We were recently asked by one of our clients to assess the quality of their business blog and provide suggestions for improving reader engagement and the overall level of online exposure. Guided by the principle that every assignment is an opportunity to share something new with our readers, we decided to publish our ten-point checklist of what we look for in a highly effective blog.
RSS and Email Subscription – Readers should have the option of subscribing to your future posts via RSS as well as email. Don’t rely on RSS alone – plenty of people still utilize email as their primary source of daily news. Google’s (free) FeedBurner makes it easy to set up both of these subscription options.
Engaging Headlines – The best bloggers in the world spend as much time (sometimes more) writing the headline as the post itself. Why? Plain and simple – if the headline doesn’t pique the reader’s interest, he/she won’t go on to read the body, no matter how good it actually might be. Much has already been written on the components of effective headlines, so rather than rehashing those points, we’ll simply link to what we believe are among the best articles on the topic:
- How to Write Magnetic Headlines from copyblogger
- How to Master the Art of Exceptional Blog Titles from HubSpot
- How to Craft Post Titles that Draw Readers Into Your Blog from Problogger
Comment System – Making it easy for your visitors to leave comments is critical for cultivating and sustaining an engaged audience. Although most blogging systems (e.g. WordPress and Blogger) come with built-in comment modules, our recommendation is to go with a dedicated commenting platform like IntenseDebate or Disqus. These (free) platforms include features like reply notification, Facebook and Twitter-enabled loging, and advanced spam filtering capabilities.
Section Headers/Lists/Images/Bolded Keywords – It’s unrealistic to assume that every one of your visitors will read through the entire blog post; if they make it past the headline at all, most will skim, looking to absorb key points before moving on. Acknowledge that people’s time is valuable and make it easy to read through the post. Break up long, dense chunks of text with images, lists, and section headers, and highlight/bold key phrases and ideas.
Social Sharing Buttons – Make it easy for your readers to share the post with their friends/family/co-workers by installing prominently displayed social sharing buttons. As a rule of thumb, stick with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and/or StumbleUpon and Reddit/Digg, depending on the nature of your content and where your audience is. Avoid the widgets that give users 30+ sharing options to choose from. Placement-wise, our recommendation is either at the top of the post or on the side, as in the example below.
Relevant Content – This should go without saying, but make sure that you’re writing about topics that your readers are likely to find relevant, interesting, and valuable. Your goal should be to forge relationships with your readers, and to help solve their problems/answer their questions. Your blog is not another advertising channel, so keep the new product pitches to a minimum. If you struggle coming up with things to write about, check out Matt McGee’s 5 Ways to Find New Blog Content.
Each post contains call to action? One of the most effective ways to encourage engagement from your readers is to end each blog post with a very specific call to action and/or a question. Remember, your goal with each and every post is to continue the conversation in the comments section.
Internal Linking – Internal linking refers to the process of referencing other relevant posts and pages on your website. To get an idea of how this works, look at the example below. The post, which is about the advantages of blogging vs. traditional TV advertising, opens up with a reference and a link to a different post that was published a week earlier. If done effectively, internal links can help drive traffic to your older posts.
Cite Authoritative Sources — When it comes to the Internet, authority and reputation are everything. To help build and maintain credibility among your readers, always be sure to cite and reference reputable sources – academic journals, government reports, industry briefs, etc. This is especially important if you’re writing about contentious issues that are likely to evoke debate among your readers. Save yourself the trouble and don’t get accused of citing sources of questionable accuracy.
Where Art Thou — There is no point in maintaining a blog if your website visitors can’t find it! At the very least, be sure to include a link in the main navigation menu. For extra impact, consider installing a “latest posts” widget on your homepage, which displays the headlines of your most recent blog posts (WordPress provides this widget by default).
Does your blog pass our ten-point checklist? Are there any elements of a highly effective blog that you think we missed? Sound off in the comments!