For those celebrating Halloween, it’s the spooky season, with haunted houses, terrifying costumes, and creepy decorations around every corner. What better time to look at the horrors that plague bloggers? Gruesome typos and grammatical errors, ghastly headlines, confusing echo chambers, dreadfully empty comments sections, and more!
Since it’s the end of the month, it’s also time to unveil October’s most-blogged-about stories, according to Regator.com’s trends. They were, in order: Halloween, Windows Phone, Brett Favre, Chilean Miners, Breast Cancer, ‘The Social Network’, Jon Stewart, World Series, Kanye West, and Nobel Prize. We’ll use posts from Regator about these top stories to illustrate how you can avoid the ten horrors of blogging…
The Horror: Typo terrors
Save Yourself: As The Huffington Post found recently with “The Funniest 2010 Internet Meme Hallowen Costumes,” (a repost of a post by Nerve), not even the largest blogs are immune to the occasional typo or grammatical error. It’s a horror we all succumb to now and then. Take extra time to run a spell check and review your post before hitting publish, especially your headline. Once you’ve hit “publish,” your post takes on a life of its own, appearing in aggregators, RSS feeds, and on social media. Many of these do not reindex your post if it’s altered. If you use a platform that automatically creates permalinks and you fix a headline typo after it has been published, you could end up with a headline that’s spelled correctly, but a URL that is not. If possible, have another person read over your copy before you publish and be aware of words that you consistently misspell.
The Horror: Layouts that scare your users
Save Yourself: Broken RSS feeds, difficult-to-find email subscription boxes, a lack of contact options, or an overly complex layout can send readers fleeing. Boy Genius Report’s “Live from Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 launch!” is an example of a post with clear tags, author information, and date information. And, like ProBlogger, BGR features prominent RSS and email subscription options that encourage readers to stay engaged via feed reader or email. Could you simplify your layout? Have you checked recently to ensure that your RSS feeds are working? Content may be king but the way you present it matters too.
The Horror: Uncannily familiar content
Save Yourself: Though it’s not clear whether SNL’s recent Brett Favre sketch was indeed based on Funny or Die’s sketch, Warming Glow’s “More Plagiarism? SNL Favre Sketch Mirrors Funny Or Die Video” proves that even the suspicion of swiping someone else’s content is enough to get you called out, and nobody wants that. Put simply: Never republish another blog’s post without permission. You wouldn’t want someone to take the content you worked hard on and claim it as their own or monetize it, right? Just apply the Golden Rule.
The Horror: Dreadfully dull headlines
Save Yourself: A good headline needs to stand on its own and scream, “Click me!” in an RSS reader, aggregator, Twitter feed, or email subject line. Headlines that create curiosity and intrigue, such as The First Post’s “Chilean miners ‘not ready for the outside world,’” are effective because they make readers want answers (why aren’t they ready for the outside world?). Using words such as “secret,” “discover,” and “easy” can also make titles more interesting, as can asking a question, creating controversy, and, most of all, conveying a benefit. The best headlines tell readers what they’ll get out of reading a post, whether it’s entertainment, knowledge, or a new skill. Quantifying the benefits by using a list format (e.g., “Four reasons the Chilean miners are not ready for the outside world”) often works even better.
The Horror: Sinister swiping of photos
Save Yourself: Not every photo you find on the internet is yours for the taking, and as a blogger, intellectual property is something you should be familiar with. The Big Picture’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” acquires the rights to some truly amazing photos and then provides clear photo credits for each. If you can’t afford or don’t want to spend money on images, there are plenty of free or cheap options.
The Horror: Ghost-town comments sections
Save Yourself: Does your comments section look like Reason’s “Aaron Sorkin’s Facts and Fictions [About ‘The Social Network’]” which has 129 comments and counting—or more like a ghost town? If you said, “ghost town,” don’t lose heart. Start by making it easy to comment. The Reason example above has an inviting, clearly structured comments section that requires nothing more than a name. Forcing users to create an account will reduce the number of comments you receive. It’s also vital to keep spam comments to a minimum so the actual discussion around your content doesn’t get buried in a sea of self-promotion. Consider ending posts by asking readers to give an opinion or add to the conversation. It’s surprisingly effective.
The Horror: Frightfully useless content
Save Yourself: Darren says it again and again: Be useful and solve a problem for your readers. And he says it for a reason. If you aren’t solving a problem, whether it’s giving readers a laugh, information they’re interested in, or a new way of doing something, they won’t have a reason to return to your blog. GigaOm’s “Where to Watch Jon Stewart’s Daily Show Rally Live” is a great example of a post that gives readers something they want. As you write each post, ask yourself what readers will get out of it and have a good answer to that question before hitting “publish.”
The Horror: Eerily silent blogging schedule
Save Yourself: You need not be as prolific as Bleacher Report’s coverage of the World Series (“World Series 2010: Why the Giants Won Game 1” is one of nearly 250 posts on the subject in the last month), but you should maintain a fairly regular posting schedule so that readers know when to expect content. Whether you choose to post twice a day or once a week is up to you and should be determined by how much time you’re willing to devote to your blog and what you ultimately want to get out of it. Going on holiday? Line up posts ahead of time or consider using guest posts to maintain the schedule.
The Horror: Echo chamber of terror
Save Yourself: While 90 percent of blogs covering the story were repeating (almost verbatim…I smell a press release) the news that Kanye West’s new album had a release date, Vulture took the opportunity to get creative with “Ten Album Titles Culled From Kanye’s Twitter That Are Better Than ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,’” a choice that made this post stand out from the crowd. Finding an unconventional way to cover a popular story can be the difference between getting lost in the echo chamber and getting significant traffic. Take the extra time to get an exclusive interview, add your opinion, delve deeper, or explore unanswered questions.
The Horror: Hauntingly boring (generic) voice
Save Yourself: One of the best things, in my opinion, about blogging is that you have the ability to express yourself, not just through your opinions but through your writing voice and style. Wired Science’s “Nobel Worthy: Best Graphene Close-Ups” could have been a dry, boring explanation of graphene, but is, thanks to a humorous and conversational tone, quite engaging. Let your personal voice—whether it’s serious, humorous, conversational, or academic—shine through your posts until your writing sounds like you.
That, brave souls, is the end of our blood-curdling jaunt through the horrors of blogging. We made it out alive. Which of these horrors haunts you most frequently and how do you deal with it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
See you next month with more blogosphere trends from Regator. In the meantime, you can get your niche’s trends or other free widgets for your blog at Regator’s new widget site.