I’m frequently asked, by our clients as well as the MA Journalism students I occasionally teach as part of my role as a Visiting Journalism Fellow at City University, for tips on how to get started blogging. As someone who has several successful blogs of my own, and having developed a blog training course in my former role as the Head of Blogging at the BBC, it’s something I’ve put a lot of thought into over the years. So here are my top tips on getting started blogging:
- Select and buy a domain name – if you don’t, all the links you build up, and your google ranking, as well as RSS subscriptions, will be lost if you later decide to move to another platform
- Select a blogging platform – there are many to choose from, some of them free if you don’t have any special requirements, for example WordPress and Blogger. For more advanced needs, you might want to investigate hosting your own blogging platform. In these instances, WordPress and Movable Type are strong options, the latter being particularly well suited for multiple blog installations (see our BBC Blogs case study). You’ll want to map your domain name onto your chosen blogging platform from the start, including your RSS feed (many bloggers use Feedburner to manage their feeds)
- Bloggers often think of their blogs as being part of a conversation. Seek out the blogs that are taking part in the conversation you want to join – that is, that cover similar topics to you – and begin monitoring them. If you are already using an RSS reader, you might find it useful to subscribe to those blogs as this will make it easier to keep track of new posts that may be of topical interest. Good options include Google Reader, Bloglines and NewsGator. If you don’t want to bother with RSS, or prefer a more visual way of monitoring blogs, you might want to try creating a netvibes page that aggregates and displays the feeds you’re interested in.
- Begin by linking: once you have a list of blogs you’re reading, add a “blog roll”, a list of links to those blogs, to your site. Then, each day if possible, read the new posts and, when you find something interesting, publish a blog post quoting a few lines, explaining why you found the post interesting, and linking directly to that post. I call this type of a post a “link wrap” because, essentially, the idea is to wrap a link with enough information – a quote and a few lines explaining why you found the post interesting – for your audience to understand what you’re linking to and why. The bloggers you link to are likely to be monitoring mentions of their own blogs, using tools such as technorati or google blog search to find their own URL in posts, as well as the sources of inbound traffic, using stats services such as google analytics or statcounter. You should be using these services to do the same. Quoting and linking to other bloggers sends a strong message that you want to join their conversation and also provides an easy way to start learning how to post effectively without feeling like you’re going out on a limb by voicing your own strong views.
- Once you’re comfortable blogging, start to add your own analysis of others posts, or build upon them.
- When you write a post you are particularly proud of, and that truly adds to the cross-blog conversation, don’t be shy about posting a link, with some explanation, in the comments of other blogs. Just make sure that the post you comment on, and link you post, are relevant – otherwise your link will be unwelcome (it’s spam).
- Start to think of, and use, the whole web as your canvas by spreading content around. For example, rather than posting an image in a post, where only people who already know about your blog will see it, upload the image you want to use to flickr, tag it, and link back to the relevant post from the description of the image. This gets your content, potentially, in front of new audiences. You can do the same with video, power point presentations and other content. In addition to reaching out to new audiences, by linking from third party sites and services to your blog you increase the search engine optimisation of your blog – meaning you’ll rank more highly in google key word searches. You might also want to start promoting your blog posts on twitter by posting links there. It’s even possible to do this automatically using services such as tweetfeed.
- Think about how you can integrate your blogging activity into existing processes you’re already undertaking, creating content out of those processes. For example, if you read a lot of web based content, and bookmark it, consider using delicious to do the same job and setting up your delicious account to automatically publish your daily links as a blog post. Another good example of this is BBC Radio 4’s iPM, where the process of producing a weekly radio programme is blogged, allowing audiences of the blog to get involved in that process.
- Go mobile – if you attend conferences, or your work involves some time spent out in the field, investigate mobile publishing options for your chosen blogging platforms. Not only can you blog directly from your mobile, usually using a free, downloadable application for your handset (you’ll probably need a current 3g model), you can also use twitter, upload images to flickr, and even stream live video from your phone to the web.
- Think closely about what you’re trying to achieve, set goals, and measure your progress against those goals. For example, you might want to use google analytics or statcounter, as described above, to record where your traffic is coming from, how many unique users you get, how many page impressions, etc. You may also be interested in who is visiting your blog, something that, again, these stats packages can tell you. You might also want to measure how many posts you make each week or month, or how many comments you receive. Likewise, it’s useful to know how many other blogs are linking to you. If you are advertising on your blog, either using google adsense or one of the many other affiliate programmes for bloggers, you’ll probably want to monitor how much money you’re making, and adjust your ad placement accordingly. If the point of your blog is to engage audiences, consumers and stakeholders directly in your processes, for example, coming up with new stories if you’re a news provider or providing feedback on a product or service offering, you may be able to measure the value of this engagement against the existing cost of parallel activities. Blogging effectively takes significant time and effort, so it’s important to measure impact using whatever measurements are available and relevant to you.
Not everyone, or every organisation, can or should blog but many who do find it an effective way to engage with audiences, stakeholders and consumers. The techniques described in this post are the basics of how to get started.
For clients with specific goals or business requirements, Headshift offers a range of strategic consultancy, edit
orial training, design and technical implementation services which can dramatically increase impact, reduce the risks involved, and reduce costs and resource expenditure. Get in touch to find out how we can help your business or organisation, or take a look at the various quick start packages we offer, designed to get you up and running quickly at a fixed cost.