I work full-time in digital marketing, helping companies to promote their websites online. As a result I come across a huge number of people each month who either:
- Don’t know what a blog is (or why they would want one)
- Think they have a blog (when they don’t)
Bearing in mind how common these problems are I thought it might be useful to actually try to define exactly what a blog really is.
If you already have an established and successful blog that is receiving comments, links and social shares then there is unlikely to be anything new for you here. However if you either have no blog of your own – or your blog is seriously under-performing – then you might find the assistance offered in this post are of genuine benefit to you.
At it’s simplest, a blog can be defined as:
A content-rich niche-specific website which updated on a regular basis, displays posts in reverse-chronological order (newest posts first) and offers visitors an opportunity to subscribe to future updates.
Let’s start off by breaking this definition down into it’s composite parts so we can extrapolate slightly on each one.
A Content-Rich Website
By their very definition most blogs consist of numerous “articles”. These are most-commonly text-based, though may include multi-media elements such as videos, podcasts or images. Each article is designed like a magazine or newspaper article, to educate or entertain. They are generally not self-serving.
So a business blog that only talks about the business owner is likely to be far less welcome than a blog which talks about broader topics. In essence, the topics of the articles are chosen with the needs and wants of readers in mind.
These articles are known as “blog posts” and so a typical blog consists of a growing number of posts. Over time, therefore, the total word-count of all the content on a blog will continue to increase. This provides more reading material for new visitors, as well as more opportunities for the search engines to display your blog to interested visitors.
A Niche-Specific Website
Generally speaking a blog is based around a single topic (or “niche”). This might be something very broad like football or gardening. It might be something rather narrower like keeping exotic pets or vegetable gardening. Or it might be really specific like focusing on small houses.
The important point here is that all the posts on a blog will be generally focused in and around this specific niche.
This is important because if visitors flock to your gardening site and then find articles about keeping tarantulas they’re far less likely to be interested in your posts.
By narrowing your focus onto one topic you maximize the number of your posts that will resonate with readers. In essence, if they enjoy one of your posts, they’ll probably enjoy plenty more.
Possibly the most critical factor about blogs is that they are designed to be updated on a regular basis.
How regular is up to you.
Some bloggers, for example, add a few posts per month. Some a few per week. Others “blog” (the process of adding a blog post) every day. A handful even blog multiple times a day. The important thing here is really the word “regularly”.
All too often I stumble across blogs that haven’t been updated for months – or even years. While the Internet is littered with forgotten and unloved blogs it’s always sad to stumble across them.
So why are regular updates important?
Well, firstly if I was trying to be “clever” I’d simply tell you because that’s the whole point of a blog. But let me try to explain it another way; the core purpose of a blog is essentially to build up a community of like-minded individuals.
These individuals become your readers and as a result read and respond to your posts. Over time, as a result, you should expect your number of readers to increase.
Imagine, for moment, that you were part of a discussion forum based around a specific topic. Each day you log in to read the discussions. Over time you get to know the other community members and grow to enjoy your visits. This community has become part of your daily life in many ways.
Then one day the site stops working. Nobody posts anything on it any more. No discussions. No comments. No interactions. Realistically, how many times would you keep on going back until you gave up and went off looking for a similar community elsewhere?
Probably not too long I’d venture. This is why blogs needs to be updated on a regular basis – because new posts being added regularly is like the discussion on that forum; they help to grow the community, build a readership and keep people coming back time and again.
A blog is not like a standard website where you might only visit it once to answer a question and then never return; instead, with a blog you may return day after day. There are blogs that I have been reading for years and I still go back there on a regular basis.
Displays Posts In Reverse-Chronological Order
The fact that blogs are regularly updated with new content means an ever-growing collection of posts.
These are, by default, displayed with the most recent posts first. That is to say when you visit a blog you will often find the homepage consists of a number of posts all one after the other, displayed in a list, with the most recent posts first.
This, of course, makes certain that returning visitors find it easy to find the very latest content while posts they have likely read are buried deeper in the archives – only to be found if they are actively searched for.
While this is the “standard” way to organize a series of blog posts it isn’t necessarily the only way.
For example some bloggers choose to highlight specific “feature posts” on their homepage. These may be older posts but offer so much value that they perform well with new readers. Alternatively a blogger may opt to display a number of posts from each post category, so as to offer as much variety of the homepage as possible.
Generally speaking, though, reverse-chronologial order is far and away the most common way of arranging posts on a blog.
Offers Visitors an Opportunity to Subscribe to Future Updates
When we spoke earlier about building a community about a blog, one of the things which makes blogs rather unique is that they are designed to allow readers to subscribe to updates.
There are a number of ways to accomplish this.
Most commonly, a blog offers an “RSS feed”. This “feed” is added to one of the many free feed reader applications out there (personally I use Feedly). Then, whenever a new post is added to a blog to which you subscribe, the latest post asppears in your feed reader.
Over time you will build up subscriptions to a number of blogs that interest you (I have several hundred subscriptions myself) and it is like a never-ending personal newspaper filled with articles that are of interest to me – and which I have specifically chosen to receive.
There is no cost to me to receive these updates and I can unsubscribe easily at any time without fuss.
There are alternative subscription models. Increasing an email newsletter is becoming a popular alternative/addition. From a bloggers’ perspective this is preferable as it increases the chances of you seeing my post. After all, most of us regularly check our email.
If you have just a handful of RSS subscriptions in your feed reader you may only check it once in a while so they lose a marketing opportunity.
Whichever option is better for you really depends on your personal circumstances.
Oftentimes bloggers offer one or more free gifts when you subscribe by email so it can be a useful way to access free ebooks or software. Due to the slightly lower value of an RSS subscriber you will very rarely receive a bonus for subscribing in this manner.
There are still even more options, though the two mentioned are far and away the most popular.
Most bloggers will share their latest posts on social media as soon as they are published. Following someone on Twitter or Google Plus is a far less commited way to subscribe to a blog – but risks you missing important new content in all the “white noise” of social media.
Therefore if you are starting out you should aim to build your subscriber numbers with an RSS feed and email newsletter.
By capturing reader details and being able to inform them about new posts as they’re published you will be able to build up your repeat-visitors and the community around your blog, as occasional visitors become regular readers and commenters.
There’s A Problem…
Whilst this is a reasonable “soundbite” description of what a blog is, the honest truth is that this definition misses a number of other critical points. Points that, in the past, I have assumed are obvious. Yet these are the exact same points that businesses I come across keep on omitting…
Informal & Personality-Driven
Due to the community-based element of a blog they are almost always (and should) be far more informal and personable. If you’re setting up a blog as an extension of a formal business website then the blog area is an opportunity to “let your hair down”. To relax and throw off the shackles of formality.
In essence you’re looking to build a relationship over time with your readers – and this requires personality.
Blogs, in general, are most effective when they are written by one or more “personas” – actual people that your readers can connect with. Your name, some brief details about you and even a profile picture are all important aspects of connecting with your audience and letting them see who is producing all these posts.
A blog that is rigid and formal, or one where it isn’t possible to build up a relationship with the author (or you don’t even know who the author is!) is a recipe for an unsuccessful blog. Readers should grow to like the bloggers they read – and almost feel they know the author on a personal level.
If blogs are all about community and relationships then an important tool to help accomplish this is the comments section of a blog.
This section, placed after the main content of the post, allows readers to ask questions and leave comments. It also allows you – or anyone else for that matter – to reply to these comments. Over time, discussions break out and relationships are built.
Now, it should be said that these comments can (and should) be moderated.
You don’t want any old spammer leaving pointless comments in the hope of linking to their own website.
So you get to pick and choose – and to only accept those comments that you deem are genuine and interesting.
The process of moderating comments is not a time-intensive one and an active comments area can not only help to build community around your content but also to include a range of additional keyword phrases which the search engines can use to send additional visitors you way.
As mentioned earlier, many bloggers are very active on social media.
There are two key reasons for this; firstly, the very fact that bloggers accept comments and allow discussion on their site means that bloggers as a whole are a very social or community-driven bunch.
They like nothing better than discussing their favourite topics with like-minded individuals on Twitter, Facebook and so on. Sharing blog posts on social media can also be a great way to build traffic to a blog and access new readers.
However once you build up a following on the social media sites you’ll generally find that it isn’t just you sharing the posts you’ve written.
Those regular subscribers of yours who come back time and again to read your new posts whenever they’re published are also socially-connected. As your audience grows, these people too will help to spread your message by sharing your posts on social media themselves.
Of course, when other people share your posts with their fans and followers then you gain access to a whole new collection of possible readers and subscribers – and over time social media can be a powerful and effective way to grow your blog traffic.
However if you are to get the best results possible then you need to make it as easy as possible for readers to share your posts on social media. This is way actively encouraging social sharing is another important aspect of blogging and further sets them apart from standard, dry, dusty old websites that never change.
The most common element of all in order to achieve this is the inclusion of social sharing buttons on each blog post to make it as easy as possible for people to share your posts with others.
Active on Social Media
More than just encouraging social sharing though, most bloggers themselves are highly active on social media. Very rarely will you come across a successful blog that doesn’t have an active following on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and so on.
Blogging therefore doesn’t just involve maintaining an active blog that you post to regularly and moderate the comments for, but also a range of ancilliary social media channels whereby you can expose ever more readers to your blog.
Active in a Niche Community
They say that “no man is an island” but this is also true of blogs.
More than any other kind of website, blogs are integrated into the web like no other. They have links pointing to them from all over – and they also actively link out to other resources. Traffic comes and goes, but the overall result is a better reader experience and higher overall traffic.
Actively Links Out to Relevant Resources
Lastly in this definition of what a blog, most successful blogs aren’t afraid to link out to other websites. The goal of a blog is to be “the” resource for a particular demographic – a trusted source of information and advice in a specific niche that, over time, becomes ever more important in that niche.
Many businesses, sadly, take a rather more cynical view of blogging and are keen to try and retain every visitor they possibly can.
They avoid linking out to other websites or blogs, under the false assumption that by doing so they will be haemorrhaging visitors to other sites for no reason at all.
It sort of defeats the object of putting all that time and effort into building up your readership to begin with, doesn’t it?
Not in the blogging world.
Links are what makes the internet go round and bloggers, as a group, are generally more than happy to link out to another blog or post or website if they feel it really offers value to their visitors.
In many cases these bloggers have have been linked to are perfectly happy to link back in the future as a thank you. So, while you send visitors to other sites, those other sites also send visitors to you too.
In essence when someone arrives on a blog they may end their journey on the same blog they started on, or on another. But by “sharing the love” and linking to others in their niche, you will find that you too start to benefit from incoming links.
So there you have it – the definition of what a blog is, based on my experience of dealing with literally dozens of clients over the last year or two. If you have ever wondered what a blog is, hopefully by now you have a much better idea what this marketing technique involves, and some of the potential benefits for your business.