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Craftsmanship – Principles of Successful Blogs #9

craftmanship.pngAs we continue to explore principles of successful blogging I want to turn our attention to a matter at the heart of the topic – content.

Much could be said on the topic but in the presentation that sparked my principles of successful blogging series of posts I spoke at length about the idea of ‘crafting content‘.

The idea of of successful bloggers displaying ‘craftsmanship’ began to strike me after meeting a number of pretty high profile bloggers at the SXSW interactive conference a few years back. I remember sitting down at that conference with a number of bloggers who’d build great blogs to pick their brains and having the realisation that their blogs had not ‘just happened’ but that they’d really put time, energy and thought into shaping them over the years.

This ‘shaping’ of their blogs happened on two levels – it happened on a daily basis in the posts that they wrote – but also over time as their blogs grew and matured.

Crafting Blog Posts

My own experience of blogging is that in my early days of experimenting with the medium I would tend to sit down at the computer on any given day and then put up on the web whatever I was thinking about at that moment and within seconds of punching out a first draft the post would be live online.

  • little thought went into the planning of posts
  • no more time than was absolutely necessary was put into the writing of posts
  • no consideration was really ever given to improving posts before they went live
  • it was rare that I gave thought to how to time, launch and promote posts

My blogging was very impulsive and minimalistic in terms of how much effort I put into the most important factor of blogging – the content on it.

I got away with this to some degree, perhaps partly due to the fact that the blogosphere was in its infancy – but look back on that time now wondering how much more I could have achieved early on if I’d just given more time to ‘crafting’ my content.

Don’t get me wrong – I still sit down some days to impulsively write – but over time I’ve found that I get better results if I take a more craftsman-like approach to blogging.

One of the factors that changed my own approach to blogging was out of the experience of beginning to write series of posts on my blogs.

I don’t even remember what the first series was (or why I did it) but I do remember the realization of how much better my writing was when I put some time into planning what I would write ahead of time.

Setting oneself the task of writing a series of posts ahead of time mean you need to consider what you’ll write about (in general terms) but knowing what topics you’ll be covering in the future means that your ideas begin to marinate ahead of time and that by the time you come to write your posts you’ve given the topics thought, you’ve got ideas on how to explore it on a deeper level and you’ve hopefully got some creative ides of how to introduce and explore the topic in a way that makes the post stand out a little.

Crafting Content can happen on many levels and depending upon the type of blog you have you might not find them all to be relevant to every blog post you write – however here’s a series of posts that I wrote on the topic in 2008 that was designed to help bloggers consider ways that take a little extra time could improve their blogging:

  1. How to Craft a Blog Post – 10 Crucial Points to Pause
  2. Choosing a Topic – take a little extra time defining your topic and the post will flow better and you’ll develop something that matters to readers.
  3. Crafting Your Post’s Title – perhaps the most crucial part of actually getting readers to start reading your post when they see it in an RSS reader or search engine results page.
  4. The Opening Line – first impressions matter. Once you’ve got someone past your post’s title your opening line draws them deeper into your post.
  5. Your ‘point/s’ (making your posts matter) - a post needs to have a point. If it is just an intriguing title and opening you’ll get people to read – but if the post doesn’t ‘matter’ to them it’ll never get traction.
  6. Call to Action – driving readers to do something cements a post in their mind and helps them to apply it and helps you to make a deeper connection with them.
  7. Adding Depth – before publishing your post – ask yourself how you could add depth to it and make it even more useful and memorable to readers?
  8. Quality Control and Polishing of Posts – small mistakes can be barriers to engagement for some readers. Spending time fixing errors and making a post ‘look’ good can take it to the next level.
  9. Timing of Publishing Your Post – timing can be everything – strategic timing of posts can ensure the right people see it at the right time.
  10. Post Promotion – having hit publish – don’t just leave it to chance that your post will be read by people. Giving it a few strategic ‘nudges’ can increase the exposure it gets exponentially.
  11. Conversation – often the real action happens once your post is published and being interacted with by readers and other bloggers. Taking time to dialogue can be very fruitful.

Crafting Blogs on a Big Picture Level

The other level that I think bloggers could do well to apply the idea of craftsmanship to is thinking about the big picture of a blog and seeing the blog, in its entirety, as something that needs crafting.

Over a time as a blog grows and matures it takes on a certain shape and form.

The accumulated body of content, the voice and personality behind the content, the visual design of the blog and even the interaction with readers and emerging community are all things that go into how a blog is perceived.

Some blogs manage to evolve without much thought in a good direction – but behind the scenes of most successful blogs there is a person or team of people who are shaping the blog, plotting its course and making sure that it stays on that course.

I spoke once with a museum curator who told me about her job and it reminds me on some levels of what I do on my blogs.

Curators do many tasks to get an exhibition together – good exhibitions don’t just happen. Their work starts with careful planning, research, study and sourcing of exhibits well before an exhibition takes place.

They are not only involved in deciding what to exhibit but they’re also involved in what to leave out of exhibitions (avoiding clutter and confusion for those attending).

Once they’ve sourced the exhibits they’re involved in arranging them and making sure that they are presented in a way that draws people in and takes them on a journey.

As I spoke with this curator about the care in which she put together an exhibition (a process that took a lot of detailed thought and energy over considerable time) I was challenged to apply some of what I saw in my own blogging.

Great blogs don’t just happen – they take thoughtful consideration, planning and shaping. They too are not just about what you publish but about what you don’t publish. They too take thought as you consider the journey you want to take your reader on.

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. Rick Yuzzi says:

    Thanks. I’ve recently started blogging for my company, and also just started my own blog. These are great tips.

  2. The Great post, Darren!

    Thanks.

  3. Mike July says:

    Nice thoughts Darren. I was just advising a client two days ago about how blogging as a business tool is about more than simply creating posts. It’s a creative process that starts long before the material is published and ends … well never :)

    Thanks.

  4. Jeffrey Tang says:

    Darren,

    I agree with what you say about the importance of craftsmanship, but sometimes I find that trying to take too many factors into account gets in the way of actually making progress. Perhaps it’s due to my tendency to overanalyze things.

    On the other hand, I definitely see the value of planning the trajectory of your blog ahead of time. Great blogs often seem to have a “foundation” of posts (on purpose or by accident) that future posts continually reference.

    ***

    I often wonder whether I should add to a post (to make it deeper and more comprehensive) or take away from a post (to make it more compact and easier to read).

    Any suggestions?

    • Darren Rowse says:

      Jeffrey – I actually think some of it comes down to our personality and knowing what holds us back. I have a friend who is just a perfectionist that she never really gets anything done because she feels she has to craft things to such a level that she never finishes.

      I guess it’s about finding the balance somewhere between the streams?

      I also think its partly about your style – some bloggers do short, sharp posts and it’s who they are – their posts are thought provoking and get lots of responses (seth godin for example) while others write longer, deeper and more analytical posts that have an impact for just that reason. Either can work!

  5. K9 Coach says:

    Nice. These thoughts just set into motion what I’ve had rolling around in my brain about where to take the content in my blog.

    I work with dogs and their personalities which for the most part end up reflecting the personalities of their owners. I’m able to craft my coaching around these factors.

    This post brought to light the fact that I can do this around what I’m posting, when and to reflect what feelings in the dog owner.

    My fitness dog blog is already taking on a new personality and I’m stoked to shape it as it evolves.

    Thanks so much for the thought provoking “progblogger” posts!

  6. scheng1 says:

    Sounds like sitting for essay exam! We were told to list out the keypoints before answering the questions.

  7. Ben Norman says:

    Definitely highlights some very important points for me to look into. I’m currently a bit of a hybrid between careful planning, looking at the big picture and that something inside you that makes you want to put the post up as soon as your first drafts done.

    Whether its because I’m relatively new to blogging I’m not sure but I’m always so desperate for people to see what I’ve written I don’t take the time to check I’ve covered all the points etc. This leaves me adding in paragraphs after posting which definitely isn’t a good idea, people aren’t going to read your article twice!

    Many thanks for some great posts :)

  8. Oleg Mokhov says:

    Hey Darren,

    The best artists (writers, bloggers, entrepreneurs) are craftsmen. They thoughtfully and mindfully create.

    That doesn’t mean over-laboring or scrutinizing over details.

    Like you pointed out, it just means seeing the big picture and crafting the direction of the entire project. Not haphazardly creating here or there.

    The way I see my site Lifebeat is to see it as a never-ending book. Each new article is like a chapter in the book. And to have a high-impact remarkable book, it needs to have a theme, a direction, a certain level of excellence in each “chapter.”

    I’d like to think it’s helped me so far. The readers will be the judge of the value and content, but I feel I’m crafting each post as part of the greater whole I’m also crafting. I see what and where I’d like Lifebeat to be, and the target audience for it, and then go in and craft content to make it happen.

    Here’s to seeing your site not just as a blog but a meaningful, disruptive, life-impacting project… one worthy of crafting, not just posting at.

    Best,
    Oleg

  9. Good post, crafting a blog post is important.

  10. EF Cussins says:

    I agree, more time on each post.
    More thought in each post to the content.
    I believe a blog must be in a growing morphs or it will just be some words on the internet taking up space.

  11. We are seeing a lot of successful blogging posts these days, I love them all, by the way I’m writing one such article on my site. These are really cool posts Darren, such posts are forcing me to visit your blog everyday with fail.

    http://www.dumblittleblogger.com/

  12. Good points. I keep a running list of post ideas so that I’m not just grasping for an idea, but haven’t done much about crafting a series yet. I have a couple in mind, but just haven’t gotten to it yet. This post just might push me to get it done :-)

    I try to have 3 posts “crafted” ahead of time each week, and then have a little bit of spontaneity for 1-2 posts per week. With my niche, I think it works well. But I definitely see the value in having well-crafted content in all of your posts.

  13. BrianJUY says:

    I think an equally important section of a blog post is having a picture(s) or video. Not just any pictures or video… Good quality…

    I think there’s something about having a good picture that helps to set the mood of a blog post in combination with the headline and point of the blog…

    We’ve just started experimenting with video in one of our blogs and so far we’ve been getting great response.

  14. Linda says:

    Timeless advice. Proper planning prevent pathetic performance!

  15. I’ve tried making more of an effort to create better titles. Clean, descriptive titles do tend to get more search results. This article of mine – http://www.observingcasually.com/how-many-people-make-more-than-250000-per-year/ – does relatively well in search results, and I think it’s almost entirely due to the title.

  16. Nick Thacker says:

    I was thinking about this exact problem when I sat down to write a post last night. I feel like although the post was decent, it could have been better if I’d just drafted it a couple of times beforehand.

    However, I feel that there’s also an “opportunity cost” of drafting posts and articles–namely, if you’re like me and trying to run a business for other clients, my blog takes a backseat to those other endeavors.

    I’m a pretty decent writer in my opinion, and the most I usually change out of reworking a post numerous times is adding/deleting bulleted lists. Most of the grammar and spelling is right the first time.

    For others, though, I wish they’d spend much more time correcting these “minor” mistakes!

    • Darren Rowse says:

      Nick – yes there is an opportunity cost of pretty much everything we do as bloggers – I guess there comes a time when things just need to be published. Perhaps one approach would be to mix up posts – have some that are crafted and others that perhaps are shorter and less long/deep posts?

  17. Srinivas Rao says:

    Darren,

    I think the point of letting an idea marinate was one of the most insightful parts of this post. I’ve found that my best work is a result of coming up with an idea, jotting down on my list, and letting it marinate for a few days. Then it comes out much better than if I write it on impulse.

  18. Dan Wedin says:

    Thanks Darren. This post will be a long-term resource for me.

  19. Vivek says:

    writing a series of posts require an idea and the most important thing what was the motive behind it. Series posts will help anyone or not. will it serve the purpose for which i am blogging. Thanks Darren with this posts i am also working on series of posts so that i can help out my fellow blogger members in this blogosphere and contribute a small drop in this ocean.
    Thanks again Darren

  20. RJ Weiss says:

    I see this “craftsmanship” in some of my most successful posts I have written. For example, one day I just started mind mapping a post. Eventually, I turned the post into a flowchart.

    That flowchart, has been highly linked and frequently visited. I didn’t just sit down and start to write like I normally do.

    I need to do more of this.

  21. It’s always felt like posts that I thought out and truly crafted came out better than those that were spontaneous. Though the spontaneous posts have their place, I think people enjoy the well crafted posts more.

    It also helps to really put thought into your posts for linking to yourself. Right now I keep about a weeks worth of posts on hand so I can put them up right away. By having those ready, I can interlink between them before they are up. Then post them in the order I decided and keep a good flow between posts.

    I just started doing this though, so I’m working on implementing it soon!

    Great post as usual.

  22. The bottom line, bloggers are writers. And although the medium is a little more forgiving that the traditional ‘writer’s world’… cream rises to the top.

  23. I particularly agree with what you say about it being about what you don’t publish as well as what you do. On Herbivoracious, as I’ve learned more about blogging and my audience, I’ve gotten progressively more stringent about what I’ll post.

    For example, I hardly ever do restaurant reviews anymore, because my audience is worldwide, and they probably don’t care about a neighborhood joint in Seattle. If they come to the blog and find that first, they probably won’t come back. So now I would only review a restaurant if it has some wider significance in terms of being widely known, or representing a larger trend.

    Also, I won’t publish a recipe if I haven’t been able to take a high quality picture of the finished product. I’ve learned that my photography is a big part of what draws people into the blog, so I can’t compromise that with the occasional crap picture.

    So bottom line, I’ve found that for me I’d much rather post two high quality pieces per week that will of interest to a wide audience than 3 or 4 or 5 that risk turning people off.

  24. My writing process has evolved over time too – I used to be exactly the same. Taking just a half hour or less to do up a post and get it live. My thoughts behind this were that it was best to get as much “stuff” online as possible, regardless of the quality.

    While I did write some good things a lot of it was crap.

    Now I write longer more in-depth articles preferably in a series of posts. When I write a post, I do a quick draft, then let it sit. I go back and read it another day, edit it, then let it sit again. Then on the third day I select a photograph that suits, find a really great title to replace my crappy working title the piece gets during drafting. Then I schedule it for a week out. Before it goes out I try to read it again (most of the time) and make sure I didn’t make any silly mistakes.

    It’s hard work – but the end results has been better quality articles that rank well, get traffic and more attention than my little quips.

    I guess it depends what market you’re writing for too – I talk about creating multiple streams of income – it’s definitely a topic people want lots of nitty gritty. If I was in another niche shorter articles might be better.

    Darran – What I’d really like to know is some way (better than trial and error) that you could use to determine HOW to deliver your content (ie. length, depth and detail, video, text, audio) for a particular audience. Are there any tell tale characteristics that you would match up that could give bloggers a clue?

    Thanks for reading my comment if you got this far! Apologies for the lengthy response – just felt like I had something to say.

  25. Connie says:

    I come here about once a week to get some tips and each time I leave with valuable info. A writer ….I am not, but these helpful tips have helped me make more readable blog posts on my own blog. The “crafting the title and adding depth” really hits home. Now if I can only write better! Thanks again for the great info.

  26. The hardest thing to do is finish a post and not publish it. When I finish, and hold it even for a few hours, I find at least one improvement that can be made. Save it half a day and it gets 50% better. Its sage advice indeed.

  27. Raffy says:

    Nice post. Sounds difficult but its very important to list down and plan your way. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Dan says:

    I think people think that blogging is easy, and that anyone can do it but when you sit down for the first time to start blogging you realise that it does take planning and a thought process, I think the best ideas come to me when I am not really thinking about work, I write them down and concentrate on them when I have more time to dedicate expanding on my thoughts.

  29. mohsin says:

    After a spending sometime in blogging and making my way through random posts, I have came to this very conclusion that successful blogging depends on How well you can Craft your posts and keep your eyes on the big picture?
    Thanks for sharing the tips, I will forward it to my friends also.

  30. I like that you included actions to take after publishing — promotion and conversation. It is easy to think a great post will stand on its own, but followup can be crucial to your readers finding your post.
    I had not considered the timing of blog posts as important; now I will.

  31. Excellent tips and I can say from my own experience that putting just a little bit effort into planning blog posts (and series of posts) and then into structuring and writing, or crafting as you say it, the actual posts pays off big time in the end.

    You’ll have better and more directly related content on your blog, which might potentially make your blog more engaging and increase subscriptions, etc. And you always have a chance of picking a number of your beautifully crafted posts and put up a compilation post or even turn them into eBook or something. All possible just because you used a little more effort into each post.

  32. This advice actually reminds me of a recent article I read on the Harvard Business Blog. In it the author distinguished two different approaches to building a business as either “Jazz”-oriented or “Symphonic”-oriented.

    The Jazz one was about improvisation, finding the vibe and letting the ideas freely flow. The Symphonic was about building a structure, like a steady building, and having a conductor behind all the action.

    The truth is we should all apply both of these ideas. There are times where we should let our creative juices just flow (especially when first trying to find the voice of our blog), and there are other times when we need to orchestrate something more cohesive.

    Great post Darren! Always a joy to read what advice you have to offer!

  33. Sam says:

    Awesome post Darren. Hits home quite hard, I’ve slipped into the same “stream of consciousness” way of writing on my blogs lately, been aware of it and yet still haven’t gotten round to forcing myself out of it…

    Will definitely be trying out some of this advice.

  34. DiziFilmYeri says:

    On the other hand, I definitely see the value of planning the trajectory of your blog ahead of time. Great blogs often seem to have a “foundation” of posts (on purpose or by accident) that future posts continually reference.

  35. Those 11 steps i cant remember but i think they were out of a book on how to sell. Ha i cant remember but good stuff.

    Selling is a process that is 7 steps long. Everything is a process, you have to learn what it is then act on it rather then siting around letting life pass you by.

  36. Aglolink says:

    Thanks, I like the sub-post of Crafting Blog. Make me more inspiring.

  37. I think I agree… while blogging should be fun, it should be taken with a bit of seriousness as well. Afterall, your readers deserve at least some good content for coming to visit your site. You owe that to them.

    Amy Cameron
    BuildMySiteforFree.com

  38. Making it matter to the people reading the blog is very important. They need to find something unique in what you have to say or they will not be repeat customers.