Whether you are writing about food, cars or mental health, an online blog can document your life, increase your knowledge or even earn you a living. Personal blogs can be a therapeutic outlet for emotions, a platform for raising awareness or a home for sharing your passion. Businesses use blogs to share industry news, support their brand values and improve their inbound marketing efforts. But what is the point of creating all this data if no-one ever reads it? The amount of content being created is exploding and more data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race.
Having a blog is simply not enough anymore! Google Analytics is now installed on the majority of websites and it knows what traffic you get and how people engage with your content. It doesn’t matter if your aim is to build awareness, engagement, increase sales or improve your rankings, if you don’t have an audience, you will not achieve your goal.
I take a look at what it takes to create an award-winning blog, drawing from both my own experience of receiving an award at the 2017 UK Blog Awards and being a finalist in the 2018 awards. It also draws on the experience of various award-winning bloggers to find out what moved their content from perfectly passable to award-winning.
This article does not provide detail on setting up a blog or blogging basics but instead looks at improving existing blogs and achieving their full potential.
First, It’s All About Passion
Blogging requires hard-work, consistency and above all, passion. Bloggers spend hours researching, writing, refining and marketing their content, and if you don’t enjoy the work, it will come across in your writing. Blogs that act as ‘SEO content farms’ stand out a mile away as they appear to be contain rushed, link-filled content created to appease Google’s algorithm and nothing else. If you have a passion, then share it. What can start as a hobbyist blog can quickly grow into a hub of information and opinion valued by many. Bloggers are just one type of digital influencer, and whilst the core focus is on the written word, a multitude of bloggers also take high-quality photos (of their food, location, clothes etc.), as well as use their blog posts as vehicles for their video content on YouTube.
“You seriously have to have a passion for what you’re doing – either the subject or the medium, preferably both. If you don’t have that, then all the hours spent on content and the other million and one things to do with the blog won’t be enjoyable. Know why you’re doing it, understand what your blog is about, and try to understand your audience too.”
Andrew & Emily | Along Dusty Roads | Award Winning Travel Blog
Categorise & Refine Your Content
Most blog awards are divided into distinct categories. Whilst it is tempting to write about the breadth of your experiences, spreading your content too thin can make it difficult for both visitors and judges to definitively categorise your blog. Many top bloggers prefer to straddle two categories, which might include fashion and beauty, travel and lifestyle or software and technology. Having focused content reassures returning visitors that the content they see, will be in a niche they are familiar with. A clear focus also makes it easier for you to make strategic partnerships with other bloggers, influencers and commercial sponsorships. If brands can clearly define your style, and market potential, they will have increased confidence in partnering with you.
“We write in-depth destination guides with our hard-earned advice and curated photography, and those are always consistently popular alongside our travel thought pieces.”
Andrew & Emily | Along Dusty Roads | Award Winning Travel Blog
Choose The Best Award For Your Blog
A crucial and rather obvious step in becoming an award-winning blog is to know which blog awards to enter. Ultimately, you have to be in it to win it. The three main events that cover multiple categories include The UK Blog Awards in spring, the Blogosphere Awards in the summer and the Vuelio Blog Awards in autumn. These are black tie events in London with fantastic networking opportunities in addition to the most respected accolades. Entering these should be your first port of call, however, there are a number of smaller awards that are specific to particular niches such as parenting, travel and health.
“Once I got my content to a consistent quality, I felt ready to submit it to the U.K. Blog Awards and asked my readers to support me. The feedback was truly humbling.”
Ian Garstang | Gaming Debugged | Award Winning Gaming Blog
Here are some potential awards:
Plan Ahead and Maintain Discipline
With main events landing quarterly and numerous niche events happening in May, it’s important to set your goals, understand your timeframes and plan out your content calendar. Writing “when you’re in the mood” is no longer an option, as frequency, consistency and passion will push your content forward. Just as a boxer preparing for a title fight might keep a consistent level of fitness throughout the year, but increase his or her training months before the main event, so too, must a writer be aware of when to maintain, when to improve and when to accelerate.
“Consistency is key. How often can you realistically post? Stick to that schedule. Once a month consistently is better than twice a week for two weeks then nothing. Also, write about the things you’re genuinely interested in and you’ll find others share your views. It’s always very obvious if someone isn’t genuinely enthused!”
Katie Wignall | Lookup London | Arts & Culture Award Winner
Be Mindful of Your Goal and Timeframes
The goal may be to enter the blog awards in nine months and have a strong user-base to call upon for votes. As such, in ten months, your content must be judge-worthy. It goes without saying that you need to know the entrance date for each award, but it is useful to add the judging dates to your calendar to be sure they are seeing your highest quality work. However, even new blogs stand a chance of winning awards, if they can demonstrate a blogger’s passion and have content that an audience can connect with.
“’I won the UK Blog Awards 6 months after launching my blog. Never let being new put you off. If you’re creating quality content that people want to read, time means nothing.”
Gemma Scopes | howtomakefriends.co.uk | Award Winning Health Blog
Avoid The Grammar Police
Nothing puts off a judge quicker than poor grammar and spelling mistakes. One of the fastest ways to turn off readers (and later judges) is to publish unproofed work. Be sure to read every post before hitting that publish button and ask friends and family to check random posts to see how they can be improved. When converting blog posts to YouTube videos, I have often found that simply reading the post out loud helps me find issues with sentence structure and clarity. Using simple tools such as Grammarly or plugins such as Proofreading can highlight errors before your blog is read by another person.
“Good writing and decent grammar are very important. My blog was transformed the moment I realised this. We don’t need to be Dostoyevsky, but if we use Word or other tools, then we can all achieve a decent standard. Bad writing is distracting for the reader.”
David Ridgen | Incidental Naturalist | Top 50 Nature Blogger
Establish a Content Calendar
Whilst most experienced bloggers know the advantages of a content calendar, it is still not always used. A ‘maintained’ blog can happily tread water, producing an average of two posts per week, but these early days can be used to create future content for the heady days ahead. Two posts a week for nine months is 72 pieces of content. If you intend to double this a month before the voting starts and sustain it throughout the voting period, you will need around 96 posts. A well-maintained content calendar will not only house your content ideas and keep your content up-to-date but also allow you to create additional content to be used in future months. This will lighten the load when it comes to the final push.
When looking at the content calendar for market-leading content creators such as Redbull and Disney, with teams of people behind the scenes, we can see that they produce between seven and twelve blog posts per day. However, the same research revealed that clothing company ModCloth and Amazon-backed Whole Foods produce only two blogs per week. So, there is hope for us smaller blogs. Quality over quantity will always prevail.
The same content calendar can be used to manage your social media posts, so you can keep related tweets and messages alongside key blog posts. If you move the date of an article, you can move the associated social media posts at the same time, which keeps everything nicely aligned. This also brings us into more detail regarding social media.
Schedule Social Media Posts (Where Appropriate)
Social media management and community building can be a full-time job, so it’s smart to automate and schedule some of your social media activity. Online software such as Later and Buffer allows you to prepare a series of tweets and posts and schedule them to go out when your audience is online. The analytics on Buffer also allows you to see which posts are most popular, so you can reschedule them for later dates. Similarly, live posts can be sent on multiple social media channels using IFTTT (if that, then this), which can take your Instagram post and post it as a native Twitter photo and tweet. IFTTT has a multitude of recipes, which link various apps together, allowing you to auto-respond to new followers to adding photos to a Google Drive.
Having the ability to schedule posts at certain times of the day is a fantastic opportunity to really think about your audience and set your posts to go out at the best times of the day for them.
“I think people know I update it at least every week and I’m very active on social media, daily sharing across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The newsletter also helps keep it in readers’ minds.”
Katie Wignall | Lookup London | Arts & Culture Award Winner
Don’t Forget to Be Natural
Scheduling is a great way to re-post your best content and post during popular times (such as #BlogHour). However, don’t forget to post naturally as well, to be sure that you are responding to comments, likes and questions. If people believe there is a real person behind the avatar, they are more likely to engage with you.
Who You Know Is (Sometimes) Important
Whilst there are awards rumoured to have been tainted by winners who ‘bought the most tickets or seats,’ blog awards are based on community and influence, rather than ticket sales – making them very credible and trustworthy. During my time preparing for awards, I saw first-hand the power of building relationships with others in the blog community. If enough industry peers are positive about your work, it can help increase support for your cause and improve your chance of success.
“’Social media groups, blogger meetups and events are all a fantastic way of meeting like-minded people. It’s great to get inspiration from others but important to not get confused by too many opinions. Trust your gut instinct and create the content you love and are passionate about.”
Gemma Scopes | How to Make Friends | UK Blog Award Winner 2018
Enter Anyway & Don’t Worry
Just as a marathon helps runners become goal focused enough to operate around a consistent training schedule, so does entering your blog in for an award. Striving to create award-winning content on a regular basis can only improve your blog for the better. Even if you don’t win on the night, you’ll know that your content is better for raising your standards. Whether your blog is a hobby project, emotional outlet or additional business channel, taking your content seriously and giving it clear direction will always make you a winner in your audience’s eyes.
“Just give it a go. When I first started 16-Bit Dad, it was under a different name and focused entirely on Digital Marketing. That didn’t work out, because I lost interest… So I rebranded and refocused, and now I couldn’t be happier. But that first iteration failed miserably. Don’t be afraid of not getting it right on the first try, and just start writing.”
Gareth Torrance | 16 Bit Dad | Technology Blog Award Winner