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How to Blog With ‘Voice’ and Increase Community and Readership

This post has been submitted by Glen Stansberry.

Most bloggers have a great advantage over traditional media: there’s no stingy editorial process to whittle away at our writing. We can say what we want, however we want. Yet many bloggers fail to take advantage of this fact, afraid to voice an opinion or use an entertaining writing style for whatever reason. If you don’t write with voice or opinion, you’re completely tossing away some of the best aspects of blogging.

Anybody can copy and paste. I’m pretty sure they’ve even trained monkeys to do it. If your blogging style consists of “Michael Arrington wrote about X today” and link to his story, theoretically you’re in the same skill category as the primate. Last time I checked, monkeys are still flinging poo at zoo attendees. You don’t want to be compared with that, do you?

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How do you Find Stories for Your blog? – Open Mike

On the weekend I asked readers to submit their tips on how they find readers for their blog in an ‘open mike’ discussion – the results were pretty good (it’s done pretty well on Digg today – I hope some of those featured got some good flow on traffic).

Today I’d like to open up a discussion around another question.

Where do you Find Stories for Your Blog?

I’m interested to hear from bloggers of all varieties (news bloggers, tips bloggers, business bloggers etc).

  • Where do the ideas from your stories come?
  • What tools do you use to find them?
  • What blogs/sites/offline sources do you use to track them?
  • How do you work out which stories to write about and which to leave out?

I’m really after any tip that you’ve found helpful in keeping your blog up to date with interesting, useful and unique content. There’s no wrong or right answers – no tip is too simple or advanced.

Looking forward to reading your wisdom – hopefully we all can learn a thing or two in the process.

How to Think Outside of the Box and Develop Attention Grabbing Content

I’d like to welcome Glen Stansberry from LifeDev (feed) to Problogger. Glen has offered to write a series of posts looking at how to use creativity, productivity and organization to improve your blogging skills.

With the blogosphere ballooning to gigantic proportions, more and more blogs are springing up in every single niche. While it’s great for the reader to see a wide spectrum of opinions, it makes the blogger’s job of standing out that much harder. Any blogger can read a bit of news in their topic, and regurgitate it on their own blog with little thought. But that doesn’t do anything to help our readers, other than give them one more reason to unsubscribe from Mr. RSS.

It’s quite easy to get lost in the sea of voices. However, there’s one often-overlooked way to instantly grab attention: thinking outside of the box.

Case Study: 37Signals

37SignalslogoloLets take a look at a quick example of what we’re talking about here. 37Signals runs a great blog Signal Vs. Noise.

In this blog the software company’s founders spend most of their time writing about the 37Signals mantra: great web software is simple, fast and elegant.

But what makes their writing so compelling is that they hardly ever write about software.

Huh?

That’s right – What makes their writing great is that they are able to take pieces of seemingly unrelated topics and link them to their mantra, like how comics relate to web design. Or film concepts and branding. They know how to breathe life into a concept, to let the viewer see an idea in a different light.

Apply, Rinse, Repeat

This technique not only adds a new dimension to your writing, but it also shows how knowledgeable you are on your topic, Obi-Wan. The deep understanding you have of the concept means that you can show correlations previously unheard of. Can you smell the linkbait? :)

And the best part about this strategy: you can start using it immediately. And it’s really not that hard.

It all starts by changing the way you think about information.

Try reading news about topics that interest you but are completely unrelated to your niche. Or read less news, and allow your brain more time to think.

In short: start becoming more aware of how everything relates to your blog’s topic, in some way or another.

You may not get ideas from your feed reader either. That’s OK. Odds are it will be better if you don’t anyway. You’ll want to use as little “influence” from other sources as possible to help ensure originality and to get the creative juices flowing.

[One word of caution: Don't get too abstract on your readers. Clarity is key in making this work. You never want to have your readers scratching their heads at your writing.]

There’s something that puts a well-crafted post ahead of the rest. By wrapping your posts in fresh perspectives, you’ll instantly improve your blogging, and your readers will thank you for it.

This is the first part in the series Cutting Above the Rest, a series focusing on how to use creativity, productivity and organization to improve your blogging skills. Check out Glen Stansberry’s blog LifeDev (feed) for more tips to improve your creativity.

The Kenny Rogers Guide to Getting People to Read Your Whole Posts

I never thought I’d quote Kenny Rogers on this blog but here’s something he said to a contestant on American Idol this series:

“the first word that comes out of your mouth helps people to decide whether to listen to the next word, which in turn helps them work out whether to listen to the next word, which helps them work out whether to listen to the next one… and so on and so forth…” (paraphrased)

When I heard it I was immediately reminded of a message that Joseph Sugarman comes back to again and again in his book Advertising Secrets of the Written Word when he’s talking about the headlines or titles of advertising copy.

Throughout the book he drums this into his readers (again a paraphrase):

“What is the purpose of a heading or title?

To get potential readers reading the next line of your ad.

What is the purpose of the first line of your ad?

To get those who’ve read it to read the second one.

What’s the purpose of the second line?

You guessed it – to get readers to read the third….”

Kenny and Joseph’s advice is much the same. The first things you sing, say or write in any form of communication are of vital importance when it comes to engaging people well.

The way you open a song, advertisement, book, speech or blog post often determines whether people will track with it.

If you want people to still be with you at the end of your post work hard at attention grabbing, intriguing, captivating and desire creating titles and openings.

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.