Article by Jerry Low
Geek dad, SEO data junkie, investor, and founder of Web Hosting Secret Revealed. Jerry has been building Internet assets and making money online since 2004. He loves mindless doodling and trying new food.
Whether you already have a blog or you’re just getting started, there are two fundamental truths about blogging. The first is that almost every niche in blogging is completely glutted. And the second is that despite that fact, it’s easy to stand out. If your approach to blogging is to slap up a generic theme onto WordPress and write average content, it’s going to be harder to create a memorable project. But with just a couple of hours invested in setting up the foundation, you can lay out a blog that will catch people’s attention and bring them back time and again.
Let me address two different scenarios. The first is that you’re thinking of starting a blog, and you need a map in order to do that. The second is that you have started a blog, but it hasn’t really taken off the way you hoped. Whether you’re setting the stage or working on a blog reboot, here is a list of six things you can take a look at to turbocharge your blog branding.
One of the basic tenets of good marketing is the concept of understanding your unique selling proposition (or USP). Your USP is essentially answering the question: what makes you different from every other blog out there today talking about the same topic?
Sometimes answering that question is really easy. Let’s say, for giggles, that you’re in the knitting space. A general blog on knitting may or may not find followers. But if you “niche down” your niche, you stand a much better chance. What about knitting 101 for absolute beginners? Even better, what about knitting for knitting haters? How about a project a day that knitters can explore with their kids? What about extreme knitting or hipster knitting or wearing something you’ve knitted every day for a year and journaling that experience?
Your USP can be a hook, or it can be the angle you take to dive into the content. Whatever it is, make sure you have one and that you consistently and ruthlessly apply it to everything you post. Your USP can also be (and should also be!) connected to why you do what you do. Rather than go at length on this topic, let me introduce you to Simon Sinek, who says it better than anyone I’ve ever heard talk about this issue.
Simon Sinek on TED
One of the hottest bloggers and writers out there is Danielle LaPorte (www.daniellelaporte.com). She writes and speaks on issues related to finding your truth and lighting the entrepreneurial fire. But Danielle’s page started out with the intriguingly named whitehottruth.com. I know this case study because one day I noticed her URL had shifted to DanielleLaPorte.com. She wrote an inspiring post exploring the reasoning behind this decision: The Logic of Letting Go.
There are two things to think about – the first is that a great blog name is memorable, matches your URL (which is preferably a .com) and says what you’re about. The second is that even a great blog name -“White Hot Truth” is a fabulous example – may eventually just be one aspect of the brand you’re trying to build. So from the beginning, make sure that even if your URL is not your own name, that you’re associating yourself with the brand name. We like to buy from, listen to, and relate to other human beings, not to nameless, faceless entities. This is especially true in the online space.
Pat Flynn from the blog Smart Passive Income is an excellent example of this: his blog is called Smart Passive Income, but he manages to put his name and his face everywhere.
Whenever I’m talking to a client or attending a business strategy session, one of the major things people are freaking out about is their tagline. Whether their brand is their name, or even if the business they are working on is unintelligible related to what they do, people intuitively grasp the importance of the tagline.
Sometimes people are in love with language, and they want something that sounds beautiful. “Leading soulful sojourns for women seeking adventure and rejuvenation.” It’s not perfect, but if you’re kind of a hippie retreat leader with a bit of an edge, it could work as a starting point.
Other times, you’re looking for something that more conveys a fundamental truth in a voice that works with your audience. Internet web show host David Siteman Garland absolutely kicks ass on his show The Rise to the Top. You know what his tagline is? The #1 Non-Boring Business Show. Not only is this absolutely true, it gives you a sense of who David is and how he approaches his business.
There are three questions that can be helpful when you’re doing your tagline:
With WordPress essentially taking over the internet, it’s now easy to get a great looking website. Thousands of free themes exist. If you want a more personalized look, you can purchase a higher end theme or have one custom designed. Your look and feel should make sense with your subject matter, be pleasant to look at, and speak to what you’ve already tried to create in terms of your name, your tagline, and more.
But here’s my big takeaway. You’ll figure out the look and feel aspect of your branding. You’ll see something you like or you’ll hire someone to get you there. But remember that branding your blog doesn’t stop at the blog itself. It’s really important that you also have a consistent look and feel across all your content channels. Your Twitter background should integrate. Your Facebook cover photo needs to match. Etc. So sit down, do an audit of all your points of contact, and make sure that your brand is carrying out across them all.
The final powerful tool that you have to brand your blog is your voice. To use the examples above, Pat Flynn’s voice is like your best friend who also happens to be a guy making $50,000 a month on the internet and happy to tell you how he’s doing it. Danielle LaPorte calls her daily newsletter Truth Bombs and for me, that says it all. It’s raw insight, bold delivery, and a seer-like wisdom she’s pouring down on you. So when you speak, or write, or vid-cast, how would people describe your voice?
For more on voice, I highly recommend you check out the work of Abby Kerr Ink, who is like the voice doula.
I can’t tell you exactly what your voice will be. I can tell you what it won’t be. It won’t be you trying to sound smart. It won’t be you using your “now I’m writing and must speak formal” voice. It won’t be you saying what you think others want to hear.
It’ll be a little bit how you sound when you’re at a dinner party, maybe after a glass of wine or one too many Diet Cokes. The subject has moved to something you are gripping the table with passion excited about, and all eyes are on you. You’re in your zone of genius. You’re riveting, and you’re pouring your guts out because you can’t help it. Your voice will probably sound a little like that.
So mess around with it. Try writing in some different ways, and give samples to people you trust. Your mom, your man, your best friend, a colleague, your old English teacher. Ask people which ones feel real. Or throw a bunch of content into the world and see which ones light people up. Especially if those people are your target audience…..that’s your voice.
And then bring that voice into your copy, and start with your About Page. Here’s where you want to tell your story. I don’t mean, “Mr. Charles Hinkerstein is a proud graduate of Oxford, where he studied the fascinating reproduction of the earthworm.” I mean, “Hi, I’m Charlie and I have an unusual passion: the English earthworm. Not just the English earthworm – but the English earthworm getting it on. And I went to the hallowed halls of a thousand year old British University to get the best teachers in the world on this topic.”
Write your entire story there, just pour your heart out. Then edit ruthlessly, so you’re authentic and concise, compelling and choiceful. Once you find that voice, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a blog that people will want to visit again and again.
Once you’ve invested in the look and in the copy of your site, an important but often overlooked aspect of good branding is to find the best possible host (hint: read Jerry’s awesome hosting reviews ;)). A good technical foundation is absolutely critical to maximizing the return on all your branding efforts. There’s nothing worse than visiting a website that is down, that loads slowly, or has been hacked due to poor host security (it happens all the time).
And once that happens, it can be difficult to get those visitors back – thus damaging their image of the brand you are so carefully crafting. Ensure that you choose a host that has fast load times, is optimized for the type of back-end software that you’re running (e.g. WordPress), and has customer support in case you do run into an issue. The right foundation and hosting will add rocket fuel to all the other work you’ve done on your blog branding.