What does “blogging” mean today?
When the term “blogging” was coined approximately 20 years ago, the definition was a bit vague – yet still much clearer than it is now. Nowadays, almost everybody thinks they know what a blog is. These questions, however, remain unanswered in most cases:
- When does a blog stop being a blog?
- What are the characteristics of a blog today?
- How many blog features do you really need to be actually blogging, not just updating a static website?
Are you blogging or just writing?
When you set up a new WordPress website you have to ask yourself which of the common setups you want to choose:
- A static website
- A blog
- A website with a blog
- Customized options
When reading through the above, you probably think you know what the differences are between them. A static website and a blog are indeed different. You can also combine both by adding a blog to a static website on, e.g. a example.com/blog address.
There are also customized options that are already unclear at first glance. A blog on a subdomain is a common one, e.g. blog.example.com.
Yet what is blogging exactly? Are you sure your blog is still a blog? Maybe your blog is just a glorified static website. For many years people called their websites “portals” to emphasize their richness of options and status.
Most so-called portals were just simple websites, though (albeit cluttered ones). A blog needs several features that a static website does not. These features make it “dynamic,” so to say.
You may be just writing and publishing regularly on a static website.
It may not even be a blog, although you call it that. This may ostracize some visitors, though.
When you say “blog,” you should deliver a real blog – not just claim that it is one, or your visitors might assume that you are lying.
The definition of blogs 20 years ago
When blogging first started out, there were no dedicated tools to publish a blog. Blogger, WordPress, and Tumblr only appeared years later. In a way, the first blogs were just websites that were published regularly in a specific style.
Over these initial years, some ingredients became recognized as transforming a simple website into a fully-fledged blog. They were:
- Latest posts first (on top)
- Active comment section
- Regular (daily) postings
- Blogroll link list of friends’ blogs
- Personal, subjective (opinionated) writing style
- Dates and archives
- Trackbacks and pingbacks
These features were a must-have in the early blogosphere years as blogs were called back then before other “social media” arrived and began to dominate the scene. Sooner or later, most blogs had those features by default.
WordPress certainly had all of them when it started out in 2003. Indeed, WordPress’ pingback feature was a game changer that eventually won over the competition to some extent. This feature allowed blogs to connect with other blogs almost automatically.
How the blog definition has changed
Over the last 20 years, blogging has undergone many major changes. Most took place gradually, and some were fast-paced paradigm shifts but all of them had a major impact on the publishing habits of millions of people.
Many new types of blogging soon appeared:
- Social media “blogging”
- Blogging communities
Some features became less common and/or important:
- Dates and archives
- Trackbacks and pingbacks
- Bloggers and opinions
You might come across a publication that has a “blog” in its name but does not have comments, dates, a blogroll or an actual blogger since it’s run by an editorial team. Sometimes the “blog” is missing all of these features. Are these blogs really blogs, websites or something more specific? Such as:
- News websites
Is your site really a blog? Consider these questions
How do you find out if you really blog? You need to have at least a few of the typical characteristics. Don’t tell people that you have a blog when most of them are missing. For obvious reasons, this might backfire.
Ask yourself a few of the following questions to figure it out:
- Does your “blog” offer informational content (not just promotional one)?
- Does the language used on the “blog” sound personal and reflect first-hand experience?
- Does the “blog” allow some form of onsite interaction or ideally conversation?
Number one is perhaps the most important defining factor if you really blog or not. When you only sell or promote something, you have either an online store or a promotional website.
Blog content has value in and of itself since it offers advice, opinions, and solutions for actual problems that can be applied without prior payment for a product or service. When it comes to number two, you’ll quickly notice that major news websites also offer the “latest on top” or “newest” articles first that appear regularly and even allow comments in many cases.
These days, even the authors can be automated. When a human being writes such news, it doesn’t matter who does it. One author is just as good as the other. They are considered interchangeable, with little regard to who actually wrote them.
A blog still has a blogger or bloggers who express their personal opinions and provide first-hand advice based on their own experience. Rehashing Associated Press stories like most news outlets doesn’t automatically suggest you’re a blog unless you add a substantial amount of opinion, commentary, or context.
A short notice and link to the actual source or more reputable sources are often also recognized as being blog posts. However, just copying and pasting or even slightly editing a particular news article is not actually blogging.
Websites are often dead ends. Unless you write a message by email or use a contact form, you can’t add something to a content piece or at least correct it.
A simple mention on social media doesn’t suffice. Many website owners do not even monitor social media. Most people can’t follow all social media websites and/or apps.
Allowing and encouraging comments are probably the easiest ways to let actual conversations happen. Some blogs – think giants with a legacy like Boing Boing even have their own adjacent forums for their readers to interact.
Many modern blogs use third-party commenting tools such as Facebook or Disqus so that the conversation takes place on and off site, simultaneously.
How to make your blog more engaging
Even though the 2019 blog definition is still vague and seemingly random these days, it’s time to summarize common techniques that ensure your blog is really a blog.
- Let real people blog, don’t just use corporate language that nobody is really responsible for.
- Make your content less about you and more about them (the readers).
- Use a conversational tone and empower conversations onsite and also across websites.
People rarely engage with companies or brands unless they’re already very well known. People talk to other people.
A conversation always takes place between two or more people, never between a person and a company. Be as close to the real person as possible without giving away your private photos and data.
When you don’t engage in the conversation, expect to get complaints. You need to proactively do something right and also offer value for free. A blog is the best place to showcase your expertise and provide value in exchange for publicity. This way you also can involve brand evangelists and serve all kinds of other potential supporters, not just customers.
By using a conversational tone some people seem to take that as starting sentences with “and,” “but,” or “because.” A conversational tone is not just about grammar, though. It’s about the intent to make people talk to you or express their opinions. Ideally you encourage contributions that go beyond simple comments.
Once you have an audience, asking questions helps. Until then, you have to answer other people’s questions even if they don’t ask you specifically. In other words, help first to get help later.
To get a conversation starter you can look up Google’s “people also ask” feature to find out what people want to know. Just search for a generic question like [how WordPress]. Scroll down until you see a separate “people also ask” section. Write a response on your blog.
Then you can point these people who ask on social media to your actual posts. This way you can start a conversation by reaching out to people who already need your help.
Most people on social media either promote their own services or don’t offer very helpful responses. When you have an article that explains exactly what people are asking about you’re already way ahead of the curve