From rants and raves to resources and recommendations, it seems like there are as many blogs as there are stars in the sky. In fact, according to blog search engine Technorati, in 2009 there were more than 130 million blogs. Some are interesting and reputable, others… not so much. Want to be a great blogger? Here are 10 important rules:
1. Pick one topic and stick to it.
The most successful blogs are centered on a specific topic—and they don’t stray. If you’re writing a blog about how public policy affects health care for people with diabetes, don’t include posts about interesting recipes or the latest diet books. At the same time, a blog about being a working mom who’s trying to feed her kids quick and healthy meals isn’t the place to start a discussion about international politics. Readers return to a blog for insight on a particular subject, so stick to it.
2. Update early and often.
A surefire way to make your blog irrelevant is by failing to post content frequently—and that means at least daily. Bloggers earn reader loyalty through habit, so offer incentive to return to your site or visitors will go elsewhere. Try to post in the morning. Internet traffic is heavy early in the day and during the lunch hour, so having fresh content will keep readers coming back for more. And remember to keep updating throughout the day. There’s nothing worse than letting an engaging conversation wither on the vine.
3. Keep it short.
A blog may allow word counts greater than Twitter’s 140-character limit and Facebook’s 420-character limit; however, posts longer than about 400 words will be pushing online readers’ attention spans. Your blog should be as concise as possible. One practice is to make sure each post is about a single thought. For example, if you are writing about a new study on apple consumption, focus on what the study says and maybe a sentence or two on how it supports or contradicts previous knowledge, but do not include a summary of previous apple studies throughout the years.
4. Link early and often.
Linking to resources will enhance and lend credibility to your blog—not to mention help keep your posts brief by letting another site do the in-depth explaining. If you are blogging about new research, citing a news report or even referencing information that appears elsewhere on your site, link to it. That old rule about never sending visitors away from your Web site does not apply; in fact, linking to additional information builds readership by providing a one-stop resource where visitors can choose whether to get more details.
5. Tag and categorize your posts.
Most blogging software offers tags and categories to help organize your content beyond the chronological order in which it was posted. “Tags” are pieces of code that allow search engines such as Google and Bing to include your site in their search results. “Categories” let readers see what types of topics are covered in your blog, in addition to creating an organized archive of content by grouping together posts.
6. Don’t get too cute.
Can a little humor, when appropriate, engage readers? Of course. But funny-punny blog titles and content won’t always work online. For one thing, search engines can’t recognize what your posts are about if the topics are buried. Secondly, blog audiences won’t bother to read posts with vague titles, even if they are funny once they understand the context. Online readers want information right now—and they don’t wade through jokes, metaphors or innuendos to get it. For effective blogging, say what you mean and mean what you say.
7. Encourage comments.
Blogging is not a lecture, but a conversation. Make your readers feel connected and valued by providing a space for comments. While you should monitor these responses to omit spam or abusive comments, do so judiciously. Disagreement over a particular point is not necessarily an abusive comment. In fact, blogs that allow open debate often earn greater respect among its readers for not censoring negative feedback.
8. Respect your host.
If your blog is in any way associated with an organization such as a clinic or publication, their voice becomes more important than yours. For some writers, this can be a hard concept to swallow—but when you blog for another entity, you’re representing that organization and every post will be interpreted and parsed in that light. Bloggers also should be careful when referencing an employer or organization on their personal sites; once you introduce another party into the conversation, the reader links you to that entity.
9. Have realistic expectations.
A blogger’s audience does not go from zero to a million in one day. You may post what you think is the best blog entry ever… yet nobody says a word about it. Frustrating, yes, but building a fan base takes time. Blogs focus on specific topics so audiences are small by design, but they still can be influential and engaged. The more you blog, the better chance you have at attracting an audience.
10. Take the plunge.
The only way to become a good blogger is to do it. Practice blogging a few weeks before you start posting content online so you get used to updating content every day. Once you publish, keep it up. It takes time and commitment, but blogging can also be a lot of fun.
The next time you catch yourself saying, “You know what I think…,” stop talking and start typing. Here are a few of the most popular blogging software sites, all of which offer free basic packages: