On our blog you will find this in-depth post scattered in shorter posts. We are now giving them to you in a complete format.
If you would like this post as an eBook, just subscribe to our blog at the end of this guide.
There are a massive number of blogs out there. The noise on the web really is deafening. How in the world do we capture the attention of fickle, click-happy readers?
In the competition for readers, sometimes the experts and workshop leaders give new bloggers the wrong advice. They will focus on the technical side—how to choose a blogging platform and set up your site—or how to use SEO (search engine optimization) strategies.
While those might be the easier parts, they are not the ones most crucial to your blog’s success. Your blog will live or die based on how well you know your target audience and whether you have focused on topics your readers care about—and the problems they are trying to solve. And this advice applies equally to business bloggers and personal/hobbyist bloggers.
Did you know that most bloggers quit blogging in the first 2-3 months? So, while new blogs are starting up every day, many of them stop posting after 90 days. That was an astounding fact when I first stumbled upon it.
The Pew Research Center reported that in 2010, among 18-33-year-olds, the number of bloggers declined for the first time.
What happens to them?
Why do they drop out?
I believe that one key reason is that they feel that they don’t know what to say. They don’t know what to blog about. And they think they have run out of topics.
Having something to say and knowing how to say it is huge. I want to help you with that. I want to give you not only ideas about what to say, but the skills and confidence to write a variety of posts that will connect with your readers.
In this post, I am going to show you:
- why having a blog is worth the effort
- how to narrow down your blog’s purpose and find your audience
- nifty tips and tricks for never running out of post topics
- some of the most popular post types and how to write each one
- how to use your blog’s analytical data to measure success and improve your blog
- how to access additional online resources to improve your blog content
All right. Let’s jump in.
Why Have a Blog, Anyway?
In the Savvy Blogging workshops Bob and I taught, some of our students showed up because they were thinking about jumping into the blogging waters, but they hadn’t yet made up their minds. They needed a little help.
So we would always start the class with the question, “Why have a blog, anyway?”
People start blogs for all kinds of reasons. They may have begun their journey with one or two goals in mind, but as they got into blogging more, they discovered other benefits—ones they hadn’t anticipated.
Let’s look at some of reasons people blog.
For Business-Focused Bloggers
Business owners and entrepreneurs who blog may start slow and small, but for many of them, the goal is to eventually begin to generate revenue and/or leads for their business. If you have a business, you might blog:
To focus your business.
Blogging can help you narrow your focus and become more of a specialist. Knowing a lot about a certain niche puts you in the driver’s seat and attracts people who need help or advice in that area. For instance, I started out as a copywriter and social media coach, but gradually focused my business down to blogging coach. And my blog became more about how to be a more effective blogger.
To build your credibility.
As people begin to see how much you know in your field of expertise, they will come to value you as a credible resource.
Someone they can ask questions to and get answers from.
This is a good thing. Because the more people see that you know your stuff, the more they will come to trust you as a source of good advice. And, as the term know, like, trust implies, the next step is hiring you to deliver a service or purchasing one of your products.
A blog helps you develop that kind of credibility.
To generate business leads.
A blog is an excellent tool for leading readers into your sales funnel. Readers will be more likely to come to you when they need something because you have already developed their trust by giving away all that free stuff (content) on your blog.
So, as they begin to see that you can solve some of their problems, some of them will become customers and clients.
To stay current with the trends.
Blogging is a perfect way to keep up to speed on the things that are happening in your field or industry. Through the research you do to write a post, you learn about all the new stuff and, better yet, you are keeping your readers current with it, too.
To make money directly though products or services.
Some bloggers sell their services and products on their blog, without even having a separate website. And often, bloggers can sell affiliate products or services that are related to their business, bringing them a steady (if small) stream of income from affiliate payouts.
To increase traffic to your website.
If your posts are enticing enough, people will become more curious about what you do and the services and products you provide. So the natural next stop will be your website.
Your blog is the perfect place to offer content in small pieces and direct your readers to more comprehensive (paid) solutions on your website.
For Personal and Hobby-focused Bloggers
On the other hand, some blogs may never earn money because they weren’t launched for that purpose. If you start a personal blog, it may be focused on:
Some bloggers, like my friend Dana Trentini over at HypothyroidMom.com, start a blog because they have developed—or overcome—a disease or illness or something else, and they want to help people who are going through the same challenges.
Dana’s blog has grown phenomenally in a very short time because she found an audience with unmet needs and chose to focus on helping them. She now gets more than 660,000 monthly page views and is read by people in 180 countries.
This kind of blog succeeds because it connects readers who are similarly challenged with resources and provides a place for them to connect and share ideas.
Changing people’s beliefs or promoting a cause.
Some bloggers want to raise awareness about important issues or to get people to think differently or become involved in supporting a social or political cause. These blogs are usually a mix of public education and advocacy.
Sharing a passion or hobby.
Some blogs focus on a personal passion: painting, scrapbooking, quilting, or other pastimes. The purpose is to connect people with the same passion and share ideas.
Extra Benefits: Icing on the Cake
As if the reasons above were not enough to motivate you to blog, there are other significant benefits. These extra perks will bubble over into different areas of your business or personal life.
You will be writing regularly and, boy, does that improve your skills.
You will find yourself becoming a better writer because you are putting in regular time, practicing the craft. And writing is a valuable skill that has applications in many other parts of one’s life.
You learn how to listen.
I always thought I was listening before, but thoughtful comments from readers taught me how to lean in close and really understand what my community was saying.
Perhaps it is the immediacy of blogging.
The instant feedback.
It is this kind of listening that moves a blogger forward, helps her give her readers (and clients) the things they need to solve their problems.
You will meet some very interesting people.
Some of them you may even form partnerships with. I have, among other things, collaborated to co-teach a webinar, traded guest posts with other bloggers and even become a permanent member of a blogging team at a new site.
All of this helped boost my visibility and credibility.
You sharpen your teaching skills.
The parts of blogging that are about teaching? They are the best.
And when a reader says, “I tried that strategy. And it worked!”? Well, those are some of the happiest moments in a blogger’s life.
You will become more accountable to deadlines.
There is nothing like having a once or twice weekly blog post deadline to train you in meeting target dates for other projects.
You develop a “thicker skin.”
Having a thicker skin doesn’t mean you ignore the critics. It just means that you analyze the negative blog comments and figure out if they make sense.
If they do, make an effort to change. If they don’t, accept the criticism, thank the reader for expressing her feelings and move on.
Another life lesson.
You begin to understand the huge differences between an audience and a community.
An audience listens. A community listens and responds.
An audience doesn’t necessarily feel valued. A community is appreciated—and recognized.
An audience is people reading in a vacuum. A community is an audience, talking to the blogger—and more importantly—to each other.
An audience consumes and leaves. A community hangs around for the conversation.
You will find your voice.
Some people try to make finding your voice a complicated thing. But all it really means is understanding who you are, how you think about things and how you communicate with other people— in the most authentic way.
The more you blog, the closer you will get to your authentic writer’s voice.
You may even get noticed by the press.
I can’t guarantee this will happen, but sometimes a writer or reporter is looking for advice or quotes for his or her article. They might find you in a Google search of their topic.
This happened to me and resulted in my being part of a story in the Boston Globe. That kind of coverage can do wonders—for both your blog and your business.
Or, you might even win a blogging award that gets you press for your blog (and your business). In 2011, I was selected one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, a competition held jointly by Copyblogger and Write to Done. As a result, my blog got on more people’s radar screens because the winners were featured in a great number of popular online publications.
And free press is always a good thing.
Identifying Your Goal and Finding Your Audience
The first step in setting up a blog is to define both the goal of your blog—its purpose—and the audience you are looking to attract. The answers to these two questions will help you create the right content.
The goal is no more than a short definition of what you hope to achieve and what success will look like when you get there. Your goal might change as you progress in your blogging journey, but starting with one is always a good idea.
What is the long-term goal of your blog? To sell your books? To get speaking engagements? To build trust and credibility so that some of your readers become actual customers and clients? To share your passion for a cause, a sport or a hobby?
Take a moment and write down your goal as you see it. Your about page should be clearly written with this goal in mind. People who land on your blog will often visit your about page to get a quick sense of what your blog is about. For more on this, see my post: How to Write an Unforgettable Online Bio.
Now a word about your audience. Think about your ideal reader(s) in direct relationship to your blog’s goal. Who are the people you need as readers to get you closer to achieving your goal?
Write down your target audience (or two or three sub-groups of readers) you hope to reach with your blog’s message. Keep your blog’s goal and audience front and center and never lose sight of them because they determine what kind of content you will produce.
A tagline can help you define your goal and audience
A good way to figure out if you have nailed your blog’s goal and audience is to create a tagline for your blog.
Your tagline is your blog’s main message, encapsulated in 25 words or less (fewer is better). It is usually one of the first things people see because it’s normally in the header, right below the blog’s name.
To understand what a powerful marketing tool a tagline is, we can look at the Hollywood screenwriters. They know how to sell their product—their movie or TV show idea—in one line. They can entice us in 25 words or less. They are skilled in pitching an idea for a movie or TV series —to the buyers of film properties and to their future fans.
They know that if they can’t sum up their story in one sentence, they will have doors slamming on them all the way up and down Hollywood Boulevard.
And it had better be powerful, catchy and memorable or the game’s over before it begins.
Did you ever watch the 1980s American Sitcom Family Ties? Perhaps you have seen it in reruns. Michael J. Fox got his start in acting on this show, playing the conservative, Nixon-loving Alex P. Keaton, son of ex-hippies Elyse and Steven Keaton.
The writers captured the essence of this show in just four words: Hip parents. Square kids.
Or the movie The King’s Speech’s tagline: When God couldn’t save the King, the Queen turned to someone who could.
Your blog’s tagline should do the same thing. It should say enough about what your blog is about. And it should make your readers curious to learn more.
When I was a blogging coach, my tagline was: Helping bloggers educate, engage and entertain. At that time, I was blogging consistently about those three strategies, which were in my mind essential to a good blog: teaching people things (educate), starting discussions (engage) and touching readers’ emotions (entertain).
It worked for me.
How to create a brilliant tagline
These five tips will help to get the thinking started:
1. Make it short.
10-12 words is good. 6 or fewer is better. Many times if the process is a struggle, it means that you haven’t clearly defined your blog’s goal yet.
One of the best short taglines I have ever seen came from the Zen Habits blog: Breathe. Everything the blogger writes about can be put into that container. Habits and behaviors that help people de-stress and live a healthier life.
It isn’t always possible to sum it up in one word, but when it’s done well, it really works.
2. Consider making it sticky.
If you have read my post, How To Write Memorable Blog Post Headlines, you already understand “stickiness.” Sticky words stay in the reader’s brain. If visitors remember your tagline, they can more easily tell other people about your blog. Play around with visually appealing, image-rich words that instantly give readers a picture in their minds.
I like the tagline of Nomadic Chick, a travel blog: Cubicle Dweller to Traveling Gypsy, because I can visualize that. Paired with Nomadic Chick, the name of her blog, I get where she used to be, where she is now, and what she blogs about.
3. Be clear.
This is not the time to dance around the theme and topic of your blog. Readers need to know within seconds what your blog is about and what they can expect to find there.
What is your blog’s premise? Who is it for? What is it about?
Your measure should be: Will a complete stranger to my blog understand its purpose by reading my tagline?
And remember that if the name of your blog doesn’t tell your visitors what it’s about at a glance, it’s especially important that your tagline does.
For example, the TwiTips blog has this tagline: Twitter Tips in 140 Characters or More (a nice twist on Twitter’s “140 characters or less”).
4. Project your voice and personality if you can.
People come to your blog because you are an interesting person. If you write funny, try to throw some humor into your tagline. If you have an attitude, make it a little edgy.
An example: The blogger at Five Kids Is A Lot of Kids warns you that she is not going to sugar coat things and she proudly proclaims it in her tagline: Raising kids to be self-sufficient enough to pay for their own counseling. That’s funny, slightly irreverent and not your typical “pink ballerinas” mommy blog.
We have been forewarned. So we can choose to stick around or leave.
5. Try building your tagline on your brand’s promise.
It’s a challenge but if you haven’t tried it, maybe you should. Because it helps you define what your blog is all about (and how it is related to your business if it’s a business blog).
And that’s a good thing. What are you promising readers if they stick around?
My friend, author and writing coach Joanna Penn of the award-winning Creative Penn blog, states her promise simply and clearly in her tagline:
Helping you write, market and publish your book.
How to Find Topics for Posts
Ideas for post topics are everywhere.
When you train your brain to start watching for them—reading, listening, looking around—you’ll find them popping up everywhere. As you work on your ideas, just remember that specific is always better than general. For instance, if you have a marketing or copywriting blog, the post topic of marketing with newsletters is way too general, but it can be something to start your thinking.
Tips and Tricks for Capturing Ideas for Blog Post Topics
I use a process called mind mapping to get from a way-too-big topic to just the right size of content to handle in one post.
Picture a map. You may have a major city, with roads and highways that branch off from it and lead to other places. You can think about your post topics in the same way. The major city is your central idea and the roads are the spokes that lead to smaller sub-ideas or pieces of the content. For another visual representation of mind mapping, see my post, Pencils, Pens and Writing from The Heart: The Beauty of Low-Tech Blogging.
Let’s revisit our topic of newsletters and use the mind mapping tool to break it down into more manageable pieces. To start, you would draw a large circle in the middle of a piece of paper and label it “Marketing with Newsletters.” When you think of a smaller part of that big topic, a sub-topic, draw a spoke that goes out from the big center circle and label it (remember the roads on the map?).
Your first sub-topic might be “Getting Permission.” This would be a post on the importance of complying with the anti-spam laws, including getting permission from people before you place them on a newsletter email list.
From that circle, “Getting Permission,” another spoke could lead to a smaller circle with the sub-sub-topic of “How to Ethically Build Your Email List,” and so on, building out with more sub-topics until your mind map somewhat resembles a spider’s web.
For an example of a post on how to build an email list turned out, read this.
The possibilities are practically endless and one general topic can produce a mind map with dozens of ideas for new posts. Be sure to keep your mind map handy for those days when you find yourself in a thought vacuum.
Bloggers are writers and writers are readers
A while back, someone asked me,“What do you do when you get ‘blogger’s block?’”
“Oh, I have a special fairy for that,” I said.
There was a deep silence on the other end of the phone line. Of course, I was being my usual smarty pants self.
But let me just share one insanely simple reason I don’t run out of blogging ideas.
I heard on an NPR show recently that 27 percent of Americans did not read a single book last year.
Not a single book.
Okay, I may not be the norm on this issue because I’ve been a book junkie since I was five.
I was the one who had to consume words with my breakfast. I read the back of the Trix cereal box , and even the side—all the way through those disgusting ingredients.
Corn syrup. Red Dye. Trisodium phosphate.
I now read, on average, a book a week, not counting business books.
My tastes run from Harry Potter to Les Miserables. And in between, every memoir, biography or true crime book I can get my hands on.
5 reasons bloggers should be readers, too
Bloggers should be avid readers. Reading opens up the mind, makes us think in different ways and helps us understand all kinds of people, even if the characters we meet on the page are plopped into a fictional setting.
Reading lots of books across multiple genres will help you:
1. Discover more new ideas—or new slants on old ideas.
New ideas for blog posts often come to me when I am reading. I keep a notebook on my nightstand. Something will happen in a book or a character will say something, and I’ll say to myself, “What if…?” and frequently a new post idea will spring to mind.
2. Improve your vocabulary.
If you have ever been pained trying to think of just the right word to use in a sentence, you’ll find the words coming to you easier the more you read.
3. Claim your voice and writing style.
Reading lots of different authors helps you nail your unique voice. For a while, I fell in love with different authors’ styles—Mary Karr (The Liars’ Club), Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones, Long Quiet Highway) and others. I tried on pieces, a few at a time, and in the process I found my own.
4. Touch your readers’ emotions.
No matter what kind of blog you have, your readers want to feel something when they open up one of your posts. Because if your blog is bland, if it doesn’t connect with them on some sort of human level, they probably won’t hang around long.
When you read a lot, you get a sense of how different writers appeal to the senses and emotions. As you write each post, ask yourself, “What do I want my reader to feel?”
5. Tell your stories better.
One of my guest posters, the brilliant A. Victoria Mixon, who also happens to be the editor I am working with as I write my memoir, recently showed us how we can improve our storytelling on our blogs with basic fiction techniques. So as you read more fiction, you naturally learn how to do that better.
In her post, Victoria compares a well written blog post to a good story. They both have:
THE HOOK. This is the opening of your post, where you grab the reader with something that will surprise or intrigue her. Something to inspire her curiosity, something to make her want to know more. Victoria calls this “the crook-neck cane from the wings fiction writers use to get the reader by the neck.”
THE DEVELOPMENT. Good posts, like good stories, have a goal (where does the reader want to go?) and needs (what problems does the reader need to solve?).
CLIMAX. As a blogger (or biz owner), you can help your reader survive by solving her problem. This is the end of your blog post—the point of your story. And you have led your reader all the way through your post straight to the resolution.
More Tips for Collecting Blog Post Ideas
Grapes of Wrath author John Steinbeck once said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
He’s right. In fact, some bloggers have so many that they don’t know what to do with them all. They collect them and put them in jars. And if they wilt and they pass their expiration date? No worry, because there are a lot more where those came from.
It used to be that every time I sat down to write a post, I would look at the screen and tell myself, “Okay. I used my last good idea in Tuesday’s post. I have no more left.”
After agonizing over each word, I would finally edit and hit “publish.”
And I would say, “All right. I came up with this one good idea, but I’ll never think of another one. The well is dry.”
And so it would go. It was painful—not much fun and way too much pressure. Until I realized one small thing.
Ideas are everywhere.
The tricky part is paying attention to them, because they don’t always smack you on the side of the head.
Now, in every interaction, in every mundane, everyday experience, I ask myself: is there a blog post in this?
9 More Ways to Collect Blog Post Ideas
1. Turn the camera on yourself in everyday life.
At the bank, or hair salon, or the grocery store, watch and listen as if you are holding a camera and recording what is going on.
Earlier on in my blogging journey, when my blog’s focus was marketing, I got an idea for a post on customer service by simply visiting a local grocery store for a box of cereal and a jar of marina sauce. My post:
2. Watch and listen during uncommon experiences.
I live on an island. Three winters ago, the underwater cable that brought power from the mainland broke. It took eight full weeks to repair it and we had to live on generators all that time.
As we pulled together and formed a circle of support, it occurred to me how much we islanders were functioning like a well-built online community. And there was my blog post:
3. Identify the activities and times of day when your ideas show up.
If you pay attention, you’ll learn when your best ideas come to you. Maybe it’s in the shower. Or driving. Or scrubbing the kitchen sink.
For me, it’s often in those moments of semi-consciousness, just before sleep comes. I keep a notebook on the nightstand. Another one of my coaching clients told me that she never would have discovered her ideal idea generation time, but one day she was driving her truck and the radio broke. It turns out in the silence, with just the wheels turning, blog post topics started flooding her mind.
So get ready to capture those ideas—with a recording device, pen and paper, or something else. Because those Boys in the Basement, as Stephen King calls your most creative ideas, won’t come around unless you open that door.
4. Pay attention to the comments your readers leave on your blog.
The questions, insights and feedback your readers leave in blog comments will give you many ideas for new posts.
Free, stream-of-consciousness (uncensored) writing brings me some of my most unique ideas. Try it for 15 minutes a day for a month and see what happens. Don’t think. Just write.
I talked about this at greater length earlier in this chapter, but reading is a catalyst for new ideas. During a time I was reading a lot of Dr. Seuss, I came up with this post idea:
They say that when you try to teach something to someone else, you find out how much you know (or don’t know) about it. You will also get many ideas for new posts.
I taught free blogging workshops for several years for that very reason. It kept me on my toes and in touch with my readers’ (and potential clients’) needs. Many organizations—Chambers of Commerce, networking groups, etc.—are constantly looking for teachers and speakers.
Try it and see what happens.
8. Mine your family for ideas.
Sometimes I look back on some of my experiences raising my daughter to see if they can apply in story form to drive home a post (often with humor because, well, it’s my family).
Don’t overlook your own family as a source of rich material for blog posts.
9. Step up your pace.
Like Steinbeck’s rabbits, the more you blog, the more those cool new ideas will appear. It’s as if it wakes up your brain and pretty soon, you won’t know what to do with all of them.
If you blog once a week, try two. If you blog twice a week, step it up to three. When you do this, you just may find those unique ideas for posts popping into your brain more often.
In Chapter Four, we’ll look at six popular post types, explore the value of a good blog post image and learn about a process for going from identifying your post topic all the way through to putting the final touches on your completed post.
Popular Post Types and How to Structure a Post
There are many ways to structure your content. Trial and error will show you which types of posts the particular readers of your blog respond most favorably to. You can experiment with some of the ones I describe in this chapter. Watch engagement and page views and adapt accordingly. (See Chapter Eleven for ideas on how to use data and analytics to improve your content.)
If you vary the types of posts from time to time, your readers are more likely to stay interested.
My goal when I write a post is to do three things. I call them the 3 E’s: educate, engage and entertain.
You may have different goals for your blog, but here are just a few ways you can organize your posts. Some of these can even be combined within one post. For instance, you might write a how-to post that is also a list post.
6 types of posts that will appeal to your readers
There are many, many more types of posts, and as you blog more, you will discover new ones of your own. But for now, here are six to start with:
1. The how-to post
Because this post shows the reader how to do something (preferably faster or better), it has built-in value. As soon as your visitor reads the title, she knows that it will be useful and worth her time. This post works especially well for business bloggers whose goal it is to turn readers into new clients. For help with writing a how-to post, see Chapter Five.
2. The numbered list post
Some experts say that the list post is dead, that it’s been overused. But the fact remains that numbers reach a special part in the brain and a list post (“5 Ways to…,” “10 Strategies for…,” etc.) lets the reader know up front what things (and how many) she is going to walk away with. I’ll walk through how to write a list post in Chapter Six.
3. The interview or profile post
This may be an interview of a professional person in your industry or an overview piece on someone’s background, accomplishments and contributions. It is even better if you can include unique tidbits and advice that has not been shared publicly before. For more on writing an interview post, see Chapter Seven.
4. The opinion (or rant) post
The reason readers like this one is that they get facts and information they are looking for. But they also get a bonus: they get to hear your take on the subject. This is where you can bring in your beliefs and share how you think about things.
In this post, you can take an event or trend and inject more of your personal thoughts. What do you think about what is happening? If you are talking about a new strategy in your field or industry, would you use it in your business? Would you change it in any way? Why or why not?
Readers like it because you are giving them things to ponder that they might not have thought of before.
A rant post, which is a special kind of opinion post, is a little trickier to pull off. Here you are writing about something that bugs you.
No one likes a whiner.
Unless you whine about something that drives most people silently crazy.
Because then you have touched a nerve and your readers are going to want to weigh in.
Why do rant posts work?
Listening to someone rant can be cathartic. We feel the thing that is making this blogger lose her sanity. And the blogger is giving us a voice.
You may notice that your rant posts usually get more comments. That’s because you’ve touched a nerve. You made someone think.
Or, a reader will disagree with you completely and she won’t be able to settle down until she tells you just why you are wrong.
Written in the right way, a rant post can help your readers analyze an issue and motivate them to weigh in on it.
But be careful, because done the wrong way, especially if you call people out by name, you can come across as mean-spirited.
You should be on safe ground if you share your feelings about an issue (as opposed to a person), tell why this thing bothers you and what people can learn from it, and ask your readers what they think.
See Chapter Eight for a suggested process for writing a rant post.
5. The personal experience (story) post
If you can pull it off, this is one of the most powerful types of posts you can write. To tell a good story in a blog post, you should have action (what is happening), a character (who it’s happening to) and, most importantly, the point of the story. Because what good is it to tell a story that doesn’t have a point?
To tell a story on your blog, your five steps or parts should be: figuring out your theme (what is the point of your post?); pulling readers in with an engaging hook (make the reader want to know what is going on); painting a setting and introducing characters we will care about (make the character someone we can emotionally invest in); setting up your conflict (the problem you are helping the reader to solve); and ending with a resolution that shows the choice your character made (the point of your story and blog post—how it ends and what it means for the reader). You can read more about this in Chapter Nine.
6. The review post
Occasionally I will review someone’s book or a product and tie it to a giveaway, like a copy of an author’s book. With this kind of post, it is a good idea to let readers know upfront that 1) you were not paid to write the review and 2) this is your honest appraisal (warts and all).
There you go: six distinct ways to structure a blog post.
We’ll talk more about how to write each post in Chapters Five through Ten.
A word about images
Research shows that blog posts with ample use of photos increase readability and viewership by approximately 50 percent.
The best bloggers have a way of connecting deeply with their readers. Making them sit up and take notice. Making them remember their content. Making them feel.
One way to do that is to find just the right photo.
6 Reasons The Right Photo Will Help You Build the Perfect Blog Post
1. Because words alone are boring.
Your visitor wants a reason to read your post. If you’ve just crammed a bunch of words together, her eyes won’t get the break they need.
2. Because we are all attention-disordered.
A photo grabs us by the shoulders and makes us pay attention long enough to read the post.
3. Because at least 60 percent of our readers are visual learners.
That’s a huge chunk of readers who are engaged more by the visual and who process information better that way. Images help them remember your content.
4. Because photos work beautifully with analogies and metaphors.
The photo is metaphor’s powerful partner. It’s this idea: This thing is like that other thing and here, this photo shows you that.
5. Because photos naturally point readers to your content.
We are a curious bunch, we humans. Our brains are designed to want to know the why of things, to know the answers to questions. A photo makes your reader wonder, “Why is this here?” And she’ll have to read your post to find out.
6. Because photos evoke emotions.
This is the grand-daddy reason of them all. Photos set the emotional tone. Love. Fear. Laughing out loud. On my blog, I don’t take myself too seriously and my photos reflect that.
The Emotional Impact of the Right Photo
Does your content have staying power? If you evoke emotions in your readers, I can guarantee that your ideas will remain firmly planted in their brains.
How do you do that? With the right photo, of course.
One of the biggest factors in remembering something—an image, an experience—is how much emotion is attached to it. For all you science lovers, here is the reason: The amygdala, the center of emotion in the brain’s temporal lobe, lights up when emotional content is shown, which in turn boosts the activity in areas of the brain that form memory.
The non-geek explanation: The brain is hard-wired to remember things that evoke emotions. Either you want to remember something in order to avoid it (if anger, pain or sadness was felt) or you want to keep it as a memory so you can return to the experience (if you felt joy, happiness or fun).
5 Emotions That Pack a Punch in Photos
If the content that is most remembered appeals to readers’ emotions as well as their intellect, then our blog post photo becomes an important way to make that connection. There are endless emotions we can evoke, depending on our post’s topic. Here are five examples:
In my post, What’s Under Your Bed: 10 Monster Fears Worth Chasing Down, I tackled the fears bloggers have that keep them up at night—all the what-ifs.
What better picture than a child sitting up in bed, afraid to go to sleep?
I wrote Is Writing with Vulnerability a Sign of Low Self-Concept? to provoke a discussion about whether the best bloggers take off their armor every once in a while and allow themselves to be hurt—and whether being open and vulnerable enables them to connect with their readers on a deeper level.
The photo? A cute baby expressing surprise and wonder.
In Social Media Fail: 5 Reasons I Will Unfollow You, I shared my frustrations with following someone on Twitter, only to find out that their tweets are divisive, or too ‘me-centered, ’ or full of one-way broadcasts.
The photo of this boy evokes emotions of unhappiness and disappointment.
In the lingering pain of 9-11, my post, September 11, 10 Years Later: Why Stories Still Matter, focused not on the anger and sadness surrounding this event, but on the acts of kindness and compassion, often between total strangers.
The photo of the NYC firefighter holding the photo of the girl I mentored, the child who wanted an autograph from him, appeals to compassion and reconciliation.
They say that laughter is the shortest bridge between two people. In Why You Should Be a Copycat Blogger, I compared my crazy experiences as a nervous first-year teacher to the challenges of beginning bloggers as they make their way through those first months.
The photo: A cat whose one and only purpose is to make you smile.
Consider finding the perfect photo to complement your content. Your readers will more likely remember your post—and you.
Next, we’ll take a look at the process I personally use to write my blog posts.
My Seven-step Process for Writing a Blog Post
When it comes to writing your blog post, you will find the approach that works best for you. This is just one of many options, but it is one I’ve found to work for me.
1. I identify the topic.
If you need a refresher on generating ideas for topics, go back to Chapter Three, “How to Find Topics for Posts.” I start with a fairly general topic because it allows me wiggle room as I write, as new thoughts occur to me.
Because sometimes the original topic takes an interesting side trip and I will end up writing about something completely different.
2. I write a working title.
This is similar to a book or screenplay’s first title. It will have something to do with what I think my topic is before I write the post. If I feel particularly clever, I might write something creative right out of the gate, something with a high CQ (Curiosity Quotient).
But, still, I know this is just the working title. Something to play with later.
Sometimes it stays as the title in the final draft, but more times than not it changes.
3. I create a brief outline.
For me, this is not a separate document and I am not a slave to it. It is really the skeleton of my post, which I will fill in at step #4.
It may be as simple as five short phrases, which make up the five major points in my post. I write them as bolded sub-heads, as a placeholder for the paragraphs that will flesh out each point.
4. I write my post.
Sometimes, my outline lets me fill in the paragraphs after each point in a flash. (I love it when I get that lucky.)
But most times, I rearrange the sequence of the points, dropping some, adding others and even throwing them all out and going with my new inspiration. But they are there to guide me.
So I elaborate each major point with paragraphs that explain them and write my whole post that way.
5. I go back to my beginning paragraph and the ending.
The beginning is crucial. The “hook” must be there to immediately grab the reader by the shoulders and engage her brain. Because if that doesn’t happen, she’ll leave my post.
And be sure that the goal (or point) of your post is obvious in the first few lines. Fickle readers need to be motivated. They need a reason to stick around. Tell them what they are going to get.
Now move to the ending. If you want to engage and encourage your readers to weigh in by leaving a comment, is that invitation there? If you meant to have a call to action, is it clearly visible? If you want your readers to do something, you must tell them, because they don’t pick that up by osmosis.
6. I revisit my working title and brainstorm alternative ones.
This is where the work really begins because, of course, the headline will make or break my blog post. If the working title no longer promises what my post delivered—and if it is not attention-getting—out it goes.
As I start writing headlines, the first ones that come out are always crappy: lame, boring, full of clichés. I get those out first.
With more thought, better ones come along. Maybe it’s a question that makes my readers curious. Maybe it’s a confession or secret I promise to tell. Or a bold statement or hint of an unusual solution to a common problem.
For more tips and strategies for creating headlines that pop, see my post, How to Write Memorable Blog Post Headlines.
I try to write at least six different headlines for each post I write—often it’s many more than that.
I narrow the titles down to the two best. Sometimes I combine the most powerful pieces of each and write one new headline. Other times I choose the most appealing one and focus on making it better.
This last step is where the “good enough” headline becomes the just right one.
I change words around, substitute, delete, add, change a statement headline to a question. I play with them until one jumps out at me.
Even now, in my sixth year of blogging, I’m learning new things about headline writing—what makes one post bomb and another soar to great heights, even go viral.
7. I edit at least twice: once for clarity of content and once for grammar, spelling and punctuation.
I read first with an eye toward ideas and major content points. I ask myself:
Did I lead with my “big idea” (copywriter language for the point of my post)?
Are my paragraph transitions smooth?
Do new paragraphs introduce new ideas?
Does the tone and voice sound like me?
Are there spots that are awkward or cause me to stumble?
Then I read for the finer points: grammar, spelling and punctuation:
Are there errors in tense or word usage (“their” vs “there,” for example)?
Is there any jargon (industry terms or acronyms readers might not understand)?
Have I used any clichés?
Errors in spelling?
Any improperly used or missing punctuation?
A word on formatting for readability
While this book focuses mainly on creating compelling content, just know that you can have the best and brightest ideas to share, but if your formatting isn’t reader-friendly, your visitors won’t stick around.
That means that it is important to write for all those skimmers and scanners (which are a majority of your readers).
Some tips to enhance readability:
1. Use white space liberally.
White space is your friend. If you have ever read a blog post or article with lines and lines of text without paragraph breaks, you know how tiresome that can be. Frequent space breaks will make your content much more easily digestible.
2. Write short paragraphs to give your readers’ eyes a break.
This goes along with tip #1. Sometimes I will even write a one-sentence paragraph, particularly if I want to make that point really stand out.
3. Use bolded sub-heads to help your readers organize your content.
If you use the bullet points from your outline (and they remain your main points), writing snappy titles and bolding them will greatly help your reader follow the sequence of the key thoughts that lead to your post’s conclusion.
4. Avoid excessive capitalizations, crazy fonts, italics and exclamation points.
Though I don’t see it as much anymore, huge slabs of text in all caps can be confusing to the reader. Besides that, using all caps means that you are yelling at your reader (do you really want to do that?) and it makes your text harder to read.
And while you’re at it, stay away from those weird fonts that make your reader puzzle over your words. Stick to web-friendly fonts like Arial, Georgia, Verdana or Cambria.
And exclamation points? They are supposed to be reserved for strong feelings and/or high volume. As in shouting. Use them sparingly, if at all. If you want to hear more on my thoughts about this, see my rant post, ‘Wanton Exclamation Point!’: Ask Her in and She’ll Want to Stay Overnight.
5. Use a special graphic to highlight important content.
Sometimes you want to include a quote that sums up your post or highlights your content in a special way, and you want it to stand out. Consider using a block quote, like I did in this post when I wanted to highlight some of the actor John Cleese’s words:
In Chapter Five, we’ll dive into how to write one of the all-time favorite post types, the how-to post.Chapter Five: How to Write a How-to Post
This is one of the most powerful posts you can write because your readers will walk away with the steps or process for solving a problem that has been poking at them.
The key, of course, us to have your finger on the pulse of your readers’ needs. If you know enough about the audience you have targeted, you should be able to identify their pain points.
Some examples of how-to posts:
In one post, I showed readers how to be a more creative blogger by expressing their ideas in a non-digital way (writing longhand, doodling, etc.) rather than typing on a keyboard.
In another post, I showed readers how to boost their CQ (Creativity Quotient) by adopting five new habits:
In yet another post, I showed readers how to get more blog traffic from Pinterest:
If your readers are potential customers and clients, you probably already have a pretty good idea what keeps them up at night. So how do you work through the problem to a solution with a set of steps your readers can follow and implement?
Here are the steps I use to write a how-to post:
1. Define the problem.
Remember, do not select too complex of a problem. You want one manageable enough to present the steps to solving it in bite-sized pieces. In addition to pesky problems that you have encountered in your field and niche, watch and listen in other places and you will see them everywhere.
They may come from your current clients and customers, from a newsletter reader, by doing a Google search, by reading other blogs and sites in your niche or on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
You can also survey your own blog readers for questions and problems they might have. If you learned something new (like in my post above driving traffic to your blog from Pinterest), you can even share those tips. But be sure to write down the ideas when you run across them, because, I guarantee, you won’t remember them later.
2. If the problem is still too big, break it into sub-parts.
This is the step in the process where you find out if your topic is the right size. If it has too many parts and facets, turn them into their own separate future how-to posts, so you are left with a problem that has a solution that can be divided into small, easy steps.
3. Write down the major steps to solving the problem.
I’m not talking about a 20-point list here. It’s more like 5-8 steps you describe succinctly in the bolded, numbered sub-heads, and follow-up text (1-3 paragraphs) where you expand, explaining each step in more detail.
Don’t go off on any tangents. If one of your steps makes you think of other information that is related but doesn’t apply specifically to this problem, describe it in a brief sentence or phrase and provide a link. Then write it down to address in a future post.
It is always helpful to include examples where you can. My most popular how-to posts were the ones that didn’t just say what to do, but gave examples of how to do it.
For instance, here is a post I wrote on how to hook your readers by telling a good story on your blog:
While we are on this, I’ll just mention that telling a personal story about how you solved a problem is a powerful strategy. For more information on that, see Chapter Nine, How to Write a Personal Experience Post.
Also, consider adding visuals to drive your points home: screenshots (when appropriate), photos, and charts are all good. Remember: people retain information longer in the memory cells of their brains if they can see more than just words.
4. Read through your rough draft for clarity and completeness.
Did I solve the problem for my readers?
Have I explained the solution clearly enough?
Are there any confusing parts or missing steps?
Based on your answers, make the necessary edits.
5. Get the formatting right.
In all posts, but particularly in the how-to post, it is important to make the copy skimmable, scannable and easy on the eyes. Busy people love it when they can pick up the steps to solving a problem by quickly scrolling down the text. Numbering your steps helps even more.
Put those one-sentence bullets for each step in bold font and use plenty of white space.
6. Revisit the post title, first paragraph and ending one more time.
Again, these are three of the most important sections in any blog post. Check these three major sections:
Does it make a promise that you will fulfill in your post?
Is the problem addressed in the title something your reader cares about?
Does it make the reader want to stay with the post to discover the solution?
The lead paragraph
Is the problem clear?
Is the problem presented in a pressing way?
Does the first paragraph lead the reader right to the steps for solving it?
The ending paragraph
Did you wrap up all the hanging questions?
Did you invite the reader to comment on the solution?
Did you invite people to share their experiences with the problem?
How to Write a List Post
A list post promises the reader a specific number of things in the headline and delivers on that promise in the post. It may be a number of reasons for using a strategy or doing something in a particular way; or a number of “secrets”; or a number of ways to tackle a problem.
The benefit for the reader is that she knows up front what she is going to get, what the takeaway will be from reading your post. She knows that by investing the time, there will be a payoff.
You might have heard that the list post is dead, that every blogger uses them and therefore they are not special anymore.
I hear it a lot. And from people who should know better. “People are tired of lists,” they say. “5 ways to do this. 7 tips for doing that.”
Don’t believe it.
Sometimes the trap we get into as bloggers and marketers is creating our content based on what we like, what appeals to us.
You may be sick of list posts, but your readers are not.
List posts are easy to read. They are scannable and memorable. And that is precisely why everyone writes them.
One A-list blogger who went on to write for Copyblogger looked at scads of her past posts and found that the ones with numbers in the title got 4 to 8 times more traffic than the ones without.
To understand some strategies for creating a list post, let’s look at a few examples.
5 Types of List Posts that Will Pull Your Readers In
Notice how I used a number in that headline. I wanted to promise you that you would learn about five different ways to write a list post.
Here we go:
1. The ‘Signs and Warnings’ Post
People pay attention to warnings and signs because they are afraid that ignoring them will put them in harm’s way. And the number in the title tells us how many “signs” we will get.
Whether it comes to our health, our relationships or our business success, we need to know that we are moving in the right direction. While my post below was written in more of a tongue-in-cheek way and designed to entertain, people read it because they were also curious.
Do I have any signs that I am a writer (or would like to be a writer?):
2. The ‘Reasons’ Post
This one helps readers to understand the “why” of an issue. In the case below, I present a problem for many people and something everyone has experienced at one time or another: Why did my comment on that blog get lost in the crowd? Why didn’t it gain the blogger’s attention? Why wasn’t it recognized by the other readers?
This post walked readers through ten reasons their blog comment may have gone unnoticed—and what to do to change that:
3. The ‘Tricks’ Post
With this one, you are counting on people wanting to know inside information, “tricks” that will make a task easier. In this case, I showed writers the strategies screenwriters use to extend a popular story into a movie sequel and promote it to audiences. By reading this, they learn five of those tricks that they can apply to blogging:
4. The ‘Secrets’ Post
As with the “tricks” post, here you are implying that this is information that not everyone knows about. There is just something about the word “secret” that makes everyone want to know what it is.
In the post below, we are told nine secrets to creating blog post titles that hook our readers.
5. The ‘Ways’ Post
This one combines the usefulness of a how-to post with the promise of a list post. When it comes to a problem (in this case, not enough traffic to our blogs from Twitter), sharing multiple ways to solve it makes for a winning post:
There you have it: five different ideas for writing a list post.
Chapter Seven: How to Write an Interview or Profile Post
The interview (profile) post is popular with many readers because it gives them an inside peek at a successful person in their industry, whether it be in writing and publishing, social media, marketing or another area. We always hope that we are going to get a scoop on this fascinating person, that we will find out things that other people don’t know.
The interview post is just that. The blogger asks questions that the person featured answers.
When coming up with questions for your interview post, it makes it more interesting if you go beyond the usual ones (When did you start your business? What’s the most important thing you’ve learned?). Go for specific, rather then general and ask open-ended questions that allow the interviewee room to answer in the way that best applies to him or her.
On the blog of Andrea Hurst, owner of Andrea Hurst and Associates Literary Agency, I had the pleasure of participating as one of her Authornomics interview series guests.
The questions were insightful and thought-provoking:
The format of a profile post is slightly different. Rather than a Q&A structure, this post gives the blogger more freedom in how she wants to talk about her featured guest.
On occasion, I have even been known to feature an animal on my blog. I started following @winecountrydog on Twitter several years ago. I am one of his 10,000+ fans. His owner, who handles the account, impressed me because she managed to tweet consistently in this dog’s voice, while bringing us important information about animal welfare and rescue, wine and health of our environment —all with a kick-ass sense of humor.
So in this post, which was more of a profile, I talked about what we can learn about effective social media practices from @winecountrydog:
A third type is the profile post that resembles a guest post. The blogger gives the guest some general guidelines, or perhaps one broad question, and he or she writes the post (usually in the first person) on that blogger’s site.
You can also write a post that brings attention to people who impressed you in a particular week— and why. Recently I gave shoutouts to two writer friends who had done something to inspire me in a post I called:
Another time, I chose to profile two of my favorite authors in a post that talked about their skill in the thing most writers struggle with: connecting with our readers online. My post:
And I leave you with one more profile post. My friend Gini Dietrich from the Spin Sucks blog recently did an interview with social media superstar Chris Brogan, in her ongoing series, The Spin Sucks Inquisition. Notice how unique some of her questions were and how she tailored them to Chris’s personality and background:
Next, we’ll look at how an opinion post can encourage your readers to share their own stands on popular issues, how to avoid the major pitfalls in writing a rant post and, of course, how to write each of them.
How to Write an Opinion (or Rant) Post
An opinion post is really just a blog post commenting on an event or issue, but with the blogger’s personal take on it.
A rant post is similar, but the topic is usually something that has gotten under the blogger’s skin, made her angry or sad or upset.
Some bloggers are afraid that if they write an opinion post, they will alienate their readers. Of course, if you choose a contentious topic that divides your readership and makes some readers feel defensive about their own views, you just might.
But taking a reasonable, but debatable, stand on a business issue consistently gets my post:
- increased page views
- engaged readers
- more comments
And who doesn’t want those things?
For instance, when my blog still focused on marketing, I wrote my opinion (really a rant) of a charming “anti-marketer” surfer dude—an online pitch guy who is reaping millions by using what I think are manipulative tactics.
Not everyone agreed with me, but that was what I wanted to do: start a lively discussion.
In another post, I wrote about why I think the social media bashers are wrong. Same result.
One way to pull off a rant blog post
Sometimes, you just need to get it out. Something is bugging you and you’ll just feel better if you spill it. I did that with my rant about people who put you on a newsletter list you didn’t ask to be put on.
Written in a structured way, a rant can actually help your readers analyze an issue and motivate them to weigh in on it.
How to write a rant post
These points provide a five-step process for writing a rant post:
1. What are your feelings about this issue or topic? If you don’t let go of those emotions, you won’t be able to think clearly enough to present your case.
Try free writing the answer to this question: What is happening that is upsetting you and how are you feeling about it?
2. Why does this thing bother you? In my case, I was bothered because, not only was ‘sensitive, ponytailed marketing guy’ taking advantage of people who can’t see through his tactics and who are suckers for the next big dream, but he was making it harder for the responsible, ethical marketers out there.
Free write: List the reasons that you are not happy about this issue or trend.
3. What can your readers learn from it? Now turn your emotions off and write about the takeaways. In my case, having been trained in direct marketing tactics, I could see what ponytailed guy was doing. I took six of the messages in his Internet video and matched each with the strategy he was using.
4. Ask your readers what they think. Be objective here. I said, “So what do you think? Can we learn anything about marketing and branding from this surfer dude? Is what he is doing good salesmanship or manipulation—or do you think those two things are the same thing? Does it work for his brand but maybe nor for everyone’s?
5. Be prepared for a lively discussion. Now I didn’t have as many readers when I wrote that post as I do now, but even the few comments I got showed a diversity of opinions. If you stir the pot, get ready for different viewpoints. Respect them because some of the best discussions on blogs happen when readers have opposing views.
A word of caution: Stay away from political opinions because you will naturally alienate approximately 50 percent of your audience, the ones with strongly held beliefs that happen to be directly opposite yours.
If you must do a political rant, do it on your personal blog—not on your business blog.
How to Write a Personal Experience Post
There is nothing like a good story to hook your readers. And the personal experience blog post will do just that. Bloggers who know how to do this tend to make more personal connections with their readers.
Because when you share something of yourself, your blog becomes a living, breathing representation of you. And, because you are writing in first person (“I…”), it feels closer.
Just be sure the experience you tell about is one that had an impact on you.
As my friend Victoria says in her groundbreaking book, The Art & Craft of Story:
You are unique. Your history, your life experiences are unlike any other person’s in the world. And looking at your own life will teach you how to tell unique stories.
This is the process I use when writing a personal experience post.
Steps to Telling an Engaging Story on Your Blog
1. Have a point.
Your story—and your post—must have a point. Otherwise, why would your reader be interested? The famed writer Flannery O’Connor said that a story is ‘a full action with a point.’ What better way to describe a personal experience blog post?
In their most basic form, a story and a blog post must have something happening and both must end with a point.
To figure out the point, ask yourself: What is the one thing I am trying to say? What one thing will apply to all of my readers, regardless of their backgrounds and life experiences? Write it on a sticky note, put it on your computer monitor and keep it front and center with each word you write.
2. Hook your reader immediately.
Your blog post title and opening paragraph are your hook. Picture your reader browsing in Barnes and Noble. She opens to the first page and reads the first sentence. Will she read the next one (or buy the book)? Or will she put it down, never to return?
You want your reader to think, “What’s going on here? I must find out!” There are many strategies for this, but making your reader curious or surprised with your headline and hook is one of the best.
Example of a Headline Hook: Why I’m Dumping the Cat’s Eye Writer Blog
If you have been a regular reader of the Cat’s Eye blog, this headline would make you sit up. Is she quitting blogging? Why?
The post prepared readers for my transition from Cat’s Eye Writer to the newly branded Judy Lee Dunn blog.
Example of an Opening Paragraph Hook: The other day I unfollowed someone on Twitter. At first glance, we appeared to have lots in common. He’s a writer, I’m a writer. I thought I could learn some new things from him. But then election season hit.
In the lead-in for this particular post, I wanted the reader to think, “What did election season have to do with it? I wanted her to stay on the page to find out.
3. Paint a setting and introduce characters we will care about.
The character can make or break your post. Make it someone we can emotionally invest in, someone we will care about. Sometimes the character will be you, sometimes someone else. But always plunk the reader down in the story with you.
In the post “Clean Slate Blogging,” the point was that sometimes it is necessary to erase our past, to wipe the slate clean, so those writing fears don’t creep in and mess up our blogging.
Example of a Character in a Setting: The school year started like any other one. Tearing off huge pieces of butcher paper for the bulletin boards, cutting out construction paper letters, making name tags in big, first-grade type print, fixing alphabet cards to the wall. All the things that make a classroom ready for 29 short, noisy people.
Then my students arrived, rolling through the door like an ocean wave. Some smiling, some shouting for my attention, some standing back, taking it all in. And a few in tears. Typical first day.
I put myself in the above scene as a character in the story.
I put the reader in the classroom with me and also introduced another character, the school principal, who played an important part in making me succeed that year, just by something he did, or rather, didn’t, do. In the (surprise) ending of the story, the reader was there with me at my moment of discovery, there when I learned my lesson, which reinforced the whole point of the post.
In a post I wrote for Becky McCray’s Small Town Survival blog, I was setting readers up for the challenges of operating a business in a remote location—and figuring out how to make it work. I wanted the reader to be right there with me when I missed that last boat home.
Another Example of a Character in a Setting: There are small towns. There are rural areas. And then there are islands. Islands that have no bridges, only ferries.
When you arrive just 10 seconds late, the ferry workers in their neon orange vests are pulling the thick ropes in and locking the gate. And you are stuck on the mainland for the night, cursing that ‘careful’ driver who chugged along in front of you at 12 miles an hour all the way along the tree-lined road that leads to the ferry landing.
You would have made it if not for her.
4. Set up your conflict (also known as your plot).
This is your problem, the one you are going to help your readers to solve. It should be a question that she is itching to know the answer to. This is the part where something happens. Tell us a story about a problem you have had—one that you weren’t sure how to solve.
In this post, Google Said I Died: Will That Be Bad for Business?, the problem was how to control your online reputation when other people with the same name as you are being talked about on the web.
As the story unfolds, I am at my computer. A Google Alert lands in my in-box, with a link to Judy Dunn’s obituary. So the conflict is this: What happens when a news story about another Judy Dunn hits the web?
Example of Conflict: Sometimes a Google Alert comes in that wakes you up. Like last Wednesday, when I found out I had died. It was kind of weird because I wasn’t really expecting it. I had actually been feeling fine. I was reading along and the next thing I knew, bam, there it was: my death notice.
5. End with your story climax and resolution.
This is where you circle back to the whole point of your story—how it ends and what it means for the reader. The best story characters go through a change and make a new choice or decision. By the time you end your post, you want to leave your readers with how and why you changed your mind, your opinion, or your way of thinking or feeling about something.
Using the Google Said I Died example again, I ended with the resolution of the problem. I showed the steps I took to manage my online reputation so I could be sure that the good stuff I was doing online came up higher in the search engine rankings than the other Judy Dunn’s.
Example of a Story Climax and Resolution: If you are a solopreneur or small biz owner and people relate to your name, rather than your business, it makes sense to keep an eye on the places you are appearing on the web. You may not have died, like I did, but one of your name-alikes might have done something truly dreadful, like embezzling the company receipts or breaking into a neighbor’s house and drinking all their Scotch. Here are some things you can do to separate yourself from them.
And I closed the post with five reputation management tips.
More Tips for Telling Engaging Stories on Your Blog
Pretend you are telling your story to one person.
Stories are easier to tell if we imagine that we are just sitting on the couch or in a coffee shop telling a friend about what happened. Conjure up a face, any face, and talk to that person.
Appeal to the senses.
Fiction writers already know this. Bloggers would be wise to learn it. Your reader feels most connected and will be drawn into scenes if she can see, hear, feel, or even smell something.
Use this strategy sparingly, though, and only if it makes sense.
Remember your point.
Everything in your story should have something to do with the point, the reason you are telling the story. If it doesn’t, throw it out.
Invite feedback and comments.
The fun part of telling stories on your blog is inviting readers to share their own. So end with a question, if you can, that encourages readers to tell about their own experiences related to the topic.
Some Types of Personal Stories to Tell on Your Blog
I use personal stories on my blog a lot—and for all kinds of purposes.
I leave you with a few post types that lend themselves well to storytelling:
• conquering fears and challenges
• sharing successes
• a lesson learned through personal experience
• telling someone else’s story
• making an analogy or comparison
• making a discovery
How to Write a Review Post
I like to write review posts from time to time. Being a writer myself, many times it is a book that I review. Sometimes it is a service, like grammarly.com.
But always, it is a product or service that I have had personal experience with, one that I feel I can write an honest review of.
Should you accept payment for writing a review?
While the decision is up to you, I never accept payment for writing a review (and I make sure that my readers know that) because it would be easy to smooth over any flaws in the product and then my credibility and reputation would go out the window.
Readers want to know that my opinion was unbiased.
Now, if you are an affiliate partner (you promote a product or service on your site and get a small percentage of the purchase price if a reader buys something), there is nothing wrong with writing a review. I would just be honest about the affiliate part upfront.
An example would be a disclaimer at the bottom of your post, saying something like:
A note to my readers: As an affiliate partner of XYZ Company, I get a few bucks if you click on the link in this post to purchase this product. Purchasing it from my blog will not increase the price for you.
Most readers appreciate the time you spent writing your review and, if they are going to make a purchase, don’t mind that you get a small amount of money when they do.
In fact, some people have said to me, “If I’m going to buy this, I’d like to purchase it from your site so you get a little something. It’s my way of thanking you for all the free content you publish on your blog.”
If I have received a review copy of a book, and I didn’t have to pay for it, I am up front about that, too.
How reviews help your readers
The benefits of writing a review post from the reader perspective are fairly obvious. Your readers are busy people and often don’t have the time it takes to do the research involved in evaluating a particular product or service.
And sometimes they don’t know who to trust, especially when reading anonymous online reviews or descriptions that read more like ads. They like reading your reviews because they already consider you an authority of sorts and they trust your advice.
It’s all about trust.
So there are the benefits for your readers.
How writing reviews helps you
But what about you? Well, writing reviews can bring new people to your site, readers who you can turn into subscribers. On any given day, millions of people are doing Google searches and some of them are looking for information that will help them make a decision about whether to buy a product or service.
And if you write your reviews in the right way, visitors are getting more than facts. They are getting your opinion, which positions you as a credible source of advice.
Ideas for Products or Services to Review
All of these ideas don’t work in the context of every blog, but reading these will give you a push to modify them if necessary—or explore new ones. Just be sure that the things you review are relevant to your blog’s goal and audience. Here are a few ideas:
- a book
- a movie, TV show or documentary
- a conference you attended
- new office or writing products
- a digital tool or gadget
- a speech you heard
- new social media sites and tools
- workshops and classes
My 8-Step Process for Writing a Review Post
Now let’s look at the process I use for writing a quality review post. This is just one of the many ways to write it, but it works for me:
1. Get that post title right.
For a review post, I don’t worry as much about writing a clever, intriguing title as I do about coming up with one that is SEO-friendly. People are doing Google searches every day as they research products they are thinking about buying.
If you use the keywords they are putting into the search engines, your blog post is more likely to come up. And if they find your blog, they might poke around other parts of it and you may just get a new reader or subscriber.
So if it’s a book you are reviewing, make the title of that book prominent in the title—and the author’s name, if you can.
For instance, I titled my review of Guy Kawaski’s new book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur:
Same thing with other products and services. Because people will be putting the names into their searches. Using the word “review” in the title is good, too (if you can).
2. Explain why you are writing the review
People want to know how you got interested in this product and why you are writing this review at this time.
3. Start with an overview of the product or service.
This is a short paragraph or two about what the product or service is designed to do and what its major features are.
4. Focus on the problem it solves and make the target user clear.
Give us an idea of the problem it solves for the user and make it in terms of real, practical situations if you can. If we see how it makes our everyday life easier in some way, we will sit up and pay attention.
5. Say what makes it unique.
If it differs in any way from its competitors’ products, this is the place to say it. What is unique about this product or service?
6. Include the con’s as well as the pro’s.
We want to know how it helps us in our personal or business life, so list the things you like about it in a product benefit category, separated by bolded sub-heads for easier skimming and scanning.
But don’t forget to include the con’s or weaknesses. Readers will trust you more if you tell both the good and bad, in an unbiased way.
7. End with your opinion or recommendation.
If you have already purchased the product and use it regularly, tell us why. If you were given a review copy or sample, tell us this: Would you buy this product?
Conclude with an overall recommendation for us.
8. Remember to include a link to the product or service.
You’d be surprised at how often a blogger writes an amazing and thoughtful review, but then forgets to include a hyperlink so readers can buy the product if they wish.
If you are an affiliate partner (if you make a little money when your reader makes a purchase through your link), you have another good reason to point readers to the purchase page.
How to Use Analytics to Improve Your Blog Content
Sometimes we get so busy getting our blog posts out that we forget to look at the bigger picture. Having been an educator in one of my former lives, I’m a big fan of continuous improvement.
It is entirely possible to improve your blog and its content if you know how to monitor and adjust. But it is impossible to do that if you have no idea what types of content have been most popular with your readers and which topics were the most interesting and useful.
So how do we get that kind of information? There are a few ways:
Strategy #1: Go directly to your readers and social media followers.
A while back, on the bobwp.com blog, I wrote a post called 7 Ways to Use Your Blog as a Lab, Even if You Sucked at Science. You can read the full post, but for my busy readers, I’ll just give you the short version:
Being a random creative, I am about as right-brained as you can get. I aced the verbal section of the SAT’s. But, man, I hated the math and science questions. And 10th grade biology was especially tough, partly because we had to execute live frogs and look at them under microscopes.
I hated lab days.
So when I started blogging, the last thing I wanted to do was put on that white lab coat. For me, blogging was an art. It was words and imagery and creative ideas.
A blog is a perfect laboratory
But then one day I realized that whether I loved science in school or sucked big time at it, I could use it to improve my blog.
Science is full of theories. Whether they prove to be true or not, we learn things when we test them.
Same thing with a blog. We learn about what works and what doesn’t. What is “true” for our readers and what is not. We learn things that will help us shape and improve our content.
7 ways to use your blog as a laboratory
1. Formulate your problem.
Choose a problem area for your blog, for instance, a lack of the kind of content that keeps readers engaged and coming back for more.
2. Use questioning strategies to get more information.
Ask your readers what they need. This is a powerful strategy because your readers will have more buy-in if they know that when new content comes out, they had a say in creating it.
3. Observe, listen and collect information from your comments.
Think of your blog as a nature trail. Keep your pen and notebook handy as you watch, listen and gather information.
Once you start doing this, you will be amazed at what you see. Your readers will give you exactly what you need to solve their problems.
4. Give your readers an incentive to become your lab partner.
Something as simple as a small prize for the best response can greatly increase participation.
For instance, as I was planning my blogging webinar, I asked the readers of my blog to leave a comment with the biggest problem they were having on their blog. I gave a free copy of one of my ebooks to the person who left the most intriguing answer.
I got close to 100 comments on that post and they helped me create a webinar that solved many of my readers’ biggest problems.
5. Experiment with your blog post headlines on Twitter.
Experiment with your blog post titles on Twitter to find out which ones work and which don’t. Try tweeting two different headlines for the same post and track the click-through rates on bit.ly.com.
Your results will help you write more appealing and engaging blog post titles. Keep refining the idea and topic. Then get it out there and repeat step #3: observe and listen some more.
Your readers will love you for it. I often hear in the comments, “Thanks for listening. This post was really helpful.”
6. Test your new ideas.
Take the stuff you have observed, the things you heard from readers, and write a new post.
7. Discover ways to apply what you have learned.
Sometimes in this process, completely new needs will emerge, which gives you even more ways to help your readers (and potential customers).
Use this information to continuously improve your blog.
Strategy #2: Study Your Blog’s Analytics
You’ll collect some very useful information by looking at your blog stats. If you use WordPress as a platform for your blog, your Site Stats part of your dashboard (the inside of your blog) will show you a limited amount of information: number of page views by day and month; total views that came from sites that linked to your blog; and your top posts of the day and how many views (readers) they got.
How Google Analytics can help you
But there is a way to get much more data. If you set up a free account with Google Analytics, you can get tons more data to help you identify your most popular content, so you can produce more like it.
The overview page of your Google Analytics shows you things like how many page views you got that week, what percentage of your readers were returning visitors, what portion of your audience were first-time visitors and the average length of time they spent on your blog per session.
But you can drill down for even more specific information about your audience.
Just jump in and explore. Once you set up your account, you’ll be able to visit those pages on the sidebar that will give you a gold mine of information. One of the things you will be able to identify is the content that attracted the most readers.
As you view your content stats, pay attention to your popular posts: the ones that got the most page views. There was something about that post that connected with readers. Try to figure out what made it popular so you can write more of the same.
Repurposing your blog content
We’ve all been tricked. That freshly-baked, piping hot, sweet-smelling pie called Original Content grabbed us by the collar. It assaulted our nostrils. Made us salivate.
That pie was made just for me. It’s fresh and juicy. No one else has had a bite. I want the first piece.
We bloggers know this pie well. We should, because we baked it.
As we create the content pie that becomes a new blog post, someone is standing over our shoulder.
Maybe it’s that internet marketer who sends us their weekly newsletter. Or that hot-shot author whose book, Create Original Content or Die, is on the bestseller list. And they are whispering:
“Say something new!”
“Write with your own voice!”
“Be original. Be Cree-A-tive.”
Yet sometimes it makes more sense (and saves you a bunch of time to boot) to bring back one of your past posts. With a little modifying, that post that got so much attention the first time around can be updated and reach a whole different audience.
Why bringing back an ‘evergreen’ post can be a good thing
Attention spans are murderously short on the web. Plus, you are always collecting new readers.
So you have your memory-challenged regular readers. And you have a brand-new audience that has never read your older posts. That means, often with just a little tweaking, you can get more Google juice.
Of course, if you start republishing old posts randomly, without careful thought, you’ll just be rehashing stale, boring ideas. But done right, you’ll get a surge in traffic and, very possibly, some new subscribers.
In the blogging world, an evergreen post is simply a piece that can be published—and enjoyed again—because it is as fresh in July as it was in December. As you look for evergreen posts to repurpose and republish, when you read them, ask yourself, “What is it about this post that makes it both useful and timeless?”
Watch your search results (which older posts keep coming up again and again) and consider waking them up again. You have new readers who would probably love that post.
5 Steps to Waking Up an Old Post
1. Check your blog stats and revisit older posts often.
Your goal here is to find your most popular posts. If you see in your stats that a certain post has been viewed many times, especially if the traffic came from Google, this is prime content to bring back.
If people are searching for help with a certain problem and keep finding your blog post, you have a winner and you should think about republishing it.
2. Look at your title, sub-heads and formatting with a fresh eye.
Reworking your title just a little could make your post even more popular in a Google search. An added benefit: Google will look at it with fresh eyes, too. Google Analytics even tells you what terms people were using in their search when they landed on your post.
Adding intriguing sub-heads also helps—to break up the text and draw the eye to the important parts of your posts.
And check your spacing. Make paragraph breaks often to help readers skim and scan the copy. Sometimes my paragraphs are just one sentence long, if I want to highlight a key thought.
3. Consider updating the content.
Even with an evergreen post, sometimes there is a new bit of information you can add to make it more clear or update your readers on new developments.
That way, you’ll capture more readers, people who wanted to know more about what you were talking about. So think about the new things you could add.
4. Add new tags.
A tag is merely a keyword or category used to describe the topic of your post. Revisit your tags and think about whether adding a few new ones might help more people find your post.
5. Think about adding a new image or two.
If you are like me, you didn’t give much thought to images when you first started blogging. But as I talked about in Chapter Four, images can be very powerful, hitting the part of the brain that triggers memory and emotions. The result: you attract more readers —and keep them engaged in your post.