Generating Ideas for your Blog

Liz has a nice post on being an Idea Magnet today that I’m sure many will enjoy.

As she writes – one of the most difficult parts of blogging for many is coming up with ideas that are fresh and engaging. I know after three years of blogging I have days when I get up and wonder if there is anything else to cover! To this point I’ve not run out of ideas (although have had lean patches which I think are a normal part of the the blogging cycle).

If you’re stretched for ideas at present read Liz’s post – and if you’re still out of inspiration you might also find my battling bloggers block series of some help.

One Dimensional Blogging

I’ve been watching a number of blogs recently that seem to have become a little obsessed with one of two things – Memes and attempting to get to the top of social bookmarking site’s like and

Now I’ve got nothing against a good meme from time to time and have been known to write posts that have done well with social bookmarking sites – but I wonder if perhaps if every every second or third post you write has this type of focus whether a blog can end up looking a little one dimensional.

You see as I reflect tonight upon the niche topics that I’m covering on different blogs I realize that to cover them comprehensively generally means a need for a variety of types of posts. For example on a gadget site a blogger could just write reviews and have a half decent blog, but if they added in a ‘how to’ or ‘tip’ post every now and again they’d add a second dimension and if they wrote a post every now and again that gave the latest news in the industry they’d add a third dimension. Add in some ‘rumor posts’, ‘rants’ and a post or two that are questions for readers to discuss and you could end up with quite a dynamic blog (see this post for 20 different types of posts).

Of course you don’t want to use every type of post all the time as it’s important to establish some consistency in your voice and style – but I do find myself getting a little bored with some blogs that just seem a little too one dimensional.

Am I the only one?

An Introduction to Using Images on Blogs

The following post was submitted by Duncan Riley from the Blog Herald, Weblog Empire and b5media. I asked Duncan to explore the topic of using Images on Blogs. I think you’ll agree that his article below is a very comprehensive exploration of the topic which I hope you will find helpful .

Any good blogger will tell you that images and imagery are vitally important in the development and rise of any good blog, but they are often also quite often the most frustrating, annoying and time consuming aspect of any blogs life as well. None the less its important that you know about them

Types of Images

For ease of use I’ll categorize images on your blog into two categories: design imagery and content imagery. Naturally design imagery incorporates any images you may wish to use in the design of your blog, be that in the header, sidebar or footer. Comment imagery is photos and images you post as part of, or exclusively as a post to your blog. It’s important to understand the differences between the two because although we will be covering a lot of common ground in dealing with both types of images, there are also some separate consideration as well.


Some new blogging tools (such as Performancing for Firefox) allow you to drag and drop images you see on websites and other blogs into your posts, however they serve this image from the source, and that’s generally considered very poor form by most bloggers. You are going to need to be able to save, copy and edit any images you want to use. To do this I would recommend that you consider using Image Manipulation software to give you the freedom to do as you please to your images.

Free vs Paid

Personally I use Adobe Photoshop for all my image editing needs, however, particularly when you are starting out, it would be not dissimilar to learning to drive on a brand new Ferrari. Photoshop is the industry standard image manipulation tool in professional business and is available on Mac and PC, but it’s not a cheap option. Personally I don’t use the latest version of Photoshop because I’m happy with the slightly older version I use as it does everything I could ever want it to (and a whole lot more). You can pick up older versions Photoshop at places like eBay second hand if you can’t afford to buy an new copy off the shelf.

Other commercial programs that are available include Corel Draw and Paint Shop Pro.

If you don’t want to spend money on image editing software though I’d highly recommend downloading The Gimp, which is available for PC, Mac and Linux. It’s a fully fledged Open Source (free) image software package that many claim is as powerful as Photoshop.

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More on Writing Content for your Blog

Much more could be written about writing effective blog posts – but rather than keep this series going for a month or two I’ll break my ‘granular post’ advice and make a few brief miscellaneous comments on writing content to help fill out the topic (with links for most to places I’ve written more on the topics):

  • Interactive Blogging – While occasionally I come across a blogger that doesn’t want too much interaction with their readers I get a lot of questions from bloggers asking how to get MORE interaction – particularly around how to have a more interactive comments section. While a major impact upon comments is the number of visitors you have on your blog there are definitely strategies for getting more comments (also check out this post on The Secret to Interactive Blogging). The main tip I’d give on this is to be interactive with the readers you have. Start with what you’ve got and build from there rather than complaining about what you don’t yet have.

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Scannable Content

Make Posts Scannable – One of lessons that I would advise all bloggers to get their minds about is that in addition to fact that the average web user doesn’t usually stay long on a web pagethey also don’t read much of it As a result, scannable content is a userful strategy to use in your blogging.

One study found that only 16% of people read word for word when they are online and another found that the average person only comprehends about 60% of what they read.

Rather than read word for word – web users ‘Scan’ pages for information – looking for key words, phrases and visual cues.

Here are a few tips and techniques you can use for working with your scanning readers and not against them:

  • Lists – This will be no surprise to ProBlogger readers – I’m pretty big on lists and my stats show me its my posts with bullet point lists in them that get linked to ALOT more than similar length posts written in of an essay style. Read more on lists in posts at this list on why lists are good.
  • Formatting – Use bold, CAPITALS, italics, underlining, teletext and to emphasize points. Don’t go overboard as you run the risk of frustrating your reader. Also consider changing font size, color and style to draw your readers eyes to your main points.
  • Headings and Sub Headings – Using headings midway through posts helps with post structure (and many believe with SEO if you use <h> tags) but they also are great for drawing your readers eyes down the page and helping them find the parts of your article that will interest them most..
  • Pictures – clever use of pictures in your posts can grab attention, emphasize points and draw people down into your post. I’ve played around with pictures pretty extensively on a couple of my blogs and find they add a real air of professionalism and interest to posts – there’s nothing worse than long chunks of text on a page – break it up!
  • Borders/Blockquotes – boxes around quotes and key points can similarly get the attention of readers.
  • Space – don’t feel you have to fill up every inch of your screen – rather create spaces because they help readers not to feel overwhelmed and again tend to draw readers eyes to what is inside such space.
  • Short Paragraphs – Web users tend to get lost in large blocks of text – break it into smaller bites and you’ll stick with it for longer.
  • Don’t Bury your Points – Make your main points as clear as you can. One technique to ensure this is to get your main point across in the first few sentences rather than burying it in your conclusion.

Using Titles Effectively on Blogs

My Mum drilled into me at a young age that first impressions are important.

Outside of the design of your blog (that’s a whole other post) perhaps the best way of creating that impression is though your post’s title.

Titles are so important on many fronts – including:

  • Grabbing Attention in Search Engines – Head over to Google and type in virtually any word you can think of and you’ll often find millions of results. The interesting thing is that for most search results in Google (and other SE’s) there is very little for readers to go by in deciding which result to click on. There is a title, a short excerpt and a URL. The most highlighted of these is the title and I believe it is key in getting SE referral clicks.

Picture 2-1

  • Getting RSS Readers Attention – in a very similar way titles have the ability to grab the attention of those following your blog via RSS in news aggregators. Even if your feeds are full post feeds rather than excerpts it’s likely that most news aggregator readers scan the titles of posts for things that interest them rather than reading full text. The same principle is true in other indexes and directories like Technorati,, digg etc

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Granular (One Topic) Posts

One topic per post – We’ve already spoken in this series about choosing a niche topic for your blog, but another strategy of many successful blogs is that in addition to having an over arching niche topic they tend to have each post focus upon a more tightly targetted topic.

On some levels this is a fairly natural and logical thing that most bloggers naturally do – but occasionally I come across a blog post that seems to want to answer every question known to humankind in a single post. The result can be a long, unfocused, rambling post that doesn’t really go anywhere.

Instead of feeling you need to stuff everything into one post – a strategy that often works better is to be more ‘granular’ in the way you post (ie break it down into grains).

In effect you end up with a blog that can be visually show like this (click to enlarge):


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Post Length – How Long Should a Blog Post Be?

We might as well continue exploring the topic of writing good content with a topic that has been debated by bloggers rather hotly over the years, the length of the optimum post. There are a number of ways of looking at it:

  • Reader Attention Span – It is pretty well documented that the typical web reader has a short attention span when it comes to reading content online. My own little investigation into length of stay on blogs found that average blog readers stay 96 seconds per blog (I’ve seen other more scientific tests that show similar results). What ever the number – it’s generally not long. As a result many web-masters purposely keep their content length down to a level that is readable in short grabs.
  • SEO – There is a fairly strong opinion among those considered experts in Search Engine Optimization that both extremely short and extremely long web pages are not ranked as highly as pages that are of a reasonable length. Of course no one really knows how many words are ideal – but the general opinion seems to be that a page of at least 250 words are probably a reasonable length. Similarly, many advise keeping pages under 1000 words.
  • Quantity of Posts – One theory that goes around is that shorter posts allow you to write more posts and that more posts are better for generating readership with RSS and in Search Engines. While I don’t know their strategy personally, some believe this is what sites like Engadget and Gizmodo do with their high number of short posts which make up the majority of their content.
  • Topic/Genre - The type of post that you’re writing will often determine it’s length. For example when writing a review of a product you’ll generally write a longer post than when you write a news related post where you link to something someone else has written.
  • Comprehensive Coverage of the Topic - Ultimately this has to be the main criteria that bloggers go with. I can’t remember who advised this but at some point in the last year I read someone saying that you should write enough to comprehensively cover your topic and then stop. Long posts for the sake of them are not a wise move – but so are short ones that don’t cover the topic well.

In the end you need to find your own way on this. Here at ProBlogger I tend to mix it up a fair bit. I try to write at least one longer post per day that gives readers a bit of meat to chew on (whether it be a tips post, a review post, a rant etc) but I also throw in ‘newsy’ posts throughout the day.

Writing Good Content

I’d now like to swing the blogging for beginners series onto the topic of writing content with a series of posts exploring different elements of quality content. By the way – Peter mentioned in the last post in this series that his part 2 piece on blog design would be posted today – unfortunately he’s been unwell and the post will be delayed.

List after list have been compiled by bloggers on the things that make blogs successful – but on every one that I’ve ever seen has been a statement about content being the ultimate key. ‘Content is King’ is a catch cry that has echoed through the blogosphere for years and while at times I think it’s been used to the point of ignoring other aspects of what makes a successful blog – it really is what a good blog boils down to.

What is Good Content?

Ultimately defining what is ‘good content’ is a subjective exercise (perhaps in a similar way to defining what is a ‘good book’ or a ‘good movie’) and so a post like this one is likely to cause a little debate as each person will define it differently depending upon their personality, their needs, the topic that they are talking about and perhaps even their ethics. Not only will bloggers themselves each have a different view on what is ‘good’ content – but readers tend to also. I know that every time I ask for feedback on ProBlogger and what I write more about I get a real spectrum of responses.

Future posts in this series is an attempt to unpack some of the elements of content that might go towards making it good – or not. At most points along the way there will be debate but hopefully out of it readers will be able to mix and match the elements and identify what works for them.

So without any more introductory remarks, lets get into it with the first element of writing quality content:

Usefulness and Uniqueness - As this post is a part of a series of posts that get back to the basics of blogging and so I will start unpacking the topic of ‘writing good content’ with perhaps the most basic and obvious point of all:

‘for a blog to be successful your content needs to be useful and unique to your readers’

As I say – it’s not rocket science but it’s a factor that I think bloggers need to continually be asking themselves about as they review their blogging. Is your blog useful?

Back in the days when I studied marketing I remember sitting in lecture after lecture getting more and more frustrated as I heard my lecturers drum into us the same thing time after time. Although they said it in different ways, the lessons that they communicated was largely the same in every instance and boiled down to this: [Read more…]