Last month I spoke to a class of journalism undergrads at the University of Colo., Boulder. These people are just starting out in journalism. Not surprisingly, most of them hope to land more-or-less traditional reporting jobs in more-or-less traditional newsrooms.
I asked these students whether they read blogs. As is common, the vast majority said no. But, as with Web users of all types, it’s likely that in fact they do read blogs far more often than they think. That’s because nearly all Web users frequently encounter blogs through search engine results. But they may not realize that, since many weblogs don’t call themselves (or resemble) blogs. In fact, they often look just like any other Web site — except that they happen to be supported by a blogging platform on the back end.
Why should young journalists care about this? Because in a professional environment where staying findable equals sustained opportunity and flexibility, search engines are a key arbiter of your career. The more findable and linkable you are, the more search engines will reward you.
…And search engines really, really love blogs…
Journalists at any career stage who hope to keep working and stay relevant (regardless of the fortunes of any or all news organizations) should aspire to be as findable as possible. The easiest way to achieve this is to use your very own blog to build a strong, persistent personal brand.
The key to building your personal brand is to publish easily findable content on your own site — not just via your employer’s site, nor just within a community site or group weblog. Your very own site.
Having your own blog is media career insurance. It will serve as your “home base” where you establish your personal reputation, track record, abilities, interests, and aspirations. It’s a rewarding, useful, persistent way to be professionally and personally generous. It can attract help, insight, serendipity, and opportunity. And it lets you achieve all this consistently, despite inevitable changes in your job, bosses, beat, location, or goals.
Even better, blogging tools make online publishing easy so you’ll probably publish more often.
It’s never too late to start your own blog. Still, the earlier you start, the better. Search engines (especially Google) tend to accord higher rank to sites that stick around. Thus you can end up well-positioned in search rankings simply by starting a blog and sticking with it.
You don’t even have to blog every day. Over time, even blogging as little as a few times per month can yield fairly strong search positioning.
Here are my tips for starting and running your own blog:
1. GET A GOOD DOMAIN NAME
Pick something that’s easy to spell and remember, and that preferably ends in .com, .org, or .net. Don’t make it too cute or too restrictive — but you can still have fun. For example, even though I own the domain for my last name (gahran.com), since 1998 my main blog has been Contentious.com. This was originally intended as a pun on the then-nascent term “content,” but its unintentional open-endedness has given me considerable and valuable room to explore a wide range of topics beyond media and journalism.
The ultimate point of your blog is to promote your personal brand, so your domain should be more about you than a particular topic or place. This gives you room to change, grow and publish what you want. Also, owning your own domain gives you the option of switching blog platforms or hosts without losing the benefit of traffic and search rank you’ve worked to build.
2. MAP YOUR DOMAIN TO YOUR SITE
This will cause every page on your site to bear your domain in its URL — which helps search visibility and page rank for your site.
Domain mapping is important if, for technical simplicity, you choose a hosted blogging platform like TypePad. There, the default is to assign your site a subdomain like myblog.typepad.com — which is less impressive to search engines. Avoid hosted blogging services that don’t allow you to map your domain to your blog.
Note: Domain mapping is much easier to do when you first start to blog, rather than apply retroactively to an existing blog. But retroactive mapping is better than none, if you want search visibility. Just be sure to employ 301 redirects from your old site URLs, so Google will know you really just moved your site, it’s not a new or different site.
3. STICK WITH YOUR DOMAIN
Time and continuity work in your favor with search engines. The longer you blog at the same domain, the higher you will probably rank. If you have an established domain that gets search visibility, it’s probably best to stick with it even if your focus changes over time. Resist the temptation to rebrand yourself with a new domain, or to spin off special-purpose blogs under separate domains. This dilutes your “Google Juice.” (See now why it’s best to choose a domain name that gives you room to evolve?)
4. DON’T WORK FOR ANYONE WHO WON’T LET YOU KEEP YOUR OWN BLOG
Ever. It’s just not worth it. Consider maintaining your own blog a basic right of being in the media business. The danger with agreeing not to blog is that you sacrifice the findability that you’ve worked to build — and that you will need more than ever if or when your current job ends.
It’s kind of like this: What if you have your own personal IRA for retirement. You’ve been paying into it for years, it’s building up. You get offered a shiny new job and they tell you, “If you want to work for us, you have to cash in your IRA. No, we won’t reimburse you for penalty fees. Don’t worry, we have a great 401-K plan. The catch in, if your job here ever ends, you don’t get to keep any of the money from that 401 K.”
That said, it is fine to negotiate with your employer about reasonable concessions regarding your blog, such as no blogging on your site about workplace issues. But outright blogging prohibitions should be a flat dealbreaker.
Most media employers do back down on flat blogging prohibitions and negotiate compromises if challenged. So I strongly recommend that you push back and negotiate. No employer should be able to dictate your online identity. They don’t own who you are.
5. JOIN THE CONVERSATION, AND LINK BACK TO YOURSELF
For many reasons, online conversation ultimately makes you more findable. And if all the conversation channels you use point back to your blog, Google will love your blog more. That’s because inbound links from other sites (even in comments you make) are a key ingredient of Google Juice.
So when you comment on other blogs (and you should), always link back to your blog’s home page. Put your blog’s URL in your e-mail signature line. Include it in your social media service profiles, plus anywhere else you can think of. Don’t worry, this isn’t pushy; it’s normal. It’s even expected as a matter of courtesy and transparency.
6. KEEP YOUR OWN BLOG GOING, EVEN IF YOU ALSO BLOG ELSEWHERE
For instance, I have always blogged on Contentious.com even though I edit Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits blog and probably post there more frequently. That’s because Contentious.com is the core of my personal brand. I have collected a valuable community there.
Furthermore, Contentious.com currently boasts a Google page rank of seven (out of a possible 10). By comparison, the main Tidbits page currently ranks at six, while the Poynter Online home page ranks at seven.
…How are you using your blog to build your personal brand? Has it helped you through career transitions (such as from journalism to academia, or from reporter to editor, or from employed to self-employed)? What tips would you offer? And if you still don’t have your own blog, why not? Please comment below.