Our own CoSchedule blog readers indicate the need for pared-down, minimalist blogging.
In a recent survey, we learned that 58% of our readers are solo bloggers. They don’t have a team to help them get content published. 20% of our readers have a hard time finding the time to create content, while 22% say their biggest challenge is planning content.
Complexity, that’s what.
There seems to be needless complexity with blogging these days. But there is also a time when complexity has a place—when you are running courses of content and marketing and downloads that all require complex timing and management.
But for those of you who aren’t in a position for that complexity (and it sounds as if that’s at least half of you reading right now), are you shut off from high-level content marketing?
Not at all. You can still hit your marketing goals and go minimalist on your blog.
1. Minimalize Your Blog Layout
In the visual arts, minimalism is where you reduce the design elements in an image. It might include a repetition of forms, fewer materials, or fewer colors.
Visual minimalism is powerful; it makes your blog less difficult to approach and process. It quietly tells your reader, “There is a lot of great stuff to look at here, and this is the best way to take in all of this information.”
With your blog, you can apply minimalism by reducing:
- Fonts. The font you use on your blog directly affects readability. I haven’t finished reading certain books because the font face was so wrong that I couldn’t get past it to see the words. Your template should have fonts that pair well, aren’t overly fussy or cutesy, and are all about readability.
- Colors. Color is crucial to both branding and to how readers react to your content. Choose colors for your blog, considering the psychological impact. Avoid having more than four colors on your blog. I prefer three colors, which is like a sturdy and comforting triangle.
- Visuals. The sidebar is a notoriously busy place for many bloggers. If you must have all the badges and link lists, consider putting them in the footer where they do not distract your reader and make your blog look difficult to visually process. If you must have a sidebar, consider carefully what you will put into it. Avoid treating it like a dumping ground for badges, widgets, and links.
Everything on your blog should have a specific outcome in mind. Simpler is better. Everything serves a specific purpose (or multiple purposes), or it does not belong.
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Having a visually busy blog layout is a lot like the person who never stops talking. After a while, people learn to tune him or her out. Even if they have something good to say once in a while, no one hears it.
The only mechanism we have to process too much input is to become numb to it so we aren't overwhelmed. You don't want your blog visitors ignoring any part of your blog, so spare them the visual overload.
Just starting your blog? Here's how to blog with a minimalist layout:
Look for a design or template that is simple. You do not need three columns and an image slider, most likely.
All you need is the ability to blog, and the ability to cover the basics of what your readers need to know about you and the blog: who you are, what the blog is about, how to contact you and follow on social media, and what your main call to action is.
The more complex your design, the more complex the upkeep will be. And that fits perfectly into the "needless complexity" category that you should avoid.
While overly decorated or "pretty" designs can be tempting, readability and clarity are more important. Forgo the cutesy, avoid the harsh or rainbow-colored templates. Let the style of your in-post graphics and your blog header be your brand's calling card, not the hundreds of widgets you can cram onto the page.
2. Create Minimalist Content
Creating content with an eye toward as little as possible sounds completely wrong, especially considering we're big fans of long-form content here.
But we have a team of bloggers, guest bloggers, a designer, and an editor—this makes our plan somewhat more manageable. Writing long posts and publishing them three times a week can be complex.
- Lower word count. While we prefer to hit at least 2,000 when it comes to word count, that doesn't mean the book is closed on the value of shorter posts. If your posts at least hit 800 and have depth (as opposed to trite fluff), you're doing fine. And 800 words, once you get used to writing, is very easy to hit.
- Series content. A great way to create minimalist content that has depth is to envision a topic as a series of chapters, sections, or other divisions. Each post is one of those sections. You do not necessarily have to label your posts as series, but you have the benefit, when using this method, of having previous content to link to, and a ready-to-go e-book at the end. In this way, your blog is your daily writing that gets you to your larger writing project.
- Images. If you do not have a designer on your team, or the time to create lots of images, have at least one good-quality image. Use it in the same way for each post (see next point). If you are unable to come up with more than two great images a week, then write two blog posts a week so every post has a great image. (We'll talk about this a bit in the planning section.)
- Strict style guide. Not every blog has a style guide, but I find they are helpful even as a solo blogger. I don't always remember, from one week to the next, how I handle certain things. Are subheadings in title case? Are images centered or to the left? By creating a minimalist style guide, you stick with a look and feel that your reader recognizes. Without it, you may end up with five minimalist posts and then one gloriously long and complex post, and then back to the minimalist posts. This can leave your reader feeling as if the minimalist posts are sub-par content. By keeping all your posts minimalist, your content shines next to each other, and makes sense.
The trick with creating content that is simplified is not to think of it as shoddy or of less value than the blogs with longer posts and more extravagant graphics.
Your shorter and simpler content can be quality, too. As long as you create all of your content with the same specs, your "simple" posts won't seem simple at all.
Just starting your blog? Here's how to blog with minimalist content:
To keep all of your posts looking the same, write your basic style guide first (read our post on style guides for how to do that).
Determine how many images you will have in each post, and how often you can come up with quality original images. Determine how many words you will aim for per post. Be realistic and start by undershooting your ideal.
You may want to mimic a popular blog, both in post frequency and word count, but I'd encourage you to start much smaller so that you do, indeed, start. And so that you keep going.
All of this information will be useful when it comes to planning, which is up next.
3. Try A Minimalist Planning Approach
We're huge advocates of planning your content, of course, but there are different levels of approach.
Bigger blogs with bigger teams may be able to plan complicated content that includes e-books, white papers, in-person events, downloads, themed infographics, and so on. Starting your blog out with an eye toward using as little as possible means planning on a smaller scope.
What is the bare minimum you need to be planning?
- Weekly blog post. Publish at least one blog post a week. It keeps you writing, which makes writing easier and will make you a better writer over the long run. Depending on how long your blog posts are, you may never veer from the one-post-a-week method.
- Social media marketing. Plan to share your blog post at least twice on each of your social networks. We always encourage more, but twice would be the absolute bare minimum. At that level, you will see fewer results than if you shared more, but it gets you in the habit of sharing the same content multiple times on social networks.
- One outside piece of content. Create one outside piece of content at least three times a year (every four months). This might be an ebook, an email autoresponder, or an infographic.
Your style guide should play into your planning. The style of your content and your ability to adhere to the guidelines will affect how often you can create the content. That affects your planning.
4. Use Minimalist Marketing Tactics
CoSchedule fits nicely into minimalist marketing, cutting out the extra apps and software that you would otherwise have to use to share your content on social media. Just as you do not want a complex blog design to fuss over, neither do you want a pile of marketing tools to deal with.
- Use CoSchedule. Not to put too fine a point on it, but...use CoSchedule to simplify your social media marketing. By creating social marketing content alongside your blog post, and setting the schedules to coincide, you cut out endless steps and middlemen.
- Associate marketing with blog posts. One of the reasons CoSchedule strips away complexity is because outside social marketing is associated with blog posts. When the blog post goes live, all of the social marketing starts falling into place like dominoes. Whether you choose to use CoSchedule or not, let your blog publishing dates be the trigger for your outside content. Your RSS feed might generate your email. Your blog post sets off your Web push alerts. By using your blog post's publish time as the trigger, you only have one "date" to remember for each marketing event.
As your blog grows, you may begin marketing events, like contests or Hangouts, that are not associated with your blog content. To start, though, let your blog content be the central focus from which all marketing comes.
5. Track Your Goals Minimally
Tracking your traffic, conversions, and readers is a big part of any successful blogger's toolkit. You can't know what changes to make if you don't know the impact they might have.
However, you can start with light analytics, at the beginning, just to get going.
- Popular pages. Discover what content has proven to be the most popular. CoSchedule also allows you to see this popularity from a social standpoint (i.e. which blog posts have been shared the most). This can help you in deciding what topics to focus on when writing.
- Who is reading. Find out about your audience demographics and begin to understand who they are, where they live, what they like, and more.
- What sends them. Find out what pages or social networks are sending people to your website. This will heavily affect your social media marketing in the future, as you invest in the networks that are successful in delivering traffic.
Most of this data can easily be achieved using the free Google Analytics and a custom dashboard.
Minimalist tracking, at the start, is good news for those of you who aren't comfortable with data yet. Not everyone is blessed with a head for numbers and a love for lots of data. Some of us (myself included) really just like to write.
Dip your toe in and get acclimated before taking the dive.
Just starting your blog? Here's how to blog with minimalist tracking:
Analytics are probably one of the more scary aspects of blogging, particularly if you've never dealt with anything comparable.
Take the dive, set Google Analtyics up on your site, and begin to get a feel for the data you start seeing returned. As your blog grows, you will want to add additional methods of tracking what is happening on your site from other providers.
Now You Know How To Blog Like A Minimalist
The main thing here is to start small and to create good habits. Leave the complexity for later, when writing has become easier and you can produce more content without difficulty.
Until then, focus on simplicity. Simplicity in design, in content, in frequency, and in promotion. Get success in the smaller realm so you have confidence to go bigger.