I’m full of the recaps lately, and I promise I’ve got some more original commentary coming up for you all as we get into fall. I’ve mentioned before that I love September, and the feeling of a fresh start that it gives me. For that reason, now is as good a time as ever to take a look at what you’re doing in your blogging – to see what’s been successful for you and what you can tweak.
With that in mind, I bring you some excellent tips from LexBlog’s own Colin O’Keefe and Helen Pitlick – and I don’t say that just because they so kindly mentioned this blog. It was a great refresher for me, and whether you’re just thinking about getting into blogging, or you’ve been at it for a while, you’ll find something of value in their comments. Since there are a lot of great tips here, and I want you to think about them a bit, I’m splitting this into two posts – the next one will follow after the holiday weekend here in the States.
So when you’re blogging, what’s the goal? Helen hit it on the head – it’s about getting people to your blog, getting them to stay there, and getting them to come back. How do you do that?
- Categories & Tags
- Images & Formatting
- Effective Editorial Content
- Sharing Your Posts
- Blog Strategy
Blog Titles – Make it Relevant, Make it Human & Make it Stand Out
Colin began by saying that those writers who don’t stress too much about having the perfect title are those who seem to do the best. You don’t have to focus on keyword optimization – just condense your post down into a relevant, catchy title.
He used the example of the Atlanta Braves, whose web traffic has recently exploded lately, thanks to a style of writing that is aimed more at people and less at Search Engine Optimization (SEO). A great headline is a great headline – while you don’t want to entirely neglect SEO, Google’s overall goals is to categorize things as a human would, so you should too.
You also don’t want to be too vague – having a title like "Where do we go from here?" doesn’t give people a reason to visit your blog. Consider that most people aren’t going directly to your blog to read your posts – they’re scanning their RSS readers, or consuming content on their eReader. So the title of your post may be the only method you have for drawing them in, so the title needs to get at the context of the post.
Colin did touch on optimization, saying that Google has a 66 character limit for their titles. You can, of course, have a longer title, but only the first 66 characters are going to appear in the search results. So aim for having your entire title, or at least the most important keywords, appear in those first 66 characters.
Helen advised to think about what readers will be searching for to bring them to your posts. For example, while it’s common among environmental lawyers to use the term "hydraulic fraction," most people use the term "fracking" instead. Helen suggested looking to Google’s Insights for Search to compare search terms and find out what people are using more frequently.
It’s also important to consider how your titles will look when being shared via social media – if you’re considering a title for a post, think about how it would look on Twitter or Facebook. Would you read that post? If a title looks too long, people will often not bother to read it, or it will be too long to share in a tweet. You want to make your titles shareable and social-friendly.
Let’s look at some of their examples for good titles:
- "Is Facebook’s Acquisition of Instagram Fair to Instagram Shareholders?" — The Securities Edge, Gustav Schmidt
- "Does the Patent System Legitimize Trolls?" — Retail Patent Litigation, R. David Donoghue
Categories & Tags – Pretend You’re Filing Articles
Categories and tags are another great way to help the right people find your content. Helen used the analogy of thinking of your blog like a book – categories are the chapters, while tags are the index. You go to the chapters to see where you want to start, to find general knowledge, and when you’re looking for more specific information, you go to the index.
Helen advised having a set list of categories, and said that while you can change/add categories on an existing blog, it’s not always simple. For LexBlog clients, they can contact the client services team for assistance.
Every post is then categorized (by you), and would show up under the category associated with it when a user clicks on that category. Depending on the blog’s design, they may show up with each post, or at the top of a post – so if someone likes what you have to say on a particular subject, they can click that link to see everything you’ve penned on that topic – it makes it easy for them to find content and it keeps them on your blog.
Helen recommended sticking within 5-12 categories, and said that it’s preferable to have specific and distinct categories – for example, "Americans with Disabilities Act" versus the generic "In the News." If you currently have these more generic categories, think about adding other, more specific ones as well, and use those moving forward.
Colin advised pretending that you’re writing entirely offline, and creating your own file system. You wouldn’t file every article you write under "news," so don’t do that with your blog posts. Think about how you’d personally categorize them to find them later, and use those categories in your blogging.
The same concepts apply to tags. Colin said that people often think tags are where you enter your keywords, but this is not the case. Consider your tags to be the words or phrases that people will search when trying to find your content. But don’t include all of those words to appear higher in search results – if you have thousands of tags, you are effectively creating an individual page (or folder if you’re thinking of the office analogy still) for each tag.
Instead, think about how you would tag something so that you can find it later – what words/phrases would you use? Forget SEO and just use tags to organize your content.
Images & Formatting
Helen said, and I’ve found this to be true, that a lot of lawyers don’t use images because they’re not used to seeing them in their daily writing. But images are a powerful tool for your blog. Using a stock photography image, or something loosely related to your content, can add a lot – human readers respond well to images.
- Break up the "wall of text."
- Add a human component
- Pictures say a thousand words (cliche, but true!)
Images may be just accents to your content, but it can make the difference in whether a blog is widely read or not. People ARE paying attention to the stylistic elements – consider Apple, who has made a living not just on good products, but products that are STYLISH and good.
The speakers advised sticking with images that are about 260 pixels wide, and making sure that the file you’re uploading is also small – you may resize an image within your post, but if it’s still a large file size, it will make your post load slowly and this might cause people to give up on waiting for it to load.
They also advised not just taking your image from Google Images – not only does it violate copyright laws, but the image may also have a secret meaning. Helen used the example of an attorney who took a cute image, which turned out to be part of a well-known internet meme with a more sinister meaning behind it. It’s better to make sure you know where your images are coming from:
- iStockPhoto: LexBlog recommends them (and this is who I use). They’re not free, but they’re content is relatively inexpensive.
- Shutterstock: Another stock photo company where you can buy the rights to photos.
- Morguefile: free photos.
- Photos you take yourself: even if you’re not a professional photographer, it can add a lot to your post (take photos at conferences or if you’re interviewing someone).
- Creative Commons on Flickr: This allows users to license their content. Make sure you’re looking for images that are licensed for commercial use. You can search for anything in Flickr, and then go to advanced search to limit the results to Creative Commons, and content to use commercially. Then, provide attribution in the post.
Best Practices for Using Images:
- Use at least one image per post.
- Either right-align or left-align your images – don’t leave them floating at the top of a post.
- If there’s a person in the photo, align the photo so that the person is "facing" the rest of the post.
- Give it a border – a one pixel border.
- Look at your post on the front end to make sure it looks the way you’d like it to.
The speakers popped up Zen as an example for formatting (yay!). Helen pointed out that readers have short attention spans – even if they’re used to reading long legal treatises offline, they only want short posts online. As a result, they’re going to scan your post first to see if it’s worth their time.
Now, as you know, my posts are longer, but Helen said that because it’s well-written (thanks!) and formatted with sub-headings that stand out, it gives people a quicker idea of what the post is about without them having to read everything. Colin added that headers and short paragraphs can make a world of difference.
Helen also showed us the Ethical Investigator blog, which uses bold sentences to highlight the important information. While this may turn some people off, Helen likened it to getting an already-highlighted textbook in college. It makes it easier to read.
The speakers added that the use of block quotes is also beneficial – the text indents and adds a stylized quotation mark, which helps the quote stand out. Bullet points and numbered lists do the same thing.
Next week, we’ll look at effective editorial content, sharing your posts and having a blog strategy!