Over the past few years, a number of our large clients have launched blogs in addition to their regular content streams. It makes sense—blogs are a powerful marketing vehicle. These shorter posts appeal to time-pressed readers, there’s more freedom to play around with tone and subject matter, and publishing regularly can improve organic search rankings. As the managing editor of the Leff blog and insights pages, I’ve seen this firsthand. Below are a few of the guiding principles that inform our approach and that all companies could benefit from when working to create a standout blog.
Consider the context
We consistently advise our clients to think about the context: What is going on in the world? What is on people’s minds? What sensitivities might people have to the position you’re taking? Over the past year, content creators have really gotten this right. It’s why you saw firms—for the most part—completely reorient their publishing agendas and strategies at the start of the pandemic. What would readers care about agile transformations when their lives and businesses had just been turned upside down? They needed to know how to survive, not how to run more efficient meetings.
With a blog, readers have the expectation that companies are publishing fairly regularly. So it’s especially important that blog posts reflect up-to-the-minute trends and news—not just with the big, obvious, world-shattering events but also the everyday ones and those that affect small subsets of the population.
Today, trend monitoring has become a central activity across our staff for this very reason—to help inform both our clients’ work and our own. It’s vital to understand what’s happening in the world, what competitors are writing about, what news outlets are covering, and, critically, what they’re not talking about—to ensure you have something new to say and that your voice is one people still want to hear.
Be human and lift up individual voices
So many barriers were broken down over the past year. Our homes became our offices and our children’s schools, toddlers became the most popular participants on video calls, mental health became a prominent topic of conversation and content, and people stopped wearing real pants. While these changes were born out of struggle and were, themselves, often difficult to manage, it’s also super refreshing that business has become more human and more personal. Blogs, in particular, provide an avenue to embrace this humanity, and we’ve used ours to do just that—giving voice to the challenges of being a pandemic-age mom, asking how employees are keeping their s*** together and staying sane and productive, and just generally striving to highlight aspects of people’s lives often left out of the conversation. And you know what? These are some of our most-viewed pieces.
Embracing our individuality and humanity includes having lots of different people weigh in—in terms of writing, contributing to, and strategizing content. That’s where blogs shine. For instance, we’ve increased our use of roundtables over the past year, as they’re a great way to bring together lots of different voices and perspectives on a topic. It’s for a similar reason that we hold monthly editorial board meetings—designers, account managers, VPs, and editors of all stripes bring their perspectives and insights to help us develop our strategy and zero in on unique angles.
Offer practical advice
While readers want to hear from real people with real challenges and insights, they also want practical advice—even from blogs. Chances are, when you go to read anything—be it a news story, a thought-leadership article, or a cake blog—you want the authors to get to the damn point. Please don’t spend eight paragraphs telling me about how this chocolate cake recipe was adapted from your mama’s, who found it scribbled on a piece of paper in the back of her mama’s silverware drawer, in what could only be your great-great-great grandmother’s handwriting from way back in the…
Time-pressed readers want to know what the takeaway is. What should they do? What’s the new angle or info? Content that concisely offers practical and actionable advice is almost always going to get clicks—particularly if this insight isn’t readily available elsewhere or the piece offers a fresh take, atypical approach, or unique tone. And blogs are a perfect venue for playing around with such things.
A focus on practical advice is one reason our pieces on how to use quotation marks, five typography rules to design by, and how to measure the impact of thought leadership do so well: You have a question? We have an action plan—or, you know, style rules to help you not screw up quotation marks.
Build flexibility into the process
Although a content strategy is great and important—you’ve got to have some structure and goals or nothing will ever get done—so, too, is flexibility. This is true of the best-run (and best-planned) blogs. When the world changes, your strategy should change with it. And because blogs are typically shorter than other pieces of thought leadership, an author can shift gears more quickly to incorporate new information.
A flexible approach also leaves more space for innovation and inspiration. So when someone comes to you and says they want to write about how Black writers have shaped our country’s narrative or why they love prepositions or the history of em and en dashes, you can (vet the idea and) make it happen.
Strike a balance
With blog content, as with everything else in life, balance is key. We want mom content, strategy content, grammar content, design content—and did I mention mom content? A desire to strike a balance is one reason we’ve split our content between blog and insights pages—with the blog having more informal pieces around culture, grammar and style, and personal reflections and the insights offering our thoughts on, for instance, strategy, content development and distribution, and trends. There’s value in both, and each provides different kinds of opportunities to explore. Indeed, in addition to the subject matter, balance the voices, the formats, and the length to ensure your blog reflects your team’s various strengths, personalities, and expertise, ultimately highlighting what you have to offer your readers and your clients—all while keeping things fresh.