There are many great blogging platforms to choose from, and what you pick is mostly down to personal preference.
Tumblr works well for shorter, shareable posts (and GIFs), while Medium has a strong sense of community, and Ghost enables you to customise your blog using Markdown.
However, WordPress is still a firm favourite with journalists, thanks in part to the range of themes and level of customisation it offers.
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk at yesterday's Digital Publishing Innovation Summit in New York, Chris Scott, VIP business engineer at Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, shared some tips for blogging on WordPress and other platforms.
Pick a platform that's right for you
Photojournalists might be drawn to more image-led platforms such as Tumblr, while professional posts may do well on LinkedIn's Publishing Platform. Medium, on the other hand, is especially suited to posts with an elements of personal experience.
WordPress offers two levels suitable for journalists. The free version is WordPress.com, which comes with a limited (though still plentiful) range of themes. You can customise the look of your site without writing any code, and search engine optimisation and analytics are baked in, so it scores points for ease of use.
For more control over the look of your site, WordPress.org offers a self-hosted route. You can upload your own theme and choose which plug-ins you want for extra features.
Some hosts, such as Bluehost, offer a standard package, allowing you to install WordPress on your site in just a few simple steps.
However, Scott recommends WordPress.com for newbies. "Start with WordPress.com, play around with it, test it out, see how it works, then if you need more control... you want to go WordPress.org," he said, noting that there's a service on .com where you can transfer your blog to .org.
Whatever platform you choose, Scott recommends spending a bit of time getting used to the different features.
"Get familiar with the editor, your post titles, how to use images and how to use embeds such as Twitter, YouTube and all the common sharing services," he said.
"Even if you're just doing them and posting privately for yourself to look at."
Many publishers from CNN to Quartz to Fusion use the enterprise level WordPress VIP as their content management system (CMS), so if you're already familiar with the core features it will help you to hit the ground running.
Your theme should reflect your style
For journalist blogs, it's better to opt for a clean layout which directs focus onto your stories than a busy background. Some WordPress themes have a magazine feel, while others are better-suited to video or longform posts.
Others have features to help make your posts more visible, such as SEO titles and keywords.
However, it's always best to pick a theme which works on mobile. WordPress offers a 'mobile version' for all themes, but those that are mobile-first or natively responsive have layouts which are specifically built for smaller screens.
Scott recommends journalists should "play around with switching themes and just see what still works like you expected it to" in order to get a better feel for how the platform works.
While both WordPress.com and Medium offer rudimentary site analytics, Tumblr and WordPress also offer the option to step data insights up a gear using Google Analytics.
Not only will this help you to get a better sense of metrics such as referral data and return visits, it will also give you a better idea of how newsrooms can use analytics.
"A lot of newsrooms are obviously focused on analytics," said Scott. "I think it just helps to have a basic understanding of, 'oh, these are the stats the ad ops people are looking at, or the business people are talking about' – it gives you a bigger picture of it".
Make your blog more discoverable
With most blog platforms, tags and categories not only help readers navigate your posts, but also go into the metadata to help your site be more search engine-friendly.
Both WordPress.com and self-hosted sites can be hooked up to Google Webmaster Tools so you can check if your site is getting 'crawled' by the search engine or if there are any errors.
While good search engine optimisation will help make your blog more visible in search listings, beware of 'keyword stuffing'. Scott noted the importance of using "good titles that will work for search engines and people".
If you choose to go down the self-hosted route, make sure you have a sitemap plug-in to improve search engine optimisation (SEO).
Scott also recommended interacting with other bloggers and commenting on other relevant blogs to make people more aware of your site.
Linking out to interesting posts you come across may encourage people to link back to your site as well. As a journalist, it's best to express some sort of comment or opinion on any pieces you link to rather than just posting them with no extra context.
- To find out more about building your blog and optimising your site for search, come along to one of our evening SEO essentials and Better blogging courses.
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