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9 Tips to Help You Build a Better Advocacy Blog

Do you blog about your illness?

Many patients find blogging about their condition is not only therapeutic, but is also a great way to connect with others going through similar experiences. 

A blog can also be a powerful advocacy tool – a way to raise awareness, build community and show commitment and passion for the work you do.

This month, I’d like to share 9 ways to help you build a better blog. If you’re new to blogging, these tips will help steer you in the right direction. If you’re a seasoned blogger, why not use this as an opportunity to take stock to see if you’re still on track to make an impact with your blog.

1.Perfect Your About Page

For new visitors to your blog, this will be one of the first pages they will visit, so it’s worth taking time to make it as professional as possible. Use this space to share the story of why you do what you do to advocate for disease awareness and educate and support your community.

2. Check Your Blog’s Load Speed

Does your blog load quickly? A good site will load in 2 seconds. If your blog is taking longer than that, consider that around 40% of people will leave a site if it doesn’t load in 3 seconds. You can check your blog’s loading speed with a tool like GTMetrix.com.

Insider Tip: If you like to add lots of images to your blog, be aware that large images can slow your blog down. Resizing your images can speed up the loading time. Upload your image to Picresize.com for quick and easy resizing.

3. Declutter Your Sidebar

Does your blog have a sidebar? Has it become crowded with widgets? Then it’s time to declutter Marie Kondo style. Get rid of anything that doesn’t add something valuable to the reader’s experience.

4. Showcase Popular Content

One thing that you should keep on your sidebar is a list of your most popular content. Use this space to showcase your best writing. And be sure to put hyperlinks in each of your posts that direct people to other popular posts on the same topic.

5. Make It Easy For Readers to Find Information on Your Site

Providing helpful information is great, but you also need to be sure that readers can find that information. By adding categories and tags to your posts, you make it easy for readers to find the information they need when they come to your blog. It also increases views on your other posts tagged with the same keywords.

6. Create An Email Sign-Up Form

Encourage readers to sign up to receive your latest posts. Nancy Stordahl, who blogs at NancysPoint.com, advises “anyone who wants to increase readership to her/his blog to consider sending out a monthly or weekly email with links to new posts and possibly one or two older ones. “I became very frustrated with Facebook’s algorithms because it seemed no one was seeing posts I shared. Having your own email list puts you and your readers in control.”

7. Add Social Sharing Buttons

By making it easy for visitors to your blog to share your content, you increase the likelihood that they will take this action. When more people share your content, you increase the chance of driving more visitors to your blog, and having your content seen by more people.

8. Choose Typography Carefully

Typography is made up of elements such as font type and size, kerning (white space between individual characters or letters), and tracking and spacing. It’s an important factor in making your content more readable for visitors to your site.

9. Backup Your Blog

Finally, you’ve put a lot of effort and time into your blog and you don’t want to risk losing all your great content. You never know when your blog might get hacked, and the best defense is scheduling regular backups using a plug-in like BackWPup.

Happy Blogging!

Patient Advocacy: 15 Winning Ways to Attract More Readers to Your Blog

Have you ever had the sinking feeling of pouring your heart and soul into writing something you felt sure people will want to read, only to find this isn’t the case? That, apart from your Mom and your best friend, it feels like no one else is reading your blog?

Having your own blog is a powerful way to boost your online advocacy. Blogging shows your commitment and passion for your cause. It’s also an extremely effective way to build a community and engage more people in your cause. However, it can be disheartening to find yourself with so few readers.

If you want more than a handful of people to discover your valuable content, then this post is for you. I’m going to show you how to find more readers for your blog and promote it to a wider audience. The following tips come from my own experience as a blogger over the past nine years, along with tips from some of the smartest patient bloggers I know. I feel sure you’ll find their advice helpful as you focus on growing your own blog and building your readership.

Let’s get started right away with our first tip.

1. Optimize Your Blog’s UX

Let’s begin with how your blog looks. What is the user experience (UX) like for your readers? How easy is it to navigate around your blog? Susan Rahn gave her blog, StickIt2Stage4, a complete overhaul this year. “I updated the template to something that was more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate,” she told me when I asked her for her best tips on creating a better blog.

You should check also to see how easy your blog is to read on mobile devices. Does your site load quickly? A good site will load in 2 seconds. If your blog is taking longer than that, consider that around 40% of people will leave a site if it doesn’t load in 3 seconds (check your blog’s loading time with a tool like Load Impact).

2. Provide Helpful Information for Readers

While your blog may contain personal stories about your experience and that of others, it’s also a good idea to provide helpful resources for your readers. “Having pages that have helpful information such as organizations that offer conferences, support or help in some way – either financial or trips is very useful”, says Susan, “especially if you can personally recommend them.” Susan also suggests including a list of other bloggers that you read and can recommend to readers.

3. Make It Easy For Readers to Find Information on Your Site

Providing helpful information is great, but you also need to be sure that readers can find that information. By adding categories and tags to your posts, you make it easy for readers to find the information they need when they come to your blog. It also increases views on your other posts tagged with the same keywords.

4. Hook Your Readers with a Great Headline

When it comes to writing your posts, spend some time creating a great headline. Your headline is the first (perhaps only) impression you make on a prospective reader. A good headline frames your content. No matter how amazing your content is, few people are going to click through to read it if they’re not immediately captivated by your headline. The kind of headlines which perform best include:

  • “How To” – e.g. “How to Prepare for Surgery”
  • List-Style – e.g. “5 Tips for Dealing with Chemotherapy”
  • Questions – e.g. “What is Chemo-Brain?”

Try adding “power” words and phrases to your headline, (such as best, tips, empowering, challenging) to create more engagement. Download a list of 90 headline power words here.

5. Keep Readers’ Attention with Your Introduction

When you have hooked readers with an irresistible headline, you want to keep them reading. Start by asking a question, or share a striking quote, a startling statistic or a personal story. Don’t make the intro over-long or your readers will quickly lose interest. Aim for around the 100-word mark. Make every word count. Establish your rhythm and pace with those first words – you can slow the rhythm down in the body of your post later if you wish.

6. Add Visual Appeal

We live in a visual world. If content is king, then visual content is queen. And when it comes to creating visual content, don’t be tempted to reach for the nearest stock photo. These days there’s no excuse for using boring stock images. In this post I share some of my favorite places to source images for free to enhance your social media posts. A good tip is to create your own graphics with the title of your blog and/or your name and include it each time you share a link to your blog on social media. People will soon start to recognize your own unique “brand.”

7. Maintain a Consistent Posting Schedule

To create and maintain interest you need to post consistently to be able to stay in front of your audience’s eyes. Dee Sparacio, who blogs at Women of Teal, says it’s important to maintain “a pretty regular schedule so your followers are not visiting your page and seeing an old post.” Barbara Jacoby, of Let Life Happen, told me that the only thing that she has ever done to promote her blog was “to consistently write and post a weekly blog and research and post a daily ‘In the News’ article.”

Nancy Stordahl, the creator of Nancy’s Point, also advocates for consistency. “Try to post consistently if you want to develop a loyal readership,” she says. “This takes commitment (work), which means posting on a regular schedule that works for you. This might be weekly, every other week or monthly. This way readers know what to expect, plus it keeps you focused. I post weekly (usually the same day) because that’s what works for me. Consistency is key.”

One of the best ways to keep a consistent schedule is to create recurring content on your blog. Readers will then come to expect and look forward to this content each week. Examples could be creating a weekly round-up post as I do on Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, or a Monday Motivation post.

8. Leverage Guest Blogging

Whether you invite a guest blogger to blog on your site, or you guest blog for someone else, guest blogging is one of the most effective ways to increase your blog’s traffic. Not only do you get the opportunity to build your authority and increase your visibility, you can also leverage the social following of your guest blogger when you mention them on social media. Beth Gainer, who blogs at Calling The Shots, endorses this strategy. “Offer to guest post for others’ websites,” she recommends. “I have published several guest posts, and my posts have been shared. It’s a great way of having others notice your blog.”

9. Respond to Comments

Have you ever taken the time to leave a comment on a blog and had no response? It’s disappointing and may well discourage you from commenting again. An active comments section is a sign to others that your blog is a community that cares and wants to help each other. Susan Rahn believes that this kind of interaction is important. “It lets readers know you are paying attention and you care that they are reading,” she says.

Take time to comment also on others’ blogs. “By leaving a meaningful comment on a post, you not only build community with others,” says Beth Gainer, “but others can link to and get to know your blog. I try to leave thoughtful comments on others’ blogs because I am a part of a larger community of writers, and it helps to reach out. As an indirect result of my posting comments, bloggers have visited my site and left comments.”

10. Share Your Content on Social Media

Whether it’s a Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, or an Instagram account, being active on social media is the best way to share your content with a wider audience. Dee Sparacio first set up a Twitter account with the name of her blog, @womenofteal to share her content. Then she started a Facebook page, again using her blog name. Dee advises setting up a specific page for your blog (and not just sharing via your personal Facebook account). “By having this blog page, I have people who follow me for my advocacy work follow that page and not my personal page.”

Susan Rahn also recommends connecting your blog to all your social media accounts. She has added a blog link to her Instagram bio too. “So all I need to do is create an Instagram post and direct followers to the link in my bio.”

11. Re-Share Older Blog Content

According to Susan, “re-sharing a blog post from time to time that is relevant to current events or conversations has been helpful” in growing her blog. “New followers may not have gone back through archives to read past posts so it’s new content for them,” she points out. This is a super tip. I’d add to this by saying that it’s a good idea to go back to the original post and see if it needs updating in light of current news or developments. Do you need to update a statistic or fact? Is there new research you can add to the post? Or a quote or comment to make it even stronger second time round?

12. Make It Easy To Share Your Content from Your Blog

When more people share your content, you increase the chance of driving more visitors to your blog. Make sure your social sharing buttons are clearly visible. By making it easy for visitors to your site to share your content, you increase the likelihood that they will take this action. To generate even more shares, install Click to Tweet, a handy tool which generates one-click tweet boxes or links that can be shared throughout your blog or via email.

13. Grow Your Online Followers

“Seek and ye shall find,” recommends Terri Coutee, founder DiepCFoundation, a non-profit organization providing information on options for breast reconstruction after mastectomy.   “I hold fast to this mantra even after blogging for over 3 years,” she says. “Just as with any business, bloggers must find who is interested in their content. Look for social media communities talking about what your blog content focuses on and cast a wide net. Don’t rely on just a few hashtags and groups. Visit those hashtags, those groups and see who they are connected to. Friend, like, re-tweet, and follow these people. Share your content across more than your own “wheelhouse” because when you least expect it, someone in one of those groups may need what you’re blogging about.”

The more people who follow you on social media, the more you can amplify your content and increase your social shares. Dee Sparacio recommends @mentioning (tagging) a person or an institution whenever you reference their research on your blog. This not only brings their attention to your blog, but it’s also a way to grow your followers. The key here is to find followers who share your interest and will be most likely to share your content. A great way to find like-minded followers is to join a Twitter chat related to your disease or condition, such as #gyncsm, #lcsm, #bcsm, etc. If you’re new to Twitter chats, you can learn more about how to take part here.

14. Use Relevant Hashtags

Hashtags are a powerful way to maintain your visibility on Twitter and Instagram and boost engagement with your followers.  According to Twitter’s own research tweets with hashtags show a 100 percent increase in engagement (clicks, retweets, likes and replies). Hashtags can also expand the reach of your message beyond just those who follow you to help you grow your network. Be sure to include the relevant hashtags when you share a link to your blog on social media. For more information on using hashtags strategically, read Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Hashtags in Healthcare…But Were Afraid To Ask!

15. Send an e-Newsletter to Subscribers

Newsletters can help keep your blog top of mind with readers. Use it to send an email digest of your most recent blog posts or notify your subscribers when you publish a new post. “I would advise anyone who wants to increase readership to her/his blog to consider sending out a monthly or weekly email with links to new posts and possibly one or two older ones,” recommends Nancy Stordahl. “I became very frustrated with Facebook’s algorithms because it seemed no one was seeing posts I shared. Having your own email list puts you and your readers in control. In my emails, I also share a couple of articles that have been in the news, or that I think might be of interest to my subscribers. Sometimes I share something personal and I often bounce around ideas. I love my subscribers and always value their input!”

Both Susan and Nancy use MailChimp as their email list provider. “I added a MailChimp widget that would popup to invite readers to subscribe (even though they are very annoying),” explains Susan. “Through that widget, I was able to set up an email blast at a predetermined time after a new blog was posted.”

Some bloggers are reluctant to set up a mailing list because they think it’s going to be a lot of hard work. Nancy has this advice to share: “Mailchimp is an easy setup and it’s free up to 2,000 subscribers. And don’t worry about how many subscribers you have. It takes a while to build a list of readers that truly want to read your posts. The ones that stick around are gems. It’s worth the extra work, for sure.”
If you’re interested in setting up your own email list, read How to Build Your Email List The Right Way to learn more.

Be Real, Be Authentic, Be You!

A final piece of advice is to be yourself and write from the heart. In Susan’s words, “Just be authentic. Be true to who you are. Let readers get to know you through your blog as if they are sitting down having coffee and conversation with you.”

Catherine Foy, who blogs at My Triple Negative Life, echoes Susan’s advice. “Be yourself when writing (as if you are talking/giving advice to a friend),” she says. “Don’t concentrate on follower numbers. Engage with like-minded people through social media or chats, follow people or organizations that you admire. Always be true to yourself and treat everyone online with respect.”

While it may be gratifying to have lots of blog readers, those numbers aren’t really what count. “We write for a reason and purpose,” Terri Coutee reminds us, “Telling your story should ultimately have the end goal of making a difference in someone’s life.” Even if you have only a handful of readers, you still have an incredible power. You have the ability to connect directly with every one of those readers and impact their lives. Perhaps it’s one piece of information which you share that’s the missing puzzle piece that someone needs right at that very moment of reading it.

If telling your personal story is the lifeline that even one reader needs to be able to hold on to hope, then your blog will be a precious gift to the patient community. As writer, Connie Rosser Riddle told me, the thing that sustains her blogging is writing from her passion. “Throughout life, I’ve been fascinated by stories, whether they were ones I read in books, or those of real life unfolding,” she explains. “Sometimes my blog posts concern my experience having triple-negative breast cancer. Those stories come from cancer intersecting with daily life, finding meaning in the moments of coping with reality and discovering beauty along the path.”

If you’d like to learn more about setting up your own blog from scratch, check out this guide.

How To Boost Your Online Advocacy Through Blogging

Are you looking for a way to boost your advocacy activities online? One of the best ways to do this is to create a blog. Many patients blog about their illness as a way to advocate for better treatment and care and to provide guidance and support for other patients. Blogging shows your commitment and passion for your cause.  Because a blog is interactive (by allowing readers to post comments) it is also an extremely effective way to build a community and engage more people in your cause. If creating a blog is part of your plans for 2018, but you are not quite sure where to start, this step-by-step guide will get up and running in no time at all.

Step 1 Choose a Blogging Platform            

The first step is to choose your blogging software. Free blogging platforms are designed to be easy to use with pre-existing templates which you can personalize. Popular platforms include Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress. I use a WordPress site for my blog Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer.  The free version at WordPress.com is a good option if you want to try out blogging with little or no financial outlay. If however, you would like more functionality and the freedom to host your blog yourself, then you should choose WordPress.org.  I will focus on setting up a WordPress blog throughout this guide.

Step 2 Choose a Domain Name

Your domain name (also known as your URL) is your address on the web. Choose a domain name that is short, memorable and descriptive.  If you choose the free version of WordPress, your domain name will look something like this: yourname.wordpress.com. If you wish to omit ‘WordPress’ in the url, you have an option to pay an annual premium which costs around $18.

Step 3 Pick a Web Host

Web hosting is where your website lives on the internet. Every online site needs web hosting. If you choose WordPress.com your blog will automatically be hosted by WordPress.  If you decide to go with WordPress.org you will have to purchase hosting with a separate hosting company. There are many hosting companies to choose from, but the only hosting service officially recommended by WordPress is BlueHost.

Step 4 Install Your Blog

If you have chosen the free version of WordPress your blog will be installed automatically.  If you have purchased a hosting account, your provider will walk you through the steps needed to get your WordPress blog up and running.

Step 5 Configure Your Blog Settings

Now it’s time to set your blog’s title, tagline, language and visibility options.

Go to the General Settings of your WordPress dashboard.

The first setting you will see is Site Title. Your site title can be anything you’d like – it doesn’t have to be the same as your blog’s URL or your username.

Tagline is next and is a short description to describe what your blog is about. For example, the tagline of my blog is “Making Sense of The Breast Cancer Experience Together”.  Until you personalize your tagline the default is displayed as follows:

The Language option lets you select the language you wish to use on your blog.

Finally, the Privacy settings control your site’s visibility. Set this to Public if you want to be found by search engines.

Step 6 Design Your Blog

Designing your blog is the fun part and it starts with selecting a theme. WordPress has a wide range of paid and free themes for you to choose from. You can sort themes by filters like “popular”, “latest”, “featured” as well as several other filters. New themes are always being added so you can change your theme as often as you like. Clicking on a theme’s thumbnail will show you a preview of that theme so you can see how it will look before you activate it.

You can customize your chosen theme by adding your own header image if you wish, for example a picture of you or the logo of your organization.

Once you have selected your WordPress theme, you are now ready to create your first blog post.

Step 7 Creating Your First Blog Post

To write a blog post, click on the Posts » Add New menu in your WordPress dashboard. Enter your post title in the upper field and enter your post body content in the main post editing box below it.

Click on Add Media to include an image, document, audio or video file in your post.

Adding Categories and Tags to your posts will help you organize your blog posts. Categories are the general topic area you are writing about. Readers can browse specific categories to see all posts in the category. Tags refer to micro-categories for your blog. Posts with similar tags are linked together when a reader clicks one of the tags.  Here is a sample of some of the most commonly used tags on my blog.

The Preview button allows you to view your post before you publish it. You can save a draft of your post and come back later to edit or add more content to it. When you are happy with how your post is written, you can publish it either straight away, or you can schedule it for publication on a future time or date. You can also change the publish date to a date in the past to back-date posts.

How long should a blog post be?

There’s much debate on whether short or long blog posts work better. If you want your blog to rank on Google, then longer is better. This is because longer articles will contain more keywords, headings, links, and pictures. Aim for something between 1000 to 1500 words, but at the very least, your blog posts should be more than 300 words for Google to rank it. Just make sure that posts are easy to read by breaking up long text with headings, bullet points, short paragraphs and images.

A note on Posts vs Pages

Often WordPress beginners get confused between Posts and Pages. Posts are entries that display in reverse order on your blog. As you add more posts, older entries are moved further down and become less visible. Pages (such as About or Contact Me pages) are static and remain visible to readers.  To create a new page, go to Page -> Add New in your dashboard.

 Step 8 Attract Readers to Your Blog

Don’t get disheartened if visitors don’t flock to your blog right away. It takes time to build your readership, but there are a few things you can do to increase your blog’s visibility and attract more readers.

1. Post your content on social media

The best way to attract more readers is to post your blog content on social media. However don’t just post a link to your latest post – include images, pose a question, or add a startling statistic that will encourage readers to click on your link to find out more.

2. Make it easy to share your blog

To expand your blog’s reach on social media, encourage readers to share your posts after they have read them. Make it easy for them by adding highly visible social sharing buttons to all your posts.

3. Hook your readers with compelling headlines

Your headline is the first impression you make on a prospective reader. Just as we judge a book by its cover, we often judge a blog post by its title.  It’s fine to start writing your post with a working title, but when you have finished writing it, go back and spend some time creating a headline that will entice readers to click through and read the post. For tips on creating compelling headlines click here.

4. Use keywords in your blog posts

If you want to attract new readers to your blog, you want to make sure they’ll be able to find you when they search online.  It’s important therefore to include keywords in your content if you want to rank higher for particular search terms.

 5. Comment on other blogs

Most blogs have comment sections which allow you to comment with your blog’s url. Leaving a comment which adds to the conversation is a good way to interest others to click through to your blog.

6. Write a guest post for an established blog

 Offer to write a guest post for a blogger with an established readership. Include your blog’s url in your guest post.  Search engines like Google index blogs when they find them mentioned (in the form of links) on sites they have already ranked. The more high-quality links your blog has, the higher Google will rank you.

7. Maintain a consistent posting schedule

You need to post regularly to stay in front of your audience’s eyes and grow your readership.  Maintaining a regular publishing schedule means you should pace your posts so that there is something new to read on a consistent basis.

To wrap up, blogging is an extremely effective way to show people what you are passionate about and committed to. If you want to boost your online presence and grow your advocacy in 2018, starting a blog in the New Year is a great place to start.

Happy Blogging!

 Do you blog? Do you have any other tips to offer novice bloggers? Please share your tips and your blog’s url in the comments below.

The Benefits and Pitfalls of Blogging About Your Illness

In his book, The Wounded Storyteller, Arthur Frank, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Calgary, writes that when we are ill we are wounded not just in body, but in voice. He describes how illness can radically alter how a person relates to the world and how we need to find a way to restore our fractured identity. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer over a decade ago, writing a blog, Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, helped me express myself, reconnect to a new sense of self, and find my voice again.

Throughout her life, the writer Virginia Woolf maintained that her work was incomplete until it was shared with readers. And I think this is also true of being part of a blogging community. When we share our writing, someone else has heard our voice. Someone else cares and understands. So often, illness causes us to feel isolated and cut off from others. Blogging is a way for us to find a shared sense of connection and community.

the-benefits-and-pitfalls-of-blogging-about-your-illnessYet sharing our story online is not without its pitfalls; the most obvious of which is a loss of privacy. You should consider how revealing your medical history online might have an impact on your family and professional circumstances. How will your employer, co-workers, or other family members view you? Do you risk being over-identified with your illness? For me, disclosure of my own story has evolved from initial anonymity to a point where I now choose to share more openly. However, the degree to which I share information still depends on the space where I share it and the degree of trust I have with the people I share with (for instance I consider my blog a safe space to tell my story, but I am more cautious on Twitter). But what happens if that safe space is violated and our expectations of trust are shattered? When our words are taken out of context or used for a purpose we didn’t intend? Is information shared publicly implicitly available to everyone just because it is in the public domain? What are the ethics of research that includes collecting and analyzing patient stories or observing online behaviour without individuals knowing they are being included in research? In an age when technology has outpaced the ethical underpinnings of research and the culture surrounding privacy has changed profoundly, these are questions we need to find answers to.

Although we understand that what we share online is in the public domain, we nevertheless trust each other to maintain a collective sense of privacy, which includes not having our words reproduced without our knowledge or taken out of context. The issue of maintaining privacy in the public domain was brought into sharp focus two years ago when blogger Lisa Adams became the subject of an online debate. Adams, who blogged and tweeted about her experience of living with end-stage cancer, came to the attention of two journalists who strongly criticised what they called “Adams dying out loud.” Their opinions ignited a firestorm of debate about the public disclosure of illness, and the sharing of personal choices surrounding treatment and death and dying.

Illness makes us vulnerable and learning to navigate the digital landscape while also managing our vulnerability is a skill that we need to master if we are to protect ourselves online. Think carefully about what the process of online disclosure entails. Weigh up what you expect to gain from it and what implications sharing this information might have on your career or family life. If you are a parent or carer who writes about a patient, do you have their permission to share this information? In the case of writing about a child, what future effect might this have on one who cannot give consent or understand the significance of their story being shared so widely?

People have always gathered together to share what they know about health and illness, hoping to help and learn from others. What’s new is that we now have the ability to expand the reach of our conversations at internet speed and at internet scale. What happens in real life happens on line, but faster. This has many benefits, but it also means there is a higher potential for unintended consequences when we have less control over who sees our stories. It’s a good idea to periodically review the privacy settings on your social media accounts to decide if you are comfortable with the level of control you have over the information you share. Ask yourself, if your intended audience were sitting in front of you now, how comfortable would you feel sharing this information? How do you think you’ll feel after sharing it? Are you ready for feedback (positive or negative)? Remember sharing your story online doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Go slowly at the beginning, allow trust to build over time, and share only when you feel ready to do so.

Above all, be courageous in sharing your story. I am filled with gratitude for those who bravely blazed the trail in opening the discussion and decreasing the isolation connected with serious illness. I continue to be in awe of the connections and communities forged in the digital space and I look forward to seeing how this will evolve over time.