How it’s done: Lessons from the best political blogs

Time to speak up

So, you have political opinions, do you? Perhaps you have a juicy bit of news you want to shout from a busy street corner. While this is not out of the realm of possibility, having a political blog may be more effective. But before you start, there are a few lessons you can learn from the best political blogs on the web.

The technical stuff

First things first. Even with the best scoop of the day, you won’t reach anyone if you don’t have a digital platform. So, how exactly do you set up a blog?

The first thing to do is to choose a blog provider. If you’re just getting started, WordPress is a fantastic option. WordPress is unbelievably easy to set up and can be endlessly configured and reconfigured to fit your needs. Pre-built political themes like these and these give you a jump on the creation process — just pick one and customize it to suit you.

However, there are other options as well. One of the best political blogs out there, Think Progress, publishes via Medium. While Medium has less flexibility than WordPress, it’s still a great choice in that their site is already optimized for search engines. More importantly, they have a built-in community of readers — no need to start from scratch.

Pro tip: Create your own customized political blog on WordPress AND publish your content on Medium to increase your reach.

Next, choose your domain name and register it with a registrar. Because your web address may be the first thing anyone sees about you, it’s important to choose a domain name that represents what you’re all about and that people will remember. GoDaddy has a number of options — including .republican and .democrat for web addresses that tell people a lot about you before they even get to your blog.

Consider using a keyword in your web address.

 

Consider choosing a domain name that includes a keyword. A keyword or keyphrase is the word or words your readers probably type into their browsers when looking for blogs like yours. For example, some of the best political blogs use domains like redstate.com or conservativehome.com. Both of these political blogs are right-leaning, which means there’s a very real chance their target audience will be typing in terms like “conservative” or “red state” as they search for interesting stuff to read.

Once you have your domain name and your blog platform, you can start writing! Easy peasy.

Creating content for your political blog

Next comes the writing. Sure, you have opinions and maybe you even follow the news in real time, but do you have what it takes to produce interesting, insightful blog posts day after day? Read on for some tips.

Stay focused.

Many of the best political blogs don’t necessarily have a specific focus when it comes to their content as a whole, but they make sure all their articles do. For example, they would never start a blog post about immigration policy and then go on a long tangent about for-profit prisons. If these are both things that you want to write about, then do it — in separate, focused posts.

The best political blogs create categories that make it easy for readers to find what they’re looking for. Think Progress has categories for Climate, Politics, World, LGBTQ, Culture, Immigration, Video and Latest, for example.

Secondly, take it from the best political blogs that starting your first paragraph — nay, your first couple of sentences — with the main idea of the article or the stance you’re taking is the best way to grab the reader’s attention. If you don’t, readers might lose interest or get the feeling that the article is not relevant to their life.

Best Political Blogs Snarling Tigers
Photo: Tambako the Jaguar via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

Keep it partisan and controversial

This might sound like the opposite of what you would expect. After all, the news is meant to be non-partisan, right? The thing is, you’re not the news. You’re a political blogger and as such you have a political voice.

The best political blogs use this tactic by announcing their partisanship, like The Daily Kos does, or by writing article titles that provoke controversy. Think Progress uses titles like “The glaring flaw in Indiana’s new domestic and sexual violence policy for athletes” and “Scalia returns from the grave to pollute America’s water.” There’s no doubt what about the blog’s position is on either of those issues.

Lots of reader comments means you’re onto something.

 

If you look at the comments section on these articles, you’ll see a wave of readers strongly voicing their opinions. Take note, because reader interaction is one of the most important Key Performance Indicators — aka things that show your blog is working. So don’t be afraid to create a buzz!

That being said, the best political blogs also know where to draw the line. There’s a fine line between creating controversy and committing libel or slander. The more readers a political blog has, the more the other side of the aisle will want to take you down. The best political blogs know this and make sure that all their T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted when it comes to fact-checking.

Go to the source

One of the best ways to generate relevance and build confidence among your readers is to take the issue to its source. If you can, interview leading figures who have expertise on the topic you’re writing about. If you can’t get in touch with any, don’t worry; political groups tend to put out lots of information. See if you can find quotes or information on websites or, even better, recent press releases to quote in your blog articles.

Best Political Blogs Video

Mix up your formats

You’re a blogger, so obviously your main priority is going to be writing. However, in today’s world of flashy things and short attention spans, it’s a good idea to mix up your content a bit. The best political blogs tend to use video clips on occasion to substantiate their claims or to illustrate an issue they agree or disagree with. If you have an even juicier scoop, you can provide the video and then add the extra information in your article. For example, another top political blog, Politico, has a section called Playback where they “play back” news clips for readers to view.

The best political blogs never post an article without at least one photo.

 

No matter what you’re blogging about, it’s always a good idea to include photos in your posts. It’s a fact that articles with at least one photo tend to generate more Facebook and Twitter shares. If you’re writing about a politician, include a photo of that politician so your readers can put a face to the name. If you’re writing about a protest, include photos of the protest so readers can see for themselves what you’re talking about.

How the best political blogs build their readership

Just like the people and events you write about, you want your stories to get attention, am I right? So how do you find all these people who would be eager to read your stories but just don’t know it yet?

Share posts on social media

Every single one of the best political blogs have accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. This makes it easy to reach people who normally wouldn’t have stumbled upon their stories.

Make sure search engines can find you

If you want to be found in the very wide world wide web, then you also have to optimize your posts for search engines. Put in the necessary time it takes to research keywords that your targeted readers are searching for, then add them to your posts. With proper use of targeted keywords, you’ll likely rank higher in Google searches, which means that potential readers will be able to find you more easily.

Best Political Blogs KeywordsThen strategically place your keywords throughout your posts without saturating your content with buzzwords. A good rule of thumb is to use the keyword you’ve chosen for each page once for every 100 words on that page. Remember that content is king, so even with all the best keywords, you won’t attract readers unless your content is interesting and valuable to them.

Reach out to other political bloggers

You don’t live in a political vacuum (unless you’re North Korea) so remember to welcome other writers in the blogosphere to your political landscape. Offer to write guest posts for them or ask if your fellow bloggers would like to write a guest post for you. The best political blogs use this tactic as well.

If your blog post is shared by just one influential person, it will get over 31 percent more social shares.

Truthdig does this really well with its section, Truthdiggers of the Week, which honors a person or organization for their noteworthy, whistle-blowing journalism. They have another section called Global Voices: Truthdig Women Reporting that creates a network for courageous international women journalists who have been honored by the International Women’s Media Foundation. This is an excellent way to get thought leaders interested in your political blog or to share an article of yours. In an article in the Huffington Post, researchers found that if your article is shared by just one influential person, it will get over 31 percent more social shares. So don’t forsake your fellow political bloggers, especially if they’re influential ones!

There are other ways to interact as well. Following other blogs or their social media accounts and interacting with them by commenting or “liking” them is a great approach. This not only brings you into a wider political discussion, but draws attention to yourself and your blog.

Another way to join the political blogosphere and get noticed is by including links to other blogs you reference in your blog posts. Don’t be like North Korea. Join the political world.

Monetize your blog

I know, I know. You’re in this for the love of the game! But it doesn’t hurt to make some cash if you can. There are a number of ways you can go about making money on your blog. One of the most obvious ways that some of the best political blogs do this is by asking for donations. Truthdig accomplishes this with the enticing tagline, “Give yourself the gift of independent, uncompromising journalism. Donate to Truthdig today.”

You can ask for donations from readers or make money with pay-per-click ads.

If you gain a large enough readership, you can start accepting advertisements from companies that have products to sell to readers like yours. Or you can use AdSense, which allows you to accept relevant ads on your blog (you get paid every time one of your readers click on them). However, some of the best political blogs prefer to rely on the generosity of its readers to avoid potential conflicts of interest, so keep that in mind as well.

Let your voice be heard

We’ve given you the tools to get your political blog up and running. Now it’s your turn to take the reins. After all, you’re the political writer with an opinion to share! So go forth and opine, my political friend.