Part 1: Easy Setup for Blogging Novices
Does your business run a blog? If you’ve answered no to this question, or if you have a blog but want to improve it, think about what’s been holding you back. Worrying about not keeping up with the competition or simply putting off starting until tomorrow (and the next day, and the next…) rank among some of the top reasons why small- or medium-sized businesses may avoid building their active online presence. If this sounds like what you’ve been saying to yourself, then it’s time to kick it into high gear and launch that blog -- no excuses. And what better place to begin your journey than with some advice from the blogging experts at The Blogcademy?
Three of my personal favorite bloggers also run their own businesses, though much of their reputation comes from their online personalities. These three ladies include Gala Darling, who preaches “radical self love” and living a stylish and authentic life; Shauna Haider, a graphic designer and creative director at her own agency who blogs under the name “Nubby Twiglet”; and Kat Williams, a wedding photographer and founder of the website Rock ‘n’ Roll Bride, which showcases unconventional weddings. All have been blogging for several years and have worked to continuously build and evolve their own personal brands.
Through The Blogcademy, which the three established in 2012, they have taught more than 1,000 bloggers in workshops all around the globe, and they recently began offering a series of videos on their website called “The Blogcademy Home School” -- perfect for the blogger who doesn’t have the travel budget to attend in-person but still wants to blog like a pro.
While you may not be in the same industries as Gala, Shauna, and Kat, the advice they offer can ring true for just about any business owner looking to break down the barriers of blogging. Much of the content on The Blogcademy’s website will cost you to view (because hey, you can’t give away everything for free in business). However, they do have a few great sample videos that can be viewed through a simple connection with Facebook, so you can get a taste of the advice that they offer.
The first video in their “Blogcademy Home School” series, “Blogging Basics,” gives new students the tools they need to start their blogs. Their other videos include in-depth information on PR, content creation, and advertising, among other common blogging issues.I can’t give away everything that Gala, Shauna, and Kat talk about in the video, so I recommend watching it for yourself. However, here are just a few of the tips they cover in “Blogging Basics”:
1. Blogging: Where to Begin
Assuming your website already has a domain, you should be able to incorporate a blog as one of its pages. If it doesn’t, however, there are places online where you can buy your own domain; these sites will also help you to host your blog. Gala, Shauna and Kat all recommend getting a top-level domain (i.e. a .com address) rather than a regional variant for your URL. This type of domain looks the most professional.
One of the biggest tricks with beginning a blog is finding the right platform. While there are plenty out there that you can test-drive, the official Blogcademy recommendation is for WordPress. If you need help setting up your blog, check out the many online tutorials out there on other blogs or YouTube, or ask an online marketing pro.
After setting up your blog, you can choose to enable or disable certain features. For example, some bloggers love to see comments and discussions on their websites to get an idea of what their readership finds to be the most helpful and engaging content. Others, however, find it too difficult to wade through them all; Gala, for instance, shut off her comments a few years ago, but she’s still easy to get in touch with on Facebook and Twitter. The choice is entirely up to you.
2. Blog Layout Essentials: What Your Readers Need to Know
Whether your blog is separate from your business website or not, you’ll want to add one very crucial piece to your site: an “About” page. If you don’t already have one of these, now is an excellent time to craft one. Gala, Shauna, and Kat recommend adding an “About” page because it’s most likely going to be among the first features on the page that readers click on. Customers want to know they’re interacting with actual people -- not some weird “blogging robot,” as Gala says.
While the advice the Blogcademy offers on this subject pertains mostly to those who want to make blogging their core business, the advice still stands for other industries. Above all, give your About page a personal touch: display a picture of yourself or your team, explain how the company was founded, add a mission statement -- or all of the above. Think about it as if you were a new reader. What would you want to know about this site? This company?
Make sure that your About page has links to your social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, or any others. All of your usernames across those platforms should be the same; this makes it easy for people to find information on your company, and it’s good SEO practice, as well. If you’re doing business under too many different names, customers may think you have something to hide and could hesitate to use your services.
In addition to an About page, you should also have an area of your blog or website with contact information. This way customers can find your brick-and-mortar location, if you have one, or get some idea about whether or not you cater to their region of the globe.
3. Designing Your Blog without Reinventing the Wheel
Shauna, who regularly creates blog layouts, magazine spreads, and other designs for clients, explains that “Most people tend to read in an F-shape,” meaning that blog content tends to appear in a wide lefthand column, and links and additional information sit in a slimmer column on the right.
It’s okay to embrace the general format, Shauna says, because “That’s what readers are used to seeing,” so don’t worry if your blog feels a little bit generic. Most blogs, says Kat, also have a header at the top with a few tabs for separate blog pages (About, Contact, etc.); the sidebar contains links, advertisements, or website features that you want to draw attention to. (For instance, if you want to point your readers to a specific topic on your blog, like a series of how-to videos you’ve made, then this would be a good space for a link to those posts.)
This layout also helps readers, who are used to different sites, know where to click to find more information, read other entries, contact you, or perform other functions. Your page titles should be generic, so readers know what they include. As plain as it sounds, using “About” is okay for the about page -- not something silly like “Welcome to the Jungle,” Gala jokes.
It’s not about reinventing the wheel, as Kat explains, but about letting your readers know what to expect from you. You have 2.5 seconds to get someone’s attention when they go to your website, Kat says, and “If people don’t know what the next obvious step is, they’re just going to click away.” (Admittedly, you may have as much as six seconds, according to current research, but you wouldn’t want to risk it with a poorly designed web page.)
So far, this guide should help you get started with your blog’s setup. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a bit of time to begin thinking about what sort of content you want to post, if you haven’t already. Be sure to check back in next week for the second part of this article, which will be on formatting and creating excellent content.