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Since this is my 2,000th article on Econsultancy, I thought it was an opportunity to share what I've learned over the past five or six years writing for this blog.
I started out as a relative novice, but I've learned a lot along the way, and hopefully my 2,000th post is much better than my first.
Here are 20 tips for other bloggers...
Don’t try to be a jack of all trades
There are so many different areas and disciplines in digital marketing, that it can be overwhelming if you feel you have to be knowledgeable about everything.
Instead, it's best to focus on a few areas that you are interested in and can be knowledgeable in.
In my case, thanks to reading our reports written by people like Dr Mike Baxter, I focused on e-commerce and user experience, as well as being fascinated by SEO, email, mobile, social media and more.
This doesn't mean you should ignore all other topics (as Editor, I do have to know a little about affiliate marketing, online ad networks, etc) but it's better to specialise where possible, and it's more enjoyable to write about topics you care about.
Learn from the experts
Fortunately this industry is full of talented people who know their stuff and are prepared to share what they have learned.
As well as my colleagues at Econsultancy, industry experts such as Craig Sullivan, Andrew Girdwood, Matty Curry and many more have been willing to lend their opinions and the odd quote when I've needed it.
In addition, I've learned loads from some of the excellent speakers at Econsultancy events such as the Future of Digital Marketing and JUMP. There are some other great conferences out there too, including - most recently - BrightonSEO.
Don’t rely on spellcheck
I'm as guilty as anyone for making mistakes on blog posts, and in the early days I placed rather too much faith in spellcheckers. They're great for catching obvious mistakes, but there's no substitute for checking things yourself.
Even better, a second pair of eyes can find the mistakes you may have missed even after reading a few times. Check and doublecheck, then check some more.
Keep it simple
There are some complex concepts in digital marketing, and it would be easy to baffle readers with terminology like RTB, demand-side platforms, and so on.
Of course, some terminology is useful, and industry jargon is unavoidable to a certain degree, but I've always tried to avoid too much this and explain ideas to readers as clearly and simply as possible.
Although I'm guilty of using some at times, I really hate jargon, especially since it's normally possible to convey meaning in plain English.
We do have a list of banned words in our blog style guide, including such crimes against language as:
Kill them with fire.
The importance of headlines
Headlines are key when writing for the web. A good headllne can make the difference between hundreds and many thousands of page views, and can give you a real advantage in the search rankings.
A few key points for headline writing:
Use adjectives. This turns a dull headline into something that will catch the eye and get people clicking. For example, '25 brilliant examples of Facebook brand pages' is about the most popular post of the last year or so on this blog, and this is thanks to the combination of a popular topic, useful examples, and that adjective. Oh, and it's a list.
Lists work. Chris Lake explains this in more detail here, but list posts work because of a number of factors. They're easy to scan and read, people want to know what did and didn't make the list, and it forms the basis for debate in the comments.
Consider search. We try to make sure headlines will rank well and try to secure a spot in the rankings for phrases which relate to our reports and content, like 'checkout optimisation', 'SEO best practice' and so on. It makes sense to check Google first to see what people are searching for and, within reason, adapt your headlines accordingly.
- Make headlines descriptive. You often have just one chance to convince people to click a headline as they see it in their Twitter feed, in the SERPs, or in a newsletter. The headline should describe what the article is about:
- Keep the length of headlines down. Headlines need to be short enough to work as email subject lines, allow for easy retweeting, so they appear in full in search results, and so on. We have a 65 character rule for headlines, which is the perfect length.
Internal linking is very important, especially if, as on Econsultancy, you have an archive of useful content.
- It's useful for readers. If someone has come to your site attracted by an article on a particular topic, then it makes sense that they may want to read related content, so give them some ideas for further reading. It may be that you have written a news article on a topic which you have covered in more detail previously.
Internal links reduce bounce rates. If people arrive at an article and you give them some related content and somewhere else to go once they have read it, then it gives them a reason to stay on the site a little longer. For us, we not only want to show visitors our other posts, but also for them to see our reports, details of events, training and so on.
It helps Google to crawl your site, as links are a great way to help Googlebot through your site. Here's Matt Cutts on the subject.
They can help you to make a point. For example, if I'm writing about checkout optimisation, and I want to refer to the reasons customers bail out of purchases, then I can link to a post like this one. Normally I'd use better anchor text but that's another story...
They send traffic to older posts. A decent chunk of our blog traffic is generated by archive posts, and now and again older articles do the rounds on Twitter, as someone discovers them via search or a link from a newer article and decides to share them.
- It helps you to rank for certain keywords. You can use anchor text containing a key phrase you'd like to rank for when linking to older posts. For example, I can link to an interview with the ICO using the keyphrase EU cookie law in the hope that this will help bump it up from position 18 in Google.
Create readable content
Even if they have been enticed to your post by the title and subject matter, readers can still be deterred if the article is badly formatted.
Huge swathes of text with huge paragraphs, little formatting, and no images would be enough to make most readers bail.
Instead, you need to break up blocks of text with headings and sub-headings, use short paragraphs, highlight key points and stats, and use images and charts, both to illustrate the points you are making, but also to make the article easier to read.
For example, this post on how marketers can target tablet users is almost 3,000 words, a bit on the long side for a blog post. To counter this, I've used headers, sub-headers, lists, charts and highlighting to make it seem less of an effort to read it:
Original content works best
There are thousands of marketing blogs out there, and lots of them are just writing the same articles, which are often straight write ups of the same press releases which reached my inbox.
This is not to say there's no value in press releases, or that we never just write about a survey or a piece of news we've seen, as these posts can be useful sometimes.
However, the best content, and that which is most popular on the blog, and keeps traffic coming in long after being published, is that which is original.
If you look at the 25 most popular posts from this blog last year, you'll see a mixture of curated lists (top ten e-commerce infographics etc), great stats, and original posts full of useful tips, such as Kelvin Newman's Ultimate guide to the Facebook algorithm.
Link to other bloggers
Of course, you want to promote your own content, but it's also important to link to other bloggers, to give credit where it's due, and to share some of that link juice. In return, you are far more likely to get links back from other sites. It also allows you to debate issues and bounce ideas off each other.
For example, while looking for more reasons to link internally for this article (I could only think of four) I found this great post full of blogging tips on SEOMoz.
Do lots of reading
I have to write a certain number of posts and reports, but it's vital that you keep some time aside just to read and digest as much information as you can.
When I started, I worked my way through Econsultancy's best practice guides, but you also learn a lot by reading other bloggers.
Dealing with the trolls
Fortunately, though we do get plenty of comment spam, we don't get too many trolls on this blog. This is how to deal with them:
Listen to feedback
I love to hear feedback, good and bad, on blog posts. Well, if I'm honest, good is much better, but you should learn from both.
This helps you to avoid making the same mistakes again and again, and helps you improve as a writer.
Don’t blog for the sake of it
This is a tricky one. Some days you just have fewer ideas for blog posts than others and you're tempted to write anything just to get something up on the site.
Far better to wait until you have something better to write about, and to make a note of the ideas you have when you're in the mood, so you have a reserve to fall back on.
It’s about quality not quantity
It's very important to keep the articles coming to give people a reason to keep checking your blog, and to give Google's spiders some fresh content to crawl, but this shouldn't be at the expense of quality.
I'd rather see one or two detailed and insightful posts than a bunch of quick articles published just to keep the numbers up.
The value of social media
Social media is massively important for bloggers in three ways:
- Getting ideas for new posts.
- Encouraging debate around your blog posts.
- Promoting your content.
To take Twitter as an example, I get plenty of ideas for posts from the people I follow sharing news, stats, and ideas, while I can always ask a question or two and get some useful background for posts.
We also promote posts on social media, and a good deal of our blog traffic comes from social sites.
The importance of analytics for blogging
It's not always about numbers for us, if we have just a few hundred people view a post, but a decent proportion then go on and download a report, then this can be more valuable than getting 1,000 retweets and buckets of page views.
However, we do like to know what works and what doesn't, and looking at the figures from analytics and learning the lessons is important.
For example, the stats below show a variety of bounce rates and time spent on site.
The post on Zeebox and Dancing on Ice brought the traffic in thanks to people searching for news about the ITV show, but the bounce rate was 97.5%, meaning that these people probably weren't looking to visit an internet marketing blog.
Timing is everything
The time and day you publlsh a post can make a big difference, and this is something we try to learn from. Generally speaking, posts will do better for us when published late in the morning and midweek, which is partly why this post has been published at 12pm on a Tuesday.
Different posts will work well at different times though, so we'll publish something we think is of value to UK and US users a little later for maximum exposure.
It's also why we'll publish lighter posts, such as this one showing 10 easter eggs hidden on websites, on a Friday when people are thinking of the weekend.
Comment on your own posts
I like to see comments on our posts. If nothing else, it reassures you that something is actually reading them.
If you can get a good debate going, as on this post on the 'cookie law', then it means people are coming back to check replies to their own comments, they're more likely to be tweeting about it, and you can learn something from the comments people leave.
You can help to encourage this by joining in, answering questions and asking some of your own.
The value of timesaving tools and apps
This is worthy of a post in its own right, so I'll just mention a few, but there are plenty of tools out there that make my job much easier.
- Screenshot tools such as imgur are great, especially for reviewing websites.
- Twitter Search, for all its faults, can be very handy for real-time research.
- Flickr Creative Commons is great for sourcing images.
- Q&A sites like Quora or LinkedIn answers are great for finding elusive stats and case studies.
If you're interested, here are the other 1,999 articles if you have a spare month or two...