Last Friday I handed over my crown, Miss World style, to the new UK Blog Awards fashion winner.
Actually it wasn’t REALLY like Miss World at all – there was no crown (though how brilliant if there had been…), and I didn’t see the new champion in person because the awards were streamed live online, but as of Friday last week Not Dressed As Lamb was no longer the current UK Blog Awards Best Fashion Blog.
No sobbing on my part though…!
I honestly couldn’t be happier, because this year I was one of the judges for the fashion category, and I have now seen firsthand how judges go about choosing a winner and how scoring works. It is an AWFUL lot of work, and incredibly time-consuming (also not a paid gig), but you get to read and discover lots of amazing (and often new-to-you) blogs.
On the flip side, however, it’s also something that makes you wrestle with your conscience and the feeling of guilt when you know there’ll be several disappointed finalists who DIDN’T win. I know how that feels too as I was a UK Blog Awards finalist TWICE before I won on my third time trying, as well as having been a didn’t-win finalist in other awards events.
It’s amazing to see just how much hard work goes into running a blog, and I’m in awe of every single winner, highly commended, finalist and nominee!
Now that I’ve been both a winner AND a judge, I thought I’d share with you what I think makes an award-winning blog. Quite a few nominees who didn’t make the finals asked for feedback, and I think it’s fantastic that people want to know how to make their blogs better.
It’s not just about winning awards
These pointers will hopefully help ANYONE who wants to improve their blog. So much of it is about visitor experience (well, MOST of it is, to be honest!), and in the case of UKBA that was how we measured the different criteria. Everything we judged was geared towards “Does this make for a great visitor experience?”
And please don’t think that having “the best fashion blog” (or beauty, or lifestyle, or food blog, etc.) is about being the most stylish or the most beautiful. It’s about the style and beauty of the blog, NOT the blogger.
It’s all highly subjective, of course, but I personally think that whatever (for example) your style or makeup preferences are, you have to present them in the most visually and editorially exciting and user-friendly way. THAT’S the way to make the visitor experience the best it can be, and that’s what we were judging on.
What I’ve done is (roughly) listed the actual criteria we were given to score the blog against and described what you can do to ensure you are doing the best you can to achieve top marks in that criteria. Obviously all blog award organisations will be different (some are voting only so just a marketing and popularity contest, hmmm…), but I thought this was a very fair scoring system. It allowed the judges to be as objective as they could possibly be.
So I can’t say how other blog awards are judged and scored, but this scoring system will give you an idea of what a large organisation like UKBA looks for.
Last year I wrote a post encouraging my readers to vote for 40+ bloggers to help get them shortlisted to the finals… I’m so proud to say that of the 15 blogs I featured, THREE of them were shortlisted, and of those three, TWO were winners. Not only that but the lifestyle winner (who I didn’t know before) is a 40+ blogger and I’m so happy to have discovered her now too.
How about that for a result?!
I hope it will encourage MORE older bloggers to enter awards – as I’ve often said, what it’s really about is visibility and encouragement. Seeing other older women succeeding in their fields is inspiring for women who feel they’ve become invisible as they age, so I’d like to think we can always do what we can to support older women in ANY capacity.
So before I start, how about a little shoutout for my amazing fashion winner The Sequinist as well as some of the winners (and highly commended) from some of the other categories like beauty, lifestyle, parenting, etc.?
Once the UKBA website has been updated with the winners for all 26 categories I’ll link to the page here…!
(By the way if you want to see me doing my judgy bit, this link for the UKBA19 awards will take you straight to the part of the streamed video where I announce the fashion category finalists and winner…)
Firstly: Entry criteria
Before I list the judging criteria, I thought I’d list the entry criteria – there were a LOT of blogs that were disqualified because they weren’t eligible unfortunately.
For a start, the UK Blog Awards is for UK blogs so you have to be a UK resident, not a UK national.
If you’re German and live in the UK you’re eligible, if you’re British and live in Germany you’re not (the criteria has to be set somehow and being a resident in the UK is, IMO, the fairest way). We had entries from the US, Ireland, Spain, Greece, Portugal and more but they couldn’t go through.
UKBA also disqualified anyone found to have bought engagement on Instagram by utilising Social Chain’s LikeWise tool (this was made clear to all entrants upfront). Unfortunately, many, MANY fashion, lifestyle and beauty blogs were disqualified for this reason. It’s a real shame, but I’m glad that UKBA went some way to cracking down on fraudulent bloggers. Let’s hope other awards organisations follow suit.
Now this seems pretty obvious, but the blog had to be… a blog. Lots of sites that entered were online group magazines or simply retail outlets. It had to be a personal blog.
It also had to be a “living” blog – in other words, if no content had been posted for months then it was discounted as a dead or dormant blog.
Finally, the blog had to be relevant to the category it was entered under. During the initial stage when scoring all the nominees to determine the final eight, I came across blogs that weren’t fashion blogs at all but very obviously beauty, health, wedding, travel or even FOOD blogs (I’m not kidding!). One was an Instagram account (albeit fashion), but there was no blog. There was a Social Influencer category for this so again, not eligible for the fashion blog category.
The worst offender was an Irish wedding business… NOT a personal blog, NOT in the UK, NOT fashion. So if you’re entering yourself or any other blog, make sure they meet the entry requirements first!
The “How to win a blog award” checklist
DESIGN: Have a well-designed, visually-enticing, user-friendly blog
First impressions count – your blog HAS to be visually enticing!
- A modern, clean, design for both the homepage AND the posts is essential. It doesn’t have to be minimalist, it just must be neither an assault on the eye nor an old-fashioned basic Blogger template.
- Your blog needs a distinct overall style and not be indistinguishable from all the other blogs out there. If you’re using a blog template (unless you or your partner is a web developer I’d recommend buying one, they’re not as much as you might think), ensure you customise it and tweak the font style, font size, colours, layout and widgets to suit your own content and personality. NEVER use the standard font for a header included in your blog’s template.
- Photography is a VERY important part of the visitor experience, and an award-winning blog will always have beautiful photography. Photos should be the width of the post every time, not different widths and/or too small to see. Fashion, beauty, lifestyle and food blogs especially benefit from stunning photography: you can photograph a basic, all pre-worn outfit beautifully and make it look amazing, but you can also photograph a head-to-toe designer outfit badly and make it look terrible. Great images make EVERYTHING look like a lifestyle people want to aspire to, whether it’s a Gucci handbag or a secondhand, 50p blouse from Oxfam.
- Your blog should entice visitors to stay and look around, so an unexciting header (see point 2) and a too-sparse look will bore them, whilst cluttered backgrounds, flashing GIFs and white text on black backgrounds will give them a headache.
- The layout must be user-friendly and have clear navigation. Don’t force visitors to scroll endlessly in order to find your follow buttons, About page, archived posts or contact details.
- It’s ESSENTIAL that your blog is mobile-enabled (50% of my readers read my blog via their mobile).
- Your blog must enable easy reading, so ensure that the font of the blog posts is clear enough, large enough and dark enough to be read by all – consider the visually impaired or those of us who often can’t find their glasses(!). Long passages of text should be split up by headers and paragraphs to make them easier to read.
- Are your sidebars and any pop-ups distracting, or are they inviting and useful? If your pop-up is a boring “Subscribe here for updates” type and appears the second the blog opens, then set a delay on the time it takes to pop up, and make the CTA (Call to Action) a lot more interesting, engaging or even amusing. Keep only the essentials in your sidebar, or consider getting rid of it altogether if that style suits your blog’s layout and style better.
A wonderful example of clean, stylish design: Don’t Go Bacon My Heart (Culinary winner)
EXECUTION: Be original, be authentic, show your personality
Described as “style” in the judging criteria, I’ve changed this to “execution” so as not to confuse this with fashion and style, being that I was the fashion category judge.
- As well as LOOKING original and unique (see Design, above) your blog needs to demonstrate originality in its execution. Don’t be afraid to do something different, say something new or simply look/sound/read in a different way than all the other blogs out there.
- In order to deliver authentic content, you need to be open and honest in both your approach and your writing style. Write as you speak, but within reason – respect your readers, so really bad language is inadvisable and can be off-putting, even for someone who’s potty-mouthed in real life!
- Don’t forget to check spelling, punctuation and grammar. A well-written blog post can be let down and difficult to read if it hasn’t been checked thoroughly. Make use of tools like a thesaurus, the Hemingway app for improved prose and the excellent Grammarly for general spelling, grammar and punctuation.
- Consider your blog post titles and [lead] images. Are they as useful as they are interesting? They need to do what they say on the tin and be relevant. An occasional image that doesn’t bear much relation to the post content is fine, but nine times out of ten they must correlate with the content.
- Images sourced externally are fine (as long as they are from copyright-free image sites, do NOT use anything you find on Google or Pinterest!), but images you take yourself are ALWAYS preferable as yours won’t end up looking like other blogs out there.
- Let your personality shine through in your writing, topics and imagery. Do not be afraid to be yourself or to focus on a particular topic.
- Although it’s advisable to stick to a niche (this will draw in visitors who are looking for specific content that YOU have written about and will give you a loyal readership), ensure there is a certain amount of variety in your content. Sticking to the exact same formula for every single post will make one post indistinguishable from the next and bore visitors quicker than you can say “Influencer marketing”! Don’t be afraid to take risks with your topics and the way you approach them.
Great execution (with bags of personality) by The FT Times: Join the Fashion Revolution! (Lifestyle winner)
CONTENT: Write engaging, inspiring content and have a clear purpose
This is the big one and the one we put the most emphasis on…
- Put your heart and soul into every post you write. A blog with posts that HAVEN’T been written with tender, loving care won’t win an award, so limit the number of guest posts or pre-written content (or better still, avoid them altogether).
- Your content overall should showcase clear knowledge and understanding of the subject you’re writing about, even if you’re writing a very personal post. Explain technical terms and jargon. Check facts. Link to external content the reader may find useful.
- Your content should be highly engaging within each post. For example, consider whether a very long post should have been split into two (or more) parts. Does the content within your one post have two totally unrelated topics that should have been split into two? Too many subject matters within one post can be confusing, misleading and a hard-going read.
- As well as content, your blog name, biography/”About” page and tag line need to be well thought-out and powerful. Is the purpose of your blog clear the moment the reader lands on the landing or homepage? Your header, blog name and design should tell visitors exactly what to expect the SECOND they land on your blog.
- Your About page needs to give some more detailed information about you and your blog. A little about who you are and where you are (exact locations and names are not necessary, the country and a pen name or nickname are fine), why you write the blog and what its purpose is are all necessary to enhance the visitor experience.
- ANY blogger that uses their blog for positive change, for good or for support will be looked upon favourably. As much as fashion blogs receive a lot of stick for being vacuous or trivial, you can still benefit the reader with positive messages and positive examples. For example, my #iwillwearwhatilike message and encouragement of women to believe in themselves and dress to please themselves (and no one else) results in a huge amount of positive feedback and messages of thanks. ALL subjects can be written about with a tone of encouragement and/or positivity, so think about how you can write in a way that benefits the reader. A 100% self-indulgent blog doesn’t meet the UKBA 2019 theme of “conscience of content” in any way.
Exceptionally well-written content by The Sequinist: April Showers? I’m Ready (Fashion winner)
RELIABILITY AND TRUST: Create a community, build engagement, optimise visitor experience
Here we looked at how well the bloggers took care of their readers, and how much they had thought about the reader experience.
- It’s imperative that interaction is encouraged. Without any input from readers, a blog is effectively dormant. Your blog posts should question your community, and actively seek one. Try to always ask a question of your readers somewhere in the post so that makes it IMPOSSIBLE for them not to comment.
- Responding to comments is vital – don’t be the blogger that doesn’t reply to any comments ever.
- If you’re publishing something very opinionated, it’s important to give a balanced argument and discuss alternative views. In other words, you need to be capable of having a two-way conversation and be open to readers having opposing views.
- You don’t have to post several times a week, but consistent posting is important. If you only publish once a week make it the same day and time every week so your readers get to know your schedule. Sporadic posting shows an inability to be committed and loyal to your readers.
- Commenting should be easy, so make sure there are no barriers for readers (get rid of registrations and logins) or difficult CAPTCHAS.
- Is it easy for readers to subscribe to your blog? Building your mailing list is an important part of building your community, so include subscribe fields in blog posts, your About page and sidebar and/or footer (don’t forget it also needs to be GDPR compliant by law).
- The overall reader experience needs to be enjoyable and the site needs to be easy to navigate. For example, check your site loads quickly – do your images take ages to download? Ensure they’re only the width of the blog post and not huge files that slow down the loading process. There shouldn’t be any broken links, especially on social media buttons, drop down menus, etc.
- If your blog has any extra functions or offerings for your readers, e.g. a free download upon subscribing, then this could tip the balance if yours was tied with another blog.
The perfect example of a blog with community and an engaged, loyal following: Honest Mum (Parent & Baby winner)
MARKETING: Make the best use of social media
In 2019 it really is no good to just have a blog and write about what you love… you NEED to be able to promote it and get it out into the wider world for everyone to see!
- It’s vital that readers can easily access your social media platforms from your home page. Don’t make them scroll right to the bottom looking for them, and make sure all the links are working properly.
- Have you included links to all the ways readers can follow you? There are the obvious platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest (you don’t have to be active on ALL of those, just make sure you have buttons for them if you are). In the same section/area should be Bloglovin, RSS and subscribe buttons/fields – consider all the ways that readers want to follow you. Don’t make them frustrated that they can’t follow in the way that THEY choose.
- CTAs (Calls to Action) are very important – it doesn’t have to be an in-your-face pop-up (there are ways of doing these very successfully, however!), but encouraging readers to subscribe and follow you is important. Think carefully about how and where you do this: could you add the CTA at the end of every blog post? Could it be on your About page?
- Don’t forget options on each post to share the content on social media, email to a friend, etc. Again, make sure it’s easy for readers to find the share buttons.
- On the social media platforms that you DO use, share your content creatively and thoughtfully. Don’t auto publish the exact same content to every platform – understand the different audiences you have on each platform and treat them accordingly.
- It’s essential that you respond to comments and interact with your audiences on social media as well as your blog. No one expects a blogger to reply to every comment immediately, but responses within a day or so are important.
A superb example of a blog with great marketing: Elevate Sport (Sports & Fitness winner AND the Social Influencer winner)
Some extra things I was looking for…
I thought that if it ended up that we had a tie for the winner and/or highly commended, I’d make a note of these extra points. A bit like a yellow card in football(!), if the final scores are equal then it goes to goal difference and then finally to the number of yellow cards given in all games. (If you’re not a football fan then that analogy may have just gone over your head ; -P)
To be compliant [in the UK at least] and/or create an easier user experience, a blog MUST have/be/do the following:
- Cookies enabled – this is required by law
- Correct and clear disclosure – this is required by law
- A secure site (so https, not http) – creates a secure and private online experience
- A favicon – creates an easier user experience
- Open links in new tabs – creates an easier user experience
I hope these points go some way to explaining exactly what makes an award-winning blog – obviously no one HAS to follow all this advice at all (except for the things required by law).
But as so many of them (well, all of them) are linked to user experience then it’s a good idea to use this as a checklist if you really want to up your game in the blogosphere, not just win an award.
HAVE THE UK BLOG AWARDS INSPIRED YOU TO ENTER YOUR BLOG FOR AN AWARD? TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS!
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