As of February 2011 there were approximately 156 million public blogs in existence. As bloggers, this number represents an increasingly cluttered space. Chances are someone is already blogging about your topic in general. And they might even be doing a good job. To stand out among your community you need to make your good blog great by developing a clear and consistent online brand. Here are some tips I’ve developed in helping clients, colleagues, and friends build strong brand-driven blogs.
1. Content Is King
You have to start here. Everything else I talk about in this post is null and void if you don’t have a good content strategy. That’s why we started blogging, right? Because we had something to say that hopefully adds value to our community. Hone that as best you can before doing anything else.
This very point is why ButtonClickAdmin — a Salesforce.com blog for admins who solve problems with clicks rather than code — has taken off in the past year. Lead Button-Clicker Mike Gerholdt had blogged in general about sales and marketing for years but soon realized that his Monday Morning Admin posts on Salesforce were garnering more traffic and comments. At a kitchen table summit, I listened as he began developing his strategy to narrow this blog’s focus. In so doing, he created a space for content for a specific community. In so doing, he found his content strategy.
What do you want to say in your blog? And who do you want to say it to? Simply and clearly answering these two questions are the foundation of a solid content strategy and a critical first step in building a brand-driven blog.
2. Consistency Counts
The most common question on blogging? How often should I post? The answer is anti-climactic. That’s because there is no right answer to this. You need to be true to your content and your audience. But you also need to be true to yourself and the demands of your personal schedule. So how do you reconcile this?
This is where consistency comes into play. Blog guru Mack Collier — host of #blogchat at 8 PM (Central) on Twitter — once told me that above all you should make your posting schedule consistent. Can you post once a month? Great. Can you post once a week? That’s great, too. Regardless of your frequency find a consistent post time and stick to it. For example, on my blog I target the business community, so my current schedule is to post at 9 AM on Mondays to start the work week off with — just after that morning batch of emails and with a cup of coffee in hand. Setting a schedule can sometimes be hard when you have a burst of insight but trust me there is a payoff here. This practice not only builds writing habits for you as a blogger but it also builds a timing expectation for your brand with your audience.
(Oh, and that other common question? There is no perfect post length. Know your audience. Know your content strategy — see above. Then simply write the post that needs to be written.)
3. Find the Right Theme
With content and consistency covered, we can now move on to the more external branding components that help convey your look and feel. Whether you’re using WordPress, Blogger, or another platform, you need to find a theme that gives you flexibility to change colors, fonts, layout, etc. I say this not to encourage you to throw all of the custom switches and turn your blog’s theme into a three-ring circus, but rather to use this flexibility to give your brand the consistent visual anchors it needs:
- Consistent fonts — preferably one throughout the whole blog; if you really need two fonts, use one for headings and one for post body content
- Consistent colors — pair something light and clean (like gray) with something bold as an accent (like red); unless you have access to design assistance keep your colors simple and stay true to your color rules
- Consistent layout — once you find a page structure and layout that works for you, lock it down
It’s not a coincidence I repeated the word ‘consistent.’ The single best thing you can do to build a strong brand visually is to lock down elements and stick to them.
4. A Logo Doesn’t Have to Be a Logo
As someone in the logo business I shudder typing this but most blogs don’t have what we’d think of as a traditional logo. However, they have a consistent (there’s that word again) header that’s always in the same font online and maybe even appears offline. All of this essentially serves the role of a logo online, which is to be the visual anchor of your brand. If you had money to spend on one item that I’ve mentioned in this post I would pay (or beg) a designer for a logo/header. With this cornerstone in place, it will lead you to other visual components such as fonts, colors, and overall tone.
5. Don’t Just Build a Blog — Build a Website
My personal loyalty to WordPress stems from the fact that it allows you to create so much more than a blog. Using their page builder, menus, and plugins, you can easily create a dynamic little website to support your blogging efforts. So what pages should you have and why?
- About — You are an expert, right? Tell your audience about your chops in a subtle way by featuring an easy-to-find About page in your nav
- Contact Form — While some write only for themselves, most of us started blogging to build our status in the community; we want to drum up interest and interest demands action
- Other Pages — How to Work with You, Guest Posting Info, Videos, Popular Posts, Speaking, and more.
6. Get Ready for Your (Professional) Close-Up
One of the most visual pieces of an online brand’s identity is the all-important avatar. While it’s fun to change it up and show some personality on Facebook, if you are blogging as an extension of your work, you need to have a strong professional headshot taken. Preferably by someone who understands social media and knows what makes a good avatar. Get a good shot and use it … CONSISTENTLY! Use it on your blog, on Twitter, LinkedIn, and anyplace else online where you offer your thought leadership. My headshot was taken by the talented Todd Adamson of Adamson Studios in Iowa City.
Why go to all of this trouble to create a brand-driven blog? Because that’s what marks the difference between a good blog and a great blog. And that’s not just to feed some sort of blogger ego trip but rather to help the community that the blog serves. A blog with a clear and consistent brand is packaged for easy audience consumption, comprehension, and retention. A strong brand is also easily shared, which makes the community stronger too. To bring this full circle, that’s why your first step in going from a good blog to a great blog is focusing your content — what are you writing and for whom? Without knowing who you are and who you write for, everything else is just online window dressing.
NOTE: This piece originally appeared as a guest post on ButtonClickAdmin.com last month. Thanks to Mike and his community for the opportunity!
Photo via Flickr user inju