There are a hundred reasons why you might want to start a blog. You could be a business that needs to stay engaged with its customer base, you might be someone interested in a certain topic and so you want to write about it or report on it. You might be in need of creating a website for your freelance career and need to continuously establish that you are an expert in your field by providing good advice and regular up to date content. No matter what the reason for starting your blog eventually you get beyond picking a platform (in this case wordpress), deciding on and then tweaking your theme (check out some of my past theme roundups if you haven’t chosen one yet), and eventually you have to get down to figuring out a content plan that promises to keep you publishing new content on a daily or at least weekly basis.
At this point, you are confronted by dun-dun-dun: the blank page. This is when you realize that this thing you are passionate about actually has to translate from your brain, through your fingers, into wordpress, and wind up becoming something your potential readers would want to read. It can feel daunting, but really, it’s not as intimidating as it seems at first. Below I’ve put together a few tips on how to generate relevant content, how to set up a post schedule using the built in tools in your wordpress dash, and a few plugins that you will most likely find useful. Admittedly this post is for brand new to “newish” bloggers. The tips and tools listed below are fairly basic but highly effective when applied. So even if you’ve been blogging for a while now this post will probably serve as a good refresher. Either way, let me know what you think in the comments!
Tips on Generating Relevant Content
Before you actually create your content plan I recommend taking the follow four tips to heart. It doesn’t do any good to create a blog that no one cares about or that is disconnected from everyone it’s trying to reach. These four tips will get your head in the right place to create a kick-ass content plan full of relevant posts.
Tip 1: Identify Influencers & Subscribe
No matter what topic you want to blog about, there are always going to be others who have already established online influence writing about or reporting on that topic. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel as they say, you need to identify these influencers and study them like it’s your job! In my case, I blog a lot about art and design. So when I set out to create my own influential blog I knew that I first needed to study those who had already established themselves as a trusted source for those interested in art and design. If you’re not sure where to find these sources for your own blog a simple google search is all you need to get you started, but chances are you already visit a few of these influential sites since they publish content that you are interested in. Only now it’s time to take your interest in them from fan/follower to student. So start with the sites you are aware of and take advantage of their blogrolls, source links, and any other indicator you can track down that shows you where they themselves get their content from. Chances are they produce a lot of it themselves, but most large blogs pull from other large blogs or smaller but more unique or fresh blogs in order to keep their posts relevant, up-to-date, and competitive. You’ll want to gather all those sources up for reference and study them the same way.
I use Google Reader to help me organize all the influential blogs I following and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Google Reader is an RSS subscription tool that helps you optimize your web browsing by bringing all the content you’re interested in TO YOU in one place, as opposed to having you click around all over the web each time you want to check your favorite websites. Signing up is really easy and if you have a gmail account already there is no need to sign up for anything new. All you need to do is navigate to the top of your gmail page and click on the “more” option. That drop down menu will display a lot of options, one of which will be Reader.
Once you have your reader open, it’s time to populate it with blogs and websites you want to keep up with. As you can see in the screenshot above, there is a place at the top left for you to enter the url of any site you want to subscribe to. Once you are subscribed, you can then organize your subscriptions into folders as seen with my art blogs in the first screenshot. This not only makes it easier to remember cool websites you come across, but it allows you a systematic way to stay up-to-date with everything happening in your niche.
Tip 2: Listen to the Conversation Already Taking Place
Next, just as if you were planning to join the conversation of a group of people you happened upon at a party or mixer, the idea is to listen first and then speak intelligently when the time is right. You want to address the topic or topics already being discussed, add your two cents, and direct the conversation with a statement, question, or proposed debate. This step is easy, but don’t mistake it being easy for it being unimportant. Just as if you speak out of turn and unintelligently in real life, an uninformed or ill-timed blog post is met with disinterest and future dismissal – both things you probably want to avoid. So develop a habit of reading, watching, and consuming the content produced by these influential blogs. Take note of the way they address their readers and followers both in tone, format, and of course the meaning of the content itself. Study to see which types of content get the best responses and which ones fail to be noticed. This is the reconnaissance step and I cannot stress enough how many hours of futile trial and error you can eliminate if you only take time to listen and observe before inserting yourself into the conversation. Just like at the party, you are much less likely to sound like an idiot this way ;)
Tip 3: Insert Yourself into the Conversation
Now that you have been following the conversation surrounding your topic for a while, it’s time to start inserting yourself. How? By creating content of your own that is relevant to the conversation already taking place. Because you took note of tip 2, (you did take note of tip 2 right?) you are aware of what topics are currently interesting to your target audience. You know what they want to talk about, what tools they need, what resources they crave. So give it to them!
When you are just starting out, the best advice I can give you for creating your own content is to EMULATE and INTEGRATE.
Here’s what I mean by that:
EMULATE – emulate the style, post formats, and subject matter of the blogs you follow. They are popular and influential for a reason. Their content is valuable to the audience you want to reach and in a way they have trained their readers to respond to the way they do things. Capitalize on that! I’m not saying copy their actual content, just the presentation.
INTEGRATE – Even though you are copying someone else’s formatting, you need to integrate your own thoughts, personality and style so that your readers can get to know you through a format they are used to. Another big step to integration is making sure you are active outside of your own blog. So when someone on one of the blogs you follow posts something that strikes a cord with you, comment on it. Better yet, comment on it and then link to a response post you’ve written on your blog. This is how you insert yourself into the conversation.
Tip 4: Demonstrate Understanding & Thought Leadership
So tip 3 is all about blogging responsively. Taking note of what’s already being said and adding your two cents. Well that’s all well and good and necessary to get the ball rolling, but what really puts you in the big leagues is when you are able demonstrate that not only do you understand the current state of things in your industry or topic, but that you have some new and important ideas that are worth listening to. This is where you progress to once you have an audience interacting with and spreading your content. Get enough people to listen and spread the word and you just might find yourself the competition of the blogs you began following to get started in the first place :)
Creating Your Content Plan
So now that you are ready to insert yourself into the conversation and work on establishing yourself as an influencer, a little planning can go a long way toward keeping you consistent. That’s where the content plan comes in. I find the best way to do this is by thinking about where you want to be and working backwards. Do you want to have new content every day? Every other day? Each week? It’s up to you, but once you make a choice you can then create a plan that meets your required post volume. For example’s sake lets say you want to post at least once every day. That’s seven posts a week. A good place to start.
First make a list of post types/categories. Taking note of the blogs you follow should help a great deal with this. Chances are that most of the blogs who influence you have categories or post types that you want to have on your own blog. It’s probably easiest if I show you…
Lets say you are the owner of a fashion boutique and you want to have a blog on your store’s website that helps drive traffic to the site, promote your store brand, and establish you as a thought leader in the independent fashion industry. After following the tips above and studying blogs already influential in your niche you decide upon the following post categories.
Store Brand Updates – any time a brand that you carry in the store has a significant update you have decided to create a short post relaying that message to your readers.
Store Updates/Announcements – similarly you want folks to stay up to date on news and chances associated with the store. So of course every time you get in a new shipment of clothes you take some pictures, link back to designers, and invite readers to come in and check it all out. You also use this type of post to make sure people know about any events or sales you might be having.
Daily Style Tips – you’ve decided that you like reading style tips on other blogs but since you deal specifically in independent fashion and have an enormous wardrobe at your disposal (the entire store) you could easily pull of a daily style tip using the merchandise in the store for inspiration.
Product Reviews – again, this is something you see all the time on other blogs. You personalize this category in two ways. First, you begin looking at everything you carry in the store as a potential review. Secondly, you take note of what others are saying on other blogs concerning both products you carry and products you may not carry but that relate to ones that you do. You write responses to those posts giving your own take on things.
Editorials – did something important just happen in the fashion industry such as fashion week in New York or Paris? Or maybe a new issue of Vogue? Either way, you’ve got an opinion and knowledge and experience to back it up. This is where you flex your influencer muscles and offer up your wisdom on relevant subjects as they happen.
Of course there could be more but you’ve decided to start with these categories and expand from there. What you’ll want to do is under each category, create a list of potential posts. Once you have a large list of post ideas, and by that I mean 50 – 100 if you can get it up that high, it’s time to get to work implementing your new plan.
Implementing Your Content Plan
Ok, so you’ve got a huge list of post ideas and you know in general how each one will be formatted. It’s only a matter of tapping those posts out before they’re ready to be shared with the masses. But hey there tiger, slow and steady wins the race. No need to burden yourself with sprinting through as many of your post ideas as possible and then immediately publishing them. Save those things in a document somewhere and bust them out as needed.
Try writing two posts a day for a month. In this way you will meet your goal of publishing one blog post a day while saving one back for future use too. After a month you will have 30 posts saved and be a whole month ahead. Then once you’ve got some room to breathe you can take your time with newer posts and even forgo writing each day as needed in order to give yourself a rest. If you find that your post queue is getting low after a while, go ahead and do the same thing (2 posts per day) for a week, two weeks, or month until you have a comfortable buffer.
Oh, and in case you don’t know, you do not have to be a wordpress ninja to produce quality content at a consistent pace. The only things you HAVE to know how to do is how to create a new post, save it as a draft, and schedule it for later. Super easy! I’ve even included a few screenshots below ;)
Each time you finish a post like the one above, just click save draft and the edit button next to “publish immediately” and schedule your posts out that way.
Before you know it you’ll have a full queue of posts and a base of content to build upon :)
BONUS: Optimize Your Content Plan Using WordPress Plugins
Alright, you’ve finally got yourself a queue full of posts. You’ve successfully planned, created, and implemented a content plan for your WordPress blog. But one of the great things about WordPress as a platform is that through their community of devoted developers they can offer some really effective tools that give your content plan even more bang for the buck. Or impact for time spent if you want to look at it that way. So below I’ve listed some of what I consider to be must-have plugins for any serious WordPress blogger who wants to get the most out of their content.
Automatic Post Scheduler – Since I already mentioned that scheduling posts is a big deal when it comes to implementing a content plan, this seemed like a plugin I couldn’t pass up. Even though WordPress already makes it really easy to schedule posts, this plugin streamlines the process even more. This plugin allows you to set a daily min/max threshold and it uses your last post date and time to tell it when to publish so that your posts are evenly spaced out throughout the day or week as you choose.
AttentionGrabber – This plugin puts a brightly colored notification bar at the very top of your blog drawing attention to a specific piece of content you choose. This is great if you’ve got a big announcement, new product, new page, or anything of the kind to promote.
Digg Digg – This plugin gives you a floating social sharing bar that encourages readers to promote and share the content on your blog. It’s very effective and similar to the floating social tools used by the likes of TechCrunch and Mashable.
WordPress SEO by Yoast – This plugin helps you optimize your search engine optimization (which is a fancy way of saying it makes it easier for you to get your content closer to the first page of google search results when people search for key words or phrases associated with you content).
Better Related Posts – You’ve seen tools like this all over the web and when it’s done right, you can get trapped in a seemingly endless vortex of related post links. Now wouldn’t it be nice if when people got on YOUR blog they became lost in your content for hours? With the Better Related Posts plugin that’s possible.
WordPress Popular Posts – Similar to the related posts plugin, this plugin lives in your sidebar and draws attention to your most popular posts.
WPTouch – More and more people are consuming content via their mobile phones. Don’t miss out by making your blog impossible for them to browse, use WPTouch and join the mobile revolution!