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Finding a Conversational Voice in Your Blogging

200612112158This is my final post in the ‘adding a personal touch to your blog‘ series:

This one is more of a personal preference than anything so take it or leave it – but I attempt to make my writing style as conversational as possible. I try to write in a similar way to the way I speak.

I know that this frustrates some readers for would like a more formal or text book approach – but in the majority of cases the response is positive and readers become drawn into my posts and respond in a similar voice.

The result is real conversation between blogger and reader and not ‘spin’ or ‘corporate talk’.

Once again – this doesn’t work for everyone – find your own voice and stick with it.

Using Stories to Add a Personal Touch to Your Blog

200612112158I’ve recently been reading The Story Factor by Annette Simmons and am convinced that stories are one of the most powerful ways of engaging and impacting readers.

I’ve written previously on using stories in blogging (and will probably again) but am a firm believer in using stories as they:

  • engage the imagination of readers
  • go beyond facts and theories
  • reveal something about yourself as a blogger
  • trigger emotions and the senses
  • provide hooks for readers to latch onto in your blogging
  • are relatable to readers
  • illustrate your points in ways that can be much more convincing (and convicting) than other types of information

First Person Blogging about ‘You’

200612112158This is post 2 in the Adding a Personal Touch to Your Blog Series

2. First Person vs Third Person

While there is definitely a place for third person writing in blogging – I know that I am much more drawn bloggers who place themselves inside their posts by writing in the first person. Don’t just report on the facts – let yourself engage in them and talk about how they impact you, what you feel about them, how you discovered them and how you’ll respond to them and you will find your readers respond in a similar way.

For example – next time a story like ‘Google buys YouTube’ breaks, rather than just reporting on the sale and talking about the details of the deal (like thousands of other bloggers), tell your readers how the sale could impact you (and as a result them), talk about your own feelings about the deal etc.

3. Using ‘You’ to create a more personal Blog

In a similar way that using ‘I’ language adds a personal touch to a blog – using ‘you’ language can also draw your reader into your blogging.

Brian from Copyblogger has a great post on the importance of ‘you’ in your copywriting which says it better than I could.

“When it comes to writing engaging content, “you” is the most powerful word in the English language, because people are ultimately interested in fulfilling their own needs. It may sound harsh, but the fact is your readers won’t start to actually care about you at all until you’ve repeatedly offered them exceptional value with your blog.”

When you start using ‘you’ in your blogging and you immediately force readers to consider how what you write impacts them. This means your writing leaves the realm of ‘theory’ and becomes personal.

Proofread!

Reader-Quick-TipsSteve from Adventure Money submitted the following reader ‘quick tip’:

Readers form opinions about your blog based on the quality of your content. However, even if your content is great, if your readers have to stop in mid-paragraph to perform some sort of mental gymnastics to determine the meaning of a poorly written sentence, they’re not going to get the most out of your work. We may not all be professional writers, but everyone can make sure their work is free from spelling errors. While you should strive for perfect grammar, at the very least your work should be free of glaring grammatical errors. People will definitely question your authority if you can’t communicate effectively.

Writing Seasonal Content for Christmas

christmasWith the end of the year approaching the web surfing habits of the average web user changes. The way you position yourself now in the weeks leading up to this period can mean you’re ready to capitalize on some of these changes.

I noticed this last year particularly when analyzing how people arrived at my sites via my statistics – particularly when looking at the keywords that people used to arrive at my sites.

Without giving away all my secrets (a guy is entitled to a few) it doesn’t take a genius to work out the type of words people typed into Google when searching for gifts for friends and family.

Here’s an exercise – think about your blog’s niche. In the next couple of months what seasonal things might be searching for that relate to your topic? Brainstorm a list of topics and words that people will use – then write some content that fits with this.

For example I once had a client who had (and has now sold) a website for holiday houses here in Australia. At this time of the year (summer here) he wanted to position himself for summer vacationers. As a result I encouraged him to start writing posts that related to searches like ‘summer holiday houses’. He wrote a series of tips posts on how to find a summer holiday house, the best locations for summer holidays etc etc etc.

Other examples

  • a friend of mine last year wrote a series of posts on ‘how to buy an MP3 player’ which did exceptionally well at getting readers into his site in the lead up to Christmas.
  • my post on halloween photography did really well in the lead up to Halloween
  • I wrote a post earlier in the year on the ideal Digital Camera for a Mothers Day Gift which did well

This was the final part of the How to Fine Tune your Blog for Christmas Series.

Blogging in Bunches

Reader-Quick-TipsThe following reader quick tip was written by Mike Murray:

For bloggers just starting out, the hardest thing is to maintain the consistency that allows you to build an audience. The most helpful thing I have found that I do (which most successful bloggers do also) is to write a bunch of posts at a time, and queue them spread out over the coming week or so. It ensures that even if you have a bad day or two, your blog’s readers won’t go elsewhere, and you’ll continue to see readership stay, even if you take a few days off from blogging.

Now, if only that worked on going to the gym.

10 + 9 Ways to Find Great Post Ideas for Your Blog

Randfish has a useful post over at SEOmoz with 10 Web Tools to Help Generate Blog Content Ideas. In it he lists a variety of tools including Google Groups, Technorati, Craigslist, Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, Google/Yahoo News, Keyword Tools, Wikipedia, Digg/Reddit and Yahoo! Answers.

I’d add to the list Topix.net (which offers some similar tools to the above) as well as Bloglines ‘search’ feature which lets you set keywords that will show blogs talking about those words in a folder.

Having said that – the majority of posts that I write these days come from other sources. Here are 9 more idea sources to add to randfish’s 10:

  1. Conversations – it’s amazing how many ideas come from the chats I have with other bloggers, co-workers, readers, friends and family both in real life and via IM or email.
  2. Reader Questions – related to this is responding to questions asked by readers
  3. Reader Comments – similarly, the comments left on your blog can be a treasure trove of ideas for future posts
  4. Other Blogs - like this post, I find the writing of others often stimulates posts that build on, extend or bounce off their ideas. Don’t forget to dig around in other people’s archives also as it isn’t only current posts that are places where you’ll get ideas. Of course always give credit to the source of your ideas.
  5. Books, Newspapers, Magazines – I’m increasingly finding inspiration in offline sources of information
  6. Mad Ideas – ever been laying in bed at night and get a crazy idea! I don’t just chuckle to myself when they come – I get up and write them down. It’s amazing how many of them end up being key posts for me later.
  7. Experience – a fairly large proportion of my post ideas come directly out of an experience that I’m having on the topic. Problems, achievements, challenges and mistakes are often the best source of useful posts as you’ll find readers relate well to them.
  8. Brainstorming – I take time out each week to specifically come up with ideas to post about. While most of my posts ‘just come to me’ through my day to day rhythm – I’m a big believer in working hard on story ideas also and have a folder permanently on my desktop filled with text documents that have little else in them except for a topic idea and perhaps a few jotted down notes – all to work on later.
  9. Archives – dig around in your own blog’s archives and you’ll be amazed at the opportunities that you’ll find. Look for half finished ideas, opportunities to update your ideas or even topics that your newer readers wouldn’t have seen before.

Where do your ideas for posts come from?

Developing Focal Points in Blog Posts

Focal-Points-2One of the principles that I drum into my DPS readers that their photos need to have a point of interest or some sort of focal point that draws viewers into the image and holds their interest. I suggest that before photographers hit the shutter button that they as:

“What is the Focal Point in this Picture?”

Without a point of interest a viewer of an image will run their eye over it without letting it rest anywhere. Once they’ve done this they’ll quickly move on to looking at something else.

As I was scrolling through my bloglines RSS reader earlier today, letting my eyes run over hundreds of blog posts, it struck me that good blog posts needs a point of interest (or a focal point) also (in fact they might need more than one).

Without a point of interest your readers will simply move onto the next blog and won’t actually engage with what you’ve written.

Focal Points

As I’ve pondered this over the last few hours a number of types of points of interest (or focal points) come to mind:

1. Attention Grabbers – particularly as I scrolled through my bloglines I was struck by how uninteresting most of what I was viewing seemed. I estimate that I got further than the title of about 5% of posts in the feeds I follow. It’s not many – and the reason for it was quite simply because most of them seemed uninteresting to me. To shake me out of the zombie like scrolling a post had to hit the spot and do something to make me take notice.

2. Topical Interest – of the 5% of posts that I read beyond the title on I didn’t get past the first paragraph on quite a few simply because I quickly discovered that the topic didn’t interest me. Choosing good, meaningful, interesting and relevant topics is an art form. The topic itself can often be the point of interest – particularly when it has the potential to impact my life in some way.

3. Visual Points of Interest - once someone actually starts reading a post there are a variety of visual elements that you can use to draw them further into what you’re writing. Using images in your posts, bolding key words, using sub headings, avoiding long unbroken paragraphs, including bullet points and other visual elements help to draw your readers beyond your first paragraph.

4. Personality and Sensuality – I’m drawn to blogs that engage me beyond my brain and that make an emotional connection with me. Bloggers that inject personality into their writing, that engage my senses, that use story and that trigger my emotions are much more likely to hold my interest in what they’re writing.

5. Voice – as I think about some of the bloggers that draw me into almost every post I realize that they often have something about the way in which they are written that is intriguing. It’s not just about the blogger injecting their personality – it’s got more to do with the voice and style that they use. It’s one of those things that is difficult to put your finger on but over time and out of experience some bloggers develop a style all of their own that is in itself very interesting and intriguing. It’s not something you can just decide to do or have – rather it’s something that comes with time.

What other types of focal points or points of interest can a blog post have?

Can a Post Have Too Many Focal Points?

Sometimes I get sent images from readers asking for critique and one of the common problems is too many focal points. Their images end up looking quite cluttered and busy – to the point that anyone looking at the shots will feel overwhelmed.

Blog posts can also get a little like this. Try to cover too much ground in the one post and you run the risk of overwhelming your readers. While there’s nothing wrong with having multiple points in a post – I generally try to keep them to one larger idea per post.

Full Stops (Periods) in Titles

Here’s a quick tip for composing the titles of your posts.

Avoid putting full stops (periods) at the end of your titles.

Most bloggers naturally avoid using them in titles (without giving much thought to it). However from time to time I see them.

Why shouldn’t you use full stops at the end of titles? Isn’t it just a stylistic thing?

No – the reason goes beyond how it looks and is more about the signal that it sends to your reader. Full stops, like their name suggests, are something that halts the eye of your reader.

This isn’t something you want at this point in your post. Titles are all about leading your reader into your post and so anyway that you can help this flow is a bonus.

It might seem like something that’s too small to worry about (and in comparison with other things you could do to improve your blog it’s not a biggie) but it is a pretty established copy writing principle that is universally practised (next time you pick up a newspaper see how many periods in titles you can find).