Blogs have been around for at least two decades and proven to be an effective vehicle for disseminating content for many businesses. If you are new to blogging, don’t be daunted — as long as you are knowledgeable and passionate about your blog topic(s), then you’ve conquered half the battle.
Once you’re ready to write a blog post, there are a number of best practices to keep in mind. Below are ten blogging fundamentals to help you produce great blog content, whether for yourself or your business.
1. Provide value
There is no dearth of online content out there. In order to get the attention of readers, you have to provide value in the form of education or entertainment. So if you’re an expert in customer experience, provide tips on improving customer experience in your specific industry or product. Or describe examples of negative customer experiences and how to fix those mistakes. Try to take a unique perspective, and ask yourself if you’ve provided the reader with one or more key takeaways. If your aim is to entertain the reader, obtain feedback from an objective party on whether your content is truly entertaining. Sometimes, what you think is funny or interesting might come across as flippant or utterly uninteresting to readers.
2. Tell a story
Even if your primary objective is to educate, deepen reader engagement through a story. Telling a story provides context and personalization, giving readers the chance to connect with the content. For example, say you’re writing a review about family organization app Cozi. You might open your article with a story about a chaotic day of missed appointments and conflicting schedules amongst your family members. This would provide context and personalization around why you decided to use and review Cozi’s app.
3. Interview an expert
Interviewing a subject-matter expert, e.g., in a Q and A format, is a great way to add value about a relevant topic on which you don’t have specific expertise. Even if you are knowledgeable about the topic, an expert interview reinforces your messaging and lends credibility to your brand because the information is coming from someone outside your company. Identify industry subject-matter experts, then approach them with the opportunity to share their views — thus promoting their expertise — on your blog. Make it as easy as possible for the expert to provide you with content by sending a set of questions on the interview topic. Give the expert the option of responding to the questions that are most relevant to what s/he wants to express. The entire interview can be accomplished through email exchanges (note: a video interview is another alternative). Finally, be sure to send the expert a final draft for review and approval.
4. Crowdsource content
Time — or rather, not enough time — is a universal challenge that afflicts all bloggers. Even the most experienced bloggers experience difficulty with generating post ideas and writing regularly enough to produce a steady stream of fresh, interesting content in a timely manner. One way to overcome this challenge is to crowdsource the content to a small group of people.
Example: you work at a technology investment firm, and you want to write a post on “Top 10 Errors to Avoid When Pitching to Venture Capitalists.” Instead of coming up with the list of errors on your own, consider asking ten colleagues or industry experts to each contribute a quote. For another example of a crowdsourced blog article, see my post “Best Practices For Social Media Customer Service by 8 Business Experts.”
5. Add images
A picture speaks a thousand engagements. Is it any wonder that various studies report that the use of images drives social media engagement? Images such as photos and graphs break up the monotony of text and ideally enhance any of the points in your article. So how do you quickly and legally obtain images, especially if you don’t have a design team? My three tips:
- Wikimedia Commons: free images, as long as you attribute the work to the specify creator.
- Online service such as Shutterstock and iStock Photo: some debate the appeal of stock photos, but I think this is much ado about nothing, provided you choose a relevant and interesting image. I am actually impressed with the inventory of high-quality photos and illustrations on Shutterstock.
- Graphs: if your post includes data or metrics, add a graph image. I create graphs in Excel, save the graphs as image files, e.g., jpeg, then upload them into my posts.
6. Include data
We’ve all heard the expression “data is king” — people love data and statistics. Additionally, including data lends more credibility to your content. The numbers you cite can be from your own research or via a third-party.
Example: Providing great customer experience can improve your business’ bottom line, as evidenced by a CEI survey in which 86% of buyers said they would pay more for a better customer experience.
7. Cite and link to your sources
Whether or not you’re referencing your own or third-party research, be sure to cite and link to your sources! Failing to do so hurts your credibility. The necessity of naming your sources applies additionally to any quotes and facts you include in your blog article.
Example: According to eMarketer, Google will end 2013 with $8.85 billion in mobile internet ad revenue.
8. Incorporate keywords
An important reason why businesses blog is to establish thought leadership and increase awareness. Sharing blog posts to social networks and other channels is a great way to promote your content, but you must also optimize the discoverability of your content through search engines. As such, when you’ve completed a draft of your article, read through it and make sure you’ve included four to ten keywords associated with your business. Caution: don’t incorporate keywords irrelevantly and don’t overstuff your article with keywords. This will come across as disingenuous to readers and additionally will negatively impact SEO.
Don’t know your business’ keywords? Here’s a simple suggestion: access Google Analytics to determine the top ten words or phrases people search to find your website, then come up with another ten words or phrases you want associated with your business. Print out this list and keep it handy when writing blog posts.
9. Write, don’t edit
Even professional writers experience difficulties with writing, so know you’re not alone when facing writer’s block or eking out the words too slowly. There are plenty of methods for overcoming writing difficulties, but I find the most effective is to get your thoughts down without stopping to edit your writing. For that first draft, just write. Don’t stop to re-write a sentence or look up references. Instead, write like nobody’s judging. Once you’ve jotted down the bulk of your ideas, then go back and edit.
10. Mind your grammar
Ready to publish your article? Time to run a fine-tooth comb through your content. Even better, ask someone else to edit your article. Be vigilant, diligent, and strict with your grammar because once your post goes live, people will judge you (and your business) for improper grammar. Even if your article contains the most unique revelations, bad writing — misspellings, homophone errors, run-on sentences, etc. — will distract the reader from the brilliant points you’re expressing.
There are plenty more blogging best practices but the above points should give you a strong foundation if you’re just getting started. To those of you who aren’t beginner bloggers: do you have additional advice to impart?