The 4 Cs of Successful Blog Content

Yes, SEO and promotion are important to your blog’s success. I won’t deny it. But more and more research shows that the quality of content matters just as much as your marketing effort. So how do you ensure that your blogsite offers quality content?

The answer might be simpler than you thought.

Whether you write for your blog yourself or hire someone to write for you, the approach to ensuring quality content is the same – follow the 4 Cs:

  • Creation
  • Curation
  • Cultivation
  • Calendaring

Start with Goals and a Plan

Before you start posting blogs, ensure that you have a goal – or set of complementary goals – for the site itself as well as for the next few months of blog posts. Having goals will make your content planning easier.

When I started my blogsite, I had a goal in mind of sharing my learnings from my career, which encompasses both corporate and freelance work. That’s not a very specific goal, but it got me started. You, too, can refine your original goals as you gain confidence and readership.

Notice that I mentioned content planning in a previous paragraph? Content planning for blog posts doesn’t have to be elaborate. But you should have a plan. A simple planning process will do to start:

  • Look around at other blogs, social media, and professional journals to gather ideas about topics that might interest your target audience.
  • Check those ideas against your own interests and competencies and/or against your organization’s requirements.
  • Make a list of topics for which you would like to offer content.
  • Organize that list in a logical order that aligns with your goals.

I explain how to calendar this topic plan later in this blog. Remember, you can always repeat this planning process when your creative well runs dry.

Content Creation

The first of the 4 Cs is “creation.” Should you or your designated writer create meaningful content on a regular basis? Absolutely! Offering meaningful content that is well-written, easy to scan, and supported, when possible, by helpful visuals and examples will drive the success of your blog.

Does the content always have to originate from you or your writer? No, but more about in the next section.

To create meaningful content, always have your audience front and center in your mind. Think of someone you know or have encountered through relevant interactions. Then imagine the questions that this person might ask you about the topic. Turn those answers into a rough draft or outline, and you are off to the races!

Well, OK, you have a few things to consider before you push the “publish” button. More prolific bloggers than I am have written about how best to blog. The Content Marketing Institute offers some good tips for business bloggers that can also be adapted for other organizations.

My checklist includes those ideas and a couple more:

  • Tell a story: Include examples, especially examples from your own experience.
  • Write for scannability: Include subheadings, bulleted lists, steps, and other signposts that assist your readers in their reading.
  • Edit the content: Put some time into ensuring the content is helpful, but also concise, well-written, and consistent.
  • Include a graphic that supports or replaces portions of your written content.
  • Offer supporting content from others, including quotations: Note that embedding links to other articles and pages is a gamble, so don’t overdo it. Consider whether your audience will benefit.
  • Write a standout headline and an attention-grabbing first paragraph. (Notice that I put these later on the list.)
  • Manage the overall length of the blog. Strive for between 500 and 1500 words or between 3 and 7 minutes to read.
  • And yes, incorporate your organization’s keywords for improved SEO.

I know this takes time. I often take more time than expected to write a blog. But I am always glad I did.

Content Curation

If you have limited time or are short on ideas, consider curating content for your blog, instead of creating it from scratch. “Content curation” refers to vetting and reusing content from other sources.

Choose a type of content curation appropriate to your purpose. Here are the most common:

  1. Reused content that you personally introduce. Tell a brief story about how you were inspired by a single, previously published piece of content and then summarize it and/or republish the highlights. You must get permission from the copyright owner, and provide clear source attribution, including the owner’s name. You should also label the reused content appropriately as “re-used with permission.”
  2. Excerpted content with commentary.  Also known as annotated content, this type of content curation recalls your days of writing annotated bibliographies for your college research course. Focus on a single topic; include content from credible sources, and be sure to add value by offering your own insights. Again, provide proper source attribution. Additionally, ensure that the excerpts you choose fairly and accurately represent the source material.
  3. Linked content that you include in a meaningful post. This type of content curation, also known as content aggregation, is the most common. If you have a list of great online content that your readers would love to have at their fingertips, weave the links together in a way that provides context and guidance for those readers. Or as Rebecca Coleman suggests, simply provide the list of links after offering your own, unique introduction.
  4. Captured or summarized interview with an expert. To delve into an interesting topic, interview your favorite expert on the topic and provide a capture of that interview in your blog post (works best for vlogs or podcasts). Follow all recording laws in your region, and ensure you have the expert’s permission to publish the recorded conversation and/or transcript. Alternatively, you could request input from several experts, say through an email, and provide a summary with excerpts (and with proper attribution, of course). Be sure that you are representing the experts’ opinions fairly and accurately. Consider sending a draft to the expert(s) for review.

For an example of the type #1, look at my blog “Waiting for Grammar.” For an example of type #2, review my blog “7 Definitions of Content Strategy (in 16 Years).” For an example of type #3, review my blog “8 REST API Documentation Tips for Hardware Writers.”

Follow the same guidelines as for uniquely created content. Check out additional guidelines and examples from John Hughes’ blog for Themeisle.

A special note of caution here: In addition to being careful to give credit where credit is due, take care that you reuse good content from a credible source. Nothing can damage the reputation of your blog more quickly than providing content from a dubious source or content that is poorly written.

Cultivation

If you are managing content for a group or corporate blog, consider ways in which you can cultivate new authors and perspectives.

Many professional folks have a great well of professional knowledge but are timid about writing in a public forum. Others are enthusiastic about writing for your blog, but have no idea where to start.

Here are some ways to help new authors:

  • Orient them to blogging through formal or informal training
  • Show them examples of “good” blog posts, as defined by your organization
  • Review the types of content curation with them (see list above)
  • Offer to co-write a blog with them
  • Assign them an event to attend and review
  • Give them a concise content brief
  • Provide them with checklists, templates, and governance tools (such as a style guide)
  • Offer them editorial services
  • Be gentle with deadlines and expectations, or as Dave Orecchio cautions, be flexible

After you have a new author or two onboard, ask them to share their experiences with others. Hopefully, your cultivation effort will catch fire, and your new authors’ enthusiasm will attract more writers to your blog program.

Calendaring

With cultivation comes calendaring, the 4th C. Again, this effort doesn’t have to be complicated. But it should align with your site goals and your blog plan.

To start, ask the all-important question – How frequently do you want to publish a blog post? And which day of the week/month/quarter is optimal for reaching your audience?

Note that lots of advice is readily available on the best timing for publishing and promoting a blog. But some experimentation might be required to identify what works for your audience.

With your optimal publication dates identified and your topic flow in hand, you can start matching dates with topics.

Next, re-examine your topic list to identify any vague entries or “gaps” in a flow. One way to fill in those list gaps is to conduct an online search for the hot topics in your industry for 2020.

After you have fleshed out your topic list, ask – Which of these topics have dependencies on another topic or on an upcoming activity or event? Which require that you offer a downloadable or other material?

Organize the flow of topics around these requirements. These days, you might also want to have an alternative topic for event-related topics, in case the event gets canceled or rescheduled.

If you are working in the corporate world, your topic flow might also have to consider monthly sales goals and audience focus, new product releases, and special marketing campaigns. And, of course, if you are working with multiple authors, you should consider their availability and interests.

With your optimal publication dates identified and your topic flow in hand, you can start matching dates with topics. That’s all you really need to start a blog calendar, which can easily be recorded and tracked in a spreadsheet.

 If you want to go above and beyond or are operating in a more corporate environment, you should integrate your blog calendar into your content strategy and align it your social media calendar. For a fully fleshed editorial calendar and/or one that supports a team, consider leveraging an online tool, such as Microsoft Teams or Google Sheets. Elna Cain recently offered some additional tool tips in her blog about blogs.

Whew! Blogging about blogs has been challenging. But I’ve learned a few things. And I hope I’ve helped you learn something, too.

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