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What to Do When Your Posts Aren’t as Good as they Seem in Your Mind

This guest post is by Amit Sodha of Unlimited Choice.

Have you ever had an idea, a thought, or a burst of inspiration that, while it was still in your mind, sounded amazing? But, when you tried to articulate it on screen or paper, or in speech, it didn’t sound nearly so good?

I’ve found that effectively conveying my ideas is not only critical for my blog, but also for writing comedy and creating links on my radio show. One of the biggest challenges for me has been to get the ideas out of my head sounding just as good as they did whilst they were still cocooned in my grey matter.

The question, then, is how do you become less like Frederick Spindal (Who? Exactly!) and more like Aaron Sorkin (we love you Aaron!)?

It’s easier said than done, but if you look around at most successful bloggers, writers, comedians, and even successful business people, you will find that they’ve mastered this skill, coupled it with passion, and used those ingredients to excel them to the top of their field.

When your written expression doesn’t emerge as clearly as the initial idea, it can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening but, if you’re ready to take some steps with me right now, I can help you put an end to those blocks.

The importance of instant action

Have you ever seen a stand-up comedian performing on stage? They all have scripted material that they’ve meticulously rehearsed and polished. Most comedians will break their sets and engage with their audience; ask them questions, and very often they come out with hilarious responses to the answers. Those parts weren’t scripted … so where did they come from?

They vocalised their thoughts almost instantly. They didn’t question whether what they were about to say was funny or not, they didn’t worry about what people were going to think, they just reacted.

That’s what your finished article should be. It should almost be a reaction to an idea. Speed is critical. If the idea isn’t acted on instantly, or it becomes tainted with any kind of derogatory self-talk, then it will never come out with the purity with which it was conceived. Editing and polishing only come later, once the core idea has been laid out.

I also remember hearing a DVD commentary by Joss Whedon, who recently co-wrote and directed the box office smash, Avengers Assemble. He said that when he gets an idea, he uses it instantly and rarely does he deviate from the initial concept.

Any hesitance, and a million-dollar idea may become shelved permanently. Thoughts like, “What if people don’t like what I’m about to say; what if it’s wrong, what if people don’t agree with me?” stop our natural flow of brilliant material.

Over-thinking and perfectionism are two of the biggest culprits in this matter. The good news is there are two wonderful techniques you can employ as a writer (skills transferable in other fields also such as comedy and speaking) which will help you to present the ideas you had as equally clear on paper.

Here are two wonderful techniques that have helped me immensely, which you can utilise to become a more articulate, clear writer.

Technique 1. Un-edited thinking

The first of the two methods is a technique I call un-edited thinking, or naked dictation. I think some people also refer to it as “free-writing.”

The principle is relatively simple. Take a dictation of all the thoughts going on in your head right now. No matter what they are, write everything down. Imagine you’re a secretary and your mind is the boss telling you what to write. Go on, do it. Do this on a regular basis.

The purpose of this exercise is to ignore the blocks you might normally put in place. If you override them, and allow your thoughts to flow, your ideas will also come out—and be expressed—more naturally.

The more you practise this, the easier it becomes to capture the fresh ideas in the way they sounded in your head. Why? Because you’re ignoring all the things you may have done in the past to taint them.

Technique 2. The 30-minute deadline

The second technique is a pressure technique using a timer. My preferred method is to use a countdown timer on my phone. I set it for 30 minutes and make it a goal to complete the blog post I had in mind within that time.

I enforce it as a strict rule. Rarely do I complete the editing within the 30-minute limit. But this method puts the pressure on, ever so slightly, and enough that I negate blocks, and get the main essence of the piece completed.

When you do this, you’ll find that you spend less time faffing around re-reading, or worrying about perfecting it, and be more focussed on getting it done. It’s not about rushing to complete the finished product; it’s about rushing to get the idea out as as quickly and clearly as possible.

Practising expression

Practise both and combine these techniques to produce a more refined piece of writing. Make these exercises part of your daily writing routine and you’ll find that your finished article will be more pure and succinct.

Above all, remind yourself regularly that not every piece will be a masterpiece. Some ideas will be awesome, and some will be mediocre, but your audience will decide that. That’s not your responsibility. It’s your responsibility as the writer to put your work out there, to welcome critique, and most importantly, to write those ideas so they sound as good as they did in your head.

Amit Sodha has been blogging for over 6 years, is a life coach, stand-up comedian, and a radio presenter. To find out more you can connect with him on twitter.

How to Write a Great Paragraph

This guest post is by James Chartrand of Damn Fine Words.

There are eight million posts out there about how to write a great headline. Copyblogger’s written about half of them. I’ve written a few myself.

But you know what none of us tell you? What to do after the headline.

You know, the actual “content” part.

It’s not enough to create killer headlines or spectacular introductions. It’s not enough to write compelling content (and we don’t tell you how to do that either). It’s not enough to use storytelling. The only way to get your blog posts read, shared and revisited means writing great content.

Which really means you need to know how to write a stellar paragraph.

I know: paragraphs aren’t sexy

Catchy headlines sounds sexy. Storytelling sounds sexy. Paragraphs? They sound about as sexy as gramma’s underwear. They’re not a technique or a tool. They’re just plain old-fashioned grammar school stuff.

Here’s what you need to know about what a fantastic paragraph can do for you:

Your readers will take in every single word you write.

Not just the words in the bullet points. Not just the numbered lists. Not just the headlines or the sub-headers. They won’t skim looking for “the good stuff.”

It’s all good stuff. They’ll want every single word.

Here’s a thought: Online readers are notorious for skimming and scanning, running through the bullet points. But do you know why their eyes are wandering? Do you know why they skip through your posts?

It’s because they weren’t interested in the paragraphs.
The content in your paragraphs? Readers figure those are just filler. And in many cases for many, many bloggers… sadly, filler it is.

Readers read … if it’s worth their time

A lot of bloggers assume that skimming and scanning is just the way things are. Nothing they can do about it – people are lazy. Too busy. So they don’t bother putting effort into crafting carefully written paragraphs the way they do their headlines and bullet points, because no one’s going to read the content anyway.

But, as Georgina pointed out earlier today, not all readers scan the content—and that’s important to remember.

Everyone has a favorite blogger whose posts they read religiously. I’ve got one. You’ve got one. You get excited when you see a new post go live because you love the way this blogger writes. You share the posts. You read older posts from the archives. You link to these posts.

Good paragraphs make that happen.

You’re not reading your favorite blogger’s posts for the headline, the bullet points, or the nugget of brand-new secret insider knowledge. Who’s ever said, “Oooh, Darren just put up a new post – I gotta go read this; his bullet points are so hot!”

Come on.

You read for the words, and you would never consider any of the content to be “filler,” no matter how long that post ran.

That means your beloved blogger probably writes a killer paragraph.

Starting to sound a little sexier? You bet it is—who doesn’t want to be one of those bloggers whose readers hang on their every word?

No one, that’s who. So let’s get you started.

Good paragraphs leave no sentence behind

You’ve probably heard this adage: the purpose of the first sentence is to get the reader to read the second sentence. The second sentence is to get them to read the third sentence, and so on.

Most bloggers forget to pay attention after the fourth or fifth sentence, which means that by sentence 36, they aren’t doing a thing to keep their reader hooked and moving along.

So they leave sentence 36 in the post because they think it doesn’t matter that much. (And hey, it’s good filler.)

It matters. Every single sentence matters. If you have a sentence in your paragraph that isn’t actively getting people to read the next one, chop it out. It’s doing nothing for you—or for your paragraph.

Good paragraphs form a chain of thought

You could obey the above rule without actually creating a paragraph. You could just snag a handful of Problogger’s best headlines and stick ‘em in a post, and that would satisfy the “get the reader to read the next sentence” rule.

The problem comes when the second sentence has nothing to do with the first sentence. Watch as I display this technique: Is your tribe holding you down? You could increase your blog subscription rate by 254%. Eminem can teach you how to become a writing and marketing machine. Let’s talk 50 can’t-fail techniques for finding great blog topics.

Those are some of Copyblogger’s most popular headlines, and they’re undeniably compelling. But they don’t relate to one another, so midway through, the reader’s wondering about the follow-up. Eventually, he gets frustrated trying to figure out the point.
Frustrated isn’t good. Every sentence in a paragraph should refer back to the one before.

And if it’s a new paragraph, it should refer back to the last sentence of the previous one. Your very first paragraph should refer to your headline. Your headline introduces the post idea, which means everything you write afterward depends on that one idea—so you need to make a chain of thought to back it up.

How do you know when to end one paragraph and start the next? Well . . .

Good paragraphs know when to end

Every paragraph should last long enough to make one single point.

Some paragraphs—like the one before—only need one sentence to make the intended point. Others, like this one, need a few sentences to discuss the point fully and explain several ways of looking at it. You might need to expand upon your thoughts or give examples to drive the point home.

When your point is made, move on to the next point. Which, obeying the Rule #2, should relate back to the point that came before it, move on to make its own point, and end when that point is fully explained.

Nerdy, I know. But sexy? You bet. Sexy bloggers know sexy writing, and there’s nothing sexier than a well-crafted paragraph like that.

Now, a lot of people try to string together several points in a single paragraph. That’s never effective. Paragraphs help give readers visual cues on how to organize their thoughts. When they see a paragraph, they know it’s going to give them a certain amount of information on a certain point.

But if you give them three different (and often unrelated) points in a single paragraph, it forces readers to try and figure out where the distincts are between those points.

That’s work. And people hate it when reading content is work.

If you don’t want your readers just looking for the bullet points, keep your paragraphs easy to process and let them end when the point is concluded.

Don’t neglect your paragraphs

You’ve learned to write snappy headlines that get readers to come to your site and craft bullet points that draw their eye. Now it’s time to pay attention to the rest of your content.

Great paragraphs are the way to do it.

Got more ideas on what makes for a great paragraph? Shout out in the comments! And if you haven’t already, check out ProBlogger’s Anatomy of a Better Blog Post, for more specific post-writing techniques.

James Chartrand is the leading copywriter teaching people how to improve their writing skills at Damn Fine Words. It’s one of the best online writing courses for business owners and bloggers ready to boost their business success… through compelling words that get results.

Let Your Critics Be Your Best Friends

This guest post is by Barb Sawyers of Sticky Communication.

When I first started to write professionally, I hated people editing my work. To deal with these personal attacks, I would rant, cry, drink too much, and otherwise freak out.

But one day I parked my ego long enough to realize that many of these editors were highly skilled. Others knew more about the subject or the organization’s perspective than I did. I needed them.

Working in corporate communication, I was still stuck with the busy-bodies who felt they had to contribute to the tangle of edits that approvals processes create. A few were convinced they were “adding value” by inserting lame jargon or grammar mistakes.

These ego critics drove me crazy, still do. But the wise ones helped me become a better writer, still do. That’s why I seek out people with the skill and tough attitude to give me the criticism I need.

Seek out tough critics

With blogging and other content marketing, the more relaxed approach means many of us are spared the pain of the ego editors. But unless we’re writing for places with lots of editorial involvement, some of us don’t receive the guidance that would help us reach the next level.

We may ask blog buddies to review our work for typos and glaring problems. But how many of these friends are skilled, knowledgeable, and strong enough to deliver the blows to demolish what’s weak so we can replace it with something better?

Few people enjoy constructive criticism, but anyone who wants to become a better at blogging (or pretty much anything in life) has to learn how to handle the petty know-it-alls, open up to the wise ones, and grow. Many young people whose parents piled on the self-esteem building trophies have trouble with this.

Practice helps, too

But if young bloggers and content marketers combine this awareness with all the practice they get, now that everyone is tethered to a computer or similar device, what a force they can be.

I see my teenagers writing all the time, texting to friends and chatting online. I’ve been closely watching the blossoming of my daughter Maddy, who will be going to university this fall. In addition to her natural talent, Maddy gets top marks for her essays and other written material because she’s getting comfortable with having her ideas and writing challenged.

For example, with a recent paper about literary censorship she read various perspectives and tossed them around in her head. Then, over a pleasant meal, she told me what she was thinking about writing. I challenged her, not to be controlling or mean, but to encourage her to refine her thinking.

After dinner, she wrote her first draft. The next day, she asked me to take a look.

In addition to pointing out the grammar flubs and awkward phrases, I told her where her arguments were weak or her connections loose. Without me, her talent would have carried her. But because she opened herself to constructive criticism, she went farther.

Separate the wise from the wacky

Better still, her fellow students in her Writers’ Craft course critique each other. Let me confess that at first I didn’t enjoy seeing these kids nitpick an essay I’d reviewed. But most of them made good points, we agreed. Maddy ignored suggestions from the ego editors only when she could make a strong case to her teacher.

If she’s going to work in any field that involves writing, and so many do, she’ll have to learn from other people, defend herself, and sometimes suck it up. I hope she starts out with thicker skin and a more open mind than I did.

This constructive criticism, let me add, is a two-way street. As a freelance writer who should have her work checked before it goes to a client or my blog, I appreciated being able to ask my daughter to help. Far more valuable than catching my typos is her frequent comment: “Mom, this doesn’t make sense.”

I’m already worried about what I’m going to do once my favorite critic leaves home. Thank goodness our wired world means we can stay connected between Toronto and Montreal.

Bring it on

While I enjoy the “awesome post”-type comments, I love people who argue, suggest, or otherwise add to the discussion.

So readers, please tell me how you would improve this post or challenge my advice. I need you.

Toronto writer, blogger and educator Barb Sawyers is the author of Write Like You Talk Only Better, the secret to pulling ideas out of your head and onto the page.

How Writing Confidently, Quickly, and Effectively Saved my Blog

This guest post is by Kraig Stewardson of IT Manager HQ.

My blog was failing.

My subscribers were nonexistent.

My posts were disjointed.

My writing was awful.

My confidence was shot.

Honestly, I felt like giving up. I knew that I needed to make a change. I knew that I couldn’t continue this way.

Sound familiar? That was me a little over month ago, before I took some drastic steps to turn things around.

How bad was it?

They say that most blogs are never even read, and mine fell into that category. I still remember the day when I got my first spam comment. I was elated. A bot found my blog—no one else did—but hey, a spam bot did! Then as the months went on, even the spammers lost interest.

I noticed that no one, not even my family, read my blog. But I still wrote. When life got busy, I didn’t post as regularly as I knew I needed to. Inspiration to keep going that used come from all sorts of places faded. The “this band is a 20-year overnight success” or “blogger writes for two years straight then finds an audience” stories that can only take you so far. I knew a change need to happen, so it was time to take a class and get schooled on what I should be doing.

Starting to turn it around

So I look at my blog, and how bad it looked. I read my blog—every cringe-worthy post. Great, now even I couldn’t stand reading my own blog. This was going to be a challenge, that was for sure.

I started with a few questions:

  • Why did I create the blog in the first place? This blog is all of the things I wish I knew right before and within the first year of being an IT Manager. When I became an IT Manager, it was based on my abilities as an IT professional. No one taught me there is an art to managing highly skilled people.
  • What makes my blog different, and why should anyone read it? In the IT Management space, there is very little information about how to lead and manage people. My competition with other IT Management blogs is mostly about new technologies and security threats.
  • How am I going to market my blog? I struggled with this question. To gain an audience in a competitive field requires a plan. My plan is to write great content and to guest post where I can.
  • After doing this for a little while, do I still want to? Yes. I have found there is something cathartic about writing to help people.
  • Am I secretly afraid to succeed? Also, the answer here is yes. Even though I am very proud of this blog I have, I haven’t told absolutely everyone, yet. If I am not telling the people who know me, how can I tell the people who don’t?

Finding help

For some reason, every few months, about ten courses open up to help you fix various aspects of your website. Courses on AdSense websites, affiliate marketing, gaining traffic, YouTube videos, writing posts, finding a better job—you name it, there is a course for it.

There are so many to choose from, and so many of them seem worthwhile. I am a practical person, so I wanted one that would help me in an aspect of my life that goes beyond websites.

As for the question, “Should I pay for a class or find a free class?”, I chose to take a paid class. There is a built-in accountability for having plunked down your hard earned money, and that doesn’t exist if the product is free. I knew in needing to grow in areas that I am not always comfortable with, I’d need that accountability.

The class I chose, was a shot in the arm to continue my blog. It came in the form of a new class, a writing course from Danny Iny at Firepole Marketing. It was time to confront my arch nemesis from high school: writing. This ended up being a great choice, since effective writing can be used beyond a blog post, in all aspects of your blogging, and your life.

What did I learn?

While things are still a struggle, they are much better. I am more efficient and effective in my writing. With a full-time job, a growing blog, and a one-month old baby at home, any area where I can be even slightly more efficient is very valuable.

Structuring a blog post for me used to be a four- to five-day event, which would take about an hour a day, and even so I struggled to eke out 500 words.

Before taking the class, my approach to posting looked like this:

  • Day 1: Type blindly for ten to 15 minutes, not caring about spelling, grammar, or even if I wrote actual words.
  • Day 2, 3, 4: Edit and try to turn my random key strokes into something that didn’t sound like I was drunk when I wrote it.
  • Day 5: Re-read and publish post.

One of the greatest things Danny helped me realize is that I needed to outline my posts before I wrote them. Write it down; don’t dream it up on the commute to work, then try to remember it when you get home and can start typing. Think of the key points you want to make, organize them, and then fill in the blanks. This was a classic forehead-smacking moment for me.

After taking the class, my writing approach looks like this:

  • Step 1: Come up with a title and theme for the post. A great title is the difference between thousands of readers to an article and only a handful. Here are two headlines for basically the same article “How companies learn your secrets” and “How Target figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father”. Which would you rather read?
  • Step 2: Create outline (ten minutes, tops). The outline is the key to the whole post. What issue are you trying to solve, or what are you trying to get the reader to do? Create an abbreviated version of the outline:
    • Set the scene and get their attention
    • Detail the problem
    • What is your solution?
    • How do you implement it?
  • Step 3: Fill in blanks in the outline by writing the article. Since you have an outline, and you had to think about what you wanted to say, this part is as simple as write what comes naturally to you.
  • Step 4: Wait at least a half-day, then re-read, fix grammar, and publish. When you come back and re-read the stuff you wrote previously, you’ll likely realize that what you wrote doesn’t make as much sense as you initially thought. As a side benefit, you will catch grammar issues and typos.

The training program expanded on this and went into great detail as to how and why this is incredibly effective.

How much time did I spend on my first post using the new way? About 45 minutes total. Oh, and it was 1100 words long.

Gaining confidence

As the old cliché goes, nothing breeds success like success. As I see my posts getting better, the writing coming more easily, and my traffic increasing, my desire to post more has also returned with a vengeance. In the first week following the course, my list of post ideas has tripled and I now look forward to writing posts on my own blog.

  • My writing has improved.
  • My traffic has increased dramatically.
  • I am starting to get some key guest posting opportunities.
  • Most importantly, I feel energized to post more.

What areas of blogging have you been lacking in where some accountability and maybe a class will give you the extra boost to succeed? Share them with us in the comments.

Kraig Stewardson blogs to help new and aspiring managers in the IT field. He is a proud alumni of the Write Like Freddy class from Firepole Marketing.

A Systematic Approach to Writing Successful Blog Posts

This guest post is by Jane Sheeba of Problogging Success.

“Success” is a very relative term. Unless you define it precisely, it’s very easy to become lost in a sea of assumptions. You can work hard on building a blog without having defined your “success,” but if you do, how will you know if you’re progressing successfully?

A blog post is an essential part of the blog—in fact every single blog post is a very important entity of the blog. Subtract all the blog posts and you have no blog left.

So your blogging success depends heavily on the success of your blog posts. And as Shaun Connell explained earlier today in The Systematic Blogger’s Mainfesto, if you can systematize your blogging, you can create a more reliable path to whatever you’ve defined as success.

So in this post I’m going to show you a system for creating successful blog posts, every time.

1. Define your “success”

As I said already, “success” is a very relative term. It differs from person to person and blog to blog.

  • For some “success” may mean building an email list which is highly responsive.
  • For some it could be making X number of affiliate sales.
  • For some it could be directing people to a particular service.

So unless you know precisely what you want, you cannot know what to do in order to achieve success—or if you’ve succeeded at all.

Defining your success is nothing but setting a goal. This applies to blog posts just as well as it does to your blog overall. Every blog post you write should have a clear purpose. How can you identify it? Ask yourself, “What do I want from this blog post?”

Let me give you some examples:

  • If you’re writing a product review, your goal could be to make X number of product sales.
  • If you’re writing a series about how to make money blogging, your goal may be to attract a certain percentage of readers to subscribe to your email list.
  • If you’re writing a guest post, your goal might be to generate a number of clickthroughs to your own site.

Once you’ve defined your goal, and defined “success” clearly, you can start working on the post.

2. Choose a topic that your readers and the search engines want

Readers are the lifeblood of your blog, so you must write what your readers want.

Do not assume that your blog readers will be like you. Do not assume that a particular topic will interest them. Do not make any assumptions. Rather, research and find out what interests your blog readers. If your blog post doesn’t strike a chord with your blog readers, you will be wasting a lot of blogging energy with no return.

There are various ways to find what your readers want.

  1. Yahoo Answers and Quora are great places to start with. Type in your primary keywords and you’ll see what people are hungry for.
  2. Go to the free, famous, and useful Google Keyword Tool and type in the same keyword you used in Yahoo Answers and Quora. Then click on Phrase Match, and pick up a handful of potential keywords that have low or medium competition, but high global monthly searches.
  3. Visit Wordtracker Keyword Questions (you’ll have to register for a free account) and, again, type in your keyword. This tool will give you a clear idea of the questions people are asking for on that particular topic.
  4. Google is another great place to find out what people are interested in. Go to Google and start to type in your keyword slowly—don’t complete it too quickly! As you type, you’ll see Google’s suggestions appear below the search box. While these options are personalized if you’re logged in to Google’s services, you can use anonymous browsing mode to remove personal settings from your search results.

Once you know what people are looking for, you’ll be able to come up with a great topic to write about. Do your research and deliver useful, practical advice on the topic. In fact, go further and over-deliver.

3. Include elements to help you achieve your goal

Earlier, you set a precise goal for this blog post. Let’s say you decided you want the post to prompt a number of people to opt in to your list. The element you’ll want to include to help people sign up is a link to your sign up form.

If you like, you can adopt a hard-sell approach to achieving this goal. But when you deliver awesome quality information in a post, a simple form at the end will do the work. You don’t even have to hit people multiple times with your subscription invitation.

The key is, don’t forget to include that element. If you want to generate a certain outcome from a post, make sure you’ve included the elements required to achieve that goal in your post.

As another example, if you want people to buy a particular product after reading that post, don’t forget to include a link to the product or talk something about that product in the post. If you omit those elements, you can’t expect achieve your goal, no matter how great your post is.

4. Promote your blog post

The word “promote” is often read as “spam others with…” But you don’t need to resort to spam.

If your blog post is of great quality, and you believe it will help many people, share it in social media. Take five or ten seconds to manually add a description to the post link before you share it.

If you want to share your post with your newsletter subscribers, create a compelling, non-spammy headline, and write a compelling teaser so that people will want to check out the post.

Promotion doesn’t have to be spammy—do it in such a way that people want to click through.

5. Analyze your results

This is the crucial part where you’ll measure your success in terms of numbers. Don’t skip this step! You won’t learn anything from all you’ve done so far if you decide to ignore the results. And if you don’t learn anything, you won’t be able to improve your systematic approach to writing successful blog posts.

Again, let’s consider the example of people joining your subscription list after reading your post. You could create a special opt in form for this particular post (instead of your usual generic one). In Aweber, you might create a new web form and, in the Settings screen (where you fill out the crucial details), name the form appropriately so that you can easily identify it.

It’s a good idea to use a short form of the title of the post itself to name your web form. You’ll see that Aweber uses the same name for the tracking ID. And, when you look at the stats of all your web forms, you’ll be able to see how well that form converts in comparison to the others—that is, you’ll know how many people actually looked at that form, how many opted in, and what the conversion rate is (as a percentage).

This is a great way to see how successful your post was at achieving this goal.

If you want to track sales or see how well your signup funnel performed on the whole, you can always use Google Analytics. Go to the Analytics information for your target page to see the referral information.

You’ll usually see domains (that is, the home page of other blogs or websites) in the referral details. If you click on a particular domain, you can see the break down of actual pages of that domain that sent traffic to your target page, and the actual number of visits that came from each.

So you can pinpoint exactly how many visits are sent to your subscription or product landing page from a particular blog post you’ve written.

A systematic approach to blog post success

Don’t neglect to provide quality on every blog post you write. Every time you prepare to write a post, ask yourself: What do I want out of this blog post? What’s the purpose of me writing this blog post? How will I know that it’s achieved what I want?

Considering all this may sound like a big task to do on top of writing the blog post itself. But asking these questions, and being clear about the answers, helps you to actually write posts that achieve your desired results with ease.

Jane is a blog consultant and the founder of Problogging Success. She has authored two e-books Problogging Action Plan (winner of the Small Business Book Awards, 2012) and Guest Blogging Champion to help bloggers become successful in their blogging business.

The Anatomy of a Better Blog Post

The last couple of weeks have turned up some valuable blogging advice for those who are working to hone their craft and become better blog post writers.

Not everyone falls into this category—some bloggers are happy with the way they write. Others publish videos or sound files instead of text. And that’s fine.

But for the rest of us, I wanted to put together a little roundup of advice on each of the parts of a text-based blog post.

  1. 4 Post Headlines that are Guaranteed to Get Readers Excited
    This post by Greg Ciotti was published here at ProBlogger late last year. It has some great ideas to help you focus as your writing headlines, and produce really compelling titles.
  2. 10 Tips for Opening Your Next Blog Post
    I designed this post to help you overcome Opening Line Paralysis (OLP)—something I suffer from often!
  3. How to Write Irresistible Blog Intros
    In this post, Andrea Wren analyses possible introductions, providing a different perspective that I found valuable.
  4. How to Write a Great Paragraph
    Tackle the techniques of great paragraphs with James Chartrand. This post is a great one for any blogger who wants to keep readers glued to their posts.
  5. 5 Tips for Creating a Truly Valuable Tutorial
    Sharpen your skills in writing tutorials and how-tos with this straightforward ProBlogger guide.
  6. Finding Truth in Fiction
    Andrew Dubinksy’s post about the power of story, which was published on Jeff Goins’s blog, is guaranteed to help you bring life to the story you tell in your next post.
  7. How to Use Images in Your Blog Posts
    Karol K covers all the basics of using images to accompany your text content, so even if you’re not technical, this guide’s perfect.
  8. 8 Quick Tips for Writing Bullet Points People Actually Want to Read
    I found Robert Bruce’s Copyblogger article very interesting. I’ll be trying some of these tips myself—who wouldn’t? Great advice.
  9. Is Your Link Text Letting You Down?
    Here, Georgina explores a few different ways you can include links within your blog posts.
  10. 7 Powerful Ways to End Your Next Blog Post
    Of course, today we published Ali Luke’s advice for wrapping up a post—great ways to avoid having your post trail off into nothing.

Have you seen a great article on crafting quality blog posts recently? Help us build this list by adding it in the comments below.

7 Powerful Ways to End Your Next Blog Post

This guest post is by Ali Luke of Aliventures.

You know your title has to hook readers.

You know your first line needs to keep them reading.

The start of your blog post matters. But so does the end.

In fact, without a powerful end to your post, all the work that you put into the title and paragraph one is wasted. Because the end of your post is what keeps your readers coming back for more.

Here are seven powerful ways to end your post.

1. Sum up your key message

Sometimes, you need to hammer a point home. The final few lines of your post are a great opportunity to make sure that your key message gets across.

If you can, bring out a new point—or sum up in an engaging way. If you just rehash what you’ve already said, readers will wander off, bored.

Example:

To write 100 books (75,000 words per book) over the next 30 years, you need to be writing 1,000 words per day (writing five days a week, 50 weeks per year). At a brisk but comfortable pace, that’s an hour a day.

If you want to write 100 books in the next ten years, that’s 3,000 words a day.

Being prolific is closer to possible than you might have believed.
—David Masters, Writing Secrets of Prolific Authors, Write to Done

2. Encourage the reader to take action

Many blog posts are full of excellent advice, but how often does that advice actually get put into practice?

Readers love posts that are practical, and if you can persuade them to do something (and see the benefits) then they’ll be much more likely to return to your blog.

Example:

But in the meantime, here’s a tip you can use right away. You’ll have vastly better copy on your website in 20 minutes by following these two simple steps:

Go look at your web copy right now.

Take out every word that doesn’t contribute something new.

Come back here and tell us about the before-and-after. I bet you’ll have something to say!
—James Chartrand, Do You Have Useless Website Content?, Men with Pens

3. Ask the reader to share your post

If you want more tweets or Facebook shares, ask for them. Readers won’t always think of sharing your post, and they may not notice that you’ve got a “retweet” button waiting—unless you tell them.

You might also want to encourage readers to forward a post to friends: unless you’re writing for a predominantly techy audience, there’s a good chance that a lot of your subscribers are getting your feed by email.

Example:

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!
—Ali Luke, How to Have Confidence in Your Writing – and Yourself, Aliventures

4. Link to another useful resource

When readers finish one post, they’ll often be ready to read another on a similar topic. If you’ve written an inspirational piece, for instance, it’s a great idea to link to a practical guide that helps readers turn that inspiration into action.

You don’t need to link to blog posts, either. Pointing readers towards newspaper articles or books in your field isn’t just useful—it also helps demonstrate that you’re on top of what’s happening in your niche.

Example:

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy these posts inspired by art:

  • Writing as an emerging sculpture: Inspiration from Michelangelo’s slaves
  • 15 ways modern art galleries can inspire writers

—Joanna Penn, 7 Lessons For Writers From Leonardo Da Vinci, The Creative Penn

5. Ask a question to encourage comments

Questions work well in titles and first lines—and they’re also a good way to end a post. Asking a question for readers to respond to (e.g. “do you any tips to add?”) is likely to increase the number of comments you get.

Don’t go over the top with questions, though: one or two are usually enough. You don’t want your readers to feel bombarded with a whole string of questions.

Example:

Did you find some great strategies of your own in the videos? What are the exciting ideas informing your own marketing—and how are you implementing them?

Let us know in the comments.

—Sonia Simone, 3 Content Marketing Ideas You Should Steal from Coca Cola, Copyblogger

6. Tell readers what’s coming next

If you want people to subscribe to your blog, or to keep visiting the site for updates, you need to let them know that you’ve got good stuff coming up.

At the end of your post, let readers know what’s coming tomorrow (or next week). You might simply drop a hint like “I’ve got something big to announce next week…” or you might tell them to stay tuned for a more advanced post on a similar topic to the one they’ve just read.

Example:

Next week I’ll post about moving larger WordPress sites. Those might not work with this method because your export XML file will be too large, and you might not be able to upload it via the WordPress import feature.
—Daniel Scocco, How to Move A Small WordPress Site Via the Import/Export Tool, DailyBlogTips

7. Promote your product or service

Even though you might have information about your book/ebook/ecourse/etc. in your sidebar, some readers won’t see that—they’ll either be reading in an RSS reader or they simply won’t notice.

The final line of your post is a great place to let readers know about your product (or to remind them that it exists). This works especially well if your post has been on a similar topic—for instance, if you’ve written about procrastination and you’ve got an ecourse on getting things done, there’s an obvious link between the two!

Example:

Also, check out our Blogging for Beginners Series for more blog tips and ProBlogger the Book for a comprehensive guide to improving your blog and deriving an income from it.
—Darren Rowse, 10 Techniques to Get More Comments on Your Blog, ProBlogger

Which of these tips would work well on your next post? Leave a comment below to tell us what you’ll be trying out…

Ali Luke is a writer and writing coach, and blogs for a number of large sites. If you’re struggling to keep up the motivation to write for your blog, check out her post on Six Common Writing Excuses (And How to Overcome Them).

Cash In by Paying for Guest Posts

This guest post is by Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing.

If you’re looking for a way to grab attention for your blog and grow your income, I’ve had great success with this one: I pay writers.

Since May 2011, I’ve been paying $50 for guest posts on my blog. I started paying because my mission is to help writers earn more, and I needed to walk my talk. I usually buy two or three posts a month.

I thought it would just be a cost I’d have to cover every month. But paying for guest posts has turned out to be one of the most powerful strategies I’ve found for building my blog into a money-earner. My number of subscribers has doubled in the months since I started to pay.

I know—you’re here to learn how to make money with your blog, not spend it!

Fair enough. But I’ve discovered investing a little money in your content can be an affordable way to draw that big audience you’ve been trying to coax over to your neck of the virtual woods.

Here’s how paying for guest posts helps my blog succeed:

  1. It changes your attitude. When you start shelling out $100 or more a month for content on your site, it constantly reminds you why you have this blog: it’s a business. You’re investing in your business so it can ultimately earn you money. When your business has overhead, you get focused very quickly on how to earn enough to cover your costs.
  2. Quality goes way up. You get a lot of submissions when you wave a few bucks in writers’ faces. This means instead of begging and scraping to find guest posts when you need a writing break, you can pick and choose the posts you accept. You end up with better posts, and that attracts more readers.
  3. You are news. Offering pay in the blogosphere right now can get you some free press and valuable backlinks on popular sites, too. My blog has turned up in several widely read list posts about paying markets, such as this one. These are great traffic drivers whose effects can last for months.
  4. Word spreads like wildfire. In a world jammed with starving, out-of-work writers, the news that you are willing to shell out even $50 for a blog post gets you a lot of attention. Set up your writer’s guidelines to recommend writers subscribe to learn about what your readers like, and it can drive signups and grow your list.
  5. You learn and improve. Instead of just slapping up whatever half-baked ramblings would-be guest posters send you, you start editing and polishing. You ask for rewrites, because you want your money’s worth from the post. It’s an opportunity to help other writers improve their craft and do some giving to your community, as well as a chance to hone your editing skills. Who knows? You could find a gig editing another blog off that experience. You also gain exposure to new ideas and approaches to writing on your niche topic that can help improve your own posts.
  6. It builds your reputation. We all know trustworthiness is a critical factor in whether visitors decide to subscribe. When you pay for content, readers sense you are the real deal. After all, you’re putting money down to bring them valuable content.
  7. It’s a good marketing value. My experience is that paying for posts is more cost-effective than other forms of paid online advertising you might use to promote your blog. You could easily blow $100 on Facebook ad click-throughs and not get as good-quality new subscribers as you do when those paid guest posters tell all their friends to check you out.
  8. You make raving fans. When I look at who retweets everything I post—the people on Twitter and Facebook saying things like “@TiceWrites is a genius! Read her awesome post right now”—they are often writers who have previously guest posted on my blog. Pay a writer, and you earn their undying gratitude. Months after their guester, I see many writers out there, continuing to mention my blog.

Paying writers helps you grow a network of enthusiasts around your work. Then, when you have a paid product to launch, you’ve got a ready-made group of devotees ready to buy it, review it, affiliate-sell it—or just plain spread the word.

What tactics have helped grow sales on your blog? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.

Carol Tice writes the Make a Living Writing blog, and serves as Den Mother of the Freelance Writers Den, the learning and support community for freelance writers looking to grow their income.

6 Powerful Guest Post Tactics that No One’s Talking About

This guest post is by Tom Ewer of Leaving Work Behind.

Guest posting is a hot topic amongst startup bloggers. It is one of the most widely-adopted blog promotion strategies in existence, and has been made perhaps even more popular by the success of “serial” guest posters such as Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.

His “blitzkrieg” strategy may come across to some as a triumph of quantity over strategy, but nothing could be further from the truth. He understands the key concepts that we will be exploring in this post, and executes them in a highly effective manner. Whilst I am by no means as prolific as Danny, I have done my fair share of guest posting (those ten posts only being selection).

guest posting secrets

Image courtesy guigo.eu, licensed under Creative Commons

If you care to read any of the numerous guest posting guides available across the blogosphere, you will typically read about advice relating to the same two topics:

  • how to find guest posting opportunities
  • how to get your post approved.

That is what beginner bloggers want to know, as they assume that a successfully published blog post is a job well done. However, attracting a visitor to your site only represents a job half done. The ultimate success of guest posting is determined by a key fundamental cherished by marketers worldwide: the conversion.

What is a conversion?

Contrary to what some people seem to think, attracting a visitor to your site via a guest post does not represent a successful conversion. When I talk of conversions, I am talking along the lines of email subscribers, social media followers, and/or  sales. A conversion (1) increases your income, (2) results in the acquisition of an asset, or (3) achieves both. Whilst a sale offers you immediate income, an email address has intrinsic value too (it is an asset to your blog).

Don’t believe me? You only have to read the news. A lawsuit was recently filed by a company seeking damages against a previous employee relating to a Twitter account. The following is an excerpt from a New York Times article:

[The company is] seeking damages of $2.50 a month per follower for eight months, for a total of $340,000.

Now it will be interesting to see what precedent (if any) is set by this case, but the key thing to bear in mind is the concept that a social media account has an intrinsic value. Even more specifically, a value has been placed upon each and every follower. A social media account is an asset in the right hands, as is an email list. And the investment you place in guest posting can offer you a direct return in terms of asset growth.

I don’t want to get too deep into marketing fundamentals here, but this post is written with the understanding that you know what you want from your guest posting strategy. And that is to get more conversions. So with that said, let’s take a look at the six steps that lead to conversion-heavy guest posts.

1. Relevance

People get hung up on the size of blogs that they plan to guest post on. It is not unusual to hear “I’ll only write for a blog if it has more than 3,000 subscribers,” along with similar statements, based upon arbitrary numbers. But the size of the blog is not nearly as important as its relevance.

When targeting blogs for which you can write a guest post that converts, you need to find common ground. There needs to be a point at which the majority of the combined readership intersects. This is far more of an art than a science, but there is a sliding scale when it comes to selecting the right blog to guest post on.

You could argue that it is better to write on a huge blog with less relevance than a small blog with high relevance, but I don’t think that debate can be resolved one way or the other. You may as well ask how long a piece of string is. Having said that, I am personally far more comfortable writing for a blog where the subject matter aligns closely.

There is in fact a whole other side to relevance that I have not yet covered. More on that later.

2. Quality

You may never have considered this, but the quality of the blog upon which you guest post can make all the difference. I once wrote a guest post for a particular blog that was highly relevant to my niche. I felt very confident about its ability to offer me a solid number of conversions.

Unfortunately, the blog was somewhat unloved (I’m being kind here), with a completely inconsistent posting schedule. Not in a Social Triggers, “the post will come when it will come, and it will be awesome” kind of way, but in a “I have no idea when the next post is coming, and I don’t really care” kind of way. The blog author was clearly too preoccupied to put any effort into the post, and threw it up at completely the wrong time of day with little to no active promotion whatsoever.

That guest post offered little traffic, and by extension, few conversions. Just to give you a bit of context, the blog in question has an Alexa traffic rank of around 50,000, and its Twitter account has over 10,000 followers.

The lesson is clear: only post on blogs that are well-loved. If a blogger doesn’t love their blog, its subscribers certainly won’t. And by extension, you will receive little to no traffic.

3. Engagement

This point takes me back to the typical argument that states you should only post on high-traffic blogs, and reminds me that as an absolute statement, it offers no value. A big, defining factor in how successful your guest post will be is how active the blog’s community is. Blogs with a relatively high comment count usually indicate a high level of engagement. If a blog’s community is highly engaged with the owners’ posts, they are far more likely to take interest in a guest post.

On a blog with a readership that respects its author, your post will carry a level of preordained value. The reader likes what the author does, the author likes what you do, therefore the reader should also like what you do.

I was taught this lesson in a big way with one of my more recent guest posts. I wrote a post that was highly relevant to both audiences, submitted it and waited to see the results of my labor. The results were a six-fold increase in visits over my average guest post and an elevated conversion rate. This blog was in fact of a similar size in terms of readership to the one mentioned above. The difference was in the quality, and in the engagement. Each of the author’s posts attracts numerous comments, and you can see that his readers hung off every morsel of advice handed out. That passion transferred nicely to my post.

But that post wasn’t successful solely because of high engagement levels. As I already mentioned, the quality of the blog was high, but there was another beneficial factor at play. Which was…

4. Volume

Generally speaking, a high volume of posts is beneficial to a blog. The more posts, the higher the exposure. However, that does not prove to be the case when it comes to guest posting.

If your guest post gets lost below the fold within a few hours or just a day, its exposure will be highly limited. And even a high-quality post can’t fight against a lack of exposure. Content may be king, but marketing is its overbearing queen.

There are of course clear exceptions, but the relative lack of exposure must be married with a high readership (which is of course the case with ProBlogger).

You can suffer from a lack of exposure even when volume is relatively low. If you come across a poor-quality blog, you may well find that a blogger has no problem with publishing your guest post literally hours before publishing a post of his own, almost as an afterthought (yes, this happened to me).

Part of a guest post’s success relies upon its exposure, so make sure that the post you have put a great deal of work into actually appears above the fold for a reasonable amount of time.

5. Type

Now we get into the tactics regarding the actual makeup of your post. I am not talking about the importance of spelling and grammar (although they are of course key considerations). I am talking about writing posts that stand out from the crowd.

Let’s be honest: most posts you see are a dime a dozen. But that actually works to your advantage—you just need to work that little bit longer to set yourself apart. Let’s take a look at the factor you need to consider.

Surprise with size

There is this strange misconception floating around the web that you must write short blog posts. As you might have gathered from the length of this post, I do not subscribe to that belief. If you are writing interesting and engaging content, people will find the time to read it.

Make it pretty

Since your post is going to be long, you don’t want to intimidate readers with long blocks of text. Regardless of how fascinating your insights are, you’re writing a blog post—not a book. Don’t try to fight the system!

So take some time to make your post pretty. Break your writing down into short paragraphs, and allow the reader to scan your text by highlighting important words and sentences with bold and italics (if permitted by the blog owner). Include plenty of sub-headers, and insert colorful and interesting images.

Write for engagement

There are two post styles that consistently perform well, regardless of how fed up you are with them as a writer. If you are going to guest post, you will get the most traction from stories and list posts.

We all know why list posts are so successful—they are highly scannable, great for sharing, and appeal to our natural desire for actionable elements. The exact same content presented in paragraph format would tank when compared to a list post format. People want to know what they are getting from reading your article—a list post appeals to that desire.

Stories are good for two reasons when it comes to guest posting. First of all, everyone loves a good story. When Darren Rowse spoke at Blog World Expo 2011, he remarked that story-driven posts are the ones that people seem to remember the most.

The introduction of a story to a post achieves two key things:

  1. It creates a connection. With a story, you are no longer simply words on a screen—you are a human being.
  2. They arouse our natural desire for closure. If you leave someone hanging, they are going to be far more likely to head over to your blog to find out more.

6. Byline

Now we are getting down to the nuts and bolts of what will attract visitors to your blog. The purpose of your post is to prime the reader; the purpose of the byline is to sell them on their time investment in visiting your blog. If you write a generic byline, expect a generic amount of traffic to hit your blog.

You need to appeal to what the reader wants in your byline. They don’t care that you are the writer of so-and-so blog and that you have a Facebook page. They want to know what clicking on your link is worth to them. What do you have to offer them?

This ties in closely with relevance. If the two blogs share a common topic, the byline should write itself to a extent.

Take what you’re reading right now as an example. ProBlogger “helps bloggers to add income streams to their blogs” (I’ve taken that from the About page). My blog is all about how to quit your job and work for yourself—and one of the main focuses is on professional blogging. This post is about guest posting, which ties in closely with the topic of professional blogging.

When everything aligns in such a way, the byline serves to simply make that alignment clear and leave the rest up to the reader.

7. Entry

Despite it being the last entry on the list, this is easily one of most important factors to bear in mind. You can do a great job on all the other points, but if you’re not ready for your visitor when they arrive, it could all be for naught.

When a visitors chooses to click on your link, they want more of what they have just seen. If the link leads them to your blog’s front page, where you recently posted about unrelated topics, they will quickly lose interest. You absolutely must direct the visitor to exactly what they are looking for.

So with that in mind, I am a big fan of landing pages. If you have a related product and/or mailing list, let it be the first thing they see when they arrive on your site. Remove all distractions and have them focus on the relevant piece of information, which is arguably precisely what they are looking for.

In terms of targeted visitors, you can’t do much better than guest post traffic. By virtue of the fact that they have clicked through to your site, they want to read more of the same—all you need to do is facilitate that for them.

You have two choices, depending on how hard you want to work. The first option is to direct them to the relevant part of your site. For instance, say your blog was divided up into five categories, and you wrote a guest post relating to one of those categories. Instead of sending your guest post readers to the homepage, you would direct them straight to the category page (which would of course be customized with some introductory text and a breakdown of the most popular posts).

Whilst that is an effective tactic for “hooking” the visitor, its conversion rate will not be too impressive. Such a reader may choose to bookmark you and come back at later date, or they may sign up to your RSS feed. They may even sign up to your email list. But it is all incidental—not designed.

The really high conversion rates can be found in producing a targeted landing page that incentivizes the reader to sign up to your list. Such an incentive would typically be in the form of a product—like a free guide or resource. For instance, say you wrote an article on blue widgets. Your byline would link back to a landing page offering a free guide on blue widgets in return for an email address.

Obviously, it will not be practical for you to write a new product for every guest post you write. But you can usually produce something that aligns well with multiple guest posts, and it can also be used elsewhere (say as a incentive for your standard mailing list forms).

If you follow this tactic along with the other six I have covered in this post, I am highly confident that you will see dramatically improved conversion rates from your guest posting efforts.

The key is in the testing

I have covered a lot of ground here, and have hopefully given you a lot to take away and experiment with. But remember this: there is no proven formula when it comes to guest posting. Your success will be determined by how well you implement the above advice, how often you guest post, and how quickly you learn from your experiences.

Tom Ewer is an avid blogger and internet marketer who quit his job at the end of last year to pursue his passions full-time. He recently released a free eBook: The Complete Guide To Guest Posting, which, if this post is anything to judge by, is pretty darned comprehensive. Download it now!