Advice on how to be heard online, what’s your voice?
The latest film biopic, ‘Rebel in the Rye’ details the take on the well-known reclusive author JD Salinger – who, despite worldwide acclaim, one cannot imagine ever utilising today's blogosphere.
Why are blogs so crucial?
It sounds odd having to justify the value of written information on a publishing site. But it is worth quickly examining the reasons why short and original written articles have become so prevalent online. It's not all about the intrinsic value of the written word, it's slightly more technical than that. But if you want to be a successful blogger it's vital to know the underlying value of blogs to understand how you can write them far more effectively.
Relevant content is the king for search
Over the past half dozen years or so, as search engines have developed, they have placed priority on helping the searcher find what he or she is looking for by locating as many relevant key words in a piece of content as possible. So sophisticated are the ‘algorithms’ Google use that they look into every indexed page out there listed. There are far too many complex factors as to why Google picks the results it does to delve into in depth but the important thing for bloggers or prospective ones, is that it is vital to do three basic things.
The One-Two-Three of starting to blog:
- Host your pieces on a site that is well-indexed by Google.
- Make sure they contain a consistent number of the ‘right terms’ you want people to learn about.
- Ensure they are of sufficient length while still being engaging for web readers.The three main priorities are listed in descending level of required technological knowledge of the complex world of search engine mechanics, the algorithms. But really within each are some basic tenets of common sense.
Maximising your reach on Google through hosting
If you want web browsers to find your blog then the best way for a new writer to 'jump the queue' for attention is to find a site or organisation that has a lot of users or 'traffic'. One of the slight misconceptions about the transformative and seemingly democratic world of the web is that anyone can gain mass attention for their site or article with a following wind. This could be labelled the 'Field of Dreams' mantra, after the Kevin Costner film of the same name where the protagonist is told that if he constructs a baseball field on his farm, ghosts of great players will turn up en masse to perform on it;
"If you build it they will come" whispers an omnipotent voice. And they do.
Sadly, though there are a lot of browsers floating around in cyberspace who find all sorts of things, the romance of this scenario does not apply to the web we now know. Like many things in life, the idea of success is laced with good practice and a standard commercial reality.
So if you already have a publisher for your work, it is likely that the blog area of their website is as well indexed on search engines as could be, especially if the site has a lot of content devoted to the same or a similar topic.
Doing it by yourself
Alternatively, any well viewed website that is appropriate suits well. It is important to ask how many unique page views they receive. It's hard to place a yardstick but anything less than a few thousand a month is not very significant.
Other options include posting on LinkedIn. The social networking site for business and professionals fits the bill for a number of reasons. With 467 million users it's by far the biggest English-speaking global professional network, and one entirely devoted to browsers of all trades who are looking for information to help them in their work. Once you sign up, the blog function is very easy to use, and if you have been keeping up with making connections on the site you reach a wide audience via sharing. The disadvantage of this is that really you are benefitting Linked In and only members can see your post (though that is a pretty big pool).
A third option is to do what many millions of other bloggers have done and publish your work on a specialist blogging site. These are large websites which allow you a very quick and easy piece of your own territory in cyberspace. One of the most popular and successful is Medium. For a small fee you can pay for your own hosting and multiple pages on the site, with all the space rental and domains, security etc handled for you. Medium offers this to create a mass of self-published content to create a critical mass of free information on its pages to drive more readers and so on, in a virtuous content circle.
Here is a list of other popular blog and hosting sites.
Keywords – making it relevant
If you are writing on a specific topic that you want Google to find, then you need to feature the terms that matter with a degree of regularity in your text. Google is on a massive word search. You can't guarantee, ever, that Google will find your piece just because it has the right words a few times, but you can be sure it won't if they feature rarely or not at all. Let's take a practical example. If you are writing a book called Inheritance Tax for Families, then that term does need to appear fairly frequently. That is one of the big differences between web copy and the printed word.
Often, to the eye of someone attuned to the writing of traditional books or articles, it can seem repetitive. But it is necessary to 'flag up' to Google what you are writing about. There is no published rule. Certainly, if your key topic/phrase appears 5 times or so in the blog that will probably be fine. It is worth pointing out that it is also possible to step too far the other way. Google punishes what it sees as ‘spammy’ (trick) content by not finding it. However, their definition of spam content is the sort of extremely repetitive text respected authors wouldn’t produce.
The importance of headings
It is also worth mentioning that headings and sub headings are the most important elements. So it is necessary to make sure that other important concepts feature here. In the earlier example with the author of a book on Inheritance Tax, it may be that the concept of ‘wills’ is important for the reader and author. A suggestion could be a sub heading to the blog along the lines of;
'What to do when you know what's in your parents’ will' might be good. Or turn it in to a question. Google likes content lead by questions it sees it as helpful.
I am afraid, for authors who like a creative flourish to signpost their work, this means being wary of leading the piece with abstract concepts. Snippets from Alice in Wonderland or Shakespeare may warm the artistic heart, but unless they are titles to an article about Lewis Carroll or the Bard, they won't find traction with search engines.
Length and engagement
The last, but critical element of the text is length. Once you have planned your blog and given attention to the keywords, length is critical. Blogs should be over 400 words always. Depending on how competitive or specific the topic is, upwards of that, it can vary. Recent changes to engines have upped the ante a little, so it's wise to write around 1,000 words.
It appears condescending to stress that blogs need to be slightly easier to digest, but it is a fact that readers often are liable to spend less time reading online text. It's a part of the online experience that there are expectations of a slightly less text heavy approach more common than not amongst readers. Studies show the average blog read is 15 seconds! That doesn't really mean dumbing down, just breaking up copy with a variety of devices, traditional and digital, to make it appealing;
-Bullets - even more useful online
-Images - make sure they work on a mobile phone
-Occasional text devices, bold or emphasis
-Links - don't be afraid to cite - the user will click back to you and thank you for the extra information.
Blogging need not be a world away from writing a traditional piece, but in a competitive environment, why not make sure your hard work isn’t just your own labour of love but a taste of more of your work to be discovered by viewers the world over.