And how they can make your blog succeed.
Every blogger has his own style of blogging which combines writing style, voice, and entry type. While writing style and voice are primarily dependent on the blogger and his writing skills, entry type is something that can be easily changed.
The way I see it, there are several different types of blog entries. Each type has its own pros and cons. In this article, I want to take a closer look at the three types I use and explain why I think they’re useful.
Daily or Weekly Link Lists
If you maintain a blog, you probably also read other blogs and visit Web sites. Along the way, you might find articles you want to share with your blog’s readers. That’s what link list entries are all about. They offer a quick list of links to articles and blog entries on the Web with or without brief comments.
The benefit of this type of entry is that it’s quick and easy to create. It offers value to readers in that it tells them about Web-based content that they might find useful or interesting. But it doesn’t usually add much in the way of content. Sure, your comments can explain what the link is all about, but they’re not usually a major part of the entry. The links themselves are the content.
The drawback of this type of entry is that there simply isn’t much “meat” in it. Your list of links might not provide anything new for folks who spend much of their time on the Web — as many blog readers do. Links you find today may have been found by others who listed them yesterday or last week or last year. I’ve often read link lists and found links I’m already familiar with — and that’s saying a lot because I don’t spend a lot of time on the Web. Still, to many blog visitors, old news is better than no news. If you’re one of the few sources of links for some of your visitors, they’re likely to find a lot of value in the links you share.
A side note here: I create my daily link list as I visit Web sites and blogs by using the Daily Blog Posting feature of Del.icio.us and a Del.icio.us bookmarklet. This system is extremely easy to use, although formatting is preset and limited. As I find interesting sites, articles, or pages, I use the bookmarklet to add them to my Del.icio.us Bookmarks. At the end of the day, the Daily Blog Posting feature automatically compiles all the bookmarks I added that day and turns them into a links list and posts it to my WordPress-based blog. The result is the Links posts you can find in the This just in… topic on my site. Oddly enough, this is the only reason I use Del.icio.us. (I maintain my bookmarks list in Firefox, synchronized automatically on all my computers using Foxmark Bookmark Syncrhonizer.) You can access this Del.icio.us feature for yourself. Log into your Del.icio.us account and, from your settings page, click Daily Blog Posting. You can find instructions for using this feature in “How to back up del.icio.us bookmarks on your blog” and elsewhere on the Web.
Analysis of Web Content
From the very beginning, blogs have included analysis or commentary about other content on the Web. A Web site or another blog would publish an article about something — anything! — and a blogger would quote it, link to it, and write up some commentary. There’s still a huge amount of that going on today — in fact, I’d bet that 80% or more of blog entries fall into this type of entry.
This is, in effect, one step beyond a simple link with a summary sentence or two. An entry like this includes a link to and quote from someone else’s original material, but analyzes it and offers the blogger’s take on it. Fox News does an article on President Bush’s most recent speech and a blogger picks out a choice quote or two and tear it to shreds. (Or, as the case may be, praises the reporter for his insightful commentary.) Microsoft issues a press release about the latest Windows security problem and fix and a blogger quotes a summary paragraph and explains how the problem may or may not affect most users. People magazine does a story about celebrities adopting African orphans and a blogger quotes the piece and explains why she thinks they should be adopting American orphans. Or, in a recent example from my site, I discover an online Internet connection speed testing utility, link to it and quote the introduction for its use, and explain why I think it’s a good tool. Get the idea?
When you create entries like this, there’s a certain amount of value added: your commentary. The value, of course, depends on your expertise (do you know what you’re talking about?), your thoughts about the topic (are your thoughts positive, negative, or critically useful in any way?), and your writing skills (can you communicate your thoughts in a way that’s clear, concise, or at least entertaining?). The goal is to consistently create entries that your audience finds interesting. But be warned! If you disappoint your audience one too many times, they won’t keep checking in for the latest.
The main benefit of this kind of entry is that it’s relatively quick and easy to create. Can be timely (if based on current events) or long-lasting (if based on information that’s useful for a good, long while). The commentary helps readers make conclusions based on an “expert” opinion, so it’s valuable to them and they’ll come back for more.
There’s a lot of this stuff out there. If your commentary is the same old thing that can be found on other blogs, there may be no reason for visitors to come to your blog. It’s hard to set your blog apart from the others with this type of entry unless your good at it and your commentary is worth reading. And timely content has a limited “shelf life,” thus requiring that you constantly add new content — several entries a day! — to keep readers coming back for more.
Full-length articles are just that: original articles that cover a specific topic. Although they may quote and reference other Web sources, most of the information and conclusions are yours. These are the articles that most readers are looking for. When you link to and/or quote other writers’ original articles on your site, all you’re doing is sending readers to those sites or blogs. But when you create original material on your blog, other bloggers will send readers to you. And that’s the goal, isn’t it?
Full-length articles are what can set your blog apart from others. These articles represent your thoughts and ideas, your opinions and viewpoints. They can provide instructions for completing tasks (as many of my articles do here for various computer software programs), provide news and opinion about current events locally or worldwide, or tell a story about the weird thing that happened to you on your last day off. A full-length article can be all original material or can combine bits and pieces of other material, drawn together solely to provide background information or strengthen your viewpoint. (One of my favorite opinion pieces is by John Aabbott, who occasionally writes for wickenburg-az.com; in “Just Say No to Wal-Mart in Wickenburg“, he argues about why Wickenburg should not have a Wal-Mart, using lots of quotes and online references to make his point.)
The full-length articles you write can only be found in one place: on your blog. If you write something useful and/or interesting, other bloggers may send readers to your blog, helping to increase your blog’s readership. Articles can help establish you as knowledgeable about a topic — perhaps even an expert.
Not everyone is cut out to write full-length articles of value to readers. You need a well thought-out topic, the ability to organize your thoughts, writing skills, and, most of all, time. (I don’t know anyone who can knock off a 1500-word article in 30 minutes.) Your topic must appeal to your blog’s readers — or the readers you want to attract. Sure, you might be able to write 2,000 words about that weird thing that happened to you on your last day off from work, but do people really want to read it? Do they care? There’s a lot of dull stuff out there (and I’ll admit, in this blog, too) that simply won’t get read.
Developing a Strategy
It’s up to you to develop a strategy for your blog. My advice is to mix these three types of blog entries as time allows. That’s what I do and I’ve had relatively good success.
If you have a good technique for creating link lists, you should add links to your list each time you visit other sites/blogs and find content of interest to your readers. This is quick and easy to to do and has some value to your site’s visitors.
When time allows, take the links the next step by including some useful commentary about the sites or articles you link to. This makes your entries more valuable to readers.
If you can consistently come up with informative and interesting full-length articles for your blog, by all means, write them! If your blogging software supports scheduled entries, you might want to use a trick I use: write several articles in a day — or a long article broken down into logical segments — and schedule them to be published over several days or weeks. This ensures a steady stream of good, fresh content for readers rather than bunching articles up on the days you have time to write them. Multi-part articles also give readers a reason to come back for more.
Of course, your strategy will depend on your blog and your blogging style. What works best for you? Use the comments link to share your thoughts with the rest of us.