Better ‘blogging, part 1
Monday, 16 April 2007 — by Wayne Smallman
I keep getting asked about ‘blogging by people and what does it take to be a good ‘blogger. First of all, I try to clarify one thing: being a good ‘blogger is not always equal to being a successful ‘blogger. OK, with that out of the way, I’m going to serialize my thoughts on ‘blogging for anyone, not just beginners…
Disclaimer: some of the advice I’m going to be giving out, I might not actually practice myself, and there’s usually a good reason for that, which I may or may not allude to during the course of the series. Depends how I feel.
Better ‘blogging, part 1: the process
Like anything else, ‘blogging has a process. In general terms, it’s not rocket science, but if you want to be a good / successful ‘blogger, chances are, you’ll uncover some prerequisites.
During the week, I had the chance to offer some advice to a certain gentlemen from MyBlogLog by the name of Tom Boyd with regards to his Bass Blog, which is about bass guitars.
In an email to Tom, I outlined what I see as the general rules of the ‘blogging game, which I’ve been given kind permission to reproduce here, although re-formatted for the web, as well as being slightly abridged in some places, and added to in others:
- Knowing your niche
- Getting sociable
- Being seen
- Style and substance
- Measure and test
- Closing the sale
1. Knowing your niche
By going after bass guitar stuff, you’re entering a very niche field. And that’s not a bad thing, either. Now more than any other time, you can turn your niche into a big thing.
Because it’s such a niche, there’s plenty of room for your authority to make a mark on the search engines and drive traffic to your ‘blog.
Not knowing too much about bass guitars, I imagine there’s not exactly a ground swell of news on a daily basis, as there is with technology, for example.
However, by finding out where the news is coming from, I’d be thinking about getting in touch with people in the music industry, magazines, other websites and get some coverage with / from them.
Once you’re happy with what you’re writing about, it’s important that you post regularly and Ping your articles. Simply posting and relying on your ‘blog CMS isn’t good enough. Use something like Ping-o-Matic.
I very rarely get comments on my articles, but people link to them and do all kinds of things with my content, so don’t be disillusioned by the silence. Silence doesn’t mean dislike.
You need the energy to keep going if you want to be good. To be successful, well .. you need to get in people’s faces so they can’t ignore you!
2. Getting sociable
Don’t just join and stay silent, comment and comment often. Also, don’t just comment for the sake of a back-link. Add value to the article you’re commenting on.
This is your calling card. If you can, be daring, look for an angle. Prompt people to think, pose questions, make them laugh .. anything to make them click on your name and visit your ‘blog!
Additionally, where you enter the address to your ‘blog, be sure to enter the address to an article relevant to the post you’re commenting on.
A straight link to your ‘blog is good, but a ‘deep link’ to an actual article is worth more. And, if it is relevant, then you’re adding more value. Plus, you score more points with the search engines.
Again, look through my Del.icio.us bookmarks for some good Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing resources. There are a zillion different resources for this stuff. Use the Tags to find out more about related topics.
3. Being seen
This is slightly different to being social. This is where you really do just sign up for anything social, anything relevant to your stuff.
Yes, take the time to fill out all of the damn profiles, with brief descriptions of you, your ‘blog, your RSS feed, your web address, your tags!
Do what I do, have a file with all of that repetitive crap in there which you can pull out and use straight away.
I use the same picture of me everywhere. Partly because I only have one picture of me, but, my excuse is that people then become familiar with my face.
Being seen is an essential part of your personal brand building. You want people to associate your face with a certain phrase, word, style, topic, attitude et cetera. That very thing that sets you apart from the other guy.
Anonymity just doesn’t cut it, and it’s a topic I’ll be discussing later. Put a face and a name to your words. This is about trust, remember? Your visitors are far more likely to accept your views as being trustworthy and authoritative if they know you’re for real.
To give you a head start, pay a visit to this list of the top 10 largest social bookmarking websites, as well as spending a little time sifting through my Tags on Social media.
4. Style and substance
Unless you’re ‘blogging to a select group of known friends only, the chances are, the majority of your traffic is going to come from Google, or maybe Yahoo! MSN, Ask, or some other niche, specialized search engine.
Search engines are very predictable animals, largely because we’re very predictable animals. And search engines simply attempt to mimic our own patterns when using the web; assessing the validity of the things we find and whether they’re of value, and whether they’re relevant to what we’re looking for.
So if you’re planning on getting traffic from the search engines, it’s as well to know what your audience is looking for. And to do that, you need to have some idea of what can draw the search engines — and by extension, your potential audience — towards your ‘blog.
An example would be a recent article of mine which really did hit on the way people construct search phrases. I used the title: “Google Personal vs Netvibes” and among the various search queries that brought people to my ‘blog, that was the top query. So I got it spot on.
Also, I tend to rank well for phrases like: “Apollo Adobe”, which is opposite way around to the actual product name, “iPod Shuffle bug” and: “Firefox social”, as well as: “landing page design” to name but a few.
Additionally, it’s as well to have some understanding of how the search engines work. No, not in a technical sense. That’d be boring, wouldn’t it?
No, I’m talking about arming yourself with the knowledge of what the search engines really want from your ‘blog or website, which you’d do well to read.
In simple terms, you want to think of a group of keywords (‘Apple’, ‘IBM’, ‘technology’, ‘software’ et cetera) and key phrases (‘Apple iPhone’, ‘IBM WebSphere’, ‘disruptive technology’, ‘software developers kit’ et cetera) and infuse those keywords and key phrases into the paragraphs or your article.
So if you’re writing an article on say, red wine, then include types of red wine, wine growing regions, best places to buy red wine, history of wine .. you get the idea.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to please the search engines, that too would be silly. Try instead to please the people visiting your ‘blog. Do that, and you will inevitably please the search engines, too.
If certain keywords and key phrases are really important, add some emphasis. Make them bold or italicize them, which adds a little extra weight to their significance within the context of the web page.
To give any given web page some search engine strength through substance, there are four key ingredients. Your keywords and key phrases should appear:
- In the title of the article
- In the body of the article several times
- In the actual name of the file itself
- If possible, in the domain name itself
By way of an example, here’s the first result on Google when looking for search results bases on the ‘Adobe Apollo’ search query:
Apollo – Adobe Labs – 2 visits – 25 Mar
Apollo. From Adobe Labs. Apollo is a cross-OS runtime that allows developers to leverage their existing web development skills (Flash, Flex, HTML, …
labs.adobe.com/wiki/index.php/Apollo – 13k
There are some really, really solid resources out there focused on headline writing, linkbaiting and copy writing, some of which you’ll find in my Del.icio.us bookmarks, which I urge you to read.
And finally, give some thought to a house style. Consider a theme for your ‘blog, even if it’s just a particular font. I make use of a number of elements, such as a graphical section title, a lead paragraph, quotes and resources as well as particular fonts.
5. Measure and test
So you’ve got your ‘blog out there, people are coming in, but from where? And when? And why? And for how long? And what did they read? And click on?
- Technorati is your window through which you’ll see who’s linking to your ‘blog, find new ‘blogs and maybe add them as your favourites.
- FeedBurner is how you take control of your RSS feed and turn your visitors into a readership. In addition, FeedBurner includes live web statistics, too.
- Clicky is a quick, efficient way of tracking the visitors to your ‘blog, live. You get to see back-links, clicks and there’s some really good map-related filtering tools, too. All of which is covered in more detail in a recent Clicky review of mine [parts one, two as well as an update.]
- Google Analytics is web analytics for those that like to compare, contrast and generally take the whole visitor process towards a fuller, more complete level. There’s a whole battery of analytical options, so the learning curve becomes more steep in places. There are better packages, but often they’re not free and sometimes even the free versions are a mess to use and don’t let you export the data.
- Alexa is how you measure your standing on the web by way of a ranking, based on number of visits, page impressions et cetera. Some people say that there are better, more accurate offerings, but most of the others don’t measure smaller ‘blogs and websites.
- Google Webmaster Tools is a great way of managing sitemaps, indexing, seeing query statistics et cetera.
- Del.icio.us is a great place bookmark and share the stuff you find on the web. There are other social bookmarking services, so maybe use those, too.
Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Your ‘blog isn’t in stasis, it’s a petri dish, full of potential.
Try different things at different times. Maybe run a poll to get some feedback. Maybe offer your visitors the chance to ask you a question. Or give people a place to vent.
Notice a pattern, here? All of the options suggested are about getting people to actively participate. In essence, that’s the kind of thing that will make your ‘blog grow and flourish.
6. Closing the sale
Imagine the scene: it’s late evening, you wander through the front door, exhausted. You toss you house keys onto the sofa, throw you bag and coat on the floor and slump in the chair. You take your laptop from your bag and check your email. And while you’re there, check the web stats’ through Clicky for your ‘blog.
“Wha?!” You exclaim in astonishment.
“How many visits?!” Hundreds of people have paid a visit to your ‘blog, all from just a minor hit on Digg.
The next day, you look to your FeedBurner account to see how many of those people have subscribed to your feed.
“Wha?!” You exclaim in astonishment, again.
“How many subscriptions?!” Out of the hundreds of visits to your ‘blog from Digg, only a handful have signed up.
Sadly, this is all too common.
While not everyone can plan on making it to the front page of the likes of Digg, Slash Dot or Del.icio.us, you can plan for these things. And in planning for these things, you put in place resources that will serve the regular, every day visitors to your ‘blog, too.
What are these things? They’re called Calls To Action, or CTAs, which is usually some visual device (typically a graphical or textual link) that people are prompted to click on with something like: “Click HERE to subscribe to Blah, Blah! Technology news” or some other suitably tempting phrase.
Ideally, you need to position your CTAs at the end of an article, the same place you find the Comments button, which is also a CTA.
Also, a good place to position your CTAs is in the upper region of the web page, near your main navigation, maybe accompanied with a graphic, or as a graphic.
Think of your ‘blog as a series of goals. Your goal is to funnel the visitor towards completing a goal, which is either to make a comment, subscribe to your feed, clicking on an advert, emailing you, calling you et cetera.
It’s not hard. In fact, it’s actually quite easy.
In essence, it’s self-promotional marketing for the layman and laywoman. It’s about building a sense of trust with your reader and converting them from an incidental, once-a-month visitor to a daily subscriber.
Better ‘blogging, part 2: the resources
In part 2 of Better ‘blogging, I’ll be looking at some of the resources I’ve found that will help you make your ‘blog a viable, interesting ‘sticky’ place to be on the web…