How to Train Your Blog
Blogging is expected of a lot of businesses these days – and it’s not as easy as it looks.
What’s a blog or news page for? Well, blogs are great for SEO, because they’re an easy way of updating your website with interesting, relevant content.
It’s also the ideal place to show some more in-depth knowledge about your industry, with case studies and opinion pieces. These will encourage your users to spend longer reading about what you do, and will lead them to trust you more.
News is also where you can celebrate your successes, as well as showing a side of your organisation that’s a little more personal. These words come ‘from’ whoever’s written them, after all, not from the company at large, so you have a bit more freedom to add a different flavour to your posts.
In short, a blog is a great idea. But it’s easier said than done.
Sure, it sounds simple to throw together a few posts a month of at least 300 words, the reality is much more complex. You might be in a business that doesn’t lend itself well to regular updates, or you might just be so busy that you struggle to find the time. You might also have tone or content guidelines that you need to follow, or the post might need to be reviewed to ensure that it’s in line with compliance before it goes up on your site.
Having seen many a site go live and then struggle to build up momentum on its news feed, we’ve learned a two simple tips that will make sure your blog is doing its job: giving your users an insight into your company, and keeping you on top of the search rankings.
The write way to do it
It’s incredibly hard to sit and create original content. I mean, there’s a reason that we aren’t all novelists – and even Shakespeare took the majority of his stories from other places. Hamlet is based on Danish history. King Lear was an old British legend. Macbeth was an actual Scottish king (quite a nice one, actually). Out of the forty plays that Shakespeare wrote and that legions of GCSE students have wrestled with, a grand total of four of them have original plots.
People can get very self-conscious and uncomfortable when they’re writing. They imagine everything they’re writing being scrutinised and project their worries about what people will say onto the page.
In the world of business, it’s even worse.
Most organisations want to have a blog in order to show that they’re knowledgeable and have interesting insights on their sector. To their competitors and their current clients, they want to look like they’re saying something intelligent. To their potential customers, they need to look interesting enough that the blog reader will want to get in touch. It’s a tricky line to walk.
Understandably, a lot of businesses feel the pressure, so they back away from writing their own stuff and publishing it on their blogs. Instead, they take a source they trust – usually industry news sites – and copy the content, sometimes including links to the original article.
This is bad for two reasons.
SEO, who are you again?
One is that it’s terrible for your SEO. It leads people to click on the link that takes them off your site, to the original source. Worse, Google absolutely hates any kind of copy-and-paste job. In fact, they call it “scraping content”, which brings to mind all the things you might scrape off your shoes: a compelling depiction of Google’s view on the matter.
Keep your shoes – and your hands – clean. Since Google rolled out their Quality Control update in May, which saw a number of sites sink in the search results, they’re better than ever at detecting copied and poor-quality text. They’re changing their algorithms all the time, ensuring that they’re able to spot the cheaters.
That isn’t to say that Google only want you to be using content that’s pure as the driven snow. That’s way too much hard work for anyone to do. Instead, you should take a tip from the way big newspapers do it: report on someone else’s news report, but rewrite it with your own spin. That’s how they keep up with the demands of modern media.
This can be incredibly successful. After all, nobody talks about the ‘real’ Macbeth any more. And remember: your readers want to know who you are, not what industry websites you’ve also been looking at.
Picking up a piece of news, summarising the article and then saying how it’s relevant to you – adding your own twist, or even saying that you disagree with it entirely – can be absolutely fine. You just need to ensure that you use your own words to tell the story, and to include a link to the original source. That shows Google that you aren’t a plagiarist (it’s good enough for Shakespeare!) and also means you don’t have to spend hours every week crafting brand-new posts.
The second reason you shouldn’t just post someone else’s content is to do with pictures.
Picture this for me
The internet is heavily image-driven these days, so it’s not just a case of getting the words out – you need some pictures to spruce up your text.
If you’re taking all of your news from industry websites, but you don’t want to look like you’re cloning the content, you might come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is use their logo as your blog post cover. That way, you’re attributing authorship to the right place, which is good, right?
Wrong. The problem with this is that you risk filling your news page with someone else’s branding and logo. Your website should be about you: your brand, your message, your words, your images. Admitting that all of your posts are taken from somewhere else risks undermining the trust that your blog is supposed to be building with your site visitors.
Plus, someone else’s logo might clash horribly with your website design, and that’s never fun on the eyes.
Finding a regular source of high-quality, interesting images can be hard, but it’s absolutely worth it to stand out from the crowd. We’re lucky in that we have talented designers who produce bespoke images for us, but not everyone has that resource in-house. If you don’t have someone who can do it for you, you might be tempted to find a source for yourself.
There are plenty of stock image websites that offer occasional free downloads – snapping them up can mean access to good-quality photos that will make your text sparkle. Another option is a development by our favourite social media tool, Buffer. In line with their own research on what’s successful, they’ve developed Pablo, an astonishingly useful short-cut that lets you put text over an image for use on your social media feeds. It’s quick, clean, and the images end up looking nice – but though they look lovely, you can risk filling your news feed with generic, non-branded images.
You could also hire a designer to produce your blog images for you. If you need a certain amount a month, and are able to get your posts to them in time, this could work incredibly well for you. It can risk adding another step into the process of updating your blog, though.
The best thing you can do is make sure you have a branded image as a permanent Plan B. When we launch a site, we like to produce a placeholder image that includes the company’s logo, and is the right size for their blog post covers. This gives them the freedom to put things up when they need to, with an image that will always look good with the rest of the site’s colours and layout. It’s a healthy short-cut that means their news feed can really celebrate who they are and what they do – without them needing to go on a quest for the perfect news post cover image.
Between strong branded images and intelligently rewriting the headlines with your own opinion, you can have a blog that shows your authority and personality – without the stress of writing an original work of art every time.