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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Your Blog Entries

Your Blog Entries

What stories are to a city newspaper, blog entries are to your Blog Empire.  And while your layout is important, readers will not return again and again to admire your layout or ruminate over your clever title.  They’ll return again and again to read your writing or view your artwork or check the links that you provide.  In other words, while they may read because of your layout, they will return because of your entries.

An entry is simply a published piece of material, and your readers will have definite expectations for your entries that you will need to meet, again and again, in order to woo them into coming back tomorrow.  Luckily, most of those expectations are set by you in prior entries. Those expectations are insight, relevance, timeliness, accuracy, and consistency.

Thoughtful, Insightful and Unique Content

Whether your blog provides photographs of the rain forest, reviews of Pacific Northwest restaurants, or the largest collection of ethnic jokes on the planet, your readers expect that every time they come there, they’ll find something new, unique, and worthwhile.  They’ll expect to find something they can’t find anywhere else or find by themselves without searching all over.  In short, they’ll expect you to provide insightful and unique content on a certain consistent subject or issue.  Your insight and your dedication to providing quality are what will draw them back.

Your Blog Links and Commentary

On a news blog, for example, your readers expect that your commentary will provide interesting and relevant news, probably with a link to an original story or a source site.  They will also expect you to provide expertise that they do not possess, information they have not found elsewhere, and an up-to–the-minute take on relevant trends and rumors.  They want to read the entry and come away feeling they now know more than they did, that they learned something interesting, and that they leave with a reason to return.

A blog that reviews restaurants will meet those same expectations in a different manner.  Timeliness is less a factor – restaurants don’t change as quickly as the daily news – but relevance and thoroughness become more important.  Your readers are not going to return for your reviews of Portland’s collection of Subway restaurants, nor for your fifth review of Kell’s Irish Pub, even if you think it the best place in the world to eat.  They demand an expanding collection of useful content, and they want each entry to tell them everything they need to know to make an enjoyable dining decision. They want you to be clear, honest, and thorough.

Perhaps your blog is a reference blog, collecting and publishing links by subject.  While readers may not have expectations for your commentary, they will expect the links to be accurate and present a thorough overview of the subject from all angles – or at least from the angle your readers have come to expect from prior commentary.  Consistency and thoroughness are again the watchwords.

Whatever the theme of your blog, your readers will expect every entry to be timely, relevant, and accurate.

Blogging With Consistency

Because your blog shares many attributes of your local newspaper, think for a moment about what the newspaper look like.  It has a masthead, headings, and stories.  It has a certain number of columns, fonts of a certain size and type, and stories categorized within sections.  It looks that way every day. It is consistent.

On the other hand, imagine what you’d think of a newspaper that placed random obituaries in the sports section, put the top story of the day in the classifieds section, or used random fonts and character sizes across an ever-changing number of columns.  You wouldn’t have a lot of respect for that newspaper, would you?  It would not be taken seriously by most readers.  They would ignore it, even though it may be incredibly informative and insightful once they get past the layout.  They will ignore your blog, too, unless you learn a lesson from the papers: consistency makes a good first impression.

That means your entries have to look smart and interesting, even before the reader scans a single headline. And your entries must be readable, especially if you are quoting a source and explaining or arguing with that source.  This can be done through the use of bolds, indentations, color (either font or background) or as many ways as you can imagine.  The only limitations are your imagination and a respect for consistency.  What works for one entry should be made to work for all.  If a specific layout does not work for most entries, keep experimenting until you find one that does.  Your readers will appreciate it.

Your blog entries, laying one after the other on a page, will present the same visual opportunity to make a first impression as the consistent fonts and columns of a newspaper.  That means your entries should all look similar.  They should have the same font in the same size.  The headlines and links should be treated the same way all down the page.  If you use images, they should appear in the same place in each entry.  The entries, at least on the front page, should be the same size, with no entry so large that it takes up the whole front page unless that’s the only story you’re doing for the day – and you do it every day.

But how do you do that, since you’ll not have the same amount to say about every subject or the same number of images to present?  Extra commentary should be handled, like newspapers do it, “behind the fold.” 

Take a look at a few of the favorite blogs you chose earlier and notice a linked line at the bottom of many stories. It may say, “More behind the fold” or simply, “Read more.”  Notice how each of the entries looks the same, with no long entries taking up the entire page.  Notice how if a story does not interest you (and not every one will) you can see the next story without paging down.  That blog realizes that if a long story does not interest a reader, she will most likely not skip to the next one unless she can see it; she will likely surf away instead.  If it does interest the reader, the rest of the story is only a click away.

Whatever blog software you choose (and we’ll review a few types later) should allow you to put data behind the fold, saving your front page for multiple stories, just like a newspaper does.  Remember, the New Media will take the best from the Old Media, and a consistent and serious presentation is one of the best lessons you can learn from them.

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