You know that a blog could help your association enhance your online presence and keep members informed, but getting started is can be overwhelming. There are so many things to consider – it can feel like just too much work.
What if starting your blog doesn’t have to be complicated? Today, there are many helpful tools like our Squarespace Membership Plugin that can streamline your experience and provide everything you and your members need to build your online presence.
How Can a Blog Help an Association?
It’s a myth that you need to be an expert writer or tech-savvy genius to create a successful blog. For some people, that may be true, but for an association with a clear message, it’s not necessary.
Blogs give you a voice online. You can share your association’s story, recognize members of your community and even grow your membership. Creating a blog could be a critical step in your association’s growth.
Putting off blog creation for your association is a mistake that could mean lost opportunities.We’ve put together a simple guide so you can learn how to start a blog for your association in a few simple steps.
Step 1: Choose Your Blog Name
Picking a name for your blog can be challenging. Of course if you’re creating a branded blog and simply using your association’s name, then this won’t be an issue. However, if you’re looking to create a special blog name, you may want to choose something that speaks to your mission and message. Try something short, catchy, and consistent with what you do as a group. It’s a good idea to consider what keywords you’d like to be associated with as well. You could potentially work your top keyword phrase into your blog name to help those using search engines find your blog.
If you really can’t come up with a solid blog name, try using a blog name generator. There are several available that can even give you a list of open domains, like Themeisle. All you have to do is type in a keyword, and the name generator provides you with a list of suggested options.
Step 2: Decide on a Blog Platform
Once you decide on a name for your blog, you need to find a place to host it. If you already have a website, that’s easy enough to decide because most content management systems make it easy to add a blog. For those associations just starting out or working with a less-than-optimal website, it may be time to explore your options. It’s a good idea to choose a platform like WordPress, SquareSpace or Without Code that are user-friendly and offer blog features or plugins.
Find the perfect template or theme
Depending on your platform, there are unique templates and themes available to customize your blog’s look. Note that some templates and themes allow for more customizations than others. Here are some tips to help you through this step:
- Experiment with different layouts before pushing your blog live.
- Choose a theme that coordinates with your association’s colors, logo and other materials to create a cohesive feel.
- If you aren’t tech-savvy and can’t afford a designer or developer, try a simpler layout that’s intuitive.
- Choose a responsive theme that translates well to mobile devices. Most of the time that’s a given these days, but there are some older themes out there which are not responsive.
Plugins do a lot for your blog, including helping you with SEO and managing event calendars. There are plugins for almost anything you need, but you may want to start with some of these if you are blogging:
- Akismet fights spam comments that detract from your blog.
- Yoast helps you optimize your blog content to improve your rank in search results.
- Squarespace Membership Plugin allows you to restrict content to members only and offers other features like sign-up forms, event calendars, and member directories. Building a members only blog on Squarespace creates another valuable member benefit if your content is well-researched and offers insights your members won’t find elsewhere.
Set up Google Analytics
Since you want to use the blog to engage people, it’s helpful to track views. Google Analytics is a must-have for any blog because it’s a one stop shop. Not only do you get an account for free, but it’s also easy to set up and install the code on your blog. Once you set up Google Analytics, focus on other to dos for a bit because it takes time to see results. That said, it’s important to do the initial setup before you start publishing content to develop a clear picture of your page views and bounces.
Review Google Search Console
Google provides helpful tools for bloggers. Establish your free Google Search Console (GSC) account to keep your site available for Google’s web crawlers. It’s easy to use and helps with long-term growth. Using this tool can help you learn what blog content is the most popular and what keywords you are ranking for in Google search results. You can use this data to:
- Craft stronger headlines that contain your most sought-after keyword terms
- Generate topics for your blog’s editorial calendar based upon keywords you perhaps hadn’t thought of before
- Strategize on how to get higher placement in the search results for keyword phrases that are important to your association.
Step 3: Create the Standard Pages
Every blog needs a few basic pages as the foundation for everything else. Most associations already have most of the information in some form, but it’s important to provide certain elements before you publish a single post.
The “About” page
Who are you, and what do you do? The “About” page is your time to shine, and it’s often the first place visitors travel if they’re curious about your association or its blog. Make it fun and engaging with a call to join and a link to your member sign-up form. You can include a list of blog authors there. If you’re using WordPress, check out plugins that can automatically generate an author list along with their pictures and bios.
“Contact Us” page
If somebody wants to join your association, ask a question, or contribute to your cause, they need to know how to reach you. Create a special “contact us” page with a dedicated email, contact form, and any other methods to reach you.
Disclosure, privacy, and comment policies
Yes, it’s boring, but depending on how your association plans to use the blog, you need to include some standard policies. For example, if you hope to advertise, many programs, including Google Adsense, require standard disclosures.
Step 4: Cultivate Valuable Content
Blogs exist to provide content, so this is the most important part of the process. It helps to take time creating content before publishing your blog for the world to see. As you’ll see, some best practices can make the entire process much easier in the long run.
Set a posting schedule
How often do you want to post? There is no hard and fast rule for posting, but it’s best to post consistently. No matter how often you post each week, publish on the same day or days so that your members know when to expect new content. Also, it’s a good idea to set your posts to publish at a set time. You can use your blog’s built in scheduling tool to have posts appear when you want them to go live.
For example, if you like to post twice per week, you may want to do a Monday-Wednesday, Monday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday schedule. Try setting the time to arrive early in the mornings.
Brainstorm content ideas
Creating a list of ideas to write about is an excellent place to start because it can help you fill in a content calendar. Avoiding a last-minute scramble for content ideas takes a lot of stress out of blogging. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
- Share your expertise and what sets you apart. This type of post is a great way to entice new members.
- Educational and instructional posts create many opportunities to attract new readers, build your audience’s trust in your association, and deliver valuable content.
- Conduct a member survey on a hot topic relevant to your industry and publish the results in a blog post.
- Highlight special events and celebrations.
- Shine a spotlight on your association’s history through Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday posts. Bonus tip: ask your members to share historical pictures and memories to add a personal touch.
- Create lists and guides for navigating your industry. This approach helps attract new followers.
- Profile successful members, especially those who can speak to how membership in your association has helped them. This can help promote membership and can be a member retention tool as well. You can even create a form on your site where members submit nominees to be profiled.
- Solve a problem. If you know of specific issues that your association can answer (and often does), highlight those problems and provide the solution. This can be presented in a Q & A or FAQ format.
- Invite guest authors such as industry experts to contribute ideas and posts as well. This can give you a respite from doing all of the writing.
Build a content calendar
Your content calendar can be an Excel spreadsheet, a Google Sheet, or a paper calendar on your desk, but it may be your blogging best friend. If you have multiple writers, a shared virtual content calendar may work best, but the point is to plan your content several months in advance.
When you have a list of content ideas, start plugging them into your content calendar. Start with time-sensitive posts, like special events and seasonal topics. You may be surprised by how easy it is to fill in your calendar.
Write engaging and informative content
Did you know that you can blog even if you aren’t a strong writer? There are dozens of helpful tools to clean up your writing to deliver valuable content. Here are some helpful tips for creating stellar posts.
- Mind your word count and provide plenty of depth. Try to avoid anything less than 300 words, and remember that long posts (2,000 words or more) are okay if they provide valuable information and no fluff.
- Headlines draw the reader in, so devote time and thought to your titles. Remember to refer back to your GSC data for keywords that you may want to incorporate into headlines.
- Tell a story. It’s as simple as that, speak to your audience as if they were sitting in front of you.
- Watch the jargon. If you use an industry-only term or acronym, be sure to define it for newcomers.
Decide if you are accepting comments
You’ll want to decide if you are allowing comments on your blog or not. The up side of comments is that it enriches the information value of the post when members and visitors ask questions or add their own commentary. Some believe that comments can help with SEO. The down side is that it will take time to manage comments and respond to them. If you decide not to accept comments, turn off the ability to comment site-wide so that you won’t have to deal with them.
When is the last time you read a blog post or article that was a block of words? Probably never. Photos, diagrams and videos add interest, break up text blocks, and help drive your point home.
You don’t even have to be a professional photographer or graphic designer to create visuals. There are several stock photo sites where you can download free images. Additionally, sites like Canva allow you to customize graphics for social media or build infographics.
What about SEO?
The term SEO, short for Search Engine Optimization, is mentioned often because it can be a critical aspect of blog success. SEO is the most efficient tool for drawing more website traffic and bringing the interested visitors and commenters to your blog.
Since you’re just getting started, stick with the basics to get your blog off on the right foot. SEO is more about creating content that would interest search engines, but your writing needs to speak to real people who are looking for information through a search engine. Here are some tips for beginners:
- Make sure your site is clean by using Yoast and Google Search Console to identify any issues like broken links or missing links.
- Do keyword research for each post by identifying relevant terms and phrases to use strategically.
- Make sure your blog loads fast and is easy to navigate.
- Include links and citations to authority sources whenever possible.
SEO is complicated because the parameters change regularly, but there are several tried and true methods, including those listed above. It takes time to see the results of a solid SEO strategy, but it’s worth the time and effort to do things right.
Step 5: Promote Your Blog
Aside from SEO, the two main ways to promote your blog effectively are email and social media. Using a combined approach allows you to reach more people.
Email lists are effective; you can send automated emails with your blog posts to your list. This is where an association membership software or plugin comes in handy because you can create sign-up forms to expand your list. Bonus tip: entice new subscribers or members by offering unique and original content such as a research report or industry whitepaper to those who sign up for the mailing list.
It’s impossible to overlook the power of social media. Creating social media accounts on various platforms allows you and your members to promote your blog posts and expand your reach.
Make sure that your social media accounts are consistent with your blog and brand. Most blog platforms allow you to link social media accounts so that you can share posts from your site to your social accounts automatically.
It’s a good idea to set up sidebars or footers for your blog posts with links such as your most recent post list, your list of categories and your blog tags. If you don’t know the difference between categories and tags, Yoast offers a good guide. Some bloggers add a tag cloud or a related posts plugin to make it easy for blog readers to find other content that they might be interested in. The goal is to entice readers to spend more time on your site by putting related content alongside the blog post that they came to your site to read.
It’s time to start your association’s blog
There’s no time like the present to start a blog! It’s not as daunting as you thought, is it? As you can see, while it takes some work on the front end, there is a lot of room to automate aspects of your blog. Take the blogging process one step at a time, and you’ll be up and running in no time!
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