Friday, 30 August 2013

How to write a popular and entertaining blog

Much to my amazement, the Barnet Eye blog has had well over a million hits since we started. That is more hits than the number of people who will watch Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur this weekend. By any measure that means that this is a popular blog. If  you had asked me how many hits I would have been happy to have seen after five years, I'd have optimistically said "Maybe 100,000". So how has this phenomenal success been achieved?

There are several aspects to the answer, but it can be summed up with "find themes you care passionately about and work extremely hard". This blog has several themes which we regularly cover. The main ones are

Barnet Council Politics
Barnet and the locality

These are pretty much in order of precedence.  Had I known how successful the blog would be, I would probably used the Wordpress platform, rather than blogspot, as it is easier to sort things within headings. There is nothing I would like more than to have the various headings and themes easily accessible in their own sections. This would make it far easier for people who have a specific interest to find articles they are interested in. I put keywords in to allow searches, but for many people unfamiliar with Blogspot, this is not an easy way to find anything. So the first piece of advice I would give is to think about the themes you wish to develop and if they are diverse, make sure people can easily find the related blogs.

The next piece of advice I would give is to use the sidebar effectively. Put interesting information in it and use the facility to display other similar blogs. Sharing mutual links is a good way to build a readership. Contact other blog authors and inform them that you have linked to them, suggest they do the same thing.

The next piece of advice is to be innovative. Don't simply do what everyone else seems to be doing. Think what you would like to see on a blog. Think of what you think other people are not covering.

If possible use pictures, these help. Build up a library. I neglect this, but my stats show that blogs with pictures get more pageviews. Videos can be equally effective, but edit them so that you get the point across.

There are a few classic fails to avoid. When I first started the Barnet Eye, people complained that the blog was hard to read, with a black background and white writing. I thought it looked cool, but if people can't read it what is the point. Another mistake some people make is to have music on their blog, which plays when the blog opens. Many people read blogs at work. If they are having a sly peek and the 1812 overture starts blaring out, they won't be back.

Thus far, all of the hints have been about "technicalities". The main secret is to make people regularly return to the blog, tell their friends about it and to build a profile. This is done by content. It is hard work. When I started blogging, I made a personal commitment to spend 30 minutes every day writing the blog. In truth, I have failed miserably, spending 3-4 hours a day writing. I also have a policy of encouraging guest bloggers. These bring a different perspective to the blog and expertise outside of my own personal experience. They also bring new readers to the blog as their friends and acquaintances. All of these things help to build a readership.

One rule I have is to never insult the intelligence of my readers. If I make a claim, I put a link to back it up. If I am expressing and opinion, I say "this is my opinion" - I don not claim it as a fact. In mu view, the biggest mistake a blogger can make is to present their opinion as a fact. I believe in presenting the evidence and allowing the reader to make up their own mind. Try and present facts in an interesting and informative manner.

I also run themes. I run a Friday joke (unless I haven't heard or seen one worth repeating). I often do a Saturday List. For series of blogs, such as my series on Cancer and dyslexia, I put a preamble paragraph so that people can understand the full context. These also have a tag, so people can find them. At some point I need to "tidy up" all of the labels on the blog. People sometimes don't understand the function of tags in Blogger. Some bloggers use them as a way of making a witty comment. In fact these are simply your index. If you mention a specific topic or person, tag it. That way it is easier to find related posts. Many people don't realise that if you click the tag, you get all related posts. It is worth mentioning this so people unfamiliar with blogger can find related stories by searching on labels or by simply clicking on them.

One last thing. It is worth periodically reviewing your format, as I have done. I hope that you find it more readable and easier to find your way around. If you don't like it, please let me know.

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