The world of Twain, Hemingway and Salinger no longer exists.
Though the home row may still mean everything to a modern writer, marketing has never been more important. And the sharpest marketing tool in the modern writer’s box is a blog. A writer without a blog is handicapped when finding and cultivating an audience of eager readers.
Whatever type of writer you’re aiming to be, a blog should be central to your strategy.
WordPress is best, in my opinion, but other platforms such as Joomla, Blogger, and Movable Type are available as well. Microblogging platforms such as Tumblr are also growing in popularity, and are even easier to maintain. And with an approximate cost of free to nearly nothing, you have no excuses not to get started.
You must establish a strong online presence.
There have never been more opportunities or potential for success available to the modern writer. However, it won’t come without work or learning to effectively navigate the online space.
You don’t need to be ridiculously gifted. A good writer can make a great living if you can write with clarity and think BIG. But you’re unlikely to succeed if you can’t draw a crowd. It doesn’t matter if you want to be an ace copywriter, ghostwriter, or grant writer; write novels, magazines, or screenplays; become a marketer, coach, or consultant, you must make yourself known online, even if it’s just within your niche.
It isn’t enough to be a great writer. In today’s world, successful scribes know how to command attention. A good writer with an earned reputation will have more creative control, freedom, and opportunity than a great writer who doesn’t know how to effectively mine the many freely-available online tools.
Simply being online isn’t enough, though. A static website won’t cut it. Today’s readers are looking for a connection to you and your work. A static website is little more than a business card tucked away and quickly forgotten. Google gives far more SEO juice to blogs than static websites — an important consideration, because if you’re invisible to Google, you’re invisible to people. Being on page one or two in search engine results is a world of difference from being buried on page 47, where nobody will find your website.
A blog also gives you the freedom to add pages quickly (and easily) on the fly, effortlessly changing your website’s content as needed. A well-written blog allows you to connect with your audience in a way that’s never been possible before, encouraging back and forth dialogue in the form of reader comments.
Done well, your blog is the nucleus of your online world.
Blogs aren’t just for freelance writers looking for business. If you’re writing a book with high hopes of getting noticed by a publisher, you need a blog. If you’re hoping to self-publish, you need one even more.
Your blog is where you freely offer what you know. It’s where you sell your services, tell your stories, and give people a glimpse of the real YOU. People naturally love to do business with people they like. A blog makes it easy for your potential clients to like you because you are revealing yourself through your posts.
Yes, you can get by without a blog, and I’m sure people out there with strong networks don’t need blogs, but most of us don’t have access to an awesome network of contacts who can help us promote ourselves or secure steady work. Most of us need to build our network from scratch. And that’s where blogging gives you a lot of power right out of the box.
If you’re ignoring blogs, you’re impairing your potential. Inaction has a cost. Sure, you can be the writer who abstains from developing an online presence as you sit in your home office or attic banging out The Great American Novel, and maybe you can even get a publisher to buy it. But most of the new breed of writers who are getting noticed are discovered online. The time they’ve spent building their blogs and establishing strong social media presences have given them full stables of clients, thriving coaching businesses, and published novels.
A blog allows you to build a brand around yourself and your style of writing. It allows you to give every reader a free appetizer that will whet their appetite for the meal you want them to someday buy. And though a blog can benefit just about any online business, you have it easy.
You are a writer, which means you already have the necessary talent to make your blog stand out on the Web.
The most important thing to remember when building your blog is always put your reader first. People are intolerant of thinly-disguised self-serving promotional agendas. Writers who treat their blog as a broadcast platform to endlessly pitch themselves and their wares will soon find their voice echoing down an empty hallway.
Design your blog around those readers you most hope to have. Be heartfelt, be funny, be human. Most of all, be yourself.
Take a few days to do some reconnaissance before starting your blog. Be a reader rather than a writer, so you can see what some of the best writers in your niche are doing. If you don’t have any favorite online writers, find some. And if you’re not already reading a few blogs, it’s time to start. You can’t be the best at what you don’t understand.
Look for blogs that inspire you. Notice what works and what doesn’t. Observe the different writing styles and notice how readers react in the comment sections. Are there a lot of comments? Does the blog author encourage conversation? Are the posts on your favorite blogs regularly re-tweeted on Twitter, liked on Facebook, or otherwise shared in social media channels? These sorts of things contribute to something known as social proof, showing that the blog has an active and engaged audience. Which is exactly what you want to build, because an engaged audience can act as your advocate to help you spread your message.
Look around just long enough to learn the game, but don’t waste too much time on the bench. Jump in and start playing — it’s one of the most important things you will ever do. Capture as much momentum as you can, so you can start establishing your authority as early as possible.
What Is Authority And Why Should Yours Matter?
Authority, simply put, is proof that you (and your blog) are worth listening to and you know what you’re talking about. You have relevant information that people respond to. Authority can come in a few forms — you’ve achieved success and can speak to the topic, your posts are often re-tweeted or commented on, and people regard you as an expert in your niche.
Establishing a strong voice of authority is an essential step in building your blog. You have an online forum to demonstrate your knowledge in front of a live and always evolving audience. Done well, your blog will teach you to write for an audience and maintain a consistent writing schedule, while helping you focus on your growth as a writer.
Some blogs take years to grow, which is why most people quickly give up. Don’t think of your blog as the thing that will make you rich or get you discovered. It’s probably not — at least not in the way most people think of when they think of blogs as money makers. But that’s okay. Your blog is the vehicle which you can use to find success (whether that’s measured in buyers, readers, or job opportunities), and build your network.
Three things you must do to accelerate the growth of your blog are: Be unique, simple, and consistent.
The blogosphere is crowded with copycats. Pick the top 20 or so blogs in any niche and read them. You will notice a startling amount of recycled ideas, regurgitated content, and replicated perspectives. Few writers are willing to truly stand out.
Some tips for standing out are:
Dare to be different. Look for the angle no one else sees and be willing to say what no one else will. You’re not trying to build the biggest blog on the Web. You’re trying to make the most powerful blog you can in the shortest amount of time. You’re trying to become an authority, so remember, the people at the front of the line aren’t followers.
Keep things simple. People are busy. Your ideas must be broken down small enough for an elementary schooler to understand. That doesn’t mean you’re writing for a third grader; it means you must keep your language clear. When possible, take complex ideas and break them into base components. Whether people find your blog through search or social media, chances are good they’re looking for a solution to a pressing problem. Give it to them quickly and in an easy-to-read format; they’re likely to stick around and see what else you have to say.
Be consistent. Your favorite TV shows are on the same time every week for a reason. People love consistency. This doesn’t mean you must publish your post at the same time each day, but it does mean you should establish a regular voice, a dependable tone, a uniform way of dealing with your audience, and a reasonably consistent publishing schedule if you expect people to receive you into their already-crowded lives. This is the surest way to build your authority and show that you matter and that your blog is a must-read.
Above all, always put your readers first. Putting your readers first makes it easy to accomplish two blogging fundamentals — getting attention and making friends.
Getting positive, easy-to-monetize online attention comes down to two things: anticipating the critical problems facing your target market, then providing effective solutions.
The key to successful sales — and let’s not kid ourselves here, we are selling — is threefold. Identify a problem, convince your audience that you’ve diagnosed their problem, and then offer the solution. This problem can be as real as lower back pain or as imagined as a temporary state of mind such as boredom.
Never be duplicitous, of course. But you can write in such a way that shows you understand your readers’ difficulties. But more importantly, you know how to help. Deliver on your promise of resolution and you will build authority with every pledge.
The key to grabbing reader attention is writing about the problems they have or anticipate having, then articulating quality solutions. The key to holding that attention is being able to do it over and over again. Before starting a project, pretend you’re a complete outsider and ask yourself what you’d want to know.
Would you want to know:
- Common symptoms?
- Warning signs?
- How to know you have a specific problem and not another one that’s closely related?
- How the problem could harm your future?
- Where to find additional help?
- Steps to take to solve the problem on your own?
- How to avoid this problem altogether?
By asking yourself what you’d want to know, you’re giving yourself multiple angles to write from. This is perfect for blog copy, which requires authors to write about the same theme multiple times without too much repetition.
The formula is simple: Educate your readers, then offer a solution. This doesn’t mean you must always tell them exactly what to do, step-by-step. You can skim the surface in your regular, free on-site copy, then design an eBook or service product that offers a full solution you can sell at a premium.
How far you go in offering a solution depends on the scope of the problem, how complicated or simple the solution is, and how much expertise the solution requires to implement. Generally speaking, you’ll want to give your readers enough information to determine if they have the problem, along with enough tips to help them solve the simple issues that will get them on the right track or solve their problems independently. You can then offer your own (or your client’s) product as a solution for those readers seeking additional help or who don’t want to leap the hurdles on their own.
Providing genuinely useful information will inspire your readers with the confidence that you are an authority in your niche. It also ensures they get enough value from your work to seek you out in the future, either as readers or buyers.
As in life, many ways are available to get attention online. Some writers do so by being obnoxious, some do it by being funny, while others curate entertaining content. Just know ahead of time — entertaining people is far more difficult to monetize. People can find free entertainment on millions of sites.
The BIG money online comes with being a builder of solutions.
Are you writing about real problems and solutions on your blog and guest posts?
Are you writing the copy that’s most relevant to your target market to help them live better lives?
Are you getting your audience the information they need most?
Do that well and you’ll have a crowd large enough to start making a good living. Keep that crowd happy, and you can make a GREAT living in no time. Once you have the attention you need, it’s time to start making friends.
How To Win Friends and Gain Influence
You know how to make friends in real life, right?
Good news — making friends online isn’t too different. In fact, it’s easier because you can do it on your terms. Real life harbors too many variables that are out of your control. You must engage in real-time conversations as they unfold. Online, you can be measured enough to ensure you are always using your words to focus on the three qualities it takes to grow any healthy friendship.
Think about your best friends. They’re helpful, funny, interesting, consistent, and magnetic. I’m sure you could think of 1,000 other superlatives. Think of what draws you to your friends, then apply that to your blog.
Be helpful. Withholding information has no value. If you know a tip or trick that will help someone pull further ahead, share it. No matter what your field of expertise, information inside your head can help the people around you. Take the time to write it in a simple, easy-to-digest format, and you will be making friends every time you press the publish button on your WordPress dashboard.
Be funny. Make people laugh and they will be more inclined to read and share everything you have to say. But be careful. There is a big difference between attention and profit. Don’t make the mistake of being one of the funny bloggers who get hundreds of comments with nothing to show for it in their bank account. This happens far more often than you might realize.
Be interesting and consistent, but above all — be YOU. Be the you you’re most proud of and you will easily connect with your audience. Be human and show your readers that though your perspective is unique, you know what it feels like to be them. Isn’t that what your friends do for you?
If you’re able to make friends with your audience, then you’ll be able to do one of the most important things you can do with your blog — create a bond.
Making Relationships Work
Fail to strike a bond with your audience and you may as well be yelling in an empty ballroom. Unless you’re keeping an online journal, the purpose of your blog is to grow as a writer in both profit and purpose. Bonding with your audience is a large part of this. Like anything worth doing, this takes time.
Think of those times in your life when you genuinely bonded with another person, whether it was a family member, friend, or casual acquaintance; it was time together that allowed your relationship to deepen. It’s simple human nature — the more time spent together, the more natural the bond.
The more consistent you are as a writer, the more people will be willing to spend time with you and your words. The longer people are willing to spend reading your work, the deeper the bond. The deeper the bond, the more you can do with the relationship.
This is everything.
People do business with people they like. Whether you’re writing freelance or selling a book, you want an audience that is eager to give you their time, money, attention, and seal of approval. Fortunately, it’s easier than you’re probably thinking. It all starts with a simple blog post.
How to Create A Powerful Blog Post
Think about some of your favorite blog posts. What did they have in common?
Chances are, they hooked people into conversation, plunged them into dilemmas, or aroused their sympathies, outrage, or other emotions. Powerful blog posts are like all good writing — they put their readers in the middle of the action, and make them think. They inspire change, provide blinding revelations, or sometimes, they simply make people laugh — a powerful antidote to the day-to-day madness most of us endure.
Powerful posts make people forget what they were going to do next by grabbing their attention and holding it. They engage the reader enough that finishing the copy becomes an instant priority.
In short, they’re irresistible.
You don’t have to be brilliant, nor do you need a degree in literature or journalism. You can learn all of the above as long as you understand the essential elements of a powerful post.
A short, enticing headline that offers a promise to the reader.
A first sentence that “hooks” the reader and compels them to keep reading.
A great resource box or biography, no more than two lines, tops.
Eye-catching photos or art.
Breaks in the text. Short paragraphs, numbered lists, bullet points and subheads all help people read posts quickly and easily.
Online readers scan until they find something that “grabs” their attention.
Every post you publish should have a point.
It isn’t enough to choose an interesting topic and spit out a few hundred words. If you want your blog to blow up BIG, you must create something worth reading, sharing, or returning to later. Content that’s read and spread is the content that builds a bond with your audience, helps your blog grow, and ultimately boosts your authority, making it easier to market yourself without all the marketing tactics.
Get the structure of a blog post right, and your readers will spread your posts on social networking sites, increasing your reach and attracting new readers. But never forget that you’re not just writing to impress people. Each post needs to have a point.
You should have an endgame for every post you publish. Whether you want your readers to opt-in to your email list, leave a comment, or click on the buy button, you must determine what you want before writing your copy, then make sure it’s congruent with your Call To Action at the bottom of the post.
Too many writers miss this, believing it’s enough to publish quality copy without asking for the reader to take action at the end. Make the same mistake, and you’ll be throwing away your valuable time with little to show for it.
Use any of the five CTA’s below to grow your blog and maximize your time:
Engage your readers.
It’s a great idea to regularly reinforce the sense of community among your readers. Get them to respond by asking questions and inviting discussion. Make it easy by ending your post with a prompt, then urging readers to respond in the comments or, even better, on their own blogs.
Encourage RSS subscriptions.
Pillar posts, effective link bait, and quality evergreen content (content that is relevant more or less year-round) may take longer to write, but it’s some of the easiest copy to see a return on your time investment. You’ll create the occasional post that stands head and shoulders above the others. This type of pillar content may impress your readers so much that it leaves them longing for more. Include a prompt urging readers to grab your RSS feed at the bottom of these posts, and you can easily capture recurring traffic.
Build your list.
Many writers and newbie bloggers are shy about building their lists. Don’t make this mistake. While RSS subscriptions are nice, they simply can’t come close to an invitation to your market’s inbox.
Sell your products or services.
Whether you’re selling your products or someone else’s, friendly blog posts from a familiar author can make people more receptive to buying. Product reviews, case studies, and new product announcements can help you sell a product or service. Just remember, a blog post isn’t a sales page. Blog readers rarely appreciate a hard sell, though you can always use a blog post as a “warm-up,” introducing your readers to a particular idea before sending them to the actual sales page. Additionally, always be up front with your readers. If you’re linking to an affiliate product which you’ll get a commission on, or reviewing a product for which you’ve been compensated, tell your readers up front. In a world of scheming marketers, readers appreciate the freshness of honesty.
Try to go viral.
You can’t force a post to go viral, but if you create high-quality, evergreen content that others will want to save, or share with their friends and followers, you will quickly create a catalog that sets your blog well above all the other “me-to’s” that litter the Web. Even if your best posts aren’t directly monetized, they can prompt readers to return and recommend your site to their own network and friends.
Purpose has no boundaries. The key is to have a reason for everything you publish, and to know that reason before you start writing. Knowing how to end a post can give you all you need to open it with a bang.
The Art of the Opening
Every great writer understands the art of the opening sentence.
It isn’t just for fiction. A great opening grabs the reader by the eyes, then holds them by the throat, making it nearly impossible for them to quit reading before you’re through with their attention.
Your job as a writer is to make your readers hang on your every word as you send them from one sentence to the next, from the top of one page to the bottom of the next. Refine this skill, and your writing will be in demand by readers and likely, clients.
People like to finish what they start. If you can keep your reader reading through half the page, the odds that they’ll get to the end will skyrocket.
Imagine you’re on a date. It’s by no means a disaster, but it’s half over and you’re stealing glances at your watch and considering a clean exist strategy. You’ve ordered dinner, but the conversation has stalled. Though you’re fairly certain you’ll never see your date again, you wouldn’t walk out of the restaurant in the middle of dinner. This behavior is more than common courtesy — it’s a human need to honor our commitments.
Earn the early attention of your readers and you will increase the odds that they’ll see your story, argument, or pitch, all the way to the end.
Online, the rules are clear. Use your headline to grab immediate attention and send your reader’s eyes to the sentence below. Spend the first couple of sentences justifying your headline and clearly letting your reader know why they should stay on the page.
Promise a solution or tease them with intrigue, but keep their eyes rolling down the page. Make sure each new subhead continues to stoke the fire of your initial headline and that the body copy beneath each subhead stands on its own.
In a face-to-face conversation, you’re able to easily address listener objections. You can elaborate on weak points or fill in the blanks as you notice the subtle twitches and gestures of the person standing next to you. You can evolve your argument with every blink or nod. But when your argument is reduced to just the reader and the page, your copy must do all the work.
Cover all the bases as well as you would in person, and you will effectively position yourself as someone who understands and relates to your readers because you have clear insight into the depth of their problems. This makes a reader want to continue because your insight will hint at a certain solution.
That first sentence is everything. This is the hook that will get them reading on, so it’s important to give it the attention it deserves. Many times, I will re-write my first sentence a few times during the writing of a post. Sometimes you get a good one right off the bat. Other times, inspiration comes after you’ve written the whole post and re-read it.
A few ways to begin with a bang are:
Use elements of fiction. It doesn’t matter if you’re a nonfiction writer; if you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’re probably an avid reader as well. How do your favorite books open, usually with action, intrigue, or a provocative idea, right? Do the same thing with your copy. Whether you’re writing a simple blog post or a lengthy sales page, you can apply the same principles to your work. People love stories. Draw them in with narrative and you’ll easily keep them moving down the page.
Summarize a difficult problem in one or two sentences. This doesn’t have to be long, and in fact, it shouldn’t be. A well-articulated summary is enough to lure your readers and let them know you understand their pain. You can then use the rest of your body text to elaborate as you lead the way to your inevitable solution.
Ask a question. Make it something that is either impossible to say no to, easy for your readers to understand and relate to, or something which provokes them to read more.
Emphasize a benefit that stokes their internal desire. Humans find it difficult to ignore their base desires, and once our internal launch sequence has initiated, we want that promise fulfilled.
Whatever your page is trying to do, it must present a benefit to your readers. Tie that benefit to a core human need — security, attention, control, connection, privacy, status, achievement, purpose, etc., and your readers will long to read your argument through to the end.
With a great opening and exceptional follow-through, your readers are far more likely to see the end of your copy. Hopefully, you have a call to action waiting. No matter what you want your readers to do, whether it’s to turn the page to the next chapter, buy your product or service, share your information, or sign up for your newsletter, you must use the end of the page to tell them what to do.
With dwindling attention spans, the art of the opening has never been more important for writers to master, especially online where attention is fleeting. Yet it’s a skill that is increasingly difficult to master. Understand the importance of the opening, and pay attention to what works, so you can truly get to know your readers.
It’s only after you truly know your readers that you can speak directly to them.
Know Your Audience
How well do you know your readers?
Eventually, you’ll want your blog copy to act as sales copy and you’ll want to speak directly to your readers so you can dim the distance between you. Whether you are writing a simple article, a cornerstone blog post, or a landing page, the care you give to crafting your argument and relaying it directly to your readers is crucial. But first, you need to get to know them.
The first thing you need to know when selling to your audience is you can’t sell to everyone.
A fraction of folks are as likely to open their wallets as I am to take my six-year-old son to the next Tarantino flick. Don’t even try selling to these people. It’s a waste of your time and is likely damaging to your sanity. Make certain however, that you’re hitting 100% of anyone who will lend your offer honest consideration.
If there’s a chance they’ll buy, make sure they do. Do this by ensuring your argument can stand up to the eager arsenal of the critical mind.
Even if your copy is designed to bond rather than close the deal, know who you’re speaking to if you expect to achieve maximum results. Even if you don’t yet know your audience, you should still write with a target in mind. When I’m unsure, or in a new market, I can always rely on the following five profiles.
I write to my mother. My mom will buy anything, so long as it provides her the slightest whiff of nostalgia. It doesn’t matter if she needs it or whether she can afford it. My mom is a collector, and even with piles atop heaps amid mountains of stuff, anything that tickles her longing for yesteryear or justifies her decades of previous behavior, will justify the purchase in her mind.
I write to my father. My dad is the classic “advertising doesn’t work on me” kinda guy. Yes, Pop, advertising does work on you; you just don’t realize it! My father must be smacked in the face on an emotional level, but he will respond. My dad gets misty-eyed at movies. When the score hits a crescendo, his shoulders often start to shake. My father purchases products that stand for strength of character and tradition, no matter how traditionally manipulative that message might be delivered.
I write to my sister. My sister is a cynic with a smiley face, bleeding snarkiness from every pore. She’s a tough sell and loves to shoot flaming verbal arrows into the bulls-eye of every opportunity. My sister is also whip smart. Reminding her of this, in the most subtle way possible, will always beat a faster path to her attention.
I write to my wife. My wife is a romantic. She longs to be touched on an emotional level and wishes only for happy endings. Most copy is a far cry from poetic, but by inserting one simple sentence that reaches for that most tender and exposed part of her, I am greatly increasing the odds that she, or the millions just like her, will read and share my content, or set aside the laptop long enough to reach for the credit card.
I write to my friend, Marco. Marco could punch a hole in concrete. He is suspect of everything and a believer in little. Whenever I’m writing a landing page, I think of the five problems he would have with the product, then sprinkle solutions carefully throughout the copy. Marco isn’t the type to never buy, but he is the type who knows what he wants and is always gonna be a tough sale. If I’m finished with the page confident that Marco would buy, subscribe, or opt-in, I know the odds are good that a general reader will respond well.
You will never sell to everyone. Wringing your hands over this fundamental truth is like wishing Seattle was a little more sunny or that the movie adaptation was as good as the book. Concentrate on those who might buy or respond positively to your message, and you can increase both your confidence and the clicks that follow.
Be Surprising, Be Controversial, Be Human — Be YOURSELF
Did you ever read something on a popular blog, which you completely disagreed with? And to make matters worse, most of the people responding are agreeing with the author, like sheep afraid to rock the boat! Why not take that blog to task on your blog, or even in the comments of the popular blog?
Online, controversy can be your best friend, so long as you wield it well. In life, you want to be a nice person; … helpful, consistent and friendly — all those things that make you a great friend. But online, you want to stay away from “nice.”
Of course you want to be a nice person, but your content must have more substance other than you being nice. You have a lot more to you than that, right? In real life, you have times when you let yourself out to play. That person isn’t necessarily… nice.
I’m not saying you should be mean, condescending, or cutting in any way. Those qualities will rarely lead to the results you want. But be yourself; sound off, stay honest, and never be afraid to be who you are for fear of not being liked.
Not everyone will love you, but that’s okay. You don’t get along perfectly with everyone you know, do you? If you try speaking to everyone, you will end up speaking to no one. Speak your truth and those who matter most to your business will hear you.
Online, nice equals boring and boring goes nowhere. When I started my first site, Writer Dad, I was kind, nice, and offended nobody. The site exploded, then fizzled. I could have done more to stoke the embers, and admittedly, I lost a little interest once I realized it was impossible for me to monetize. But the worst part was I’d built a picket fence around my voice, walling off so many of the things I wanted to say. I’d become trapped in this one part of my persona without allowing my full self to shine through.
I took a chance and started speaking my mind a bit more. Yeah, I lost some subscribers. But, that’s okay with me. I’d rather be my best self and attract those readers who want to read my honest perspective.
And besides, finding topics is far more fun when not writing from behind a filter.
Coming up with topics
How do you come up with your ideas?
As a writer, that’s probably the question we get the most from non-writers. And no two writers will have the same answer, as anything can serve as inspiration — news, pop culture, current events in your life, past events in your life, family life, trends, and product reviews. If you can think it, a blog is devoted to it. For most online bloggers, life serves as their biggest inspiration. And that’s fine, as there’s a place for every kind of blog.
But most personal blogs don’t make enough money to pay the bills.
If you’re looking to earn an income with your blog, you will need to consider your target audience when deciding topics.
Whether you’re trying to sell your writing services on a copywriting blog, or build streams of passive income with a suite of niche sites, you must publish quality niche-related copy on a consistent basis if you expect to leverage your online assets.
The key is in realizing that no matter the niche, you’ll always have several angles to take. Write in a niche where you have no genuine interest or foothold, and finding new approaches to your topic will be about as easy as growing a garden in the desert. Write what you love and new topics will be as simple as sitting down.
Have you ever met a sports fanatic who never ran out of things to say about his favorite team? Or a foodie who loved to relish every course of a scrumptious meal? How about a car-lover who speaks lovingly on German engineering? Or a film buff who’d love nothing better than to hear about your recent discovery of Quentin Tarantino? That’s the kind of passion you need in order to create a compelling blog.
When you are genuinely excited about a topic — and are open to discussion and dialogue — people can tell. And the possibilities for interesting posts with unique perspective are endless.
You’re human, so you’ll have times when you can’t think of something to write. By maintaining a swipe file of ideas, you will always have a list of available prompts to give you a great start, even when you’re not feeling especially creative.
Most of these ideas will come to you in the midst of living life — watching a movie, taking a shower, or sitting at the red light. But it is also a great practice to go on the occasional idea safari so you can make sure your well is always full. A small handful of places where it’s always easy to mine a few great ideas are:
On other blogs
Go see what other people are talking about. Like any offline conversation, you can add your unique perspective about the latest trends, or predict what might happen next. If writers are discussing the challenges of cheap competition overseas, write about the legal considerations of outsourcing to freelancers abroad, or inexpensive alternatives for quality domestic outsourcing.
Reading forums can give you a fly-on-the-wall perspective of your target market. By slipping into the mind of your market, you can understand their struggles, worries, hopes, and dreams. You don’t have to actively participate to enter the conversation taking place in their minds. Simply “eavesdrop” and publish blog posts that answer the most pressing questions or add unique perspective and insights.
In the news
Some of the best blog posts are those where the author breaks down a current event and discusses ways it affects a particular niche. For instance, if an internet sales tax is passed, bloggers would likely write about ways which it could affect online businesses. Another great idea is to find topics related to current events. When National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) rolls around this year, you could talk about the best tools for outlining, writing, and organizing your information. Or even better, you could write a post about what to do once a book is finished: editing, formatting, getting it to print, etc.
From the past.
Traveling back in time is always a fantastic place to find new ideas. For instance, a niche recipe site could publish a series on old-time cooking, or how hard it was to prepare meals back in the day, or how different today’s standard meal is compared to yesterday’s. Conversely, you could post a series of recipes commonly used today that have barely changed in the past hundred years.
Use the lens of your niche to view the world around you intelligently. Your job as a creative entrepreneur and online writer is to interpret the world for your market, then show them what’s important, interesting, and noteworthy. We all watch TV and movies. We all read books, magazines, and blogs. We all buy and use products. We all engage in activities. If you consider everything you experience with the question — How does this affect my market? — you’ll be better than 90% of writers out there.
The Easy Guide to Good Blog Design
No matter how great your content is, you can easily undermine it with a badly designed blog.
Have you ever seen a website that confused you. You couldn’t tell what the point of it was, navigation was horrendous, and nothing was where it should be. Chances are good you never returned, right?
Now look at your website. How well is it designed?
Effective blog design is about figuring out one thing — what is the purpose of your blog?
Who is your customer (or reader) and what actions do you want him to take? No right or wrong answer exists, as not all blogs have the same goal. Nor should they.
A writer’s blog, for instance, is usually more about bonding with readers, and can be more personal. A photography blog is more likely to feature the latest camera reviews, photo tips, and image galleries.
Because you’re a writer, you can start a blog and write for profit in any niche you want. The key is to identify your ideal readers, then deliver the quality content they want and deserve.
Once you figure your purpose, make sure to put it front and center. Other than your branding, the first thing people should notice on your blog is its immediate purpose.
If you’re primary purpose is to connect with your readers and grow an audience, make it easy for readers to subscribe to your blog via email, follow you on Twitter, and friend you on Facebook. If you’re selling something on your blog, make it obvious. Don’t make readers search for what you’re offering, and never be shy about asking for the sale.
Another important consideration in blog design is your branding. Develop your branding and use it consistently. If you have a known logo or brand, implement it on your website, site-wide. Avoid the temptation to display giant headers or logos across the top, which can look tacky, while taking up valuable real estate. You’ll need some room near the top of your site, above “the fold,” for a Call-To-Action, whether it’s an opt-in form to sign up for a free item in exchange for joining your mailing list, or simply an ad for your featured product. The larger your header, the more likely your CTA will be be invisible to anyone who doesn’t scroll down the page.
Perhaps the second most important consideration of your blog is usability. Your blog must have intuitive design principles if you expect to have maximum results. See what other top blogs in your niche are doing, then follow their leads. People expect certain things with design, based on best practices. For instance, navigation is usually along the top (though sometimes on the side). The header is usually the first thing you see at the top left or center of the blog.
Sure, you can be clever and show off your creativity by implementing unique design principles — conceal your navigation at the bottom of the page, hide your header (banner or logo) and don’t make it clickable, or include buttons which look really cool but leave users confused by their purpose. You could even add fancy flash splash pages — those look pretty cool.
But you shouldn’t.
Stick with the tried and true. Stand out with your content or offerings, not the individuality of your design. Most readers could care less if your site is the coolest looking site ever. All most readers want is an easy-to-read, easy-to-navigate website that delivers content without making them jump through hoops.
You’ll also want to avoid bad color schemes or using too many fonts. Look at your main competition. If they’re all staid and professional looking, don’t go putting up a loud neon-bright website, unless you can do it like a master.
Another way many bad bloggers go overboard is offering too much on their websites. Try keeping your website as slim as possible. Some exceptions exists, of course, but in most cases, you don’t want to overload your website with giant images, videos, or music files. If you do include videos, consider streaming them from a site like YouTube, which loads quicker than most self-hosted videos.
Keep info succinct and to the point. For the most part, people expect blogs to have shorter posts with shorter paragraphs. If you publish giant blocks of text, you’re going to find it hard to attract — and keep — attention.
When people visit your blog, and after they’ve learned what it’s about, the next thing they’ll want to know is who you are and perhaps how to contact you.
One of the most viewed pages on any blog is the About page. This tells readers about the site, the author(s) and how to contact them. Include a photo if you can. This allows people to get a feel for you and your site and makes you a little more trustworthy than someone who has a mysterious About page, or worse, no About page. Make sure you include an easy way to contact you (usually an email address is enough) or a contact form. If you want people to get to know you or buy from you, they must be able to contact you.
Chances are pretty good that many of your readers will have similar questions for you. The basics, so to speak. Take the most common questions you get (or anticipate getting) and create a FAQ page. This helps to show you care about the user experience, while removing some of the hesitancy a customer may feel in visiting your site again or buying from you. The more questions and concerns you can remove from readers’ minds, the sooner you can focus on selling them on your brand or product.
Lastly, what are your policies? Make sure your policies, including advertising, privacy, and comments are clearly stated. If you screen comments for abusive or crude language, mention it, politely, in your policy. If you intend to use user comments in posts or publish them elsewhere, let readers know up front. If you accept compensation for reviews, let people know. Also, let people know what you do with their sensitive data. If you have no plans to sell their email addresses or data, or spam them, let them know. However, you should also warn users if you use software that might collect their data, such as Google Analytics. Links to the privacy policies of any software you use should also be included on your policies page.
Again, these are all basics, and you’ll likely find sites which avoid some of these rules and still manage to find success, but they are more likely the rare exceptions to the sensible rules.
It may seem overwhelming all at once, but it will get easier. Just get going, keep moving forward and understand that it’s all part of the learning curve.
The Blogging Learning Curve
Blogging isn’t as easy as most people think. But it’s also not as hard as some people make it out to be.
The blogging learning curve isn’t too steep, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at first. In general, the more difficult something is to learn online, the more worthy it is of your time.
Like any great story worth telling, or enduring, your blogging career will probably fall under three acts: loneliness, excitement and, finally, momentum.
The beginning is sure to be lonely. Very few blogs take off from Day One or even Month One. It rarely happens, and when it does, it’s usually because the blog belongs to someone who has been in the game a while and already has a successful blog or two. For a first timer, all the odds are stacked against you.
Don’t let the loneliness frustrate you. Let if fuel you, instead. Be glad so few people are watching you fumble around during your breaking-in period. Try often, fail early, making as many mistakes as you can during the time when it matters the least. Read and comment on blogs in your particular niche so you can naturally enter into the community. These are the same people who will be helping you spread your message very soon.
Once you get going, things will get exciting. The comments, the attention, the early jobs — they will mean everything to you. Use this excitement to drive you further and faster.
- Work faster.
- Learn more.
- Try harder.
Even a small crowd can generate a tremendous amount of internal excitement. There is no better time to tap into the needs of your audience than when you’re first growing. Discovering who they are and what they care about, you can then tend to their needs. Make sure your audience feels your excitement so they can help your blog continue to grow.
Soon, you will build momentum. Maintain this at all costs. Nothing murders a blog faster than the loss of momentum.
Once you’re fully in the swing of things, with subscribers growing, authority climbing, and reputation blooming, you’ll have the key ingredients required to explode your online reputation and make your online writing dreams come true.