. (Unless you’re writing an essay-length blog all the time, and hey, good luck.)
- Read. Read. Read. Get outside the blogosphere. Find sources of information that span far beyond what your competitors are covering.
- Get on a regular writing/posting schedule. Extra points for writing a few posts ahead of time for those days when you can’t get to it right away.
- Work on your titles. A great title drives visits, but also informs us as to what we’re going to learn.
- Refrain from “me too” posts. If you’ve got something to add, do that and link to the original post, but if you’re moving up to the next level, lose the “pointer” posts. (Your mileage may vary on this one).
- Consider video, audio, and rich media. If you’re doing a text-mostly blog, consider mixing it up from time to time. It might find you new audience, and it might also give people a more dimensional sense of who you are.
- Review your blog posts monthly to see if you’re covering the same ground. If you are, consider building an editorial calendar to post from, so that you don’t overlap and repeat topics too often.
Promoting Your Blog
No one loves someone who talks about themselves all the time, but if you’re going to work on bringing your blog up a few notches, make sure your efforts aren’t for nothing.
- Use a social bookmarking plugin like AddThis or Share This on your blog posts so that people who like your work can share it easily.
- Make a very prominent option to subscribe by email available on your site. More than 50% of my readers do so via email.
- Add your blog URL to your email signature.
- Make sure your blog URL is on your twitter profile, your facebook profile, added into Friendfeed, and several other outposts. This helps people discover you who might not have noticed your work before. (Note: Steve Rubel said that to me many months back. He told me that he “discovered” my blog via Facebook. I’ve been a believer ever since.)
- If you’re going to promote your blog via places like Twitter, be sure to do it tastefully instead of just dumping links into the stream. Consider asking a question, or pointing out a rather insightful comment.
- Make sure you’re doing the basics, like listing your site in Yahoo!, Google, DMOZ, and claiming it in Technorati.com (each of those sites shows you how via the help function).
- Commenting on other well-known blogs in your same space in a not-spammy way is a great way for people who might like your work to discover you. Don’t put blatant links or otherwise be rude. Just be thoughtful and helpful to the community at that site, and leave a useful comment. They’ll come, if they like what you said.
- Don’t forget posting the occasional blog post in LinkedIn’s status message. It reaches some interesting people from time to time.
- Is it fair to Digg or Stumble your own posts? There are mixed opinions on this. I’ve had little to no success with Digg in this regard. StumbleUpon is a different story. Decide for yourself if you think this is okay to do. I’ve heard it called “patting yourself on the back in public.”
- Write the occasional post that’s worthy of bookmarking. When someone adds a blog post of mine to Delicious, I often get lots more traffic than from other promotional angles.
Building Business From Your Blog
You might be trying to make money from your blog directly, perhaps through advertising or affiliate marketing. Or you might be seeking to establish thought leadership and promote consulting opportunities. You might be simply looking to drive even better awareness of a social cause or have a nonprofit or educational motive in mind. In any case, think of “business” to mean “value beyond the blogging itself.”
- Build conversion opportunities. If you’re selling something directly, think of clever ways to post about it that educate, inform, and encourage a call to action.
- Make sure your blog design points people towards the action you want them to take. (See Financial Aid Podcast for an easy example).
- Ask for the sale. If you’re selling something, don’t be shy. Ask for it. Do so in a blog post, or in an ad of your own creation. Be direct and honest about this.
- Mix free value and additional opportunities. If you’re selling something that’s not unlike what’s available on your blog for free, demonstrate the dividing line. Even consider giving a hint of what’s on the other side.
- Make it easy to opt in. Like asking for the sale, make sure you help your prospective customers/cleints/partners know how to get into your sales funnel, should they be interested.
- Make content that sells. If you’re blogging or posting video to promote a business objective, work at building the content such that it drives that end decision. Too 1.0 for you? At least open conversations up about what you’re trying to accomplish.
- Make it very easy to contact you. Make your About page very clean and easy to read. Put some real human names on the website, and even consider adding a photo, so that people know who they’re addressing. (I say this all the time, but I see so many examples daily of people who could use this advice.)
- Build relationships with similar blogs and share opportunities. If you’re blogging about real estate, get to know the other real estate bloggers and learn from each other.
- Give “serving suggestions” on your blog. If you’re blogging a particular kind of offering, is there a way to share what it does, or how you want to be involved?
- Remember: even if your blog’s main goal is selling, be human, be interesting, be involved. This isn’t the old Internet. We have these nifty social tools that remind us to be human. Let’s use them that way.
My goal in writing this was to offer advice and suggestions for how one might transform their blog from “another one in the pack” to something of a destination on the web. It’s not my opinion that we should all be following this advice. There are several blogs that I love exactly the way they are, and I’m sure their respective owners do, too.
We all do this for different reasons, and one size does not fit all. For those of you who DO intend their blog to be an authoritative, professional-minded presence on the web, I hope this helps.
Do you have something more to add? What’s your take? What have I missed completely? What other questions to you have?
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