Monday, November 04, 2013

5 Tips for Better Blogging

Over the weekend, I had a rather lengthy conversation over the weekend with John Knappmann of the Downriver Homes and Real Estate blog about what it takes to run a successful blog in general and local or hyper-local blog in particular.

Many of the things that we talked about have been discussed in other articles by others people. However, there were a few things that I haven't seen addressed anywhere else. As such, I wanted to share them here as part of my weekly Tip of the Weekly feature.

Tip #1. Know Why You're Blogging in the First Place

This one is so basic that almost everybody forgets about it: I believe it's absolutely critical to know exactly what you hope to accomplish with your blog and to know it from the very outset. This motivation, in turn, becomes the standard by which every other decision that you make with your blog is judged.

When I started the Warrendale (Detroit) Blog back in the winter of 2005, I was frustrated with the fact that there was almost no coverage of the neighborhood in any of the major media outlets. I started covering stories that no one else would cover. As the years went on, though, the major media outlets have begun covering Warrendale and the other neighborhoods extensively and the reporters who cover the area are well-informed on what's happening here.

I'm not sure how much of this change is the result of my blog. Regardless, I'm glad to see it happen. The fact that it has happened has almost meant that my reason for blogging has changed. With my original mission accomplished, this blog is now a vehicle for effecting some sort of change in the neighborhood as well as at least a supplement to my monthly income.

Other people have used their blogs as a way to improve their credibility in a given field, to impact social change in some other setting, or simply because they regard it as a fun hobby. There are also those who have used their blogs to launch writing or social media careers. No matter what your reason is for blogging, I believe it's essential to have that reason at the forefront of your mind from the very beginning.

Tip #2. Promote Your Blog Off-Line
Pizza Party at Gracie's - Photo by Frank Nemecek
Search engine and social media are fantastic tools. I'll have a few things to say about them further along, but much of it has already been covered elsewhere. The one thing that very few people talk about is the importance of promoting your blog away from the internet - especially if you run of local or hyper-local blog.

I organize two informal events each month now, one at Gracie See Pizzeria on the second Monday of each month and the other at Tijuana's Mexican Kitchen on the fourth Wednesday. These are not only a fun way for me to engage with my readers and to promote a couple of great local businesses, they are also a constant source of story ideas and new subscribers for my blog.

Business cards, flyers, and other materials with the name and URL of your blog are also useful for off-line promotions. Someone may or may not remember web address of your blog when you tell it to them. However, as long as they have something with it written on it, they will still be able to find it later.

Tip #3. Use Google Analytics
Google Analytics is free tool that tracks how people found your website and where traffic to it is coming from. It enables bloggers and others who use to know what search engines people used to find a given article, what keywords people searched under to find a post, and so on. Knowing what drove traffic to your site in the past is useful when it comes to driving even more traffic to it in the future.

There are several tutorials and other articles on-line elsewhere that go into great detail about how Google Analytics can improve traffic to site. Rather than repeat all of that here, I'll simply say that it's an incredibly powerful tool that's worth using.

Tip #4. Add Photos and Video
The old adage is that "a picture is worth 1,000 words." That fact did not change with the advent of the internet. Photos and video are powerful tools in telling a story.

The best sources for these photos are those that you as the blogger took while covering a story. I have also gotten several local photographers who have given me permission to use their work in a post in exchange for credit and a link to their site. Creative Commons, public domain images, and stock .xchng are also good sources for finding general photos for a blog or website.

Tip #5. Know Your Social Media
There are hundreds of thousands of articles, books, and videos out there that will discuss how to use social media. Week long conferences, in fact, have been organized around this subject. Rather than attempt to condense all of that here, I would simply like to summarize what different social media outlets can and cannot do for you, at least in my experience.

Facebook is designed to keep people on Facebook. It's the biggest social media platform, but it's one where people don't leave to go to your website or blog. Those two facts - that lots of people use it but very people on it leave - are perhaps the most frequently overlooked aspects of social media campaigns.

Because so many people use it, and because those users spend so much time on it, Facebook is a great way to raise awareness of a particular issue, story, or brand. Lots of people will see it in a relatively short period of time. If simple awareness is all that you're looking for, there is nothing better than Facebook.

However, if you are blogging as part-time job, for example, then the fact that people don't leave Facebook is an important negative. When people don't leave Facebook to go to your site, they aren't seeing any of the ads on it, clicking on any affiliate links, or doing many of the other things that generate money for you. Everything simply stays with Facebook.

In contrast, Google+ and Twitter are also designed to direct traffic elsewhere. From my own experience, I get three times as much traffic from Google+ as I do from Facebook, even though I more Facebook followers than I do Google+ or Twitter followers.

Since my blog has a dual purpose - effecting change within my neighborhood as well as generating at least supplementary income for myself - I use both. I simply believe that it's important to keep in mind what each social media channel can and cannot do, which is something that gets overlooked in almost every article I've ever read on the subject.

These, of course, are just only a few of the things that are important to know about blogging. If you have any important tips to share, please feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to via email or social media.

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