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 are not as effective as they do not 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

Do not 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 are not 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 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 does not mean you cannot 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 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 and so on.

GOV.UK blogs use a stripped-back version of Wordpress with limited functionality, so will likely look different to a personal Wordpress account.

For government blogs, there is a production style every blog should follow to make sure there is a consistent user experience.

Titles / headlines

Headlines should clearly tell readers what the post is about and entice them to read it. Although it’s a blog, do not try to be clever or play on words - the title should make sense in search results or when read out of context. Ideally, a headline should be 65 characters or fewer. This is so Google displays the full title and makes sharing on Twitter easier.

Good examples:
Hack the North is back, and this year it’s bigger and better
How we worked together to prepare for GDPR
Tips on how to set up and maintain your own community

Bad examples:
End of an era
The 4 magic ingredients to cook up success
We’re hiring
Weaving magic with innovation

Breaking up text

To make posts easier to read on a screen, break up the text with paragraphs, headings, relevant images or bullet points to create more white space on the page. Paragraphs no more than about 5 lines long are easiest to read.

Headings

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

  • use Heading 2 for main headings
  • use Heading 3 for secondary headings

Choosing the right images for blog posts can make them more effective and engaging. Every blog post should have at least one image. If you only have one, it should appear at the top of the post. We recommend one image for every 400 words.

Images should all be 620 pixels wide so it spans the width of the text. Generally it’s best to choose the default ‘large’ image in Wordpress which is 620 pixels x 413 pixels.

You can vary the height of an image on secondary images, but:

  • try not to use anything bigger than 620 pixels tall as the image will take up the whole screen
  • avoid using portrait images as they will be very large and require the user to scroll to see it all

You can crop pictures using free tools like pixlr.com if you do not have image editing software.

Every post should have a featured image. This is displayed on your blog’s homepage and on social media. The image should clearly illustrate what your blog post is about. For a consistent user experience these images should all be the same size. It is usually easiest to use the same image you have put at the top of your blog post.

Images should:

  • have alternative text that describes the image for people who cannot see it or use a screen reader
  • have a title if they are a screenshot or convey information
  • be attributed properly to avoid copyright infringement

If you do not have access to a photo library, try using:

Text in links should be self explanatory when read in isolation to make them accessible for those using a screen reader. Avoid link text that says ‘Click here’ and phrase the link text in a way users will know what website they will be taken to if they click on the link. There is more GOV.UK guidance on writing link text.

Excerpt text

Write a summary of up to about 40 words for your blog post and insert it in the ‘Excerpt’ field. The excerpt should tell readers what the post is about and written in a way that encourages them to read it.

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. If you do not write an excerpt text, Wordpress and Twitter will automatically display the first 40 words of your post. This will likely give readers an incomplete experience so it is important to write this text.

Call to action

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)

You can put the call to action in a grey box by selecting ‘no quotes’ in the formats drop-down bar.

Embedding social media

You can embed social media 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:

  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Vimeo

To add Instagram, select ‘Add Media’ and then ‘Insert from URL’. Paste the link and click ‘insert into post’.

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’
  • you have an image under ‘image fallback’ to make sure an image is always displayed (for example, if you forget to include a featured image in your post or if an error occurs)

Categories and tags

Every post should be categorised. If you do not do this, it will appear as ‘Uncategorised’ on your blog. You should:

  • capitalise the first letter of any categories or tags (for example, Content not content)
  • 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)

There should be a featured post at the top of every blog. It appears in a grey box and is usually the latest post to be published. To make it appear, check the ‘Featured post’ box in Wordpress. Make sure you have the correct size featured image in your featured post. It is possible to also ‘pin’ a post to the top of your blog in this way if you want to promote something for longer.

Author profiles

Blog posts must display your full name (for example, John Smith), not your Wordpress username (for example, johnsmith). To fix this, edit your user profile. You can also write a sentence or 2 about yourself on your profile page.

You can create ‘guest author’ profiles for authors that do not have a Wordpress account.

Posts can have more than one author, but ideally no more than 3. The author should be the person who has written the post and not be a list of people who have worked on a particular project. Posts written by guest authors do not need to say ‘Guest author’ in the title.

Author images

Only include an author’s image in a post if it serves a purpose - for example, illustrating a profile piece or a post featuring a number of people talking about a particular subject. Do not include their image just to show who they are. You can add an image to an author’s profile instead.

You can add an image to your own profile by signing up to Gravatar and creating a profile image for yourself.

You can add an image for guest authors by uploading a picture in their profile.

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 is not performing as expected. If your blog is not 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.