I’ve been blogging since 2005. I started with a personal blog, that turned into a running blog. Eventually, that blog got retired. I started this blog two years ago, with a view to focussing on blogging professionally.
Here are some things I’ve learned about blogging over the past six years.
#1: Pick a topic or a theme
My blog is about topics that interest me professionally. Granted, my professional interests are broad, spanning literacy, technology, leadership, second and foreign language teaching, pedagogy, teaching methodology, adult education, and using social media for professional purposes.
Although my professional interests are broad, it’s still essentially a blog by an educator, for other educators. I don’t blog about running here, or movies. I don’t post recipes or talk much about my family. If something impacts me in a powerful that is not related to my professional work and I feel compelled to blog about it, I reflect on the idea to see if there is a way to relate it to my work. If there is, I will tie it into my work somehow. That’s what I did in the case of the post, 21 Leadership Tips for Chairing Difficult Meetings. The strategies I blogged about where ones that I used in a meeting that was not work-related. But the techniques could easily be transferred to a professional context. I went through an analytical thinking process about how to relate the topic to my blog readers. Then I crafted the post. If there is no plausible and logical connection, I don’t blog about it.
Your blog topic does not have to be so narrowly focussed that you find it hard to write because you don’t want to post unless it is meets such a strict criteria. But it does help to have a general theme so readers know what to expect.
#2: Generate ideas on what to blog about
If you’re new to blogging you might think “171 articles in a year? How does she do that? I don’t have that much to say…”
I bet you do! If you are passionate about your profession, you can blog. Here are some ways to get ideas:
Conversations with co-workers – My colleagues often inspire me to write about something or share a resource. Regular old conversations with people you like at work can be a great source of inspiration.
Share something interesting resources – When I find a resource that gets me excited, I post about it. I want to share that resource with other people. My blog is generally where I do that . I also use Twitter a lot for that, too. Some people call Twitter a “micro-blogging” site.
Share your best tips – If you love what you do, then you likely try to find the best ways of doing what you do. I have shared tips on simple techniques I have used in my own teaching practice like “How to teach vocabulary with colored file cards”. Tips do not have to be in-depth to be effective.
Op/Eds – These are otherwise known as “Opinion / Editorials” Expressing an informed, well-researched opinion can be a way to engage readers’ minds and hearts. I have even had reporters call me and ask to interview me on the radio based on an Op/Ed post.
#3: Post regularly
In order for your blog to keep your readers’ interest, you must blog regularly. It may be helpful for you to set blogging goals. For example, last year, one of my goals was to post at least once a week.
According to my blog’s 2011 Year in Review (automatically generated by WordPress), I did 171 posts in 2011. That’s way more than I had originally planned. Having a goal kept me accountable to myself and my readers.
#4: Keep it professional
A professional blog is no place to put down your, trash talk your co-workers or use foul language. There have been issues that have made me deeply upset as a professional, like when the Calgary Board of Education decided that French was no longer mandatory in its schools. That decision enraged me as a professional. I wrote an Op/Ed blog post about it. Even though I was fit to be tied, I used professional language in the post.
Ultimately, blogs are public. Your boss may be reading. A prospective new boss who is looking to recruit you for an exciting new job may be reading. Your worst enemy may be reading, just waiting for a reason to call your professional behaviour into question.
If a new reader happens upon your blog or is forwarded a post by someone else, that reader will make a snap decision about you, your credibility and your professionalism within the first thirty seconds of reading. That does not mean that you cannot speak your mind or be controversial. It does mean that you need to understand that your blog is accessible 24/7 by both your friends, your enemies and those who haven’t yet decided which of those they want to be.
#5: Include pictures
Photos, graphs, inforgraphics and other pictures add visual interest to your blog. Sites like Stock Exchange Photography offer photos that you can use for free. My blog includes a combination of stock photos, personal photos and logos.
There are a couple of different ways of posting photos to blogs. One is to upload photos. Another is to link to a photo that has already been published online, then republish that photo on your blog, using their URL. Often (though not always), I post a photo from another site’s web page, using the URL link to post the photo. I do this if what I am writing about promotes their site. Specifically, if my post contains a photo that is a logo, I often use a URL link for the photo.
The Twitter logo to the left is an example of this. If you click on that photo, it should take you to the Twitter website.
Officially, you are supposed to ask organizations if you can use their logos, but if I’m doing a post on Twitter, that encourages my readers to go and use their product, that’s me promoting them in a positive and helpful way. It’s like free advertising for them. In that case, I don’t ask permission to use their logo.
#6 Use headers
Using headers helps to visually break up your text. That makes it easier for readers to read your content.
Keep your headers short and concise. Ten words or fewer is ideal for a blog header. The longer your post, the more headers you want to use. The idea is to draw your reader’s attention to a section of your post, using a header to pique their interest.
Headers also help you to keep your writing organized. They ensure that each section of a post is focussed and relevant. If you have a paragraph that just does not seem to fit because you can not think of a header that makes sense within a given post, that may be an indication that paragraph is a tangent. Copy it. Paste it into a new document and leave it there while you finish writing your post. Go back to it and look at it again. If it just doesn’t fit, then save it as a draft for a future post on a slightly different topic.
#7: Edit and spell-check your posts
It happens to every blogger that the occasional spelling or grammatical error creeps in. The reality is that most bloggers do not have external editors for their work. So the work of a blogger includes writing, editing, lay-out and publishing.
When I am writing a blog post, I will save drafts as I go. When I am done, I try to remember to spell check it. I read it over to see if it makes sense and has a logical flow. Then, before I hit “publish”, I look over it again to see if it makes sense visually.
For example, for this post, I did a once over to ensure that all the tips were in the right order. I changed the order of a couple of them to give the whole post what I thought was a better flow. This is part of the editing process that takes place after you have actually written your post. WordPress also offers a “Preview” feature that allows you to see how your post will look when it is published. It is helpful to have a look and see what your readers will see.
About 25 to 30% of the time I invest in each post is spent on post-writing work such as editing. Budge time to spell check and read over your blog posts. It does not mean that your blog will be perfect, but will add to the overall quality of your work.
#8: Schedule your posts
Blogging platforms like WordPress offer you the option to schedule the publication of your blog. Sometimes, I am a bit of an insomniac. I can be up at 1:30 a.m. blogging. But I never publish my blog posts at that time of night. I schedule them to go out the next morning. About 70% of my blog posts are published between 07:00 and 08:00 Mountain time.
I do that for two reasons. One is that it means there is some consistency for my readers as to when my posts come out. Secondly, it means that the posts will be published in many time zones during waking hours. It may be a bit early for folks on the West Coast of North America, and late for folks in the middle East and Asia, but in general, I find that scheduling my posts for publication at that time makes them available when they are “hot off the press” for the majority of my readers.
Think about your readers. Where do they live? If you don’t know, look at your own time zone and the time zones directly before and after yours and use that as a starting point.
#9: Understand that consistency matters
One of the central themes of this post is that consistency matters. It matters that you blog on a regular basis. It is important to gather your posts under a theme or topic and make a conscious decision to blog about topics related to your theme. It is helpful that you schedule the majority of you your posts to be published at a certain time of day. The point of doing all these things is to provide a consistent experience for your readers.
If you want to surprise your readers, take a strong stand on a topic related to your overall theme. Be provocative in your writing. But don’t blog about the party your neighbours had on the weekend that was so loud you could not sleep; not unless you can find some way to relate that in a meaningful way to your readers.
Blog readers come to expect a certain level of consistency. When you provide that, you will be rewarded with consistency in return. You’ll get more regular subscribers, more people reading your blog on a consistent basis (even if they do not subscribe) and more comments from people who identify with what you write.
#10 Make readers the reason you blog
There are thousands of bloggers who write only for themselves. For these bloggers, it is about their self-expression, their creativity, their freedom of speech. For the person who feels disempowered and is struggling to find a voice, blogging for these reasons is admirable. It may be a valuable part of the healing process.
But ultimately, if you want to engage readers, your blog has to provide some value to them. It has to be interesting to them. It has to make them want to read more.
Every blog post does not have to hit every reader 100%. In fact, it probably can’t. The old adage of “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” is also true for blogging.
Every time I sit down to write I think about who’s on the receiving end of the post. Who will be reading it? What will it mean for them? How can they use this to become better informed, reflect on their own professional practice or learn something new? What’s in it for them?
The more your blog is about your readers, the more likely your readers are to enjoy it.
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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.