The first thing to look at regarding content is the quality of your writing itself. Good writing takes practice. The best way to learn is to study the work of other good writers and bloggers, and by doing so, develop an ear for a good sentence. However, there are guidelines to bear in mind that apply specifically to blogs, and we'll look at some of these here.
Ask any newspaper sub-editor and he or she will tell you that writing good headlines is an art to be mastered. This is equally true for blogs. Your headlines are the post titles and it's very important to get them right.
Your headlines should be concise and to the point. You should try to convey the essence of the post in its title. Remember that blogs are often consumed quickly, and readers will use your post titles to decide if they want to carry on reading. People tend to scan through blogs, so the titles play a big part in helping them pick which posts they might be interested in.
Your post titles also have a part to play in search engine optimization. Many search engines will use them to index your posts.
As more and more people are using RSS feeds to subscribe to blogs it becomes even more important to make your post titles as descriptive and informative as possible. Many RSS readers and aggregators only display the post title, so it's essential that you convey as much information as possible whilst keeping it short and snappy. For example, The World's Best Salsa Recipe is a better post title than, A new recipe.
Length of Posts
Try to keep your posts manageable in terms of their word count. It's difficult to be prescriptive about post lengths. There's no one size fits all rule in blogging. You need to gauge the length of your posts based on your subject matter and target audience. There may be an element of experimentation to see how posts of different lengths are received by your readership. As with headlines, bear in mind that most people tend to read blogs fairly quickly and they may be put off by an overly long post. WordPress 2.6 includes a useful word count feature:
An important factor in controlling the length of your posts is your writing skills. You will find that as you improve as a writer, you will be able to get your points across using fewer words. Good writing is all about making your point as quickly and concisely as possible. Inexperienced writers often feel the urge to embellish their sentences and use long, complicated phrases. This is usually unnecessary and when you read back that long sentence, you might see a few words that can be cut.
Editing your posts is an important process. At the very least you should always proofread them before clicking the Publish button. Better still; try to get into the habit of actively editing everything you write. If you know someone who is willing to act as an editor for you, that's great. It's always useful to get some feedback on your writing.
If, after re-reading and editing your post, it still seems very long, it might be a good idea to split the post in two and publish the second installment a few days later.
Again, there are no rules set in stone about how frequently you should post. You will probably know from your own experience of other blogs that this varies tremendously from blogger to blogger. Some bloggers post several times a day and others just once a week or less.
Figuring out the correct frequency of your posts is likely to take some trial and error. It will depend on your subject matter and how much you have to say about it. The length of your posts may also have a bearing on this. If you like to write short posts that make just one main point, you may find yourself posting quite regularly. Or, your may prefer to save up your thoughts and get them down in one longer post.
As a general rule of thumb, try to post at least once per week. Any less than this and there is a danger your readers will lose interest in your blog. However, it's extremely important not to post just for the sake of it. This is likely to annoy readers and they may very well delete your feed from their news reader. As with many issues in blogging, post frequency is a personal thing. You should aim to strike a balance between posting once in a blue moon and subjecting your readers to 'verbal diarrhea'.
Almost as important as getting the post frequency right is fine-tuning the timing of your posts, that is, the time you publish them. Once again, you can achieve this by knowing your target audience. Who are they, and when are they most likely to sit down in front of their computers and read your blog? If most of your readers are office workers, then it makes sense to have your new posts ready for them when they switch on their workstations in the morning. Maybe your blog is aimed at stay-at-home moms, in which case a good time to post might be mid-morning when the kids have been dropped off at school, the supermarket run is over, and the first round of chores are done. If you blog about gigs, bars, and nightclubs in your local area, the readers may well include twenty-something professionals who access your blog on their iPhones whilst riding the subway home—a good time to post for them might be late afternoon.
Links to Other Blogs
Links to other bloggers and websites are an important part of your content. Not only are they great for your blog's search engine findability, they also help to establish your place in the blogosphere. Blogging is all about linking to others and the resulting 'conversations'.
Try to avoid over-using popular links that appear all over the Web, and instead introduce your readers to new websites and blogs that they may not have heard of. Admittedly, this is difficult nowadays with so many bloggers linking to each other's posts, but the more original you can be, the better. This may take quite a bit of research and trawling through the lower-ranked pages on search engines and indices, but it could be time well spent if your readers come to appreciate you as a source of new content beyond your own blog. Try to focus on finding blogs in your niche or key topic areas.
Establishing Your Tone and Voice
Tone and voice are two concepts that professional writers are constantly aware of and are attempting to improve. An in-depth discussion isn't necessary here, but it's worth being aware of them. The concept of 'tone' can seem rather esoteric to the non-professional writer but as you write more and more, it's something you will become increasingly aware of.
For our purposes, we could say the 'tone' of a blog post is all about the way it feels or the way the blogger has pitched it. Some posts may seem very informal; others may be straight-laced, or appear overly complex and technical. Some may seem quite simplistic, while others come across as advanced material. These are all matters of tone. It can be quite subtle, but as far as most bloggers are concerned, it's usually a matter of formal or informal. How you pitch your writing boils down to understanding your target audience. Will they appreciate informal, first-person prose or should you keep it strictly third person, with no slang or casual language? On blogs, a conversational tone is often the most appropriate.
With regards to 'voice', this is what makes your writing distinctly yours. Writers who develop a distinct voice become instantly recognizable to readers who know them. It takes a lot of practice to develop and is not something you can consciously aim for; it just happens as you gain more experience. The only thing you can do to help it along is step back from your writing and ask yourself if any of your habits stand in the way of clarity.
While you read back your blog posts imagine yourself as one of your target readers and consider whether they would appreciate the language and style you've used. Employing tone and voice well is all about getting inside their heads and producing content they can relate to.
Developing a distinctive voice can also be an important aspect of your company's brand identity. Your marketing department may already have brand guidelines, which allude to the tone and voice that should be used while producing written communications. Or you may wish to develop guidelines (such as this) yourself as a way of focusing your use of tone and voice.
The Structure of a Post
This may not apply to very short posts that don't go further than a couple of brief paragraphs, but for anything longer, it's worth thinking about a structure. The classic form is 'beginning, middle, and end'. Consider what your main point or argument is, and get it down in the first paragraph. In the middle section expand on it and back it up with secondary arguments. At the end reinforce it, and leave no doubt in the reader's mind what it is you've been trying to say.
As we've already mentioned, blogs are often read quickly or even just scanned through. Using this kind of structure, which most people are sub-consciously aware of, can help them extract your main points quickly and easily.
A Note about Keywords
It's worth noting here that your writing has a big impact on search engine findability. This is what adds an extra dimension to writing for the Web. As well as all the usual considerations of style, tone, content, and so on, you also need to optimize your content for the search engines. This largely comes down to identifying your keywords and ensuring they're used with the right frequency. In the meantime, hold this thought.
End with a Question
You may have already applied the 'beginning, middle, and end' structure, but that's not necessarily the best place to end a post. Many bloggers finish with a question. This is a great way of soliciting comments. If it's an interesting or provocative question, it may persuade those readers who only scanned quickly through your post to go back and digest it in more detail, so that they can give an answer to your question and join the debate.
A Quick Check List
Based on the writing tips we've looked at, there are a few common themes that keep popping up. This check list will help you to keep them in mind:
- Know your target audience and try to get inside their heads.
- Ask yourself if each post is truly relevant to your audience.
- Are you posting frequently enough (or too frequently)?
- Are your posts too long?
- Make sure you include plenty of links to other blogs and websites (but try to restrict this to 100 outgoing links per page, for SEO reasons).
- Consider whether your tone and voice are appropriate for your target audience and how they could apply to your brand identity.
- Have you applied a structure to your post?
- Could you add a question at the end of your post?
Remember that the art of blog writing requires plenty of practice, but the points we have covered should help to get you on your way. The key is to constantly analyze your writing and ask yourself how it can be improved.
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