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Content Week: Let’s Chat! Where do you get your blog ideas from?

Theme WeekThis past week, we’ve been talking about all things content – where can we get it? What inspires us? What works with our audience? What are some out-of-the-box ideas that will set us apart from the regular blogging crowd? We spoke with Chantelle Ellem, of Fat Mum Slim, who encouraged us to write what we love, and Carly Heitlinger of The College Prepster, who told us to take a topic and make it personal. We wrote a mega-list of places to go when we’re fresh out of ideas to inspire us again, and we heard from Darren on the topic.

Now it’s over to you – where do you find your ideas? Do you have any sure-fire sources of inspiration? What do you do when you’re hit hard with blogger’s block? We’ll also be chatting about this over on Darren’s Facebook page - we’d love to hear from you all.

Content Week Case Study: Carly Heitlinger of The College Prepster

Theme Weekcarly for pb theme weekIn 2008, Cartly Heitlinger was a freshman in college doing what most of us do in her situation – studying a subject they don’t like in order to get a degree they do. So she started a blog as part distraction, part creative outlet, writing about things she was interested in – study breaks and bows on shoes, to name a few.

Now, six years later, Carly writes a wide variety of posts on The College Prepster that revolve around fashion, lifestyle, shopping, her life in New York, and snippets about what she’s learned about blogging. Almost 2000 posts later, it appears she’s never been stuck for an idea.

For those of us who are dying to know how to keep our blogs interesting and fresh, I asked Carly to spill her secrets on how she found her groove, how she realised what her readers wanted most, and what are the kind of posts she won’t go near with a ten-foot pole. What she shares with us today are valuable tips she’s learned through trial and error – tips we can all use to inspire us to create useful and entertaining content no matter what our blog niche is.

carly in the beginningIn 2008 when The College Prepster began, it was Carly’s “little escape” that she could focus her energy on in between school stress, exams, and crew practice. She says the culture of blogging at the time was “actually pretty ideal”.

“There was NO pressure,” she says.

“No followers? No problem. Personal branding wasn’t a buzzword. Twitter wasn’t mainstream. Marketing dollars were still being spent in the traditional sense. The community of bloggers, (there were a handful in the same “niche” as me) was a lot closer and not competitive at all.”

So while there was no pressure, no competition, and no real need to be unique and stand out from the blogging crowd, Carly experimented with content she enjoyed writing and watched how it resonated with her growing audience.

“I really was just desperate for an outlet when I started; what I was writing about just sort of happened,” she says.

“For a while, I would blog about fashion (mainly products I liked) and quick little updates about my life. I was really young and quite busy with school, so I didn’t have that much to contribute. My content continued to evolve as both I and social media matured. I was able to share experiences and provide advice and work more closely with brands to produce exclusive content through the “College Prepster” voice.”

carly the evolutionThere are few blogs in existence that are exactly the same as what they were when they began. Over time, as we get more comfortable, more bold, more understanding of what works and what doesn’t, it’s natural to progress into new areas, to cut others, and find the winning balance. The best part of blogging is its flexibility, the ability of the author to test new things, to learn from their mistakes, and for their blog to evolve as they do.

The College Prepster has grown and evolved just as Carly has over the years, and while it stays true to its roots, it’s a much slicker operation these days, with a little more forethought into its content.

“I consider my blog to be a combination of ‘life and style’,” she says.

“So you might find anything from a recap of a fun weekend I had, new books or movies I loved, a personal style outfit, new arrivals or must haves from a favorite retailer, advice from a life experience, or simply just something interesting!”

The topics Carly features sit seamlessly alongside brands keen to reach her engaged and interested audience. From sharing fashion finds for the love of it, to collaborating with big-name partners, Carly ensures her posts are not just readable, but useful too.

“I always post products that I personally love and endorse. Some are paid features and I often make a commission off of the products, but it’s always things that I love!,” she says.

So what has the blog evolved into? And what resonates with her readers the most?

“I want my blog to be a place where people feel like they’re my friend and reading something they can’t find anywhere else,” she says.

“A blog entirely with only fashion photos seems too impersonal and a diary of just my life would be boring. I like to have a diversified content mix.”

carly what content“The real key is posting things that I find interesting or that I like. The right readers will follow,” Carly says.

“Writing about things that I think my readers will respond well to, versus listening to my intuition of what I want to post, actually has the opposite effect. You end up attracting the wrong audience!”

Right. so: diversify, go with your instinct, and stay true to yourself. What else?

“Readers who come back day after day respond very well to my “life event” updates. Whether I’m sharing a lesson I’ve learned or a fun day I had, they like following that plotline of my life. I get lots of new readers from Pinterest from fashion photos, organizational posts, and DIY/how-tos.”

Got it: Let people peek behind the curtain – they love connecting with the human experience. How has Carly seen that affect on her readers when she posts about personal stories?

“I think [writing more personal posts] is the key differentiator,” she says.

“It comes with costs (mainly a loss of privacy as readership has grown), but the value it adds to my blog is notable. Someone recently sent me an article about how blogs are dead and I almost had to agree. The market is saturated, the content is copied, and attention spans have gotten smaller! However, personal stories I think are getting lost or dramatized. (How many five minute Youtube videos have you watched about an inspirational video… only to move onto the next story next week?) There’s something to be said about a storyline that continues over the years. The College Prepster isn’t perfect, is relatable, and fails and succeeds. She has become a friend to the reader over the years! (It doesn’t stop at just the blog though, using other social media platforms to build out a more robust character is necessary).

“I love blogging about books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched. I love getting recommendations from other people, so those types of posts are generally great “conversation starters.”

But creating fresh, new, interesting content day after day, year after year can be difficult. What serves as Carly’s inspiration, considering she posts nearly every day (and sometimes twice a day!)?

“I find inspiration everywhere,” she says.

“But mostly I draw from my life experiences. I think this has actually allowed my blog to stand out amongst a rather saturated market and gain a loyal, very tuned-in audience. I’m not just showing a pair of new shoes, but instead talking about where I went in the shoes and what kinds of experiences I had.

Bingo.

Another of Carly’s hot tips is to step away from the mainstream ideas of what makes “blog content”.

“I think video, imagery, and writing all go hand and hand,” she says.

“I mean, look at Instagram. It’s really a mini blog (and should be treated as such!). It’s also important, from a business development perspective, to see where marketing dollars are being spent from a corporate level, namely Pinterest (photos) and YouTube (video). Writing certainly will continue to have its place, but it’s important to keep content fresh and “current.” If a photo or a video does the trick, then it does the trick. Content is content.”

So keep it personal, step outside the box, but also know what doesn’t work. What has Carly found doesn’t work for The College Prepster?

“As a rule, I don’t blog about politics or religion. That’s not to say that I don’t have opinions on these topics (I certainly do!), The College Prepster is just not the place. I used also lump personal relationships/my dating life into the off-limits category over time… but I’ve slowly relaxed a bit on that. I have a boyfriend, and while we share certain elements of our relationship online (mostly in the context of fashion and/or events we went to together), we keep it primarily ‘offline’.”

carly's advice“Write about what you’d want to read. (And don’t blog about something you’ve already read. There’s nothing more boring than reading blog posts consisting of photos I’ve already seen on another website!) I write as if i’m writing to my best friend!”

If you’ve found this case study as inspiring as I have, you might like to read more of Carly’s blog at The College Prepster, watch her (super-useful!) YouTube videos here, chat with her on Facebook, or Tweet her here.

 

Content Week: An Interview with Chantelle Ellem of Fat Mum Slim – Where Does She Find Post Ideas?

Theme WeekChantelleFAT MUM SLIM (1)

Chantelle Ellem is a blogging powerhouse – if you’ve not read her blog Fat Mum Slim, then you’ve probably seen her pop up in your social media feeds with her Instagram Photo A Day challenge.

Over her five years of blogging, she’s not only come up with almost two thousand post ideas, but she has also written for leading Australian parenting websites, magazines and blogs. If that wasn’t enough content for you, she also creates most of the Photo A Day prompts each month that sparks the creativity of social media photographers everywhere. She has also written an eBook packed to the brim of topics to get inspired – “Let’s Give Them Something to Blog About” will no doubt knock that blogger’s block right out of you.

Choosing blog post topics

But coming up with thousands of blog post topics can’t be easy, can it? Chantelle says when she’s super-stumped, there are a couple of go-to inspiration sources that never fail:

  • getting out and about (people and places are great for prompting ideas)

  • scrolling through StumbleUpon or Pinterest,

  • reading favourite magazines Frankie,  Fete, or Red,

  • digging back through post archives to remind herself of the topics she really enjoyed writing about.

While having a niche is usually a good idea, sometimes personal blogging is hard to categorize. Chantelle says that over time, her post topics have been refined into: photography, family, “living life inspired”, and food. She says these are the themes that inspire her the most, and therefore form the backbone of her blog.

What do readers want?

A blog is nothing without its readers, and it doesn’t take long for a blogger to realise that writing reader-friendly material is the key to keep them coming back. But how does one know what will work and what won’t? Well that’s just a matter of trial and error.

“It’s hit-and-miss sometimes,” Chantelle says.

“Something I think will really connect can fizzle, and others that I’ve spent very little time on and think will be a dud, soars. I think if people can’t connect, then it just doesn’t work”.

Over time it gets easier to know intuitively what readers might connect with, and to provide it in an authentic way. Chantelle says she knows that if she is moved while writing the piece, it is likely to strike a chord with the reader.

“If I cry over my keyboard, I think others will too,” she says.

“The heartfelt, moving posts are always the ones that people connect most to, and they’re usually about life experience or family. It always overwhelms me the number of comments, and social media feedback I get on posts like that.

“I once wrote a post about a man I sat next to on a plane, and it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. It’s still my favourite post, and the one most people remember on my blog.”

How she stays organized

But with all of these ideas, inspriations, chance encounters and motivating moments, how does Chantelle keep track of it all?

“I am a paper person, so I keep jot down post ideas onto Post-It notes and place them on my wall. I also have a big box that I add to when I’ve read a great article or jotted down lengthier notes so that I can delve in when I’m stumped for content ideas.

“I also have an editorial calendar that I try and plan a few months in advance. It’s not strict, because if I don’t feel like writing, I don’t but it gives me an idea of which direction I’m headed.”

After being asked daily how other bloggers can find ideas, an idea for the “Let’s Give Them Something to Blog About eBook was born.

Her advice to others

  • There are loads of things you can do; get out and about (go to a cafe, the beach, the shopping center)

  • Use images/video instead of traditional written content (I think it’s a great way to get inspired and find new content ideas. I’m a huge fan of photos, even bad ones, because they tell a story themselves. And short videos are great when done well, but they have to be short (I think under 2 minutes is key). I don’t think we should ever get stuck doing what we’ve always done. Trying new things is key to staying inspired.

  • Try something else new – buy a magazine you’ve never read before, or even just exercise.

  • Get a blank piece of paper, and vomit out your thoughts in a quick fashion onto the paper. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lame blog post idea, write it down… you never know what it might inspire.

You can find Chantelle at her blog Fat Mum Slim, on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. She might be just the inspiration you’re looking for.

 

Content Week: How to Consistently Come up With Great Post Ideas for Your Blog.

Theme WeekContent. Where to find it, how to get it, what’s going to resonate with our readers? They are questions most bloggers ask ourselves pretty regularly. Some of us have ideas coming out our ears with not enough hours in the day to turn them all into posts, and some of us have times where we’re scratching around the bottom of the barrel trying to come up with useful, interesting, engaging content on our blogs day after day, year after year.

This week we’re going to focus on all the ways you can be inspired to write great posts for your readers. Today we start with some ideas on generating content, and across the week, we will be chatting to bloggers who consistently come up with great ideas. We’ll have a bit of inspiration, and some discussion points to get you all thinking. There will also be a “homework” challenge at the end of the week to take you from all talk to total action. You’ll find all the links to this week’s content at the end of this post.

So content – where can we look for inspiration?

Other bloggers

If you’re a blogger, it’s likely you read other blogs. While there are millions out there, we tend to return to a handful that we know and love and always enjoy reading. Have a look at why that is – what keeps you coming back? And how can you write similarly for your own readers? Maybe it’s their tone, their sense of humour, the way they provide interesting information in an easy-to-read fashion. Could this work for you too? What are the topics that resonate with you? What are the topics that garner the most engagement? How can you put your own spin on something similar?

Social media

Social media is a one-stop shop for finding what people are talking about online. Search the Facebook and Twitter hashtags, watch the trending topics, and use them to inspire what you write about. Then you can promote your posts using the trends and hashtags while they’re still popular. Join LinkedIn groups if you haven’t already and see what are the hot topics being discussed. Scroll your Facebook newsfeed and see what jumps out at you – strike while the iron is hot!

Your own content

Every month, Darren does a “deep dive” into his analytics to see what posts did well and what might be useful to revisit. It can be a goldmine of content ideas, particularly as you know that your readers will already be interested in those topics because they have been before. What can you update, repackage, or build on?

The news/current affairs

You’re sure to have a reaction to some kind of news or current affairs issue – why not capitalise on that? It’s a issue already in the media, so there’s interest there. Post your take on the topic, your opinion, or where people might be able to find more information on your blog about the issue. There’s always something happening somewhere, and if it’s relevant to your audience, you can add to the conversation.

Ask your readers

Who best to ask for content inspiration than the people who will actually be reading it? What do they want to see more of? What are they interested in? What do they wish you would cover? You can ask in a blog post, on social media, host a Google Plus hangout, a Twitter chat, or even run a reader survey. Can you help answer their questions? Or maybe even run a series? Darren uses this technique with great effect, and a bonus is that it helps to increase community engagement around your blog.

Brainstorm

Grab a cup of coffee and find a nice place to sit. Bring a notepad and pen, or your laptop. Sit for five minutes and write down all the ideas that come into your mind. Don’t worry about editing them, or being clever, just write. You’re guaranteed to come up with a couple of gold nuggets that you can turn into posts.

Check your comment section

One of the best pieces of advice I ever read was to “hang out in your comments section”. It was initially advice to help grow readership, but it is useful for so much more than that. What are the stories your readers share with you? What questions are they asking? What do their comments make you think of that you can then expand upon? Do they have a blog? What do they write about? Is that interesting to you, and can you be inspired by what they do?

Mine your idea lists

Sit down and go through all of the places you’ve written down ideas. Workshop what might be useful to you now, and get a few intros or ideas jotted down for a handful of the topics you want to explore.

Find other bloggers’ lists

You are not the first person to be stuck for content ideas – not by a long shot. Over the years, plenty of bloggers have found themselves in the same situation, written a bunch of ideas down, and shared them with the blogosphere. Google them, or see if your favourite bloggers have written similar lists and see if any of the topics resonate with you. You can get started with this list from The Blog Stylist, this one from Fat Mum Slim, or the one on this post Pip Lincolne wrote for JustB. If you’ve found others online, do please share them in the comment section.

Visit your favourite blogging resource site (like ProBlogger!) and search their archives

Chances are the blogging greats have touched on this topic before. They might have a list like the ones mentioned above, or general tips that will get you out of your slump and onto your keyboard. Content can be an elusive soul, and even the best of the best have still struggled with it from time to time. Learn from their lessons!

Your niche’s top Google searches

Head over to Google and check out what search terms people have been using and see if you can’t create a post based around some of the information you find. If you’ve got a food blog, maybe check out the top 10 most-searched-for recipes and put your own spin on them? You’re sure to come up with some inspiration for future posts (or even a series), and you have the value of it already being a hot topic.

What do YOU want to know?

Have you asked a question lately? Has there been something on your mind that you’ve Googled? Why not write that post yourself? Fill in knowledge gaps with what you want to know, and what you have found in your research. What do you think people want to know that isn’t being written about? Don’t wait for someone else to write it – do it yourself.

Think visual

Sometimes we have tunnel-vision when it comes to posts, and concentrate solely on the written word. Stretch your creative muscle with a short video or a slideshow. You might have a DIY or tutorial that will work a thousand times better in visual form than it would as a list of written steps, or something funny you want to share. Don’t forget to check out what’s cool on YouTube and maybe try to make your own version.

Get outside

Get right out into the land of the living and take your inspiration from your environment. What are people doing? What are stores selling? What are the interactions you see? What’s changed since you were a kid? What great food have you eaten lately? The topics from this kind of observation are literally endless.

Your journey

Look back over a journey you have taken and use that as inspiration. It could be a literal journey, like a trip you’ve taken, or a metaphorical journey, like your experiences blogging over the years. How far have you come? What’s changed? Compare yourself now to your teenage self. Compare the start of your business to now. Where do you want to go from here? What kind of journey will you be taking in the future? Everyone has a story.

Write a cornerstone post

Have a think about the kinds of topics on which you write, and see if you can come up with some “evergreen” content. What is always going to be useful to your readers, no matter the current trend? Can you do a mega-post where you pull together all the posts you’ve written and all the resources you can find on a genre or niche that your readers want? Much like Darren’s “Sneeze Pages“, you can send your audience down the rabbit hole of your blog’s current content, or you can write a post of brand new information that will always provide value for the people who read your blog. Brainstorm some topics to use as a pillar post on your site, and you shouldn’t be stuck for ideas.

Curate content

Check out the internet as it is today – what are other people doing that you really like? What are some sites or articles you want to share with your readers? Put them all together in one post for them to read. You might want to do something like “five articles I’ve loved lately” or “15 new ideas for your kitchen”. Not only have you been inspired, but you’ve given your readers interesting content while also linking to sites and blogs you like (which is great karma in blogland!).

Write a list post

These may be abundant on the World Wide Web, but they are for good reason – they work. People are time-poor and they want useful info in bite-size chunks that they can skim if need be. Fulfil a need of theirs by providing a list of useful things, or just entertain them with a list of things you like/don’t like and why. Write a list of memories you have, or 10 tech tips you’ve used recently. There are a multitude of topics to choose from, you just need to funnel them into a coherent (and numbered!) order.

Write a post containing affiliate links

This is a post that does double duty of providing you with content while also helping you to make a little money. As Darren says, “contextual promoting is king” (in his post “The Ultimate Guide to Making Money with the Amazon Affiliate Program” – it’s PACKED with useful info!), so even if you have sidebar advertising or a banner/widget somewhere, you’re still more likely to make conversions if you write a post and have affiliate links in it (appropriately disclosed, of course). These sorts of posts pop up around Christmastime as “gift guides” or what have you, but there’s no reason you can’t do one at other times during the year. What products have you found useful lately? What’s a wishlist you have? Have a look through your affiliate programs and see what you can come up with.

Interviews

Who is someone you really admire? They don’t have to be another blogger, just anyone you’d like to get to know a little more. If you find them interesting, chances are others will too. Work in finance, but always wanted to be a chef? Hunt one down and peek inside their brain a little. Or find a mentor or someone you look up to and ask them about their road to where they are and what kind of advice they can give. Ask your mother for advice. Interview a musician. Whatever captures your attention.

So now you have a thousand brilliant ideas running through your mind, right? You might find this post useful on capturing ideas and keeping notes.

You might also like this post if you want to consistently get creative about your content, and break through blogger’s block for good with this one.

I bet you’ve come up with at least one blog post idea from this list – care to share it? You might help someone else!

You can find the other posts in this week-long series here:

Where does power-blogger Fat Mum Slim find her ideas (and get her idea-packed eBook “Let’s Give Them Something to Blog About”)
How to deal with your blogging inner critic
Content Week Case Study: Carly Heitlinger of College Prepster
Where do you get your blog ideas?

Stacey Roberts is the content ninja at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Writer and word-lover, she can be found making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

The Unexpected Way to Write Killer Content: Blog from Your Heart and Break All the Rules

This is a guest contribution from Tova Payne of TovaPayne.com

If you asked me two years ago about blogging, well let’s just say I must have been living in a cave, because I didn’t quite understand what blogging was all about or why people did it.

I’ve loved writing my whole life, but never realized how blogging was associated with business, or getting your message out to the world.

So I started off with writing a newsletter to an e-mail list I had, and slowly, as I was studying more about business, I recognized that my natural passion for writing could reach a wider audience through blogging.

This gave my writing a greater purpose—the ability to spread my message to a wider reach, to share what I love and hopefully help inspire others too.

Simple enough…Or so I thought.

The more I learned about business (and I bet you can relate), the more you start hearing about the “shoulds,” the rules, and the “right way” to blog and write in general.

You learn about techniques such as SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and how to craft the PERFECT headline so people will read the damn message. Let me be fair—these things contribute to the success of your blog. BUT, what I see and hear people tell me all the time is how they can’t write their blog because they are not sure if they are doing it the right way, or they can’t hit publish until they find that perfect headline.

What’s the problem with that?

Well, it’s an easy way to stay in fear-mode. Too scared you’re doing things wrong that you don’t send your message out to the world. Too scared you didn’t get the right SEO key terms that you never press “publish”. You keep waiting to have everything right until you hit that magic button.

Well, I’ll tell you—the fastest way to sabotage your blogging efforts is waiting to get things right.

Blogging, like anything in life, is a muscle. You need to work it to strengthen it. Through your dedication to blogging and through your consistent posting you will inevitably start crafting better headlines. You will receive feedback on what creates a more popular post and what works best.

And it’s not by spending 80% of your time reading about blogging and 20% of your time starting that blog you never post. The only way to really learn and get better is to get started: Write. And publish. You need to publish to learn.

Secondly, when you try so hard to fit into every blogging rule—you run the risk of seriously dulling down your message to fit the rules, which takes away from the feeling, the inspiration, and the heart of your message.

What posts go viral? It’s the messages that inspire people to share it with their friends. Not the ones that fit the perfect SEO-box.

And I know this from my own experience. Sometimes when I write for other publications I have to write SEO-driven content, and I’ll tell you it just doesn’t feel the same and it never brings me as many likes or new fans as the ones that come from pure heart and passion.

Now, like anything in life it’s a fine balance. I mean if the essence of your writing is to reach people, and if tweaking a few words here and there will help reach more people—then take a few minutes to tweak a few words. Certainly, take advantage of the tag words and writing a good excerpt if you can—but do NOT stress over it, and don’t waste more than a few minutes on this.

Like all rules, they are there as a framework to guide you. But the magic happens when you can chuck the framework and make up your own rules. To allow your intuitive guidance to help you in the decision processing that you make. And yes, this pertains to blogging and all areas of your work.

Certainly, SEO matters to some degree, but when you write from your heart and share your message from that place of passion, the right people will find you.

My vote is to spend more time creating from the heart and press “publish” more often (as you sweep the rules under the rug). So what are waiting for? People are waiting to hear your message. Get to work—Write. Publish. Repeat.

Tova Payne is a Published Author, Writer, Blogger, and Entrepreneur. She helps creative entrepreneurs take action on their dreams. Visit her online home to grab a free copy of 5 Keys to Starting + Finishing your Dream Projectwww.tovapayne.com

Connect with Tova on Facebook here.

Case Study: An Experiment with Short Form Content

Two days ago I wrote about the power of longer-form content on a blog, and gave a few examples of some posts that I’ve published this year that have been between 4000-7500 words that have done really well.

Today I’d like to talk about an experiment that I’ve been doing in the last week on Digital Photography School with short-form content.

The experiment started as an accident (as many of my better ideas do). I was surfing through some of my favourite Flickr photographers when I came across an image that grabbed my attention.

The image was of a portrait of little girl and it grabbed my attention partly because it was a beautiful shot, but also partly because it perfectly illustrated a post that I’d published on dPS recently on how sometimes NOT waiting for your subject to smile is the best time to photograph them.

The image was a creative commons licensed photo, and I toyed with the idea of adding the photo to the original post as an update – but as I pondered it, I wondered if maybe it was an opportunity to do something a little different.

On the spur of the moment I decided to set up a ‘page’ in the back end of WordPress to showcase the image. I added a link to the previously published article and then added a few more links to other portrait photography tips below the image.

Also because the content related to one of our eBooks, I put an ad for one of our eBooks in under the links too.

I also added a Facebook ‘like’ button to the page, and added a Pinterest ‘hover’ button to the image in the hope people might share it.

Here’s how the page looked:

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 2 53 04 pm

Why I Published it as a Page rather than a Post

You’ll notice that I mention above that I published this image not as a blog post but as a ‘page’ in WordPress.

I did this for a couple of reasons:

Firstly we had already published three posts for the day on the blog and I didn’t want to overwhelm my readers with too much content on the same day.

Secondly this was an experiment – a new type of post that I’ve not done before that was a simple image with a few links. I wanted to test it before rolling this type of post out onto the blog.

How the Content Was Received

I shared the post with our Facebook audience and tweeted the link to it to. As you can see in the screenshot – the post was fairly quickly ‘liked’ on Facebook over 400 times.

The post was liked on the Facebook share a further 300 or so times and was ‘shared’ there a further 36 times.

Traffic to the page was decent. The day I published it on our Facebook page, it received around 4000 visitors. Yesterday it had 250 more. Tonight it will be linked to in our weekly newsletter which should drive some decent traffic to it.

The above stats are pretty spot on average for a typical post on dPS – but what I did notice that was interesting about this piece was that visitors to it went on to view more pages on the site than a typical post.

Hence – the bounce rate on this post was pretty good. A typical post on dPS has a bounce rate of around 70% – but this particle piece of content had a bounce rate of 57%.

The shortness of the post and the fact that it was simply an image, a couple of sentences and some links for further reading meant a lot of people clicked those links and went on to read another 1, 2 or 3 posts on the site.

What I’d inadvertently done with this piece of content was to create a mini-sneeze page (a type of page that propels people deeper into the blog).

I found this fascinating and decided to keep experimenting with this type of post.

Evolving the Experiment

One of the things I immediately wanted to play around with was to change how the post looked.

You can see in the screenshot above that the image itself could only be shown at a relatively narrow size. The content area of our page template on dPS allows for a 600-pixel-wide image.

While this is big enough to illustrate an idea or show a picture in reasonable detail, it lacks punch. I also noticed that the content looks very short against the long sidebar that we had showing on that initial post.

Our sidebar was set up to show subscription options, a poll, ads, recent posts, etc, and while all this looked good on a typical post on the site – on this short piece of content it was two and a half times longer than the content!

Even as the post was going live on Facebook, I had already begun to talk to our developers to give them instruction on how I’d like to see a new ‘page template’ developed.

I wanted the sidebar removed and also wanted to add built in sharing buttons to replace the little Facebook button that I’d manually added.

Here’s the rough Skitch screenshot that I sent them:

Don t smile

You can see from this that I was already thinking about other possibilities for this type of content. Not only could I use these types of posts to showcase further reading and promote eBooks, but potentially they could be used as pages to get new subscribers to the blog.

While our developer got to work, I began to hunt for a few more ways to use this concept to see if we could test it further.

I rolled out my next test piece with a similar format of post – a great image that underneath had a strong call to read a single related post. Here’s how it looked:

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 3 00 22 pm

This one went up a notch in terms of reader response.

Facebook likes were quickly up over 1000 on the button on the page, the Facebook status update generated over 800 additional likes, 74 shares, and some great comments (including readers submitting their own images), and the page was visited by over 5500 people in the first 24 hours.

While the post only had one link in it to further reading, the bounce rate was down even further to under 50%.

It was around this point that my developers got the page template updated to remove the sidebars and add social sharing buttons.

The result of doing so was visually fantastic. Here are the two pages as they look now:

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 3 06 04 pm

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 3 05 43 pm

You can see them here and here.

The only pity in the change was that we lost the social sharing numbers that has already been counted with the old Facebook button – but in the scheme of things this was a small price to pay.

Since implementing these changes I’ve created three more of these pages:

It is too early to do proper analysis on these posts as tonight we send our weekly newsletter which drives a lot of traffic, but the initial results are promising and in the next couple of days I have a couple more experiments to try using this new approach.

To this point, my initial learnings are that this type of content is great for:

  • increasing page views per visit
  • showcasing older posts in your archives while still adding new content so that people who’ve seen the old stuff are not just being hit with the same old posts
  • creating shareable content (readers seem to be sharing these posts at pretty high rates)

I’ll update you on my next experiments with this type of content in the weeks ahead. To get updated when I do make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter below:

Long Form Content vs Series of Blog Posts

long-form-contentLast week I was involved in a number of conversations with readers about blog post length and whether it was better to write long posts or short ones.

My short answer to the question was to write ‘useful’ posts, and to use as many words as were necessary to do so.

Having said that, I have been experimenting over the last few months with the two extremes of short and long posts.

If you’ve been paying attention here on ProBlogger this year, you’ll have seen some of what our team have called ‘mega posts’.

For example here on ProBlogger we’ve published:

Over on dPS we also experimented with longer posts including on a post titled The Ultimate Guide to Learning How to Use Your First DSLR (4202 words).

These posts have all performed well above average compared with other posts on my sites over the last 12 months (in fact they feature pretty heavily in the most-read new posts on my blogs in 2013).

What About Series of Posts?

When I recounted the above examples in conversation this week the question that came each time was whether the same content could have been delivered as series of posts.

Wouldn’t it make sense to break a 7000-word post down into 10 700-word posts?

The answer, of course, is that a series of posts is definitely an option.

I’ve certainly created my fair share of series over the years, and will continue to do so, but I also think there is a place for longer-form content. In fact, I think good long-form content has some distinct advantages over series of posts.

For me, I think the main advantage of long form content is that its just more useful and convenient for readers to get it all in one go.

A series of blog posts is great for page views and helping you to fill a week’s editorial calendar, however if you put yourself in a reader’s shoes, it can also be a little (or a lot) painful.

Readers following the blog have to wait for new posts to be published before getting the full information in the series.

Readers who come across the series later have to follow links between posts to get each installment.

Neither of these problems are enough to stop me writing a series of posts, however, there are a couple of good reasons why I think long-form content is attractive to readers.

The other thing I’ve noticed about good quality and useful long-form content is that it gets shared – a lot.

While I’ve had great search traffic to each of the above posts this year, they have each been shared at a higher rate than the average post on my blogs in the same timeframe.

While I do find my series of posts can get shared around too, I’ve never seen a series that I’ve written shared as much as some of the long-form content I’ve created (the only exception might have been when I first ran 31 Days to Build a Better Blog as a series many years ago).

Choose the Best Length for the Topic At Hand

Let me finish by saying that I am not suggesting creating longer-form content just for the sake of publishing longer-form content.

The key is to choose the appropriate length and style of posts for the topic you’re covering.

Long form, short form, series of posts or other formats can all work.

Have you tried longer-form content?

I’ve love to hear about your experience of longer-form content. Have you tried it? How was it received?

Please share a link in comments below – I’d love to see your longer posts.

10 Ways to Switch Your Brain to Writing Mode When Working From Home

Immigration, Assimilation and the American Dream
This post is from ProBlogger Team member Stacey Roberts

Finding it hard to make time to blog? Me too. In fact, that’s one of the biggest issues people tell me they have when trying to write. Often we’re blogging from home alongside other work and family commitments, and it can be hard to switch between them when we need to. If you’ve only got 90 minutes in which to write that day, all the good intentions in the world don’t necessarily mean you can use every single one of those 90 minutes to their capacity, churning out a brilliantly-crafted blog post and three witty tweets to wow your readers.

I write from home with two toddlers, and juggle my own blog in addition to freelance writing and my  work here at ProBlogger. When I sit down to the computer after a morning of LEGO fights and snack time, I’m not always inspired and motivated to be productive. I have to make myself use my time to its potential, which is a heady mix of prior organisation and brute force. I’ve come up with a couple of ways to get my head in the game, when the game could be called off at any minute.

1. Create a ritual

There’s nothing better than a physical distinction between one task and the next. For me, it is to make a cup of tea, which is leftover from my days as a journalist, and tells my head it’s writing time. You could make a cup of coffee, fill your water bottle, or put on the same playlist every day. Whatever helps your brain train get on a new track.

2. Walk around the block

If you work at home, it can be tempting to work from the couch in your pajamas. And while that’s definitely one of the perks of the business, it doesn’t really help your productivity. Get dressed, walk around the block and pretend you’re walking to “work”. Grab a cup of coffee on the way into your office, sit down and start your day.

3. Move to a new location

Sometimes a change of environment is just the kickstart you need to find your writing groove. Not feeling it at your desk? Get outside, sit at the kitchen table, go to a cafe – wipe the slate clean and start again. Don’t be afraid to move to find your groove!

4. Be prepared

Nothing blanks me out more than sitting down to an empty white screen. Where does one start? What if you can’t come up with a good headline, and then you can’t figure out what’s the most important thing to cover? Before you know it you’ve spent half an hour idling with nothing to show for it. I find I work best when I’ve taken a few minutes prior (even days prior) to roughly sketch out what I need to cover in my post. Then by the time I sit down, I’ve got anything from a couple of words to go on, to a whole skeleton outline I just need to flesh out. This helps enormously, as even when you type the first sentence, you can get into the flow.

5. Work solo

We like to think that we are multi-tasking ninjas, but research has shown you really don’t get as much done as you think. So in order to train your brain to work to its potential, you have to be tough and shut down any distractions. If this is hard, then tell yourself you can sneak a peek every 15 minutes, but you need to get stuff done in that time. So much of writing is self-discipline, and when you don’t have time to waste it’s even worse when you waste it.

6. Spend two minutes digging around in your brain

When you sit down to write, just take a few minutes to think about the tasks ahead. Don’t write anything down, don’t look at anything, just fill your mind with what you need to accomplish. This will help you stop thinking about distractions and get your mind in the groove of what lies ahead. It’s a great way of getting some demarcation between what you’ve been doing, and what you need to do, and also works as a bit of a brainstorm for today’s tasks.

7. Spend another two minutes sketching out ideas

Now spend a few minutes jotting down those thoughts. I often find it’s a mix of items for my to-do list, post ideas, something to share with my readers on Facebook, and points I want to cover in my posts. This also means I’m motivated and inspired to get to work on these items, and also ensures I’m not sitting down to the dreaded blinking cursor without anything to kickstart my creativity.

8. Don’t start from scratch

One of the best things I learned about writing novels is to stop when you’re inspired. It sounds counter-productive, but if you stop once your wave is over, you’re at a bit of a loss where to start when you pick it back up. This can mean you waste valuable time trying to come up with what to write about next. Picking up where you left off when you were in the groove means you can start with all cylinders firing, which does wonders for your productivity. There’s nothing better than starting off with a good chunk of work under your belt, it lessens the guilt you feel when you fritter your time reading eight Buzzfeed articles instead of getting stuck in. Or that might just be me.

9. Do the worst thing first

I know I’m tempted to leave the hardest thing for last as I “warm up” with easier tasks, but I also then find I’m still dreading the job while I’m doing other things. And often my time gets cut short and I’ve got to find another time to get it done. I find I work best if I sit down and get the big job out of the way first, almost like ripping off a Band-Aid. Everything you do after that is gravy.

10. Use recent notes

If you’re anything like me, you will look at some notes you wrote three days ago and they make little sense. “Mirfin? what’s a mirfin? It looked important, too…”. So while it’s useful to jot down notes when inspiration strikes, it’s even more useful if those are recent notes and you can still recall what you need to do and when. I often email myself notes, or use the notes function on my phone and laptop. Sometimes I even go beta and use pencil and paper, hence the mirfin. But the shorter the timeframe, the better for you.

I’d love to hear what helps you get your head on track when working from home. Any tips you’d like to share?

Stacey Roberts is the content ninja at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Can be found making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

The ONE thing your written content needs. (And it’s not what you think!)

This is a guest contribution from karen gunton is a blogger, teacher, and visual marketing specialist.

Bloggers hear a lot of advice about content marketing, email marketing, and social media marketing, but you may have noticed something new pop into the online landscape lately – visual marketing.

So yes, even though you are a blogger and your job is to create written content, I am here to tell you that you need some visual content too.

Visual marketing is simply using images to communicate a message about your blog or your business. The images you use can come in a number of formats (jpeg, video, PDF, slide, print etc.) and can contain a wide variety of content (text, photographs, diagrams, icons etc.) so the definition of visual marketing is actually a lot wider that in seems. You can create visual content that suits you, your blog, and your audience… the key is to get visual.

Here’s why:

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1. Social is visual.

If you are using social media platforms to engage with your audience and market your blog then you need visual content.

Social media is visual: brands that share visual content on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ get more engagement than brands that do not; and visual platforms like Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram drive traffic back to blogs.

2. People are visual.

Visual content catches people attention: it often resonates in a way that words alone do not, and it is generally more memorable. The saying “A picture is worth one thousand words” came to be popular for a reason! People are visual, so it makes sense to incorporate visual content along with your written content as a way to engage with your audience.

3. Visual stands out.stand-out-from-crowd-blog.png

We are bloggers. Words come easy to us! But I am sure we all experience a similar problem in our respective niches: there are a number of bloggers blogging about the same topics we blog about. Visual marketing is your chance to stand out, particularly if it is not popular yet in your niche. And visual content is a great way to share your message in some new and engaging ways.

So how do you get started?

Number 1 imageStep one is to realise that any type of blog, in any niche can use visual content. You do not need to have “product photos” in order to do visual marketing. Think outside the box to come up with ideas for visual content that suits your blog, your brand, and your niche: before and after photos, behind the scenes photos, sketches, maps, flow charts, diagrams, humorous memes, inspirational quotes … there are many ways to get visual!

Number 2 imageStep two is to go beyond the typical blog “stock photo” and use blog images that double as social media images. Creating an image with your blog headline, a quote from your blog text, or a helpful tip from your blog content will give you something to post to Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, even your email… any place where your audience is hanging out!

When you post your image to social media, include the link back to your blog and a call to action to click for more. If your images resonate with your audience they will do they sharing for you – that’s why I call these types of images “shareables”!

Number 3 imageStep three is to look at content that you already have and think about how you can make it visual. Repurposing existing, popular content is a great way to engage with your audience in new ways, plus it doesn’t have to take a lot of extra time.

Consider creating a slide show and sharing it on Slideshare, adding your voice to the slide show and uploading it to YouTube, turning your content into a printable PDF guide or checklist, or creating an infographic.

Think back to when you were in school and you realised that kids learn in different ways – adults are the same. Sharing your written content in new ways will help you engage with your audience. Not to mention that these different formats give you the opportunity to share content on new platforms, and include your own visual branding to build brand recognition.

It is win-win-win.

I know that one of the big things that holds many bloggers back from creating visual content is the whole “But I am not very creative!” thing. We are into writing, and that sometimes means we aren’t as comfortable with images.

But I bet that there was a time when you didn’t feel like a writer either! You have probably heard the advice that the best way to learn how to write is to start writing. It is the same for visual content. The more you play with creating images the more comfortable you will feel with it, and the more you will learn what resonates with your audience.

And with so many amazing free tools and tutorials online, this is indeed something anyone can learn. To get started, try picmonkey. It is my favourite online tool: it’s free, it is very user friendly, and it is a fun way to create social media shareables that will help you promote your blog posts.

Go on, give it a try… give your audience something they can pin, share, tweet, and print – they are waiting for it!

karen gunton is a blogger, teacher, and visual marketing specialist. she is passionate about helping micro business owners SHINE online. take her FREE visual marketing class to learn how to create your own branded shareable images for social media – no photography or design skills necessary!