Yorkshire pudding, fresh from the oven, is yummy,
but does it have a place on your Baking Blog? Let
your editorial policy be your guide.
While the medium is different, blogs have much in common with magazines. They're published periodically, can accept subscriptions (via RSS feeds), may (or may not) accept advertising and typically focus on a particular topic or niche. If you blog, you have some notion of your topical area in your head, but have you defined it for your readers? If not, it may be time to take a page from the magazines and define a clear editorial policy for your blog. Just as setting clear goals aids in the development of a regular Web page, defining a clear editorial policy for your blog will aid you in authoring future articles and attracting new readers.
An editorial policy is simply a short document that defines what subjects will (or will not be) covered in your blog. It may also include information on why you are covering X and not Y as well as some background information on the authors. Magazines typically publish their policies in their advertising media kits and/or their guidelines for writers. For a blog you may wish to include your policy on the "About Us" page and also provide a quick summary in the meta description element in the head of your pages. If you edit a multi-author blog, you may also find it helpful to maintain a more detailed policy for your writers that you do not publish online. This could include style guidelines and other rules that are useful to your staff but not of particular interest to the public.
Here are my top 5 reasons to define your editorial policy.
How much or how little you write about makes a great difference. If your topic is too broad, you may confuse readers who don't know what to expect. If it is too narrow you may run out of things to say. In For ‘bloggers, diversification avoids stagnation, Wayne Smallman addresses how the breadth of your subject area can keep your blog interesting while also supporting your Internet marketing efforts.
For example, imagine you are blogging about baking. This is a huge subject. If your expertise lies more towards bread than pastries you may limit it to that. But what if you don't discuss quick breads but do cover beignets? Perhaps your focus is yeast-leavened baking and not merely bread. Somewhere between recipes for oatmeal bread and anything cooked in an oven you will find, and define, the scope of your subject.
If your scope includes puff pastries and you have a yen to write about Beef Wellington, then feel free. Both you and your readers will know that it fits within your policy and you won't have spent hours wondering whether or not it's on topic.
Some blogs accept suggestions and/or articles from readers and other writers. While this can be a great way to get new ideas and material, you probably don't have the time to sort through ideas that aren't relevant to the topic. In terms of our baking blog, it may be that our policy includes some desserts but does not include pies and tarts.
If we make this clear up front we can spend more time writing articles and less time writing rejection letters. Doing so also provides a service to your submitters. If Peter Piemaker knows your policy, he'll be able to focus his time more appropriately and find a different blog—one whose editors and readers would love to know more about making a kiwi tart with tamarind crème anglaise.
This blog doesn't accept advertising, but yours might. When magazines sell advertising they create a media kit with information about the topic of the magazine and the demographics of their readership. Advertisers use this information in order to target readers who are most likely to buy their products. If your blog accepts advertising, you also want your ads to be appropriate to your subject matter and audience. Readers of your baking blog will be more likely to click on ads related to bread pans and mixers, than on fishing lures or hair-care products, and will thus generate more revenue for you and your advertisers. Having a clearly defined editorial policy helps advertisers choose between your blog and someone else's.
As we know from An Introduction to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), including topically relevant keywords within your content helps search engines to identify the topics discussed on your site. While individual entries will feature keywords appropriate to those entries, where should you put the keywords that describe the the blog as a whole? Your editorial policy is the perfect place to include these because it defines the topics included in your site overall.
By publishing your policy on an "About Us" or other page, you can draw readers searching for the overall themes of your blog in addition to those searching topics covered in more specific entries.
If you already have an "About " page this is a good time to review it to determine if your editorial policy is clearly defined and if that policy includes the appropriate keywords. As your blog evolves, it is also a good idea to review this once a year. I just re-read mine and found it unsuitably vague so I've now rewritten it to be more specific.
One of the first things I do after discovering a new blog is to look for the "About" page. I want to know more about the blog's overall theme and its author(s). If that information isn't available I'll have to skim through the entries to see if an identifiable theme emerges and if I can learn anything about the writer's expertise. If I've found an interesting entry—and I'm thinking of subscribing to the blog—I need this information to decide if I'll be interested in future entries and if the author should be considered a reliable source. If I don't have time to do this research myself I probably won't subscribe. I'm already subscribed to more blogs than I can keep up with, so if I can't quickly determine a blog's relevance to my life, I probably won't bother.
If you want repeat readers, especially subscribers, take a few minutes to provide this information. They'll respect you for it.
Whether you want a better way to determine what to write, wish to increase readership or want to fine-tune your advertising, a clearly defined editorial policy can guide the way. Whether you call it "Editorial Policy," "About Us" or something else doesn't matter. If the policy is clear to you and your readers it will enhance the blogging experience for all involved.
The following policies vary from short descriptions to more in-depth policy statements. If your blog accepts advertising you may be interested in The Nation's advertising policy which is very detailed and says, among others things, "Although the relationship of the First Amendment to commercial advertising is complex, we start with strong presumption against banning advertisers because we disapprove of, or even abhor, their political or social views. But we reserve (and exercise) the right to attack them in our editorial columns." I thought that was rather thought-provoking, though such a statement is obviously more necessary to "The Nation" than it would be to many blogs.