Content design: planning, writing and managing content

Blogging

How and when to publish a blog.

Why blog?

Blogging makes it easier for government to talk about its work, share information and connect with people who have a common concern.

It can help you raise awareness of new and existing government services, highlight successes and things we’re learning, and start conversations with your users.

Blogs work best when they have a specific purpose. Generic corporate blogs aren’t as effective as they don’t give people a reason for visiting them.

Use blogs for:

  • describing any work you’re doing or thinking about
  • outlining new practice or theory in a particular area
  • sharing ideas and what you’re learning
  • inviting opinions on plans or developments

Don’t use blogs for:

  • duplicating information already on GOV.UK
  • publishing content that should be published on GOV.UK, such as essential information about government services, statutory guidance and policy updates
  • news stories that should be published on GOV.UK

Replace your newsletter

Blogs help make information accessible and are easy for people to engage with. They’re also an excellent replacement for newsletters because:

  • they’re open to everyone
  • they can be shared on social media and help you start a conversation with your audience
  • they can be found by people you may not think of as your primary audience
  • they can reduce duplication by not replicating content published elsewhere
  • they routinely get more traffic than newsletters
  • users can sign up for email updates

Getting and managing a blog

GDS provides the WordPress platform for government blogs. However, the decision to create a new blog is largely down to the GOV.UK lead for your organisation.

Find out how to request a new blog.

Responsibilities

Every blog must have a named owner, who will be the main point of contact with GDS.

Blogs are part of your department’s digital content. As such, your department’s digital team has overall ownership and responsibility for their department’s blogs.

The blog owner must:

  • agree to posting regularly (blogs that aren’t updated at least twice a month will be archived)
  • manage the blog on WordPress
  • co-ordinate, schedule and check content quality of blogposts before they’re published
  • support and train contributors to publish their work
  • establish moderation principles, and ensure contributors keep to them
  • manage user accounts
  • evaluate the blog’s performance using Google Analytics and other available data
  • promote it, for example by tweeting about it

Departmental digital teams should:

  • discuss and approve all requests for new blogs before they go to GDS
  • promote the GOV.UK blogging platform within their department
  • maintain an active relationship with all blog owners in their department
  • provide editorial and technical support to their bloggers
  • check content quality of the department’s blogs

GDS will:

  • maintain the availability and security of the blogging platform
  • manage and prioritise requests for change and additional functionality on the platform
  • provide guidance to digital teams and blog owners on requesting a blog and using the platform
  • set up new blogs and administrator accounts
  • create Govdelivery accounts for individual blogs, so users get an email alert each time there’s a new post
  • create Google Analytics accounts for individual blogs, so blog owners can evaluate their blog’s performance
  • manage the community of blog owners across government
  • provide tools and resources for blog owners

Style and tone of voice

All content should follow the Government Digital Service (GDS) style guide and Writing for GOV.UK guidelines. Read these to find out how to write your title, summary and body copy.

There are some additional things you need to consider when writing a blog.

Tone of voice

Blogging offers a very personal way of engaging with people. Entries are linked to named authors who put a face to what might otherwise be perceived as a faceless organisation. It’s this personal dimension that, for users, adds credibility and a sense of openness.

This means you should write as you speak. Write as an individual, not as an impersonal organisation or team. You should still follow the style guide but this doesn’t mean you can’t be warm, candid or personal. You should be all of these things.

Blogs can - and should - spark conversations. This means being accountable for the things you write and responding to any comments you receive. If you engage in dialogue, both on your blog and on other social networks, it’ll improve your users’ experience and help you learn more about them.

After you write a blog, read it out loud to check it’s written the way you speak. Once you’re happy, always have someone else review it.

Creating and editing blog posts

Government blogs are hosted on Wordpress. When you get a blog, GDS will send you your account details.

Wordpress doesn’t require special training and looks very much like a word processor, with buttons at the top of the content section that allow you to format text, add bullets, edit links etc.

If you need help using WordPress, see WordPress Made Simple or the WordPress official user guide.

For government blogs, there are some additional things you need to consider.

Author profiles and photos

Blog posts must display your full name (for example, John Smith), not your username (for example, johnsmith02). To fix this, edit your user profile. You should also write a sentence or 2 about yourself on your profile page. If necessary, you can create a ‘guest author’. Posts can have more than 1 author / guest author.

Author images

You can add author an image by:

  • signing up to Gravatar and creating a profile image for yourself
  • uploading a profile picture cropped to 150 pixels × 150 pixels for guest writers

Title, excerpt and call to action

Summarise the post in 65 characters or fewer. This will ensure Google displays your full title, and also make sharing on Twitter easier. Although it’s a blog, don’t try to be clever or play on words - the title should make sense in search results or when read out of context.

Write an excerpt of up to 40 words for your blog post and include it in the ‘excerpt’ field. The excerpt should summarise the blog post and outline the issue being tackled or described.

It will be displayed on your blog homepage and on social media. It will also be featured in update emails sent to your blog subscribers.

Excerpts should be written in a way that encourages users to click through while being an accurate reflection of the blog post’s content.

At the end of every blog post, you should include a call to action. This could, for example, ask your audience to:

  • follow the blog by email
  • follow the blog post’s author on Twitter
  • leave a comment and join in a conversation
  • read related posts (which you can add using the ‘related posts’ box)

Subheadings

Use headings to break up the post but make sure they describe the section beneath them. Remember, people use headings to scan a page, so make them meaningful. In Wordpress:

  • use <h2> for primary subheadings
  • use <h3> for secondary subheadings

Images and logos

Choosing the right images for blog posts can make posts more effective and engaging.

Image formats

For photos, use either:

  • .jpg
  • .jpeg

For charts, graphs, graphics etc, use:

  • .png

Image sizes

On your blog homepage, images must be:

  • 620 pixels wide x 410 pixels high

Within blog posts, it’s OK to vary the height of images, but:

  • main or featured images should be 620 pixels wide
  • secondary images should be 310 pixels wide

You can edit pictures to these dimensions using free tools like pixlr.com if you don’t have graphics editing software.

Images should:

  • have ALT text that describes the image for people who can’t see it or use a screenreader
  • be centred on the page (you can do this in the ‘image properties’ box when you click on the image in WordPress)
  • have a title if they are a screenshot or convey information
  • be attributed properly to avoid copyright infringement

If you don’t have access to a photo library, try using:

Embedding social media posts

You can embed content into your blog by pasting the URL into a new line (make sure it’s not formatted as a clickable link). This works for:

  • YouTube
  • Vimeo
  • Instagram
  • Flickr

Instagram

To use Instagram videos, use embed.ly. Paste in the URL of the video and copy the embed code into the ‘text’ tab of the WordPress editor (not the ‘visual’ tab).

Twitter feeds

To add a live Twitter feed:

  1. Create your own embedded Twitter timeline.
  2. Set the link colour to 2e3191.
  3. Email blogeditors@digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk and ask for the HTML code to be added to a text widget.

To get social media icons in your blog’s right-hand sidebar:

  1. Create a new custom menu called ‘Follow us’.
  2. Add custom links to the social media you have (we have icons for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Google Plus, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram), and save it.
  3. Go to widgets and drag ‘Custom Menu’ into ‘Universal sidebar’. Choose the ‘Follow us’ menu.
  4. Add a widget title, for example, “Follow us on social media”.

Twitter cards

GOV.UK blogs support Twitter cards, which allow you to add photos, videos and other media to your tweets. The Twitter Cards plugin has a separate tab in the dashboard menu where you can edit different options.

Change the settings so that:

  • the ‘card type’ is set to ‘summary below large image’
  • the ‘excerpt’ is set to ‘no’
  • you have an image under ‘image fallback’ to make sure an image is always displayed (for example, if you don’t include a featured image in your post or if an error occurs)

Categories and tags

You should:

  • capitalise the first letter of any categories or tags (for example, Agile not agile)
  • use categories as your primary navigation (try to use fewer than 10 categories)
  • add some text to category pages to describe what they’re about
  • tag only if it’s absolutely necessary (for example, if there is a user need to group more than 1 post via tags)

Evaluating your blog’s performance

As a blog owner, you have access to your blog’s Google Analytics account. You are responsible for regularly evaluating your blog’s performance.

You can find a range of data relating to your blog posts and user behaviour in Google Analytics, including:

  • numbers of page views for each blog post
  • sources of traffic to your blog (for example, social media, Google search or referring sites)
  • bounce rates (proportions of users who only saw one page on your blog)
  • search terms users entered into the search box on your blog to search for content

Email blogeditors@digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk to ask for access to your Google Analytics account.

Closing a blog

Blog owners can ask GDS to close a blog that is no longer needed or isn’t performing as expected. If your blog isn’t being updated regularly, GDS will contact you to see if it should be closed.

How to close a blog

  1. Contact the GOV.UK lead from your organisation before closing your blog. You need to decide whether to close your blog entirely (though it will still be live so users can read previous posts) or migrate it and all the posts to another blog, for example, a parent department blog.
  2. Email blogeditors@digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk to close your blog. You should include the reasons for closing the blog, when you’d like to close it by and if you’re closing it or migrating it to a parent blog.
  3. Write and publish a short final post on your blog to let your users know it will no longer be updated, and explain why. Include links to where users can find information about the topic on GOV.UK if relevant. Set this as the ‘featured post’.
  4. Add a call-out box to the top of your blog’s ‘About’ page to tell your users this blog is no longer being updated.
  5. On the agreed closure date, GDS will take the blog off the all blogs list on blog.gov.uk, disable comments and email alerts. GDS will also inform you of any other steps you need to take.