If you have a genealogy blog, you’d probably like to increase your traffic and gain repeat readers. This article will provide key points you need to work through, along with free resources and specific action steps. The article is split into two parts, which are posted separately. This post contains the first part, which is about setting your blog up properly to attract and retain readers. The second post is about ways to let people know your blog exists. Both of these approaches are crucial if you want to drive traffic. People must find out that you exist but, once they find you, they must want to stick around.
#1: Define Your Purpose
Your blog’s purpose impacts the content you put up, the kind of layout you use, the tone you write with, and basically every aspect of your site. You need to know your site’s purpose, because you also need to make this purpose painfully obvious to a visitor within 30 seconds of arriving at your blog.
Your blog’s primary goal needs to be defined in one sentence. If you can’t describe it that succinctly, sit down and consider all the different things you currently want your website to be. Get a friend or family member to look at your site and tell you what they think it’s about.
Visitors to Kick-Ass Genealogy know immediately that the site focuses on improving your genealogy skills beyond the standard beginner tips that flood the internet. That is my blog’s raison d’etre. I quickly realized that putting up posts about my personal family history did not fit the site’s purpose — not unless I used them as examples in my how-to articles.
- Read Design Pepper’s blog post on how to find your website’s purpose.
- Sit down and write your blog’s primary purpose in one sentence. Consider:
- Are you writing about your personal family history to let your relatives know about it?
- Are you trying to connect with other researchers?
- Is the blog an exercise to improve your writing and/or genealogy skills?
- Or do you want to drive people to your business?
#2: Create Good Content
Quality content is the most effective thing you can do to bring readers to your site: provide material that is useful, unique, inspiring, or entertaining, and your site will spread by word of mouth if nothing else. If you think quality content means “excellent writing” in your high school English teacher’s sense, don’t run for the hills just yet. “Good” writing is that which gets across the right message to the right people.
Think back to the purpose of your website and, using one or two verbs, figure out what your writing is supposed to do. Explain, inspire, amuse, shock, instruct, compel, what? Figure out what your writing’s trying to evoke in your readers, and you will figure out your voice.
Make sure your main content relates to the purpose of your blog. If you are a researcher-for-hire, post highlights of some of your methodology or more unusual cases that you have solved. If you are writing for your family, post engrossing stories about your ancestors. Remember that some of your blog posts will be referred to repeatedly by new and returning visitors, so strive to make them as independent of current events, times, or locations as possible.
- Read Killer Flagship Content from Chris Garrett. (This is hidden behind a “subscribe-to-my-email-list” form, but you can use a throwaway email, then unsubscribe immediately afterward if you like.)
- Figure out the 2 or 3 verb(s) that best describe your writing’s purpose or intended outcome.
- If your blog is brand new, write down 5 blog post ideas that you feel would qualify as evergreen content. If you have an existing blog, go back over your entries and see if there is any quality content that can be pointed to more prominently. If there is nothing you feel qualifies as flagship content, see if you have any articles that can be touched up or added to to turn them into that. If not, pretend your blog is brand new and write down 5 post ideas that will act as pillars.
#3: Site Design
You need to choose your site’s colour scheme, layout, and multimedia integration. Depending on what kind of blog service you use, you will have different levels of customization available to you. Make your blog aesthetically pleasing, easy to use, and logically organized. Make sure that it looks consistent across various computer configurations.
Cover the simple things: does your text contrast with your background? Can you read the site for half an hour without your eyes watering from strain? Can you tell your links apart from your text? (The default theme for KAG had this issue.) Have you kept Flash and embedded media to a minimum, and provided a way to turn off any audio on your page? How does your site load on dial-up connections or slower computers running older browsers? A simpler site design is a boon as there are fewer complicated page placements and nested code lines to mess up.
- Visit Webpages that Suck and learn what not to do.
- Think of three or four sites you really like for their layout or design, and write down what, specifically, you like about them. It could be the colours, the effect of scrolling text across a static background image, the way links are formatted, anything. Go into your browser’s View menu and click “Show Page Source” to try to figure out how they did it.
- Once you have this list of design elements, look for ways to implement it in your own site. This might entail grabbing a free WordPress theme, learning CSS/HTML, googling “[blog service] customization”, or even paying a web designer to make the changes you want.
Make sure your navigation is simple and prominently located. I prefer to have a tob navbar, but if your pages are shorter you may find it useful at the bottom too. Make sure your navigation is easy to understand. I also have a side navbar on the right, which clearly holds some different material than the top bar. You may prefer yours on the left if you are concerned about what space on your website is “above the fold”.
When someone lands on your page, everything they can see without scrolling down or to the right is above the fold. This area can vary drastically depending on what browser, monitor size, and screen resolution your viewers are using. People will form their first impressions of your site based on what they see above the fold, so make sure it portrays the message you’re trying to get across.
When I visit KAG on my netbook, the following are above the fold: the site’s title and tagline, the navbar, RSS button, search box, About Me, half of the Topics, and the first few hundred words of the latest post plus image. This lets people see instantly what the site is about and how to navigate around it. Make sure that what you really prioritize or value on your site is above the fold! If your site is about your family history, I strongly recommend you put the surnames and locations you’re researching in this zone.
- Visit Google’s Browser Size Tool to see how drastically different the same website can look in various browsers.
- Get a friend to go to your blog’s homepage and ask them to find certain information in 15 seconds or less. Good questions include:
- Where do you subscribe to my RSS feed?
- What’s my email address?
- How long have I been doing genealogy? OR What are my credentials?
- What surnames am I researching?
- What rates do I charge?
#5: Get a Trusted Review
You can actually pay people to review your site, but I’m too much of a stingy student to do that just yet. Instead, ask someone whose opinion you value for their honest thoughts. This is just like having someone proofread your paper in college. As creators we get too close to our babies and lose the ability to determine where the wording is ambiguous, the navigation is confusing, or the layout is broken. Let your reviewers provide constructive feedback. (One of the best reviewers for KAG is my mother. She has a good eye for graphic design, layout, and messaging. The site would be a lot worse without her input!)
- There’s no reading for this step. Go grab a friend, family member, or colleague and have them point out the strengths and weaknesses of your site, and what they would change. If you feel the site merits it, hire a consultant to do a professional site review instead.
Well, that’s it for part one of the series. By now you should have a good grasp of the basics of site planning, design, and content creation. The next post will tell you how to get the word out about your blog so that people can visit!
About the Author: Katrina McQuarrie is a Gen Y genealogist who believes in making family history more accessible to non-nerds and young people. She runs a genealogy blog of her own called Kick-Ass Genealogy.
© 2010, copyright Katrina McQuarrie