Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. –Benjamin Franklin
We haven’t been blogging regularly for long at Astronomer. We’re still gaining momentum and learning which posts matter most and how to ideate creatively and collaboratively. We wouldn’t call our readership astronomical (or would we?!).
While we don’t pretend to be experts, last month, our analytics exceeded our goals:
After a slow start, we more than quadrupled our readership last month, so this week, we’re getting meta and blogging about how we blog.
It’s not news that blogs (and their growth!) matter. According to Hubspot, marketers who have prioritized blogging are 13x more likely to enjoy positive ROI. Blogs also improve SEO. In 2014, Mike Lieberman said, “blogs give websites 434% more indexed pages and 97% more indexed links,” which, of course, translates into higher rankings with the search engines. Positive ROI and better SEO? We’re in.
After all, just imagine the impact on our inbound marketing if we can keep up the trajectory featured above.
So how did the quadrupling happen?
Basically, we made a plan and stuck to it. All credit here goes to Ben, our data engineer. I’m a writer by trade, with experience working with various organizations, from startups to nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies. I came to Astronomer to manage the blog schedule and feedback loop – which is why you’re hearing this from me – but it was Ben who not only wrote a watershed post last month but also had the vision for Astronomer’s blog. He gave that vision legs, and those legs took off running. Thanks to Ben, here are five basic tenets of our blogging process:
1. Everybody Writes
How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live! –Henry David Thoreau
If you check out Astronomer’s team page, you won’t find a “Head of Writing.” What you will find are people with a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise. Each person provides an exclusive view into Astronomer and therefore, as a team, we can offer value to a more diverse audience. Not to mention, different voices and writing styles make the posts more interesting. We even have a specific rotation (see the next point) to keep everybody involved in the discussion.
*Quick caveat: You won’t find posts from everybody on our “Team” page. Astronomer’s team is rapidly growing, and we give some time to settle in before a person has to jump into the writing rotation.
2. Writing is A Process
The first draft of anything is shit. –Ernest Hemingway
Good writing doesn’t happen overnight. And even if it did (purely hypothetical), it could be made better with more revising. It’s important that each blog entry has gone through a refining process. Here’s ours:
Each writer (i.e. each contributing team member) has a post date assigned to them. That post is a four-part process with weekly deadlines beginning exactly four weeks earlier: (1) First up is an abstract, which establishes an audience, identifies key SEO keywords and summarizes the main idea of the post. (2) Next comes an outline that builds upon that initial idea. (3) That’s followed by a rough draft and, of course, (4) culminates in a final post.
Every Monday, I send reminders via Slack so the team knows who owes what. Though days of the week have been “assigned” to each step, we figure out the exact timing that can fit with everything else going on – you know, “little” things like building technology, raising funds, generating sales. When everybody is a writer and nobody is a writer, even the best, most generously padded schedule has to be flexible in the end.
This is a snapshot of what I use for big picture planning:
The day-to-day deadlines obviously get much more complicated, but this is the foundation from which I make my weekly schedules. The 4-week system ensures that ideas have time to percolate and every team member has time to offer feedback. If a final post is different from the original abstract, that’s okay – as long as it’s better.
3. Content is Shared and Celebrated
Like madness is the glory of this life. –William Shakespeare
The sharing is probably obvious. Why write something we don’t plan to share? When a post goes live (almost always on a Tuesday or Thursday before noon to achieve maximum traffic), the team gets a Slack notification and the sharing begins, mostly on Twitter. A few days later, we import to our Medium account.
Once our thoughts have been shared with the world at large, nothing’s more exciting than knowing we’ve provided value (and, of course, expanded Astronomer’s audience). Each week, the team gets a content impact report with a screenshot of the analytics and any exciting mentions on social media. We’ll share things, like this shoutout to Chris, our Head of Design, for his post about branding:
As we get better about sharing, we find more reasons to celebrate. It helps that we’re all in this together: we all want to see those positive analytics for Astronomer. And, really, is there anything better than celebrating or being celebrated?
4. Blogging is Fun (in other words, Hooray Beer!)
But it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it. –Jack Kerouac
Our most recent addition to the process is our monthly Content Happy Hour (working title). We’ve had one so far and out of it came five great blog ideas (coming soon, so stay tuned). It’s amazing how much more satisfying it can be to brainstorm with a few teammates and drinks. A heck of a lot more inspiring than basking in the isolating glow of a computer screen.
Our first meeting was pretty unstructured. The five writers who came shared an initial idea, which we discussed as a group. On purpose, nobody recorded notes. In retrospect, that was a little too unstructured. I tend to err on the side of keeping things organic, but for the next one, I’m planning to capture ideas on paper as everybody else has a nice, organic discussion. Even great ideas can be forgotten (especially if happy hours get too happy).
5. We Have Standards
Good writing is like a windowpane. –George Orwell
Last but definitely not least, the writing has to matter. Last week, we didn’t have a post. With the holiday, summer vacations and an upcoming team retreat, nobody had time to write, or at least write well. While the radio silence isn’t great, what’s important is for people to trust that when they read Astronomer’s blog, they’ll find interesting posts, worth reading. Each writer puts care, thought and heart into his or her blog post, just like they put that kind of passion into their respective area of expertise.
We believe our posts reveal who we are, which makes it even more exciting that our readership is growing. Sure, our blog is still relatively small. But at this rate, not for long.