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The Science of Storytelling: 6 Ways to Write More Persuasive Stories

Guest post by Gregory Ciotti.

When it comes to crafting “words that sell”, the research shows us that stories are among the most persuasive forms of writing out there.

Persuasive writing is an essential part of blogging—there’s no two ways about it. So if you plan on selling anything, connecting†deeply with your readers, or going viral with a post that bares all about your life (like Jon Morrow did), you better be prepared to create stories that actually move people.

Why do stories work so well?

They work because “transportation leads to persuasion,” and as such, if you can capture your reader’s attention, you can nudge them towards being a customer or a brand advocate who supports your business at every turn.

That’s all good and fun… but how exactly can you write more persuasive stories?

Today, I’ve got some academic research that will show you how!

The six elements of better stories

According to some fascinating research by Dr. Philip Mazzocco and Melanie Green, called Narrative Persuasion in Legal Settings: What’s the Story?, stories are powerful because of their ability to affect emotional beliefs in a way that logical arguments just can’t touch.

That is to say, stories get in “under the radar” because we are so open to hearing them. We tend to block out sales pitches or “do as I say” styles of dictation, but stories are inviting, personal, and capture our imagination.

The researchers looked at persuasive aspects of stories in the court room, which is certainly one of the hardest places to craft stories, as you have another person (the other lawyer) trying to shoot down your arguments at every turn.

From their research, Mazzocco and Green found six consistent elements that are apart of startingly effective stories…

1. Audience

As a blogger, you have far more control over this aspect than a lawyer does, so pay attention!

Above, I mentioned a post by Jon Morrow than went viral here on Problogger.net. While the story was an amazing one, a key element of that post that many might miss is that Jon constructed it for a very particular audience: those looking to do what he’s done (i.e. turn blogging into a lifestyle-sustaining business).

Picking Problogger.net was perfect because he knew the audience would be receptive to such a story. He’s done it time and time again—here’s another post on Copyblogger in a similar vein that addresses fighting for your dreams.

How can you implement this critical technique in your own efforts?

The answer lies in finding your target customer (or reader) and crafting your message and content entirely around them. What are their hopes, fears, and dreams? You better know if you hope to stay with them after they leave the page.

If you can’t identify this ideal reader, then who are you really writing for? Without this information, it’s much harder, if not impossible, to tell a really persuasive story: you need to have the right audience in mind first.

If you’re going “off-site” (via a guest post) like Jon did, then you also need to be careful in choosing another blogger’s platform: be sure to write for their audience.

2. Realism

This one may seem surprising, but it’s actually not if you look into the reasoning.

Although fiction stories are popular, the best ones are always easy to relate to on some level. Although you may not be a WWII spy or a dragon-slaying knight, you can relate to the emotions, struggles, and thoughts of the characters.

Roger Dooley put this best when he said:

Even if you are painting a fictional picture with the story, its elements need to relate to the reality that the audience is familiar with, for example, basic human motivations.

Make sure your stories have something the audience can relate to on a deeper level, beyond the events that are being told.

For instance, in Joel Ryan’s article titled, An Unexpected Ass-Kicking, he relays the tale of meeting the inventor of the computer.

The story wouldn’t have gone viral without another element, though: Joel connected the tale to his readers’ own psyches by relating how it’s important to not be afraid of things that “haven’t been done before”, because if Russell Kirsch had believed that, we wouldn’t have the computer today>

3. Delivery

In the same way that a comedian’s timing is practically everything, Mazzacco and Green found that story delivery was critical to crafting a tale people could get wrapped up in.

Delivery is a mix of pacing, flow, and hitting readers with heavy lines at the perfect moment.

One of my favorite examples (in fiction) is how George R.R. Martin, author of the A Song of Fire and Ice series, ends his chapters with a surprising close or a startling realization.

This example isn’t a story, but it perfectly demonstrates my point: Brian Clark’s post called, The Writer Runs This Show is a fantastic demonstration of using dramatic pacing throughout a post.

Note how he interrupts the manifesto with “The writer runs this show,” over and over to drive his point home.

4. Imagery

Did the sun rise, or did the sun’s rays reflect rainbows off of the crisp morning dew?

Interesting research on the matter says that your stories should be describing the latter: the human mind gets swept up in stories only when the visuals are painted clearly.

Transportation (the key to story persuasion) cannot happen if you use vague details and boring language.

You have to craft the scene with startling detail to wrap your reader up in your message: they need to share in the struggle you went through, the joys you encountered, and the doubts you battled.

If you read Benny Hsu’s post on his first iPhone App store feature (and his subsequent $30,000 week), you can feel his excitement with every word; you’re not just getting the play-by-play of what happened.

Let readers see what you’re “seeing” in your tale, and they’ll be more willing to go along with the journey.

5. Structure

While some movies, like Memento, can get away with switching things up once or twice, the classics always follow this one golden rule: keep story structure simple.

People prefer stories that follow a logical manner, for example: elements of suspense are most effective when they’re established early to keep people engaged, plot twists are best saved for the climax, and having a strong ending makes a story more memorable.

This is especially true for writing in the business world. Let your creativity shine through the actual story being told, not in how you decide to structure it.

When you try to get cute with plot structure and other storytelling staples, you’ll risk losing people rather than creating something memorable.

In all of the most popular story-related blog posts I’ve come across, I’ve yet to see a story that defies the classic story structure that focuses on being enticing in the beginning, building up in the middle, and finishing with a satisfying conclusion (and a powerful message).

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

6. Context

While the study referenced the storyteller and the physical environment as important factors in how persuasive the tale was, for online storytelling we have a different set of variables…

For the storyteller, the author of the tale still matters: elements of trust established with the audience and social proof play roles in making a tale believable and easily digested.

As a blogger, you should already know about the powers of social proof, but are you utilizing it in your off-site features? A persuasive story on another site should always include a brief introduction explaining why you’re qualified to tell it, otherwise people will glaze over and block you out.

For surroundings, we now have to turn to a element that strictly applies to the web: design.

According to a fascinating research study entitled, Trust & Mistrust of Online Health Sites, it’s your blog’s design that is most likely to influence first-time visitors about the site’s trustworthiness, not the quality of your content.

A bad design makes people feel like your site isn’t trustworthy, and any storytelling efforts that you attempt will be greatly hindered, so clean up your surroundings!

Your turn

Here’s what to do next…

  1. Let me know in the comments what you thought of this research.
  2. Tell me about one of your favorite stories that you’ve read on the web, and let us know which blogger told it.

Gregory Ciotti is the content strategist for Help Scout, the invisible customer service software for solopreneurs and small-business owners. Get more from Greg on the Help Scout blog.

The Beginner’s Guide to Outsourcing Video Content Production

This guest post is by Leslie Anglesey of EssayTigers.

Does it make sense for blog owners to include video in their posts? It sure does!

Your posts should include all types of interesting content to engage and entertain readers, and this can definitely include videos.

But rather than trying to do all of the work yourself, get smart about your time and consider outsourcing your video content by partnering with a reliable provider.

Research for reliability

How can you find a reliable service? You do your homework.

  • First of all, consider how much content you will need each month, as this will help you determine the costs you can expect to pay for each service.
  • You will also want to ask about content storage volumes and delivery.
  • Support is an important issue. Find out whether you would contact the provider by email or phone, and how long you would have to wait to get a response if you need to rely on email as the preferred contact method.
  • Price is another important consideration for any business owner, and you need to make sure that you are getting good value for the money you’re spending. Consider the following services if you are interested in outsourcing your video content in addition to writing posts.

In finding companies to consider, ask other bloggers for recommendations. Word of mouth can be a great way to find the service that you need.

The companies you are considering should have samples of their work posted online that you can review. When you are checking them out, make a point of looking at the quality of the sound and lighting. These two factors will tell you whether you will be getting a good quality product.

A few options

Here are a few outsourced video services that I’ve come across, and which you might like to consider.

Viddler

The Viddler video platform allows users to upload videos one at a time or in batches. You can record your video from your webcam directly into your Viddler account.

It’s an easy and convenient method for getting your message out to your readers. This company has been in business for six years and has processed over 22 million minutes of video since its inception.

It offers iTunes syndication and RSS feed, as well as embeddable widgets, so you can imbed your videos into your posts.

Pricing starts at $42.00 per month with an annual subscription. You also have the option of paying $50.00 on a month-by-month basis for this service. At this level, you would be provided with email support. Customers who choose a higher level of service would be entitled to email and phone support.

ReelContent

ReelContent is a UK-based company that offers video production services on location or in its studio. The company also offers editing services to its clients.

If are looking for highly polished video content to complement the blog posts you are writing, you may want to consider this type of option. The company has experience shooting content for news items, reviews, interviews, guides, and product demonstrations.

BlissMediaWorks

BlissMediaWorks targets the small and medium-sized business market. The company offers flexible video services that can be adapted to suit your needs.

Services include adding real footage, graphics, and animated text into a video. They can even include music and sound effects if you wish. The company will even post a video direct to YouTube as a special service to drive traffic to your blog.

Audio Concepts

Audio Concepts offers web videos as one of its services. If you are looking for a way to establish yourself as an expert in your niche, adding a series of videos to your blog is an effective way to enhance your online reputation.

Invite visitors to visit your blog to view the next installment to get more information about the topic you are discussing. This is an excellent way to tell a story and really connect with your visitors.

SmartShoot

If you know what you want in a video service, and are prepared to review multiple quotes for your video project, you can post it on SmartShoot.

This online marketplace will connect you with filmmakers and photographers who will put up bids for your job. You then choose who you want to work with.

What are you waiting for?

Adding video to blog posts is an excellent way to give your writing a boost. You can connect with your readers in a new way, and give the search engines something different to index from your blog.

This type of content is, of course, very popular with readers and may result in more shares on social networking sites. If your goal is to have more people liking your posts on Facebook, stumbling them on StumbleUpon, or tweeting them on Twitter, you will want to include video content on your blog more often.

It’s a good idea to get in front of your audience to let them see and hear from you, too. People want to know what you look and sound like so they can get to know you.

If your goal is to be seen as an expert to promote your business and get higher conversion rates for a product or a service, you need to be seen as someone your readers know and trust. The video messages are a good way for you to accomplish this goal.

Finally, remember: your videos don’t need to be lengthy. Anything from 30 seconds to three minutes will give viewers a chance to get to know you. And focus on one main theme per video.

Over time, you will feel more comfortable making videos. Just pretend you are talking to a friend, which is exactly what you are doing. You’re just speaking to your readers instead of writing your message.

Leslie Anglesey is an educational specialist and editor at EssayTigers - service that provides professional paper writing tips for the students.

The Perfect Blogging Output Level

This guest post is by Greg Narayan of DearBlogger.

It’s a sad truth: if you stop blogging, people will eventually forget about you.

Just like the actors in our favorite movies or athletes once they retire, we soon forget the big names and find new ones to idolize.

Even if your blog enjoys the spotlight now with revolutionary posts that go totally Justin -Beiber-viral the moment you hit Publish, it won’t last forever. That’s where your output comes in. Reach an appropriate, consistent level of output and you’ll get returning readers while keeping Google happy too.

But how do we reach a “good” level of output, and what amount is it? How much do you have to write to stay popular? Let’s take a look.

The “one post a day” model

The one post a day model is pretty popular, probably because it’s easy to visualize. You wake up, brew the coffee, and sit down at the computer. As your heads spins with thoughts from the previous night and new ideas on the future, you write them down.

This might work very well if you run a “my thoughts on the world” type of blog, or are into self-improvement, or have a blog documenting your travels.

However, if you plan to blog seriously or blog for a living, I see a few problems with the one post a day model:

  • Short: Writing one blog a day inevitably produces short posts, unless you ramble on and on, which is never good. And after Panda, Google doesn’t exactly love brief posts. Unless you have the pull of Seth Godin, one short post after another might confuse your readers or make them think you’re…
  • Cheap: Anyone can write one post a day. You just jot down some words that look like they make sense and hit publish. But the best posts require revisions, to make the points clear and the copy concise. This level of quality is difficult to achieve every single day on your blog.
  • Too personal: If you are writing in your pajamas before beginning the day I’d bet that writing will get pretty personal. Your beliefs and biases will littler the copy in places they just shouldn’t. So unless you have a really, intensely interesting life like Kim Kardashian (ha!) I’d avoid being too personal in your blog posts. It can scare new readers away.

When I wrote on how I blog for money, one of the main messages was that you earn by giving lots of value to readers. If you find posting every day is the best way to give, that’s fine, but be careful you’re not posting every day just to drive more traffic and attention to your blog. You’ll receive just as much traffic in the long run by posting infrequently at first.

Note: For wholesome traffic-gen strategies, check out Ana Hoffman’s blog.

Now, how about we put a different spin on this model?

One post a day, revamped

The “revamped” model will help you truly give, and also use your full creative potential.

The idea is to add guest posts, newsletters, even a super long Google+ post into the mix, and here’s why it works.

Readers like consistency, we know that, so set one post per week in that regime to be on your own blog. Make it personal, with a story from your own experiences. The tone should be different from posts away from your blog, to give readers a distinct feel to latch on to.

The great thing is that allowing yourself to write on places outside your blog really frees up your imagination. I can’t tell you how many people come to me saying they feel pressured to keep the content churning on their own blog, and it’s hurting their writing. Well, this is a solution.

You should know a couple things though before adapting this model. In order to write great guest posts you’ve gotta be immersed. Not in the TV in front of you on the magazine on the table, though you may find inspiration there. No, be immersed in the tone of the other blog. Read five or ten of their posts, catch their vibe, and see what readers want.

A lot of the time, what readers come back for on another blog is totally different from your own blog. To be a successful guest poster you’ll need to wise up to these little style cues on another blog.

This doesn’t just include guest posts. Every Tuesday morning, for example, I send out a newsletter to subscribers only. I’d be crazy to publish a post the same day because it would overwhelm people. Plus, I usually reference past posts in the newsletter, so the flow of traffic coming to my blog is taken care of. This is a great way of reusing content and getting folks to the blog.

Where do I find the inspiration?

So, you’re going with the one post a day model. Maybe you’ve tailored it a bit so you allow yourself two days off. Nothing wrong with that. Either way, you’ll be writing a serious amount.

Where do the ideas come from? It’s no secret good writing requires inspiration, and some of us just seem to have more of it than others. But where do we get it?

Here are a few places you can find inspiration to meet your desired output levels:

  • Conversations: Yes, they still exist off of Facebook. Go have a rich one.
  • Old-fashioned books: Old classics (Gatsby is my fave) boast inspirational ideas well ahead of their time.
  • Restaurants: Observe the menu. Neat words will pop out. Trust me, they will.
  • Other blogs: Your favorite blog should be full of daily inspiration.
  • Travel: Check out PickTheBrain soon for my post on how travel solves all your problems.

What are my limitations?

The honest truth is there are none. I know successful bloggers who rose to fame averaging only a few posts a month (read: Dererk Halpern).

Then there are those who furiously write, even when they can’t stand to anymore.

Forcing yourself to write can be a tremendous burden in the face of another job and even a family. If it’s not a creative outlet for you, either try to make it one, or just chill out. Put the laptop away for a while.

Often, inspiration creeps in when you’re not looking for it.

So, what is the perfect blogging output level?

There isn’t one (lame punch-line, I know).

It’s all about what works best for you, given your daily restrictions to time, money, location, etc.

Personally, I enjoy posting once a week on my blog because my readers expect it, and it’s just enough of a schedule to keep me sane. I know that when I’m not posting I should subconsciously be looking for new ideas—new weird/crazy topics to interrelate—from my surroundings. Then I sprinkle in guest posts like this one or that one to keep folks on a never-ending hunt to find me when I’m not at the blog.

It’s quite fun, actually.

But, your output schedule could be totally different. The point kind of is, you should choose something. Thinking about your output levels will help you tailor a schedule, which I firmly believe is necessary to make blogging for a living actually work someday. And that’s the goal, right?

What works for you?

I’m quite aware the one post a day model is outdated and not for everyone. Honestly, I’m not even sure if I blog enough! So, what works for you? I really hope someone successful out there can chime in and help us all out.

Let me know in the comments.

The Blogger writes on everything blogging at DearBlogger. Get free updates from his email club for more, or .

Another Way Compassion Can Cure Writer’s Block

When I saw the title of Brandon’s post on compassion and writer’s block earlier today, I instantly had an idea of what the post was about.

But it turns out Brandon had a different take on the topic than I do! So I wanted to add to his ideas in this post, and suggest another way that compassion can cure writer’s block.

What lies at the heart of writer’s block?

I think for each of us, any of a number of issues might cause writer’s block.

There’s exhaustion or burnout, which Brandon dealt with in his post. There’s the sense that you’ve already covered every aspect of your topic. There’s the feeling that there’s nothing new to write. There’s a fear of writing something that others will criticize or disagree with. And then there are distractions—the things we’d rather be doing that sitting inside writing.

I think the variety of “versions” of writer’s block is one of the reasons that we find it so hard to overcome—it seems like there’s no single answer to the problem. I felt this way, too, until I saw Brandon’s post.

How compassion can cure it

As his post suggests, you can cure writer’s block by being kind and compassionate to yourself.

But another approach is to be compassionate to your readers.

Whatever the cause, we tend to feel writer’s block as a pressure to produce—we feel the demands of our blog, or our readers, or the expectations of our peers to create, and do it well, all the time.

But obligation is never a good motivator, and in my experience, while pressure can be a motivator, it tends to burn people out pretty quickly.

Instead of feeling blocked by expectation and demand, why not turn that concept on its head?

As bloggers, our job is to help our audience. So instead of feeling resentment toward the masses waiting on the other side of our blogs to race through our next post, we can approach our writing from a position of compassion:

What can you help your readers achieve today?

How can you show them that you understand their challenges? That you’ve been in their shoes? That you have some advice that could help?

What can you do to make their path easier and clearer? Their lives that little bit simpler or more enjoyable? What’s happened in your life that they might find interesting and relevant?

Turn the block inside out

If you start thinking like this, your reader immediately stops becoming an enemy you need to placate, and can be seen as they truly are: someone who’s looking for understanding and advice.

Instead of focusing on “coming up with answers,” you can focus on the readers themselves, and connect emotionally with them and their individual situations. You know how they feel, because you’ve been there too.

So show them some compassion! Write a post that really hits the nail on the head for them. Record a heartfelt video that explains how you overcame the issue they’re facing. Spend some time doing interpersonal research with actual audience members on social media to get a sense of what’s current for your readers, then sit down to write.

However you play it, a little compassion for your readers can go a long way in inspiring your writing, and helping you to break out of writer’s block not just with publishable content, but content that truly connects through compassion.

How Compassion Cures Writer’s Block‏

This guest post is by Brandon Yawa of BrandonYawa.com.

If you are a writer, I don’t have to tell you how a dark shadow dubbed “writer’s block” hoovers over all your projects like Casper, but in the form of a not-so-friendly ghost. However, I assure you, this phenomenon known as writer’s block is not an apparition that needs a force like Ghostbusters to be removed. In fact, this phenomenon is not a phenomenon at all.

If you were a pro athlete in any sport…

You would know that you could only push the limits of your body so far before your body would give out. In a pro athlete’s world, people call this “overtraining.”

As writers, however, the heaviest weight we lift is our laptop, and our physique is never tested beyond hauling it from café to café. For that reason, we easily forget how overworked our mental faculties can be.

Writing is a mental treadmill that never stops.

The day you set foot on the path of being a writer, you have inadvertently placed yourself on a mental treadmill that has no end. Everything that happens to you, whether it is conscious or subconscious, speeds up or slows down this neverending treadmill.

If you have been writing for ten years, you have been mentally running, jogging and walking on your mental treadmill for 3,650 days straight. That’s enough mileage to make you the new spokesperson for Nike, and definitely enough mental mileage to warrant fatigue.

You are not blocked.

You are mentally fatigued, whether it be from worrying about living up to your last creation, living up to your own expectations, or just living a writer’s life in general.

I will repeat, you are not blocked, you are tired, and rightfully so I might add.

Humans need rest.

It sounds so clichéd to say you need rest, but you do. In order to rest, you have to figure out how to take yourself off that mental treadmill. You have to learn to separate the material you need for writing from the material you need to be human.

5 steps to get off the mental treadmill

1. You have to show yourself compassion

You have to accept that you are mentally tired of the process of writing. Just like you allow yourself to go to sleep, you have to allow yourself time away from writing.

2. Forgive yourself for being unable to write

You have not done anything wrong, and you don’t suffer from a life-threatening disease.

Instead, congratulate yourself on what you have accomplished thus far. Even if it’s only that you got out of bed, opened your laptop and pressed your fingers on the keyboard. Congratulate yourself for trying, and then congratulate yourself for having the compassion to know when you are passed your limits.

3. Don’t allow the outside world to affect how you feel about yourself

You are not a machine whose sole purpose is to produce. Instead, as a human being, you decide what your purpose is. If you choose writing, remember it’s what you chose on your own terms, and that’s how it should remain.

4. Find hobbies that take you away from the writing world

Sometimes just shutting our mind off isn’t enough. We need an object or objects to assist us in shutting off that mental treadmill. See the world, travel your city, play video games, or read books that relax you (not ones that inspire you to write).

5. Learn to love yourself whether you are writing or not writing

Whether you are producing Shakespearean material, or creating child’s play, learning to love yourself totally (the good and the bad) not only gives you an immediate place of refuge, it arms you with a sensitivity that knows when too much is too much.

True compassion starts with the individual before it is shared with the world.

Brandon Yawa is the author of BrandonYawa.com. A blog built to show you new ways to tackle the same old human dilemmas.

What Studying Haikus Taught Me about Writing Blog Posts

This guest post is by Steve of Do Something Cool.

A form of Japanese poetry, haikus have been around for hundreds of years.  Blogging has been around for roughly two decades. 

On the surface, these two different forms of writing don’t have anything to do with each other.  But surprisingly, understanding haikus has taught me a lot about writing blog posts.

The key to a good haiku (and blog post)

I once read that haikus are best described as “a one breath poem that discovers connection.”  That’s about as good a description for haikus as you’re going to find. 

A well-written haiku gets the reader to discover a connection to something new and meaningful.  And the way you do that is by writing from a unique and interesting perspective no one else has seen.

That’s also what makes a good blog post.  A good blog post gets the reader to discover something in a meaningful way through a unique and interesting perspective.

Since I’ve started to study and understand haikus, I’ve taken a new approach to writing my blog posts.  Just like a Japanese haiku writer in the 1800s would have analyzed and observed every angle to find the one perspective no one had considered before, I try to write posts with a similar twist.

My blog posts have now become just as much about discovery as they are in haikus.  It’s not my goal to churn out blog posts just for the sake of publishing something.  I try to offer unique and meaningful posts for both the reader and myself in everything I write.

I’ve been told that a good haiku writer can look at a famous photo thousands of others have seen and written about, but still discover a perspective no one else had previously been able to see.  Who wouldn’t want that ability for writing blog posts?

Often it can seem as if everything has already been written before.  I’ve felt that way at times.  After scanning through thousands of blog posts online, you might ask yourself how you could possibly come up with something new.  Hasn’t everything already been written before?

Understanding haikus has taught me to see things differently.  There are endless ways to write a blog post simply because there are endless numbers of perspectives and viewpoints to write about.  There will never be a point when nothing new can be said about a subject.

Think about it this way: people have been writing haikus for hundreds of years.  There are hundreds of thousands of them that talk about nature alone.  Yet each one can be completely different.

I was in a group of students writing haikus once.  We were looking down at people crossing a busy street.  Each student observed the same scenes and wrote down several haikus each.  It was amazing how varied all the writing was.  Even those students who wrote about exactly the same things could find new and unique ways to write about it.

It comes down to perspective.  Writing haikus teaches you to notice details or angles no one else is seeing.  A dozen people watching one scene on a street could write in twelve different ways.  For the same reason a dozen bloggers could write about one topic in a dozen unique ways.

Of course, not all bloggers do that.  Many repeat what others are already saying without putting their own spin on things.

But you can train yourself to find that unique perspective.  Ask yourself:

  • What is being missed by everyone else?
  • Can something be added or subtracted from everyone else’s opinion to make it new?
  • Is there a bigger or smaller detail that others are failing to notice?
  • Could a different approach to this topic come up with something different?

It helps to think of it this way: writing a haiku is like looking through the lens of a camera.  You can zoom the lens in or out as much as you need to, as long as you eventually find details in the photo that make your perspective unique and new.  It can be a small, important detail or something much bigger.  But it has to be something your camera sees that no other camera has caught before.

Blog posts are a lot like that.  What you write is the lens and the way you approach the topic is the angle of the camera.  Put the two together in an original and interesting way and you have the beginning of a great blog post.

If you were to look back over the past two centuries and explore the millions of haikus that have been written, you would find that the number of perspectives and moments they capture are endless.  The same is also true for blog posts.  And it should be.  After all, you’re working with a lot more words.

Has poetry or literature influenced your blog post writing? Share your unique perspective in the comments.

Steve is the writer behind Do Something Cool where he blogs about travel, motivation, personal growth and adventure.  He’s always looking for ways to make life more interesting.  Get tips on living life to the fullest through his Facebook fan page and Twitter.

Do Search Engines Love Opinion Posts As Much As We Do?

This guest post is by Helen Hoefele of Figmentations.com.

Is the goal of your blogging efforts is to make money, to raise money, to sell or promote a product or service, or simply to get your message out?

Regardless, the one thing that every blogger needs to pay attention to, whether you’re excited about it or not, is the importance of creating high quality content to keep both your readers and the search engines happy.

We all know that Google has been favoring sites with high quality content over sites with low quality content. Sites consisting of low quality or duplicate content and/or employing manipulative SEO practices in order to unfairly influence site rankings have lost ground in their search engine ranking results.

What many people may not realize is that “not creating low quality content” does not necessarily mean you are creating high quality content.

So let’s take a closer look at what high quality content, and ultimately high value content, can mean. In particular, let’s consider where opinion-editorial (op-ed) writing falls on the quality scale.

At face value, because op-eds are generally subjective rather than objective in nature, it may not be clear whether or not they count as high quality content for blog SEO purposes.

For SEO-quality-related questions like this, I would recommend asking yourself this question, as per SearchEngineLand.com, about the writing you want to publish: “Do you offer real value, something of substance to visitors, anything unique, different, useful and that they won’t find elsewhere?” If your material meets those criteria, and of course you avoid any questionable SEO practices intended to manipulate rankings, it should be clear that you do not have low quality content.

As most industry observers state, if you write for readers and not for search engines, you should be fine. So, yes, opinions can be considered high quality content for SEO purposes.

However, we shouldn’t stop there; there are more questions to ask. When deciding whether or not to express your opinions in your writing, the better question to ask is: Is there value in expressing opinions beyond just SEO value? A simple answer of “yes” does not suffice here. For that, let’s take a closer look at value.

Low value

In any given blog post, if a reader disagrees with your opinion, especially if it’s unexpected to you, there is value for you to delve into understanding why.

More likely, though, any discussion starting from a place of vehement disagreement is more than likely to devolve into an endless circular debate resulting in anger or frustration on both sides with no common understanding or resolution ever achieved. There is not much value in alienating readers, unless your goal is to filter out unwelcome readers from your audience or perhaps, if skillfully done, evolve your tribe from becoming too much of an echo chamber.

Superficial value

Even if you could write an opinion piece with a catchy title that ends up ranking high and gets a lot of social mentions, that doesn’t automatically mean you have created high quality content. And even if that piece were to go viral, that does not guarantee conversion, as is being shown time and time again.

Anything that attracts attention but results in a high bounce rate and low time-on-site numbers is nothing more than wasted opportunity to provide true value to potentially interested readers.

Missed value

At the same time, high quality opinion pieces that do not rank high due to poor writing, poor search engine optimization, and/or poor after-publication social sharing will miss the mark, too. Good ideas, as with useful opinions, absolutely need to be paired with good SEO practices and effective social sharing in order to get the exposure they rightly deserve.

Practical value

On the other hand, you could ask: if your reader readily agrees with your expressed opinion, is anything of value accomplished in still stating that opinion?

Social media was used heavily in the recent U.S. Presidential election. Yet, it likely did little to actually sway any already-committed points of view. All that such social media outreach achieved was: reinforce the base; exert peer pressure; or generate social proof among friends, family, or acquaintances. While that did have a considerable impact on the get-out-to-vote initiatives, it did nothing to change anything about the world—it did not improve the electoral process, or unify the country, or solve any of the country’s much-debated problems.

Value-added value

In the end, getting good exposure for a specific opinion aimed at a targeted audience is not the only game in town. A quote from Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s book (which has largely inspired this post), The Impact Equation, sums it up nicely:

“Your opinions may be helpful and interesting, but unless they are specifically useful to your audience, you are not building something of significant or lasting value.”

Opinions about another person’s ideas become especially valuable when they help evolve and spread that idea to others who will keep it alive and do something with it.

Bottom line

In the end, while Google might not be able to distinguish between these different value levels (yet), your readers can. Remember, you are writing for your readers and not for the search engines.

Each person’s blog and reason for blogging is different. What works for you and your audience may or may not work for someone else’s. Many times you won’t even know what will or won’t work until you test it out. Always experiment. Don’t fear making any potential minor miss-steps, as you will find that most audiences are quite forgiving.

Why not test each of these value theories out with your own blog over the next few weeks? Try these tests:

  • Write a rant: After sleeping on it and making sure it isn’t unnecessarily offensive or regretful, consider posting it to see how your readers react in comments, shares, and subscription levels. Do they engage or do they leave?
  • Write something generic about a trending topic found on SocialMention. Take some time to formulate a catchy title. Share on social sites as you normally would. Then check your stats to compare your bounce rates and time-on-site metrics for that post with a popular but more thought-provoking post from your site.
  • Choose a popular blog post, either yours or someone else’s. Promote it on your favorite social sharing sites but experiment with different social media messages accompanying that link, with some messages well written and others less well written. Observe the importance of effective messaging as seen in the number of shares and re-tweets.
  • Write an opinion piece that you know everyone will agree with, then ask for comments and feedback. Compare the quality and emotion level generated by the generic opinion post versus an original thought-provoking opinion post or even comments against the rant piece mentioned in the first point above.
  • Take some time and formulate a useful opinion piece or blog comment—not something that’s an off-the-cuff reaction, but a unique, thoughtful response, perhaps taking into account comments or opinions that others already left on that post or topic. Assess the quality of feedback you receive.

Expressing unique opinions has value and should easily count as high quality content for SEO purposes. Never forget that opinion writing can provide a lot more than just SEO value, too.

In the end, writing a useful and thought-provoking post is not only more interesting for your readers to read, but more interesting for you to write as well. Why not put the power of the keyboard to work for you?

In her spare time, Helen Hoefele shares her thoughts and opinions via her personal blog at Figmentations.com. By day, she is a productive member on the Inbound Marketing team at a NJ-based SEO services company.

The Post-writing Rules I Always Break. Do You?

This guest post is by Kate Toon Copywriter.

I have an admission; I suffer from several deep-rooted blog-writing afflictions.

For years I thought it was just me, that I was the only one. Lately, though, I’ve realised that I’m not alone.

Yes, I’ve read all those “15 rules of blog writing” posts, but I just keep breaking them. I’m not a tween, I’m not a Gen Y; I am a fully (over)grown copywriting female. I have no excuses.

So let me be a voice for all those bloggers who, like me, are ostracised in this cruel grammatically correct, rule-driven world.

I share my story in the hope that it helps other writers.

How it all began

My parents sent me to an arty school—it wasn’t Montessori or Steiner, but we seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time playing music, dancing around with floaty scarves and learning italic handwriting. The teachers took the “enjoyment over correction approach” to reading and writing. So after several years of schooling I still could barely write my name, but when I did, it was in a beautiful mediaeval script.

Of course I loved it at the time; when you’re eight, who gives a jelly snake about conjugating verbs? I was happy enough making a human body (including organs) out of Play-Doh. But now I curse their stupid progressive schooling ways!

Here are some of the issues I’ve been left with:

I make typos

Although I have a rather good English degree from a relatively posh university and have been a copywriter for many years, I still can’t spell.

I struggle with even the easiest words and sometimes get complete “word blindness,” where I’ve written a word so often it just looks wrong. (Lawyer anyone?)

I often Google words before I enter them, just to be extra sure.

Writing a Facebook status update is fraught with panic as I post only to realise seconds later that I’ve spelt “realize” incorrectly.

If you’re in this camp with me, may I suggest the following:

  • Don’t write tweets or status updates when you’re in a rush. Take it seriously, or your readers will eat you alive.
  • Don’t send a status update from your iPhone as you’re more likely to make a mistake.
  • Do write your status updates in a text document first and then cut and paste them into whatever platform you’re using. Then at least the really obvious mistakes will be picked up by spell checker.
  • Do write a big batch of status updates at the start of the month and send them off to a proofreader to correct. Then you can safely upload one each day/week.

I’m ungrammatical

I know my nouns from my adjectives, and my verbs from my adverbs, but I’m prone to bending the grammar rules, sometimes to breaking point. Fellow sufferers, here are a few grammar basics that I think it’s okay to break (but don’t tell my proofreader):

  • Starting sentences with “but” or “and”: Although you don’t want to overdo it, the occasional sentences that begin with “but” or “and” are, in my opinion, no big deal.
  • Ending sentences with prepositions: Occasionally it just sounds better to put the preposition slap bang at the end of your sentence. Compare, for example: “They don’t have a leg to stand on” with “They don’t have a leg upon which to stand.” Or as Winston Churchill wrote, “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”
  • Using fragments: As long as your fragment clearly communicates a complete thought, it’s a great tool to create pauses and give your ideas great emphasis.

My English isn’t all that plain

I like using odd and slightly unusual words in my blog posts; perhaps it’s the latent poet in me.

Is this a bad thing? Well, I’d argue a firm “No.”

You see, while I’m all for keeping things short and simple, I also believe that it’s important to inject some personality into your copy now and again. Too much plain English and your writing just sounds, well, plain (and possibly a little bit dull).

I think I’m funny

“Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humour but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste.”—Nora Ephron

I often try to inject humour into my blog posts, even when they’re about really serious stuff like SEO. I’ve been warned against this time and time again.

“Not everyone will get it!” they cry. “You’re bound to offend someone!” they shriek.

Well, if I offend, I offend.

Not everyone is going to like your blog. But if you inject your own personal taste, humour and style, some people will love it (and, yes, others may well hate it). But I’d rather have 200 avid followers loving what I write than 500 people who were mildly interested.

I use slang

I’m a big fan of slang. In fact, I think it’s awesome.

I know that seeing some teen speak in a grown-up blog can often be the cringeworthy equivalent of seeing your dad drunk dancing at your 17th birthday party.

If you use slang carefully and in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, it can add a certain je ne sais quoi to your writing.

However, if you intend to use slang regularly I suggest you hire a 13-year-old to read everything you write before you post it.

I get emotional

I like to write about things I’m passionate about. Subjects that annoy me. Websites that are woeful. Clients who are horrible. Things I find amusing.

Sometimes that causes controversy. I’ve been sent hate mail about a poem I once wrote and published online. I’ve been insulted on Twitter by a fellow copywriter who took offence to a blog post. (He thought it was about him—it wasn’t.)

While I never actively seek to offend, insult, or discriminate against anyone, the blog posts on my business website represent my opinions. They’re not a sanitised, client-friendly version of things. Again, what I write might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s my cup of tea and therefore I think my enthusiasm and passion shines through.

So there you go. If you’ve read this post and think you’re suffering from similar symptoms, you too could be a victim of blogrulebreakingitus. Please share your faults with us in the comments. It’s only by working together that we can get through these terrible afflictions. Blog rule breakers of the world unite!

Kate is an award-winning SEO and advertising copywriter with over 18 years’ experience. She’s also a well-respected SEO consultant, information architect, strategist, hula hooper and Creme Egg lover based in Sydney, Australia.

Post Length and Engagement: The Content Marketer’s Dilemma

Everyone’s talking about content at the moment: from those using content marketing to sell business-to-business, to pro niche bloggers, and of course, us here at problogger.net.

Phones

Image courtesy stock.xchng user lusi

It was also a topic that we dealt with on Monday’s #blogchat session on Twitter.

Among the topics that have come up in these discussions is one of length. Longread content is becoming more popular on social media and the web in general, and publishers are finding that while it costs to create longform content, it pays.

Yet research has shown that many social shares aren’t read before they’re shared (and as for afterwards, who knows?). And the average solo blogger probably doesn’t have time to create longform content for every post (or even every so often!).

So what’s better? Is longform content the way to go? Are the days of Seth Godin-style short, punchy posts numbered?

The stats

This post by Neil Patel analyses backlinks, shares, and conversions based on word count, and he’s found that longer content beats shorter posts in all areas.

It’s easy to glance through that post, be wowed by the graphs, and start planning your longread content strategy. But in the conclusion, Neil makes some interesting points, including this:

“Writing lengthy content won’t get you a ton of tweets and likes if you haven’t built up your social media accounts first.”—Neil Patel

While the figures are appealing, longform content shouldn’t be seen as the silver bullet to a blog’s traffic and reader retention problems.

Longer posts don’t necessarily drive greater engagement.

The medium

A Pew Internet study of young Americans’ (under-30s) reading habits from 2012 showed that “47% of younger Americans read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers.” But interestingly, “60% of Americans under age 30 used the library in the past year.” Those library users were borrowing print books as well as ebooks and audio books, along with magazines, newspapers, and journals.

So not only can we safely say that readers are still reading; we can also say that they’re not reading exclusively online.

Which bring us back to Seth Godin’s blog. I don’t know about you, but I can’t really imagine him publishing a 35,000-word mega-post (like the SEOmoz post mentioned in Neil’s article) on his blog. Seth seems to keep his longform content to books. And perhaps there’s a good reason for making that differentiation.

I mentioned on #blogchat this week that I think different types of content achieve different kinds of engagement, and as bloggers, we can use that to engage with different audience segments more meaningfully. Maybe that’s Seth’s approach: if you’re an “advanced” user of his ideas and work, you buy the book. If you’re at the “beginner” level, you stick with the blog.

But I think this raises an interesting question for those considering embracing longform content because it’s popular right now.

Would the information in your longform post be better communicated:

  • in a book or ebook
  • as a course or email series
  • through a webinar, forum, or discussion
  • some other way?

The answers depend on your readers, and the message you’re trying to communicate. But as bloggers, we can’t assume that a longform post will go viral any more than any other kind of post will go viral. It may not even have a better chance of ranking well in search.

Why not?

Getting it right

Writing longform content takes different skills than writing shorter content. The way I see it, longform content multiplies the challenges bloggers face writing short content—and adds some new ones, like structure, pace, keeping interest, and so on, into the mix. The kind of longform content that really does get read, as well as shared and ranked, isn’t just a matter of more words. It’s a matter of delivering more value—much more value.

If you have trouble getting traffic to your posts now, or your readers don’t seem engaged, you may need to work on your writing technique more before attempting a longform post.

In any case, a longform post you’re using as part of a content marketing strategy isn’t likely to massively grow your readership on its own. Like any kind of promotion, it’ll do best when it’s supported by already-strong reader engagement, a solid social network, excellent quality control, and so on.

Longform content isn’t just about adding words. It’s about adding value. If you don’t yet believe you have the value to justify a longform post, it might be best to stick with shorter content until you do.

I’d be interested to hear if you’re embracing the longform trend, or keeping with shorter posts for the time being. Let us know how you see this dilemma in the comments.