Planning my blog posts. (ROFL). I have a love/hate relationship with planning. My first serious, change-the-world blog had a huge plan and was so packed that the posts themselves ballooned in size to 2000 words on average. Even my friends stopped reading it after around 2 or 3 posts. I kept at it for about five months.
It’s not just that is was too intellectual (oh, Lord, was it!). It’s not just that I was too timid to market it effectively (that too was a factor). It was the fact that my posts were just as lost and undirected as I was. I did not have a firm idea about what my audience would possibly want to “buy” from me. I did not have a sense of who I was serving with my writing, or what I could possible provide for them that was unique and special.
Audiences may not spend one nickel on you, but they do have very limited amount of time to spend on the Internet. Why read you rather than spend time watching funny videos on Cracked Campus Comedy? Audiences’ time is valuable to them–and valuable to you. Creating a good structure for your blog is more than a courtesy to them. It is also going to save you headaches and problems down the road.
Blogs wander, sometimes a little, sometimes a great deal.
I am currently free-blogging. Free-blogging means sitting down and writing a (hopefully) breezy post revolving around something on your mind. Many personal journal blogs are entirely free-blogging, such as the mommy blogger who wrote about her first day with a toddler and a two year, alone. Or the mental health blogger who wrote very intimately about the state of his depression. Lifestyle bloggers might talk about this funny thing that happened at the store. Or a food blogger writing about tonight’s dinner catastrophe. Sometimes the best posts are not planned.
Many, perhaps most, blogs never get out of the free-blogging stage and that’s fine. Professional blogs, however, need to serve the needs of the author to establish credibility and expertise in a topic space. Audiences need to be able to find the information they want easily. If they can’t, then they won’t stay long.
Bloggers who want to make a blog part of a larger business plan definitely need to plan. So, why am I not, at this point, creating a more structured blog?
Indeed. Good question.
Free-blogging is a great exercise in finding your voice while exploring a topic space. It’s how I am figuring out my niche. My initial thought was to solely focus on writing for mid-life career changers, but that is such a big and heavy topic. And my greatest gift was that I had read so many books, taken courses, and had this great backlog of arguably good posts that I could re-write and edit. (Oh, and I’m old. Life experience–I got that. I’ve changed careers in mid-life twice. I know this territory.)
Many times our initial thoughts on what we want to blog about shift as we begin to get into the writing and the researching of the topic-space. I originally thought I knew so much more about helping people figure out their careers than how to figure out blogging. I ahem, HAD exploded a WordPress website into tiny little tinker-toy pieces of broken theme and engineering hubris. I balked at the idea that I’d be a good blogging teacher, even though I’m a fairly experienced technology teacher.
But then I realized that having screwed up more blogs than most people, I certainly know the rookie mistakes pretty well. Even when I was merrily making them. Again. I know the rules and I know why the rules are there.
After two weeks of free-blogging, not worrying about structure, exploring the space– I’m beginning to be ready to be a little more structured. Because I care about my audiences, and I know that if I don’t rein it all in NOW, there will be hell to pay later on.
Good structure helps audiences to engage
A good structure will help audiences to come to your blog and orient themselves to what they’re going to find here. It’s like that little map of chocolates on the top of fancy candy boxes. It’s so much easier to decide when they group the caramels, the truffles, the nutty pieces, the fruity pieces, and the liquor. Ooooh, it’s easier to pick! The faster that audiences can choose — and get what they want — the more time they’ll spend with our content. Categories are the big over-all structures (like here are the caramels. Here are the truffles). Tags are the understructure. They can cross categories. They’re more flexible. And VERY importantly, when you change themes because you’re reaching dozens or hundreds of posts, categories will help you create more sensible menus.
Lola’s Wise Guidance: Make categories sparingly. Use tags more. This will help you to keep a coherent structure as your blog changes and grows.
If you can’t be a shining example, be a horrible warning.
Here is my current category structure for Impractical Advice. Bad, bad, bad blogger.
My categories are definitely unplanned and that’s not a good thing. Some are left over from the women in technology blog I used to write (the one I broke, how embarrassing)–Reading List, Work/Life Balance, career change. I started with those, thinking that these would be the central core of my blogging.
Some categories are just weird–things I thought would be cool but now, I wish I could edit OUT of the categories column. Visioning and Meta-Advice–yikes. What was I thinking?
Categories can help you structure your blog into coherent topics. I have twelve here. A well-structure blog will ONLY have a topic that has a significant purpose in providing the overall structure–in the overall plan of things my audience wants to know about. Those would be, for this blog: Blogging (naturally, I can use this instead of that awful “Uncategorized” default category). Career Change, yeah. (That works). Marketing (well, I’m not really ready for that category. Could I make it a tag instead?). Tech Tips. That pretty much covers everything. That is the beginnings of a plan to gently move me away from totally free-blogging to creating a more interesting, more useful blog. A blog I can plan better. A blog my audiences can better understand and navigate.
Update: Now that I’ve cleaned up my categories, I’ve been able to add a nice top menu on to my blog. Take a look at my next post on the basics of cleaning up your categories in WordPress.
If your blog is really huge, you might want to take a look at how to use Google Sheets and Airtable to redesign your structure. I continue that discussion with a full on walk-through of Airtable here.