The Stacklist Guide: Blogging Tools 101

The mighty blog. If you’re an online business, you probably understand the power of content in driving organic traffic to your site. Ergo, you’re probably already actively blogging or planning the launch of your blog.

That’s awesome. We want to help.
 
As we blog regularly here at Stacklist, we thought we would write down some of the key mechanics to writing a good blog post. While we don’t focus on style and prose, we go into the details of how to produce a successful blog post from picking your platform through distribution. Take a look below.

Hosting Your Blog
One of the most important aspects of blogging is picking your platform. A big part of choosing the right platform is thinking about the mechanics you need as well as the technical requirements your team can support. Some things to look at in a platform include price, flexibility, and ease of use. We’ve outlined some of the major platforms below that you should check out.

Zendrive’s Pankaj Risbood says WordPress is great when you need your blog to be “more branded and easy to customize” than other platforms, such as Tumblr. WordPress is the leader among startups when it comes to blogging - with 21% of startups using it. WordPress starts out free, but costs more to customize. However, their vast library of free and low-cost themes makes it easy for companies to create a branded, well-designed blog without the cost of customization. One of WordPress’ biggest perks is that it’s open source, so startups benefit from ongoing apps, widgets, and other innovations created by the WordPress developer community. A warning though - because WordPress is self-hosted software, you need to keep the software up to date; otherwise, hacks are a real risk.

Medium is intuitive, simple, fantastic, and forces you to not go crazy,” says Companion Maids’ Donald Spann. Medium is a great option to reach a very large audience, and it is also free. While it’s thought of as more of a distribution platform than a blog host platform, one great feature of Medium is that you can create a custom domain. One thing to note is that Medium is very rigid about design; as aforementioned, Spann, like many, feels this is a useful constraint, but others might want more flexibility to match their blog aesthetic to the rest of their site.

Ghost is one of the newer platforms on the scene. We’ve heard rave reviews from founders that the software is “lightweight” and “fantastic.” The thing that all of these founders have in common is that they are technical or they have a developer on the team. For others, Ghost is more challenging. The split-screen editor allows you to see how the post looks on the back and front end. You can also collaborate with your entire team. “We’ve just started using Ghost, and the design is clean, the UX is great, and you can customize it as much as you want,” says Gorgias’ Co-founder and CEO, Romain Lapeyer. Ghost is more expensive than other options, with a personal account costing $19/month.

Besides the above, many other CMSs offer blog hosting solutions. For example, Shopify, known for being an ecommerce CMS and storefront, has a perfectly functional blog that comes ready in the Shopify theme you choose. SquarespaceWixWeebly, and other robust CMSs also make it easy to install a blog on your site.

SEO
SEO is probably the #1 reason you have decided to cultivate blog content, so it’s important to get it right. When thinking about SEO, you first want to identify your target audience. It’s knowing the audience, their interests, and what they’re searching for that will help you not only produce valuable content, but optimize for the right SEO factors. Some of the factors you’ll be considering as you hone SEO:
  • Optimizing for search terms and keywords
  • Understanding trends
  • Crafting compelling titles that reflect the content of the piece
  • Tagging
  • Monitoring organic traffic

While Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools remain the industry standards for understanding what’s happening on your site, many other tools have evolved to help small businesses thrive in the content world.
  • If you are a larger company, Moz could be a good choice for you. Moz will enable you to track your keywords and find out which pages are performing best.
  • For smaller companies, Positionly tells you how to gain more traffic and improve your rankings.
  • Yoast is a great tool to optimize your website through plugins and addons. They also will review your website and tell you how you can be better.
  • Upflow can help you provide content that your users want to see. Content suggested by Upflow has 3-5x higher engagement rates than the industry average.
  • WebCEO will perform automated rank tracking, keyword research and SEO audits.
  • SpyFu helps you spy on your competitors and their audience, using their search marketing secret formula. You can use their working strategies on your site!

Writing
If you're just getting started it makes sense for someone on the team to do the first few blog posts while you find your groove. For ongoing blog content and maintenance, you might decide to look outside your team. With so many great talent marketplaces out there, it's easier than ever to find a good fit for your needs - from cost to experience to writing skills.

Upwork is great if you are looking for a freelance author. Plus, it’s free for the company. If you don’t want to bring someone on full-time or are looking to test someone out, Upwork is a very good option as you can draw from a deep pool of talent.

Ed2010 is a networking and mentoring organization that helps the next generation of editors and writers break into the magazine media industry, including online media. If you’re looking for someone to specifically write content or engage in social media management, then this is a good pool of talent to select from.

If you are looking for a student writer or someone to work on the cheap, then Facebook groups, WayUp, and college boards are a good place to start. It’s an easy way to find people in journalism programs or that have written for school papers. While it’s not professional writing necessarily, if you’re looking for a blogger, a millennial could be perfect for you.

Collaborating
Your writing should never go out without someone else at least glancing at it. Editing is what polishes and perfects writing, and a second set of eyes is often necessary.

Google Drive allows you to easily share your documents with others, which they can then edit in real time. Quip is focused on teams and working more efficiently, so you can have everyone’s opinion. It also keeps track of who added what, so you can give credit where credit is due. A more unusual tool to use in terms of project management, but one we would recommend is Trello. It is a great option to make sure you are progressing through your piece and completing every step.

Finishing Touches
Let’s talk flourish, people. Sometimes you need to spruce up your posts with gifs or to tighten up the writing. These finishing touches are used to make a compelling piece that keeps the reader engaged.

A picture is worth 1,000 words, so what does that make a gif? Giphy is a great tool to keep some levity in your post. If your writing is too dry, a gif can be a method to keep your reader happy and wanting more.

Grammarly makes sure everything you type is easy to read, effective, and mistake-free. If you struggle with grammar or readability, Grammarly could help you fix these problems and fix your writing.

The Hemingway App makes sure that your writing is concise and to the point. The app is a text editor that makes sure readers will focus on your message, not your prose, by marking the use of passive voice, adverbs, and other elements that weaken writing.

Infographics are a synthesis of words and images, making both more easily digestible. No tool is better for creating them than Canva. Canva makes graphic design amazingly simple for everyone, by bringing together a drag-and-drop design tool with a library of more than 1 million stock photographs, graphic elements and fonts. Very recently, Canva announced a new iPhone app for making it easier than ever to create beautiful designs!

Distribution
Now that you’ve written your piece, you need to disseminate it, so people can read it and check out your site.

Social media is the first go-to because it connects you directly with your following. Twitter is great for delivering excerpts of your piece in snippets. Facebook is better for posting longer content. Quora is directed towards the business community and is useful if you are targeting that market.

Sending out a newsletter is an effective method of distributing multiple pieces of content to your audience. We recommend MailChimp for building and sending your newsletter.

Commenting on similar pieces and external forums gives interested readers answers to their questions and alternative resources. Medium and Reddit are great forums for contacting potential readers.

Final Thoughts
Blogging is a great way to boost traffic, but only if done well; the time-cost downside is massive. If you follow the steps outlined above, you should find yourself with a productive blog that engages your readers and drives them back to your site.