Tom Johnson: Finding a Content Strategy for your blog

Skyline view of Paris with Eiffel Tower in background.

A double treat this week. Firstly, Firehead’s CEO, CJ Walker, has used her bewitching charms to persuade the most famous blogger in tech comms to guest-post here on Firehead. Tom Johnson is a senior technical writer for a non-profit organisation in Salt Lake City, Utah (supporting a community of 13 million users), and runs the wonderful tech comms blog, I’d Rather Be Writing. (He’s also a new dad, so we’re extra-thankful that he’s found the time to post!)

Secondly, Tom is looking at a fascinating area of content strategy, one that many people struggle with: content strategy for blogs.

tomjohnsonAs a WordPress consultant, I help a lot of people enter the blogosphere (with WordPress blogs). Getting the technology set up is easy, for the most part. What’s tough about blogging is the content.

To have a successful blog, you have to push out content on a regular basis – several posts a week, if not more. Not only do you need frequency of content, but also consistency in the topic. Basically, you have to pick a focus for your blog and stick with it every week.

This is hard advice to follow, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are two ways to incorporate this advice into your content strategy.

1. Blog about what you do

Your blog’s focus will naturally align with your everyday activities. You write what you know and experience, so you’ll automatically fall into a rhythm with a topic.

If you’ve already found your career, what you do at work can form a natural basis for your blog’s focus. If you’re trying to transition into another career, let your course of study, research, and preparation be your blog’s focus.

If you’re just publishing a personal blog, with a scattered focus among family, politics, religion, outdoors and news, that’s fine, too – just as long as you recognise that personal blogs mostly have appeal to people interested in you as a person (that is, your family and friends). Finding a wider audience will require you to draw in readers through a specific focus.

If you’re struggling to find a topic, try writing about whatever you want for the first month, and then look at the trends. When you see a direction developing, stick with it.

Sticking with your blog’s focus will eventually brand you as an expert about that focus. You may want to balance exactly how focused you want to be. My blog covers technical communication and WordPress. Ideally I should choose one or the other, but the WordPress angle sells services to my audience that they often need. My audience may already be skilled with information design, single sourcing, and Flare (common topics in tech comm). But WordPress is usually a gap in their education, so it makes sense to include this focus.

2. Incorporate a financial ROI

The biggest demotivator for blogging is lack of ROI. Blogging requires as much time as a part-time job. If it takes two hours to write a post, and you post four times a week, that’s at least an entire workday you’ve spent on your blog.

Add in the time spent responding to comments, designing and styling your blog, and reading other blog posts, and you can double that time. After a while, your spouse and family begin resenting all the time you’re spending online, and unless you can justify your activities with a tangible monetary return, you’ll soon blog-fade.

As you consider your content strategy, if you want to keeping blogging after six months, you need to find a way to monetise your blogging activities. Often this monetisation will come through multiple income streams. You can monetise through advertising, speaking, workshops, webinars, consulting, premium content, books or white papers, affiliate products, or other methods.

If that doesn’t appeal to you, use your blog to write a book. You can write a series of posts that act as chapters in a book (the Organize Series plugin is great for this).

Even posts that brand you as an expert have a financial reward in making you a stronger candidate for jobs, in increasing your appeal over others in your field.

As you see tangible returns on your blogging efforts, you’ll have more incentive to keep blogging. And then the two actions start feeding on each other. The more you blog, the more return you get. The more return you get, the more incentive you have to keep blogging. When you’ve hit this stride, you know you’re moving in a good direction.

Tom Johnson is a senior technical writer based in the US. He writes a technical communication blog at Idratherbewriting.com, where he explores the latest trends, issues, and concepts in the field. He also records podcasts, interviewing technical writing luminaries and offers WordPress blog consultancy.

Call for bloggers: We’re looking for more expert guest bloggers to post their advice and insights to candidates seeking tech comms, content strategy and other professional Web-related roles. You’ll share great company – with some of the world’s leading experts in their field – so don’t be shy, get in contact and we look forward to hearing from you soon.

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