A friend of mine is planning on picking up a paid blogging gig and asked for a little advice. I decided to write up what I’ve learned over the years. I was never the most prolific blogger, but I consider myself a fairly decent lead blogger/editor. Note that most of these ideas only apply to working for a commercially viable group blog (you’re not going to find it in practice on RobotSkirts, we’re only future proof viable as a robot accessory line). If you’re just doing a personal blog you should throw this post out and pick up some of Tony Pierce’s tips (old favorite of mine even if I don’t agree with all of it). I did cover part of this topic a year ago while talking about the blog industry. I’m curious to see what people think I’ve left out or am just entirely off base on.
How to blog for a professional group blog
I hope this doesn’t sound too condescending, but it should both strike down general populace perceptions about blogging and build a foundation for what good blogging is.
Length: You should neither be so brief as to make your post pointless (why didn’t they just go to the source) or so long as to be a dissertation (why didn’t they just go to the source). You want the reader to know all of the important facts of the article that you are linking to by the time they reach the end of your write up. They should be able to easily decide whether or not they want to follow the link to the original story.
Snarkiness: It definitely has a firm foundation in blogging but you shouldn’t let it define your blogging.
Voice: You’re part of a professional publication; this type of blogging isn’t about you. That doesn’t mean you can’t have individual voice and nuances, but you’re posting as part of a team and should refer to your actions with the editorial we.
Clarity: A direct post title is preferred to a clever one. If people can’t find your post title using a search engine it’s not worth much beyond the day it was written. Try to include all the major players in the title. Also, don’t block quote, ever. It’s not writing and the Google won’t think you’re a legitimate publication if you do it.
Engagement: Engaging your audience is incredibly important. Ad revenue is what keeps a blog alive and an active commenting community will help build your readership. You can seed comments by asking a question in your post or making a controversial statement. Your audience isn’t full of idiots though and will feel insulted if you constantly end every post with “What do you think?” or “Macs suck!” Ask a legitimate question and more people will be willing to participate.
Insight: Nearly anyone can summarize a post, but few people want to read “This is what it says at this link. Wheeeeeee!”. You have to provide insight into the topic. Why is it important now? When has this come up in the past? What similar items has the blog reported before? What impact will this have in the future? People reading blog posts expect both factual reporting plus the authors honest opinion on the subject.
Credit: Blogs are notorious for giving credit where credit is due. If you are linking to a story that you are only aware of because you saw it linked from somewhere else, you must include a [via SiteName] with SiteName being linked to the post you read. If someone sends you a tip you give a [thanks SomeReader] with a link to their site if applicable. There are rare occasions where something is so widely reported that you can give a [via Everywhere] or a [thanks Everyone].
Context linking: It’s important to include context links in your posts; not necessarily a lot. You definitely want to include them when you think a reader will be unfamiliar with a topic. Also, to connect to a previous article as a story progresses. This is one of the many benefits of publishing online. You can provide interactive footnotes in your story that a reader can explore at their own will. Don’t assume the reader is following your context links though. Otherwise you will end up with a meaningless piece of text that’s just a hyperlinked inside joke.
Originality: Original content trumps all others. You can be a good news reporting service, but you really want to be a readers final stopping point for content. Every time you link to another site it’s a chance for a reader to think “That site has the content. Why don’t I cut out the middle man.” This doesn’t mean that you should link less, just that it’s important to generate content that is unique to your site. It will not only keep readers, it will encourage other sites to link to you.
“Your greatest challenge lies ahead – and downwards.”