Blogging:
A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide
Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD
Founder, The Denovati Group
©April 2015, All Rights ...
1Beginner’s Blogging Guide
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
April 2015, All Rights Reserved
Introduction
This beg...
2Beginner’s Blogging Guide
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
April 2015, All Rights Reserved
Contents
Introduction...
3Beginner’s Blogging Guide
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
April 2015, All Rights Reserved
Putting Blogging in P...
4Beginner’s Blogging Guide
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
April 2015, All Rights Reserved
more pages that are l...
5Beginner’s Blogging Guide
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
April 2015, All Rights Reserved
Addressing Blogging E...
6Beginner’s Blogging Guide
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
April 2015, All Rights Reserved
Structure. It is a go...
7Beginner’s Blogging Guide
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
April 2015, All Rights Reserved
you to manage comment...
8Beginner’s Blogging Guide
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
April 2015, All Rights Reserved
Examples of original ...
9Beginner’s Blogging Guide
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
April 2015, All Rights Reserved
automatic feed mechan...
10Beginner’s Blogging Guide
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
April 2015, All Rights Reserved
you are posting item...
11Beginner’s Blogging Guide
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
April 2015, All Rights Reserved
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Blogging: A Comprehensive Beginner’€™s Guide

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This beginner's blogging guide is intended for people who want to incorporate blogs into their organization'€™s digital engagement efforts but aren'€™t sure where or how to begin. Individuals interested in blogging for personal and career management reasons may also find the guide useful. Its primary focus is on external blogs used for marketing, branding, and business development, but the tips related to blogging elements and creating content can apply to internal blogs as well.

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  • This guide was updated in April 2015. For additional perspective on blogging, check out the following Denovati SMART Article: http://denovati.com/2015/04/blogging-8-things-everyone-should-know.
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Blogging: A Comprehensive Beginner’€™s Guide

  1. 1. Blogging: A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD Founder, The Denovati Group ©April 2015, All Rights Reserved
  2. 2. 1Beginner’s Blogging Guide ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group April 2015, All Rights Reserved Introduction This beginner's blogging guide is intended for people who want to incorporate blogs into their organization's digital engagement efforts but aren't sure where or how to begin. Individuals interested in blogging for personal and career management reasons may also find the guide useful. Its primary focus is on external blogs used for marketing, branding, and business development, but the tips related to blogging elements and creating content can apply to internal blogs as well. To many professionals blogging is still a foreign concept. Although virtually everyone has read them and some may even comment and subscribe, when it comes to thinking about how to leverage the tool themselves, people often freeze. They feel intimidated because they think their writing skills are not good enough, pressured by the prospect of having to create fresh content on a regular basis, and/or uncertain of how they are going to manage the time commitment. Cyberspace is full of blogging “best practices,” rules and tips. Many of these guides are great, but they are not necessarily comprehensive and/or designed for people who are just getting started. This guide is intended to fill that void. It is based on my interactions with digital engagement rookies, work with clients, and my own blogging experiences since early 2010. This is the “fourth edition” of the guide; it was originally published in May 2011, then updated in February 2012 and July 2014. At first, some of the advice will not make sense, and many of the terms may sound foreign, but do not let any initial confusion you may experience deter you. Accept that you will have a fairly steep learning curve to climb in the beginning, but trust me when I tell you the steep part is shorter than you think and it will all start to make sense more quickly than you realize. Your patience and persistence will be rewarded in due time. This guide will be supplemented by additional tips shared via Denovati SMART Articles, which can be found at http://denovati.com/smart-resources/websites-and-blogs. You can find additional Denovati SMART Resources here: http://denovati.com/smart-resources/. Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD
  3. 3. 2Beginner’s Blogging Guide ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group April 2015, All Rights Reserved Contents Introduction ........................................................................................ 1 Putting Blogging in Perspective.................................................................. 3 Getting Started..................................................................................... 4 Addressing Blogging Elements.................................................................... 5 Creating Content................................................................................... 7 Sharing Content .................................................................................... 8 Monitoring and Adjusting ........................................................................10 Conclusion .........................................................................................11
  4. 4. 3Beginner’s Blogging Guide ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group April 2015, All Rights Reserved Putting Blogging in Perspective It may seem hard to believe, but blogging is entering its third decade. The first recognized blog began in 1994 and was written by a student named Justin Hall. Based on recent statistics, there are well over 150 million public blogs across multiple platforms. Despite their longevity and ubiquity, however, people have been speculating about the “demise” of blogging off and on for years. Although it’s common to refer to the “waning” of blogging’s popularity, it’s more appropriate to think of the communication medium as “morphing” – which by the way is true of all digital communication channels, including social media. For good food for thought and perspective on the “death” of blogs, check out the following blog post, including the comments it generated: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/12/19/the-death-of-the-blog-again- again/. Individual blog hobbyists may continue to be on the decline, but the underlying principles and technology will live on and expand, especially in organizations. In fact, when you consider that many digital news articles and columns function effectively the same way a blog does (i.e., a writer shares a story and/or a perspective, and readers have the ability to comment on and engage in dialogue about the post), the total number of de facto blogs is actually on the rise. And there is room for much more growth. Although many organizations have fairly sophisticated blog sites, active organizational blogs are far from commonplace. The decision to establish and maintain a blog is not an easy one, especially for organizations that have limited resources. Reframing your perspective on blogs, however, can highlight their potential value. Here are a few points that might help: You can blog without being a blogger. We have evolved past the point where blogs are online diaries, places for the expression of individual perspectives and/or (over)sharing the details of our personal or professional lives. They do not have to be chatty and informal… or fun or funny… or snarky… they can be whatever we need/want them to be. Blogs can (and should) be thought of as long-form feeds (whereas Twitter streams and updates on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are short-form feeds). Although it is great to offer personal perspectives, share ideas and solicit feedback, or initiate dialogue, there is nothing wrong with simply relaying information, offering insights and/or demonstrating expertise. Blogs provide another channel through which to attract and engage clients, prospects, and other stakeholders. They should be viewed as an integral part of an overall communications strategy that complements other outreach efforts rather than a new effort that gets layered on top of them. As a dynamic internet element, blogs can make a significant contribution to a website’s search engine optimization (SEO) results, which can increase the flow of inbound traffic. Blog posts create
  5. 5. 4Beginner’s Blogging Guide ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group April 2015, All Rights Reserved more pages that are linked to a website, and those pages have keywords that increase the likelihood they will be found via a search query. As static elements, most web pages are not going to be huge traffic drivers, even if they contain the same keywords. SEO via organic search is a nice complement to – or substitute for – paid search results. For additional perspective on blogging, check out the following Denovati SMART Article: http://denovati.com/2015/04/blogging-8-things-everyone-should-know. Getting Started Your biggest investment in blogging successfully will be time, so you should not start one until you feel confident you can commit to a reasonable schedule for content updates and maintenance. Once you have decided to incorporate blogging into your communication activities, you will want to: Pick a blogging platform. Blogging platforms are either free or low cost. You can investigate different options by searching on “top blogging platforms (+ the current year)” to access various assessments. The most commonly used stand-alone platforms are WordPress.com, Blogger, and TypePad. Integrate your blog and website. Ideally, to get the best SEO results, your blog should be fully integrated into your website. You can build a simple web presence around your blog using almost any blogging platform, and you can also incorporate blogging as a feature in a website built using a service like SquareSpace or content management systems like Wordpress.org (which is different from WordPress.com), Joomla and Drupal. Even if the website and blog are separate, it is easy to link them. If possible, add custom design elements to your blog to match the look and feel of your website. And make sure you upgrade and update your website before you start blogging. You do not want to drive traffic to a site that does not represent you/your organization in the best possible way. Determine the number of blogs/contributors. Even if you are planning to have multiple bloggers, it is probably better to start with a single blog that has multiple contributors rather than separate blogs. Depending on the platform you choose, it is easy enough to add new blogs later. Integrate your blog with other communication channels. Develop a basic plan for how your blog posts will be integrated with other communication platforms and channels you may be using, especially social sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and SlideShare. This plan will identify the where/when/what/how of content sharing and communication flows.
  6. 6. 5Beginner’s Blogging Guide ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group April 2015, All Rights Reserved Addressing Blogging Elements You can find many online resources that address various blogging elements, and I encourage you to check them out to gather different perspectives. But do not let yourself get overwhelmed trying to understand the different options and determine which practices you should follow, especially in the beginning. You need to learn to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run. Keep things simple at first and develop more sophisticated practices as you gain experience and expertise. To help get you started, here are my thoughts on the main blogging elements besides content: Posting frequency. It is best to develop a regular schedule for posting, but there are no hard-and- fast rules about how often to post. Remember that quality is more important than quantity and do not feel pressure to post more frequently than you can manage. Post length. Many people still advise that shorter posts are better, but search engines like Google appear to prefer longer texts (according to the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin, they should be a minimum of 300 words). I suggest aiming for 500-1000 words per post, creating white papers/booklets (like this one) when the text is significantly longer. You can also split longer posts into series, which helps spread content, create more blog activity, and may entice readers to subscribe to receive future updates. Again, the key is quality – regardless of length, make sure your posts are valuable to your readers. Post title. This is another aspect on which there are lots of “how-to” tricks: use numbers, be dramatic, provide checklists… There is some value in these recommendations, but I would not take them too literally. I have read too many “link bait” headlines that misrepresent a post’s content and/or were unnecessarily inflammatory. Accuracy is more important than excitement. Excerpt. I almost never read recommendations about this, but I think the excerpt is critically important. In addition to drawing the reader in, it should succinctly summarize what the post is all about. That summary is what gets listed in search results and when the post is shared via channels like LinkedIn and Facebook, so it needs to be really tight. Images and videos. Some people will recommend having image-rich posts to break up the monotony of the text, but images can be slow to load and may not be worth the effort of trying to include. Videos are similarly appealing and resource intensive. At a minimum, you should aim for one representative image for each post, and include that in the beginning of the post. Like the excerpt, this image will show up when the post is shared in certain places, and it is worth having something that captures the post’s content. Make sure you have a right to use the image, however, and give credit to the original source whenever you borrow someone else’s creation. Most of my images come from Presenter Media, which has a rich selection of images of all types and offers a reasonably priced annual membership.
  7. 7. 6Beginner’s Blogging Guide ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group April 2015, All Rights Reserved Structure. It is a good idea to make use of headings and other means to highlight key points as much as possible. Readability is also enhanced by short paragraphs and bulleted lists. If the post is long, provide a roadmap or guide in the introduction that gives people a sense of what is coming. Keywords, categories, and tags. Keywords are important from an SEO perspective, but you should not try to “game” search results by forcing certain terms into the text. Focus on the content and allow search engines to uncover the post organically. It works better than many people lead you to believe it does. Categories can also be very useful in terms of content management. By creating topical categories, linking your posts to them, and including a category list or cloud on your blog page, you provide readers with a way to access similar content. That exposes them to older blog posts, which reinforces and increases the value of your focus and expertise, in addition to contributing to your SEO results. The same can be done with tags. You’re generally going to pick one keyword (which can be a phrase) for each post. You should aim to limit the number of categories per post as well (ideally to just one), but you can use many tags. Understanding the difference between categories and tags is challenging, and it helps to think of them this way: categories are like chapters in a book, whereas tags are like terms in an index. If you think of your blog posts like recipes for a cookbook, each recipe would generally belong to one category/chapter (e.g., main dishes, desserts, cookies), but could include elements (i.e., tags) referenced in multiple places (e.g., cherries, which can be used in a recipes in multiple categories). Post timing. I am very wary of any advice about timing. In spite of the so-called scientific claims some people make, it is really more of an art, and individual results can vary widely. Plus, although it is nice to see a spike in web visits after a blog post is published, your focus for sharing content should probably be on the traffic it can drive over the long term rather than the short term. At least initially, timing should not be a high priority. Post URLs. This is another important topic I do not see addressed much. You can use a URL shortener like tiny.cc, bit.ly or goo.gl to reduce the length of long addresses before sharing posts, but you should still aim to make the url as short as possible, including only the essential elements such as the date, the keyword, and other necessary words from the post title that make the url meaningful. For example, the post that included the 2014 edition of this guide was titled “Blogging: A Comprehensive Beginner's Guide,” but in the url – http://denovati.com/2014/07/blogging- beginners-guide – I stripped away several words to minimize its length. Sharing capabilities. Make sure your blog posts are easy to share by including a widget/plug-in like ShareThis or AddThis to your blog page, in an easy-to-spy-and-use spot. Comments. Yes, you should enable readers to share their thoughts and you probably do not need to pre-moderate them. You are not likely to be overwhelmed by comments, and the risks from trolls and spammers are pretty low. You may want to create a set of posting guidelines that enable
  8. 8. 7Beginner’s Blogging Guide ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group April 2015, All Rights Reserved you to manage comments after they are shared, but for most individuals/organizations, developing guidelines is not critical in the beginning. Creating Content Creating content on a regular schedule is one of the most challenging (and daunting) aspects of blogging, but it is more manageable than many people realize. Although text is the preferred format, not all your posts have to be text based. They can include embedded videos, podcasts, single and gallery images, documents and slide decks, among other media. You have lots of flexibility in terms of what you can share and how, but you want to be careful about sounding too “salesy.” The primary goal of your blogs posts should be to help and inform people, not pitch you or your organization. It is okay to promote your brand and focus on business development, but promotion should be low-key and infrequent. Think expansively about the content you can share through the blog. Some of it can and should be original, but much of it can be repurposed and/or re-leveraged content originating from other sources. You can also repurpose some of your static website content to make it more dynamic. For original content, there is a delicate balance to navigate between timely and timeless content. Timely content, focused on hot topics, can drive a lot of traffic in the short term and create great spikes in visits. Timeless content, on the other hand, may drive fewer short-term visits but will create a “long tail” of activity. The best posts can do both, but it is not easy to predict what topics/headlines will appeal to readers over the near and short terms. If you have to pick one or the other, focus on long-term value. Examples of repurposed content include: • Press releases • Links to traditional media news stories about your organization and/or in which someone from your organization was interviewed/quoted • Organization news o Share “state of” summaries from organizational leaders (e.g., the President’s letter) o Announce and link to the latest newsletter and/or (re)share individual articles o Welcome new employees, members, clients, partners, suppliers and/or other stakeholders, and/or share relevant news about them o Share relevant operational statistics that you would normally provide publicly (e.g., efficiency improvements, sales milestones, donor thanks) • Product and/or facility videos • Client testimonials • Case studies • White papers
  9. 9. 8Beginner’s Blogging Guide ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group April 2015, All Rights Reserved Examples of original content include: • Insights from organizational leaders and other experts about industry trends, client challenges, and other topics related to the products/services you offer (without directly pitching a solution) • News digests that contain organizationally-relevant or industry-related content, edited to offer your unique insights • Interviews (text, video, or audio) with organizational leaders, staff, clients, and other stakeholders sharing relevant experiences, perspectives, and insights • Guest posts from industry leaders and experts outside of your organization When creating original content, remember that quality and integrity matter as much in a blog as they do in any other means of communication you may use. A few critical points: • Do not plagiarize content. • Do not try to “game” the blogging process just to get a post out. For example, don’t use your blog regularly to summarize news/research reports without adding substantive commentary. • Be careful about using ghost writers to represent organizational leaders. In blogs especially, people expect a post “from the President” to in fact be from the president… • When you use guest bloggers, make sure their work meets your editorial/brand/ethical standards. Finally, do not be afraid to experiment. You can try to predict what people will want to read, but the question is ultimately an empirical one. As long as the content is high quality, you should not hesitate to share it, even if it does not appeal to potential readers as much as you would like it to. Sharing Content Once you have created a blog post, the additional investment of time to share it is relatively minimal. Here are my suggestions for the main channels through which you might push content out in an effort to pull people back to your website: Twitter: Tweet out a link at least once. You can schedule multiple tweets if you like, but I would only do that if you have an active Twitter account and/or a lot of followers and are concerned someone might miss a single tweet. If that is not the case, too many repeated tweets can turn people away. If individual employees also regularly tweet on behalf of the organization, they can tweet out links as well. Facebook: Post a link on your organization’s page if you have one. Individual employees can also share on their own news feeds, but I would only do that if your content is potentially interesting to a wide audience. You may also be able to link your blog posts to your Facebook page via an
  10. 10. 9Beginner’s Blogging Guide ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group April 2015, All Rights Reserved automatic feed mechanism, but you will still need to share each post to ensure it shows up in people’s news feeds. LinkedIn: Share your posts as individual status updates, company page updates, and as discussion items in relevant groups. Installing the LinkedIn bookmarklet makes this process simple and efficient. I generally try to add a short comment to emphasize why I think it may be worth people’s time to read. In certain instances it may also make sense to share your posts with individuals using the bookmarklet, but I generally find that process too cumbersome and time consuming. Email blasts and newsletters. You can feature individual posts, include a section in each email blast with links to the latest posts, and even devote entire emails to sharing post excerpts and links. You can also repurpose content originally created for the blog as newsletter articles. When you have generated enough posts on a specific topic, you can create an email blast that is focused on them. Other channels. You can leverage a wide variety of general news and blogging platforms, as well as digital professional communities, for driving traffic. This form of distribution can fall into two categories: • There are sites such as Social Media Today, Business 2 Community, and American Express Open Forum that individuals can join and use to share their own content. Professional communities on Ning-based sites (e.g., RecruitingBlogs) provide similar capabilities. And of course now you are able to use LinkedIn blogging to syndicate content as well. • You can comment on related Facebook posts, LinkedIn discussion items, blog posts, and news articles written by others, including links back to your own blog posts. A few words of caution on sharing: • Be careful when you have multiple people sharing the same content. If they have overlapping networks, that could result in “oversharing,” which could be viewed as spammy. It is better to stagger their shares, just as you should try to stagger all sharing across different platforms whenever possible. • Only share relevant content on news/blogging platforms and via digital communities. If your sharing appears to be indiscriminate, you will turn people off and defeat your own purposes. And where there are posting rules/guidelines, be sure to respect them. • Be respectful of other people’s blogs and articles. In addition to making sure your links are related to the post on which you are commenting, say a few words that draw the connection rather than simply posting a “read my post – here’s the link” comment. And a few more notes: • Sometimes an original share in a LinkedIn group can get overlooked. Adding a comment to a discussion item you posted a week or so later can help drive fresh traffic to a blog post. If
  11. 11. 10Beginner’s Blogging Guide ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group April 2015, All Rights Reserved you are posting items in a series, it is also appropriate to add a comment with a link to subsequent posts. • Reblogging, reposting and resharing are acceptable practices, within reason. If you have multiple blogs, make sure reblogged content is appropriate in other blogs. Reposted content should include significant additions and/or updates to previous material. Finally, when resharing previously posted content, allow sufficient time to pass (at least 2-3 months), and limit resharing to timeless posts. • Be sure to acknowledge everyone who makes an effort to comment on and/or share your content. Even a simple display of gratitude can go a long way – and its absence may make people less inclined to engage with you or promote your ideas in the future. Monitoring and Adjusting After you have created and shared your content, you should pay attention to what happens and be prepared to respond accordingly. As with other aspects of blogging, however, you should not obsess over metrics or over-complicate the monitoring process. Here are a few tips on the main things to pay attention to: Analytics. Whether you set up Google Analytics or use an analytics tool offered by your blogging platform provider, you should pay regular attention to the quantity and quality of traffic to your blog/website. That feedback is invaluable in letting you know which posts resonate the most with folks, which outlets drive the most visitors, and other metrics that will help you refine your future blogging activity. I have found that it is particularly important to pay attention to the topics that resonate most with readers, because they will help you determine future post topics. For example, although I have a preference for writing and sharing conceptual and strategic pieces focused on big-picture issues, I have learned that people are far more interested in the tactical pieces I have written – at least in the short term. From a long-tail perspective, however, the conceptual pieces seem to be of equal interest, so I try to maintain a balance between the two. Search engine results. These results are important not just from a straight analytics perspective (i.e., how much traffic are you getting from searches), but examining the searches can provide information on important issues like the keywords people are using to look for content and where your content is ranked on various results. Number of shares. When you add a sharing feature to your blog posts, you should be able to get statistics about how many times your content is shared by readers. Those counts provide another gauge of popularity, over both the short and long terms. Comments. I am not a fan of pre-moderation, but many people still do it. Regardless, you will want to make sure you regularly monitor comments and weed out the spam and any other posts that do
  12. 12. 11Beginner’s Blogging Guide ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group April 2015, All Rights Reserved not conform to guidelines you may have developed. It is also good form to respond to readers’ comments, either individually or in groups. Grading your blog and website. Services like Hubspot offer free tools for grading your blog and your website (e.g., http://marketing.grader.com). It is a good idea to take pre- and post-blog website measures, and to regularly monitor your grades. They are not perfectly scientific and you should not necessarily strive for perfect scores, but they can be very useful in measuring progress. Conclusion Like many things worth doing, blogging requires a fairly significant investment of time and effort, especially in the beginning when the learning curve is the steepest. It gets easier over time, as your skill level and efficiency increase and your content strategy becomes more focused, but you will always be experimenting, learning, and tweaking to keep things fresh and interesting.

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