Are you looking for some fresh design, marketing and even story or headline ideas for your blog? Today’s task in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge that might just help with this.
This is an off line activity – all you need to complete it is a pack of sticky notes, a notebook, pen, a magazine (or a newspaper) and an hour of time.
Your Task for Today
It’s simple really – take some time out to analyze/review a magazine with the view of learning something about how you might improve your own blog.
Which magazine do you need? Really almost any one would do – however if there’s a magazine covering the topic that your blog is on then it’s probably worth choosing it.
hint: many public libraries have back copies of magazines so you can do this for free and with lots of magazines at once there.
I do this process on a regular basis and find that it helps me in a number of ways:
- Marketing ideas – the way the magazine markets and pitches itself to readers can teach a lot – particularly what they do on the front cover which is all about convincing people to buy the magazine.
- Design ideas – some magazines do layout better than others and the web is definitely a different medium than print – but you can still learn a lot about design from reading a good magazine. Good magazines will give you an indication of what types of design/colors/layout are in vogue at the moment.
- Post Ideas – whether I choose a magazine on my blog’s topic or not – I almost always come away from this with a story for a new post. Sometimes the inspiration comes from a completely unrelated topic but an article that has a headline/title that could be applied to my niche.
- Learning about my Niche – if you choose a magazine on your topic it’ll keep you across the latest news and developments in it.
- Writing Tips – a good article on almost any topic can teach you a lot about effective communication.
- Monetization Lessons – mainstream media have been monetizing content for a long time – while the web is different some principles still apply.
- Reader Engagement – while a very different medium magazines are increasingly trying to get more interactive with readers by running competitions, setting up online areas, using reader contributions etc – I often find myself with sparks of inspiration from watching how magazines reach out to readers.
Why Analyze ‘Old Media’
I can hear a few blogging evangelists asking what the point of this exercise is. Isn’t blogging ‘new’ media and why would we look to ‘old’ media like magazines to learn how to do it?
While I agree that blogging is a very different medium to magazine publishing – I don’t think that we need to throw everything that’s been learned by mainstream media out – to me that’s arrogant.
Sure we should be innovating and working with the strengths of the medium of blogging – but there are also lessons to be learned by looking at what others are doing in different mediums also. A lot has been learned over decades of magazine publishing that we as bloggers could take on board and build upon.
The Process that I Use
When I conduct this magazine review exercise I generally do it like this:
Set aside at least an hour and head to a place where you won’t be disturbed (I tend to go to a cafe)
Take with you the magazine (or more than one), a notebook, pen and a pack of sticky notes
Starting with the front cover – quickly skim through the magazine – put a sticky note on any page that catches your attention. Don’t pause to read anything yet – just take a quick flick through it to see what leaps out at you.
Once you’ve had a quick look through the magazine – make a note at what grabbed you on this first pass through. Was it a headline, picture, color, opening line of an article or something else? Attention grabbers are so important in creating an engaging blog so it’s worth noting what got your attention.
Now take a second slower read of the magazine. Start at the front cover and work your way through. As you read – ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Who is the target audience of this publication?
- What techniques are used on the front page to draw people into the magazine?
- What makes you pause to read an article? Why do you skip over other articles?
- What type of headlines are they using? How effective are they?
- How are pictures used?
- What colors are in at the moment?
- How are articles formatted (use of sub headings, bold, lists etc)?
- How does the magazine sell itself (looking forward to future issues, subscription pages etc)
- What can you learn from ad placement and design in the magazine?
- What level is this magazine pitched at? (beginners, advanced etc)
- What is the magazine doing well at – what are they not doing well at? How would you improve it?
- What are the limitations of the medium of magazines that you don’t have with a blog and how could you sell your blog on these things?
As you read through the magazine also make note of story ideas, design techniques, headline structures and other techniques that you might want to try on your blog.
I’m not saying you should copy everything you see happening in the magazine – but rather that you use it as an opportunity to learn and think about your own blog. Some of what you see will naturally lend itself to your blog – other things will not.
The value of this is in stepping away from your own blog for a little while and getting some fresh ideas and perspectives.
I’m keen to hear how you go with this exercise – feel free to share your experiences of it in comments below.
One more Tip
If you choose a magazine on a similar topic to your blog – it can sometimes be worth keeping an eye out for opportunities to directly improve your blog from it.
Pitch yourself as a contributor to the magazine – I’ve done this a number of times with mixed success – but if the magazine strongly relates to your blog – why not contact the editor to suggest that you do something together? For example you might offer to write an article or even a regular column. I’ve seen a number of bloggers do this with some success. Alternatively you might want to pitch yourself or your blog as a potential subject for an interview or article in their magazine.
Enjoy this exercise? – this is just one of thirty one exercises in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog project. Sign up for it here today.
This task is a sample of one of the tasks in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook – a downloadable resource designed to reinvigorate and revitalize blogs.
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