Creating Your Online Persona, Part III: Blogging Best Practices

by Brandon Giles (personal blog)

This post, the third in a series, focuses specifically on blogging best practices and tools. Part I offered general advice on managing your online persona; Part II offered tips on how to get started in blogging.
How to Keep a Reader’s Attention
Even though blogging appears to be the Wild West, thought leading bloggers explain there are some general rules of the road.  Chris Brogan released his 10 blogging tips in 2008, tips that ring just as true today.  They are:
  1. Write to be helpful.
  2. Be brief.
  3. Tell a story.
  4. Connect others, if appropriate.
  5. Share. Often.
  6. Don’t overthink it. (It’s a blog, not a dissertation.)
  7. But be thoughtful.
  8. Don’t be mean.
  9. Publish often enough to build a relationship.
  10. But be mindful of your audience’s time.
Examining this list there is clearly a balance act taking place.  However, the general premise remains that a primary reason to blog is to share your thoughts and experiences to HELP others.  Try not to focus on what you could possibly get out of it or the message will come off as fake.  If you are truly helpful to others, they will want to follow you and be more than willing to assist you in the future. 
Show your Readers Who You Are
I have been reading the weekly newsletter “Thoughts from the Frontline” by John Mauldin for over four years and it continues to be one of my favorite, must reads.  John is extremely insightful, is plugged into a great network and shares the macro-economic issues he finds thought-provoking.  However, what I find unique about what he has done with the newsletter over the years and more common in bloggerdom is share aspects of his personal life.  This makes John more vulnerable but also much more authentic.  Even though I have never met John, reading about his fishing trips with friends and extended family Thanksgiving dinners, I feel as if I know him.  Not everyone will be comfortable with such an approach but for those who are, it could be quite beneficial. 
Content is King
Most of the top bloggers either create new, interesting content or are early to cover a topic in a new way.  To get a feel for the top bloggers and why they have been successful, this article by SiteSketch101 overviews the 15 most influential bloggers of 2010.   Without unique or valuable content it will be very difficult to sustain traffic and build followers over time. 
Make a List
Create and maintain a list in MS Word or elsewhere of the topics that you think would make interesting blog material.  Then, write on the topic that you believe would be the most timely or that you have the bandwidth to write with that week’s schedule.  A tip I received from Rafael Corrales of Learnboost was to make a note on your smartphone or email it to yourself when a good idea comes to mind and then revisit it when you have free time.  Rafael said, “that allows the ideas to "slow cook" so that I usually have a bit more content when I get to sitting down and writing”.
Length
Length will depend on the topic on which you are writing.  If it will take a good amount of content to cover the more robust blogging topics on your list.  Therefore, as mentioned in my first post, break that blog into multiple pieces and publish them over a period of time.  If you are like me, you probably feel like you never have enough hours in a day to get everything accomplished.  So keep it short and make it easier on yourself.  From the regular bloggers I spoke to, they normally spend 30-45 minutes to write each post.  Then, they re-read it, check for spelling and add any links they couldn’t easily locate during the first draft.  My first blog post took me over two hours but the process is substantially easier by my fourth post.  Darren Rowse of ProBlogger did a simple study years ago and found that people generally spend 96 seconds on each blog they frequent.  A good rule of thumb I have heard is to keep posts between 500 – 1,000 words, to assist those of us with a mild form of ADD. 
Pictures
As mentioned above, I know personally that I am easily distracted.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I see a full page of text, to the extent that I give up without even starting to read.  Pictures not only hold attention longer and break up text but are great to illustrate the point you are trying to convey. 
What do to After you Hit Post
Responding to Comments
Harsh Agrawal, a Delhi, India based entrepreneur and pro blogger shares a great list of 15 tips for newbies to blogging.  The tip that I see as most critical in his list is the importance of responding to comments.  Once you hit publish, your job has not ended, it has only just begun.  Remember, a goal of blogging is to create a community where people share and are engaged.  Without responding to comments or questions about your post, you cannot achieve that engagement.  For me it’s also a fun part of blogging.  I get excited anticipating what people will say and will learn whether people are generally in agreement or think I am full of shit. 
A good tool I learned about from a Mark Suster blog contrasting commentary applications was Disqus.  Disqus is an easy to install application that links up with your blog to optimize engagement and commentary.  It emails you when new comments have been made (or someone responds to your comment), allows you to turn off comments after a certain period of time and provides faces and background behind those commenting. 
Reader-Friendly Tools
You can also install tools that make it easier for your readers to receive or share your message.  Installing Feedburner allows readers to sign up to receive your blog by RSS or email when posted, without having to check back to your site or see the post on Twitter.  Tweetmeme installation allows readers to Retweet your post. 
Tracking Stats
After you get your feet wet, if you are serious about blogging it is important to have a feel for how much traffic you receive, where it is coming from and how well engaged they are.  This will help you optimize your message and its focus and gauge how you are doing over time.  Google Analytics is a comprehensive and FREE service and the first tool to consider.  The tools give you the capability to see which platform (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) traffic is coming from, so you could decide where you might better market your blog.  In addition, you want to look at new vs existing readers to see how much new traffic you generate over time.  Lastly, you want to look at what links and parts of your webpage people visit.  This will illustrate where people believe your blog offers the most value.  This service is also a powerful tool available to small business websites, also for free.  CrazyEgg and StatCounter are two other commonly used free tracking services. 
What to Read
Blogs about Blogging
1.      ProBlogger:  Blogging best practices, tips and strategies. 
2.      Mashable: A mix between blogging and news in social and digital media.
Entrepreneurship Blogs
1.      Steve Blank:  The entrepreneurs prospective.
2.      Venture Hacks: Entrepreneur tips and insight.  Note that they don’t post often. 
Tech Blogs
1.      TechCrunch:  The site is a group edited blog that profiles startups, breaks news in the tech space and reviews new products. 
2.      Hacker News: Rafael suggested this site for those who are time constrained.  It is a community where people up-vote good posts, thereby creating a value filter on content.
3.      VentureBeat: Tech site focused on innovation.
Finance Blogs
1.      Dealbreaker: Late breaking news, rumors and happenings of the finance/banking world.
2.      Felix Salmon:  Financial blogger strong in quant.
Macro-Econ/Business Blogs
1.      The Big Picture: Quantitative and macro econ focused blog by Barry Ritholtz
2.      Calculated Risk:  Very timely economic analysis based on government and organizational data releases.
Blogs to look at for Best Practices
1.      A VC:  The blog of venture capitalist Fred Wilson
2.      Chris Dixon:  Entrepreneur and early-stage investor.  

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