Over the past 7 years of blogging, one could say I’ve become quite familiar. Online Marketing Blog has received a lot of kudos recently but more importantly, our experience with reviewing others’ blogs has been a learning experience to say the least. I’ve looked at over 1,000 blogs to create the BIGLIST and recently reviewed the top UK Online Marketing Blogs as well.
Here are a few key characteristics I’ve found that represent a highly productive blog in terms of branding, community, SEO, PR, recruiting and taking mindshare away from the competition:
1. URL - Pick something short and easy to remember. blog.domainname.com works great, so does domainname.com/blog or even, companynamblog.com. Try to avoid obscure or long URLs like www.domainname.com/files/about/blog?home or worse, companyname.blogspot.com. If you’re a business, then act professionally and use a domain name you control for your blog URL.
2. Blog name - If your blog has a unique name like “GM Fastlane” then it should be prominent with a logo and that logo should link to the home page of the blog. If your blog is just named “Company Name Blog” that’s fine, but offer a “home” to go to. Tag lines to go along with the blog name are useful for readers so they understand what your blog is about. Taglines are also useful for SEO.
3. Design – When a blog works as a direct extension of your brand, then the style guide elements of your brand should carry over to the blog design. However, it shouldn’t be so close as to confuse the reader whether they’re on the company website or the company blog. If the blog serves another purpose, then it’s fine to have a unique style with subtle brand references.
An entire book could be written about user experience and design of a blog, but here are a few key points:
- Stand out – there are millions of blogs out there and competing social channels like Twitter and Facebook. You’d better stand out or be forgotten.
- Add style – make an effort to convey the personality and style of your company
- Easy to read – headlines should be much larger than the body copy of posts. Blog author, date published and other elements like comment count are useful for readers to connect with post authors and know they’re reading fresh content. We remove the dates after a year or so.
- Header – most blogs express their creativity with header graphics or images. If you can’t have a unique logo for your blog, then have a unique header
4. Navigation – I can’t say enough about the need to make it easy to find content on a blog. Useful navigation elements include: Categories, Tags or Tag Cloud, Search Box, Popular Posts, Recent Posts, Most Commented Posts. You don’t need all of these, but most of them are quite useful.
5. Content – create an editorial plan for the blog that supports the customer personas you’re trying to engage and that represents the keywords/topics you want to be known for. After 7 years of blogging, I like to have certain days each week planned out with specific topics and other days as wildcards. Ex: Social Mondays, Tactical Tips on Tuesdays, Thursday Rants and Friday News Roundup. Pay attention to web analytics, off-site citations, comments and social chatter to gauge whether your content resonates or not. Paying attention will also uncover new topics to cover that your readers are interested in. A simple query on your search engine referrer keywords with a filter of “how to” can reveal many topics for tactical posts.
6. Social - we like the blog hub and spoke model that leverages blog content as a destination and off-blog social media participation and other content syndication as the outposts. That means the blog might have a Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, YouTube, Amplify and similar accounts that are used to extend conversation, re-purpose or mash-up blog content.
As you can see with this blog, we’ve added the Facebook fan box to the sidebar and make it easy to share on Twitter and Facebook with sharing buttons / counters at the top of each post. It’s no wonder that Facebook and Twitter drive a substantial amount of traffic to the blog. That’s not because we offer the sharing buttons as much as the fact that we’re social on Facebook and Twitter. Flair is no substitute for interaction. So if you add social features to your blog, understand that to make them effective, time should be spent on those off-blog social channels.
7. Who – as in, who is behind the blog. This is far too rare a feature on many blogs. Create a page that describes the purpose of the blog and the people behind it. That kind of content makes it clear what readers can expect and gives them something to identify with when reading posts.
There are many, many other tips for effective blogs. Essentially, make sure your blog conveys the brand and message you’re after with its design and content. Make it easy to read, navigate and share content. Within a few seconds, readers should be able to tell what the blog topic is and find something interesting. If not, they’ll move on to someone else.
I know we have a lot of experienced business bloggers reading, what are some of your best tips for a successful business blog? Are there features you’d like us to add to Online Marketing Blog?