How to Blog Effectively
A blog is a great tool with which to express your opinions, build a community, network with others and drive traffic to your website.
However, a lot of designers are not sure how to get started or what to blog about.
I’ve been blogging for a couple of years now, but I’ve been blogging effectively (in my opinion) for only several months.
My blog posts used to go unnoticed, and I’ve now realized that this was because of a lack of structure and commitment.
So, what’s involved in the process of writing an effective blog post?
1. Find Inspiration
Successful blog content is fueled by inspiration. Inspiration can be found in a number of different (and sometimes obscure) places, but there are a few reliable avenues you can explore to jumpstart your inspiration.
CSS galleries are a great resource for web design inspiration. Spend at least 5 minutes a day searching through galleries and you’ll quickly find a topic that you’re inspired to write about.
Galleries to follow:
If something is popular on Digg, then it’s usually worth covering.
There’s no point in covering the exact same topic, but if you find a popular post (for example, 60 Most Wanted Photoshop Tutorials and Resources), then there’s a good chance that a similar topic or follow-up post would be a good idea (for example, 30+ New Adobe Illustrator Tutorials and Neat Tips).
Keep Track of Current Affairs
Familiarize yourself with current affairs and cover topics that everyone is talking about, but make sure to put your own spin on them.
Keep track of what other web design blogs are posting and write follow-up posts or create discussions about their topics.
Use Delicious to keep track of all potential blog topics. Whenever you encounter an interesting article or beautiful design, attach multiple tags.
This way, if you decide to write a post about, say, “freelancing,” you’ll have a stock of resources at your disposal.
Now that you’ve got inspiration, it’s time to do some research before you actually start writing.
Research can help you determine if the topic has been covered before, allow you to compile solid reference material as well as expanding your knowledge of the topic.
The obvious first step is to Google the topic you’re writing about. This way, you can see if any posts are out there that are too similar to the one you’re thinking of writing.
Make sure the exact angle you’ll be taking on your topic hasn’t already been covered on Digg, and see if any popular related posts would help you as you write yours.
Ask a couple of well-crafted questions on Twitter to get useful links. Set up a questionnaire (Wufoo) to get user input. You can thank the people who gave you feedback by posting a link to their website on your blog.
Starting writing early and giving yourself time to perfect your post is a good idea.
I tend to write in plain text and take notes, and then return to clean up the text later. I add markup and images at the end.
A very useful tool I use is MarsEdit. This program allows me to continually add blog topics as they come to mind. I simply start a new post, put in the title and then close it until I have time to write it.
MarsEdit also lets me mark up my posts and publish from my desktop straight to WordPress.
Scribefire is a Firefox extension. It allows you to drag and drop formatted text from pages you browse, take notes and post to your blog.
Aim for Readability
Making text easy to read online means making it simple to scan. Keep in mind several things when writing your blog posts:
- Write less; get your point across with a minimum of text,
- Use lists and bullet points frequently,
- Try to make only one point per paragraph,
- Use sub-headings,
- Highlight keywords and phrases.
The most important quality of a successful blog is that its posts consistently provide value to its readers. For more writing tools, check out the post called 20+ Useful Desktop Blog Editors.
Most blog posts (particularly ones that are design-related) should feature photos or screenshots. Photos energize and add interest to posts while screenshots aid in illustrating examples.
Paparazzi is a great tool for Mac that takes full screenshots (yes, even below the fold) of websites. It also allows you to set crop boundaries.
I often use WebSnapshot. The program takes screenshots of websites and resizes easily if needed.
This is a great resource for stock photographs. If you’re looking for professional photos to accompany your posts, the cost of one is as low as £1.
Searching on Flickr for Creative Commons-licensed photos is also useful. Photographs with this license can be used freely on your blog, as long as you credit the photographers and link back to their Flickr account.
5. Before you Publish
Once you have marked up your post, have added images and are ready to publish, you’ll have only a few things left to check.
Preview your posts before publishing to make sure everything looks as it should. This is a good time to double-check that all links work correctly.
Check for Typos
Perform a spell-check and read through your post to make sure it has no spelling or grammatical mistakes.
I usually set a time to publish my posts. Think of your readers and when they would most like to read your posts. There’s no point in posting in the middle of the night unless you’re targeting a different time zone.
Also, think about the best days to publish. Posting on weekends is usually not very effective because people are often away from their computers and online traffic may be low.
- Add tags to your post,
- Select a category,
- Add a snippet (if applicable),
- Add a “More” link (if applicable),
- Edit the URL (if applicable),
How should you promote your blog? Well, if you have 10,000+ RSS subscribers, then you’re guaranteed to attract some readers. But what if you have only a handful of subscribers?
Twitter is a great tool with which to advertise your posts. You can even use a WordPress Twitter plug-in, which makes it easier for you by automatically updating your Twitter status every time you publish a new post.
If you use FeedBurner, make sure you have email alerts switched on so that your readers can subscribe by email. Emailing people (or websites) to let them know you’ve mentioned them in your post is a nice courtesy, too.
Social Networking Websites
You could share your posts on Delicious, StumbleUpon and Digg, but letting someone else get the ball rolling is probably best practice. So, make sure to provide links that make it easy for readers to share your posts.
Submit to News Websites
Consider submitting your posts to various news websites. If they find them interesting, chances are they will publish them. Design-related news websites: CSS Globe, PSD Tuts, CSS Drive, Noupe, Abduzeedo
End your blog posts with a question. This way, your readers will be more inclined reply or comment.
It will also help generate discussion. Be sure to address any comments or feedback attached to your posts, and thank your readers for their feedback.
If your post receives positive feedback, consider following it up with a related post. Base your follow-up post on the feedback you received or expand on one particular area of interest.
The important things to remember are: be consistent, blog about topics that matter to you and express your opinions clearly.
8. Twitter Tips
I posted a request on Twitter for blogging tips. Here is a sample of the responses I received:
Now that you know my blogging process, I would love to hear yours! What fuels your inspiration? How do you promote your blog? Would you like to share any tips?