7 Simple Steps to Improve Your Blog

THERE’S NO MAGIC FORMULA that propels a blog from obscurity to popularity, but there are some basic steps you can take to improve your content, establish a community of readers, and even make some money. Here are seven simple steps to help you achieve those goals:

1. Quickly respond to news events. Perhaps the greatest benefit of blogs is their ease of use, making virtually anyone a publisher. One of the most effective ways to use your blog—and tap into the intellectual firepower of policy experts—is responding to news as it’s happening in state capitals, Washington, D.C., or the international community. This has multiple benefits: increased exposure for you and your staff, an opportunity to highlight previous research, and the overall perception that you’re staying on top of current events.

The Heritage Foundation’s blog, The Foundry, is our organization’s primary vehicle for rapidly responding to events on Capitol Hill; it is updated constantly throughout the day with posts often written by our policy analysts. Blog posts might result in a TV interview and almost always generate more Web traffic to previous research. One thing is for certain: We are able to communicate our message more effectively thanks to the blog.

2. Establish a community of readers. The content of your blog might not be all that different from what you’re producing for op-eds or research papers, but there’s an added element that you don’t get with a newspaper column or lengthy policy piece: Comments foster a sense of community and promote interaction.

Don’t get me wrong, turning on the comments can create a flood of headaches. From foul language to annoying critics, they require moderation if you want to avoid a free-for-all. But with free tools like DISQUS, a plug-in that works on nearly all blogging platforms, it’s easy to track the discussion. With DISQUS, you’ll also have the benefit of letting your readers spread content to Facebook and Twitter with ease—likely resulting in new readers.


3. Cover events live. Earlier this year when President Obama went to Congress to deliver a speech, the Cato Institute’s blog used Cover It Live software to feature its experts’ instant reaction to Obama’s remarks. Cover It Live is a free live-blogging tool that embeds on your blog much like a YouTube video.

Live blogging works best when it’s happening around a major event, but you could also use it to host question-and-answer sessions with your readers. This instant analysis is wonderful, but don’t forget to promote your research and drive traffic to your Web site during the discussion.

4. Use pictures and videos.  There’s nothing more unattractive than a large block of text on a page. Fortunately, digital cameras and handheld video cameras make it easy for you to supplement great writing with some imagery and motion to make your page more enticing.

A couple things that work well: charts and interviews. Any time you’re writing about data, add a chart to the blog post so readers can see the numbers visually. And a handheld (and inexpensive) Flip camera is a great way to interview speakers at an event or even staff about policy issues.

5. Use a customized design. The look and feel of your blog might be the last thing on your mind after focusing so much attention on content. And while content is king, there’s good reason to spend time and money to design your blog. Not only will you have a unique look, but it also allows you to maintain consistent branding across Web properties.

The good news is that WordPress and Movable Type offer a variety of themes and styles to choose from. But if you can’t find one, there are plenty of designers who specialize in this work and can create something that’s the right fit.

6. Make some money. One of the easiest ways to make money from your blog—without adding much to your workload—is tapping into some of Amazon’s offerings. Sign up for an Amazon Associates account, which allows you to create unique links that earn you money when someone buys a product. Given the sheer number of products on Amazon—not to mention political and policy books—it’s a great way to earn a little revenue.

Amazon’s Kindle, a wireless reading device that costs about $250, is an excellent distribution vehicle for your blog. And because Amazon requires you to charge a small fee—The Foundry, ranked No. 7 in news and politics, is available for $1.99 per month—a portion goes to you and the rest to Amazon.

7. Link frequently to friends and allies. Your ability to produce and maintain Web traffic will often depend on other bloggers linking to you. Don’t treat your blog as the Roach Motel—expecting others to link in, but never linking out. This is the mistake of organizations that constantly promote their own material but don’t give enough attention to others.

If your goal is to generate buzz, employing an effective linking strategy is key. Develop relationships with popular bloggers and pitch them your posts. Make sure you target the right bloggers depending on the issue. And don’t be discouraged if they don’t link; keep linking to their material. Bloggers notice these things, and when you do have a big scoop, they’ll likely reciprocate.

Mr. Bluey is director of online strategy at The Heritage Foundation. He oversaw the creation of The Foundry (blog.heritage.org) in January 2008.