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Quora: the Quality Solution to Blogger’s Block

This guest post is by Jeremy Brown of Varoonix.

Have you been using Quora as a tool to power your blogging efforts? No? You’re missing a boatload of content ideas.

In this post, we’ll discuss why you need to be using Quora as a blogger, and look at an example that shows the usefulness of Quora.

Are you ready to tap into a never-ending stream of content ideas? Awesome, here we go!

Why you need to use Quora

In case you’re not familiar with Quora, it’s a platform on which users can ask questions about any topic that’s on their mind.

For example, a blogger might ask a question like, What’s the best WordPress tool that optimizes SEO for a blog post?

Users who see your question can then answer it. This is where the social element comes into play. It’s not uncommon to see some great debates going on at Quora.

It’s important to mention that Quora is free and you can sign up using either your Twitter or Facebook account, or through the standard signup form.

So now that you have a basic understanding of what it’s all about, but why do you need to be using it? Well, most blogs have at least one of these three aims (some blogs hit all three effortlessly):

  1. to educate
  2. to inspire
  3. to entertain.

The majority of blogs aim to hit the first point: they seek to educate readers. Why? So they can build authority and trust.

An important part of educating people is listening to their pain points and crafting content that alleviates that pain. For example, if I run a fishing blog and notice people talking about how much of a pain it is when their lures get snagged on weeds, I can create a post that talks about the top ten weedless lures.

Quora allows you to see exactly what people are looking for in question form. Then it’s up to you to give it to them. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Side note: other tools are out there for bloggers to listen in, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn groups, Yahoo answers. The list goes on. It’s time for you to start using them proactively.

But now, let’s see how you can use Quora to get content ideas for your blog.

Quora in action

Let’s say my niche blog covers freshwater fishing. I cover a range of topics using how-to and list formats, but I’ve hit blogger’s block. For the life of me I can’t seem to come up with anything fresh (no pun intended).

I don’t want to create content just for the sake of creating something. I want to craft something that will alleviate someone’s pain point.

Whatever shall I do?!

Quora to the rescue! First, I type “fishing lures for bass” into Quora’s search bar to see what questions people are asking, since I cover the topic:

Quora search

And the results pop up:

Quora results

Right off the bat, I have a spark for some new blog posts. For example, I can take these questions:

  • What is the best month for bass fishing in Florida?
  • What temperature range is best for largemouth bass fishing?
  • What is the best size hooks to use when worm fishing for largemouth bass?

And I can turn those ideas into these blog post headlines:

  • Want to catch more bass? Fish during this month
  • Why I fish in freezing water and catch more Bass
  • Worm Fishing for Bass 101: The Best Hooks, Weights, and Sizes

Get the idea?

The general rule of thumb is, if someone has a question, most likely someone else has the exact same problem. You’ve heard that before right? So it’s worth answering questions!

Here’s the best part: you can fuse Quora and your SEO strategy together to form a pretty efficient way of figuring out people’s pain points.

The result? Some killer blog posts that actually help people.

Now you have an understanding of Quora and how it can be weaved into your blogging strategy. All that’s left is for you to go and use it!

Now it’s your turn

Just like most digital platforms, Quora is a tool. What other tools have you used to find out people’s pain points to create new blog posts? Share your favorites with us in the comments.

Jeremy Brown is a self-proclaimed social media dissector and is the creator of the video game review site, Varoonix. Throughout his digital life, he’s been a blog starting, social media junkie. He may or may not need to go to a BA meeting (Blogaholic Anonymous). Connect with him on Twitter: @socialjeremy

Frustrated by Blogger’s Block? Try this Exercise!

Feeling frustrated today about a lack of ideas to write about on your blog? If so, you’re not alone. Here’s another technique that I use to overcome it.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post here on ProBlogger that gave a tip for fighting blogger’s block. It asked you to identify a problem that you had three years ago and to write a post that solved that problem for your readers.

Another variation on that technique for overcoming blogger’s block is to write a post that taps into a “feeling” that your readers might typically have.

There are probably thousands of bloggers in your niche writing content to solve the problems of your readers, but I bet that in most niches, most of them don’t look after the feelings of their readers.

Acknowledge and work with those feelings, and you’ll be blogging with empathy—not only solving problems, but making emotional connections with your readers. You’ll also be connecting with different personality types than if you just write a dry how-to type post.

Which feelings should you concentrate on? While negative feelings might be the obvious choice I think there’s a case for writing about the whole gamut of feelings:

  • Feeling lost? Here’s a way forward.
  • Feeling paralyzed? Here’s how to get moving.
  • Feeling excited? Here’s how to capture that excitement and use it for good.
  • Feeling lonely? Here’s a place to connect with others.
  • Feeling overwhelmed? Here’s how to navigate that.
  • Feeling fearful? Here’s how to overcome your fear.

You’ll notice in the above examples I’ve taken each of the feelings and then written a how-to response, but there are other ways to tap into the feelings of your readers, too.

One great way to do it is to tell a story.

  • Feeling Lost? Here’s a time I felt that, and here’s what happened.

Another way to tap into feelings is to start a discussion.

  • What do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed with your work.

So sit down today and think about what kinds of feelings and emotions your readers might have.

You might get some hints in the comments section of your blog. You may also want to think about your own feelings and emotions (past and present) as they pertain to your topic.

Once you’ve identified a feeling, write a post that starts with that feeling. Acknowledge it up front, then write something that helps your readers to move forward from that place.

I’d love to see links below to the posts you write after doing this exercise! Please do share them.

Content Week: Let’s Chat! Where do you get your blog ideas from?

Theme WeekThis past week, we’ve been talking about all things content – where can we get it? What inspires us? What works with our audience? What are some out-of-the-box ideas that will set us apart from the regular blogging crowd? We spoke with Chantelle Ellem, of Fat Mum Slim, who encouraged us to write what we love, and Carly Heitlinger of The College Prepster, who told us to take a topic and make it personal. We wrote a mega-list of places to go when we’re fresh out of ideas to inspire us again, and we heard from Darren on the topic.

Now it’s over to you – where do you find your ideas? Do you have any sure-fire sources of inspiration? What do you do when you’re hit hard with blogger’s block? We’ll also be chatting about this over on Darren’s Facebook page - we’d love to hear from you all.

Content Week: How to Consistently Come up With Great Post Ideas for Your Blog.

Theme WeekContent. Where to find it, how to get it, what’s going to resonate with our readers? They are questions most bloggers ask ourselves pretty regularly. Some of us have ideas coming out our ears with not enough hours in the day to turn them all into posts, and some of us have times where we’re scratching around the bottom of the barrel trying to come up with useful, interesting, engaging content on our blogs day after day, year after year.

This week we’re going to focus on all the ways you can be inspired to write great posts for your readers. Today we start with some ideas on generating content, and across the week, we will be chatting to bloggers who consistently come up with great ideas. We’ll have a bit of inspiration, and some discussion points to get you all thinking. There will also be a “homework” challenge at the end of the week to take you from all talk to total action.

So content – where can we look for inspiration?

Other bloggers

If you’re a blogger, it’s likely you read other blogs. While there are millions out there, we tend to return to a handful that we know and love and always enjoy reading. Have a look at why that is – what keeps you coming back? And how can you write similarly for your own readers? Maybe it’s their tone, their sense of humour, the way they provide interesting information in an easy-to-read fashion. Could this work for you too? What are the topics that resonate with you? What are the topics that garner the most engagement? How can you put your own spin on something similar?

Social media

Social media is a one-stop shop for finding what people are talking about online. Search the Facebook and Twitter hashtags, watch the trending topics, and use them to inspire what you write about. Then you can promote your posts using the trends and hashtags while they’re still popular. Join LinkedIn groups if you haven’t already and see what are the hot topics being discussed. Scroll your Facebook newsfeed and see what jumps out at you – strike while the iron is hot!

Your own content

Every month, Darren does a “deep dive” into his analytics to see what posts did well and what might be useful to revisit. It can be a goldmine of content ideas, particularly as you know that your readers will already be interested in those topics because they have been before. What can you update, repackage, or build on?

The news/current affairs

You’re sure to have a reaction to some kind of news or current affairs issue – why not capitalise on that? It’s a issue already in the media, so there’s interest there. Post your take on the topic, your opinion, or where people might be able to find more information on your blog about the issue. There’s always something happening somewhere, and if it’s relevant to your audience, you can add to the conversation.

Ask your readers

Who best to ask for content inspiration than the people who will actually be reading it? What do they want to see more of? What are they interested in? What do they wish you would cover? You can ask in a blog post, on social media, host a Google Plus hangout, a Twitter chat, or even run a reader survey. Can you help answer their questions? Or maybe even run a series? Darren uses this technique with great effect, and a bonus is that it helps to increase community engagement around your blog.

Brainstorm

Grab a cup of coffee and find a nice place to sit. Bring a notepad and pen, or your laptop. Sit for five minutes and write down all the ideas that come into your mind. Don’t worry about editing them, or being clever, just write. You’re guaranteed to come up with a couple of gold nuggets that you can turn into posts.

Check your comment section

One of the best pieces of advice I ever read was to “hang out in your comments section”. It was initially advice to help grow readership, but it is useful for so much more than that. What are the stories your readers share with you? What questions are they asking? What do their comments make you think of that you can then expand upon? Do they have a blog? What do they write about? Is that interesting to you, and can you be inspired by what they do?

Mine your idea lists

Sit down and go through all of the places you’ve written down ideas. Workshop what might be useful to you now, and get a few intros or ideas jotted down for a handful of the topics you want to explore.

Find other bloggers’ lists

You are not the first person to be stuck for content ideas – not by a long shot. Over the years, plenty of bloggers have found themselves in the same situation, written a bunch of ideas down, and shared them with the blogosphere. Google them, or see if your favourite bloggers have written similar lists and see if any of the topics resonate with you. You can get started with this list from The Blog Stylist, this one from Fat Mum Slim, or the one on this post Pip Lincolne wrote for JustB. If you’ve found others online, do please share them in the comment section.

Visit your favourite blogging resource site (like ProBlogger!) and search their archives

Chances are the blogging greats have touched on this topic before. They might have a list like the ones mentioned above, or general tips that will get you out of your slump and onto your keyboard. Content can be an elusive soul, and even the best of the best have still struggled with it from time to time. Learn from their lessons!

Your niche’s top Google searches

Head over to Google and check out what search terms people have been using and see if you can’t create a post based around some of the information you find. If you’ve got a food blog, maybe check out the top 10 most-searched-for recipes and put your own spin on them? You’re sure to come up with some inspiration for future posts (or even a series), and you have the value of it already being a hot topic.

What do YOU want to know?

Have you asked a question lately? Has there been something on your mind that you’ve Googled? Why not write that post yourself? Fill in knowledge gaps with what you want to know, and what you have found in your research. What do you think people want to know that isn’t being written about? Don’t wait for someone else to write it – do it yourself.

Think visual

Sometimes we have tunnel-vision when it comes to posts, and concentrate solely on the written word. Stretch your creative muscle with a short video or a slideshow. You might have a DIY or tutorial that will work a thousand times better in visual form than it would as a list of written steps, or something funny you want to share. Don’t forget to check out what’s cool on YouTube and maybe try to make your own version.

Get outside

Get right out into the land of the living and take your inspiration from your environment. What are people doing? What are stores selling? What are the interactions you see? What’s changed since you were a kid? What great food have you eaten lately? The topics from this kind of observation are literally endless.

Your journey

Look back over a journey you have taken and use that as inspiration. It could be a literal journey, like a trip you’ve taken, or a metaphorical journey, like your experiences blogging over the years. How far have you come? What’s changed? Compare yourself now to your teenage self. Compare the start of your business to now. Where do you want to go from here? What kind of journey will you be taking in the future? Everyone has a story.

Write a cornerstone post

Have a think about the kinds of topics on which you write, and see if you can come up with some “evergreen” content. What is always going to be useful to your readers, no matter the current trend? Can you do a mega-post where you pull together all the posts you’ve written and all the resources you can find on a genre or niche that your readers want? Much like Darren’s “Sneeze Pages“, you can send your audience down the rabbit hole of your blog’s current content, or you can write a post of brand new information that will always provide value for the people who read your blog. Brainstorm some topics to use as a pillar post on your site, and you shouldn’t be stuck for ideas.

Curate content

Check out the internet as it is today – what are other people doing that you really like? What are some sites or articles you want to share with your readers? Put them all together in one post for them to read. You might want to do something like “five articles I’ve loved lately” or “15 new ideas for your kitchen”. Not only have you been inspired, but you’ve given your readers interesting content while also linking to sites and blogs you like (which is great karma in blogland!).

Write a list post

These may be abundant on the World Wide Web, but they are for good reason – they work. People are time-poor and they want useful info in bite-size chunks that they can skim if need be. Fulfil a need of theirs by providing a list of useful things, or just entertain them with a list of things you like/don’t like and why. Write a list of memories you have, or 10 tech tips you’ve used recently. There are a multitude of topics to choose from, you just need to funnel them into a coherent (and numbered!) order.

Write a post containing affiliate links

This is a post that does double duty of providing you with content while also helping you to make a little money. As Darren says, “contextual promoting is king” (in his post “The Ultimate Guide to Making Money with the Amazon Affiliate Program” – it’s PACKED with useful info!), so even if you have sidebar advertising or a banner/widget somewhere, you’re still more likely to make conversions if you write a post and have affiliate links in it (appropriately disclosed, of course). These sorts of posts pop up around Christmastime as “gift guides” or what have you, but there’s no reason you can’t do one at other times during the year. What products have you found useful lately? What’s a wishlist you have? Have a look through your affiliate programs and see what you can come up with.

Interviews

Who is someone you really admire? They don’t have to be another blogger, just anyone you’d like to get to know a little more. If you find them interesting, chances are others will too. Work in finance, but always wanted to be a chef? Hunt one down and peek inside their brain a little. Or find a mentor or someone you look up to and ask them about their road to where they are and what kind of advice they can give. Ask your mother for advice. Interview a musician. Whatever captures your attention.

So now you have a thousand brilliant ideas running through your mind, right? You might find this post useful on capturing ideas and keeping notes.

You might also like this post if you want to consistently get creative about your content, and break through blogger’s block for good with this one.

I bet you’ve come up with at least one blog post idea from this list – care to share it? You might help someone else!

Stacey Roberts is the content ninja at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Can be found making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

Weekend Project: Take a Blogging Retreat

As bloggers, we all face challenges. They might be as big as expanding our blog beyond a five-figure income. Or they might be ongoing, like the challenges of finding post ideas, or clearly defining our niches.

Reflecting

Image courtesy stock.xchng user SSPIVAK

And we look for answers wherever we can: on our favorite blogs, in ebooks and whitepapers, at meetups, on social media, in our networks and with our contacts.

But all too rarely do we look inside ourselves for those answers.

You already have what you need to succeed

It sounds corny, but it’s true: you have what you need to succeed already. That doesn’t mean none of us ever need to learn anything, or buy any software, or do any research!

What it means is that your own drives, motivations, interests, and capabilities are what will lead you to success.

The problem is that online, things move so fast. We can spend so much energy simply trying to keep up that we don’t make time to look inside ourselves and work out what suits us—what we want as bloggers, and what we can give to those goals.

That’s what this weekend project is all about.

Take a blogging retreat

This weekend, I’m inviting you to take a blogging retreat. Today and tomorrow, we’ll tackle some of the most common blogging problems with a healthy dose of good old-fashioned introspection.

We’ll help you:

These posts will put you back in touch with yourself, and help you connect better with your blog, so it, in turn, can connect better with readers.

It should help you reconnect with your desires and goals as a blogger, and refresh your outlook on what you’re doing and where your blog’s headed.

I know how hard it can be to make time to do this kind of thing on a daily basis, so I hope you’ll join us this weekend to improve your blog in some unexpected ways, through our blogging retreat! Watch out for our first post later today.

The Only Blog Post Idea List You’ll Ever Need

This guest post is by Stephen Pepper of Youth Workin’ It.

There are so many articles out there on how you can come up with new blog post ideas, but do any of the suggestions actually work?

We started our youth work blog in September 2011 and have posted six days a week ever since, so we’ve had to come up with over 200 posts related to youth work so far. Needless to say, it’s been tricky coming up with this many ideas.

I’ve read all kinds of different suggestions on how to overcome blogger’s block, but each person’s experience is different. Here are 20 techniques we’ve used to help counter blogger’s block.

  1. Embarrassing stories: Think back to moments of your life when you were really embarrassed. Use that situation to craft a post relating to your niche—there’s a good chance it’ll entertain readers (as did our post on how being asked to rate the first time with your wife out of 10 on a BBC gameshow watched by millions can relate to youth work).
  2. Choose subjects for each day of the week: This has probably been my single most helpful way of deciding what to write. Each day from Monday to Saturday has its own category—Mondays are for posts on youth work activities, Tuesdays are youth work Q&A, Wednesdays are program administration, and so on. This means our focus can be more defined each day, rather than having to come up with a random topic every time we write. You can do this even if you only blog once a week—the first week of the month could always be based on one subject, the second week on another, and so on.
  3. Use special days as inspiration: Use special days and public holidays as post idea prompts. For example, we have a Spotlight on Youth series where we focus on a certain young person based on certain public holidays. For example, we wrote about the former child soldier Ishmael Beah on Veteran’s Day. On National Pirate Day, write your post in Pirate language. National Pancake Day? Work your post around that.
  4. Cell posts: Can you divide your posts into two, like a cell divides? You might start writing a post and realize that you’re starting to talk about two different things. For example, we recently started wrote a series about parents’ involvement in your youth work. When working on a post about unsupportive parents, we realized there were actually two types of unsupportive parents—one who’s unsupportive of their child, and one who’s unsupportive of the work you’re doing with their child. These are completely different issues, so we were able to get two days’ worth of posts out of one original idea.
  5. Change of scenery: Changing your location can have a big impact on your creativity. We’d started getting stale with our idea creation recently, so we went and sat on Virginia Beach for an hour to come up with future topics. After an hour, we had over 100 new blog posts ideas.
  6. Write for sub-niches: Youth work has a number of specialized areas—urban, rural, faith-based, LGBT, gangs, foster care, mental health, sexual health, young offenders, etc. There’s a good chance that whatever niche you’re in has many similar sub-niches. Make a list and use it to inspire further ideas.
  7. Use Google Analytics: Take a look at the keyword searches that are bringing people to your site, as this will give you a great idea of what information people are looking for. You may think that the fact that they’ve arrived at your site means you’ve already written about what they’re searching for, but that’s not always the case. We did a series on preparing young people for job interviews (including what they should wear), but we’ve had many people arrive at that post having searched for what youth workers should wear to job interviews. It’s a completely different topic, but we can now create a number of posts about youth worker interviews.
  8. Likes: What do you love in your niche? Why are you blogging about it? What was your favorite moment relating to your niche? These questions can all be turned into posts for your blog.
  9. Dislikes: Similarly, what do you hate about your niche? What practices wind you up? Let these frustrations become passionate posts.
  10. Consider opposites: By looking at an issue from opposite directions, you can get two new blog post ideas. For example, we recently gave advice on how to come up with good youth group names, but also wrote a subsequent post on how to avoid a lame youth group name.
  11. Be inspired by social media: On Twitter, are there any hashtags specific to your niche? Keep an eye on these as they’ll give you a good idea of questions people may want answered. On Facebook, are people leaving comments on your page that you could address in a blog post?
  12. Solicit guest posts: Try to build up a bank of guest post submissions from other bloggers. These can then be used when you’re feeling dry of ideas.
  13. Search research: Use Google’s keyword tool to discover what people are looking for, as opposed to what you think they’re looking for. This is also where your sub-niches can also come into play. For us, instead of searching for “youth work,” researching a sub-niche like “youth retreat” uncovered a number of keyword searches like “youth retreat themes,” “youth retreat ideas,” “youth retreat games,” etc.
  14. Compilations of your own posts: Introduce your readers to some of your most popular posts by making a compilation list. If you’ve covered a number of sub-niches, you could even have a series of compilations based on each of those sub-niches.
  15. Compilations of other bloggers’ posts: If you want to become an authority in your niche, you’ll need to read other blogs relating to the same niche. Show them some love by creating a compilation of the best posts you’ve read recently and linking to them.
  16. Take training … and share it: Have you had specific training relating to your niche? My wife (the better half of Youth Workin’ It) has an MA in youth work and community development. She’s therefore able to share her learning from her Master’s to youth workers who don’t have that qualification.
  17. Consider current affairs: Are there any popular news stories not directly related to your niche that you could write about by giving your niche’s take? For example, after watching the Stop Kony video, we provided a youth work session plan idea based on the Stop Kony campaign, as well as an opinion piece on whether youth groups should support the campaign.
  18. Use other people’s ideas: Don’t plagiarize other people’s blog posts. Yet there’s nothing wrong with taking their idea and improving on it, or offering a different opinion.
  19. Explain jargon: Are there phrases in your niche that wouldn’t make sense to an outsider—or even an insider? Write a series of posts explaining words or phrases that would be jargon for most of the population.
  20. Run competitions: Are you selling ebooks or any other resources? Hold a competition where readers get the opportunity to win a copy of one of your books. This is not only an easy post idea, but also provides another opportunity to promote your resources.

There are 20 items in this list. What tips can you add to build on these? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

Stephen Pepper is insurance administrator by day, youth worker & blogger by night. He and his wife run Youth Workin’ It, which includes a youth work blog and have started producing their own youth work resources to help youth workers worldwide.

Overwhelmed? Put Some Boundaries on Your Blogging

This week we’ve been looking at some of the numerous issues that bloggers have to deal with on a daily basis—particularly those who are just starting out.

It’s little wonder that so many bloggers wind up their blogs so quickly after they start. It’s easy to run out of steam when you’re trying to work on so many challenges at once. Even experienced bloggers tend to focus upon certain aspects of blogging, to the detriment of others—I know I do.

Over the years, we’ve dealt with issues like blogger burnout, or “blogger’s malaise” several times, and looked at burnout in terms of specific issues, like social media.

The one thing I’ve found really helpful as my blog has grown, and required more and more (and more!) of my time, has been to put boundaries around what I do. I explained some of those boundaries in the post How to Be a Ruthless Blogger and Become More Productive and Focussed, so I won’t go over them again here.

What I do believe is that if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the things your blog requires of you—all the things you “need” to do, a good place to start digging yourself out of that hole is to set some boundaries. Today. Right now.

You can’t do everything

Accepting that you can’t do everything is the first step toward overcoming that sense of being overwhelmed. The next is to realise that there is no “best” way to do anything in blogging. Don’t worry about what you “should” be doing, and instead look at where you’d like your blog to go in the short- to medium-term.

Then, of all the things you could do to work toward that goal, choose one or two to focus on today, and tomorrow, and perhaps for the week or month. If you keep at those tasks, and track the results you achieve over the week (or month), you’ll probably learn something that you can apply to improve those results next month.

Perhaps one of the tasks you choose to focus on won’t work well at all. That’s fine: if something doesn’t work after you’ve put in a decent effort over a reasonable period of time, cross it off your list and try something else. Forget about that tactic that didn’t work—at least for the moment. You may find that it’s something you come back to down the track. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, cut your losses where you can, and focus on what works for you and your blog.

By doing this you’ll free up more time to dedicate yourself to particular tactics, and give them the energy they deserve. You’ll also be less likely to spread yourself and your efforts too thin.

Starting points for longer term solutions

While putting boundaries on what you need to do—and what you expect of yourself—today can help you move past those feelings of being overwhelmed right now, as you continue blogging you might find yourself facing other challenges around getting things done.

The Productivity Problem Solver that we put together to accompany our latest ebook, Blog Wise, was designed specifically to address those challenges. It has specific questions around motivation, making time, keeping track of ideas and goals, blogger’s block, and so on, and it provides solutions that our panel of 9 pro bloggers use themselves, to overcome those issues.

The thinking behind that tool is simply that I found that it’s good to have a repertoire of solutions to the most common types of blogging fatigue. If you have a grab-bag of solutions to blogger’s block, for example, you don’t have to waste time worrying about how you’ll solve that productivity problem: you can just reach into the bag and pull out a solution.

Whether or not you pick up a copy of the ebook, I definitely encourage you to develop your own repertoire of solutions to productivity problems, starting today, with solutions for feeling overwhelmed. If you have a trick you use to get past feelings of being bogged down by all you have to do on your blog, please add it in the comments, and help others in the same situation.

12 Blogging Lessons I Learned From Maxim Magazine

This guest post is by Tom Treanor of Right Mix Marketing.

Maxim magazine. It’s banned in my house (unless it’s used for research purposes).

With its revealing covers, dependence on taboo topics, and issues jam-packed with girls, booze, and cars, you’d think researching Maxim magazine would lead to a wasteland for any type of valuable lessons.

I decided to find out what makes Maxim tick and to understand why its target audience is such a dedicated bunch. If you’ve seen one issue of bikini-clad models, you’ve seen ‘em all. Right? How does Maxim keep the faithful coming back every month for more?

Turns out you can learn a lot of lessons that can be applied directly to blogging.

Here are the 12 most valuable lessons I took away from Maxim. (Hey, someone has to do the heavy lifting!)

1. Know your target audience, focus on their interests, and deliver the content they want

Maxim‘s audience is 78% male. 90% of its readers are between 18 and 49 (see the demographics here). The audience cares about women, drinking, cars, gadgets, sports, fitness and entertainment. Maxim includes an assortment of content related to these topics in each issue.

Key questions: Who is your blog’s target audience? What are their interests and are you delivering the valuable content that they are looking for?

2. If you’re about making money, focus on topics that sell

If you’re a non-profit, you may have a different goal. But if you’re blogging for a business or if you’re trying to use blogging as a business, you need to focus on topics that people are willing to pay money for. These topics include things like health, sports, gadgets, dating, sex and entertainment. Maxim focuses on a selection of very profitable niches.

Key questions: Are you fighting an uphill battle writing about a topic that no one cares about? Are you focusing on areas that no one will ever be willing to pay money for?

3. You need to take a creative approach, even for “no brainer” topics

Look, I know you think that a magazine like Maxim has it easy. Just put pictures and articles about sex, booze, and sports and you’re done. The reality is that they need to keep the audience interested. They have to come up with unique angles for topics that have been covered a million times already. Remember, they have to get people to pay their hard-earned money for this. If they don’t give them a reason to keep coming back, they won’t!

Examples:

  • “Leave The Puck, Take the Cannoli: How’d the Stanley Cups champs blow our $848″: Don’t just write about the NHL Stanley Cup winners. Why not give them an odd amount of money and tell the story of how they spend it?
  • “Playing Dungeons and Dragons with Porn Stars”: Maxim includes a twist on a tired topic.

Key questions: How are you breathing life into a tired topic? What new twists are you including in your blog to keep your readers coming back for more? Are you suffering blogger’s block?

4) Pictures, pictures, pictures

Maxim uses pictures to its advantage. On the cover and within the magazine. Enough said.

Key question: People love pictures. If you’re sharing your post via social media, it often includes a picture or thumbnail. Are you giving pictures the attention that they deserve on your blog?

5. Lists are still king!

Humans are naturally wired to read articles that include lists. Magazines have known this for a long time and Maxim is no exception. On the cover of the January 2012 issue, in bold lettering: “37 Ways To Rule Winter—The Best Snowboards, Snowball Makers & Snow Bunny Hangouts”.

Key question: Are you using lists to your (and your readers’) advantage on your blog? Ignore lists at your peril.

6. Compelling headlines (and pictures) drive sales and readership

Headlines are constantly streaming throughout the internet on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Digg, Delicious and all of the rest of the social media, social bookmarking and social news sites.

Is this any different than the traditional magazine rack where pictures and headlines scream out for attention? We’ve covered pictures earlier but don’t ignore the headlines. If you have ten minutes before a trans-Pacific flight and you’re picking a magazine or two for the trip, how do the headlines factor into your decision-making process?

Example Maxim headlines:

  • “Instant Threesomes! (OK, they’re cocktail recipes)”
  • “Bite Club – Inside the Sinister, Salty World of Snack Food”

Key question: Do your headlines pass the airport magazine rack test?

7. It’s not a one-way “conversation”

It may be a surprise to think about it this way, but a magazine is not just a one-way communication vehicle. For example, Maxim runs contests and includes reader input in a portion of their articles. Not to mention the interaction that can happen on a magazine’s blog, website and social media outposts.

Key questions: How are you fostering reader engagement? Are you treating your blog like a monologue or a dialogue?

8. How-Tos are a staple

Like lists, how-tos are another staple of magazines. Just look at the magazine rack next time you leave the grocery store. Two “important” how-tos from Maxim include the following:

  • “How Can I Open A Beer Bottle With My Teeth?”
  • “Reboot Your Life—reform your life for 2012″ (including multiple how-to articles on money, health, sex, tech, betting, food)

Key question: Are you teaching your audience how to do things that are important to them?

9. Include celebrity

Maxim doesn’t live on sex, booze, and sports alone. It also benefits from the glow that celebrities can lend to a magazine, book, movie, or TV show. Included in the January issue are JWoww from the Jersey Shore TV show (celebrity is relative), the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and his vehicles, and Snowboarder Shaun White on music, movies and gold medals.

Key question: Are you including information about or content from influencers or “celebrities” in your industry?

10. Utilize third-party research and spot industry patterns

Maxim included summaries of studies in an “Analyze This” section, including highlights of studies done on pick-ups, movies, happiness and money. It also included a “Sexy in stitches” article featuring recently injured actresses Halle Berry (broken foot), Reese Witherspoon (gash on forehead), and Bar Rafaeli (broken arm).

Key question: Are you including your own take on industry research and are you actively “connecting the dots” for your readers?

11. Storytelling is not dead

Even Maxim magazine would suffer if there was no drama. No human stories. No narrative. The January issue included a multiple page article about a “prolific art forger” who has never been arrested, entitled, “The Most Famous Painting In The World … And It’s A Fake.”

Key questions: Are you bringing stories into your writing? Do you include any drama, mystery or surprises in your blog?

12. Respond to audience feedback

Most magazines includes a reader letters section. Maxim is no different. In their “Ranting and Raving” section they respond to the good and the bad from their readers.

Key questions: Are you afraid to respond to your readers? Do you ignore the bad and only focus on the good? Are you responding to feedback?

It was tough duty but these are the 12 blogging lessons that I took away from the January 2012 issue of Maxim magazine. I suggest you go back over the key questions and see where you might have gaps in your blogging strategy.

Okay, your turn. What other blogging lessons can we learn from magazines?

Tom Treanor is the founder of Right Mix Marketing, which helps businesses of all sizes with Content Marketing Strategy. Sign up for his free e-Course on Creative Blogging.

The Right-brain Thinker’s Guide to Beating Blogger’s Block

This guest post is by Neil Patel of KISSmetrics.

In his 2009 book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink explained that the new world of business is a great place to be a right-brain thinker. Right-brain thinkers are the creators and the empathizers. If you’re a blogger, you are probably a right-brained thinker … and you probably deal with blogger’s block on occasion.

What is blogger’s block? It’s what happens to all bloggers as they try to crank out new, original posts day after day: they eventually run out of ideas. Ever struggle with that?

However, have you ever thought about using your very own creative quirks to generate blog post ideas? Following is a list of qualities that right-brain thinkers have and tips on how you can use these qualities to break those moments of blogger’s block and kick out some great blog posts.

Right-brain thinkers are impulsive

Some of the really great bloggers are those who are quick and impulsive when it comes to blogging. Think of Robert Scoble’s comment that if you aren’t at least apologizing once a month, then you are probably not doing anything interesting. He did it in a big way with Twitter. It’s good to catch hell on your blog every once in a while.

To overcome blogger’s block, just throw caution to the wind and see what happens. I know I probably ruffled some feathers when I wrote Why You Should Get Drunk – The ROI of Partying or You don’t have to be smart to be an entrepreneur.

But I stand by what I wrote and I think I provided a lot of people with some good ideas. All the comments I got and tweets suggest I did something right.

Right-brain thinkers question authority and rules

Another great idea for blog posts involves just challenging current rules or asking why certain rules exist.

For example, SEOs are always wondering and challenging why Google is doing certain things. Aaron Wall wrote a great post called Google Aggressively Enters Make Money Online Niche where he made a list of all the listings in the SERPs for a certain term and pointed out how Google products dominated the results. He’s challenging authority, and so should you.

Right-brain thinkers are unlikely to read instruction manual before trying

Ever just get tired of the same old thing? Ever feel like you don’t want to do things the traditional way? If so, that’s great!

Sometimes breaking blogger’s block involves just ignoring the best practices and creating something that breaks the mold. That’s exactly what Smashing Magazine did with The Death of the Boring Blog Post.

Listen, I give you permission to break all the rules. Just forget about the rules and just write! Keep in mind not all of your ideas may work. Be patient and don’t give up, because failure is a great way to improve your blogging skills.

Right-brain thinkers process multiple ideas simultaneously

Good right-brain thinkers can hold more than one idea in their head, even if the ideas are totally different and contradict one another. So, one of the best ways to get creative and break blogger’s block is to bring together two very different ideas.

Austin Kleon takes the idea of creativity and criminality to come up with a very original blog post called Steal Like an Artist. He combines images, drawings, and photos with commentary that leads you down his list of ten things he wishes he’d known about creativity when he started out.

Right-brain thinkers write things down or illustrate

Sometimes it just helps to get your ideas down on the screen. That’s usually what I do once I’ve gathered enough information about the topic I want to write about. And don’t forget: just write as quickly and carelessly as you can! Tell that editor in your head to “shut up,” and just write.

Another way to break writer’s block is to draw. Hugh MacLeod is the superstar in this area, but there are other great drawer/bloggers out there. Just take Organizational Chart of Major Corporations at Bonker’s World or Fake Grimlock’s Minimum Viable Personality drawing. These are two great examples of distilling an idea to its essence.

Right-brain thinkers are visual, focusing on images and patterns

When you’re looking for blog topics to write about, it helps to look for patterns in information. Perhaps you have an idea for a topic and you start to look at articles. Keep reading until some kind of pattern emerges. You might key into something that a handful of people keep saying. That could be your topic you explore.

Or you might spend some time looking at dozens of photos on Instagram, Flickr or deviantART. Any one of those places could trigger an idea for a post.

Right-brain thinkers intuitive, led by feelings

When blogging, do you tend to hide your feelings? In other words, do you try to remain objective and distant? If so, stop it! Bring out your feelings when you write. If something makes you angry, write about it. If something makes you laugh hysterically, write about it.  Besides, ranting is How to Get People to Remember Your Posts.

Right-brain thinkers see the whole first, then the details

If you tend to see how a particular blog post is going to look, like you know the headline and you probably how you are going to open it and close it, but you’re not sure what is going to go in the middle, that’s fine.

If you see the whole post first, it might help you to write an outline. A lot of the time I’ll have the headline and then I’ll work on all the subheadings. Then I’ll go through and start filling out the different sections.

What are the advantages of an outline? Here are three:

  • You won’t get lost: With an outline, you’ll have a road map for your blog post to help you stay on track.
  • You evaluate your idea early: With an outline, you can also see if you may have trouble putting your post together. An outline is like an early, simple version of your post.
  • You write with a sense of flow: Outlines help me get into my writing so I pick up momentum.

Sometimes I’ll run into a dead end as I’m writing a post. Instead of getting frustrated and banging my head, I’ll just start working on a different, easier section of the post.

Right-brain thinkers use free association

Using free association to come up with blog posts can be fun. All you do is just sit down and start thinking about something. Follow where each idea leads. Don’t stop writing until you are out of ideas or just tired.

Also, make sure you save all your ideas. Don’t throw anyway away because you’ll have a lot of ideas for future blogs posts in that one rambling, rough-draft session. Plus, look for the interesting insights or patterns you see in your writing. As Scott Myers says in Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work:

“What happens? In my experience, oftentimes I’ll hit on a nugget. Perhaps something related to the scene, perhaps not, maybe something later in the story, or an idea for something else entirely. Generally when that happens, I end my free association session. Other times, nothing seems to emerge, so I just stop.”

By the way, free association is a great way to break writer’s block.

Right-brain thinkers have no sense of time

When I say “no sense of time” I don’t mean you don’t know what time it is. What I mean is you enjoy what you do so much that you lose track of time. But you probably have to fight off the tendency to be distracted by phones, Facebook, and co-workers. Distractions can cause writer’s block.

Some bloggers I know will work on a 33-minute schedule. They’ll write focused for 33 minutes, get up, drink some coffee, check all their social media sites for about five minutes and then get back to work. It kills writer’s block and tends to be a very productive way to write.

Creative breaks for blogger’s block

Blogger’s block affects us all, whether we tend to be right- or left-brain thinkers. Hopefully the qualities of creative thinkers I described above will give you that spark you need to inspire you next time you are struggling to come up with a new blog post idea.

What things do you do to inspire you to write and break blogger’s block?

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.