How to Blog, For Real
I’ve been blogging for roughly twelve years, and writing online daily for longer than that. It’s both just a habit and vastly more than a habit. Sometimes it’s nearly compulsive. There are so many listicles online about what makes an effective blogger, and how to blog to succeed in business, but I think it can be boiled down to two words.
You got your site, you named it something clever and made it pretty, and now that blinking cursor is taunting you, asking you to pull 300-1000 words of raw, quality content out of your guts. What do you do? Write about anything. Anything! We can debate all day about what kind of content customers want to see and what kind of content makes for a good portfolio, but the real challenge is creating content AT ALL.
If you’re a personal writer, write about your excellent/terrible lunch. Write about your cats/hamster/5th grade teacher. Navel gaze. Contemplate the meaning of life, or why you indulge in elastic waisted pants and a Real Housewives marathon. Find a news story or another blog post that piques your interest and comment on it. Take a stance on an issue. Ideally the majority of your content will focus on a theme — but conversely, you might find that the content of your site takes on a theme as time goes on. Your blog might be about your love of cooking. At the same time, because you’re writing daily about whatever, you will find that people love your blog as much for the recipes and tips as they do because of the adorable pet/kid pictures and snarky political commentary. Yes, really. If your audience likes you, they’re more likely to remember you and come back for more.
If you’re a content-specific writer, say, someone responsible for writing for your small business, find a new, business-related topic to comment on. Write about general industry innovation. Answer a question about your products or services that nobody asked — YET. They will conveniently find it when they google this question someday and be thrilled to find not only that someone predicted their questions, but also offer services to fix their problem. Write about the history of your local office. Nerds like me love that stuff. Post pictures of the office employees’ silly moustaches and secretary blouses from that 30 year-old photo in the back of your filing cabinet. Talk about your company values and how your company culture informs the customer service experience.
As a reader looking at a business website, most people are looking for three things: your phone number, your services, and your cost breakdowns. But you have a blog to convey something else. Your blog is to tell your readers who you are, and to demonstrate the tone and spirit of your organization. Your blog is meant to communicate timely information and put a human face on your content. It’s meant to brag about all the awesome things you think and do (and in an era of self-promotion, it’s wise to do so).
Sometimes the publicity of a blog can be intimidating for newbies. Don’t let it be a deterrent. The quality of your writing will improve with the frequency of your writing. Just write.
Laura McKenna, whose blog recently celebrated a tenth birthday, wrote something recently about what writing daily does to a person. She notes that after ten years, she can shoot out a cogent 500 word post in under 15 minutes. She can instantly tell if a subject is something that will interest an audience or not. She has learned that imperfection is better than nothing. She believes that an active audience is a powerful corrective, motivator, and fact-checker. I agree with all of the above. I could quote the whole post, actually, including the negative parts.
That said, not every kind of website needs a daily update. Your website does need active daily engagement on an array of social media networks, including your blog, in order to maintain and build relevance. It should tie in to Facebook and Twitter, and depending on your needs, it wouldn’t hurt to tie in to Tumblr or Linked In as well. These short-form platforms also count against your daily writing, but these interactions are more pointed and concise. Arguably, these are also a place for your time-sensitive and/or throwaway thoughts: Buy this thing now. Mention this tweet and get a discount today. Isn’t this thing that happened sad/hilarious/weird? These interactions help build a relationship with your audience, especially as you interact with them directly, responding to their comments, tweets, and posts.
If you’re not writing on a regular basis, it’s easy to ignore your site and social media accounts and procrastinate adding big and small information to your site that your customers might need. Someone who prioritizes writing for the website is someone who is engaged with the website. Your audience will notice this.
If you have a blog on your site — especially if your blog is the main feature of your site — you should be making a good faith effort to post on a regular basis. Write daily. You will see results.