This is part 4 in a 5 part series on How to Start a Blog. This post will deal with creating great blog content. Also see Part 1 – Choosing a Blog Name, Part 2 – Choosing a Platform and a Blog Host and Part 3 – The Basics of Blog Design and Part 5 – Promoting your Blog.
When it comes to blogging, content is king. You can have the best name, the fastest hosting package, and the most beautiful blog design anywhere, but if you don’t have something to say, then blogging may not be for you. I can’t tell you what to write about – you may want to just have a personal blog, or be the world’s expert on the appearance of cats in 19th century Scandinavian literature, and those are both OK! But I can give you some advice – mostly on things to avoid. (Spoiler alert: don’t plagiarize!)
Blog Content: Writing
It is entirely possible to have a blog with no written content, but that’s probably better off as a tumblr. (I think – that’s mostly what tumblr is for, right??) (So sorry, so old). Chances are if you want to have a blog, you want to write something. I don’t pretend to be the world’s expert at teaching writing, but I have a few ideas on what can make your blog writing better.
- Find Your Voice. I know that “your voice” is a cliche, but I think voice is what separates blogs from other forms of publications. The key to the blog is you – how you speak, how you communicated. I think most of the best blogs are written in a conversational tone, and that’s what I strive for. People don’t have quite the same expectations for reading on the internet that they have for reading a book, or even a magazine article – the internet is inherently a more casual meaning, so a more conversational tone is appropriate. (And yes, I do speak like this in real life. I told my husband this morning that I was in no mood for pedantry before I had my coffee. I would never prosper in a national election because I’m not “of the people” enough, and my kids are the same way. What you see here on the blog is what you get.)
- Don’t be sloppy. Yes, the web is casual, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put the effort into your content. Check spelling! Try to have good grammar. Do not say things like “I was balling” when you mean you were bawling. Read over your posts before you hit publish, and again afterwards. Think about whether you are being clear, concise, precise in your language. Use the best words you can to say what you want to say. Practice!
- Read other blogs in your niche. It’s helpful to read other blogs in your niche so you can get a sense of what’s out there and start developing opinions about what you like as a reader. You’ll also get ideas about tone and content from reading other blogs, and they may influence your style. And don’t limit yourself to blogs – read newspapers, magazines, journals and books. When I’ve been reading a lot of Laurie Colwin, I start writing more like Laurie Colwin (which may, by the way, be my highest aspiration in life). Read the good stuff. It will make you a better writer.
- Don’t plagiarize. I don’t think I can say this enough. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. It’s OK to take stylistic tips from other writers, but if you copy their words you are plagiarizing and infringing on their copyrights. It is OK to quote small amounts (with proper attribution) for the purposes of adding additional commentary, but don’t just cut and paste. It’s BAD.
A note about recipes and copyright: Recipes are not copyrightable (and it’s copyright, not copywrite.) That means that the ingredients and methods used in a recipe can be freely copied. HOWEVER, the actual expression of that recipe – the words used to describe it – are copyrightable. Of course, there are only so many ways to say “beat egg whites until stiff” so it’s hard to claim a copyright in that, but “Beat eggwhites until they stand up like the Sierra Nevada on a January morning” is copyrightable. Don’t cut and paste. The next caveat is courtesy – even if you’re not illegally copying someone’s work, it’s nice to give a nod to where you got an idea or a recipe. It’s good form. It makes you part of the community and conversation.
Blog Content: Images
You could have a blog that is all writing, and some people do, but the web is inherently a visual medium, and adding images to your posts is going to make them better and more accessible. It also allows your blog posts to be added to sites like Pinterest, which can be a great way to publicize your site (more on that tomorrow). The ideal is, of course, to take beautiful images yourself and use them on your blog, but sometimes this isn’t practical, and you need to find or create images in another way.
YOU CANNOT JUST REPOST A PICTURE BECAUSE IT TURNS UP ON GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH. It’s illegal, and it’s wrong, and the ways for this not to be a violation of the image creator’s copyright are few and far between. There are a few legitimate places to get images, though.
- Flickr – You can’t just use any photo you find on Flickr, but you can use images that have a “Creative Commons” license (there is a search function on Flickr which allows you to limit searches to photos with a Creative Commons license.) Make sure to read the terms of the license – most require that you give attribution to the image creator, some don’t allow use for commercial purposes (which your blog is if you accept advertising), some allow derivative works (editing the image) and some don’t.
- Royalty-Free Stock Image sites. Some require a small fee to use an image, some are fully free. This list is a great resource for free photo sites. Again, it’s important to read the terms of the license you’re being granted.
- Create an image. You can create an image using clipart and text in many image programs, including some free online ones. I like Picmonkey for creating images (and also doing some light editing of my own photos.) Probably my favorite resource for creating images for blog posts (like this one, where a photo would be less than compelling. What would it be a photo of? A computer?) is Canva. Canva has different layouts, sizes designed for Pinterest, Facebook, etc. and a large gallery of free (plus some low-cost) images to use in your creation.
A note on frequency of updating – some places advise you to post every day, some multiple times a day. Depending on the topic of your blog, this can be totally sustainable. But my advice is post as often as you can create solid content. Nobody likes filler posts.
To summarize: DON’T PLAGIARIZE! Create your own stuff. Try to make it good. I hope this was at least a little helpful as a resource for creating blog content.
Tomorrow: Publicizing your blog.