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SMO Guide to Blogging Posted On: 04/06/2011 Last Updated: 04/07/2011
Social media is a large umbrella that covers many aspects of interaction within the blogosphere. One of the major areas of social media is blogging on a personal or business blog. In this guide we are going to explain how to blog effectively, what makes a great blog and give you some options to start your own blog.
If you've never had a blog before, get ready for some exciting information about what a blog can do for you. If you're already blogging, we'll have some great tips, tricks, and ideas about how to get the most potential out of your existing blog. Whatever your blogging experience, you're sure to find helpful information right here in the ArtFire blogging guide.
What is a blog?
The word "blog" is derived from a mash up of the words "web" and "log." In essence, it is kind of like an online journal. Blog writers can chose to make these journals private and control who is allowed to read them, or make them public and let anyone who finds them read. For our purposes we will only be discussing the benefits of a public blog as away to increase your reputation and put yourself in front of potential buyers.
Why would anyone read what I have to say?
This is one of the most common hurdles most people have when they are thinking about starting up a blog. The best answer I can give anyone is "If your blog gives value to people, they will read it." This is where a lot of online bloggers break the one cardinal rule of social media. If your blog is not interesting, if it doesn't give something of value to a potential reader, if it is filled with nothing but self promotion; you will not see great results from maintaining a blog. However if you take the time to become an active participant in the blogosphere and give something back to the community; you will get back more than you put in.
Tip: While often forgotten, it is imperative that you remember your audience every time you go to write a new blog entry. Actively think about the kind of information you would want to read in your blog. Never forget your audience.
How could I provide something of value to the community?
This is the real key to blogging. You need to think for a second about what you are passionate about. For many of you this probably relates in some way to your craft. If you can say "I am an expert in stained glass," then you know what you can write about. If you love to spend time tinkering in the kitchen, then you know what you can write about. If you're a skilled clarinet player, a vinyl record enthusiast, a serious astronomy hobbyist, then you have something to write about.
Take a few minutes and think about what your friends ask you questions about. What do you talk with authority and confidence about? If you can't think of anything right away, just think about what kinds of questions your friends always ask you. If your friends and family always turn to you for help with their fashion troubles, or their photography mishaps, or their recent foray into crochet; you've found a good topic. Once you've realized the things you're confident talking about, all you'll need to do is figure out which one(s) you'd enjoy writing, researching, and blogging about and follow along!
What makes a great blog?
This is a question that gets asked a lot, and one which unfortunately has no easy answers. But there are some general tips that seem to work in almost every situation. What follows are the top 8 things you should remember when writing a blog.
- Be genuine - One thing that will make your blogging life miserable is if you try to be someone or something that you're not. If you absolutely love coffee, but you think you'll get more readers if you write about fashion, this will completely show through in your writing. It is always best to write about something you love, and enjoy doing it. If you write about something you think others will love, but you don't enjoy, any potential readers will pick up on this immediately. If you are passionate about what you write, you readers will be able to tell.
- Be real - One of the great aspects of blogging is that you can be yourself. You can let people know who is writing the blog. Adding a personal touch to your blogging will let people know that there is a real person behind the blog, not just some unknown anonymous writer. Even if this just means filling out your biography well, it gives a reader a way to connect with the blog.
- Have a Goal - If you can't figure out what your blog entry is trying to do, how can your readers? Goals can be as simple as "Informing my audience" or being "thought provoking." If you want to write a call to action, think about how you need to write your blog to get every reader inspired to meet that call. Always realize and remember your goal.
- Use Pictures - One common theme you will find in almost every popular blog is that they use pictures. Even the best articles in a newspaper usually have a picture to go along with it. The great part is that in a digital world you can add pictures to your blog as virtually no cost. Just using the digital camera you use to take pictures of your products you can take fun and exciting pictures to compliment your blog.
- Keep it fresh - one of the most important things to remember is to keep your blog updated regularly and with new, fun content. Remember not to get so zeroed in on the main focus of your blog that you forget to have fun. If you love knitting, and your blog is primarily about knitting, and you find a video online that isn't really about knitting but you really enjoyed it; share it with your readers. Your already attracting people with similar interests so don't be afraid to throw in some offbeat content if you really enjoyed it because chances are your readers will enjoy it too.
- Keep it Brief - This one can be a balancing act. If you write too little, you probably haven't given your readers enough content and context. If you are too long winded than most readers will not even finish reading your post. The best plan is to write out everything you want to say in the post, and then condense that down into about three paragraphs or somewhere around 500 words.
- Preview your post - As simple as it sounds there are so many people who get into a bad habit of submitting their post right away and walking away. Use the preview tool to see how your post is going to look. Are there any misspelling/typos/homonyms that weren't caught the first time? Do all of your links work? An extra five minutes can save you from having to edit a post after hundreds of people have viewed a mistake-ridden post.
- Engage your readers - There are several simple things you can do to help engage your readers in your posts. You can leave cliffhangers with a "Part 2coming soon" style of post. You can give your readers some kind of call to action "Sign this petition." You can just ask them a question they can respond to in your comments, "Have you had any great volunteer experiences lately?" Use any way you can to get your readers interested and engaged in your writing.
Where should/can I blog at?
Type "free blog" into a search engine and you'll be met with millions of returns. However there are a few services we feel stand above rest. The real key is deciding whether to let a blog server, such as BlogSpot, host your blog, or whether you'd like to export your blog to your own domain. There are several advantages to owning your own .com or domain name, however if you would rather not pay the money it is perfectly acceptable to let your blog be hosted on one of the main blog servers. Here are my top three recommended free blog hosting sites.
Blogger from Google is one of the most popular blogging services out there. It offers one of the most user friendly and low maintenance blogging services available. You will be able to select your blog's domain that will become www.(yourchoice).blogspot.com. This is an ideal choice for someone who is just getting into blogging. If you'd like a little bit more control, or better feedback/traffic reporting, you might look at the next one as well. Here's just a few examples of what a great blog at blogger can look like.
http://thesartorialist.blogspot.com - one of the top blogs on the Internet. An influential "design" blog.
http://mama-craft.blogspot.com - Just a nice simple blog maintained by the author as her online journal about her daily life.
http://www.darkroastedblend.com- an example of a "blogger powered" blog. This blog is hosted on its own domain but uses the blogger service. Hosting on your own domain can give you increased control, but that comes at a price.
WordPress is probably the top overall blog service on the Internet. They provide a very good free blog, as well as several upgrades to more premium services (like no ads, video hosting, and increased storage.) Their blogging platform is the top used platform among the highest ranked blogs on the net. There is a step up in the "ease of use" factor from Blogger, but there is also a big step up in customization and control. Here are a few examples of what WordPress blogs can look like:
http://www.larissameek.com - Fun video content and an easy to navigate blog.
http://fonetik.wordpress.com/2009/06/26/sleeves - A really inviting clean looking blog.
http://bittersweetblog.wordpress.com - Another nice clean blog, well laid out with very nice pictures.
TypePad rounds out the top three recommended services and is also the only paid service we'll recommend here. TypePad is used by 14 of the top 100 blogs, and offers one of the best blogging platforms available. TypPad is very easy to use and offers thousands of designs to help make your blog look as unique as you. The basic blog costs 4.95 per month. One of the main selling points of the type pad blogging service is the technical support that becomes available when your paying a monthly fee, making type pad blogs one of the top picks among bloggers.
http://istanbultea.typepad.com/largefellaonabike - an inspiring story and an engaging blog.
http://corkdork.typepad.com/corkdork - another nicely set up TypePad blog
What can I do to get my blog seen?
There are books thick enough to stop a bullet written on this topic. Some of the basic things you can do right away are submitting your blog to Technorati and other blog indexing services. This isn't quite as important as it once was, but old habits die hard. Additionally offering assessable RSS feeds to your readers will help to increase readership.
Another important element of a good blog is making sure it is optimized for search engine traffic. Now we start to run into a few problems when we talk about trying to optimize our handmade stores blog. It is unlikely that your blog will ever be able to compete for the "big" keywords, rather than seeing this as a negative, this gives you the opportunity to attack very targeted keywords and demographics where you efforts will have the best return. If you're writing a blog that has a lot to do with your cold-process handmade soap business, you might be able to work that into the title so people searching that term have a chance at finding your blog. A lot of the same best practices we went over during SEO week at ArtFire will carry over to your blog.
Finally, one of the best ways to get more readers and viewers to your blog is to utilize the other social media mediums you have available. If you've just updated your blog, let your Twitter followers know, post it in the forums you are a member of, tell your Facebook friends, get the word out there that new and interesting content can be found at your blog. As people get to know you and your work they will be excited every time the see there is a new post!
Trick: Even a basic blog offers a lot of customization when it comes to simple widgets. Don't forget to add multiple, easy ways for people to let their own social communities know about your blog. Things like a "Digg This" button, an "I like" stumble upon button, and more are all great ways to help your readers spread the word about your blog.
Don't forget to add easy RSS style subscribe buttons to your blog. RSS readers let people stay up to date on their favorite updating websites (like your blog), so make sure you add a widget somewhere that lets people subscribe to your feed with ease!
This concludes the more technical and analytical portion of our blogging guide. What follows below is a more creative investigation on how to make a blog people want to read. It can be noted at this point that Social Media is not a hard science, different things work for different people, however what follows below are general insights into what seems to separate the great blogs from the average. Many of these insights are truths we find again and again as we investigate what really drives phenomenal social media.
Let me start this portion of the guide off with a story. Perhaps a little out of date with TiVo and DVR's in every other household, but a story everyone can relate to.
It's Tuesday night, your favorite prime-time show is on. You sit down to watch, enjoying the twists and turns, the laughs, the drama; this is the greatest show on television. Every once in a while the show goes to commercials, but they just cut off at a really intense moment so you can't wait for the show to pick back up. The show finishes and you're already excited about next week's installment.
Now how many of you would have sat down to watch this show if you got to see one minute of the show interspersed between 8 to 10 minutes of commercials, or worse yet, how many of you would sit down and watch an hour straight of commercials (no these aren't super bowl commercials, those cross over into the "content" category). The reason many of you are willing to sit though the commercials is because you want to get back to the real content of the show, and heck they're targeted at that specific shows demographics, that one commercial about the laundry soap reminded you that you need to pick more up at the store tomorrow.
This mix of content and advertising is found in all kinds of advertising mediums. Newspapers mix advertisements in with their news articles, magazines do the same thing. Movies theaters show previews and advertisements, radio stations have commercials. The reason we listen, and read these advertisements is because we want the content that goes along with them.
As a blog author you will have the opportunity to be both the content provider and the advertiser, and this is where so many blogs run into real trouble. If your using your blog for the exclusive purpose of posting the new item you just listed without providing any content or entertainment, you're probably going to have as many avid readers as people who would happily sit down and watch an hour straight of commercials.
There are multiple strategies for giving people the kind of content that will keep them coming back for more, and more than one angle can be used in the same blog. Changing up the content delivery methods and use of your blog can help keep things fresh and readers interested. Certain formats of content delivery that seem to work well are things like:
- Narratives that tell a story while giving the reader information and content. If you remember back to your schooling days you probably remember how boring textbooks can be. Even if the information is great, if it doesn't come packaged in a way that users enjoy reading it you're not going to be getting people excited and engaged as you could.
- Top 10 lists are a tried-and-true method of getting people interested. You can reverse the order and get people more and more excited as they read their way to number 1, or you can do an opposite angle approach and write about 10 things you should never do. Either way numbered lists are a great way of showing people where the interesting information is going to be.
- On that same note, bulleted lists also format content in such a way that people know where to find the good stuff. If your information is hidden in huge blocks of text it becomes a game of â€œfind what I care aboutâ€ which many readers aren't going to be willing to play.
On top of all this, one of the best ways to become an active member in the blogosphere is to read and comment on other peoples' blogs. If you read a blog post you find really helpful, let the author know. If someone asks a question you think one of your blog posts answers well, don't be afraid to let them know where to go. The big word from social media is not media. Media has been around for a long time. The defining aspect of this movement is the social nature within which the media is created. By interacting and discussing, by helping and learning, by talking and listening, social media has become one of the most stand-out web movements ever.
Thanks for reading our Blogging Tips Guide. We'd love to hear any feedback you have. You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave comments in the forums. Additionally if you have any other tips you'd like to give out to your fellow artisans we would love that too! It just wouldn't be social media if we didn't all get involved, excited and engaged.