What is a blog?
‘Blog’ was originally short for ‘web log’, a kind of online diary. Now the line between a blog and website is blurred. Blogs can stand alone or can be a page within a website.
The key difference is that a blog is usually more informal, and more personal than a traditional website. It’s more likely to include views and opinions, likes and dislikes, but doesn't have to. Blogs tend to be updated more frequently than websites, but again that varies.
Here’s an example: I run a ‘hobby’ website called Dales Discoveries and have a blog within that on this page. Most people would just see the blog as another web page. Other people write stand-alone blogs, without other web pages.
Why write a blog?
People look for a lot of information before they make a booking or purchase. They need to feel informed, reassured, excited. Most websites offer quite basic information and usually give a business-like impression.
Visitors increasingly look for authenticity. They like insider tips and stories. They want to know what something is really like before they make a decision to book or come to you. This is one reason sites like TripAdvisor have become so popular: they give extra, informal information, and reassurance.
A blog can be similar, but there’s an important difference. You don’t have to just rely on others to write reviews, the content of which you can’t control. You can write a blog, convey your own opinions and say anything you like. That can be really liberating!
Blogs are easy to update, so you’re more likely to write them. People expect them to be informal, so they don’t have to be in perfect English or have professionally taken images.
Good reasons to write a blog
1. Search engines look for several things when deciding how to rank your website including:
2. Blogs can really help build trust and convey a stronger feeling for what you actually do. They make you seem more real to potential visitors. They add colour and perspective.
3. When big corporations use blogs, they do work so well because they still sound corporate. You have the advantage of being able to write from a more individual perspective.
4. You need to have meaningful things to say on social media – blog content helps to build social media engagement. I had a fairly dormant Dales Discoveries account on facebook which I’d barely used as Dales Discoveries is more of a hobby than client work. When I started the Dales Discoveries blog I started posting on the facebook account as I completed each blog. This takes a couple of minutes each day and traffic has steadily built. I have just 3,500 page likes but each week my facebook posts reach 20,000 – 80,000 people with a very high level of engagement.
5. A blog is your own publishing empire – available for free! You can control a whole channel of communication on a topic. You might have strong feelings about something or a strong interest in something. You can use a blog to add to a conversation or debate, and may find it also attracts media attention which enables you to do even more.
When I wrote this blog about Gary Verity and Welcome to Yorkshire, it was to get some issues off my chest and reduce my stress levels. Various newspaper journalists, radio stations and two TV channels then got in touch to ask me to write for them or do interviews. My original blog was read several thousand times. It wasn’t intended to raise my profile but that was one side effect. I also realised that it enabled me to say things publicly that others wanted me to say but didn’t dare to voice. There were times when I’m sure members of the WTY Board wanted to tell me to shut up, but they couldn’t control my blog. I’m passionate about freedom of speech and realised during that experience that a blog can be very powerful.
You don’t have to use a blog in that way. You might just want to keep a nature diary, or tell people about walks in your area, or local events. Whatever you write about, a blog can be very powerful.
How to create a blog
One of the reasons blogs are popular is because they're easy to create. You can add a blog within an existing website (my website software lets me decide if I want to create a new ‘normal’ page or a blog page so it’s really simple), or create a stand-alone blog using blogger.com or wordpress. You can also use sites like wix.com, squarespace.com and weebly.com to create a blog – they’re all cheap and simple to use.
All the blogging software is designed for some-one without technical knowhow to set up a blog instantly. If you do create a stand-alone blog, ask your developer to link to it from your website too.
Remember, your blog doesn’t have to be very polished. Just be yourself. Write from your heart rather than trying to cultivate an unnatural style. If you struggle to write naturally, just imagine speaking to someone and write down what you’d say.
It’s now really easy to use voice recognition software that converts what you say into text. I quite often ‘write’ the draft version of a blog on my phone as I wander around, using the little microphone icon. On a laptop in Microsoft Word under the ‘Edit’ button is an option to ‘Start dictation’ which works in a similar way. You’ll still have to edit it, but it’s a good way to get started if you think you can’t write or don’t like writing.
“But I don’t have time!”
You do. You might not want to spare the time, but anyone has time to write a blog. It doesn’t have to be long or a masterpiece. It might just be a paragraph with a couple of paragraphs. Or you could create a series of vlogs – video blogs which are just quick recordings you do on your phone and then upload. Vlogs aren’t quite so good for search engine optimisation but can be useful on social media if you set the right tone.
If you want to build your business, a blog can help you to do that. There’s almost certainly something you’re doing that you could stop doing or do differently to make time.
When you write a blog, you are building your website. You are creating content you can use in social media. You are creating content you can use in newsletters. You do one thing (blog), but it can be used in lots of different ways so it’s really time-effective.
How to cultivate a blogging mind-set and keep going
Once you start blogging, you’ll find you get better at it and write more quickly. Practise really does make a difference.
Many people find that regular blogging helps them get into a certain mind-set, to get into the habit of coming up with ideas, writing down notes ready for the next blog and perhaps dictating a few words on their phone. They find they start to notice things, are ready to learn more. The mind just thinks differently. I’ve certainly found this – my mind feels much more effective and less foggy since I’ve started blogging more regularly.
How often do you need to blog?
It’s entirely up to you. You might decide to do it occasionally or on a really ad hoc basis. You might decide to set yourself a challenge of doing it monthly, weekly or even daily. Regularly is best as it helps to build trust and increase website traffic and social media engagement.
On 1st January I challenged myself to blog more frequently so I wrote a blog for one of my websites. I had some time so wrote a second one on the 2nd January, and did the same on the 3rd since I was full of enthusiasm for the new year. Then I decided it needed a name so called it 365 Ways to Discover the Dales. I'm not sure why. It was only the next day when I sat down to scribble some notes, that it occurred to me that the title implied I’d write every day! I decided to try writing a daily blog, with the idea that if I got really fed up I could just re-name it 30 Ways… So while everyone else ticked off the days and commented on Dry January I wrote a blog. The fact that other people were counting down the days to the end of January helped me keep writing.
I quickly brainstormed with myself and wrote down a list of possible topics for blogs. I had 96 ideas on my list so thought I’d keep going in February. As February progressed I realised that I’d not looked at my list of ideas because I’d had extra ones. My mind seemed to have developed a mind of its own. I found (as apparently do many) that I got faster at writing, enjoyed it more and more, and new ideas just seem to pop into my mind. I feel like I’m more productive than before, not just where my blog is concerned.
I haven’t stopped doing anything else. I still work full-time in my normal business. I still have a family, house, dogs to care for, but I’ve mysteriously managed to squeeze in extra time each day. Today I wrote my 100th blog and so maybe the idea of 365 blogs isn’t so impossible after all. I’ll left you know. They’re not perfect – some will still have typos. My images (ones I take) are often rubbish, and I’ve still not got round to tagging and classifying them. But this doesn't matter too much – blogs are meant to be informal. I’ve also found I’ve been put in touch with some really wonderful people, learnt a lot and made some great connections so there have been other benefits too.
One thing I would say is really worth doing – decide how often to post and on what day and then tell people.
One reason I’ve managed to stick to my blog writing is because I feel accountable (because of the title) and because I’ve made it into a habit. The daily Dales Discoveries blog is now a habit as engrained as brushing my hair. Actually I write the blog more often than I brush my hair…
New or old content?
Perhaps you wrote something a while ago but it’s never been on a blog? Maybe you have information you’ve gathered and not fully used? It doesn't matter whether your blog content was written yesterday or a while ago – there are few rules for blogging so just add it where you think it belongs.
Final words & proof
I’m going to leave the last words for Sandra Spashett who commented in my Tourism Knowhow facebook group on a blog written by Glenda Calvert. Sandra sums up the benefits of a blog beautifully:
“Hi Glenda, Read your blog and I love it. It and you seem so honest and real-not trying to be splashy and too commercial, but in being so genuine, comes across as a great place to come to stay and be around you and your life. Your blog gives me such a sense of you, that I feel you are a friend, and even though I don't know you, I think your place would be a great place to come stay.”
Want to know more about Blogging for Tourism Businesses?
Would you like to know even more about writing a blog, get more ideas about structure, inspiration for content, learn to plan more effectively and look at how you could even make money from a blog? I’m writing a very practical e-book on Blogging for Tourism Businesses, which will be available in mid-May for £19. Email to go on the list to buy a launch copy for £17.
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs