Blog Improvement Checklist

The MadPipe team interviewed our Digital Ecologist® Daniel DiGriz and culled 8 ways to improve a blog.

What formatting issues occur with blogs?

It’s surprising how many are not in chronological descending order. It might seem obvious, but reverse order – most recent at top is crucial for two reasons. First, freshness matters, so Google scans page from top to bottom and ranks accordingly. The blog page is probably the most important thing affecting google next to home page. Second, an audience won’t want to scroll and see oldest first – it’ll look like the blog never changes. There are other formatting issues that are common, but they’re often more obscure and need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Bigger fonts are in vogue, but *which* font is also important. Condensed fonts are not recommended for blog copy. That’s for better mobile readability. Search engines penalize for characters being too small and too close together. Likewise, you want some use of white space, but make sure not to overdo it on mobile.

Are bylines really necessary?

If you want maximum search engine indexability, use bylines – but not just any bylines. Bylines should be full names – personal names. That’s just one piece of what google uses to determine machine generated vs. human content, so why mess around? Ideally these are the names of real persons, never just the brand, and they’re persons with actual social profiles that interact with people, because search is smart enough to tell. But search aside, the human reason is that we don’t like to listen to faceless voices – audiences respond better to real persons we can know in some way, even at a distance. In fact, the author box is probably the single most common omission I see in blog posts. Each post needs to close with a blurb about the author, an author photo, and links to his or her personal social profiles (not just the company’s brand pages); we want to connect with a person, so don’t sanitize it. This is also a search ranking factor so that should counteract any shyness; generic voices don’t cut it in any marketing venue.

What’s optimal length for blog posts?

There’s no optimal length per se. Optimal length is whatever does justice to the topic. I mean that from a strategic marketing standpoint, not just an editorial one. Unnatural post content invariably ticks off readers, resulting in less time on page, fewer social signals, and a corresponding drop in search ranking. It’s a snowball effect. There is some evidence that, speaking strictly about *consistency* and not any one blog post, you want to avoid thin content (less than 250 words roughly) and longer blog posts (over 2000 words) tend to do better in search and social. That said, that’s only one factor – if it’s long and boring, it’s going to be counteracted by higher abandonment. You’re not going to game the system consistently, and a blog that consistently does killer posts at 500 words, beats a crappy blog that consistently does 2500. That said, avoid posting two sentences and a link – your blog is not mean to share articles – that’s what social is for.

 

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How should blog post illustrations be handled?

There’s not a single right method but, if you use WordPress, then all posts should have featured images not just illustrations in the body of the post. Even if your current blog theme doesn’t use featured images, putting them in makes it sustainable for the future. Sometimes a header illustration, again depending on blog theme, is the way to go. Whatever the central illustration is should fix an iconic image in the mind of the reader, associated with the main idea. It doesn’t have to be a metaphor, which is most of what you see. It just needs to represent the post as a whole. That can tend to prompt greater social sharing, linking, emailing, other behaviors. Then you can use additional illustrations for the body of the post, if you want to – just be sure to align them left or right unless they’re mean to be full width images.

Are headlines required in blog posts?

I usually insist on them, if the post is longer than 450 words. You’ve got to break up the wall of text, and give people a quick way to mentally index it, so they can zoom in on what they want. Most headlines are not very good, though. They’re often too hand-to-mouth – too literal. Think of the chapter headings in a novel rather than the ones in a high school textbook. If the headline doesn’t grab the audience, the text under it might as well not be there.

Do calls to action belong in blog posts?

Calls to action (CTAs) are essential but not generic ones. If you’re going to say “contact us if you need a new roof”, just put that in the footer or leave it off. An effective call to action is related in some way to the text we’ve just gotten through consuming. It should feel like the natural conclusion to the flow of the post. Good CTAs drill down to specific actions, specific results, specific expectations – they’re not generic. Say what you want them to do, precisely – and give them the means to do it, but also say what will happen once they do and how they’ll benefit.

What social networks should be included as sharing options?

First, for clarity, let’s distinguish social profile buttons from social sharing buttons. The latter are what a reader clicks while viewing a given post to share it with his own social audience. Of course, you want to let people share individual posts on the major networks like Pinterest and Linkedin, but also on social bookmarking channels like Pocket, Digg, Delicious, Reddit, and Stumbleupon that fewer people are aware of. Fewer is relative – it’s still a user base of incredible size. Even if you tell yourself that your audience isn’t using social, that’s never true. I’m sorry, but it’s not; I don’t care if they’re 90 or in prison or homeless, they’re using social. Even if they’re just using the ‘alone’ features, like storing something for later, they’re often storing it in a bookmarking service with social and content curation capabilities, like Instapaper or Pocket. You also don’t want to limit shares to networks in which you participate. Search engines index partly based on social signals, and if your posts are never shared except by you or the same group of people all the time, you can kiss a lot of that goodbye. Blogs get traffic because they travel.

What should people be posting in their blogs?

The most important thing to get is that there’s not one thing or one kind of thing. You want to run multiple, ongoing campaigns. In general terms, that might be informative posts, advocacy posts, case study posts, interactive posts that involve the audience… there are lots of options. But you want the campaigns to get more specific, too. Ultimately, they need to serve specific business goals. For instance, you might want to get people to understand the need for long-term planning. A single post crying out for long term planning is going to fade quickly, no matter how popular it is. Tackling the problem one component at a time, over time, approaching it from a different angle or through a different lens, extends the value and the likelihood of being effective. Also, campaigns can be measured for general trends in audience response, where individual post analytics don’t tell you anything. Likewise, campaigns can be improved in a sustainable way, where individual posts can only be improved after the fact. Run clearly defined campaigns.

MadPipe provides marketing leadership and strategy for brands that want to grow their businesses. Reach out via the contact form and let’s get your business moving toward more customer engagement.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides leadership in marketing, educational programs, and organizational transformation for brands that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, writes a Forbes column, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, and Success Magazine.

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About once/month, Corporate Storyteller and Digital Ecologist® Daniel DiGriz weaves together interesting stories around organizational transformation, education, and marketing.

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