A lot of my time in the last couple of weeks has been taken up with a new blog that I'm working on for work. In case you haven't realised, I am going to be a regular contributor to the website Digital Transparency. What I thought that I'd do today, is give you some general pointers on it that I've learnt along the way and things that I still need to do, to give you a good impression of what to think about when starting a blog.
Task 1 Decide which domain to use and redirect any others
Obviously one of the first things that we had to do was make sure that we had the right domain name. Whilst we owned digital-transparency.com, we didn't own digitaltransparency.com (at the time). We've since purchased the other domain name off someone who wasn't using it and was open to offers. One of the first things that you'll notice if you click on the links above is that they both resolve to the blog. That's good in a way, but really we need to make sure that one redirects to the other for the best possible SEO. We haven't done it yet, because it was a relatively recent thing and we haven't had the conversation about which we'd prefer.
Task 2 Decide which platform to use
Whilst this blog is on blogger, we went for WordPress on the other blog. When I set up this blog I didn't really know what I was doing. Almost four years later and I haven't really made many updates to templates in the background, bar the odd bit to make it a bit wider and more usable. The background is still the same one that you'll find on many blogs and the colour scheme isn't great. I don't really have many plugins going on either because this is such an archaic template they don't work that well. I could transform it into a more recent version, but it serves its purpose (you can see my posts!), I don't have any graphic design skills and I don't really have that much time.
WordPress on the other hand is a tool that is easily customisable. With a large technology company behind me I felt I would be more able to adapt that blog, especially as we want to do many more things with it than the occasional post every other week. Moreover we have our own hosting set up already (one of the advantages of blogger is that they do it for you), reducing an additional cost that you can often get. So installation was easy and set up wasn't that hard. Plus I got our technical guys to build a branded banner, so it is all looking nice.
Task 3 Make sure the post has friendly URLs
This is a much easier task and I'm glad it is something that I did right from the off. Firstly one of the problems that I've had in the past with blogs arise from situations when we've tried to move them or tried to do some more advanced SEO. Frequently what happens is that you lose all your existing urls and you have to set up a whole load of new ones. This is fine if your blog is days old, but not so fine if has an established set of links pointing to the old urls. Sure you can do some meta refreshes for those that accidentally find the old pages, bur really you want to 301 to the new urls for the benefit of the search engines.
So I've made the posts so that they have the title in the url, something that is quite simple to do in WordPress. In addition, I installed a little plugin called HeadSpace2 that allowed me to state what I wanted as the meta description of the post. This is really useful for blog posts where you don't necessarily have an 'excerpt' that makes any sense as a descriptor (the first 140 characters of this post wouldn't be very useful to the person who finds this blog through search).
Task 4 Link to Social Media
When I started this blog almost four years ago Twitter and Facebook weren't really being used for much. Now I'm active on Twitter, Google Plus and there is a Facebook page (which I do keep meaning to do something about). They could have been invaluable when I'd first started, so I've created a new Twitter persona called @digtran. I'm going for a slightly different model with this feed. I'm not going to follow anyone else. At all. Nobody. It is solely going to be a news feed of all the blog posts that are coming out.
That may sound like a crazy decision - but we already have channels to do that through Twitter. As well as virtually all of us having our own personal account, there are localised versions for the Corporate name as well (I occasionally post stuff through @adversitementuk, but Nick does that more frequently). The other thing that I have learnt from my own username on Twitter is that is has to be short - too many characters makes it difficult for retweeting - hence the short name.
We're also looking at what we do with Facebook, Google plus and Linked In. At the moment we're not quite there with these, partly because the organisation has lots of different types of facebook pages and we want to group them all together.
Task 5 Set up Analytics on the pages
Obviously I had to set up Analytics on the blog. In fact Google Analytics was probably the first thing that I put on there. We also have access to SiteCatalyst within the organisation (obviously), so I've started the process for putting that on as well.
As you can tell, I've started that process as well - I wrote a blog post about the things that I should be tracking in SiteCatalyst. However I haven't quite managed to put any of that into action yet. One of the reasons that I haven't done so yet is that there is still limited content, so it doesn't matter too much (I've been the only one to post so far). Also I haven't done anything about making sure that the cookies that tool uses are first party cookies. That is definitely a job for after we've decided which domain to use.
One question you may ask is why I can't just make do with Google Analytics. I don't have that much exciting going on that I couldn't just use it, but the rest of the company uses SiteCatalyst for all their websites and we need to make sure we can have reporting that comes through the same systems for all the websites. It also needs to be comparative - Google and Adobe both run different processing in the background which means that whilst their figures may be similar they won't be the same.
Task 6 Start Writing some posts
Having set up the blog, the next thing to do was start writing some posts. I've been doing it daily since launch and plan to continue doing that. But we have a longer term strategy for the blog, because me posting 'news' style updates isn't going to accomplish the plan of driving more business to the company.
So we have a plan for the next couple of weeks and months to start adding to the blogging people in the organisation to get to the point of between two and three posts per day on average. This should be accomplished with one blog post by me, which will be news related and another longer, more educational blog posts by the 50 odd other people who work at Adversitement. To do this it will mean that each person will have to write about a post every month. We think that this will be doable. In the long run the plan is that we'll have guest posters who will blog under their own name (for exposure for them) but on our Digital Transparency blog.
The next step in this process therefore is to start putting more profiles of users on the site and also to expose those people in a more efficient manner (a custom home page is the first step).
The start of a long road