This post is perhaps a bit overdue, but after speaking at the Content Marketing Show about working with bloggers, I figured that some of you might be interested in becoming one of them.
I’m here to gently persuade you to give it a go, purely to see if it can help you within your own marketing position too. (I won’t lie, there are some other nice perks when you’re a blogger, but more about that in a future post!)
When I moved back to the UK in 2006, I had little idea of what I wanted to pursue at university. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a great deal of time to make up my mind as I needed to get my application into UCAS within a matter of days (I was late to the party as I completed my high school education in Canada). So I picked three universities I knew little about, and simply picked the courses that sounded the most interesting to me. After getting offers to each of my choices, I decided to be brave and pick the university the furthest away from all my family in Cambridgeshire; the University of Chester for a degree in photography and journalism.
After three years of late nights (“studying”), my BA (Hons) Journalism opened up a number of career opportunities for me.
I almost ended up doing PPC but I was directed into an SEO Copywriter position within the same agency. It was here that I began writing full time; a good 7.5 hours a day if not more. As my role progressed and the industry matured, I also started to get involved in blogger outreach campaigns; I became fascinated with all of the different types of blogs online, and the people behind them.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I decided to start my own blog. I’d been contributing to various sites online in that time, including for EasyJet and for blogs within the digital marketing industry. Being a contributor was natural for me. I wrote things, a skill I had been honing each day for my professional life. Starting my own blog was a scary prospect as I knew there was a lot I needed to learn.
But I realised that was a good thing. After all, I work with clients every day to help them with their marketing and business goals. I thought that starting a blog would make me more qualified to make recommendations based on first-hand experience.
My blogging days
I’m now in the position where I can confidently call myself a blogger. I write frequently, I contribute to the wider blogging community, and I get a fair share of emails that ask for my stats for various review opportunities (I’m a food and lifestyle blogger). I also write here, and on other sites that are based around the topic of digital marketing.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though; I won’t pretend that it’s easy. I’ve come up against plenty of new concepts and have struggled with some of the more technical aspects of starting a blog. Despite this, I do think it’s been well worth it. To explain why, I’m first going to share some of the areas that I just couldn’t get my head around when I started out.
Things that made little sense to me:
Picking a domain name
Call it a #firstworldproblem if you please, but it’s amazing how long it can take to choose a domain name. It feels so permanent (and this is even true when you’re au fait with the ability to redirect websites and pages). Perhaps this is something that is easier for a business that already has a name in place, but even then the domain needs to be available to purchase – something which isn’t possible if someone has already registered it.
Trust me, I spent a fair number of hours typing variations into the search bar on 123 Reg. And then I had to decide whether to choose a .co.uk or .com domain, or both, or neither. There are so many others listed including .london, .net, .co, and so on.
In the end I chose a primary .co.uk domain and another with a close text variation, just to ensure that someone else couldn’t try and be clever and steal some of my potential traffic through misspellings and the like. I have a 301 redirect [this Moz guide is super if you aren’t familiar with redirects] in place so users end up in the right place. Happy days!
Choosing how to host a blog
When I started doing blogger outreach, it seemed that many people relied on a Google hosted Blogspot domain. This is the first route that I went down after purchasing a domain. I created an account on Blogger gaining me access to [example].blogspot.co.uk, and then I changed some settings to use the domain I had already registered on 123 Reg. This would have been confusing if it wasn’t for the ‘Blogger Help’ section on Google Support. If you go here, click “On a top-level domain” at the bottom of the page and more helpful content will be shown so you can set up your domain with your blog. Be prepared for trial and error here if you haven’t delved into the world of CNAMEs before.
However, I quickly remembered my own SEO knowledge and figured I should try and use another form of hosting. In Blogger I was limited by how I could display URLs and it just didn’t feel organised enough. I wanted the flexibility of a better content management system, so I paid for hosting and installed WordPress.
If someone says it’s all about the content and not about how a site looks, please ignore them. The appearance of a blog is important; it can be the difference between people reading what you’ve written or just clicking the back button in their browser. Navigation menus need to be clear to understand, and the posts themselves should use a suitable font and colour theme that work well for accessibility. Think about the user experience and work from here. Whilst this all sounds easy enough in theory, in practice it is going to require some clever choices and tweaks.
There are a certain amount of free WordPress themes; I’ve always relied on these as I already spend enough on hosting and domain renewals! However from here it is a good idea to customise colours, font size and backgrounds.
These may be possible to do with a handy theme customisation panel, or you might have to go to the dreaded “Editor” (or similar name) in the Appearance menu dropdown in the sidebar. This is where you’ll find the stylesheet.
If you’re going to make any changes, it’s a good idea to keep a reference of the first version, and only make small changes at a time in the event that you make things look horrible and you want to reinstate what was once there.
Other bizarre concepts I’ve come across:
- Having to override the default setting for meta titles
- Being explicit about sponsored posts
- Learning to deal with a lot of spam attempts
- Installing widgets and actually getting them to work
- Trying to publish regularly (quite hard when you work full time too)
Why these things are actually useful:
At this point you’re probably thinking “so what? How does this make you a better marketer”, so thank you for keeping up with me until this point.
Up until I started blogging I had little insight into the wider marketing approach in terms of design and development. Yeah, I’d worked with some super clever colleagues before who did these things but I didn’t really get how everything came together. Blogging quickly made me learn more about HTML, CSS and everything else techie that I’d successfully avoided before.
Not only that but I fell into a world where promotion would be driven by only one person: myself. I couldn’t rely on other teams or agencies to do other activities to assist my efforts; I’d only get back what I put in to it. Regular publishing became vital, especially in the early days, and I had to (and still do) take part in blogger chats on Twitter to gain some followers and regular readers.
I learned about creating basic banners for internal and external sidebar advertising; Canva became my go-to tool for pretty templates that could be customised with my own images and text in a flash.
I continued improving these designs so I could improve my click-through rates from social media posts with the correct size images. This guide on Sprout Social became my best friend to get these right.
For the first time, I felt the urge to revisit my almost-career in paid media. I wanted to learn more about online advertising and how paid forms could be used alongside more organic efforts. This is the kind of integrated approach that works well for clients too, something which we shouldn’t forget in agencies where we have multiple product offerings.
Shock horror – I also gained a few more skills in Google Analytics! I sat through hours of Analytics Academy videos to gain my analytics certification a few months ago, but there is nothing like a bit of practical application to secure the concepts firmly in place. Now I make it part of my client campaigns to deliver some deeper insights from GA each month; things that are hidden below the surface of the tool but are still nuggets there waiting to be found.
And really, this is just the beginning for me. I have ambition to grow my blogging presence online, something which will require much more investment in the future – more of my time and effort than money. I know that I will make mistakes and learn new things, but doesn’t it make more sense to use my personal blog as a place to do testing before I roll out my ideas to the sites of my clients? I definitely think it does.
Let me know whether you have a blog and how you’re getting on with it. You can reach me here or on Twitter @HannahFButcher.