When it comes right down to it, the best blogging practices are those that attract, impress, and retain readers. You're not out to win a "Best Blog" competition; you're trying to engage current and potential customers and colleagues. Okay, maybe a Best Blog blue ribbon would be cool, but it's not the priority here. The real prize is always the reader's attention.
We're going to focus on blogging best practices in this post. Not how you promote it or attract readers to your page to begin with, but the actual meat and potatoes of the blog itself.
No, blogging isn't a beauty contest, not exactly. However, presentation does matter, and it matters quite a bit. There are several reasons why (first impressions, how visual design affects the reader, and so on), but the biggest reason? You undoubtedly have a competitor with a blog on a similar topic that has a better presentation.
Content, as we'll discuss in brief below, is critically important. However, when you put your content out there, you also risk it being appropriated, not directly copied, but read, studied, and repackaged by someone else. Now, if all else is equal, which blog do you think will attract and maintain the most readers? The one that looks like someone with only a passing acquaintance with HTML built it; or, the one that looks current and has a pleasing aesthetic?
Having a great presentation can't prevent people from using your posts for inspiration, but it can give you a competitive edge. If you're coming out with comprehensive posts first, and your presentation is easy on the eyes, your readers are far more likely to stick with you.
So, how do you achieve this?
The absolute best practice, if it makes sense for your budget, is to hire a Web design professional, one whose portfolio you've seen and approved. Of course, "if your budget allows it" is quite a caveat, especially for small business owners. If hiring someone doesn't seem like it will result in a good ROI, then the next best thing is using a professional template from a drag-and-drop design-it-yourself service.
One thing to note: If you opt for a free template rather than paying, most of these services will include an ad for themselves somewhere on the page, which can look a bit unprofessional. At least consider shelling out a few dollars for a polished template that you have full control over.
Educate and Entertain
Yes, your blog should help promote your business, products, or services. However, your customers don't want to read advertisements for your business all day! Provide them with meaty, practical, and/or entertaining content that will earn their interest. Just make sure it (at least) relates to your business tangentially.
Do you sell baking supplies? Recipes are usually a hit with what is likely to be your target audience. So are tips and tricks: how to make an icing rose, how to keep cookies from spreading too much, and so forth. If there's a meaningful way to plug one of your products, do so sparingly. Your blog is supposed to offer your customers added value. Your readers should see any product placement as incidental to the blog's actual content and purpose, to inform and entertain them.
To a certain extent, the more often you post, the better, as long as you have the content to support each post. However, more importantly, you should post on a relatively frequent basis and do so consistently. There are two reasons for this.
First, consistently adding fresh, relevant content can only help you in terms of search engine ranking. Google's algorithms know a dead or half-hearted blog when they see one.
The second reason is to encourage your readers to come back regularly. Newspapers may be a dying medium, but there are lessons we can learn from them. Would you check for the Sunday paper every Sunday if sometimes it came Monday, or Saturday, or Wednesday? If it didn't come for several weeks in a row, would you keep looking for it? You probably would simply choose something different to read.
Your blog posts don't have to come like clockwork, although a schedule is helpful, but they do need to be frequent and consistent enough that your readers might think, "Oh, I bet Best Blogger has a new post up," and click on their personal bookmark for your blog. Don't rely on newsletters and the like because many readers will filter them or ignore them.
Enrich Your Posts with Media
Research has consistently shown that readers are more likely to choose to scroll down and linger on a page that offers up images and other media in addition to text. You may think that there is absolutely no sense in adding images to a post about, for example, office etiquette, but it doesn't matter. Thematically appropriate images make a blog more appealing. That's all there is to it. Pick up a subscription for a good stock photo site if taking your own photos is a no-go.
As an added bonus, appropriately incorporated images boost your presentation, as well.
Keep at It
One thing you'll hear people complain about is the fact that they've been blogging for X number of weeks without gaining a real following. The truth, however, is that this isn't uncommon, and it doesn't necessarily mean you're doing something wrong.
Readers seek blogs and sites that seem well established. If you have three posts over the past three weeks, don't expect them to be falling all over themselves to get to your blog! Give it some time and keep paying attention to the best blogging practices listed above, and watch your audience grow.
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