With so many tips for creating a great blog, I find there’s no 1 recipe that works best for everyone. From doing a little research and a little new media tools testing I’ve come away with my 5 foundational best practices to ensure appropriate form, function and substance. They are as follows:
- Adhering to Ethics
- Providing meaningful, educational, consistent and focused content
- Writing with the right style
- Balancing the use of media tools
- Providing a visually appealing website
Let’s see how one of my favorite blogs Naturalchica.com and Commanalysis match up to my list.
Unlike professional journalism, there is not a standard code of ethics for bloggers. But, bloggers who want to establish credibility and attract readers who are seeking trustworthy content should observe an ethical code.
Natural Chica does not specify a “code of ethics” on its website however the goal of this blog is to “encourage, inspire and motivate (Maeling n.d). These ethics add to the substance of her content and readers would not expect anything less than uplifting posts.
Meaningful. The substance of the Natural Chica blog is also meaningful. In 2009 NaturalChica.com was originally started by “Mae” to document her transitional journey from processed to natural hair. This big decision in her life was so meaningful to her that she wanted to share it with others. The passion Mae displays in her blogs resonates with her readers and is one of her strengths.
Educational. Since its beginning, Mae’s blog has blossomed into educating her audience about natural hair care, styling, naturalists and hair products (Maeling n.d). For the transitioning or veteran naturalist, this blog is full of great resources.
Focused. Mae’s blog has grown to include other areas of her life that “I feel impressed to share with you all” (Maeling n.d). Among other topics, Mae has included “Style,” and “Fitness.” It’s great to try to new things and experiment (Patel 2012) but once you’ve found your nitch the best practice is to hone in on it (Chelidonis n.d), perfect it and be the best at it (Patel 2012). Mae has established herself as a natural hair expert, readers interested in exercise would be more inclined to visit a blog specializing in fitness.
Consistent. Natural Chicas’ most current blogs this year date November 3rd, November 4th, September 24th and August 5th. There are various schools of thought on how often to post blogs. My recommendation is to find out what works for you and your audience and stick to it. For example, someone who blogs about the stock exchange may need to blog every day since the stock exchange is continuously updating. Or if posting a blog every Monday and Wednesday has the best results, stick to that. Being consistent helps to build readership and keeps your audience engaged (Chelidonis n.d).
Writing with the right style
Whether you are blogging about natural hair or mass media the best writing practices are:
- Be clear, concise and direct (Dot Marketing [DM] n.d).
- Use a style that fits you and your audience (DM n.d),
- Use language that optimizes your blog for search engines (Chelidonis n.d)
According to Dot Marketing, reading on a screen for long periods of time screen hurts the eyes, is physiologically harder than reading on paper and is distracting when writing is wordy. And recommends to keep paragraphs between 40-70 words (DM n.d). Mae does have a few long posts here and there but for the most part they are short, concise and to the point. She also does a great job using a style that showcases her personality:
…Now that I’ve been natural for over 5 years, I’m having too much fun trying new things with this new cut! Finger coils was always on my list of styles to try with short, natural hair… (Maeling 2014)
Using searchable terms improves the functionality of a blog by helping your intended audience find your blog. Natural Chica uses searchable language throughout the site. Also the site title is memorable and includes the word “natural,”- a searchable keyword. (Chelidonis n.d). Mae uses other topic related terms in her posts like “natural hair,” “natural hair styles,” and “natural hair care.”
Use of Media Tools
Media tools are important to connecting your blog to large audiences, but too many of them (especially pop ups) can make your site difficult to navigate (Chelidonis n.d). A great tactic is to find out what social media platforms your audience uses and utilize them well (Rowse 2014). Natural Chica uses email, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube connect buttons. These tools connect Maes’ audience to her, however adding social media share buttons would improve the function of her blog by encouraging readers to share posts with others.
Visually appealing website
First impressions of your website matter big time. It only takes 0.05 seconds for users to decide whether they like the look and feel of your site and if will stay or leave (Laja n.d). Websites that are not visually complex are the most appealing (Laja n.d). I personally like the light soothing colors Natural Chica uses, however the home page could be simpler. There are lots of places for the eyes to wander and some of those places lead to blank pages. It wouldn’t take much to improve the functionality and ascetics of NaturalChica.com.
Commanalysis is authored by a graduate student undergoing the MA Communication program at Southern New Hampshire University. The writings of this blog are outcomes of the required assignments of the program courses. The author is mandated to follow “ethical and legal principles that underlie all scholarly research and writing” (American Psychological Association [APA] p.11). If there were a non-scholarly web writing or blogging ethical code I would follow it. I believe an ethical code would benefit blog writers and their readers. Writers would have a set of guidelines that would keep them accountable to themselves and their audience. And readers would have a standard to measure writers that would assist them in discerning trustworthy blogs.
Another area where this blog is doing well is providing meaningful, educational, consistent and focused content. The author takes every opportunity to incorporate ideas that are meaning in the completion of the educational writing assignments. Though only a few weeks old, so far the blog provides updated content once a week. The focus of this blog can be considered a little broad as the course materials cover several topics of communication. However, as the concentration classes are taken, the subject matter may become more focused in a specific area of communication.
Writing with the right style
What the author does well is write in a defined voice and style. There is room for improvement in the area of sentence structure, language and length of blog posts. It is also important to consider that some assignments may be longer than the recommend 500 word post (DM n.d), and these longer post can be broken up into several posts (Rowse 2014).
Use of Media Tools
Commanalysis does use social share buttons and an RSS Feed. However, it does not use social connect buttons or a newsletter signup widget. If the goal of Commanalysis is to build its audience, then it would be wise to create social media profiles to link to the blog and build a contact list with a newsletter widget.
Visually appealing website
Commanalysis aims at a clean and simple website design. Lighter colors, with highlighted links to direct readers to blogs and linked tags will help lighten the work load of reader’s eyes and make the navigation of the site easy. As the site develops, the design will also develop to represent the appropriate changes.
The top five best practices that I believe will ensure appropriate form, function and substance are; adhering to an ethical code, providing readers with meaning, educational, consistent and focused content, writing with the right style, balancing use of media tools and providing a pleasant visual experience for readers. An ethical code keeps writers accountable and helps readers discern trustworthy content. The best writing style is concise to the point, uses topic appropriate language and searchable key words (DM n.d). The right amount of media tools can help increase a blogs’ audience but overdoing it can make a site hard to navigate (Chelidonis n.d). In a fraction of second readers decide whether they like your site and if they will stay or leave (Laja n.d.), so making a great first impression with your website design may be in fact be one of the most important best practices.
American Psychological Association (2010). Publication manuel of the American Psychological Association, 6th.ed. Washington, DC. American Psychological Association
Chelidonis, L (n.d) 12 Steps to Launch a Successful Blog. [Web Log] Retrieved from http://www.dailyblogtips.com/steps-to-successful-blog/
Dot Marketing (n.d) DM best practices: Writing for the web. Retrieved from. Dot Marketing Inc. Retrieved from http://www.uakron.edu/webteam/docs/dm_webwriting.pdf
Laja, P (n.d) First impression matter: The importance of great visual design. Conversionxl.com. Retrieved from. http://conversionxl.com/first-impressions-matter-the-importance-of-great-visual-design/
Maeling (2014, November 5). How to do finger coils [Web Log] Retrieved on November 11, 2015 from http://www.naturalchica.com/category/natural-hair/natural-hair-styles/
Maeling (n.d) Welcome to NaturalChica.com! [Web Log] Retrieved on November 11,2013 from http://www.naturalchica.com/about/
Patel, N (2012, April 5)10 Lessons Seth Godin Can Teach You about Blogging. Retrieved from http://www.quicksprout.com/2012/04/05/10-lessons-seth-godin-can-teach-you-about-blogging/
Rowse, D (2014, March 5) Beginner Week: My 43 dos and 25 don’ts of blogging. [Web Log] Retrieved on November 12, 2015 from http://www.problogger.net/archives/2014/03/05/beginner-week-my-43-dos-and-25-donts-of-blogging/