Flagship content

What is flagship content?

In his excellent e-book, “Killer Flagship Content,”  pro blogger Chris Garrett describes flagship content as the overarching message of your blog, the core content around which your blog is built.  Flagship content is resource content, what people “go to” to find out what they really need to know about in your niche.  Over time, you continue to build it with fresh, original, niche-related resources that keep your blog relevant and valuable.

Thus, flagship content addresses the needs of your audience.  It focuses on your niche, and clearly provides real solutions to real problems.  It does this through posts that provide useful tips, lessons and tutorials, FAQs, research results, definitions, case studies, reviews, how-to skill lessons, and so on.  It avoids “hype” and focuses on real benefits for your audience.

Flagship content attracts:

Your flagship content is why people come to your blog, and then keep coming back.  It demonstrates your authority and your expertise in your niche area.  It also shows that you really know your audience, and that you continue to pay attention to their needs.  It shows that you pay attention to your readers’ comments and questions, where they come from, what they are looking at, and what they link to.

Your flagship content also attracts the attention of search engines, as they look for fresh, authoritative, valuable  information.  The keywords and key concepts for your blog are featured often in your flagship content, and that builds your blog’s SEO attraction, too.

Flagship content includes variety:

While your flagship content does of course feature useful “how-to” and “about” informational posts related to your niche, it should also include a variety of other materials.  These can include such things as samples of your work, information about your off-line activities such as conferences or media appearances, press releases, video or audio guides, and products or services such as seminars, ebooks, or other training materials.

Your flagship content is also linked to from the different ways you interact with your community:  comments, forums, social media like Twitter and Facebook, your Google + circles, your own input on other blogs in your niche, guest posts you write for other blogs, your email list, and of course real-world interactions.

Flagship content turns readers into customers:

Your flagship content should also help to convert your traffic  (readers) into customers.  Your core informational posts should direct your readers on how to take action: send them to a sales page, to RSS subscriptions, to email newsletter sign-up, to your workshops, and of course to other useful related content – content that they really need and are now willing to purchase because your flagship content has convinced them that you really do know what you are talking about!

Flagship content is easily accessed:

Your flagship content should be highlighted in such a way that when readers come to your front page, they are immediately informed about it and directed to it.  This means that you present it attractively and concisely, with “magnetic” headlines that grab your readers’ attention, with clear links.  You might provide a list at the top of your right-hand column, or a video, or a fixed information box directly under your banner.  You might link to it in your “page” links.  However you decide to “feature” your flagship content, make sure it gets your readers’ attention, and is easy for them to access and use.

Point to your flagship content from everywhere:

Since your flagship content is what your community really, really needs, make sure they know it is available!  Link to it from related posts on your blog.  Tell people about it on your social media pages.  Include links in your email signature.  When you’re going to put up new flagship content, tell your most faithful followers – your email newsletter readers and your customers – about it ahead of time; perhaps even give them the first opportunity to see and use it.  Share with “real world” people through press releases, at workshops, and of course in face-to-face conversations.  Ask for reviews and testimonials.

Questions of the Day:

Look through your blog.  What posts have received the most positive comments?  What questions do your readers most often ask?  Look through other blogs in your niche.  What niche topics create the most interest?  What posts or products do you already have that provide solutions and benefits for your readers?  Do you have posts in your archives that you could build upon and update to help your community?  What needs can you identify that you can provide help with through new flagship content?  How can you quickly and attractively point your readers to that content?

Tip of the Day:

When determining your flagship content, go back to and really focus on your initial plans for your blog niche.  Then organize the best, the most valuable, content, to provide instant help for your audience.

Put it into action:

Use the tips in this post to put your flagship content front and center for your readers!

 

 

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50 kinds of blog posts – part 4

Do you want to have a blog that keeps your readers engaged and intrigued?  One excellent way is to “mix it up” with the kind of blog posts you present.  Just as a newspaper or magazine has lots of different kinds of articles and information, so should your blog.  Here are some ideas to get you going.

Story – narrative – journey – exploration – Blog posts don’t have to be all “informational” or “how-to” or “theoretical.”  In fact, your readers will likely appreciate it if you bring stories into the mix.  Analogies and anecdotes liven up any bit of theoretical/ informational writing, and help readers understand better.  Your story can illustrate a point you are making, it can bring your readers into your life as you explore a “journey” you are on in relation to your blog’s niche, it can be from your life or the lives of others, or even fictional.

Take a look at some popular magazines from newsstands or your public library.  See how the writers of the articles almost always start off with a story to draw in the reader.  Although blogs tend to be shorter and more to the point than magazine articles, there is room for story, whether on a regular basis, or from time to time.  There has been a strong movement in our western culture recently to move back to more narrative, to more emphasis on “story,” and less “dry” reasoning-based writing. People are looking for story and the sense of community that comes with it.

Journal – diary – personal – Some blogs of course are totally “my diary” style.  In fact, most early blogs were of that format – so much so that there came to be a back-lash against it, and bloggers were often warned to stay clear of anything too personal or emotional.  But more and more, the pendulum is swinging back toward a balance, and most blog readers enjoy a glimpse (from time to time, anyway) of your personal life and feelings.  Just keep your niche and audience in mind so you don’t end up going overboard!  (How’s that for a mixing of metaphors… oops!).

Entertainment – Even if your blog is a serious, informational source, it is a good idea to provide a bit of enjoyment and entertainment, or provoke some kind of emotional response from time to time.  “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” the old saying goes, and the same thing goes for blogs.  Think back to your school days.  What classes did you learn the most in, and look forward to attending?  More than likely those that combined information/knowledge with something entertaining and enjoyable, be that humour, hands-on experimentation, a variety of presentation methods, story-telling, or whatever.  If your blog is basically educational/informational, this is a good point to keep in mind.  Yes, yes, I know – something I need to keep in mind myself!  I have to admit I find it easier to do face-to-face in the classroom or in tutoring situations, than here on the internet.  Something I definitely need to work on!  Ideas are appreciated!  (Yes, I’m ducking🙂 )

Sales – If your blog’s purpose includes selling a product (perhaps your novel, for example), think of the different kinds of blog posts you can use to achieve that goal.  Think about how you market your product in the real world, and then try and translate that onto your blog.  How do you let people know about an upcoming new product?  Advertise?  Promote?  Launch?  Market?  Close the deal?  You very likely use a wide variety of methods to make those sales.  And you should do the same on your blog.  How can you creatively translate your real-world methods to your blog?  Take a look around at other blogs that are selling products or services.  What can you imitate?  How can you do it in unique, creative ways?  If your blog purpose is sales, use your individual posts to present your product in many different ways.

Seasonal – Many bloggers will do special “seasonal” posts that bring holidays, seasons, cultural and other events into the blog.  They stay on-track with their blog’s niche, but take advantage of interest in popular events to present their topic from a different perspective or slant which has appeal for their audience.

Time-sensitive topical – If there is a widespread topic of current interest or controversy, or a fad or fashion which you think your audience would be interested in, it is fine to do a post now and then which provides your viewpoint or encourages conversation about it within your blog community.  If you can in some way connect it to your blog’s niche topic (be creative!) all the better.  But even if you can’t, it will give your blog a fresh and often entertaining or else emotionally thoughtful perspective that will interest your readers, and stimulate discussion.

Controversial – Some bloggers will do a controversial post just to get some conversation going.  Others will be personally upset about a particular issue, and rant about it on their blog, without thinking through the ramifications of their rant.  Other bloggers totally avoid anything they think might be controversial.  Suffice it to say that a little bit of controversy can spice up your blog, can get people seriously thinking about their beliefs and their presuppositions, and can wake people up to an issue they don’t know about or are avoiding/in denial about.  Those can all be good things.

BUT you also need to be able to defend your own position, to be willing to change your position if others point out problems with it, and be able to moderate the discussion so that it doesn’t end as a big flame-up that can make enemies among your community and have a negative effect on how people perceive your blog – and you. Just be prepared.

Opposites of very popular ideas or topics – Sometimes you can take an “opposite position” or present an “opposite approach” to something that people are talking about or have generally accepted.  In the blogs-about-blogging world, for example, there are endless articles about how it is very important to keep your blog short and to the point.  But every now and then a blogger will present a great post about how long posts are better.  And then will put that into practice.  People come and look out of curiosity – and suddenly that “long-winded” blog is extremely popular. What “opposites” could you come up with?  (And, hopefully, put into action).

Problem solving – This might seem really obvious, as a lot of blogs have the purpose of solving problems for their readers, of providing solutions for their readers’ needs.  But if your blog has a different purpose, perhaps entertainment or whatever, why not keep track of your readers’ comments – and then from time to time produce a post or two or three that provides solutions to problems you’ve noticed they are facing.

Challenger of assumptions, perspectives, paradigms – All of us see the world through pre-suppositions and assumptions that we have gathered along the way, perhaps from our parents or our teachers, or from life experiences we’ve had.  Those basic assumptions come to form a framework for the way we perceive and understand and believe about all kinds of other things.

For example, there is a widespread assumption that the purpose of public schooling is to prepare young people to be able to go to university, get a good-paying job, and become good democratic citizens.  The thing is, is that really the purpose of schools?  How often does it work out?  If the schools are “failing” in this purpose, is it because of bad teachers, or bad parents, or bad students, or not enough funding?  Or could it be that the underlying assumptions, of most people, about the purposes of public education, are wrong? (Yes, I could start a rant about this particular topic – but it probably would fit better on my tutoring blog!).

The thing is, in almost every niche area imaginable, there are assumptions, perspectives, and paradigms that really do need to be seriously examined – and quite possibly challenged and changed.  If you are really willing to delve into a sometimes heated conversation with your community, here is a type of post that might bring lots of action (and serious thought) to your blog.

Theory-forming – Over time, as you explore the many aspects of your blog niche topic, you may well find yourself putting together “the facts” into new ways of connecting or perceiving.  In fact, you might start to form a totally new theory related to your niche topic.  If you do, why not organize your thoughts, put them together in theory form, and present them to your audience?  Some will resist, some will laugh it off, but if your theory has some real thoughtfulness behind it, there are those who will join you in exploring it.  And you just might change the world – or at least your niche in it!

Alternative viewpoints and approaches – As I write this post, all over the world there are “Occupy” protests going on, where the “99 percent” are presenting their viewpoints to each other and hopefully to the “1 percent” who have been more or less running the world’s economy (and everything else, thereby) according to their perceptions of economic systems (ie., how to maintain and embellish their own power and wealth).

The interesting thing about these protests is that all kinds of alternative viewpoints and approaches are being suggested, on a wide variety of topics.  And there is a feeling among the “little guys” that if enough of them get together, talk about their ideas, and show a united front to the “elites,” that it is possible that things could change.  How it all works out remains to be seen, but few (other than those who are well served by the status quo) would deny that presentation and discussion of alternative viewpoints and approaches helps to create a healthy society.  And a healthy blog, I dare say.  Can your blog join that kind of conversation?  Even while staying (more or less) within your niche area?  I’ll bet it can!

Be sure to go back to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 – and add your own ideas for kinds of blog posts – or comments on the ones I’ve suggested – in the comment section at the end of each part of this mini-series.

(This 4 part mini-series is part of the larger series: Planning your blog content)

Question of the day:  What other kinds of blog posts can you suggest?  We have 46 here but we’re calling it 50.  Can you help us bring it up to 50?  Add your suggestions in the comments section below.

Tip of the day:  Start today!  Try something new.  Be creative.  Don’t put it off.

Put it into action: Choose a blog post type you haven’t tried before.  Create and post it within the next 3 days.  Yes, you can!

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50 Kinds of blog posts – part 3

Is your blog getting kind of stale? If you’re still just thinking about blogging, are you afraid you’d run out of ideas? Do you need something to spice up your blog? Check out these blog post types:

Contests and competitions – Almost everyone enjoys a contest or competition from time to time, and if you can make it relate to your niche, all the better. If you’re planning a new blog, or writing a new book, or creating a new product, consider a “name the new ____” contest. Or perhaps do a give-away of a few copies of your book in return for readers participating in a certain conversation on your blog. Maybe just create a fun FAQs contest, where readers can fill in a Q&A form about facts related to your niche – or even to your own blog itself – and you provide a prize(s) to the winner(s). The ideas for contests and competitions are as varied as your imagination, and they will always add some excitement and fun for your community.

Community involvement – Ask your readers for feedback and suggestions about your blog, about a new direction you’re considering, or whatever relates to your life and your blog community. It will make your readers feel more involved and valued, and you’ll get lots of valuable input too. Win-win!

Giveaways – Have you just published a new book? Received free items from a publisher or manufacturer in return for a review? Created something crafty related to your favorite hobby or art? Why not do a giveaway? While you could make it into a contest (see above), you could simply do a random draw among all the readers who respond in the comments to that post. Most folks love a freebee!

Off topic: From time to time you might want to do a post about something different from your typical content focus. No problem – as long as it is something that will still likely appeal to your target audience in terms, for example, of their age or culture or beliefs. It will help them understand more about you and your interests, it might just make a refreshing change (especially if the topic lends itself to a presentation format that is different that the format you usually use), and so on. But don’t do this so often that your blog starts to lose its focus and your loyal readers start to drift away.

Resources related to your topic – People are always looking for useful information and resources. You might do a blog post about other blogs in your niche, about good research resources on the internet related to your niche – or even off-internet resources like useful books, magazines, college courses, seminars, conferences and so on. Even the act of gathering together and listing resources you have found useful means that you end up with a list of them in one place, and when you want to use them again, there they are all listed (with links or contact information) in one place for your own use, as well.

Announcements – Your faithful readers really are interested in events in your life as well as events related to your blog. Of course if you over-do it, and your blog starts to become a daily diary, some folks will likely leave. But announcements about important events in your life (birth of a child, engagement or marriage, new job, a conference you’ve been invited to speak at about your blog niche, an upcoming launch of a new product) usually are enjoyed by your readers. If it is informational and of use to your readers, or if it evokes an emotional response (usually happy, but sometimes even more negative emotions work), an announcement can be a great now-and-then type of post.

Humour – Some of the most popular blogs feature regular humour, either as humour just for fun; as satire or irony; as a reflection of your personality; or as their usual form of presentation. Every blog can use a little humour, a little bit of light-heartedness, now and then. Why not give it a try? Just be careful about using “off colour” humour: you could really offend some of your readers, if you don’t keep your audience’s needs and tastes in mind.

Testimonials – Blow your own horn now and then by creating posts that present testimonials by people who enjoy your blog, who have tried out and liked your books or other products, or who have purchased your services and found them useful or entertaining. Those people could be someone famous that everyone knows about and respects, but testimonials by “ordinary people” can be effective too. Again, keep your audience in mind. Who would they believe and respect if they read a testimonial by that person?

Portraits – Write portraits/ bios (include pictures, or even videos or audio) of people whose interests and life activities are related to your blog niche. It is good for readers to see “real people” doing “real things” with the information/theory you present in your blog. Even post portraits of yourself doing things hands-on in your niche area. Make your blog – and yourself – more real to your readers.

Research – Presentations – Infographics – Powerpoints – What do you do in your niche area besides writing blog posts? Do you teach classes? Create infographics? Speak at conferences? Do research and present it at seminars or in journals? Let your readers see these aspects of your life, through video, audio, or written transcripts, as well as graphics, powerpoints you have created, links to journal articles, and so on. Your “authority” will increase by leaps and bounds, and your blog will be more interesting.

Compare and contrast (and more!) – Just like in essay writing, there are different ways of presenting your ideas. Analysis (relationships of parts to whole: cause and effect; underlying assumptions etc); comparison and contrast (differences and similarities); evaluation (apply your judgment to your analysis results; opinion based on clear criteria and evidence); argumentation (controversies; debate; for or against; based on evidence and reasoning) are examples from essays. What other kind of writing have you done in the past? What forms of presentation can you glean from those writing experiences? What about genres? Your past “non-internet” writing offers all kinds of possibilities.

Long form – editorial – journalism : While most blog posts are short, or if longer, presented in list form or other easily scanned formats, you might want to mix it up now and then by including a post that is longer, more detailed, and in a more traditional format. While many blog posts are around 300 to 500 words, a post of this style might be as long as 1500 to 3000 words. Of course, unless your audience really likes that kind of writing, you’ll want to do it just occasionally, and for a purpose (perhaps news related, editorial, or a research report) that suits this longer, more intellectual/traditional style.

Be sure to go on to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4 – and add your own ideas for kinds of blog posts – or comments on the ones I’ve suggested – in the comment section at the end of each part of this mini-series.

(This 4 part mini-series is part of the larger series: Planning your blog content)

Question of the day:  Think of a blog you really like.  What kind of blog  posts does it use?  A mixture or just one kind?

Tip of the day: “Variety is the spice of life” – and while your readers come to your blog for particular reasons, and expecting a particular style and content, some variety in your kinds of blog content and style from time to time will keep them interested!

Put it into action: Tell us (in the comments) about a blog you like (even your own!), and how the kinds of posts the blogger uses make it a great site.

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50 kinds of blog posts – part 2

Keep your blog interesting and lively for your community, while keeping on-topic with your chosen niche, by using a variety of types of blog posts:

Debate and/or dialogue – One of the things that makes blogs so enjoyable is the sense of community, and the ability to discuss, and even debate, topics.  Keep your blog lively by encouraging debate and dialogue, but do have rules to keep things from becoming ugly.  You may sometimes have to close down the comments on a particular post, or block a particularly difficult participant.  These kinds of posts can be interesting and even fun, but they do require close attention on your part.

Evergreen – These are posts that never lose their value.  You might call them “timeless” as they provide information related to your niche that is always useful to your readers.  Some bloggers will keep an “evergreen” post at the top of their blog; others will list some of these posts in a side column with links to the posts; others may put them on a special “page”; and yet others will re-post them from time to time so new readers have a chance to see them.

Flagship – These are resource and reference posts that provide your readers with the key concepts of your blog, that demonstrate your authority in your niche, and that provide very useful information. Your flagship posts may include your “manifesto,” or link to special reports, email newsletter series, or other specialty products you have created for your readers.

Case studies – Have you done special research or achieved success within your niche?  Do you know of others who have been very successful in areas related to your topic?  Present case studies to help your readers learn by example how they themselves can succeed within your area of interest.

How-to’s, guides, tutorials, lessons – These are always popular posts, especially if you can present them in a way that is unique and entertaining, or really appeals to a particular readership “culture.”  Consider a variety of ways of presenting your lessons: not just written information, but perhaps video, audio, graphical – and even special “products” your readers can order/purchase, or live seminars or classes.

Images, photography, art/graphics – We live in a world that is more and more focused on information presented in “picture” form, whether it is still photography, video, video games, graphics, or the wide variety of fine arts, as well as audio formats.  It is always good to from time to time offer some media variety in your posts, and it is important to consider your audience.  This blog is aimed primarily at seniors and authors, who are very familiar with and comfortable with the written word, but if I were focusing on a younger audience, I would be spending a lot of time developing video and other skills.  On the other hand, I have another blog, http://pentictonpedestrian.wordpress.com which is basically a photo blog, with just short written commentaries, as I am sharing my impressions of my community as I SEE it while out taking my daily walks.  So make sure your posts fit your audience, and your blog’s niche and purpose!

Series – Do you have a topic that you’d like to go into depth about, or consider from different aspects or viewpoints?  If so, rather than trying to pack it all into one long, complicated post – or just write about it here or there, from time to time, so that the posts lack connection and continuity – why not consider writing a series?  Create an initial post that tells what your overall topic is about, and then make a list of the posts that will be in the series.  As you write each post, be sure to add a link to it from your original post; and a link from your new post back to the original.  That way, whether readers first encounter the original post, or one of the posts midway through the series, they can quickly and easily find the other posts.  (You can still write non-series posts along the way, but with the links in your series posts, continuity is preserved).  You can even create mini-series within a series.  For example, this mini-series of posts on “Different kinds of posts,” is part of the larger series “Planning Your Blog Content.”

Community – Create posts that help your community to really connect in some way.  Maybe start a “community conversation” or offer an email product especially for your members, or begin a forum, or do something else that brings your faithful readers together, making them feel that they really belong, and can communicate and share with each other.  You could also from time to time ask your readers to comment with information about their blogs, activities, etc.  Let them boast a bit about their accomplishments!

Video blog posts – More and more bloggers are doing some (or all) of their blogs in video form.  Creating a simple video of yourself talking to your users provides a stronger face-to-face feeling.  And of course if you videotape some of your activities or do a videotape demonstration/ tutorial, your readers will also enjoy and appreciate it.  Or mix the two together: how-to content with a personal touch!

News flash – Mix it up from time to time by passing on current news, or commenting on a current event or topic.  If it is related to your niche, great.  But even if it isn’t really connected to your blog topic, if you have a strong opinion, or a strong personal interest and perspective, you can still do a post about it.  It will help your readers know and understand you better, and if it is a hot news topic, they’ll likely be interested anyway.  Just don’t do it so often that you lose focus on your content, or your readers might go looking elsewhere for focus on your real niche.

Guest posts – From time to time feature posts by other bloggers.  Not only will it provide a fresh voice and perspective on your blog, but guest posters often mention on their own blog that they’ve posted on another blog and their readers then go to check it out, so you end up with new readers on your blog!  Of course your readers, if they enjoy your guest’s posts, may well visit his/her blog as well.  It is generally a good idea to support your blogging peers; while you might occasionally lose a reader to a different blog, overall you will profit, in your relationship with other bloggers, in gaining new information and perspectives from fellow bloggers, and in connection with the blogging community that is interested in your niche.

Charity – Just like “brick and mortar” companies support various charities and organizations, giving back to their communities in that way, so you can do on your blog.  Use a post from time to time to raise awareness about something you support.  It is, however, a good idea to choose a cause that applies to or relates to your community/reader base in some way, so that they will be interested and share your enthusiasm and support.

Be sure to go on to read Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.  And add your own ideas for kinds of blog posts – or comment on the ones I’ve suggested – in the comment section at the end of each part of this mini-series.

(This 4 part mini-series is part of the larger series: Planning Your Blog Content )

Question of the Day: Have you seen a blog that uses a good variety of kinds of blog posts?  Why not provide us with a link (in the comments) so we can all check it out?

Tip of the Day: While variety in blog post types is important, stay focused on your niche and purpose, and don’t overdo the variety to the point that your personal “voice” gets lost or your blog develops a scattered feel.

Put it into Action: Choose a post topic you are planning to write about.  Write a post in your “usual” format.  Then try re-writing it in 2 or 3 other formats, choosing ones you think best think fit your topic.  Are any of your “re-writes” more effective than your usual approach?

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50 kinds of blog posts – part 1

Just like magazines, newspaper, television, movies and other media, blog posts come in many varieties.  And like those media, there can be an amazing selection of blog post types within a single blog.  Just think of an average newspaper.  You will find headline news both local and international, editorials, advertisements, sports items, community events calendars, photographs, stories or poetry, informational columns, quick facts, profiles of individuals and groups, politics and religion and other often controversial topics, comics and humour, letters, guest columnists, movie and book reviews, educational items, and so much more.  And yet all of these things are in some way related to the purpose of communicating “news!”

Your blog will also benefit from a variety of posts, even as you seek, for the most part, to keep an emphasis on your blog niche, and a focus on your purpose.  A variety of post types will not only make your blog more entertaining and interesting over the long-term, but it will attract a wider variety of readers, and it will allow you to explore your niche from a greater variety of perspectives and approaches.  What kinds of posts might you use in your blog?

When I started this post, I had half a dozen ideas in mind, but more kept popping up, so I’m naming the post “50 Kinds of Blog Posts.”  Alright, actually there are 46, I believe, but I have no doubt we’ll reach 50 or more if you add your ideas in the comments!

Since blogs are “supposed to be” short and sweet, I’ll be presenting this topic as a mini-series, in 4 parts, so as not to overwhelm you.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

Top Hits/ Best of – From time to time share (by links, or by reposting) some of your past posts that received a lot of traffic and comments.  Also take quotes from, and link to, excellent posts from other bloggers that relate to your blog’s niche.

Interviews/ Q&A – Interview people who have expertise in the niche your blog explores, or who are involved in activities and events related to your blog topics.  Your interviews can be in written Q&A form, audio, or video.

FAQs – If you repeatedly receive the same questions or comments, why not create a FAQs (Frequently Answered Questions) post – or page – that answers those questions for all your readers.

Point of View/ Opinion/ Op Ed –  While your blog might deal mainly in educational or factual material, it is worthwhile from time to time to mix it up by including opinions, including of course those that differ from your usual perspective.   You can “think aloud” about differing opinions, invite guest posters to share their opinions, invite your readers to converse about their opinions in the comments, or even “play devil’s advocate.”

Practical advice – In some blogs, this is the basic kind of post, but even if it isn’t your usual approach in your blog posts, it’s always a good idea to include it from time to time, since practical advice is something people are always looking for, pretty much on every topic.

Education and information – Again, for some blogs this is the core type of post.  But even in a “personal journal” type blog, humour blog, even a photo blog, related educational posts are valuable.  For example, if you have a photo blog, every once in a while you might include teaching on some related aspect: how-to’s related to photography, new photographic equipment and methods, even background on the history of the places and events in the photos you have taken.

Expertise – From time to time be sure to include posts that show your expertise in the area of your niche.  It might be a video of a speech you gave at a conference, a quote or link from a review of your recent book or activity, a detailed examination of a discrete aspect of your niche that shows your in-depth knowledge, and so on.

List posts – Posts that use bullets and ordered lists to present “key” information on a topic are very popular, both with blog writers and blog readers.

Literary posts – If you usually post in a list format, or a how-to format, you might from time to time consider approaching your topic in a more formal literary form, with traditional paragraphs and essay style.  There are certain topics within almost every niche that lend themselves to this approach – and its use from time to time demonstrates a sense of professionalism.

Review posts – Readers are always interested in hearing about books and other media, as well as a variety of products and services, that are related to your niche area.  They like to hear about new items, as well as hear unique perspectives on products they are already familiar with.  Just remember that if you are reviewing a product or service for which you are being compensated, whether by payment or by being given the product in return for reviewing it, you must make note of that in your review!

Be sure to go on to read Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 – and add your own ideas for kinds of blog posts – or comment on the ones I’ve suggested – in the comment section at the end of each part of this mini-series.

(This 4 part mini-series is part of the larger series: Planning your blog content)

Question of the Day: What kind of blog post are you most comfortable writing?  Does it suit your niche?  Which of the blog posts types above would also work on your blog?

Tip of the Day: If you are getting bored writing your posts, your readers are probably getting bored reading them!  What different kind of post would be fun for you to try?

Put it into Action: Why not try one of these post types soon?  Set yourself a deadline – say, within the next week or two.  Go for it!

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Does it matter what theme I choose?

Does it Matter What Theme I Choose?

That’s a good question!  Here are some responses from experienced bloggers.  The Blog Tyrant writes: “Three Problems that Make Me Leave Your Blog in Three Seconds…Problem 2: A butchered theme.”   Jennifer Slegg tells us: “I cringe when I see a blog using the ‘out of the box’… template.” And John Saddington advises: “… the design includes not only the outward appearance but also the internal mechanisms and the quality of code – your content depends on it! Make sure that you have the best theme for your needs that you can possibly get…”

Hmmm… “Butchered … cringe … your content depends on it…”  Those are pretty strong words.  Yes, you’ll have to agree, it does matter – a lot – what theme you choose.

What is a theme, anyway?

Let’s start by defining what a blog theme (aka template) is. According to the About.com Blogging Glossary, a blog theme is:

A template designed specifically for use to enhance the visual appearance and usability of a blog. Many blogging software providers offer a selection of themes for bloggers to choose from for their blogs. Alternatively, predesigned blog themes can be found through a variety of websites, and many web designers create custom themes for blogs.

If you have computer programming skills, you can of course design your own blog theme.  But many of us do not have those skills, so we depend on themes developed by skilled programmers. Many blogging platforms, like WordPress or Blogger, have a wide variety of themes available for free, as well as “premium” themes available for a reasonable price.  Alternatively, you can hire a website designer to create a totally unique, custom theme for you.  This of course will cost more, but if you have really big plans, especially business plans, for your blog, it is something to consider.

Why is it important to choose my theme carefully?

There are a number of reasons for being careful about choosing the best theme for your particular blog.  These include:

  • If your blog looks professional right from the start, you’ll appear to have “authority.”  People who come to your site and take a quick look around are more likely to think you have expertise in both your content area/niche, and are an experienced blogger. They will be more likely to sign up for your RSS feed and/or your email newsletter, and to bookmark your site and visit it often.
  • Your theme design is an important part of your “brand.”  If you already have a logo, a business presence in the “real world,” or are already known for your books, or other aspects of your life, you will want a theme that reflects your brand, and into which your logo, colours, and other brand-related items will fit well.
  • Your theme design can make or break the readability and usability of your blog.  If readers find it hard to read your blog because of color, font size, blinkies, a complicated or messy layout, or other problems, they will quickly move on to other sites, even though your content may be very useful and well-written.
  • Unless you have strong programming and design skills, you will need a theme that already has as much as possible the design you have in mind.  Some platforms, especially WordPress, give you access to a great many “plugins,” “widgets” and so forth that you can use to customize your theme.  You can also learn a bit about coding and try to create some of your own customizations.  But the more of these customizing methods that you use, the slower your blog can often run, and if you don’t have strong skills you can make your blog look messy as well.  So start with the best theme you can find, even if it costs you a little (as premium themes do), and then either hire someone experienced to customize the theme, or try one or two small changes at a time, experimenting to see how they work out for you and your readers.
  • Different blog users have different expectations.  Your theme needs to be appealing to your target audience – and to relate to your niche.  You’ll often find “teenage” blogs that use black backgrounds and unusual font styles and colours – and many teenagers will be attracted to that, especially if it fits in with a niche like “zombies.”  On the other hand, if you are reaching out to a seniors audience whose eyesight is no longer so great, and who are accustomed to a more “professional” look that they would expect on a blog about medical issues, you’d likely want to go with a white background, and an easily read sans-serif type font in a fairly large size.
  • Different purposes of blogs require different theme styles as well.  There are blog themes that are created especially for certain purposes.  Examples are photography blogs, magazine blogs, seasonal blogs, news blogs and so on. Just as books and magazines come in different shapes, sizes, paper types, hard or soft cover, different fonts, various illustration styles, and so forth, according to their topics and audience, so do blogs need to have appropriate theme styles.
  • Blog themes aren’t just about what you see on the surface.  Go to any blog or website, right click your mouse on the page, and click on “view source.”  What’s THAT? you ask incredulously. Well, that is the programming code that makes the blog look as it does – and behave as it does.  As one of the quotations at the beginning of this post says, “the design includes … also the internal mechanisms and the quality of code – your content depends on it!”  If you choose a poorly coded theme, you can run into more trouble than you would believe possible – your blog can run slowly, your blog’s design doesn’t look like the advertised example, you end up with poor SEO, and many other problems you may not even realize are there, but are affecting your blog – and users – negatively.  When you choose a theme, therefore, check out user reviews, and also how many people are using it.  You might think that a theme that has only a half dozen users would be unique – but it might have something to do with the coding.
  • There are lots of sources for blog themes.  The themes offered on major platforms like WordPress or Blogger usually get accepted only after being carefully tested – and even then, some are better than others.  The really popular ones not only look good, but they have good coding – and they usually offer you lots and lots of options so that you can truly customize them and make them uniquely yours.  You can also find privately designed themes for sale on the internet, and many programmers offering their services, but be sure to check them out carefully!  Look for reviews from other sources than what they say about themselves.

What are some of the choices different themes offer?

We’ve already mentioned that there is a choice of blog types – news, photography, journal, and so on.  Here are some other things to look for.  You’ll find a variety of these on every theme, but the actual choices will vary from theme to theme.  And always remember to keep your niche, your blog purpose, and your target audience in mind – as well as your brand, business, and so on.

  • very minimalist themes that provide loads of opportunity for bloggers to add lots of their own html, CSS, and other coding to make their blog very unique
  • number of columns, variety of column layouts, with placement of columns on left, right, or bottom; fixed-width or flexible-width
  • support for adsense and/or other monetizing systems
  • able to use a wide variety of widgets and plug-ins
  • choices on how comments will be handled
  • compatibility with certain platforms, coding languages, etc
  • compatibility with ipads and other mobile devices, as well as with various social networks
  • ability to support photographs, videos, slide shows, podcasts, and other media
  • choices of fonts, colour schemes, custom link colors
  • opportunity for custom headers, backgrounds
  • a choice of pre-defined templates within the overall theme
  • opportunity for featured posts
  • pages in addition to posts (including ability to use your site as a combination blog and website)
  • custom menu options
  • variety of design customization within your posts: the standards like italics and bold, font sizes, and such, along with varieties of heading styles, lists, links, quotation styles, indenting, and much more.

Yes, that’s just a sample of the many different options available in blog themes!  In an upcoming post in this series, we’ll talk more about how to use some of the different design options to make your blog as attractive and usable as possible.

And be sure to check out the links at the beginning of this post for more useful information on how to make your blog content the best it can be!

Question of the Day: What design features do you want that will make your blog unique, attractive and usable for your niche, audience, purpose, and brand?  Sit down right now and make a list.  Be as specific as possible.

Tip of the Day:  Get ideas by looking at a lot of different blogs, especially those in your niche, and those that fit your purpose.  When you find ones that you think are similar to what you are looking for, check them to see if you can find out the theme they have used (it is often listed at the bottom of the page, but if not, check elsewhere).  Then check out the theme itself at its source, and see what options and features it offers.

Put it into Action:  Many platforms like WordPress will offer a wide variety of themes.  You can experiment with different themes before you settle on one and publish your blog.  If after a while you aren’t totally happy with it, you can try a different theme.  Some platforms don’t offer very many choices, other offer hundreds.  If you really want to stay fairly simple with your blog, you can use a platform like Blogger, but if you have big plans, you’re better to try a platform with more choices.  Also, if you plan to start out with a free blog platform, you’re best to choose one that you can upgrade later on, rather than trying to switch to a different platform.  So get busy – choose your platform and then try out some themes!

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Your blog’s domain name – part 4

This is part 4 of the series: Your blog’s domain name

Is it okay to use a cost-free domain?

  • Some companies, like WordPress.com or Blogger, offer “free” domain names and sites.  They require that your domain is hosted on their site, and that their site be recognized in some way.  For example, a free WordPress site has the domain name http://yourchosenname.wordpress.com .  Or some companies may insist that you allow them to include advertising around your content, which they will profit from.  They also often limit the kinds of activities you can do on the site.  If you are willing to live with the company’s rules, free is probably fine.
  • But if you have big future plans, you are advised to consider paying for your own unique name.  WordPress, as an example, offers two options.  You can stay with the simple WordPress.com format, and just pay $17 a year, for which “yourdomainname” becomes yours, and you no longer have to have “wordpress” as part of the name.  Or you can graduate to “wordpress.org”, which is somewhat more complicated but does give you many options such as running a business from the site, and far more control over what content you choose, etc.  You can also sell it later if you wish.
  • If you are willing to stay with a “free” domain name, it is usually easy to change the “yourdomainname” part of your blog name, as long as no one else has taken it.  This can work if you’ve just started out and don’t have many readers, but if you want to change your name later on, you’ll probably confuse a lot of people and lose readers, so it is best to be sure about what name you want to use, right from the start.
  • It is not always easy to “upgrade” from a free to a paid domain name.  You may discover when you are ready to upgrade, that “yourdomainname” is already owned, and you’d have to change your domain name.  Even the technical aspects of upgrading can be challenging.  So if you have long-term plans, you should consider owning your own domain name from the start.
  • If you sign up for a “free” site, be sure to read the rules and regulations carefully, or you may find your site suddenly closed down – and if you don’t have a back-up, you could lose everything.  As a real example, at one point, I put a link from a post on this site to a certain company that retails digital goods.  I only put the link as an informational item, so my readers could go and see what happens there – but it was interpreted by WordPress’ automatic checker as if I were advertising for that site, and this site was automatically closed down.  I had to email WordPress and explain my situation – and they then put my site up again, on the condition that I remove the link and reference to that site.

Should I buy up extra domain names relevant to my blog?

  • If you’re new to blogging and just trying it out, you’re probably best to choose one domain name.  But if you have big plans (create more blogs, become a pro-blogger, etc) it may be to your advantage to purchase extra names that have keywords related to your niche focus.  That keeps other bloggers from setting up a site that is very similarly named to yours, where your readers might end up accidentally.  You can also have the extra names you own “point” to your blog, so that if your blog is “coolblog.com” and someone types “coolblog.net” (which domain name you also own) they’ll still end up at your site.
  • On the “buying” topic, should you buy a popular domain name if the owner has it up for sale?  Maybe, if you think it will really draw traffic, if you believe you can recoup the investment through profits from your blog within a short time, if you plan to really work your blog, if you can afford it, and if you get some good legal advice about it.  A lot of if’s!  But in some cases it is worth it.

Excellent articles about domain names:

Here are some excellent posts on other blogs that will give you more detailed information on choosing the best domain name for your blog:

Tentblogger.com article: “Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right, Best Domain Name for Your Blog”

Wikipedia article: “Domain Name”

TheDailyBlogTips.com article: “The 7 characteristics of good domain names”

TheSiteWizard.com article: “Tips on choosing a good domain name.”

Question of the Day:  What other questions do you have about choosing a good domain name for your blog?  Ask your questions in the comments section below.

Tip of the Day: Check out the articles mentioned above.  They are very helpful!

Put it into Action: Have you gone through all four articles in this series, “Your Blog’s Domain Name“?  If you haven’t, be sure to do so right away.  If you have read them all, it is time to choose a domain name for your blog – and then get started on your blog right away!  Don’t forget – for excellent information about how to set up your new blog, check out our article “Resources on the Mechanics of Blogging.”

 

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