This post is the 3rd in a series of posts by Hendry Lee. Check out part 1 and part 2.
Whether or not your like it, blogging is going through an evolution. Although it has only been around for less than a decade, we have seen quite a lot of impacts it brings to businesses and publishers. In the upcoming years, more radical changes will be happening, as blogs are going to be around for quite some time.
As a blogger, you have no choice but to adapt your strategy accordingly. Technology-wise, blog software is going to be much easier to use. It will also be seamlessly integrated into other tools such as micro-blogging and social networking.
However, the most prominent change for web publishers is strategic wise. While site building through unique and quality content production is still the way to go, and although link development and site promotion are still very much the same old advice, how bloggers should execute them have pretty much evolved.
This means that not only new bloggers need a whole new set of strategies to get across their messages and be noticed, but existing bloggers also will see a large shift in how they reach their audience including new ways to tap into new audience that is otherwise not available before.
Building Strong Foundation – It Starts Within
Blogging is easy, but that doesn’t make the foundational part optional. Many new bloggers overlook this part because they don’t want to waste time but in return they go in circles trying to figure out how to grow their blogs to get more traffic and revenue.
Your blog is the only thing that you have full control of. It just makes sense if you start there. Once you get a head start by getting the house in order, it feels better knowing that whatever you plan from there is likely to have more impact. Even a little boost in search engine position is worth it, if you take into account the traffic and revenue that you’re going to generate for years to come.
One thing you should be aware of though, it is easy to over-organize your house that you never move beyond those activities. That happens to all of us, even to go getters who persistently take action. It’s just natural because as human being, taking actions to grow a business often put us outside of the comfort zone.
Brand Your Design
When Kubrick was first introduced as the default WordPress theme, everyone thinks it is cool but nowadays whoever uses it — even if he modifies the header color or image — is at risk of turning off the visitors.
Boring themes make people want to click the back button of the browser. First impression counts so it is worth it that you hire a designer to create a brand new design from scratch.
If you are tight on the budget, pick a design that suits your blog best and customize it. A good theme designer is able to turn an existing design into entirely unique work.
No matter which way you choose, just remember that while design is important, it is not everything. Most successful blogs have been through a redesign or two. While optimizing your blog design is necessary, it is not that critical when you are getting started.
Just get a unique one up and move on to content production and promotion. A makeover can come later. Again, prioritize.
It is critical that you don’t skip this step though. Although there are ugly sites that work very well, it can be hard to establish credibility or show to others that you are serious about your business unless your design is professional. Moreover, bloggers will be more hesitant to link to amateurish blogs.
Optimize Your Blog Theme
When it comes to blog theme design, less sometimes means more. Know which elements you want on your site and add nothing else to your design.
If you are to sell advertising space or earn money by displaying ads, you may want to reserve space for those ads, but avoid burying your content for ads. Remember that visitors come for content, never ads.
Your goal with site design is to keep the readers on your site or blog as long as possible or take whatever action you want them to take quickly.
Steve Krug has written a superb book on web usability. It is considered a must read for whoever wants to create a web site or blog. The title is Don’t Make Me Think.
Another thing to optimize is search engine wise. While the visitors must be at the top priority, you should also optimize your blog so it benefits your rankings. Although more and more the criteria for rankings are external — things you have no or very little control about — never underestimate on-page factors too.
For long tail keywords, on-page optimization and site authority may get you to the top spot on the search engine listing almost overnight, if done right.
I’ve put up quite a lot of articles and pointed to resources about blog SEO on my site. Take a look if you find this a challenge or if you need to improve on your search engine optimization.
Tweak the Back-End (Dashboard)
WordPress is now the dominating blog software, so this post presumes that you want to use it for your site. Out of the box, WordPress is already very usable but there are a few things you should tweak to optimize your blog.
Some of the things you should pay attention to include:
- Allow post notification. This may slow down posting but you should enable the option to attempt to notify any blogs you linked to from your article. It sends pings to the corresponding blogs so the bloggers are aware about you referring to their work. This is often a great way to start a conversation, especially if you publish insightful post on your blog.
- Populate update services. WordPress has a list of blog pinging services you should have on your blog setting. By default it is only one entry, i.e. rpc.pingomatic.com, which pings other services on your behalf.
- Optimize your permalink. Permalink is the URL that identifies your blog post, category, archive, etc. Search engines are now able to index dynamic pages with simple parameters but you should take advantage of clean URLs to make your URL friendlier. Remember that if you include keyword in your URL, it may appear as bold in search engine listing, which increases click through from search users to your site.
- Publish full feed. This is enabled by default but you should make sure you have it selected. There was a debate about whether to use full or partial feed of which hands on I think the winner is full feed. If you are reader-centric, there’s no argument about it. Period. And in the long run, loyal subscribers will also benefit your traffic wise.
Keep Up to Date on Industry News
Whether you have been following the niche for some time or you are new to it, there is one thing bloggers should be good at. Getting up to date on the industry news is necessary if you want to be the go to person for your niche.
It is also very likely that you have a list of favorite blogs and news sites. Add them to your favorite RSS reader and make sure you make time to go through the list. If you haven’t made your decision about which news reader yet, you can’t go wrong with Google Reader.
Look for filters in your niche or learn how to create filters yourself. There might be blogs or web sites out there that track events and news around your industry. You will save a lot of time going through tens, if not hundreds, of RSS feeds yourself.
News sites usually allow you to filter your favorite news and grab a customized RSS feed. Learn how to do this effectively. Remember this is a one time process that may save you time repeatedly.
By using news reader, you are able to keep up with the news more efficiently compared to visiting every site. That saves you a few hours a day.
Learn How to Monitor Brands
Just like news, you also need to monitor certain brands. By brands, I mean any name that you are interested to keep track of. If your are an individual blogger, your name is your brand.
Basically what you do is to create RSS ego-search feeds. Rather than doing it regularly, you let news readers fetch the search result automatically to your news reader.
What is an ego search? Simply put, it is a search you perform to monitor for mentions of your product name, personal name, or company name.
The usage, however, is beyond egocentric though. Nowadays, it is absolutely impossible to visit each site just to see if it mentions the name you care to track. By performing ego-centric search via RSS feed, you will be able to know if someone happens to be interested in the topic you are writing, link to your blog, or mention your name somewhere in the post.
In other words, this is also important for conversations. Isn’t it one of the reasons you blog in the first place?
Plan Your Response Mechanism
Conversations may only happen if two or more parties are participating in it. With a blog, you may join conversations at any time, both as a conversation starter or to respond to other bloggers.
I’m also partially guilty for this in the past but responding to a conversation is important and may benefit bloggers. You can use it as a way to establish relationship with other bloggers but also to manage your brand and straighten the issue when — not if — one surfaces.
Nowadays, micro blogging tool such as Twitter is a quick way to credit people and quickly respond to conversations. A blog is necessary only for comprehensive response that doesn’t fit into 140 characters.
As you go, you will discover brand monitoring tools that will help you become more responsive to on-going conversations but I recommend starting with Technorati, Twitter Search and Google Alerts.
Become an Expert on Your Topic
No matter which niche you decide to blog about, it pays to become an expert on that topic. Being a thought leader certainly helps in building your audience, but if that’s too high a goal, at the very least you want to be resourceful.
That doesn’t come out easy. A bunch of articles don’t help at all unless they are really useful. Ability to reach out is also necessary. Spend some time to research on a topic that you like but rather than paying attention to the information, examine which content you really like as a consumer.
If you find that you could improve what you’ve found, you are ready to compete for the long haul.
People go online to find information. Even when they are ready to purchase something, they want to know if there is a better deal elsewhere.
Your role as a blogger should be to publish good information the visitors enjoy reading. That’s how you become the go to person, build your audience base, and finally monetize your traffic — if you aim for the long term instead of just expecting the visitors to click away and earn you advertising revenue.
It is astonishingly easy to become an expert nowadays. Go to Amazon.com and purchase 5-10 books about the topic you are blogging. Spend some time to read it. Surf web sites and blogs. Think about various issues related to the topic. Get involved to get hands-on experience. The more you immerse in the topic, the better expert you become. But reading is a great way to start.
If you have been accustomed to traditional method of web publishing, some of these may be new to you. Blog software, for many of us, is an awesome way to get content up online but bloggers should know more!
Blogging is about joining conversations and if you read Cluetrain Manifesto, markets are really conversations.
Starting conversations is one thing but being proactive in responding to the market is necessary. You want to immerse in the market instead of broadcasting your message out aggressively.
Also in this post, you’ve learned why you should brand your design and optimize your blog properly. With that, you are ready for content diversification, which is exactly the topic for the next post.
Hendry Lee helps bloggers overcome strategic and technological challenges in starting and growing their blogs. He also writes about make money blogging on his blog Blog Tips for a Better Blog – Blog Building University. While you are there, download your free eBook and subscribe to his blogging e-course where he reveals his secret about blogging and content writing!
Follow Hendry on Twitter (@hendrylee).
Good stuff and it still goes to show that CONTENT is king. I am a designer and love a good design, but once that is done, it is not a magic pill that attracts readers.
Content is the hardest thing, designs can be bought or found. That’s why most blogs never go anywhere.
Another great post, thanks! I am just curios if which one is better, WP or Blogger?
Anyway, back to work.hehe
I defiantly think to stand out you need a design that not only looks unique but is functional as well!
Very detailed and thoughtful list… My blog title might make you think, but I don’t think you can go wrong if the title is the opposite of one of Seth Godin’s best selling books. BigIsTheNewsmall.com
Excellent points! Thanks!
I planned my blog for almost a year before going online. Keywords, branding, etc. I am glad I did it — I’m reaping the rewards — but I think I was almost trapped into “analysis paralysis” that Hendry mentions.
@TechMata: In my opinion there is no better blog software. Use whatever you are familiar with. Most importantly, it allows you to achieve what you want.
If you want to start a blog, it is recommended that you purchase your own domain and host it there instead of using a sub-domain. That’s just the best practice for control, flexibility, etc.
But you are also responsible for software upgrades, etc.
Blogger allows publishing to your own domain but it is much less flexible than WP.
But for personal blog, which I presume is not your case here, then nothing beats Blogger in term of speed from sign up to publishing.
Here’s a post from 2006 but still relevant:
Good read! Fortunately, I seem to have stumbled on many of these things already, but just need to implement better.
We’ve found too many problems with pingomatic. It’s not always working and, with some services like bloglines, it doesn’t always get the notice. Is there any other service you recommend?
As a old (life) & new (topic) blogger, I seriously understand that it’s easy to start but hard to maintain. Blogging is awesome for individuals, you can easily handle everything by yourself; however, to write coherently in a long term is the real challenge for problogger. How many blogs have you seen end up dead or almost-dead?
I think this article is great and gives us lots of guidelines.
Due to budget problems theme and design of the blog becomes an headache. But as soon as the design is corrected blogging can run smoothly according to ones wish.
Awesome post :)
Due to budget problems theme and design of the blog becomes an headache. But as soon as the design is corrected blogging can run smoothly according to ones wish.
Awesome post :)
Excellent article and a good series overall. I don’t think its clear enough to say that Blogging is going through an evolution I think it is more specific and correct to say that Blogging never stops changing and adapting to new technologies, marketing strategies, interests, news and so on.
Overall good article
I use WordPress and love it, but it’s worth taking an occasional audit and make sure everything is working as it should… and all the right ‘pings’ are being sent out! It’s easy to set something up and then leave it.
Dr Mike, the list at WordPress Codex (see link above) gives you alternative. Most of them are sites that pingomatic pings on your behalf.
I recommend WordPress too, I have been using it for quite a while now and haven’t found a better replacement.
Very good tips. I’ve been keeping in mind a few of these things, but I still need to pay a bit more attention to others. Keeping up on industry news seems like it will help me a ton.
This is a nice post to read. While a lot of what you say is really relevant and helpful, my own personal reaction to it is that it all comes down to content. My design, my housekeeping is “ok” but my blog can be the most beautiful thing in the world with crap content and then, well, “so what?” ya know?
The medium is the message, the format induces reaction, but end of the day, I am searching for a rhythm, a regularity, a flow in my blog writing, while maintaining a certain quality level, not dipping into banal, boring, boasting, or even too much bolding.
And the question for someone like me, which is a question many many newbie bloggers have, is “can I really write and maintain a blog? Do I have enough to say?”
To attempt to answer that question for myself, I just wrote a post on my blog entitled “How To Write A Blog Post When You Have Nothing To Say”, which, if you’re interested to read in more detail, you can find here: http://amitsavyon.com/musings/social-media/how-to-write-a-blog-post-when-you-have-nothing-to-say/
Anyway, this is a great a post, I’ll come back here in the future. A lot of what you say in it can actually be deduced from your blog’s setup and design itself, in fact, there’s a lot more to learn just by studying how you’ve setup your blog.
Completely agree that less is more when it comes to design.
Live smart; stupidity kills
I still learn to setting theme for my web…..your advice really help me to consider types of theme….thanks
Very interesting about the ping list, something I was aware that WordPress did, but not that you could maximise it’s potential so easily.
However, upon doing a little research, it appears that pinging should also be approached with caution as excessive use can have negative consequences.
As always though, there are plugins available to help, e.g. http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/maxblogpress-ping-optimizer/
Form always follows function in a design. Having said that, its important that the design is clean and user friendly.
I wish that I had found this posting before my first blog. But one must plan, without form and plan it only leaves mathem.
Excellent article Henry.
I especially liked you’re insight into RSS Ego-Centric setups. I use plenty of RSS feeds of that nature for the large online etailer I work for, it allows my entire team to respond immediately to any claims against us, and to praise site owners and form new partnerships when they praise our work.
My Favorite method is Google Alerts, I set them up on my blog names, and on my “Niche” products so I have a daily list of blog articles posted on my topics sent directly to my email.
Anyways, great work, thanks for having Henry post this series Darren, great work as always.