How To Structure A Great Blog Post

How To Structure A Great Blog Post

How To Structure A Great Blog Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even if you’re a great writer, you may struggle now and then with how to structure a blog post to make sure your key points are getting across.  In nearly seven years blogging and helping clients with blogs, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way which may help you, whether you’re just starting a blog or refreshing one you’ve been writing for a while.

Keep it short – or only as long as it needs to be

Why struggle with a long post if a shorter post will work?  While some business blog posts average in the 750-1,000 word range, many are quite successful at 300-500 words.  If you can explain what you want to explain in fewer words, do so, and your reader will get to the point more quickly.

Keep posts focused on one primary topic

If you find yourself starting to describe a second or third topic, step back and determine whether you can break the post into two or more posts.  A focused post will have a greater chance of getting read all the way through, so your key content will more likely get noticed.

Use headers, bullets, or other organizing tools to make important content stand out

Posts are easier to read if they have markers to break up the content and help draw the eye to important parts.  Using headers will help to highlight the key points you’re making (as in this post), as well as help search engines to find keywords within your post (if your headers include keywords).  Bullets can be used to similar effect – anything you put into a bullet will be more easily readable and noticed even if someone is skimming through the post.

Include an image near the top of the post

Sonia Simone from Copyblogger says, “Images are steroids for your headline.”  Using a great image will help draw readers in and focus on your content.  Look for images which are either literal – directly related to your content, or evocative of your content with a concept or theme.

Put time into your title – then think about it some more

As the old journalism adage goes, you should put 50% of your time into writing the article and 50% into the headline.  The same holds true for blog posts.  If you get the right title it will draw your reader in and help them to focus on your content – but the title has to match the content.  It can’t be too broad, too punny, or too blah. Additionally, a keyword-rich, focused title will help with search optimization.

How do you keep blog posts focused and help your readers quickly get to your most valuable content? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at the Creative Concepts Blog, where I’m a regular contributor on social media topics.

blog commenting

The Lost Art of Blog Commenting

blog commenting

It’s likely you’ve read a lot of passionate blog posts about the importance of an effective Facebook page, active Twitter account, and optimized profile on LinkedIn as well as why it’s essential to have a corporate blog. I don’t disagree at all. Each of these is a critical component to your social media strategy, but one piece that’s often overlooked is commenting on other blogs.

Leaving comments on blogs is like the piece that belongs right in the middle of your puzzle; without it, you’ll have a hole in the middle of the bigger picture. If you’re wondering why your social efforts aren’t gaining enough momentum, consider some of the following reasons for incorporating commenting into your strategy.

Why You Should Comment on Blogs

Search Engine Optimization

Popular search engines factor in the number of inbound links to your site. Most blog comment forms include a ‘website’ or ‘blog’ field. Each time you leave a comment, you’re creating an additional inbound link. If you leave only three comments each day (weekdays only), that’s an additional 60 inbound links to your site each month. While the exact algorithm search engines use to determine the top spot in search results remains a closely guarded secret, it’s fair enough to say, ‘the more inbound links the better.’

Reaching New Communities

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party and your friend is talking to a group of really sharp people. You walk over, join in the conversation and start meeting new people. By the end of the party, you’ve exchanged business cards with several other members of the group. In a similar way, blog commenting gives you exposure to new people and communities. In addition to helping your SEO, each website link gives readers a way to get in touch with and find out more about your brand.

Reputation Management

Businesses and brands can also use blog commenting as a customer service tool to help manage their reputation or simply thank loyal customers. If you received a complaint or a compliment via email, wouldn’t you respond in some way? Being mentioned on another blog, in a positive or negative manner, should be addressed too.

Part Of the Community

The three previous points listed here are solid reasons to incorporate blog commenting into your social media strategy. But the most important, and most overlooked, reason is to become part of a larger community. Whether it’s mom bloggers, tech-savvy blogs, or other topics of interest to you and your business, commenting helps establish your brand as part of that community. It shows you’re listening to what the community has to say, and that you really do care.

More inbound links, better customer service, more exposure and becoming part of a community bring together all of the pieces of your social media puzzle. Of all of your social efforts, it takes the least amount of time, and it can actually be fun and interesting.

Blog Commenting Etiquette

To help ensure your comments will have the most impact, follow these simple guidelines:

DO

Make sure you’re logged in to your own company’s account.

Most blogs use a specific system for comments, such as Gravatar, Open ID and Disqus. If your own blog is using one of these systems, make sure you’re already logged in with your company’s profile first. If your brand doesn’t have one on that system, create one separate from your personal profile. ‘FoxyFlyDJLady’might get attention, but not the kind you want.

Add value to the conversation.

If you’ve got something helpful to say, by all means, say it. Steer away from leaving ‘yeah, me too’ type of comments. Even if you do agree and are only trying to show your support for the author, these type of comments are a common tactic for link-droppers (people only commenting for the purposes of getting a link back to their own site). You don’t want to be confused for one of them.

Monitor for mentions of your brand and respond appropriately.

Use a simple tool such as Social Mention to look for relevant mentions of your brand. After all, not many bloggers are going to email you to say they’re talking about you. If you find a positive mention, or if the blogger is just trying your product for the first time, tell them thank you, invite them to your community and offer help if they need it.

DON’T

Argue with a negative review.

You’re not going to please everyone, all of the time. Even if the blogger is completely wrong, using your product incorrectly or simply unfair, arguing will not make the situation any better. Instead, show professionalism and courtesy. Leave a simple comment thanking the blogger for taking the time to review your product, offer your apologies that it didn’t work out for her and offer to help answer any questions she or her readers might have.

Be overly self-promoting.

Who enjoys a conversation with someone constantly trying to sell you something? Maybe a shopoholic, but most of the blogosphere does not. If a blogger mentions they are looking for a product or service similar to yours, it’s perfectly acceptable to make a suggestion. Most other situations, it would not be appropriate. In fact, it would be considered spam.

Use abbreviated text.

Keep in mind who you are representing. ‘Gr8 post, UR the best’ isn’t the least bit professional. Unless you want to be perceived as a texting teenager, stick to spelling out the full word. On that note, be sure to have your spell check on too!

Why not start right now by leaving us a comment in response to this question: Are you leaving comments on behalf of your business or brand? What other benefits do you think commenting brings to you or your brand?

No Website? Then You Must Have A Blog

If you are in business and you don’t have a website, you should set up a blog. If your hesitation was the cost and complication of a website, just know that a blog is simple to set up and either free or inexpensive.

People expect you to have an address on the web. If someone wanted to call you and you said you didn’t have a telephone number, they would probably move on to the next option on their list.If you don't have a website you must have a blog

But, importantly, you are probably on the web whether you intended it or not. Anyone who Googles you will find a miscellaneous collection of information about you personally and possibly about your business as well. They will see your Facebook page (if you have one), a Yelp review of your business, or a comment you made on a forum or a blog two years ago. The list goes on. A certain number of potential customers will look for you this way, and what appears by chance will be the impression that they walk away with.  Maybe it’s all great. But it isn’t necessarily the picture you want to present.

A new brand-new blog is worry free because it won’t get a lot of traffic at first and you can test things, practice and learn as you go.

Here is the information your new blog should include:

If you don’t have a website, creating blog is dipping a toe in the water. It’s simple. It’s inexpensive. It’s better than nothing. Show it to a few people. Ask them what’s missing. Ask them to tell you what impression they get about your business from your blog. Tweak it. See how much more useful it is than a business card for telling people about your business.

Once you’ve lived with your blog for a little while, start building on what you have. Soon you’ll be knee deep and ready to go for a swim.

image source: flickr (mrvjtod)

Editorial Calendar Continued: Creating a Facebook Calendar

As a further extension to my series on editorial calendars, let’s talk about Facebook.  If you’re running a Facebook brand/fan page, you’ll want to create an editorial calendar for that, too.

Facebook needs an editorial calendar too
Given how many friends people have, and how quickly status updates get pushed down on people’s home pages, Facebook recommends that brands post status updates at least twice per day in order to capture the greatest audience for your brand content.  That means creating (and posting) 10 to 14 updates per week (depending on if you include weekends – which Facebook recommends but most brands don’t do).  That’s a lot of content!

Goals for Facebook engagement

Of course, you’ll first want to establish your goals for engaging in Facebook – you could be looking to:

  • build awareness
  • develop relationships with brand fans
  • promote new products/services, deals and specials
  • crowdsource ideas/get input from brand fans
  • encourage fan evangelism/advocacy about your brand
  • all of the above!

Your goals will help determine the content you should include in your Facebook calendar.  Building awareness requires more frequent posting.  Product promotions may happen infrequently.  And you may want to ask fans questions on a regular basis – it’s proven to be one of the best ways to get fans engaged on Facebook.  More on that in a moment.  So let’s assume you know why you’re on Facebook.  Now for the what.

Steps to creating a Facebook calendar

1. Determine your posting schedule. Is it twice a day, weekdays only?  Once a day? Are you including weekends?

2. Setup a calendar (I use a simple Excel spreadsheet) to include the following columns:

  • Day/date
  • Theme/category
  • Notes/ideas
  • Actual copy
  • Links
  • Images
  • I also use the spreadsheet to track results, with columns for Impressions, Feedback, Comments and Likes – all info you’ll get from Facebook through their Insights tracking

3. Consider whether you want to include recurring topics and themes.  As with blogs, you could set up various days of the week for specific topics or coverage areas.  For some clients I’ve done media clips once a week on a specific day, for others I’ve included a video once a week – the brand’s or a link to another video that was relevant and timely. Block out these recurring topics in your calendar.
4. Be sure to include a mix of media in your posts.  You can post links to outside content, photos and videos; you never know what will catch a fan’s eye, so experiment with various content types at various times of the day/week to see which ones generate the greatest results.
5. Don’t be overly promotional, but don’t forget that you have brand goals for using Facebook in the first place.  Look at your overall marketing calendar to see if you can use coupons, marketing promos, sales or other events in your Facebook content. Consider creating specials just for your Facebook fans.  But keep in mind that Facebook’s Terms of Service are pretty specific about how you can market using promotions, so be sure you’re staying on the right side of their terms.
6. Find ways to make your posts interactive.  Ask questions. Create polls.  Be open to feedback.  From my client experience, I’ve found that an open-ended question can generate as much as 200% more interactions than a statement.
7. Write out as many posts in advance as possible in your spreadsheet. Use your themes/topics and marketing calendar to guide you. While you could write long(ish) updates on Facebook (420 characters is the max), the system cuts off posts that are over 320 characters and adds a “see more” link which requires an extra click from readers. So try to be brief, unless you need to communicate a lot of details about something special.

Status vs. Publisher posts

Did you know that there are effectively two kinds of status posts in Facebook?  There is a “status” post, which can only be text or a text link (you can’t use Facebook’s linking feature), and which stays at the top of your fan page until you write a similar post.  And then there’s a “publisher” post, which can include links, video or photos, and which shows up on your fan’s walls but does not stay at the top of your fan page.  Here’s an example from the Gap fan page.

Facebook editorial calendar

I recommend that you think about what you want to keep at the top of your page and build those updates into your content specifically.  From the Gap example, if there’s a link to a hot product you want to keep front-and-center, use a text link in a text-only update.  But if there’s an event which is time-sensitive, or a promotion that may not last, create links using the Publisher link option in the status box, which will give it some graphic “oomph” and allow it to move down the wall as you add new updates.

Tools for keeping your page up-to-date

There are a number of third-party resources which can help you manage your Facebook page, including scheduling updates and moderating comments. Many will also let you share this responsibility with a team. A few to check out include Context Optional, Buddy Media and Involver. There are also free tools such as HootSuite, but HootSuite only currently allows posting of text-only updates, not media-rich publisher posts (as described above).

None of the more robust Facebook management tools come cheap, so consider your staff resources when putting together your editorial calendar as you may need to have an actual human doing your posting every day!

What’s in your toolbox for keeping your Facebook page fresh? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments.

Image via Wikipedia

 

blog calendar template

Editorial Calendar Continued: Blog Calendar Template

blog calendar template

I’ve had a couple of requests for a copy of the spreadsheet I’m using to track my blog editorial calendar, so I’ve created a Google Docs version that anyone can view and download.

In the spreadsheet I’ve included what I consider to be the most important fields that you should fill out while creating your calendar, as well as some columns for tracking your results afterward.

I’ve used similar structures in various ways with different clients, depending on their style and needs. Here are some of the things I think about when I’m crafting and updating my blog calendar:

  • You can either program far in advance with “evergreen” topics that you know will be relevant a month or two from now, or you can program out a week or two and move posts around as new topics and ideas come up.  I mostly do the latter, though I do have a couple of posts queued up that could get slotted in anywhere.
  • I use the Topic Notes column like a scratch pad, and initially include everything I think could be relevant to a topic or post.  I then continue to add to that topic over time until I’m close to that  date and actually sit down to write the post.  It’s then that I often realize that the topic might be too broad, in which case I split out some of the notes onto a new day in the future.  That is sometimes how a topic series develops – I determine that I have more to say on a particular topic than one post will contain, so I then program out one or more future posts as part of a series.
  • When I sit down to update the editorial calendar I give myself an hour or 90  minutes so that I can be as comprehensive as possible.  I do this once every week or two, plus quick updates most days to reflect actual posted information.
  • I also program out time to write the actual posts, striving to have the posts completed at least a day or two before they’re scheduled to be posted so that I can sit with them a while and copyedit without time pressure.  Of course, this doesn’t always happen (I do write plenty of same-day posts), but it’s nice to do when I can.
  • Of course, part of the raison d’etre for most blogs is to be able to authentically participate in an conversation, so keeping your calendar loose enough to accommodate spur-of-the-minute posts on hot topics or in response to someone else’s blog, Tweet or article is key.  I never hesitate to push a scheduled post to a future date if I’ve got something I just have to blog about immediately.

This calendar template is for my personal blogs and may be too casual for some brands.  For agency clients I formalize the process a great deal more, scheduling weekly editorial calendar meetings with the blog team (which also go into the calendar), programming out dates that blog drafts are due to a central editor or blog wrangler, and even building in senior management approval time if necessary – just add in columns for those dates.

You may have other ideas and needs for your editorial calendar; I’d love for you to tell us how you’re modifying this in the comments below.

 

program blog content

Editorial Calendar Continued: 9 Ways to Program Out Blog Content

program blog content

Hopefully now you’ve got a structure for your editorial calendar.  But it’s empty.  How do you determine what content to include in your blog?

The first place to start is to listen.  I’ve said before that I’m a huge proponent of social media listening, as that’s where you’re going to find the topics that are of interest to your audience.  You’ll want to also understand how you’re telling your brand story – what’s your voice, who’s speaking on your behalf.

So assuming that you know who your audience is, you know what you want your voice to be, and you know who’s writing (if it’s a multi-author blog), let’s look at some of the various ways to flesh out your editorial calendar for your blog.  These may not all be appropriate for you, just pick and choose to get the right balance of content for your brand.

Cover regular topics

Program out your calendar to reflect your company’s products or services, to ensure that you’re providing content that covers your most important products or speaking to the different types of people in your audience.  The PurinaCare blog does this well, ensuring that they post about cats as well as dogs, and also including content that’s relevant to veterinarians who may be selling their product.

Use themes or memes

Choose to designate certain days for various themes, whether serious or whimsical.  Graco Baby, a former client, does this with their Bundles Bumps and Babies series, which runs each Wednesday and always includes a wonderful photo.  Many blogs adhere to broader memes like  “Wordless Wednesdays” where they only run photos or “Friday Fun” where they go off-topic a bit and post something amusing.

Create a series of posts

Develop running series, like this post, which develop a topic over time.  My editorial calendar series is currently programmed out to include a total of four posts, but I’m leaving the door open for more.

Interview people

Create a series of interview posts featuring relevant interviewees for your topic.  Rubbermaid’s blog includes regular Q&As and tips from professional organizers – exactly the kinds of people Rubbermaid consumers want to hear from.  Interviewing people is sometimes easier for the interviewee than asking them to guest blog….

Invite guest bloggers

Get guest bloggers to provide content for you.  Tamar Weinberg uses guest bloggers to enhance the content on Techipedia and to give herself a writing break now and then.  Tamar also believes that giving guest bloggers a voice on her blog gives them a way to be discovered by her community.

Stalk celebrities (sort of)

A popular blog meme for product blogs is to capture news items about celebrities using the product. Bigelow Tea recently wrote about Michelle Obama’s high-profile White House teas and runs celebrity stories as an occasional series.  You can find these items in celeb magazines or online.

Promote your own media

Did you get a great media hit in print, in a blog, or on television? Write it up, humbly, for your blog. Your readers may not have seen it, and someone else’s endorsement of your brand is always more valuable than your own.

Promote your products

Running contests, promotions and giveways will increase engagement on your blog and bring new readers in through viral pass-along, if the offers are valuable.  Be sure to include easy ways that people can share your promotional content – buttons to tweet out the post and post it to Facebook, and an “email this” link to quickly send to friends by email.  Graco Baby takes the concept even further with their “Get One, Give One” program, allowing the contest winner to also give the same item to a mom or organization in need, establishing brand goodwill all around.

Build around your authors

If you have multiple authors for your blog, that may be a natural way to break down the content – assign “columns” or focus areas to each person based on their interest or passion, and program out the calendar from there.

What are the other ways you generate content to fill your editorial calendar?  What other blog memes could new (or established) bloggers consider following?  Please help flesh out this topic by posting your comments below.

brands working with bloggers

Brands Working With Bloggers – It’s Confusing

brands working with bloggers

While I was busy last week getting my new site up and running, a major conversation was happening in the blogosphere about compensation for mommybloggers. This is a topic that I’m pretty passionate about, having recently moderated a panel about how PR and bloggers can work together, and as a long-time liaison between brands and bloggers.

From the brand side, there is certainly a great deal of confusion (and, dare I say, ignorance) about how to work with bloggers (of any type, not just moms). Here are the issues from my perspective.

Public Relations and Bloggers

If you’re coming from the PR side, you’re used to working with editorial content, and calling up or emailing journalists to place stories about products and services you represent. You would never think to compensate those journalists, and even if you did send product samples you often get them back. And your budget does not extend into payments for anything editorially related; you may have budget for events or stunts, but not for paying people to evangelize your brand.

Why this works in “old media”: Journalists are paid by their publications (whether they’re paper or online), and the publications monetize based on subscriptions and ad revenue. The two are, in theory, held (more or less) strictly separate (more on that below).

Why this doesn’t work for bloggers: Bloggers don’t have “publications” paying them, they are the publications. Some are monetizing their site via advertising, others are not. Those that have worked hard to build up their readerships to a level where they’re valuable to a brand have probably done most of it uncompensated. They therefore often (but not always) want to find ways to generate revenue from their blogs/sites.

Advertising/Media and Bloggers

If you’re an advertising or media buying person, you’ve got a budget. You’re used to finding places to put your ads and paying those places to take them. So now you want to attract niche demographics, like moms, to your brand, and so you assume you can just pay bloggers with those readerships to get the exposure you’re looking for. While you don’t necessarily expect editorial coverage to accompany your ads, in practice there is absolutely an unwritten code that makes it more likely that a publication (particularly magazines) will cover your product if you’re advertising frequently.

Why this works in “old media”: It’s a pretty simple equation. Advertisers want to put their product in front of people who will care about it, and publishers have space to sell, online or off. And hey, if it does encourage editorial coverage here and there, all the better.

Why this doesn’t work for bloggers: Marketers and advertisers are now more than willing to compensate bloggers for product reviews, as if they were just another ad buy – whether that compensation is in cash or product. This is complex territory all around, clouding the notion of what a product review is (or at least should be). Bloggers who remain editorially neutral and/or provide full disclosures may not be as attractive to advertisers who want their reviews to look as organic as possible.

Additionally, although many bloggers do take paid advertising, as a persistent online publication it’s more difficult to straddle the line between advertising and editorial. What if you really love a product and write about it one week, then the brand offers you advertising dollars the next? That post lives forever and may be featured alongside that advertising, murking up the waters of integrity.

So What’s a Brand To Do?

No doubt this debate will continue, as marketers need to break out of their “old media’ models and bloggers further assert themselves as hardworking assets to brands. Others have written eloquently about great ways to compensate bloggers without paying for posts and how agencies should evolve.

Here’s my advice: Start with the assumption that you’re going to need to compensate bloggers in some way. If you’re PR, make sure your bosses or clients are aware that there will be costs involved in blogger outreach – to compensate bloggers as paid brand ambassadors, to create customized content for your site, or to test your product or service and write a properly disclosed review. Then be pleasantly surprised if your product or service is cool enough that your pitch gets met with a warm editorial reception, without compensation.

If you’re advertising/media, don’t expect more than what you pay for. If you’re buying advertising, that’s what you’ll get. If you want bloggers to do other things for you, plan to compensate them accordingly.

And, brand marketers, put yourself in the bloggers’ shoes. Take the time to communicate with the blogger and understand their motivations. Are they blogging for their community, and just trying to pay the hosting bills? Are they building readership to attract more (and more valuable) paid advertising? Do they have other skills they can bring to the table for you – are they trained marketers themselves who can add a new perspective to your marketing team? Once bloggers become your true marketing partners, everyone will win.