Fresh Start 2019: 11 Easy Ways to Refresh Your Website

With apologies to the queen of decluttering, Marie Kondo, “Does your blog or website make you happy?” Does it excite you to read it or post to it? Or does it feel stale and uninspiring?

Maybe it’s time to declutter your website?

It can be easy to overlook your website or blog once it’s up and running. But like anything else, it can quickly turn boring. And if it’s boring to you, imagine how your readers feel about it. If you don’t feel excited about your own site, you’ll put in less effort to make it so with good, relevant content.

Another fresh start to 2019 (I promise, this is the last one) is looking at ways to freshen up your website. Here are a few ideas that can help give your blog a new lease on life.

1. Update your bio. When was the last time you reviewed your About Me page on your website? Does it still give readers a realistic view of who you are? If it’s a bit thin, think about adding more details about your experience, either as a writer and blogger or as someone with specialized knowledge and expertise. Have you published any pertinent articles, taken an exotic vacation recently, or completed relevant education that would add to your credibility? Add that information to your bio. Your professional development doesn’t stand still, so neither should your professional profile on your site. With every new life experience, education course, or job change, review and update your bio. In fact, I recommend reviewing your bio at least once or twice a year, just as you would your resume.

2. Update the Resources page. A helpful tool for your readers is a list of resources related to your blog topic. A separate page with resources can include links to other websites and blogs, organizations you support, publications, and downloadable materials that may benefit your readers. Double check the links at least one or twice a year to make sure they are still active. If you don’t already have a resources page, consider adding one to your site. When you share resources on your site, it positions you as an expert just as if you had created those resources yourself.

3. Update site images. Be honest with yourself. When was the last time you updated images on your website or blog. If you’ve had the same images since the day the site went live and that was more than three or four years ago, consider replacing with new photos. Either take your own photos (make sure they’re high quality) or use one of the free image sites like Pixabay or Flickr. Be sure to give credit to the source of any photo you use that isn’t your own.

4. Change the layout. If you’re bored with your site, maybe it’s the layout that needs updating. If you’ve used the same layout on your site since day one, consider changing it up. What I like about WordPress is the numerous themes they offer, and new ones are being added all the time. Maybe you still like the theme but use a slightly different layout, like two-column instead of one-column. Test out different themes and layouts to see which ones look best. You may find after testing them that you like what you have. That’s okay. At least you made an educated and informed decision.

5. Update your color scheme.
Maybe the color scheme has gotten stale, or it no longer appeals to your sense of artistic integrity. Maybe it comes across too somber when what you really want is something more cheerful, or conversely, maybe it comes across as juvenile or immature when you want your readers to see you as more mature and professional. You want a color scheme to reflect your site’s topic and appeal to your readers at the same time. If your color scheme isn’t working for you, test out new combinations. A new color scheme can breathe new life into a tired-looking site.

6. Add more video. Experts say video is key component to your website content. They have a sticky quality to them because they encourage visitors to linger longer on your site. Video is especially valuable for teaching purposes. Think demonstration of yoga poses, how to use carpentry tools, or cook a meal.

7. Interview experts. If you’re tired of writing the same types of stories or you run out of ideas, consider doing interviews. To start, stick with a few brief questions, like five questions. Seek out people who have expertise in your selected topic. For example, if you write about outdoor adventures, consider interviewing a biking enthusiast who just completed a 100-mile trek, or the leader of an adventure travel group. Five easy questions can make an easy-to-write post into an interesting-to-read story.

8. Write a book or movie review. Read any good books lately? See any great films? Book and movie reviews are another way to add strong relevant content to your site. They’re also helpful for stirring up discussion and debate.

9. Conduct surveys and post the results. Want to know what your readers think about a particular topic? Just ask them. Set up a survey on a site like Survey Monkey, then link to the survey from your blog or website. Once you compile the results, be sure to share them with your readers. For example, a movie fan website might do a survey about the Academy Award nominations. Surveys are a great way to generate more interactivity with your readers.

10. Invite guest posts. If you’re connected to other bloggers or experts, consider inviting them to write a guest post for your blog. This approach is especially helpful if you plan to be out of town for vacation and won’t have time to contribute articles to your blog. It’s also helpful if you simply run out of creative ideas. Having guest posts can expand your audience to include the guest blogger’s readers as well as your own.

11. Write how-to articles. We live in a continuous learning society, and readers are always looking for easier ways to get things done in an easy-to-read format. How-to articles are a great way to showcase your expertise, especially if you can clearly explain complex subjects.

A site that looks and feels stale won’t inspire confidence in you or your readers. Any one or combination of these ideas can make your site more interesting and reader-friendly.

 

Fresh Start 2019: Better Content Planning for Your Blog

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Photo courtesy of Hubspot

If your goal for the New Year is to launch a new blog or refresh the one you already have, an easy place to start is with content, namely story selection. It can be a challenge knowing what to write about as you stare at a blank page or computer screen.

If you’re constantly wracking your brain for story ideas, it could be that you haven’t planned your content ahead of time. Any successful blogger can tell you that having good content and posting frequently are keys to attracting and keeping readers. A content plan (what I sometimes refer to as an editorial plan) can help you develop your story ideas before you begin to write them and schedule them over the coming weeks and months. Having a content plan helps you sort through all your story ideas by theme and by month, while giving you some flexibility to add stories as news breaks that is worth following.

The blog planning tool I use is very simple and straightforward. It consists of three columns: the topic, keywords and date posted. (See image below for sample form.) You might be able to find similar planners online or adapt one for your own use. Make sure there are enough rows to write down your list of stories.

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Here’s how the blog content planner works:

1. Begin brainstorming story ideas. Think of as many as you can related to your blog’s central theme and jot them down on a blank sheet of paper or your laptop. For example, if your blog is about budget-friendly travel tips, you might come up with stories such as using Groupon to plan tours and visit restaurants, cheaper alternatives to hotels, and cheap or free things to do at your destination.

If you struggle to think of story ideas, have a friend help you. Sometimes they may think of angles you had not considered. It might also be helpful to keep a file of news stories that may be worth covering on your blog.

2. Assign each story to a category.
As you complete your list of story idea, you may notice common themes developing. For example, you may notice six stories about tours and sightseeing trips and a few others related to overnight accommodations. In the space next to the story idea, write the theme or category. Most if not all of your stories will fall into one or two categories.

3. Jot down categorized stories on the planning worksheet. For every story categorized under tours and sightseeing, for example, write them down under the topic heading on your planner. In the line that says theme, fill in the blank with your category (Tours and sightseeing trips). Each category will have its own page, so you will want to have multiple copies of the planning worksheet. One sheet will be story ideas related to overnight accommodations, another for cheap eats on the road, and a third for tours and sightseeing, and so on.

You may only have five or six story ideas per category. That’s okay. You can add to the list as you think of more stories.

4. Determine which month your stories will be posted. For example, you might post a series of stories about springtime weekend getaways that would be ideally suited for posting in March or April, while stories about staycations might be a good choice for late fall or winter. My theme for January is “Fresh starts and new beginnings,” so my stories have that theme. February will have a different theme and my story selection will reflect this new theme.

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5. Keep to a schedule.
As you post a story, enter the date in your blog planner. Most important, set a schedule of posting and stick to it. Write regularly and consistently. That way your readers will know when to expect to see updates to your blog. Consistency is key to driving readers to your site.

A blog planning worksheet can simplify your thought process and save you a lot of time down the road. Once you’ve done the brainstorming and assigned categories to each story, the hard work is over. Planning content around a monthly theme means you don’t have to scramble looking for ideas. It’s especially helpful when you’re pressed for time because you don’t have to think about what your next story will be. Just refer to your blog planner for your selection of stories. Then begin writing.

Tips for Naming Your Blog

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Last week, in my post Six Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business Blog, I wrote about how to determine whether a blog is right for your business. The next step is coming up with a name that best captures the focus of your blog business.

But coming up with a name for your blog or website can be an arduous task. So many names to choose from, so many URLs available.

But I found as I went through this process, that not every name available was suitable for my business, and the names I really wanted had already been taken. I had to get creative to generate a blog name that best reflected who I was and what I offered to the business community. I also had to keep in mind my own personal brand. How did I want clients and colleagues to see me?

For many business owners and entrepreneurs, their full name is their brand, like J.K Rowling or Derrick Rose. In most cases, the full given birth name works because it’s short, snappy and memorable.

But other names are not. I did not think my given name was memorable or snappy enough to use for my blog. I also had a potential dilemma with my last name – Ludes – which has alternative connotations that I did not want associated with my writing business. (Ludes is the nickname for a drug called Quaaludes, a sedative and hypnotic drug. Its official name is Methaqualone.) Naturally, I did not want my writing business associated with a drug. It is not how I want clients and colleagues to remember me.

An alternative is to use initials or a different form of your name. It’s a way of personalizing your blog without revealing your full name. For example, Regal is an abbreviated version of my full name – Regina Ann Ludes. It made sense to use an abbreviated version to create my brand identity. It captures the essence of my personality and matches my ability to communicate with tact, diplomacy and integrity in the business world, just as any member of royalty might.

This naming process also helped me define the focus of my blog – to write stories identifying situations that demonstrate proper use of communication tools and strategies, to show what works and what doesn’t. How you and I communicate is an extension of our personal brand. When you communicate well, you present yourself well. How I write also speaks about my personal brand.

A third option is to create a name that defines the purpose of your blog or website business. For example, writer Carol Tice created a blog devoted to sharing tips and advice for writers called Make a Living Writing (www.makealivingwriting.com). Although she also has her personal website that promotes her own writing business too (www.CarolTice.com).

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when creating a name for your blog or business.

Determine your brand identity. How do you want people to remember you? Is there a quality about you that stands out – a phrase you use, a piece of clothing, a unique name? Ask friends, colleagues and family members what they think of when thinking of you or talking about you. They are in the best position to know how you stand out. Their responses can help you pinpoint the strengths that you want to emphasize in your blog name.

For example, perhaps they see you as a passionate person, someone who cares deeply about certain issues, like animals, women’s rights or the environment. Consider using the word ‘passion’ as part of your brand identity, then use it as your blog title.

Make a list of possible names. Play around with variations of your key word or phrase, and make a list of them. Then do a Googe search of these names and variations to see which ones have been used already. Check out the availability of the URL on sites like Go Daddy or Register.com. Test out different names with your family and friends and get feedback from them. Which one works best for your blog or website? Does the name accurately reflect what you do and who you are?

Be clear about your business focus. Choose a name that matches that focus. I almost chose Regal Ink as a blog name. But when I searched URLs, Register.com offered an alternative name, Regal Tattoo. Apparently, my initial desire to use Ink as a symbol for my writing business may be better suited for a tattoo parlor – not the impression I wanted to give. So I scrapped that idea.

Consider the cost of the URL. Most URLs are inexpensive, less than $10. But some words are determined to be more popular and sought-after. The word Regal fell into that category. For some URLs, I’d have to pay nearly $2,500 to use it for my business. No name is worth that much money. So I was forced to find another alternative, like hyphenating the URL or adding the word “the” before my blog name.

However you go about identifying your blog name, remember that it should be unique and easy to remember. A well-crafted blog or website name is key to marketing your services to others. Make sure the name you choose accurately reflects who you are and what you have to offer clients.

Six Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business Blog

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Does your business really need a blog?

Whether you manage a start-up or have worked at a small business for a while, you might wonder whether a blog will help your business grow. One of the biggest mistakes many business owners and managers make is assuming that they need to be on every social media platform and have a blog in order for their business to succeed. But that may not be the case. I know plenty of small businesses that are successful, and they became successful without having a blog.

For example, my accountant and her business partner have been in business together for nearly 20 years. Their business is thriving. They don’t have a blog and they don’t need one because they provide good service to their clients. They built their clientele the old-fashioned way – word of mouth advertising. Good service always breeds repeat and referral business – with or without a blog.

Granted, there are plenty of reasons to have a blog. Small businesses with blogs generate 126 percent more leads than businesses that don’t have a blog, according to Social Media Today. (Check out their awesome infographic about blogging.) Also, 81 percent of consumers trust the advice and information from blogs, and 61 percent of consumers made a purchase based on a blog post. Think of a blog as one more tool in your arsenal to market yourself. It’s the cherry on top of your banana split.

But deciding whether to have a blog often depends on two main things: what type of business you operate, and who your clients are. For example,  not-for-profit groups can benefit from a blog as a way to build community support for their cause. Likewise, it’s important for associations to keep a blog to keep its members informed of industry news and association events. While it’s important for a business start up to have some sort of online presence, a blog may not be the most important concern for the short term. Business owners have many decisions to make; whether to start a blog should not be one of them. Focus instead on providing good customer service, and clients will reward you with follow up business.

Before starting a blog for your business or group, here are a few key questions you should ask yourself to decide if having one is worth your while.

1. Do you have the time to devote to it?

Blogging takes a lot of time. Writing one story can take up to three or four hours, especially if you do a lot of research for it. Multiply that time by three to five times per week, or whatever number of weekly posts you strive for, and you can see how easily the work load can pile up, just for your blog. That can take a huge chunk of time away from managing other aspects of your business.

To have any impact, your blog must be updated frequently with good, valuable content. For example, I commit to posting to my blog twice a week. Other businesses I know post at least once or twice a day, while smaller businesses might only post once or twice a week. As long as you post regularly, your readers will learn to expect it from you. Any sudden absence of posts and your readers will wonder where you are. If you cannot commit to working on your blog on a consistent basis, your clients may wonder how committed you are to them.

Bottom line: if you don’t have the time to commit to writing regularly to your blog, then you may be better off without one. Of course, if you still desire to have a blog but don’t have time to work on it, the best solution is to hire someone to manage it for you. Be sure they are good, experienced writers who understand your business and are available to prepare stories on a regular basis. Be prepared to pay them well for their time.

2. What kind of business are you in?

Some businesses are better suited for a blog than others. But I know plenty of small businesses that are successful on their own, and they don’t have a blog. Their success comes from building strong relationships with their clients. Dental offices, accountants, attorneys, and other service professionals usually succeed without a blog, while not-for-profit groups and associations who want to stay in touch with their members or promote their cause can benefit.

3. Why do you want to have a blog for your business?

Are you trying to sell a product or service, demonstrate your knowledge and expertise, or attract new clients? Be clear about your goals. If you want a blog just because you think you should or because your techie nephew says you should, then you may be better off not having one for the time being. If you don’t know why you are doing it, your blog will lack focus and you will quickly lose interest in it.

4. Who is your audience?

Knowing who your clients and customers are and why they do business with you is key to understanding whether or not they will read your blog. Are they reading it because they like the content you are sharing? My accountant doesn’t have the time or the inclination to write a blog for her business. She doesn’t need to because she knows her audience well enough to know that they will keep coming back to her for her service and expertise, not because of a blog.

5. Do you have specific expertise or perspective that other professionals in your industry do not have?

Clearly, if this is the case, you might want to invest the time and energy to manage a blog. However, if you have nothing unique to share, it will be more difficult to come up with compelling content for your blog that sets you apart from competitors.

6. How comfortable are you with writing, and are you good at it?

Let’s face it, many folks just don’t have good writing skills. You could have the best ideas for stories inside your head but if you don’t write well, those ideas will come across as inarticulate and confusing. You could hire a professional writer to translate your ideas, but be sure that the writer has industry knowledge and is able to grasp the concepts you are trying to convey.

Experts say 95 percent of blogs are abandoned after only 120 days. There is nothing more frustrating than visiting a blog that hasn’t been updated in several months. If your blog looks neglected, what does that say about the way you handle your business? Will your clients feel neglected too?

While having a blog can help you attract new clients and showcase your knowledge and expertise, it is not a requirement for success. If anything, it’s a luxury. If you can’t do a blog right – post consistently and provide meaningful, valuable content for your readers – then you are probably better off not doing one at all.