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10 Steps to Writing a Successful Series on your Blog

Now that we’ve talked about why a blogger might consider the use of a series of posts I’d like to turn my attention to the way in which I do it.

When it comes to the way I build a series of posts on a blog my workflow is a little different to Eric’s (although there are some real similarities also). Let me outline how it usually works for me (and it does vary from time to time).

1. Identify a topic - this is of course key when it comes to developing a successful series (as it is with single posts also). As I reflect upon most of the series of posts I’ve written here at ProBlogger over the past year it’s interesting to see that in virtually every case the series has started in my mind as a single post. For example – one of my first ever blog series was one I wrote on AdSense for Bloggers. This 8 part series started (in my mind) as a medium sized post. As I started writing I soon realized that there was more that I could write than would comfortably fit in one post and so the series began.

The key of course is to make sure you choose a topic that is large enough to warrant multiple posts (you don’t want to write a series just for the sake of it) but manageable enough not to overwhelm you. Some topics are so large that they could almost be a blog in and of themselves.

The ideas from most of the series that I do generally do come from the themes that I see in the interactions that I have with my readers. Questions that they ask are usually key in triggering my thinking in this way.

2. Write a list – this second step will not surprise regular ProBlogger readers as you know I love a good list and that lists (like in this very post) are pretty central to my blogging style. When I make the decision that a topic is big enough for a series I generally start with a bit of a brainstorming session and compile a list of the main points that I want to make.

These lists generally start out as bullet point lists of keywords and phrases written up either in a TextEdit document or even straight in an ecto draft. Once I’ve got a list of keywords I then go back and add a few descriptive sentences under each point to flesh them out a little. It’s amazing how many of these sentences make it into eventual posts. I find once I’m on a roll that a lot of it just flows and I can end up with a list of 10 or so ideas pretty quickly.

The list is rarely the final list that I end up going with (some don’t make it and others are added) but it does form the basis for my series with each point usually ending up as a post of it’s own.

3. Set Targets – at this point I generally set myself some goals for the series and try to establish boundaries for it. Looking at the list I can generally tell how many posts I’ll need to complete it which in turn helps me decide how long it will run for. I generally try to run them for a 1 week period (starting on a Monday and ending on a Friday) but have been known to run them over longer and shorter time frames. It’s good to know up front what you’re aiming for so I think about questions of how many posts, how many I’ll post per day, how long the series will run etc.

4. Set up Draft Posts – with these details settled I then take the list I’ve created and take whatever I’ve written for each post so far (often just a few keywords and a sentence or two) and copy and paste them into some draft posts on my blog. I give each one a draft title (often changed later) and just leave them each there as drafts for me to work on in the coming days.

5. Pick a Title – the name that you give your series can actually be a very important factor in it’s success and I would recommend that it be something you give serious consideration to. I guess in this decision I’m thinking about branding and how the series might be marketed. Picking the title for a series is pretty similar to the process of choosing one for individual posts and are often a combination of choosing something that is catchy as well as choosing something with some good keywords in it (for SEO purposes).

6. Announce the Series - up to this point all my work is in private but I put the pressure on myself now by announcing the series with an introductory post. This serves a number of purposes including letting your readers know what to expect (it creates some anticipation) but also making me accountable to finish what I’ve started. There’s nothing like telling your readers that you’ll be writing X number of posts on a topic to keep you motivated and accountable for the task.

7. Write an Introduction to the Series – The Introductory post is generally the same one that I do the announcement in. In it I try to do two main things. Firstly I outline where we’ll be headed over the coming days. This might even include announcing your actual topics (if you’re that organized) but could be more general also. Secondly (and more importantly) the focus of the introductory post is to help highlight the ‘need’ that the series will help to address.

I’m a firm believer that the most successful posts and series of posts that I’ve written have been popular because they meet some sort of need that people have.

8. Write a Post per Day - This is one of the main differences between my approach and Eric’s . He writes all of his posts in advance and sets them to go off over a future period of time. While this works for some it doesn’t quite fit with my own rhythm of blogging – I much prefer to tackle writing a post per day. This is for two main reasons – mainly to keep my posts fresh (I find that it’s not until my readers begin to interact with the series that the the series really takes off and I start to write my best stuff after reading their comments. Writing in advance doesn’t doesn’t give me the opportunity to build what I’m writing upon the wider community’s experience. The other reason is because I find writing multiple posts on the one topic in a short period of time is too much for me. I’m much better when I break things down. This is just my personal preference and helps me keep things more manageable.

9. Interlink your Posts - I see a lot of bloggers attempting to write blog posts as a series that don’t do this and think it’s a big mistake. While your current regular readers will be able to follow your post by logging on each day or reading it in RSS – future readers of your blog might not has as much luck as they often come in via a search engine to a middle post in the series and if you haven’t linked to the rest will have to go searching for it.

there are a number of ways of interlinking your series. Here are a few of them:

  • Central Page – in this case you have one page/post on your blog that you link to from each post in your series that lists links to each post in the series. For an examples of this check out my blogging for beginners series central page and the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog central page. Another variation of this is to make your introductory post the central page and as you write other posts add them to it.
  • Links at the beginning and/or end of posts – in this strategy each post in your series will link to other posts in the series. There are two ways of doing this. You can either just link to the post before and after the post in the series or you can link to all the posts in the series from each post (for example my AdSense for Blogging series and my Blogging for Change Series for two variations on this).
  • Combine all the posts on a central page to make a longer post – I’ve only done this a couple of times and it’s not my preferred method but another strategy is simply to write another longer compilation post at the end of the series that combines everything you’ve written before. Examples of when I’ve done this is on my Search Engine Optimization for Bloggers series as well as my declaring war on blogger apathy series.

10. Finish your series well - While it might sound obvious to ‘finish your series’ I think it’s important to do this well. Readers like closure (as do bloggers themselves) and it’s often good to finish a series with a short summary of what’s been written and/or some reflections on the process of writing the series itself. Especially helpful in a concluding post (or just a concluding paragraph in the last post) is the invitation for readers to add their own thoughts and points. On most occasions in my experience a series could have other posts added to it and so it’s a good thing to acknowledge this and invite others to continue it in comments (or on their own blog). In this way you not only get reader interaction but also develop a more well rounded coverage of the topic as your readers add their own expertise and experience.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Don’t forget the In Series plugin for WordPress which lets you tag each post in a series, and it builds the interlinks between posts for you.

  2. Darren Rowse says:

    Nice one Michael – hadn’t seen that one before!

  3. Well said, Darren. Thanks for taking the time to help us out, much appreciated.

    David Askaripour
    http://www.cashcampus.com/ftt

  4. Eric Scalf says:

    Wow, Darren. We definitely take different paths in writing a series. Although I write a series based on a fairly broad topic (Advanced Monetization Techniques, for example), I take a set of sub-topic (see that series link for examples) and tend to treat each as a single post, with a definitive beginning and end. I rarely re-coup everything in the final post. Then again, I normally try to write with more a conversational style (I hope), as opposed to an instructional one.

    Out of curiosity, if you find time (or interest), could you consider doing a post on writing a series using a real-world example (the Blogging for Beginners series, just as example), and take us through beginning to end? As far as your four or five steps are concerned, at least? I find myself curious.

    Sometimes, I think, if it weren’t for the series I’ve written, I wouldn’t have half the blog I do. At the same time, I worry what will happen when I stop having rapid-fire ideas for series. The ideas for my current series, and the next two planned series, all came within one day of each other. Then again, I’m hoping my readers will become more active on the blog, and ideas will come from the conversations.

    -Eric

  5. I’d tend to disagree with your point 8 “Write a post a day”. My rhythm is pretty poor, and having announced the series, I’d probably get distracted or busy with work and not have time to write each day. I’d probably side with Eric on using the scheduling feature to handle that.

  6. Scot Newbury says:

    Thanks for sharing Darren.

    I found it interesting that some of what you do falls in line with my take on writing a series and what I hadn’t thought of made sense to me.

  7. Jerome Baum says:

    Michael: I use WordPress.com, so unfortunately I cannot use the plugin.

    What I am doing for my first series instead is creating a page and having that contain all the links. Each post has text at the beginning stating that it is in the series and a link to the introductory post. That in turn has a link to the index of posts.

    This system is of course very experimental right now, but it might work out. I’ll probably make a lot of changes over time.

    By the way, I publish mainly from Microsoft Word 2007 (which is also where I edit my posts) and then use a Firefox plugin to add the social bookmarking buttons and add the tags and categories (Word supports categories but not tags). Since I have the Firefox spell-checker installed, my posts get checked by Word and by Firefox, so that’s another nice feature.

    Of course, this blog is pretty new. I made an attempt earlier at blogger.com, but that failed, also I didn’t like the interface, but WordPress.com seems better when you ignore the restrictions it places on you.

  8. Chetan says:

    Nice post Darren and nice plugin shared there Michael :)
    Thanks both!

  9. Thomas says:

    I was just about to post about the In Series link that Michael posted…LOL. I have a couple going.

  10. Great check list for writing a series.
    I wish I saw this when I wrote my series, would have made things easier!

  11. Thanks for sharing this writing a series method. Will check out the plug-in for WordPress too. :)

  12. My bad. The in-series plug-in is already discontinued more than a year ago and have moved to the following link:

    http://remstate.com/projects/in-series/

  13. Ryan McLean says:

    Wow all this stuff about series has really helped me write a better series for my blog.
    I am currently writing my first ever series on mastering your debt in 30 days. I am hoping that it will build up readers and then afterwards I might turn it into a product to sell.

  14. JK Swopes says:

    Cool stuff here, thanks for the tips, still reading through the info after you sucked me in yesterday! :)

  15. Wayne John says:

    Thanks for this Darren. I’ve just announce a series about How To Build a Blogger Blog, and these tips will help me out. The series I did last year I feel lacked a bit in some areas that I hope to improve this year. One thing I did however that helped a lot was to create a table of contents page that listed each topic in advance. Right or wrong, it helped me stay focused and on track because quite honestly, I’m a busy person and will lose track with my lists.

    Got to love the lists…lol

    Cheers!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Write a Series I like to write series on occasion, and in fact this post may have been better as a two part series don’t you think?  Well if you are going to write a series you need to think about it before you do it.  Once you’re all done writing your posts be sure to go back through and have them all link to each other (you can see what I did on the XFBA Series).  Another tip that Darren from Problogger points to is the need to have a central page for the series (I’ve done this by creating a Featured page).  Another fun thing to do is find collaborators to write with you on a topic, even finding people with different views than yourself is a great idea to help broaden your series’ appeal and readership. [...]

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