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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.

Clean Out Your List of Blog Post Ideas in a Blog Content Workshop

This post is by Steve of Do Something Cool. 

One of the first things I learned when I started blogging was to create a Word document to write down all my blog post ideas.  That way I could always find something to write about. 

After a few months, I had dozens of ideas and titles to work from.  Three years on, and that list has grown into the hundreds.

This seems to be common for bloggers.  We all have a long list of blog post topics.  Some bloggers I’ve talked to have over five hundred.  At some point though, you have to question the benefit behind having a list that long.

The overwhelming list

A few months ago I sat down to write a post, just like any other day.  I opened up my list to choose an idea and was struck by how long I’d let the list get.

I realized that most of those ideas were just being wasted.  I generally write about 400-500 words a day.  My blog posts are roughly 800-1000 words.  It would take me over a year to get through this list, and that doesn’t even include other ideas I would add throughout the year.

There are so many potential ideas I’m not using.

I decided to go through my list of blog post ideas and clear them out.  Think of it as a kind of spring cleaning.

Instead of writing 400-500 words, I sat down and typed 5000.  That’s ten times my normal amount for a day of writing.

As a result, I wrote enough to create six or seven blog posts.  All in one day!

Now I clean out my list of blog post ideas about once a month.  Usually, I block off about four or five hours of solid writing.  Often that means about 5000-6000 words in a day.  The last time I did this I wrote 10,000 words in one day, which was very challenging.

The number of posts you can get done this way is amazing.

Here’s what to do

It only takes a little preparation to clean out your list.  Set your date to write a couple of days in advance.  Make sure you can spend at least three hours writing.  It works best if you can write continuously; I’ve noticed my most productive time writing happens in the third hour.

A few days before you write, go through your blog post list and pull out about a dozen of those ideas.  For each of those posts, create a Word document.  Write the title at the top and create a general outline.  This should take about five minutes per post.  Also, as you go through your list, delete any ideas you have no interest in writing any more.

Create two folders on your desktop.  Put your unwritten posts with their outlines in the first one.  The second one is for all the ones you’ll finish as you write.  I named the first folder “Start Here” and the second one “Finished Posts”, but you can name them whatever you want.

When the day arrives to start writing, make sure to start right away so you have enough time to get as much writing done as possible.

It’s important to track your progress, so as soon as you start writing set a timer to go off in sixty minutes.  When it goes off, stop writing and count up all the words you’ve written to make sure you’re on the right track.  Then take a five-minute break to walk around a bit before getting back to writing.

Keep writing in sixty-minute chunks until you reach your word goal.  In my opinion, it’s best to set a high word goal.  The focus is to get as many words down as possible, so don’t spend too much time editing.  This day is about getting as many words down as you can so that you clear out your list. Edit later.

Also, keep in mind you don’t have to completely finish a post before moving on to the next one.  It’s about keeping the pace of your writing high to get through a lot of posts.  If one post isn’t working, move on to the next one.  It might just be an indication that the idea isn’t all that good.

Once you’ve written all you can on a post, save and move it from the first folder to the “Finished Posts” folder.  By the end of the day, this folder will be full of posts you’ve crossed off your list.

Your blog posts in the finished folder will be rough drafts so you’ll still need to edit and polish them later.  But now you’ll have a bunch of posts mostly ready to publish.  Plus, you’ll have several you can get ready to send off as guest posts.

You might be surprised what you can come up with when you clear out your list.  The last time I did some spring cleaning, I wrote about an idea I’d been sitting on for months.  After I finished it, I realized the potential behind it: that post turned out to be one of my more popular.  You just never know what will happen when you clean out that list once in a while!

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.

My 10-in-1 Content Creation Strategy [Case Study]

This guest post is by Wayne Turner of MurrayKilgour.Com.

Content creation calendars and schedules are the bane of most serious bloggers’ and content managers’ lives, depending on which side of the creative block you’re on.

I straddled this fine line on many occasions until my Eureka moment. Having amalgamated my home radio and video studios I realised that I could double up on content creation with my business-consultant partner, a content reservoir of genius proportions.

Soon we had discovered a 3-in-1, then a 6-in-1, and finally a 10-in-1 content creation strategy.

When I say “radio and video studio” (actually my third bedroom), be assured it’s not exactly state of the art, although I have slowly acquired suitable equipment and created a workable dual studio.

In saying this, anyone with a computer, some sort of USB audio interface/mixer, a reasonable microphone and digital video camera or DSLR can achieve the same results. In this article I assume you are familiar with your gear so I’m not going to go into any detail on how to use each piece of equipment in the process.

Time costs!

One of the most valuable, and rarest assets of a successful business consultant is time. To maximise the genius of my partner, when time is in such short supply, is a hectic operation usually resulting in a minimal flow of great content. This is where my Eureka moment has paid incredible dividends and saved many hours in the generation of multiple pieces of content at once.

Because we use a joint audio and video, green-screen studio, when we sit down and record a session, we create both an audio and a video recording simultaneously. The following ten points outline the quality content that we create from each five-minute recording session.

We now have this down to such a fine art that we can do six, five-minute recordings in 40 minutes. For me as the content creator, this is heaven, as it enables me to work in my genius. (A little side note here: your genius is simply working in your passion and talent, and I believe you need to be doing this for 80% of your working time.)

How it works

So, it all starts with one content creation session—just one!—where we have learned to maximise both time and genius. Of course there is preparation required to make the session go smoothly, and a good knowledge of your field of expertise is essential, but once we’re in studio, this is how the magic happens.

  1. The primary piece of content is a video for uploading to our YouTube channel and if we choose, we upload it to iTunes as a video podcast. We also embed the same video on our blog at MurrayKilgour.com. A well-prepared, quality video is the basis for this whole process. We use either a script or a series of bullet points to make the recording. I personally enjoy using a script with a DIY teleprompter, because of my radio background. Cheesycam.com is an awesome resource for DIY ideas and equipment—a lot of it DIY or reasonably priced new gear.
  2. The recorded audio track becomes a podcast which is embedded on our blog, and most often is uploaded to our Living on Purpose iTunes podcast channel as well. There are many other podcast sites to upload to, but we choose just iTunes. If you are unable to create video, the podcast can become the audio for a Slideshare video presentation, so give the audio the same good preparation as you would a video.
  3. We send the mp3 audio recording to a transcription contractor hired through eLance.com for transcription at $2 per recording. From this transcript, we create a blog post for our site, a guest post for another website, or an article for a site like ezinearticles.com. This invaluable piece of text is also used as a caption or transcript with our videos on Youtube for SEO purposes. Because it’s accurate, we gain the additional traction of having hearing-disabled people able to enjoy your video using the Youtube subtitles feature.
  4. The video we have created, if it’s not placed on our YouTube channel, can now form part of a multi-part video ecourse. We use an Aweber autoresponder to give this away for free and gain subscribers to our blog, but it can be monetized in the form of a paid video ecourse. You can determine the value or purpose of the content here.
  5. We again take the transcribed text and repurpose it into a ten-part ecourse delivered in the same way as the video ecourse: as a bonus for signing up as a subscriber to the blog. This method has been extremely successful—we’ve signed up thousands of subscribers to our blog this way.
  6. The transcribed text now adds real value when it is compiled into a section or chapter of an ebook to be used as a giveaway or sold on the blog as a free download. This is where the value of the method comes in, because many bloggers battle to get into writing an ebook. We edited, added and modified a lot of the text to create an ebook, but what this method did was give us a great quantity of raw material to work with. We had created more than 140 podcasts by the time we woke to the fact that we could compile a quality ebook using that material.
  7. I am in the fortunate position of being a breakfast show producer for a local radio station, so the podcast becomes a regular slot on our community radio station, Radio CCFm, which has 250 000 listeners. But before you say this is a privileged position, I can assure you that, as a producer, I can say most local radio stations are always looking for quality content, especially if it is free. So short podcasts with a good intro and outro may become a regular feature on radio stations and give good traffic to a website.
  8. With the advent of HD video DSLRs it is possible to produce high-quality video footage for TV programs. We repurpose our five-minute content creation session again in the form of a short TV program for a local community TV station, Cape Town Television. If it’s quality content and free, TV stations will take your show—especially if it’s relevant to their viewers.
  9. When we repurpose the transcribed text into an ebook, the audio becomes part of an audio book. You might say that this is pushing it, but I use the audio as a companion free audio book to the photography ebook I sell on my website. It’s a bonus for the buyer and for me, because I didn’t have to do anything extra to create it.
  10. Finally, blog posts, audio, and video make an amazing weekly or monthly newsletter. I do this using Aweber templates, which are free with the subscription. We try to do it on a two-weekly basis, as we don’t always have enough content for weekly mailings. It works perfectly for a monthly newsletter and I would advise this when you’re starting out. The amount of content you generate will determine the frequency.

Ten points sounds good, and I thought that adding an eleventh point might be a bit much, but here’s a bonus idea. What we’ve done is created a boxed DVD set for offline and online sales as training modules. Not all people are excited about online, and some like a physical product in their hands. In our business we use all of the above content in its different forms as part of a DVD boxed series for sale to our coaching clients. They love it and we love it—especially the time it takes to create!

Unlimited content

There are no limits to how you can use your content if you begin with the end in mind, but the emphasis must be on quality content. When you sit down in front of the camera and microphone, think “end product,” and design your process to get the most out of the content creation session. I’m sure that most people can easily create seven of these ten pieces of content out of just one five-, ten-, or even 30-minute recording session.

So, think big in your content creation, begin with the end in mind, and maximize your time and effort to produce content that will attract the best traffic and convert those people into buyers. Your success will result from the quality of content you produce. So give it your best!

Wayne Turner is a multimedia strategist specialising in photography, radio and video at MurrayKilgour.Com. If you’d like to go to your next level in life and business by working in your genius you can sign up for our free ebook, Living on Purpose.

Redefining “Quality Content” … And Writing It

Sometimes, I think that if I hear the cliche “content is king” one more time, I’ll scream.

…Okay, maybe I already have. Everyone’s talking about content marketing now that Google’s put (more) emphasis on “quality content”, but no one really seems to be talking about what “quality content” actually means.

Is it content that converts? Content that’s shared? Content that ranks well in the search engines? Content that “resonates” with readers? All of the above? Something else entirely?

And: where can we start creating this “quality content”—if, that is, we’re not doing it already…?

Enough with the cliches! What we need are some answers.

Quality content: a new definition

I think quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Something that has value for me may have no value to you at all. So quality is closely linked to audience, to the idea being communicated, and to the way it’s communicated. But ultimately, I think it’s a pretty subjective description.

As a freelancer, I’m sometimes asked to write content that I’m not exactly excited about. Obviously as bloggers, we would never publish something we’re not proud to put our names to on our own blogs. But if you’re paid to write, sometimes client desires can see you writing copy or content that bores you to tears, or worse: makes you cringe.

Well, if “quality” is subjective, then I think our most basic definition of the term should entail a level of interest that captivates us as human beings. If your writing doesn’t intrigue you, how will it ever intrigue someone else?

So my new year’s resolution for writing is: don’t write what you don’t want to read. (Easier said than done with some clients!) To me, that’s the basis for quality content.

The elements of interest

There’s a lot that goes toward making a post interesting. Topic, writing style, angle, and presentation are just some of the keys to keeping readers reading, and minds cranking over.

Of those, topic and presentation are probably no-brainers for most bloggers and blog posts, most of the time. But if you see blogging like that, you’re probably headed for writer’s block and a blogging rut. If you decide you’ll only ever use text and images, and you won’t look at certain topics in your field because they’re not really “you,” you’re already cutting of your options for creating real, genuine interest among your readers. And, most likely, for yourself.

As for angle and writing style, these are two areas that I think can interact really well—two aspects that can help each other to develop if you let them. How? With the help of the Golden Rule for Better Blogging.

The Golden Rule for Better Blogging

That Golden Rule is: try something you’ve never tried before.

It sounds deceptively simple, but in practice, it can be daunting. Here’s how it might play out for your blog writing:

  • Never written a sales page before? Write one. If you don’t have a product, imagine one of your competitors’ products is yours, or dream up a product you’d like to offer and write a sales page for that.
  • Wish your writing was more sensitive/dynamic/powerful? Study an author or blogger you feel has this talent, work out what they do, then try to apply those techniques in your own writing.
  • Scared to pen an opinion post? All the more reason to draft one. Now.
  • Been putting off making approaches to other bloggers about teaming up on a project? Open up your email and start writing … from the heart.

Better blogging is about pushing the boundaries of what you know you can do. Better blog writing is a variation on that theme. Pushing the boundaries of your blog writing capabilities can be hard when you feel you’re not sure where those boundaries are, or you’re overwhelmed by the amount of advice that’s available to help you overcome that particular challenge.

The answer is to take it one step at a time.

An example: my writing style sandbox

Toward the end of last year, I realized there were certain bloggers and writers whose styles I really admired. At first I wished I wrote more like them, but I soon realised that what I actually wanted was to develop a more engaging writing style of my own.

I studied their techniques, but instead of emulating them, I wanted to use the feeling it gave me as grist to my own creative mill.

So I developed an idea for a blog, wrote a couple of posts, and launched it. The idea is to experiment with personal narrative as a vehicle for deeper connection with readers.

For someone who’s more used to writing other people’s product sales pages and email autoresponders, this is a bit of a shift. It’s outside my comfort zone. It’s beyond the boundaries of what I usually do. And the whole point of it is to experiment with writing techniques—to have a sandbox in which to play.

Your writing style sandbox doesn’t need to be a blog—it doesn’t need to be available to the world, and regularly updated. You could have your sandbox take up an hour every Thursday night, and a new folder on your desktop. Your sandbox could comprise a mutual writing critique session with a trusted friend once a month. It could be whatever you want.

No aim, no gain

The objective of this post is, first, to get you thinking about how you define “quality content” and second, to encourage you to set a goal to reach for better quality content every time you put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper).

The important step is for you to look at writing that you believe reflects the qualities your own content lacks, and from there, to set a goal to work on those elements in whatever way suits you.

Without an objective, you’ll find it hard to improve. While we could look to our traffic analytics, shares, and so on for “proof” that our writing “quality” is improving, since the measure of quality is to write something you want to read, the best measure of your “success” will probably be a feeling rather than a figure.

What does “quality content” mean to you? And what are you doing to move toward it? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

Top Journalism Techniques for Smart Bloggers

This guest post is by Matthew Brennan of Matthewlbrennan.com.

Stop for a second and consider this blog post opening:

“Matt rose from his unpadded chair, and stopped to scratch his head and stare at the empty document on his computer. He tiptoed through his pitch-black apartment at 2 a.m., careful not to step on the sleeping cat.

“He opened the refrigerator, stared into the bright light, and settled on making a ham and cheese sandwich, even though he wanted turkey. As he arranged the lunchmeat over the bread, inspiration struck. Once he returned to the computer, food in hand, he began clinking away on the keyboard, knocking the words out.

“Matt defeated another case of writer’s block…”

How to make your readers invest in your work

It’s time for small business bloggers to reconsider how they package their blog posts. Search results always turn up several (or more!) posts on the same subject. Providing a new twist will help yours to stand out.

Journalists can teach bloggers something when it comes to enticing a reader. A good journalist is always considering how to make their story stand out. They’re regularly competing with their counterparts from different newspapers, but also with the journalists who wrote the stories that surround theirs.

They crave the attention of a reader. They act on it by capitalizing on the human element.

Journalists are master storytellers

They implement a little-known writing secret: people want to read about people. Journalists know that readers want a little action with their morning coffee.

So, when you sit down to write a “list” blog, why not give us those tips with a little action? My initial example could easily be summed up in a short sentence on a list blog:

“To defeat writer’s block: Get up and move around. When you walk away from the computer inspiration can strike.”

Sure, this might be helpful, but seeing it in action creates a stronger mental image. I guarantee your competition will likely not write about the creative inspiration stirred up while fixing a ham and cheese sandwich at 2 a.m.

A personal story shows that your tip or trick works. It shows the frustrations that come with writer’s block, and the corresponding action to battle it.

Zoom in, zoom out

Journalists give us a close-up image. Think of it like a magnifying glass on somebody performing an action. Once they have a reader hooked, they pull the magnifying glass back to give us a view of the big picture.

Say, for example, you own a health club. Instead of just dully writing about the three best exercises for flatter abs, maybe you begin the blog writing about your workout, or the workout of one of the trainers.

If it’s working for the poster child of the physically fit, readers will be more interested when you pull the magnifying glass back to establish the bigger picture.

Try these techniques yourself

Bloggers could benefit a great deal from a dose of personal storytelling. It creates a stronger investment from your reader. The greater the investment, the better the chance they will complete your call to action.

Go ahead, pick up the New York TimesWall Street Journal, or the USA Today. There’s a great deal you can take away from the high quality of writing these publications offer.

Don’t be afraid to go tell a personal story! What are some of the better examples that have worked for you in the past? Tell us in the comments.

Matthew Brennan is a freelance journalist and copywriter, telling stories in the Chicago area. He blogs and runs his copywriting business at Matthewlbrennan.com.

Can’t Find Your Voice? Find and Share Hidden Treasures Instead

This guest post is by Traci Dillard of allstayathome.com.

It’s important to have a strong and likeable voice as a blogger. If your followers don’t like your voice and article flow, they probably won’t return to your blog.

Equally important is what valuable information or “hidden treasure” you have to offer to your readers. This can also be a driving force to ensure repeat traffic.

Depending on your niche, it is important that you keep your information current and share helpful resources with your readers. Not only will you find that readers will return to your blog to catch the latest information, but you will begin to see your list of followers grow as well.

Resources can compensate for voice

If you are having trouble finding your “voice,” having a blog full of powerful resources and lists can help to compensate for this.

Your blog must be useful to those seeking the information you’re sharing in order to attract and keep visitors. If your blog is a reliable source of information in a specific area, this alone can work wonders.

Set your goal to become the best in your niche

The key to success with a blog is to strive to provide the best information in your niche. If you aren’t already an expert on the topics you write about, you need to become one. This means you need to study your competition.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are they doing to gain and keep followers?
  • What secrets do they share?

While you don’t necessarily want to share the same information they share, you should gather better information to stay a step ahead of your competition. Do as much research as you can, dig around, and learn as much as possible about the subject of your blog.

You cannot maintain a successful blog if you offer insufficient or incomplete information on a subject. You must master the niche and this requires thorough, ongoing research.

Organize your information

Once you gather information, keep it updated and organize it on your pages so that it is understandable to the reader.

You will see the most traffic from posts that contain organized lists as well as helpful “how-to” information that is up-to-date.

Keep posts original and unique

Sure, you will have to gather resources from around the web and other places, but the trick is to gather a wealth of information from many different sources and give your audience the best of the best! You want to wow your readers.

When a reader finds the information you offer to be powerful and interesting, they will most likely want more of what you have to offer and will therefore be more likely to subscribe, follow, and comment on what they’ve read.

The feedback from readers is a valuable tool in making your blog even better.

How and where should you gather resources?

In order to gather the best resources for your readers, you are going to have to invest some quality time. You will need to devote a time specifically for research on the topic you are blogging about. Think about the list(s) or specific information you want to provide and take advantage of the web. Use the following types of sites to find the information:

  • Forums: Forums are a treasure trove of hidden secrets. Find some forums specific to your niche and do some digging. You are likely to find some gold!
  • Discussion boards: Other discussion boards, like Q&A boards are also a valuable tool for finding the information you seek.  While doing a search on Google or other search engines, specify your topic and also enter a discussion board or choose from the options in the search engine.
  • Blogs: Search specifically for blogs that have information about your topic. Blogs are another hidden source of great information.
  • Wikis: Wikis and online encyclopedias offer valuable information usually written by experts in their fields. They are great for finding information on specific topics. In addition, Wikis usually contain lists of other reliable resources.
  • Social sites: There has been an explosion of social sites in recent years, so listing them all would require a completely separate post, but sites like Stumble Upon, Digg, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are of course among some of the better sites where you will find information you may not otherwise find from a basic search.

Use more than one search engine

If you are a loyal Google searcher, break out of your comfort zone and give some other search engines a shot when looking for the information you need.

Search engines do not display the exact same results in the same order. This is beneficial when looking for specific information. Try Bing and Yahoo as alternative search engines.

The keys to success

Before posting, check and re-check your spelling and grammar. Nothing turns a reader off more than an article that is rife with spelling and grammar mistakes. Use the spell check first, then proofread your work yourself or have a friend proofread it. Spell check is good, but it doesn”t find all the errors, so take extra time to make sure your work is flawless.

Hard work, dedication and consistency will pay off, but patience and belief in the posts you create are the keys to success. It is important to post regularly, but a good rule to live by is quality over quantity. This will lead to better search engine ranking and an overall better following in the long run.

Become the voice for your resources

After gathering your resources, think of yourself as the voice for the power of these resources.

Carefully analyze and share how the information, piece by piece, can help your viewers. This is where some creativity and thinking outside of the box can play a part. Give your readers ideas that will work and ideas that nobody else is sharing.

Anyone can just create lists, but you can turn these lists into gold!

Traci Dillard is the founder/owner of allstayathome.com, a trusted source for freelancers and home workers. By day, she is also a content and SEO specialist for Your Web Pro, LLC. In West Texas.

23 Top Tips to Make Your Blog Posts More Conversational

This guest post is by Marya Jan of Writing Happiness.

Let’s face it; most blog posts that are currently being put out are simply b-o-r-i-n-g.

Dull. Unexciting. A big fail when it comes to keeping our attention.

The blogger is writing about a worthwhile topic no doubt, but the writing does nothing for the reader. It fails to engage, or draw you in. Even when you are supposed to be paying attention, you really aren’t. You keep on thinking about what else is out there. Your mind is wandering.

The writer is unable to form a connection and you end up clicking away. Hardly surprising, is it?

A tiny number of people are getting it right, though. They open their posts with a bang. They are spot on with their calls to action. Before you know it, you have read every single word and you wonder what happened to logging off for the day.

People like Jon Morrow, and Sonia Simone, and Darren himself. They are masters of engagement. They are talking directly to you. Only you.

How on earth do they do it? How do they make you stay put even though your pots are boiling over and your kids are screaming for dinner? Turns out they have quite a few tricks up their sleeves.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Write like you talk—only better

You have probably heard this advice before, but we will take it up a notch here. Dig a little deeper. What does exactly it mean to write like you talk?

1. The most important word in blogging is “you”

Address you audience. Imagine you are sitting across the table from a really close friend, and write your post for them. You are allowed ask rhetorical questions, but cut down on ums and ahs. It makes for poor talking and appalling writing.

2. Mirror their responses

Say things like, “so you feel like nobody’s paying attention …” or “I know crafting effective calls to action can be really hard.”

What have your readers been telling you? Use some of their language to reflect that you are paying attention.

3. Use contractions

Some people hardly ever use any. They stay proper, but that’s not how you talk to a friend. Use don’t, isn’t, it’s. Make it less stilted. Make it flow better and sound like human speech.

4. Be bold with exclamatory phrases

By this, I mean things like “Oh no!” and “Holy cow!”

Psst! Watch some reality TV or reporting shows. See how they keep you glued to the set with exclamations.

5. Ignore your high school English teacher—within reason

Your old English teacher was right when she told you to choose the right word, make it vivid and interesting and add adjectives to your prose.

This is not something you should mess with. You can, however, get away with breaking some rules of grammar. You just need to know which.

5. Use fragments

Like this one. Believe it or not, it is fine to use them even if you are not actually saying them out loud.

6. Start your sentences with a conjunction

But that is not grammatically correct, you say. Well, this is one of those rules.

7. Stay away from adverbs

On most occasions that add nothing to your writing. Most of them are redundant like scream loudly, sigh sadly. Use sparingly.

8. Don’t be afraid to use a bit of slang, but don’t go overboard

Dig?

9. Use exclamation points when necessary

Cut back on the usage though. Dramatically.

10. Write at an eighth-grade reading level

Reader’s Digest does it. So can you. Keep it simple.

11. Avoid being formal

Instead of saying however, moreover, or furthermore, say but, so, or then. We are aiming for conversational here. Get a dialogue going.

12. Avoid jargon

Corporate lingo, marketing speak, gobbledygook. Call it what you want, if it is unintelligible, it has no business being there.

13. Use short words

Leave the thesaurus alone. Stephen King suggests picking the first word that comes to mind (in most cases). That’s gold.

14. Don’t be wordy

Notice how eyes begin to glaze over when it happens in face-to-face conversations?

Same is the case in the virtual world. Keep it tight; nobody likes people who ramble.

15. Don’t use the passive voice

Consider these options:

  • A decision was made vs. I decided.
  • Your email has been received vs. we have received your email.
  • Your response is appreciated vs. we appreciate your response.

Which sounds better? You decide (or, it has to be decided by you)!

16. Avoid monologue (keep paragraphs short)

You are not really having a conversation, we get it, but does it have to come across like a lecture? Keep your paragraphs short. Talk to readers, not at them. Don’t preach.

17. Forget about being politically correct

“He or she” is fine. Nobody will say anything, I promise.

18. Show off your personality

Pretend you are writing an email to a close friend. What’s different about this writing? It’s more authentic, more genuine, more you.

19. Don’t use words that you won’t use while talking

Is it something you’d say to somebody’s face? If not, it might be a good idea to skip it.

20. Use phrases that only you would use

Put your unique stamp on all your writing.

21. Ask hard-to-answer questions

Exercise tough love. Make their brains hurt!

22.  Watch your tone

Snarky, inspirational, flippant, self-deprecating, tough … how do you want to come across? Carry it throughout your piece. Be consistent.

23. Take a stand

Say what you mean. What’s the point otherwise?

You are writing for the most important person there is—your reader. Do you want to be clever or engaging? The choice is yours.

Marya Jan is a blogging coach for solopreneurs, small business owners and start-ups. Find more of her stuff at Writing Happiness. Don’t forget to grab her free ebook ‘9 NEW RULES OF BLOGGING – How to Grow Your Business with Little traffic, No connections & Limited hours’.