Next to email, blogs are the most mature form of social media.
They’ve been around the longest, and they’re pretty tried-and-true. As nonprofit leaders Allison Fine and Britt Bravo remind us in Building Better Nonprofit Blogs, they’re an awesome place for ongoing, substantive conversation that builds sustained relationships. And they’re a great place to get started with social media writing.
Think of your blog as a mini website, with a personal rather than professional (aka “corporate”) flair, and the heart of what you do. It’s not “extra” or in any way “frivolous.” IMHO what used to be (1) newsletter; (2) press release/ads and (3) remit envelope is evolving into (1) blog; (2) social media and (3) customized landing pages.
More and more people communicate online. And inbound marketing that gives folks an opportunity to interact and be heard is increasingly the way to success.
Before you hit “publish” – whether it is a blog post, e-newsletter, online appeal or even a tweet or Facebook post – you should have made a list and checked it twice. In other words, you want to make sure you’ve (1) included everything you intended to include, and (2) done everything correctly. Why? Because otherwise your content gets lost. People don’t find it. They don’t read it. They don’t act on it. It’s just sad.
It’s easy to learn the right way to do things, but in the press of our daily lives it’s not so easy to practice what we’ve learned (or even what we preach; believe me, I’m guilty of not following my own advice far too many times!).
So let’s look at eight simple things that will make your work more worthwhile.
8 Things to Check off Your List before Publishing
It’s very, very important. Headline copy is read by 8 out of 10. Only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.
Technically, it becomes the link when the post ranks in search engines. So use any key phrase you think folks will search on here, preferably towards the beginning of the title as the prominence of the key phrase is important to search engines. If the title is too long, it gets truncated (I’ve made this mistake!). It’s best to be brief and pithy anyway, so limit yourself to eight or less words, or 66 characters if at all possible.
Emotionally, the title is what captures folks’ attention and even conveys a first impression sense of your brand. There are many formulas for creating good titles. Ones I find work especially well are those that (1) arouse curiosity (e.g., “The One Food You Should Never Eat”); (2) entice with the gift of a simple, useful and actionable list or “how to” (e.g. “Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Health”; “ 6 Tips to Save the Planet”; “How to Baby Proof Your Home”); (3) ask a provocative question to which folks would like to know the answer (e.g., ”How Do I Know My Gift Will Be Well Spent?”; “How Many Kittens are Killed Every Year?”), or (4) say something so counterintuitive (“I Hate Apple Pie”) or provocative (“Warning: If You Think the Price of Tea in China has Nothing to do with Your Life, Think Again”) that your reader really must click to see what the heck is going on.
Here are18 Resources to Help You Write Better Blog Titles, and a shout out to Alex at blogussion.com for doing the research for us.
2. Key Phrase
It’s helpful to search engines. I confess that this is the item on the checklist where I usually fall down. It makes me feel like I’m trying to “sell” something, rather than writing to teach/clairify – which are what my blog is all about! Plus it’s work that I’m not particularly great at. Still I realize that if folks can’t search and find the post then, ultimately, it won’t be very helpful. So… Try to include your key phrase in the body of your article at least twice. Don’t overdo it though, or you’ll start to sound like a robot. This is known as keyword stuffing. Since the only good stuffing is at Thanksgiving, let’s stay away from it the rest of the year. You don’t have to obsess about key words these days, as Google will find good content better than ever before. Still, it’s worth giving the search engines a little helping hand.
Check out How To Choose The Right Keywords and Phrases for Your Web Site for some tips.
You want to assure that people can skim your article. We’ve become scanners more than readers. Help people scan. As a content marketer you must accept that very few people are going to read every word of your finely crafted copy. It’s sad, but true. You can get folks to read more, however, if you break up your copy into small bites. Rather than big blocky paragraphs and long run-on sentences, strive for:
- Headers and subheads: Ask yourself: If folks read only my headers and subheads, will they get the gist of the article? If so, you’ve succeeded!
- Short paragraphs: Generally no paragraph should include more than 3-4 sentences. One sentence paragraphs can be used to add emphasis and break up lots of copy.
- Bulleted lists and numbered lists: These are easy to scan and work well within almost any post.
- Bold, Italics, Underline, Color: These are excellent ways to add emphasis and make content more easily scanned. Like anything else, moderation is the key.
- Photos, Graphic images: The eye loves these, and they break up copy.
You want to cross promote to your other media (e.g. your website pages, previous posts and any other online mentions or publications). You may also want to offer something beneficial to your constituents (e.g., links to news they can use, data, research, useful posts from allied professionals, etc.). I recommend re-reading your post before you publish it to keep an eye out for words or phrases that could be linked elsewhere. For example, if you mention your ‘innovative workshop’ in your post, why not have that be a live link to your website where that workshop is described more fully?
This will also help with your site analytics as it will increase your average pages per visit. Search engines value how long a visitor spends on your site, so sending them to other pages is a good idea (just make sure you’re always thinking from your reader’s perspective and you’re sending them to places that will actually be useful and interesting to them). One way to think about this is as offering your readers a great total experience when they visit you. You can also do this backwards, by going to older posts and finding places where you can link to newer content. As a content marketer, you should always have a goal. Your goal as a program marketer may be to convert visitors to leads and leads to customers. If you’re a fundraiser, you want to convert suspects to prospects and prospects to donors. To do so, you’ve got to connect the dots for people.
Take a look at 5 Essential Tips For Cross-Promoting Your Content.
This is super important, and something I didn’t know about when I started blogging. Just like formatting, images break up your copy and make it easier to read. Plus, you know what they say: a picture is worth… Images are also great because they make your post more likely to be shared. Plus you can share it yourself if you use Pinterest (which I highly recommend, as it’s a great way to show a different side of yourself or your organization). If you’ll please excuse the self promotion, I invite you to follow me!
What I do is go through the post when I’m completely done; then add in images. It’s actually a lot of fun. If you’ve got great original images, that’s the best. You don’t have to attribute them, and no one else has them. But you can also get free images from the internet at sites like photopin and freedigitalphotos.net. Plus you can try out infographics, which you create. Your entire post, in essence, becomes nothing but a giant image.
Check out 20+ Tools to Create Your Own Infographics.
If you’re quoting others, or being inspired by others, it’s good practice to give credit where it is due. Also, if you’re quoting noted authorities, it adds to your credibility and makes it look like you “get it” and are “in the know”. Plus everyone enjoys a little flattery now and then, and those you mention may become influencers on your behalf later on. Just make sure you let them know you mentioned them by tweeting your post and adding @[name of authority you quoted]. You can do the same on other social media platforms.
7. Call to Actions
In marketing, there’s something known as the “Desired Action Response ” (DAR). You should always have one. Really, this goes back to having a point when you blog. THE ROLE OF YOUR BLOG is to inform, interest, engage and inspire folks to become involved and invested with your cause. Oh… and also to keep them invested! At the end of the post, ask your readers to do something. Maybe you just ask them to share the post. Or subscribe to your newsletter. Or sign a petition. Or go visit something new on your website. Or join an event. Or simply ask them to leave a comment. Make sure it’s a question however, and not a declarative statement. You want to invite your constituents to engage. Then make sure you make it easy for them to do so.
8. Author Box
Who are you? Why should the reader pay attention to you? Often a nonprofit blog will have multiple contributors. This is a great idea, because it enables you to share the workload and showcase different perspectives. It gives you a more personal tone. But keep in mind that your readers don’t know who you are. So you need to tell them. Include a very brief bio of the author in a box at the bottom of your post, with a link to a larger bio (which can be a Linkedin or Google+ profile or company website bio). Also include a thumbnail photo. It’s also good practice to include links to one or more of this author’s social media profiles. There are lots of plug-ins if you need help installing an author box, especially for WordPress.