Friday April 22, 2016

Better Blog: How to get and keep an audience with your words

A better blog will get you a larger audience. And isn’t that why you’re writing — to spread the word about your program, department, research, colleague, student or trend? Below are tips to remember when developing and crafting your blog post. They take into account humans — the crush on our time, our need to connect and care — and computers — AKA search engine optimization. The search engines that troll the web to match a reader’s interest with your text are literal machines, and you must speak their language to get their attention.

Who am I?

Even if your intended audience is familiar with a sea of acronyms or technical terminology, the power of the web means many others will also find your content. UD’s web and e-newsletter audience includes students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents of current students, donors and community members, plus those who just happen on our posts. Keep technical or academic writing accessible by explaining terminology or relating it to a general user’s experience. Explain all acronyms. Why should they care about your topic? Why do you care about your topic? Is it important? Timely? Interesting? Does it touch our hearts?

What will I learn?

Keep your post concise, interesting and topical. Choose one topic and stick to it. (If you have more than one topic or point, create a series of blog posts.) Consider whether your story is best told from a first-person vantage point — your audience also gets to know you and why the topic is important to you — or if a third-person story is better fitted to your topic. The best blog posts combine data with personal experience.

What is it about?

In these few words, readers will decide to read your blog — or skip it. Keep headlines concise and descriptive of your content. Topical and timely headlines are good, and straightforward is better than quirky, since search engines do not share your sense of humor. Be aware that “Flyers” can mean students, student-athletes, alumni or any Flyer aficionado, so if it’s important, use these words instead. Consider using a head and subhead: make the first intriguing, the second matter-of-fact. Examples of headlines made better:

• Flyers get together vs. Reunion reconnects alumni separated by 35 years, 1,000 miles

• Cravings vs. Cravings: Why I miss bathing in a lake, and 10 other reasons my life changed in Appalachia

• Amyloid beta in fruit flies vs. Eyeing up Alzheimer’s: Lessons from a fruit fly

Teaser copy
Why should I care?

In Cascade, when you check the “show teaser in blog post” box, the teaser becomes the start of your story. This can also get previewed in content aggregators, like our forthcoming Cerkl e-newsletter format. Capture your reader with clear information on your topic and why your audience should care. Do not repeat the headline. Examples:

• While Flyer friendships are forever, hair color is not. And that’s OK with three former housemates — now all blonds — who found strength in their friends during life’s changes during the past 35 years. 

• They say when you serve with your whole heart, you get more than you give. I received enough lessons and love to overflow the Kentucky hollow where I lived with the UD Summer Appalachia Program.

• Two undergraduate students photographed misshapen fruit fly eyes to discover how the suspect protein, amyloid beta, might also be causing havoc in nerve cells of Alzheimer’s disease patients. Their findings could uncover possible treatments.

How will you find me?

Keywords amplify your headline and teaser and put your story in a larger context. If these words do not appear in your headline or teaser, they are even more important to include here. In Cascade, choose from among the 24 preset tags to maximize your reach to our e-newsletter audience.

Is it worth my time?

Your blog is competing with the ringing phone, a crying child and the walk in the park your reader would rather be taking. So the length of your post will also determine if the reader starts — and finishes — it. The answer to proper length is, “It should be as long as it needs to be, and no longer.” If you can, keep it shorter than a computer monitor screen scroll (depending on screen size and font, this is 250-300 words). If it’s longer, is it a two-partner? Or, like this blog entry, does it need to be one long story? When you finish writing, re-read your piece and remove every single word that doesn’t serve the content and audience. Better yet, give it to someone else to edit. By making your blog post more concise, you make it more accessible and shareable.

Am I interested?

Provide compelling feature images; embed hyperlinks, videos and photo galleries (we've offered a few of our favorites from campus life on this page); offer related links; turn on comments; allow social sharing. All these enrich the reader’s experience and tell your story in more sensory ways. When you give your audience additional content, they’ll seek out your future posts for more reader-rewarding experiences. Because that's what we all want — happy, returning readers who will help spread our good words to the world.

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