Over the past six years, I've served as a designer, editor, administrator, and marketer for a number of blogs, including this one. If you know me personally, you know some of the sites I manage. I currently have my hands on about 6-8 sites per week and edit, post, or shape around 50 posts per week. As you can tell by the lack of frequency of my posts here, it leaves little time for me to write much of my own content. However, it does allow me to see what works—and what doesn't—when it comes to blogging. So what works?
I've narrowed it down to four basic principles:
People start blogging thinking it will be an easy task—they just need to go in and write every day. Then when they begin, they realize how difficult it is to come up with something to write out of thin air. Even if they have a specific topic, it becomes difficult to regularly produce original ideas and thoughts.
The most important thing about your blog content is for it to relate to what you're already doing in life. If you write about what you live, you will always have content for your blog.
The content is already there to write about. You simply need to see it that way. Since I work mostly with pastors and Christian authors/leaders, I encourage them to take adifferent perspective on their work as a way to find content for their blog.
Here is a simple example for pastors: Pastors typically generate several thousand words every week for their sermons. If you gave me a thirty-minute sermon, I could show you at least five blog posts in it. Take your 3 main points along your introduction and conclusion and condense them into 300-500 words. There are your five blog posts for the week after the sermon. Add in a quote or section of reading that you used in studying for the sermon and you have another post for Saturday. And you haven't even touched on the content available in your life moments of ministry, family and leisure time.
As for the non-pastor types out there, be intentional about seeing content in your everyday life. Use a journal or your smart phone and jot down ideas as they come. The content for your blog is all around. It's just a matter of seeing it as such. It takes discipline, but once you start it will become natural.
Content alone might make a blog, but it won't necessarily make for a good one. That takes connecting to the audience. You have to present the content in a way that it connects with the reader. It's like baking. You might make the best homemade cupcakes and icing, but you'll have a tougher time getting people at work to try them if they look like they've been dropped in your car a few times on the way to work than if they are presented well.
Once you have your content, you have to make it appealing. Be timely with your posts. Tie in your topics with current events. If during the week of the Super Bowl you're blogging about where the MLB All Star Game will be played, you're not going to get the traffic you would if you were blogging that same topic in early April when the MLB season begins.
Another key point of connecting with your audience is making your content fit the web. I've noticed that pastors tend to struggle with this at times. They are so used to having an introduction to set the stage for their points, that their posts come out that way almost by default. When it takes 4 paragraphs to get to the first point, the reader is either bored or has moved on. You have, at most, 15 seconds of reading time to connect with the reader. If you haven't made your point in the first two paragraphs, you've likely lost your audience.
Here are a few bonus tips on writing for the web:
- Use bulleted lists (like this one)
- Use headers or subheadlines to separate longer bodies of text
- Incorporate graphics if possible
- Use correct grammar and punctuation
- Try to include short, pithy statements in the post that can be tweeted by readers
This might be the most difficult part of blogging. We all have a work capacity. There is only so much we can get done in a day. And when we think we have extra time, something usually comes up and fills that time slot too.
That's why having a structure or plan for your posts is helpful. Also calendaring your writing and blog time is beneficial. If your blog is related to your job, carve out time at work. Make it part of your work day. If it's not part of your job, then it's like anything else you have to find time for. If that weekly round of golf or time spent fishing on the lake can make it into your calendar, so can your writing time.
I have a routine for working with the different websites I manage. I know how long it takes to complete certain tasks over the last year, that time has decreased because it's part of my routine now. The same will happen for you. A post that takes you an hour to start will likely be one that takes 20 minutes later down the road.
If you want to be successful at blogging, it will take time. But no one has more time in their day than you do. We all have 24 hours. How will you use that time to make your blog successful?
Of the four principles for successful blogging, this might be the easiest. Why? Because if you're actually blogging, you will want to connect with readers. Talking about what you've written will come naturally.
So get to know your readers. Connect with them on social media platforms.
Also, connect with other bloggers who write on the same topics. When they have good content, share their posts. They will start to take notice and likely reciprocate the favor when they see something from you that they like.
Two of the blogs I manage saw incredible growth in 2012. One grew by 67%. The other saw a remarkable 178% increase in traffic. But the difference in the workload from the previous year wasn't anything big. It was these four small steps.
These four steps have worked with these bloggers and many more. And they can work for you. But remember, it's not an overnight thing.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell shares his principle of the 10,000 hour rule. Gladwell wrote that greatness requires not only a great amount of talent, but a great amount of time as well. The 10,000 hours rule claims that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.
I'm not to the 10,000 hour mark yet with blogging, but I'm getting close. And I can tell the difference. You will be able to as well.
If you're interested in a book to help you with the basics of setting up your blog or to grow the one you already have, there is really only one book I would ever recommend: Platform by Michael Hyatt. It is the best resource for bloggers I have ever seen. Even for someone who works with this every day, I found loads of helpful information in the book. If you're starting at square one, make this book your first purchase.
If you have any specific questions about blogging or social media, or if you would like to book a in-person consultation for you or your group, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications.