Planning Your Blog for 2016
I admit that it’s a little late to start blog planning for 2016, but if you’re anything like me the holidays came and went and by the time you recuperated, it was mid-January and then you had time to start thinking about your blog planning in 2016. (Unless blogging is your full-time job and then you probably managed to find some time before the first of the year.)
I gave my first PHLBloggers talk last week. That’s right, I’ve been planning these events for over 15 months and this was the first time I ever spoke at an event. Goodness it was scary, but rewarding. I got to do the research, put the presentation together, and lead the discussion. On what topic, you ask? Planning your blog for 2016. I was looking for someone to host the event and then I realized if there’s one thing I’m good at in life, it’s planning, so maybe it was my turn to speak.
Eleven ladies came out to Square One Coffee last Tuesday night to discuss blog planning for 2016. We all introduced ourselves and our blogs – and then we each said one blogging goal that we have for the year. I handed out a calendar to everyone (this pretty free one from XXX) and the discussion took off. Here are my steps to planning your blog in 2016.
Look Back Over the Past Year
There are two questions that Chris Guillebeau asks at the end of every year and those are (1) what went well last year, and (2) what didn’t go so well last year. Start with those questions. They’re so simple and they’re an excellent gut check to see what you want to continue building upon and what you either need to decide to work on or let go.
Take a look at your top 10 blog posts from last year. Is there a common theme in the posts? Is there a common type of post? Where did most of your traffic come from? Once you know all of these things ask yourself the next questions: can you write a follow-up post (don’t forget to link back), is there a way you can repackage this content, can you add a content upgrade, can you create new pin-able images for your post? Each of these action-items will add to the web of content you’re creating on… well, the web.
Create a Reader Survey
If you’re not sure where to head next, create a reader survey to see what content your audience likes to read. If you’re looking to do something big next, create a reader survey to get some stats about who is reading your blog in order to create a kick ass media kit. Either way you can’t go wrong with a reader survey. Ask questions about demographics; what they spend their money on; if they like your events, newsletters, podcasts, content upgrades; did they even know you had content upgrades; how often do they read; how they read (to make sure you’re optimized for mobile if you’re not); what types of posts they like; what categories of posts they like; where they hang out on the internet; and what their biggest challenges are. Not only that, but gather names and email address to ask additional follow-up questions. Putting in the work on your reader survey and asking the right questions to get the right answers will make it way easier to come up with a plan going forward.
Clean Up Your Blog
Now’s a wonderful time to clean up your blog a little bit, especially because in the northern hemisphere it’s winter, so more people are spending time reading blogs right now than the summer. Check all of the links on your homepage and make sure they go where you think they’re going to go; delete plugins you don’t use; reassess your blog categories and tags to make site navigation and creating archives easier; sort through your drafts; clean up your side bar; update your about page (does it still say you’re in your early 20s when you just turned 29?); add social media links and share buttons to your blog if they’re not already there; and make sure you’re making the best use out of your footer space as possible.
Also make sure to go through your Top 10 posts to make sure that those are cleaned up as well. That’s the first impression people are getting of your site and you want to make sure it’s as put-together as possible.
Not sure where to start? Swap with a friend and try to break each other’s sites. Talk about what things aren’t quite as visually appealing as they could be. Or even try out Peek, a free user-testing site on the internet where you will get to watch somebody you don’t know browse your site for 5 minutes. Super anxiety-inducing, super helpful.
Set Your Big Picture Goals
Don’t be afraid to dream big, but be concrete about it. Look at your current social media numbers and decide where you want to be 12 months from now. Choose which platform you want to put your energy into and grow your community around it. And don’t choose all of them, because you’ll drive yourself crazy.
Once you have your big picture goal whether it’s build community, earn money, or build your portfolio, decide of very concrete goals you want to take. Once you have an actionable goal it’s easier to break it down into steps. Maybe you want to start a new blog series (step one: decide on a topic), attend a conference (step one: research conferences in your area or places you want to vacation to), write an e-book (step one: decide on a topic), or start a newsletter (step one: create a Mailchimp account). For a full list of Big Actionable Goals, download the checklist at the top or bottom of this post.
Find People to Work WithChoose Brands and Blogs with whom to (try to) Collaborate
Think about who you worked with last year. Which bloggers have similar audiences to yours? Who have you built a relationship with over the past year? Could you write a post, do an interview, or create a product together? Send out an email to a friend to gauge interest and brainstorm. If it works, great, if it doesn’t work, at least you tried.
Which brands does your audience associate with? What are the big name stores in your industry? Who are the small-town stores in your hometown? And when all else fails, who else have you seen work with other bloggers or sponsor a blog conference? They may have a better chance of understanding what working with bloggers and influencers is all about.
Oh. And if you don’t think you’re blog is “big enough” to work with brands, you’re wrong. Step 1: Create the type of content you would create if you were working with brands; Step 2: Put together a pitch email to say why you want to work with them, who you are, and showing off what you’re capable of putting together; Step 3: Just send it. I worked with at least 3 brands last year that I emailed on a whim and to my delight they said yes. Not only that, but I remember meeting a fashion blogger who was just starting out who said she was surprised that when she asked brands to work together most of the time they said yes, even when she didn’t have that big of a following yet. So, no excuses.
Create an Editorial Calendar
Creating an editorial calendar is probably the most important part of planning a blog for the year. Start by printing out a calendar or creating a new Google calendar and take it from there. Then decide how many times a week you want to post. Highlight only those squares on the calendar. I decided I want to continue to post 3 times a week in 2016, which totals to 156 blog posts. One of those weekly posts is a series called Weekly Snippets, that takes care of 52 of those posts, which only leaves me with 104 posts that I need to fill in. Then look at the posts you did last year that you want to continue doing – every year I do 4 Valentines posts, 1 Thanksgiving post, 2 Christmas posts, a year-end post, and a week of celebrating my blog birthday. That already takes care of 10, already down to 94. Then you look at the holidays and start to schedule around those – you can do a round of up posts from past years, you can do gift guides, how to prepare for the holiday, how to plan an event, what food to serve, what music to play, what crafts to do – all based around the holidays and the seasons. And how many holidays are there? A million. From Thanksgiving to National Speak-Like-A-Pirate Day. All of a sudden the number continues to look not as scary.
Other things to think about include celebrating your blog birthday, looking at local happenings, anticipating important industry dates, and scheduling vacation-time. We all get in blog ruts throughout the year, why not just schedule it ahead of time. If you Google “how to schedule a blog vacation” a dozen posts will come up that will tell you exactly how to make that happen. Schedule it now so you don’t have to feel guilty later.
I recommend writing in the major holidays that you want to make sure to celebrate and marking in a few general posts a month ahead of time to be plan ahead. Don’t be too detailed too far in advance because things are going to change. But if when you flip the calendar to July you’re already thinking about back to school, I assure you you’ll be ahead of the game. And finally, make sure to put your next to your computer and take a look at it every week to see if you’re on track.
For a full list of editorial dates to consider in 2016 (especially if you’re in Philadelphia) download the Planning Your Blog for 2016 Checklist.
What are some of your best tips for planning your blog in the new year? Is there anything you're really looking forward to? I'd love to hear about it below.