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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.

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Comments

  1. Liane says:

    Well I see your points well. What I would’ve wanted is a much more concrete guide on how to implement your suggestions. We all know that blogs and magazines have a lot in common but there’s still a distinction to what a blog can’t do (effectively) and what a magazine (such as Maxim) can :)

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Liane,

      A great challenge right off the bat! I honestly use all of these concepts in my own blogging. I would look at this as a checklist with tips and reminders about what keeps a magazine audience interested and what can help your blog as well. This can include thinking about your niche, audience, topics, creativity, what you include in the posts and how you engage.

      On your last point, the physical aspect of a magazine is one obvious difference. Other things that magazines do well include neatly packaging everything up, including a lot of glossy pictures and focusing on variety, unique story angles and a mix of light and deeper content. Blogs can be more timely, two-way, “share-able” and are accesible anywhere.

      Thanks for your comment and you got me thinking for next time!

  2. Taline says:

    Nice post! It is amazing what you can learn from a magazine and apply it to blogging. A lot of marketing concepts tend to be universal.

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Yes Taline. Doing this really reinforced the need for creativity whether you write for a magazine or a blog. Thanks for the comment!

  3. During my second year of college my roommate and I decided to move out on our own and get a two-bedroom apartment. It turned out the previous tenant of our new apartment never cancelled his subscription to Maxim, and this was my first exposure to the magazine. I immediately loved it, it was funny, engaging, and well the pictures weren’t too bad either.

    One particular article from 14 years ago comes to mind – it has something to do with what every man should have in his apartment to impress a girl. Once section discussed the books you should have in your bookshelf. These included J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. The article said something along the lines as, “Don’t worry about reading them, most girls have never read these book anyway. We’ll just give you the basics of the story to tell them so it sounds like you read them.” It went on to describe Catcher in the Rye: “A story about a retired back catcher that builds a baseball diamond in his rye field in hopes to build a better relationship with his estranged father.” They described On The Road as, “The story of a cross country adventure told through the eyes of a deer.”

    About five years later I finally read those books, and well, I’m glad I never took their advice, but I couldn’t but help laugh thinking of their target market who probably did. Even after all that, 14 years later, I still pick-up the occasional issue.

    • Tom Treanor says:

      It’s funny that a magazine article from 14 years ago made that much of an impression on you. I think that’s the power of a clever angle – how to talk about impressive books to impress a date without having to actually read them. I’d challenge us all to think about this – are we writing posts that people would still remember years (or months later)? And not just because of a clever angle or gimmick but because it made a deep impression on them.

      Thanks for sharing that story with us. This is actually probably one of the most memorable comments I’ve ever gotten!

      • Hey Tom, it’s hard to say what will resonate with people. For example, it’s amazing to hear later in life that some trivial piece of advice that you once gave to a friend in passing could resonated in such a way that stayed with them many years later. This can happen with our posts too, which is both exhilarating and a little bit frightening. With great power comes great responsibility and all that. As for my example with Maxim from above, I think the reason it made such an impression was the actual shock of learning that you can’t always believe what you read – that and being a very impressionable 19 year old college of course.

  4. Love the comparison Tom, any successful magazine or blog must base themselves on these basic truths.

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Yes Jamie. I guess I’d add another truth that I didn’t include above. Appearance matters for a magazine and a blog. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Michael says:

    I think these are some key questions that we all need to ask. But I never thought I would learn it from what I consider to be a “porn or softcore” magazine. Interesting that you were able to make the comparisons from a magazine like that.

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Thanks Michael. Well, Maxim’s been around for a while so I figured they must be doing something right. I appreciate your comment.

  6. David says:

    It’s a keeper!

    I found this post very informative. More importantly, I immediately saw things that I want to incorporate in my own blog.

    Thanks!

  7. I’ve been blogging for some time now, and this article is a perfect example of why I still subscribe. All great reminders – thanks!

  8. Kari Scare says:

    Magazines also tend to revisit topics but usually in a new way. So, to generate ideas for future blog topics, review previous posts and see if you can remodel them somehow. When I realized how much magazines can impact my writing (ideas, headlines, etc… everything you named in your post and more), I immediately subscribed to three magazines. Very helpful in all the ways you mention!

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Kari, I completely agree with you. It’s great to see how other writers (online and offline) approach topics and writing. The magazines have often been around so long that they’ve used up a lot of the common angles and are trying to find new ones. Thanks for the comment!

  9. Stuart Cook says:

    Lists are still king. How true. Look at the music mags – they’ve been doing the 100 Best Albums lists for years and it works every time. Lists are easy on the eye, easy to digest.

    That was an excellent post. Thanks.

  10. Elisabeth says:

    Wow, I never would’ve gone to Maxim for blogging research! This is great, thanks for all the tips.

  11. It is sometimes amazing how you people draw the comparisons. It makes so sense and they are always relevant. It never exaggerates.

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Tushar. One thing I did notice in my magazine research was that magazine writers often use a very exaggerated style. Thanks for your input!

  12. Lovely post; Maxim hey…. such tiring research ;-)
    There is so much to take away from studying the magazine, thanks for doing the grunt work. A good idea would be to treat all magazines this way. There is a reason why their target audience keeps coming back … with hard work and creativity our blogs should achieve such stick-ability.

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Sharon. When they have a tough job that needs to get done, they call me. The Maxim post was a tough one. Yes, when I find the time to read magazines, I often get inspired for new blog post angles. I’d recommend everyone look more deeply at their favorite magazine and get some new ideas.

      On the creativity point, I believe that it’s a requirement for any blog to get noticed and to grow readership. That’s why I’m trying to inspire people with my first creativity ecourse!

  13. Allen says:

    Great post. I will be using a lot of these tips on my new site.

  14. I must be one of the few women reading Maxim :O) Love that magazine. And your suggestions are so right. I totally agree with the “list” one. All my posts with lists on them receive excellent feedback. Guess people like to count :O)

    • Tom Treanor says:

      You’re part of the 22% women that make up its readership! Yes, I wonder if there’s some study on why lists are so attractive. Thanks for the comment!

  15. There is a lot to be learned from traditional media. Magazines and newspapers haven’t been around for all these years for nothing. (Well most of them haven’t) You have to hit those key elements that appeal to an audience’s human nature. Thanks for the post!

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Thanks Christelle. Yes, why reinvent the wheel? Learn from other media and apply it creatively to your own blog, website or product. I appreciate the comment!

  16. blog for men says:

    I think this is a good comparison, but I think it is better to think a little beyond this for all of our own (small) blogs. The items like lists, “celebrity”, and how-tos are great for drawing readers to the site. Those are the posts that can get somewhat “viral”. However, loyal readers love “storytelling”. It is also tough to make it more than “one-way” when you have very few (or no) comments. Still not really a fan of Maxim thought….

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Yes, I hear you. One way to get more engagement is to take the discussion outside of your blog (e.g. in LInkedIn groups or other forums). Get engagement and connections there first. Then, draw them over to your blog and encourage comments there.

      Another way is to connect with liked-minded bloggers in related niches and comment on their blogs regularly and/or explicitly ask them to help you get the conversation started on your blog. Sometimes people just need to see a comment or two to feel comfortable putting one.

  17. zeus says:

    I don’t read Maxim because it’s the same as all the other commercialized magazines out there. That’s why when I started my website I wanted something that guys would actually benefit from.

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Zeus, I hear you. I found it interesting to analyze their content and to see what could be applied to a blog. Good luck with your site!

  18. Trung Nguyen says:

    What point you are showing to us in this post is great, Tom. We can learn everything from live to apply to blogging, but not everyone knows what worth to learn. Thanks for the help.

  19. Wpfix says:

    I like the 2nd point If you’re about making money, focus on topics that sell absolutely correct

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Thanks Wpfix. If you’re blogging for business, it’s important to focus on topics that people are willing to pay for. If you’re blogging for an existing (offline) business, addressing the target customer’s pain points is key!

  20. Josh Sarz says:

    Great post. In the end we’re all about Content Marketing and Storytelling.

  21. Behind every success story, are tried-and-true marketing practices, as you’ve demonstrated by this comparison. All bloggers should give consideration as to how to make their content more compelling, whether this be through photos, interaction with readers or, as you mentioned, through topics that sell, with monetization around things people are willing to pay for. How many bloggers give thought to this aspect before setting up a site and hoping to earn money from it? Along this same line: if bloggers solve ALL their readers problems, would those readers feel compelled to buy something the blogger is discussing? Creating topics, where related advertising offers to solve a reader’s problem, is a good approach for converting site visitors into readers who purchase products.

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Yes, that’s a great description of the magazine model and the online advertising model. It definitely works for some, especially with the right niches, content and advertisers/product. But it also works for offline businesses who want to do lead generation and engage their target audience. Thanks for the comment!

  22. Paul says:

    Hey Tom, nice post and great way of extracting important factors in a magazine and incorporating it into a blog.

    There are many important aspects we can learn from journalism and how to apply it to online writing/blogging.

    Blogging is very much like journalism — headlines, audience, delivering content, telling a story, providing value and insight.

    I like how you used the “Key Questions.” That definitely reiterates the topic of the subhead, as well as allowing the reader to refocus on what’s important.

    Nice job

    • Tom Treanor says:

      Thanks Paul! I tried to make it as actionable as possible. It was a great reminder that you can’t just put out cookie-cutter content. You always need to be developing creative topics and finding new angles. Thanks for reading!

  23. Annie Andre says:

    What a great way to break down and research a magazine. I think the most interesting part for me was how the magazine took old tired topics and gave it a new spin by coming at it from a new angle. I’m going to try to do the same type of research and break down a magazine in my own niche to see what i can find. Thanks for showing me how to do it.