Blogging can be hard. Whether you're a seasoned blogger or just getting started, sitting down in front of a blank screen and trying to fill it with engaging content which expresses your points and conclusions can sometimes be downright terrifying.
In this post, I'm going to share some best practices to make the process a little easier that I've picked up over a 20-year career as a Community Manager and then Director of Community in a group of successful U.S. companies. Back then, my written ponderings and pontifications weren't referred to as blogs, but looking back and applying more modern nomenclature, that's exactly what they were.
Step number one: Make time to write
I know this one may seem self-evident, but it's an important enough point for me to want to give it personal attention.
Make time to write.
That may sound trite, but at the end of the day, having a fairly quiet environment helps you focus on the job at hand, which is communicating with your readers.
Think of it this way. When you're having a meeting, you retire to someplace relatively quiet and distraction free to carry on your conversation. It's important you give your blogging time the same level of courtesy you would give a face-to-face meeting. Many of the same rules of communication apply, even if they may not appear to do so on the surface.
Secondly, don't underestimate the time it takes to churn out a quality blog post. There are many factors that affect this, but unless it's just a quick status update (between 150-300 words), 2 to 3 hours per post is my personal average for a blog between 1500 and 2000 words. This seems to be about average across the industry.
I try to stick to the time distribution in the above chart. Research generally tends to be just over a half-hour, I spend on average an hour writing and the rest is divided up between editing, images, SEO and trying to noodle out a catchy and attractive headline.
These are not hard-fast numbers, but they will give you a rough idea of how you should be spending that previously-mentioned quiet time.
Amplify that time
Now that you've made some time to write, let's focus on making your efforts as efficient as possible.
Google as a research tool may be anathema in academic circles, but as a tool for researching your blog topic, it's hard to beat. Bing is making great progress as a research tool, but there are some features in Google search that are indispensable to today's blogger.
Keeping it fresh
If you haven't already, get acquainted with Google's search tools. The first one you'll want to tweak for any blog research is the 'Time' tool. This lets you set how far back in time you'd like to search. Unless you're specifically writing about something from a while ago, it's always best to be referencing fresh content.
Go ahead and search for your keywords or phrase, then underneath the main search bar, hit the link for 'Tools' and then 'Time'. This will give you a dropdown where you can choose how far back you'd like to search. As another general rule, I tend to not search any further back than 1 year.
Keeping it local
And it's also always a good idea to make sure you're searching in the correct country. If I have one complaint about Google, it is it's U.S. centric approach to searching.To ensure UK results, double-check that you're loading https://google.co.uk and not https://google.com. Secondly, use the 'Country' dropdown to filter out sites that aren't based in the UK.
With a little practice using these tools, you'll improve the quality of your search results, which has the knock-on effect of saving you valuable time during your research phase.
I always tended to treat the concept of distraction-free writing with a degree of contempt until I actually bit the bullet and tried it.Now I can't imagine writing any other way.
Distraction-free writing means the removal of the command clutter in and around the document you're working on as well as any other distractions on your computer and/or computer screen. Most word processing programs now have a 'focus' or 'distraction-free' mode built in, but in this post, we'll be focusing on MS Word 365 and Google docs.
In Word 365, the keyboard shortcut 'CTRL+SHIFT+F1' acts as a toggle between focus mode and your normal Word layout. If this isn't working for you, simply choose 'View' in the toolbar, untick Rulers, Gridlines and Navigation Pane in the 'Show' ribbon section, then click the little window icon in the upper right-hand corner of the screen and choose 'Auto-hide Ribbon'.
This will maximise your workspace, yet still give you access to the tools you need. Moving your cursor to the top of the screen will reveal the ribbon.
In Google Docs, there's two parts to this, since it runs in your web browser.Most browsers have a full screen mode, so it's not that difficult to set up, it just takes an extra step.Here's a fairly recent blog post I came across while researching this post on how to run your web browser in full screen mode.
Once you've got that figured out, load your blog post Google Doc, hit 'View' in the toolbar, then select both the bottom options: Compact controls and Full screen.
If you haven't already, fire up full screen mode on your browser, et voila!
Researching your topic
I've already discussed how to better your Google searches, but also important to have a good understanding of what you should be researching and the best places to be looking for your data. You may know your topic inside and out, but it's likely you'll need at least some data to support your ideas or conclusions. In addition, it demonstrates that others share your knowledge and opinions, which is important in establishing credibility with your readers.
Having a quote or some form of official statistic in your post is another way to lend credibility to your writing. If you're looking for any type of academic article or research statistic on a specific issue, the try out Google Scholar. The ONS is also great for pretty much any kind of official UK statistic.
Before you start, spending a few minutes thinking about what data might support your topic. If you're writing about fashion, would financial data or a quote detailing how well the fashion industry is doing support your topic? Similarly, a blog post about the latest construction method might be made better with regional data on the problem it's purporting to solve.
But don't be afraid to lighten it up a bit either.Not all blogs are going to be technical. Always try to write to your audience and don't be afraid to throw in less official references from social media as well if it fits for your audience and message.
Our old friend & nemesis, the Outline
There's a million-and one reasons why it's a good idea to start each post with an outline, even a rough one. Going into all of them here is way beyond the scope of this post. I do however want to give you some tips on how to make the outline process a bit less painful.
Both Google Docs and Word 365 have pretty good outline views. In Google Docs, click 'Tools' and then 'Document outline'.This will open the outline view in the left-hand sidebar. In Word 365 hit 'View' in the toolbar and then 'Outline' in the Views ribbon section.
A picture is worth a thousand words
I can't stress this one enough. A great blog post can be totally ruined by bad imagery. Like it or not, it's the first thing readers see when they load your post and their overall opinion of you is often formed during that quick, initial glance.
Try to lead your post with an engaging photo which will speak to your audience instead of that graph you spent hours making in Excel. The graph may indeed be awesome, but it belongs inside your post as supporting data.
Always use your own photos if you can, but if you must use stock imagery make sure it's modern and engaging. You can also use an image editor to alter the colours, crop it or turn a few stock imaged into a compelling collage.
Have a quick look around at others who are blogging about related topics. Do a quick news search on related topics to get a feel for what folks are expecting to see.
If you've already got supporting imagery, great.If not, I would highly recommend finding a good stock photo site to purchase some good post collaterals. I currently use 123rf.com, but there are a ton of them out there and while there has been some consolidation in the market, browse around because most of them have slightly different subscription and purchasing terms, so find the one that's right for you.
You can also find a ton of free images out there which you can use without fear of getting sued. Both Google Images and Flikr have search filters which will show you only images that the content owner has labelled for reuse.
And finally, it is worth investing in a good graphics editor. If you can swing it, the Adobe Creative Suite is pretty much the de facto standard, but the learning curve can be steep. Since it is now subscription based however, the capital expenditure to get into the suite is fairly low, so it would definitely be my first recommendation.
Alternatively, there's a ton of free online graphics editors out there. I can't speak intelligently about these however, so will have to leave that research to you. Photor seems OK, but haven't tested it extensively.
Again, SEO as a topic is too huge to cover here, but there are some things that you can do to make your life a little easier. I'm going to diverge from the pack a bit here, because most SEO specialists will tell you to choose your keywords first and then incorporate them into your copy. For some reason, I'm just the opposite. Don't know whether that's right or wrong, but it seems to work for me. I have an idea of what my keywords are before I start, sure, but I like to write my copy then have a read through and see what words I've used naturally that are related to my topic.
In my opinion, this gives my writing a more natural feel as opposed to copy that tries to bend itself around pre-defined words or phrases.
Irrespective of when you choose your keywords, the most important thing you can do is make sure that they're relevant to your topic and are things that your audience might search for if they were looking for information on your topic.
After I've chosen my keywords, then during the edit phase I sprinkle them in throughout the original text so that they fit the context of what I'm trying to say a bit better and don't adversely affect the flow.
Putting it all together
Blogging can be one of the best things you can do for your company or organisation. It helps build brand loyalty and when done right, creates a bond between you and your reader.
It doesn't have to be a chore though. Plan ahead, make the time, minimise distractions and you'll be blogging like a champ in no time!