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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).

Opening Paragraphs that Hook Your Readers

Great post (as usual) by Brian over at Copyblogger titled 5 Simple Ways to Open Your Blog Post With a Bang.

While we all agree that the title is the most important element of a blog post in terms of getting it attention – it’s the opening paragraph that hooks people right in. Brian shares 5 techniques for doing this.

The Eternal Quest for Uniqueness

Unique-1What makes your Blog Different?

This is a question I think that most bloggers would do well to ask.

We’re living in a time when ‘content’ is being produced in vast quantities by large numbers of individuals and organizations.

I heard recently on the radio that the internet now contains over 800 billion documents. Whether that number has any truth to it or not I don’t know (I suspect it’s a gross underestimate) – but I do know that there is ALOT of content circulating out there and that while blogging does give individuals a voice – in reality each post is just one in several hundred billion.

So the question is – what makes your blog unique?

I’ve written about this before so won’t go into great depth about it – however it struck me today that this question is not just a one off question – it’s one that should be asked on an ongoing basis.

The problem with producing content on the web is that it’s an ever changing environment with low barriers to entry where your idea can be unique one day and just another page of a genre the next.

One last thought….

Bloggers should probably ask this same question on two levels.

  1. What makes my BLOG unique? - A question to be asked every month or two
  2. What makes this POST unique? – A daily question that focusses upon the micro task of producing a single article.

What makes your blog unique? How do you differentiate it from the masses? What other examples of unique blogs are there?

Using Digg to Improve Your Content

I’ve seen (and written) a lot of posts about how to get posts picked up by social bookmarking sites and what to do when it happens, but one of the things that has struck me recently is that another opportunity often presents itself when a site like Digg links links to a post you’ve written.

Let me use a recent example to illustrate.

Yesterday I posted a post in anticipation of 4th of July celebrations on how to photograph fireworks which was fortunate enough to get picked up by LifeHacker and as a result was Dugg heavily (or maybe it was the other way around – update – it then got BoingBoing’d – what a day – even with a large server allowance I almost went over! It might be time to upgrade that if I have any more days like this).

The most obvious benefit of this was the traffic that followed from Digg (7000 visitors in the first hour alone) as well as the secondary linkups that came as digg users blogged about the post also. It was a nice thing to wake up to.

But as I looked over the comments on the digg thread linking to my post I was reminded of another benefit of having a post exposed to tens of thousands of people. While digg users can be pretty harsh when they don’t like a post there is also an incredibly wealth of knowledge among them.

Amidst the 10,000+ people who viewed my post today – a certain percentage of them know a thing or two about photographing fireworks and a certain percentage of those people left comments on the digg post with their own suggestions, often with points that I hadn’t included on my original post.

This happens every time I’ve had a story high on digg and what I’m doing these days is to include the suggestions and tips of digg users as an update to my original posts.

You’ll see now on my fireworks post that I’ve got an ‘update’ on it with a series of quotes from digg users and a link back to the thread so that people can see who wrote them.

In doing this I not only enjoy the traffic from digg but improve the quality of the posts that I’ve written – which after-all is the ultimate goal of my blog.