This is part of my new series on blogging. I did a post about starting a blog last week, which you might want to check out if you don’t have a blog or if you have a blog on Blogger or some other hosted network. From here on out, I’ll assume that you have a WordPress blog that you’re self-hosting through Bluehost or another hosting company.
Once you have a blog up, the first thing you need to think about is your content. In fact, no matter where you are in blogging, you always need to think about content first. There’s a lot of other things that go into blogging, including making money, getting more traffic, etc., but if your content isn’t good your blog won’t be successful and it won’t earn you extra income.
I have learned most of what I know about good content by writing years of really, really, really bad content. I’m a decent writer (thank you very much, B.A. in English) but I was a bad blogger for a long time. I won’t go over all of my missteps, but here’s a look at 5 really bad types of blog posts that you need to avoid:
1 /// The “Sorry I Haven’t Posted” post. I think all bloggers are guilty of doing this at some point, but when I was in law school I did it all the time. You can recognize this post because (A) it starts out with a long apology about not posting as though the lack of blog posts is severely impacting other people’s life satisfaction, (B) it moves on to some whiny explanation of how busy/tired/sick/distracted the blogger has been, and (C) at absolutely no point does it offer anything substantial for the reader to walk away with outside of a flimsy promise to be better about blogging in the future.
This is what is known as a waste of space post. You didn’t contribute anything, so why did you bother posting?
2 /// The “OMG, Pandas!!!” post. One of the easiest types of blog posts is the post where you share things that you found on the Internet. I did this for a really long time, even though that’s exactly what Facebook statuses are for, because I was a lazy blogger. The three big problems with this are: (1) your blog is supposed to be a place where you make contributions, not where you carbon copy other people’s contributions, (2) people of all sorts get mad and have the right to sue you if you repost their photos/work without permission, and (3) unless the focus of your blog is cool stuff you found on the Internet, every panda post is derailing your blog’s message and confusing your readers.
That being said, a lot of bloggers share cool stuff they found on the Internet. The secrets are that they usually do it all at once in a link round-up, they get permission before they repost anything that isn’t theirs, and they make sure the things they are sharing fit the theme of the blog. A design blogger sharing someone else’s beautiful photo (with permission!) as part of a “cool stuff of the Internet” post is good blogging. You sharing a funny cat video on your cooking blog is bad blogging.
3 /// The “Dear Diary” post. Oh, I have so many of these in the archives and 95% make me cringe. I originally started blogging as a way to keep in touch with friends and somewhere along the way that dissolved into me sharing every activity and thought that I’d had lately. This is really only interesting if you’re a celebrity. Otherwise, you need to package your posts in a way that makes them useful to the reader.
For example, let’s say you want to blog about a recent trip to the museum. Bad blogging is telling your readers that you went to the museum but you didn’t get to stay as long as you wanted because you had to come back to meet the cable guy but then he was late and you’re so annoyed so you’re eating ice cream. Good blogging is taking lots of photos of the museum, including your three favorite things about the visit, and linking to the museum website. The first post gives your readers a long story about why you’re crabby. The second post encourages your readers to explore the museum for themselves. See the difference?
4 /// The “People are Stupid / I Hate Stuff” post. These are my least favorite and I’m happy to say that I’ve only published a handful of these because even at my worst I knew better. Blogging about how much you dislike something or someone probably doesn’t add anything to the world. If the person is universally disliked, you’re preaching to the choir. If the person is popular, you’re just baiting people to come and fight with you. It’s one thing to say that you disagree with an idea and then explain your position. It’s another to just attack someone or something else as a matter of opinion about how ugly/boring/stupid/desperate they are. My opinion is that it makes you look ugly, boring, stupid, and desperate…even if you’re right.
Disclaimer: there are people who make a ton of money off of these kinds of attack blog posts because it stirs drama and people show up to watch or participate in the Internet brawl. You could do this. I cannot help you with it. I think it’s low.
5 /// The “Overshare” post. It’s a little laughable that I’m including this, since I’m a pretty open book here on the Interwebs, but you do need to keep overshare posts at bay…ESPECIALLY if you’re blogging for your business. Overshare territory is anything you wouldn’t talk about in front of…well, anyone who is on the planet. Because (hello!) people anywhere can read your posts. So leave your funky health problems off your blog unless they’re making some major contribution. Same goes with sex problems and posts where you hate your mother. Phone a friend.
So what does good content look like? Here’s a checklist of ten points you should try to hit every time:
1 /// It’s your own original content or something you’re adding to the discussion of other people’s content (reposted only with permission).
2 /// Your post fits the focus of your blog.
3 /// If a dream sponsor wanted to consider you for a marketing campaign, you’d have no problem sharing this post as an example of your work.
4 /// Your reader is leaving with something tangible they can use in their lives. (Recipes, downloads, and recommended product lists are obvious here, but this can also apply to a story that taught them something, a story they were able to relate to, or photos that stirred emotion.)
5 /// You didn’t lie at any point in your post and nobody can sue you over something you wrote/copied/posted.
6 /// Your post features big, beautiful graphics. If you don’t use your own photos, you’re using someone else’s photos with permission or you’ve created a large illustration or text image that someone could pin if they wanted to save this post.
7 /// Your title tells the reader exactly what the post is about. (Creative titles are more trouble than they’re worth and they don’t help you when it comes to Google search results.)
8 /// You care about what you just posted. If someone else posted the same article and shared it on Facebook, you’d click through to read it and you might pin it or share it with friends.
9 /// The format is appealing. Readers love short paragraphs, numbered lists/checklists, and lots of photos or illustrations to look at.
10 /// You encourage comments. Most bloggers actively encourage comments by leaving a question or two at the end of their posts, which is a great way to get people talking. Very rarely am I able to do this smoothly, so I only ask questions when I really need information. That being said, I try to encourage comments by responding to people when they leave them and censoring only the ones I find offensive. Not allowing comments, not responding to comments, or failing to remove spam comments is all going to choke the back-and-forth on your blog.
Need some more help? If you’re stuck trying to come up with content that fits this checklist, try these prompts (and don’t forget to stay inside your blog’s focus):
/// Solve a problem your ideal reader might have.
/// Do a how-to post on something simple that you do all the time, like boiling eggs or finding an online coupon code
/// Review a product, service, or website that fits your focus
/// Make a list (Top 7 ways to…5 reasons why…8 mistakes that happen when you…)
/// Explore a hypothetical. For example, plan a trip for $2,000, pick 8 things you’d buy if you won a shopping spree, or name the 5 things you’d keep if you had to get rid of all your movies/clothes/books.
Next in the Start a Blog series: promoting your posts so more people see them.