The blogging landscape has changed. The innocent days of a blogger who could put up a blog and pour out what was in their heart and mind and get a massive following are now behind us. Today’s blogging landscape is dominated by companies looking to use the blog to market to their customers, attract new business and improve their website ranking and by bloggers who blog in order to make a reputation and earn some money.
The former is giving us a proliferation of CEO blogs of questionable value while the latter has contributed to the proliferation of ad-heavy websites where content plays second fiddle to the ads being served, a situation which prompted the Google Panda update which cleared up spam content.
I have written about ways to make a blog stand out from the crowd before (see links at the end of this article) so this post is about the decisions you need to make if you are just starting out or, more likely, if your blog has taken a dive in organic traffic and now needs to get back on track.
You are in Control of your Online Writing
The first thing to bear in mind is that when it comes to your blog, like any other kind of business or online presence, you are in complete control. The direction you take will depend upon inclination, skills, resources and goals. The steps which follow are the critical ones you now need to make as a blogger in order to ensure you end up with a blog that fulfils you as well as its intended audience.
01. Decide your focus. The days when you could have a blog that would cover everything imaginable and still rank well on Google because of its sheer size are now over. What you need to do is specialize in one core area with perhaps a tangential subject or two which you use either to increase your range and provide variety or really need it in order to provide greater depth. This works if you are running a business as well as if you are running a blog that’s mainly intended to get traffic and bring you advertising. It also means that quality now trumps size, every single time.
02. Create authority. If you are not in total control of your subject you may still get by, by doing your research and synthesizing a point of view which is unique. Authority in writing now has as much to do with what’s fresh and new as what is truly knowledgeable. The latter can be bought in through careful research but without the former you will only end up rehashing what’s already ‘out there’ and that will not get you very far.
03. Set the tone. Personalisation has become crucial. You may be a one-man outfit or you may actually be running a 300-person company, if you cannot talk to your online visitors like they are real people and like you are a real person you have lost a vital opportunity to make a connection.
04. Decide the frequency. Ideally you should write every day. That may work if you are a writer but even seasoned writers find it hard to sustain that kind of output. So decide what works for you and stick to it. It is more important, from a search engine point of view to create a regularity than to be erratic. It is more important from a visitor point of view to have something to say which truly needs to be said than to be prolific.
05. Provide value. Value now is at the core of everything you do online. There has been a gradual but noticeable shift in the way online visitors access information. Hardly anyone reads these days. They quickly check the site, scan the article and will only give you their time if you have given them something which has truly gripped their attention and can now hold it so they can learn something. Value has a lot to do with everything we discussed so far. It is determined by the focus of your writing, it helps create authority on your website, it can be influenced by the tone of what you say and it can then decide the frequency of what you write.
06. Get interactive. Forget the traditional perception of some magical divide on the other side of which was ‘them’. Now the entire web is ‘us’. Your writing no longer takes place from a pulpit, aimed at an audience. It is more like a conversation started with the person next to you. So make sure you have in place a commenting system for people to respond through (and monitor it) and provide social sharing buttons so they can use your content to comment on social media networks.
07. Be controversial. There is a strong temptation to play it safe online. To avoid saying the obvious or voicing what you think because you really do not want to upset anybody. However there is a very clear difference between being intentionally controversial for controversy’s sake, like Rush Limbaugh, and writing about something you feel strongly about. If you do truly feel strongly about a subject and have the evidence to back it up, then have the guts to write about it. Social media (of which your blog is now part of) works as a concept because it is real and tries hard to stay honest.
08. Listen to your readers. Respond to comments. Answer emails and comment back on social networks when readers interact with your posts. You may be the originator of your writing but in many ways writing has become a collaborative exercise. Those who take the time to read what you write feel that they also have an opinion about it which deserves to be listened to, and they are right. The best online content is created in response to the interests of its readership.
09. Invest time in your writing. Think carefully who you are writing for. Way too frequently writers make assumptions about their audience in regards to knowledge and interests that are inaccurate and it leads to gaps in the writing itself which could have been avoided if a little more time had been invested in creating the post. If you are challenged for time to write do not try to fit it into ten minute slots where you bang out some writing quickly. That is more likely to be the kind of writing which is easy to dismiss and you don’t really want to go there.
10. Put yourself out there. You could be a plumber or a rocket scientist, you still need to try and find where your audience is. If you are not part of a social network, have a presence in forums or are present in professional associations, online, you are missing an opportunity to interact with your target audience.
The social media web requires content and the Google Panda update has made real content the only solution to being noticed by search engines. This brings us to the felicitous situation of being able to increase website rankings mostly with writing. But the writing has to be of the sort that provides a solution to an online visitor’s problem with the friendly, casual tone you would expect to hear in a face to face meeting with someone.