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Blogging: Branding and Growth

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Hi there! Interested in taking this course?
First, you’ll need to sign up or log in to WordPress.com

Want to register for this course? Visit the Blogging U. home page, and click the “Start” button next to any course to get going!

Blogging: Branding and Growth asks you to set some goals for your blog and then helps you achieve them with practical advice and tips on branding, planning, publishing and resurfacing content, guest posting, SEO, and more. Some tasks ask you to analyze different aspects of your blog, while others are more technical, such as adding widgets or customizing your theme. Every task is voluntary; if a task asks you to do something that doesn’t feel quite right for you, or that you’ve already done, feel free to skip it — although we encourage you to read through our tips and materials. You never know what you might learn!

You’ll get an email each day, with additional resources and tips available below. Happy blogging!


Day One: Set Three Goals for Your Blog

What does a goal look like?
You’re free to articulate your goals in the way that’s most comfortable for you. We recommend making them simple, concrete, and time-based to create laser-like focus. Here are some examples.

  • Gain 20% more followers within three months.
  • Increase average daily hits 30% by the end of the year.
  • Publish three times each week during the next two months.
  • Spend one hour each week visiting my followers’ blogs, reading, and commenting from now until the end of next month.
  • Establish a new weekly feature on my blog — Throwback Thursdays, Wordless Wednesdays, Soup Sundays — and publish that feature each week through the end of the year.
  • Create an editorial calendar for the next 90 days by the end of the month.
  • Publish posts from three guests over the next three months.

Here’s a guide on how to set and achieve goals.

If I want to keep my goals private, what can I do?
Feel free to write your goals in a notebook or on a sticky note. You can also publish your goals on a private page on your blog so that no one can see them but you. Here’s how to set your page to private.

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Day Two: Audit Your Brand

Auditing my brand is a very large task. Where do I start?
Auditing your brand will take some thought and consideration — every element of your site contributes to (or detracts from!) your brand. Here are some ideas to get you going:

I’m really close to my site and I’m not sure what’s working and what’s not. Where can I go to get feedback on my site?
Visit The Daily Post’s Community Pool and pair up with another blogger so you can audit one another’s sites — nothing is better for finding inconsistencies and improvements than a fresh pair of eyes! Here’s a short primer on how to give feedback to others and how to process the feedback you receive.

How do I take action?
Start introducing changes that reinforce your brand. Make one update today. You don’t have to change everything and start from scratch — just start making improvements that move your site closer to your vision, and watch them add up. Here are some quick ways to start:

  • Add or update a tagline to give more context to your site’s title.
  • Change up your fonts — every WordPress.com blogger has access to free fonts.
  • Create a Gravatar that echoes your blog’s look.
  • Customize your widget titles and comment prompt.
  • Use your own photos to create custom image widgets or a custom header.
  • Add a text widget with a pithy description of your blog’s mission.
  • Create an email address for your site, using your custom domain or a free yourgreatblogname@gmail address.
  • Review or create your About page and make sure that the text and images you use reinforce your site’s approach and personality.

Even if you’re happy with your look, we encourage you to experiment and preview new themes, colors, and fonts. They can drastically alter the feeling of your text and photos, and you may discover that a design tweak is just what you needed to make your posts pop.

Are there any design resources I can check out?
If visuals aren’t your strong point, there’s an excellent series of posts on basic design principles by our very own in-house designer: learn about creating clarity, developing a visual hierarchy, choosing fonts, and harmonizing colors.

Is this going to cost me money?
If you think customizing means upgrading, think again. You can use a free theme, make your own header image or custom widgets with free images and fonts, and upload a free background.

I’m ready to make changes but I’m worried about messing up my site. Help!
If you want to try all of this on a test site, so your blog’s appearance isn’t constantly changing, here’s a tutorial to get you started.

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Day Three: Get Read All Over

How can I tell if my theme is responsive?
Here are some tips and resources for making sure visitors can read your site easily on mobile devices.

Check out all our responsive themes.

Test your theme’s responsiveness with the Customizer.

To launch the Customizer, go to your blog, click on My Sites in the top-left corner of the screen, and click on Customize. You’ll see these symbols at the bottom of the customizing tools:
responsivetest

From left to right, these symbols represent desktops, tablets, and smartphones. Clicking between them emulates the look of your content on different screens.

My theme is responsive. Is there anything I need to do?
What did you notice about how your site changes at various sizes? You may find that you want to make some changes — that font you loved might be too cramped on an iPhone, or you might not like the way your header changes on your Nexus. Sometimes, responsive themes move and condense different elements of your blog to ensure written content appears first, so you’ll want to make sure you’re happy with how your widgets and menus work. Be sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom of your site in the Customizer to see where elements like menus and widgets have been placed.

My theme isn’t responsive. What should I do?
Ensure your site looks good on phones and tablets by enabling Minileven, a mobile-specific theme based on the Twenty Eleven theme. Any WordPress.com blogger can use Minileven for their mobile site without affecting their standard theme; your blog will automatically detect when someone’s using a phone or tablet. Minileven uses a standard design that’s simple and readable for every site, so phone and tablet users will be able to view your content, but not your site’s specific design.

To enable Minileven, go to the Appearance → Mobile tab in the WP-Admin part of your dashboard and select Yes next to “Enable mobile theme.” Click on the Update button for the change to take effect.

How do I get to WP-Admin?
Use your site’s url and append /wp-admin to the end of it, like so:

http://yourgroovysite.wordpress.com/wp-admin

I’d like to know how others see my site on their phones and tablets. What can I do?
Visit The Daily Post’s Community Pool and post a comment to ask for feedback. A welcoming group of bloggers frequents the pool, helping one another by sharing feedback and answering questions.

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Day Four: Give ‘Em What They Want

Where do I find my stats?
To get to your stats, go to My Sites → Stats. (Note: if you have a self-hosted blog or use another platform, you’ll want need to poke around in your blog’s administrative tools to find your stats).

The first thing you’ll see is a graph showing your views, comments, and likes. You can sort this graph by days, weeks, or months to get a sense of whether your blog has particularly popular times. Click on any bar in the graph to get the stats for that particular time period, and see what posts you published:

viewslikescomments

A bit further down the page, you can also see your most popular posts and pages in that time period. The orange bars on the left indicate that a post was published within the time period you’re looking at:

toppostsandpages

Here, this blog’s home page got the most traffic, followed by the newest posts and then a collection of older content. A bit further down the page, you can also look at what search terms visitors were looking for when they landed on your blog:

searchtermsforyourblog

(As you can see, this blog receives an unusually high number of visitors searching for “iceberg hunters,” which explains why that post, which is much older, is still high on the list of popular posts and pages.)

You can learn a lot from your stats, but you can also dwell on them too long — when you get too emotionally invested in your stats rather than just using them as a tool, it may be time to take a step back from your stats.

Elsewhere on the page, you can see your most popular tags and categories, the countries your readers come from, your most engaged commenters, and more. On the “Insights” page, you can learn more about your posting frequency, and even see the most popular hour of the day for your blog.

I’m really stuck. I have no ideas on what to put into an editorial calendar. What do I do?
The Daily Post has a series of posts called “five posts to write” that you can use right now, no matter the subject of your blog. Browse through the series and see if you can’t use some of the ideas to create an editorial calendar. If you didn’t create a posting frequency goal, that’s fine, too. Brainstorm some new post ideas and plan when to publish them. If you’re looking for posting inspiration, check out the daily prompts, photo challenges, and Discover challenges at The Daily Post.

I don’t have many views. Now what?
You might feel like your stats aren’t high enough to tell you much about your readers, or your blog might be quite new — that’s fine. You can still look at your popular categories and posts, and start experimenting. You may want to set a reminder for yourself to analyze your stats in a few weeks or a few months as your audience grows.

I’m not sure how to make an editorial calendar. Can you share some tips?
This article at The Daily Post covers why an editorial calendar is helpful and how to get one started.

An editorial calendar can be as simple as a checklist of post titles that lists publishing dates and the author assigned to each post. Here’s a sample week of the ongoing editorial calendar for The Daily Post:

  • Monday, April 11: Community Pool (Ben)
  • Tuesday, April 12: Discover Challenge (Cheri)
  • Wednesday, April 13: Off
  • Thursday, April 14: Quick tip: Reader lists as alternative blogrolls (Krista)
  • Friday, April 15: Photo Challenge (Michelle)

Which tools can you recommend for my editorial calendar?
The best tool for an editorial calendar depends on how you prefer to work. Here are some ideas:

  • You can keep your editorial calendar in a draft post on your site.
  • Create an editorial calendar using an app such as Word for Windows or Pages if you use a Mac.
  • Simplenote is a great app that allows you to take notes from anywhere (on your phone, tablet, and laptop) so it’s great for capturing that idea you have for your editorial calendar whenever inspiration strikes.
  • If you prefer the analog approach, jot down your editorial calendar using pen or pencil in a notebook.

To get more support…

Day Five: Make the Most of Your Archives

How do I promote my older content? Any tips?
Widgets, such as the Top Posts and Pages Widget, Archives Widget, and Categories Widget, can help promote older work in your sidebar and footer. These widgets automatically pull in archival and popular content — they’re quick, easy additions to drive traffic to older work. Each widget has configuration options, so you can control how much real estate they take up.

Activate the Related Posts feature, which analyzes the words in each post, searches your site for similar posts, and displays related content at the bottom of every post. It looks like this:

relatedpostspreview

You can activate the “Related Posts” feature By heading to My Sites → Settings → General, and choose whether to show image thumbnails with them:

relatedposts

A great way to drive readers to your archives is a “Best of” page. Call it “Greatest Hits” or “Best of [insert your blog name here]” and add it to your menu so your visitors can easily access it. It’s a fun way to promote your best work, and you can refresh the list whenever you want. You can also go for a one-two punch by adding a section with your best work to your existing About page. About pages tend to be popular, so it’s an easy way to ensure that those links are visible.

What other things can I do to drive traffic to my archives?
You can manually create a “You May Also Like” section at the end of each post to display a bulleted list of relevant posts you’ve written on the topic. You’ll have to decide on the posts you want to include and put the links in yourself, but you get complete say over what appears. If you’d like to keep that list of hand-curated posts on your homepage, you can create links with a bit of HTML and list them in a Text Widget.

If you’re feeling especially spry, experiment with shortcodes to build your highlights page — give your favorite posts the tag “highlight,” and use a shortcode to automatically pull them onto the page.

Here’s some additional information and inspiration from The Daily Post on how to make the most of your archives. Check out “Repurposing Evergreen Content” and “Driving Traffic to Your Archives.” You might also be interested in our free ebook, Grow Your Traffic, Build Your Blog.

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Day Six: Dig Deep Into a Social Network

I have no experience with social networks. Which one should I pick?
You can start by checking out blogs similar to yours, or that you admire. What networks do they use? What are they sharing? What are their fans chatting about?

Each social network has a unique focus. Looking to attract a general audience and are unsure of where to start? Twitter might be best. If you want to broadcast to family and friends and make it easier for them to help promote you, Facebook is a good option. If you’re into DIY, crafts, cooking, and art, Pinterest is a solid choice. If you’re a professional who wants to establish yourself as a credible voice in your industry’s community, LinkedIn is the way to go.

Here’s some information on getting started with each service to help you make the choice that’s right for you:

Ok, I’ve joined Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest / LinkedIn. Now what?

Connect Publicize
The first thing to do is connect your shiny new network to the Publicize feature of your blog. Publicize automates the act of sharing new posts. When you publish a post, Publicize will automatically broadcast your post to the social networks you choose.

To connect to social networks with Publicize, go to My Sites → Sharing → Connections. If you have a self-hosted WordPress site, you can add Publicize with the Jetpack plugin. You can connect to one or all the available services.

Now, when you’re drafting a post, you’ll see the networks you’ve connected to under “Sharing” on the left-hand side of your screen. Tease readers about your post. Add a relevant hashtag. Ask a provocative question. (The default is your post title, which is fine, but feels automated, so be sure to customize!)

Add Sharing Buttons
Once you’ve chosen a network, make it easy for you and your readers to share your stuff and find you there. Sharing Buttons are an easy way to encourage readers to share your posts without being pushy. They’re just there at the bottom of a post, making themselves available but being cool about it. Note that you can customize the text that appears above the sharing buttons. This site’s owner’s call to action says, “Tell your friends! Seriously. Tell them. Now.” Use a call to action that reflects your site’s personality and brand.

sharingbuttonskos

To make them appear automatically at the bottom of your posts, go to My Sites → Sharing → Sharing Buttons. Click on Add sharing buttons then drag in the services you’d like to have displayed, order them however you’d like, edit the heading, and presto! You can choose from a few different button styles.

sharingconfig

Plug your social networks in your sidebar
Sidebars are a useful place to plug your social networking presence. WordPress.com has widgets for Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and more and self-hosted bloggers can find plugins to add similar widgets.

Okay, my Facebook page / Twitter profile / Pinterest board, etc., is set up. Now what?
Using networks well means more than just publicizing your posts; if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not really making the most of your social connections. Social networks are about creating a sense of community: share other related content, and engage with your audience. Here are a few ideas:

  • Share other bloggers’ posts — there’s nothing like sharing the love, and promoting others’ good work ultimately brings people to you, too.
  • Share humorous, interesting, or provocative links. Your networks become valuable when you curate, helping fans weed through the swampland of the internet to find the goodies.
  • Ask questions. If there’s one thing people enjoy doing on on the internet, it’s sharing opinions. Asking questions is a good way to get feedback on what your readers are interested in.
  • Share status updates. Are you on round three of the DIY project you’re planning to blog next week? Are you headed to the movies to see the next film you’ll review? Did you just finish a major project? Share blog-related glimpses into your life to build a personal connection with readers.

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Day Seven: Visit the Neighbors

Do you have any tips on how to get started with commenting?
Here’s how to find and follow blogs in the Reader, as well as some tips on
leaving comments. If you’re not sure how to elevate the conversation, you might want to try our course on Commenting Basics or do some further reading on how to write great comments. Etiquette is important and we definitely recommend that you read this roundup on the finer points of blogging etiquette.

UGH. Commenting is hard. Help!
Publishing posts is just one part of blogging; interacting with the community is the other.

Conversation is inspiring! You never know where (or who) your next post idea will come from — and the best way to spread the word is by connecting to other bloggers. No blog is an island.

We know it can be a bit intimidating to leave your thoughts on someone else’s blog, but it’s an invaluable habit to start cultivating — so much so that we recommend you make a habit of following others blogs and taking the time to comment. When commenting, try to leave something substantive and thoughtful to contribute to the conversation.

Not sure what makes a thoughtful comment? You’re not alone! Here are some tips for crafting comments that contribute to the conversation:

  • Try to avoid comments that simply say “Great post!” or “Thanks!” — make an effort to add to the discussion.
  • Be specific about why you enjoyed the post.
  • Avoid drive-by linking: “Visit my blog!
    [LINK]” Show some genuine interest. It will be reciprocated.
  • Ask a relevant question.
  • Respectfully offer a counterpoint. (And because it can’t be overstated: respectfully!)
  • Share a related experience.
  • Be concise. If your comment is more than two paragraphs, write a post of your own and let the blogger know they inspired it.
  • Mind your manners. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it in their comment thread.

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Day Eight: Resurfacing and Sharing Content

How do I create a social media calendar?
When creating your social media calendar, peruse your archives. Which posts got the most traffic? Which topics? (If you need to, refresh yourself with stats by reviewing Day 4: Give ‘Em What They Want to learn about top posts, topics, tags, and categories). Which posts and topics got the least attention or didn’t do as well as you’d hoped? Which posts and topic generated the most likes and comments? Which garnered the least likes and comments? All of these criteria can help you re-promote older content and attract new traffic.

I’m really not sure what to share. Any tips?
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of ideas:

  • Share your top posts.
  • Share posts from other blogs you enjoyed.
  • Share relevant links from your internet reading.
  • Share posts in time zones other than yours and those next to you to attract an international audience.
  • Have you written about a topic that’s become a news item? Share it.
  • Share your least popular post.

I’m not sure how to make a social media calendar. Can you share some tips?
A social calendar can be as simple as a list of what it is you plan to share on what day. The important part is to look at your traffic and your content and plan to resurface it on a regular basis as time rolls by.

  • Friday, April 15: Tweet my “best of” page
  • Monday, April 19: Tweet my top post from March
  • Wednesday, April 20: Tweet my top post from last week
  • Friday, April 22: Tweet my post from earlier this week
  • Monday, April 25: Tweet a great post I found this week

Which tools can you recommend for my social media calendar?
The best tool for an editorial calendar depends on how you prefer to work. Here are some ideas:

  • You can keep your calendar in a draft post on your site.
  • Create a calendar using an app such as Word for Windows or Pages if you use a Mac.
  • Simplenote is a great app that allows you to take notes from anywhere (on your phone, tablet, and laptop) so it’s great for capturing that idea you have for your social media calendar whenever inspiration strikes.
  • If you prefer the analog approach, jot down your calendar using pen or pencil in a notebook.

Are there any apps you can recommend that can help me schedule my re-promotion?

  • Buffer is a great tool that allows you to schedule posts on social media in advance.
  • CoSchedule is a WordPress plugin that allows you to set up a sharing schedule for each individual post. Note that CoSchedule works only with self-hosted WordPress sites.

Day Nine: Grow Your Audience With Guest Posters

Where do I find someone to guest post on my blog?
The Community Pool is a weekly feature at The Daily Post where bloggers gather to share their work and get feedback on it and the design elements of their blogs. It’s warm and welcoming — a place where you can find a friendly, yet objective blogger to give you honest critique on your writing and your blog’s look and brand.

Do you have a follower that comments thoughtfully on your posts — that person who always takes the time to ask a good question or add something witty or insightful to add to the conversation? Your thoughtful commenter might just become your blogging BFF. If there’s a blog that always brings out the best comments in you, that’s another place to start.

Is there a blogger that you admire — a site you visit regularly and comment on? It’s definitely worth reaching out to attempt to forge a blogging buddy relationship. We recommend contacting them via their contact form, or an email address they list. If they don’t have a contact form, comment on one of their posts. It might seem daunting at first to approach someone you feel might be a little more established, but if you don’t shoot, you don’t score.

Do you have any tips on how to create a guest posting arrangement?
You’re familiar with one another’s blogs — what can you each add? Is there a perspective you’d love a guest to explore? Perhaps a serial set of posts in which you alternate authoring? You’ll also want to work out some boundaries; even if the guest blogger is a close friend, it’s useful to establish things like length, style issues (no foul language, no real names, photo citations, etc.), who will respond to comments, and how much say you’ll have over each other’s posts. (The Daily Post’s rule of thumb is to edit guest submissions as little as possible. Check out this article for more tips and advice on how to attract guest posters for your blog.

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Day Ten: SEO And Your Blog

How do I audit my blog’s SEO?
While search algorithms change often, there are a few fundamentals you can examine to make sure that you’re presenting your blog in the best possible way to search engines who come crawling. Here are some tips:

  • Consider keywords. You’ll want to make sure you brainstorm the most important keywords for your site and use them frequently in your tagline, post titles, posts, and tags. For example, if you were a travel blogger, your keywords might include, “travel,” “vacation,” “hotel,” the names of destination cities, and other related words such as “nomad,” or “backpacking.”
  • Write a descriptive tagline. Even if your theme doesn’t display your tagline, search engines can still see it. Make sure yours accurately describes what your blog is about. Your tagline is a great place for your most important keyword.
  • Ensure your profile is complete. Go to your Profile and ensure your name, your screen name, and most importantly your blog’s URL appears on your Profile links. This is especially important when you comment on others’ blogs.
  • Put yourself out there. Make time to visit the Reader, follow blogs you’re interested in, and comment thoughtfully on others’ posts. Every time you leave a comment on someone else’s blog, you also leave your name and your site’s URL automatically (provided your Profile is complete). People are naturally curious about that awesome someone who left a thoughtful comment on their blog and they’ll follow the link back to your site to learn more about you.
  • Publish regularly. Make sure that you’re offering new content frequently so that Google comes crawling to index your site.
  • Be selective with tags. Choose only the tags most relevant to your posts. Posts with too many tags can be viewed as spammy and those a combination of more than 15 tags and categories may not appear in the Reader.

Can you share some further reading on SEO?
Why yes, yes we can:

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