As 2010 comes to an end, I’ve been reviewing the work I’ve done for my SEO clients, and putting together my strategy for the next few months, and in doing so I’ve realized that quite a few of them have the potential to benefit from some increased blogging activities. After all, blogs are a great way to reach new audiences, share information, build relationships, and increase your authority in your industry. So what are the “rules” of blogging, and how do you know where to start? To help my clients (and myself) tackle these questions before diving in, I created the following 9-point checklist of best practices for blogging in 2011:
- Set your goals. As I mentioned before, blogs are a great way to reach your audience, and give them up-to-date information about your industry, company, and even employees (because after all, they are the most important part of your business!). However, which of these are important to YOU? What do YOU want to accomplish from your blog? Setting your goals up front will save you many headaches later on, because everyone involved will know what you are trying to do with each post. Based on your goal(s), identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) that you want to monitor, and make sure you have accurate tracking from the beginning.
- Be consistent! Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times before – be consistent in your posting. However, this truly is important. If you sporadically post, how will your readers know when to check back? If you aren’t consistent you won’t create a solid reader base – no matter how great your articles are.
- Be unique. When choosing your topic, keeping it fresh will also (more than likely) keep it interesting. Would you want to read a blog post about the same exact thing that 20 other industry blogs have covered….all this month? Nope. And neither would your audience. And if you find yourself in a position where you do have to cover the same topic as everyone else – find a new angle. Play devils advocate, and stir up some conversation – what better way is there to not only get people to read your post, but get them to interact with you? (Disclaimer – please do this with moderation, I’m not recommending you start a huge controversy!)
- Length matters. Make sure your word count is exactly….well, exactly what you need it to be. There are multiple posts from respectable blogs out there that give a standard of anywhere from 250-600 (this number varies by industry). But instead of being focused on an exact length, it should be much more important that your posts are thorough and of high quality. If you are reaching to hit a minimum, you’ll more than likely add fluff words, and let’s face it – that’s really just wasting the valuable time of your readers.
- Make your English teacher proud. You don’t want people asking “who learned her to spoke?” so keep your grammar, spelling and punctuation in check. We have all been in a place where you are up against a deadline, and you have to crank out a post. Though you may typically have plenty of time to review your article before posting, it’s always a good idea to get a fresh pair of eyes on it first. Set up a final review system with your team, and share the responsibility of reviewing each post.
- Easy reading, please! Blog readers decide in the first minute if they are going to continue reading or not, so you need to format your blog post in a way that is easy to skim, and also easy to read. Keep your thoughts in a well-organized layout, being sure to use headlines, paragraphs and bullets.
- Comments welcome! I know it’s hard to believe, but not everyone will agree with you on everything – and that’s ok! But before you begin blogging, you need to have a clearly defined plan for handling comments. First and foremost, you need to decide if you will allow them. If you decide to let them in, what guidelines will your internal team need to follow before approving them? And how will you handle less than positive comments? Having a plan of action in place BEFORE a negative comment happens will help your team be sure to respond in a timely manner.
- Be social. Do you have an RSS feed set up? Can people request to be on your email list? Do you tweet about your latest and greatest posts? Can people like you on Facebook? You better hope so! It’s important to let your readers have options when they share your content, as they will more than likely all have a different favorite. Keep this in mind when writing too; a few tweetable phrases here and there never hurt anyone!
- Be mindful of SEO. Yes, I saved this for last for a reason. A blog is a perfect way to enhance your SEO efforts. You are creating fresh, unique, highly relevant content, so why would you miss the opportunity to optimize each article? Before posting, be sure you create a catchy title that contains your core/target keyword, and an optimized meta description under 160 characters long. You should also be sure to crosslink throughout the post, using optimized anchor text for each. And if you include images, be sure to give them good alt tags.
Solution: Create a calendar. There are a TON of ways to create a calendar (I like to use excel), you just need to make sure it’s functional for everyone involved. A good rule of thumb is to create a calendar one month in advance, and have it finalized about a week before the current month is over. That way your team can review the schedule, and let you know if there are any conflicts well in advance.
If you split the blog writing with your client or another team, don’t be afraid to use some color on the calendar so everyone knows what they are responsible for.
On the other hand, each post should answer the questions of your readers. A great way to keep an eye on this is to review the comments. If you find that there are quite a few questions coming through asking for clarification or additional information, you should really try to challenge yourself to be more thorough in their research and writing. Before writing each post, write out a list of the questions you originally had, and be sure to answer them. You can also review other posts on the topic, and see what those comments were.
One of the great benefits of blogging is increased link building, which makes sense. Each piece of content you create has the chance of being linked to, which in turn gives you more credibility with the search engines, and increases your ranking. In fact, Hubspot did a study about blogging for small businesses which showed the following pretty cool stats:
Whether you are planning on starting a blog in the coming year, or you want to dust the cobwebs off the one you forgot about long ago, I hope these 9 steps were a good recap for you of past posts of tips for bloggers new and old, and gets you off to a good start. We’re always looking for ways to stay organized and efficient, so please send along any other suggestions you have!