Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 11:48 am.

10 steps to better blogging

Dan Frommer

Now picture me looking serious.

Almost 5 months into writing SplatF, I’m starting to type up some new ideas — mostly for myself, but also for folks like my ad partners — of where I’d like to take the site and what I’d like to do with it over the next year or so. But along the way, I also started to write down some reminders of how to make SplatF the best product I possibly can.

I’m posting them here, partially so I have a place to quickly find them if I need to, partially to force me to hold to them, partially out of commitment to transparency, and partially in case they’re of interest or use to anyone else.

  1. Above all else, factual accuracy and attention to detail. That’s the easiest and best way to build and maintain trust over the long-term. If a fact is wrong, fix it and don’t be shy about it. If an opinion or prediction is wrong, learn from it and consider explaining how you got it wrong.
  2. Write the site that you want to read. That covers story selection, length, frequency, style, vocabulary, attitude, humor, level of sensationalism, and more. Don’t publish anything you’re not proud of. Be yourself.
  3. Be more skeptical. Companies and people have no interest in telling any side of the story but their own. Often, that side is flawed, invalid, or incorrect. Let someone else be the gullible one who looks silly later: Always question everything. (But don’t let it turn you into too much of a conspiracy theorist.)
  4. Attribute well — the way you’d want to be attributed. Use names, link prominently, never plagiarize. Quote or paraphrase the part of an article that you need to make your point, but always with the goal of sending readers to the original site for the full story. (Some credit here to Henry Blodget, for Business Insider’s original excerpting policy in 2009. And to John Gruber, whose attribution activism is good for the web.) Aim to become as big of a traffic referrer as you possibly can — not only is that good policy, but it’s a great business asset.
  5. Add context. Don’t assume people know what you’re talking about, especially if it’s obscure or technical. That doesn’t mean you need to rewrite five paragraphs of back-story for every new update to a news story — that’s usually a waste of time. But at least make sure that a good explanation of what’s going on is a click or two away.
  6. Be critical, but don’t be unfair. You’re not a jerk in person. Don’t be one on the Internet. (Unless it’s funny, of course.)
  7. Care about your writing. Spell things correctly. Write clearly. Avoid jargon or meaningless business-speak. Learn how to use apostrophes. It really is a reflection of quality.
  8. Care about your design. Don’t make your site more complicated than it needs to be. Like editing text, you can often improve design by deleting. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have photos and illustrations, just make sure they’re adding to the experience. Try to keep load times as short as possible, and note that many readers may be using mobile devices (and slow connections) to access your site. Make the right tradeoffs between revenue, flashiness, and clutter.
  9. Don’t be the 10th person to write the same thing. Say something that everyone else will wish they’d thought of. It takes longer, and it’s harder, but it’s worth it. When someone beats you to it, share their work if you love it — then they’ll want to share yours.
  10. Try new things, all the time. Especially those that are a little outside your comfort zone. This is the Internet — don’t act like you’re writing for Time Magazine in the 80s. Stories can be pictures, charts, lengthy essays, numbered lists, or 140 characters. Measure how your experiments do, and take the results into account for the future.

I’ll probably update this list over time, adding and modifying things as I learn more from my successes and mistakes. But for now, here’s what I’m working with. I’d love to read your feedback.

Also: Adventures in self-publishing: Rejected from Google News!