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The Secret Ingredient to a Successful Blog

This guest post is written by Ava Jae of Writability.

If you’ve been blogging for any amount of time, you’ve heard that content is king. You’ve been told that everything else—design, SEO, in and outbound links—those things are a bonus, but the real thing you need to focus on is your content.

And it’s true, content is king, because even an SEO-optimized blog with a beautiful, user-friendly design and a parade of in and outbound links will fail without great content.

But although content is important, there’s something more—something that only you can bring to the table, something that only you have to offer that will really make your blog shine. A secret ingredient that will make your blog unforgettable.

You.

Your voice matters

The fact is, if you’re looking to build your blog on completely unique content, you’re going to run out of ideas very quickly. Chances are anything you want to talk about has already been covered by at least a dozen other bloggers, and it’s not because you’re unoriginal or a terribly unimaginative person—it’s just because there are only so many things to talk about.

The question you need to ask yourself is: what keeps readers coming back to your blog, when they could go elsewhere for the same information?

Can you guess what the answer is? I’m talking about that secret ingredient again. Your voice, your take, your worldview—those are the things that make you memorable. Those are the things that make you stand out in an ocean of blogs.

You have a gift

You have something priceless, a gift that you were born with, a gift often taken for granted: no one can think or speak or write the way you do. The way you put words on the page, how you interpret the world—those are treasures that can’t be taken away from you, treasures you should cherish.

Maybe you’re like me and you write about writing. Guess what?—there are hundreds of writing blogs out there. But there’s only one you.

Maybe you blog about technology, or education, or sports—it doesn’t matter what niche you’re in or what you’re writing about, what matters is you.

Take a look at the last few blog posts you wrote and read them aloud. Do they sound and feel like you, or could anyone have written them? If the answer is the latter, then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity—you’re forgetting to be you.

Yes, content is king. Without something interesting to talk about, your readers won’t come—but without inserting yourself in your content, without weaving in your thoughts, your opinions, your voice into your blog, your readers won’t remember you. They’ll go to another blog with the same content and a better voice.

Don’t be just another blogger. You have something incredible and special and entirely unique because you are the secret ingredient. Isn’t it time your readers see it, too?

Ava Jae is a writer, artist and X-men geek. You can find her weekly musings on her blog Writability, follow her on Twitter, or check out her Facebook page.

3 Secrets to Not Getting Discouraged as a Blogger

This is a guest post by Jeff Goins of Goinswriter.com.

The other night, I was catching up with a writer friend who is taking his first steps towards becoming a professional blogger.

He was frustrated and upset, wanting to quit.

Listening to him, I realized something: writing is discouraging work. It’s a time-consuming, underpaid, solitary activity. No wonder so many authors turn into drunks and most bloggers don’t receive their due appreciation.

If you’re feeling discouraged, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Relax. This is normal.

For most of the time I’ve been blogging, I’ve felt like my friend. Frustrated and discouraged, I’ve often wanted to quit. But recently, things have started turning around. And it’s all because of three very important secrets.

1. Automation is key

Step away from Twitter, Facebook, and any other online distractions long enough to actually get something done. You need time to concentrate and create.

If you spend all your time on maintaining your community, you’ll never able to grow it. You have to create margin in your schedule to do things like write guest posts.

I do this by writing weeks in advance for my blog and scheduling posts well ahead of time. I also use tools like Timely.is and Bufferapp.com to schedule tweets without having to think much about it. And lastly, I turn off most email notifications and alerts (including Twitter follows and unfollows and Facebook messages).

Don’t get me wrong. I still spend time on social media, but I don’t allow myself to be interrupted every minute of the day. Automating these practices helps me focus on what I need to spend most of my time doing: writing.

2. A bias towards creating keeps you focused

There are a hundred ways you could make money online. Why blogging? Probably because you enjoy creating.

This may fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but you should not be spending most of your time promoting your blog.

You should spend most of your time creating.

Writing comes first. Everything else (including marketing and promotion) comes second. If I’m not delivering the very best content I can every time I hit “Publish,” I don’t have any reason to promote my work. Similarly, if you’re not finding ways to add value to your readers, customers, etc., then you have no business trying to sell anything.

In this world of tweets and texts and blog comments, it’s easy to get distracted. To focus merely on the platform you’ve built, instead of on expanding its reach. The way that you do this is by creating compelling content, day after day.

You only have a limited number of hours in the day. Make them count.

Doing this will also keep you busy enough to ignore the jabs of critics, keeping you caught up in what you love.

3. Stop checking stats

In my experience, checking blog stats is a pointless exercise. These numbers can be a subtle form of procrastination, tempting you to “check in” multiple times per day, without actually doing any real work.

Of course, analytics are helpful. They allow you to identify overall growth trends of your blog, as well as keywords readers are interested in. But on a regular basis (i.e. hourly or even daily), they can be discouraging.

If someone doesn’t immediately read your writing, it may lead you to false conclusions. You may convince yourself that no one cares about what you have to say. Your inner critic might take over before you give your work time to make an impact.

Remember: if you’re writing posts that are optimized for search engines, then you’re not writing for today. You’re writing for the long haul. Constantly checking stats can undermine that purpose.

When someone asked Seth Godin how many blog subscribers he had, he responded, “I don’t know.” And neither should you.

Of course, you need to be available to your audience and to know how your blog is performing. But before any of that, you need to just write.

There are forces out there that would discourage you. I hope you don’t let them.

Because we need your voice.

We need your words.

Jeff Goins is a writer and marketing consultant. On his blog, he shares writing tips for new and aspiring writers. For a limited time, you can download his free e-book The Writer’s Manifesto. You can also follow him on Twitter @jeffgoins.

Why Submit Your Best Posts as Guest Posts?

This guest post is by Aman Basanti of ageofmarketing.com.

If you have been in the blogging game for any number of months, you already know about the power of guest blogging in generating traffic and exposure to your blog. Yet there are new bloggers out there who hear about the power of guest posting, but still do not understand why it is so effective.

Guest posting success

Image copyright Franz Pfluegl - Fotolia.com

As one reader commented on my recent piece on guest posting, “You people are always advocating guest posting. But I am not convinced about guest posting. Can you help me in this case? Why should we submit our best work to someone else?”

It is a valid question and as there are always new people entering the world of blogging, one that is worth answering for the blogging community at large.

Accordingly, here are three reasons why you should submit some of your best posts as guest posts.

1. It increases the chance of your guest post being accepted

Here is what a lot of new bloggers don’t know. A-list blogs get a lot of guest post submissions every week. On average, an a-list blog like ProBlogger might get around 30 guest post submissions. In comparison, most blogs only post five or ten posts a week, which means 20 posts get rejected.

If you are sending in your weak posts, chances are your post will get rejected. By sending in your top posts, you increase your chances of getting published on an A-list blog.

2. You’ll get quality “do follow” backlinks

Guest posting on A-list blogs gets you high quality backlinks that help you improve your rankings in the search engines.

Now, you might say, “But I’m getting backlinks through the comments section. Why would I go to all that effort of writing and submitting guest posts when I can easily get those backlinks through the comments section?”

The answer is that links in the comments sections of the major blogs are “no-follow,” which means that they count for a lot less (some say not at all) than the “do follow” links that you get in your by line or author box alongside a guest post.

Also, links higher up on the page carry more SEO benefit. As SEOMoz wrote in a post on SEO, “We find that links higher up in the HTML code of a page seem to pass more ranking ability/value than those lower down.” As most guest posts include a back link at the start and at the end of the post, it further magnifies the power of the backlinks.

Combine these two factors and it is easy to see that the backlinks from guest posting are far more valuable than those in the comments section.

3. Attract high-converting traffic

Traffic from guest posts is some of the highest converting traffic you can get. Here are the subscriber opt-in rates for my free ebook page:

  • Google Adwords (Banner ads on the content network): 5% opt-in rate (I know I have some work to do on this, but still)
  • StumbleUpon: 0.5% opt-in rate
  • Guest posting: 40% opt-in rate.

Traffic from guest posting is, hands down, the highest converting traffic you can get. Also, on a big site, the chance of your post going viral is high. It is simple maths. More readers equal more people sharing the post. The more people sharing your post the higher the chance it will be seen by an influencer, further increasing its chances of going viral.

My post on The Warren Buffett Method for Building a Successful Blog, for example, went viral because it was posted on ProBlogger. That post earned me 50 subscribers, showed that I was a good writer, and put me on the map of other bloggers in my niche.

In other words, I got a lot more value from posting it on ProBlogger than I would have had I posted it on my own blog.

Conclusion

Unless you already have a popular blog, there is no reason why you should not submit your best posts as guest posts on major sites. More traffic, better search engine rankings, and brand exposure are some of the key benefits.

Plus, it gives you a bit of kick to get so many comments on a piece you wrote, which can motivate you to keep blogging so that one day you too will get that many comments on your own blog.

Aman Basanti writes about the psychology of buying and teaches you how you can use the principles of consumer psychology to boost your sales. Visit www.Ageofmarketing.com/free-ebook to get his new e-book – Marketing to the Pre-Historic Mind: How the Hot New Science of Behavioural Economics Can Help You Boost Your Sales – for FREE.

Finding Your Posting Rhythm [Part 2]

Yesterday I suggested 4 tips for helping bloggers to find their posting rhythm:

  1. There is no Right Posting Level
  2. Start out Slow and Work Your Way Up
  3. Monitor Your Readerships Response to Your Posting Levels
  4. Consistency is Important

Today I want to share 4 more tips on posting workflows.

5. Work on Your Posting Workflow – Identify the Blockage Points

One piece of advice that I give new bloggers struggling with this area is to think about their posting workflow.

  • Look at the way that you post – from the idea generation stage through to publishing?
  • Where do the blockages come?
  • How can you put processes in place at those ‘blockage’ points to help free up the flow of posts?

For example I talked with one of our bloggers at b5media recently who was struggling to get posts out. When I asked her to analyze her workflow she identified her main ‘blockage point’ at the idea generation stage. Once she had an idea she could get the post out quite quickly – but was spending a lot of time each day coming up with topics to write on.

Knowing this we were able to develop a simple plan for post idea generation that included getting a notebook for capturing of ideas, setting aside time at the start of each week to brainstorm ideas (rather than doing it just before deadlines), setting out an editorial calendar for the week (so topics were outlined ahead of time) and finding a blog buddy to brainstorm with (two bloggers coming up with ideas for each other).

Another example that comes to mind was a blogger who identified his ‘blockage point’ as what I’d call ‘polishing’ his posts. He loves the writing process but struggled to make his posts look good (finding pictures, coming up with sub headings and the title for his post, spell checking etc). He just found all of this very ‘chore like’. I discovered in talking to him that he had over 50 posts half written in a folder on his desktop!

Once we identified this blockage point the blogger decided that he needed to do two things. Firstly he enrolled himself in a class at an adult education centre – the class was on copy editing. Secondly he gave his wife permission to get on his back about ‘finishing’ posts.

Where are the blockage points in your posting workflow?

Further Reading on blogging workflow:

6. Don’t Post Just for the Sake of Posting

Sometimes as a blogger you face the choice of posting something that is second rate or not posting at all. The temptation is to put a post out there simply to meet a deadline or because you fear your readers reaction if you don’t post something.

The reality is that you can do more harm than good by posting something of lower quality than not posting anything.

Before posting each post ask yourself whether the post will actually enhance your readers lives in some way? Will it help them, entertain them, inform them, educate them, inspire them etc? If the answer is no – strongly consider not hitting publish.

Further Reading on this topicDoes Your Next Post Matter?

7. Batch Writing

One strategy that I find helps me when I need to produce 14 posts a week here at ProBlogger is to set aside time each week to write multiple posts at once. Monday mornings are a a time where I generally camp out in a cafe with my laptop and aim to get 4-5 posts written in one sitting. I also try to do this for a morning later in the week and between the two sessions can usually get one solid post written for each day of the week.

I’ve written more about batch processing previously – it can be applied to many areas of your blogging.

8. You Will Become More Efficient Over Time

Let me finish by giving you a word of encouragement to end on – it gets better! Hang in there.

As I look back on my journey of blogging to when I first started (almost six years ago now) I notice a definite change in my ability to produce content. While it can still be difficult to maintain the posting level that I set myself it has certainly become easier.

One reason for this is that with practice you tend to become a better and more efficient writer. The more you write the better you get at it – particularly if you’re learning from your mistakes and looking to improve.

I suspect also that over time you simply become more proficient with your topic and as you do this are able to draw upon your growing levels of knowledge on the topic.

The other thing that I think I’ve become better at in that time is coming up with topics to write about. I do remember in the early days sitting down at the keyboard and just having a mental blank. However over time you get more used to coming up with ideas – or at least your mind becomes more attuned to capturing the ideas that you get through the day. These days ideas for posts come to me in the most bizarre places (I even recently had an idea while dreaming).

When to Publish Blog Posts – Timing Considerations

Timing-Blog-PostsOver the last few weeks we’ve been looking at important times to pause in the writing and publishing of a post. Each of these stages in the development of a blog post can contribute to whether a post makes it big around the web or not. Today we’re considering the time that you publish your post.

Image by SunnyUK

What Time Should You Publish Your Blog Post? – Factors to Consider

As I chat with bloggers I find that there are a lot of different opinions on when the best time is to hit publish on a blog post. Some pay a lot of attention to it and have studied what works best with their audience, while others go with a hunch and still others don’t think it really matters at all and just publish posts as they finish them (I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments).

In my own experience and in talking to other bloggers I find that timing issues vary quite a bit from blog to blog depending upon its audience and topic.

Let me explore some of the potential issues to consider:

Weekends

The day of the week that you publish can have a big impact upon how many people read it. While RSS feeds might mean some of your readers will read posts published when they are away from their computer I find that posts that go live on weekends tend to get a lot less traction than weekday posts. The exception to this is of course for blogs with a topic that is weekend specific (sports or certain TV shows for example). The other advantage of weekends is that I find it can be easier to crack the front page on sites like Digg as there seems to be less competition.

Mid Week

If I have a very important post that I want to get as much attention as possible I generally will publish it on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning (my time). This gives a few days after the post is written for it to be found, linked to, bookmarked etc before the weekend arrives (and momentum stops) – but means that those in catchup mode after the weekend have a little more time to digest the post.

Public Holidays

I tend to avoid posting anything important on public holidays days as web readership is lower (I’m thinking mainly of US specific public holidays as that is where my main audience is located on my two blogs). Having said this – I do find that sometimes posts on public holidays can do quite well as some readers have more leisurely type time on their hands.

On DPS I find ‘reader questions’ type posts and posts that have a more ‘fun’ nature do well on both weekends and public holidays. The main exception to the ‘avoid public holidays’ rule is when you have a blog that relates to one of them. For example I know a recipe blogger whose biggest day of the year is Thanksgiving (they have a lot of Turkey cooking tips that do particularly well).

Times of Day

My main advice with thinking about the time of day to publish posts is to test what works with your audience. My own daily posting schedule is to have something new up on my blogs at about midnight my time (which is first thing in the business day in the USA) – I try to make this my main post for the day, something that is teaching focused if possible. This means that those scanning their RSS feeds when they get to work (I know you do it) have something fresh to read and ponder during the day. I then usually have a post that goes live in the afternoon (US time) – but this post is usually a ‘lighter’ newsy post.

The key is to know where your readers are situated and watch how posts at different times of the day (and days of the week) are interacted with (both in terms of traffic but also comments and incoming links).

What I find is that it works best to be a little preemptive with your readers. ie if you have a peak time that readers come to your blog time your posts just before this time so there’s something fresh for when they arrive.

Give Posts Room to Breathe

Another tip that I’d give with regards to timing is to think about the sequence of posts and how often they go live on your blog. I think about this on two main levels:

  • Giving Important posts Room to Breathe – got a post that you really want people to notice? If so, I’d advise that you post it not only at a good time of day, but that you don’t post anything after it for a while. If it’s a really important post you might even want to not post again for a day or two so that it remains at the top of your blog.
  • Topics and Variety - sometimes too many posts on a similar topic too quickly can have a negative impact upon readers. Try to mix up different types of posts.

Social Media Campaigns

One occasion that ‘timing’ can be particularly important is if you want to do some sort of a social media campaign with a post. For example, if you’re looking to have a post do well on Digg it can be important to have the post go live, have it submitted to Digg and for a Digg This button to go up on the post all very quickly. This means that as soon as it’s live and the initial rush of new visitors to the post have the opportunity to Digg it.

Some social media experts that I know also advise you to time these posts that you think will do well on social media sites for early to mid morning (US time) so that the most visitors on Digg can be involved in promoting the post for you (again, I’ve heard a variety of opinions on this).

Less Can Equal More = Except When it = Less

Posting frequency is one of those topics that I get asked about a lot and it’s a tough one to give an ‘definitive’ answer on because like many aspects of blogging, what works for some won’t work for others.

Instead of a long section on the ins and outs of posting frequency – let me point you at a post dedicated to exploring the issues at – What is the Ideal Post Frequency for a Blog?

Further Reading on Post Timing:

When Do You Publish Your Posts?

  • Do you give consideration to the timing of your blog posts?
  • If so – when do you publish them – and why?

I’m looking forward to hearing your experience on this topic.

Read the Full Series

This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.

How to Polish Posts: Individual Blog Post Design

Much is written about how to ‘design blogs’ (as a whole) but another element of ‘blog design’ that I think is just as important, yet not written about much, is the design of individual blog posts.

How blog posts ‘look’ is so important. I’ve seen the power of ‘polishing’ posts time and time again.

Polish-Blog-PostsImage by Darwin Bell

I still remember the time that I took one of my early posts on my Digital Photography blog and polished it up. The original version of the post was largely text. It had one image in it but it was fairly bland and was more there to illustrate a point than anything.

The content remained almost identical – but I added 5 images to the post (images that still illustrated the point but eye catching ones), added sub headings to each paragraph and reformatted one section into a ‘list’ rather than just a block of text.

I then republished the post at the top of my blog as new.

The result was amazing!

The next day the post had 50+ comments, was on the front page of Digg and it was being linked to by blogs everywhere. The old version had received 2 comments and had previously gone largely unnoticed.

This is the power of paying attention to how your blog posts look.

Why Polishing Blog Posts Works

There are a number of important reasons why polishing blog posts is worth putting a little extra time into:

  • First impressions – in the same way that your overall blog design conveys messages to readers about what your blog is about and whether they should subscribe – the formatting and design of single posts says a lot about you to first time visitors.
  • Grabbing Attention – loyal readers may rarely visit your actual blog if they follow it via RSS so one might not think post design matters – but in actual fact post design has a massive impact in the realm of RSS where there is little to set your posts apart from others. A good picture or clever use of formatting can really grab the attention of someone scanning through their feeds.
  • Reinforce Content – visuals in a post can reinforce points that you’re using within content. Illustrative images, video, charts, graphs, tables etc – all will connect with visual readers in a way that text cannot.
  • Connect with Web Reading Habits – most web users don’t ‘read’ content word for word. They scan content, looking for elements of web pages that draw their eye and for keywords that connect with what they are interested in. As a result the way you design your posts can be the difference between someone actually ‘reading’ your post or just glossing over it.

How to Polish Blog Posts:

Following are a number of areas that I consider when polishing blog posts. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’d add to the list – I’m sure there are plenty more.

  • Images – images on posts are gold! They draw the eye and grab attention, they illustrate points, they inspire, they engage the imagination and they connect with visual learners. In a largely text based medium – the use of good image can set a blog post apart from the crowd – learn to use them!
  • Charts and Diagrams – similarly, good charts, graphs and diagrams add depth to content and give posts a visual point of interest.
  • Formatting – one of the big mistakes that I see guest posters submitting posts to me making is that their posts come to me largely as large slabs of uninteresting looking text. Most people don’t ‘read’ content online – they ‘scan’ it. As a result you need to work hard to break up your text and draw attention to important points. Using lists is one way of doing this, as is using bold, italics, font size and color, blockquotes and other formatting techniques.
  • Sub Headings – I am a fan of sub headings – rarely a post goes by that I don’t put <h3> tags around some important part of my post to draw the eye, start a new section or break up a slab of text. One quick tip I’d give on sub headings is to think about them in similar ways to ‘post titles’. The purpose of a subheading is to get people to read the text under it – so ‘craft’ sub headings using some of the same techniques as we mentioned in our post on crafting titles.
  • White Space – a simple line break or a little extra space around an image can have a big impact upon how your post looks. Let your content breathe.
  • Short Paragraphs – one edit that I often make with posts submitted by others on my blogs is to break up paragraphs into shorter ones. This makes posts seem less overwhelming and more achievable for readers to read.
  • Break Posts Up – at times after writing a post it becomes clear that you’ve written something that is simply too long or covers too much territory. Rather than publishing it – breaking it down into a couple of smaller posts can do wonders for how the post looks to readers. Many readers would much rather read two single posts that are more focused than a longer rambling one that covers too much ground. This is actually what I’ve done with this very post – originally it was the 2nd half of my post on Quality Control but I realized that while related, the topics were perhaps a little too different to cover in the one post.
  • Highlight and Reinforce Main Points - pay attention to using some of the above techniques when it comes to your main point and call to action. If your post is a long one – it can actually be useful to repeat your main point numerous times within your post (in the introduction, main body of the post and then as a closing sentence).

What would you add to this list of ‘post design tips’? How do you ‘polish’ your posts to maximize their impact?

Further Reading on Quality Control and Polishing Your Blog Posts:

Read the Full Series

This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.

Punctuation, Spelling and Grammar – Quality Control for Bloggers

In our series on crafting blog content we’re at stage 7 (of 10) and having chosen our topic, crafted a title, written an engaging opening line, written a meaningful post, added a call to action and added depth – we’re finally ready to hit ‘publish’!

Or are we?

punctuation-spelling-grammar.jpg
Image by geminicollisionworks

Today I want to talk about Quality Control – one of the last tasks that I recommend before hitting publish on your blog posts.

Having put so much time and effort into getting the content of your post into tiptop shape it can be tempting to put your post ‘out there’ for readers to engage with as soon as possible.

However, taking just few extra minutes to check for ‘errors’ can take a post to the next level.

This is an area that I admit I need to improve.

On a daily basis I find spelling and grammatical errors on my posts and embarrassingly, so do my readers.

I put it down to excitement and wanting to get posts out quickly – but if I’m honest with myself I’m sure it’s also partly laziness.

While some of your readers will gloss over these kinds of errors and won’t let it impact how they engage with the content – some will not be so forgiving and will be distracted by your mistakes.

Every spelling error that you correct and every awkward sentence structure that you improve removes a barrier to readers engaging with your content.

The solutions are simple (yet a struggle for so many of us):

  • Take your time in writing posts
  • Take time to look at spell check in your writing tool of choice.
  • Reread your posts to see how they flow (sometimes reading them out loud will help).
  • Have someone else look your posts over (I know of at least two bloggers who do this for one another – they have logins to each other’s blogs and edit the post that the other one writes on a daily basis).
  • Test to see if links in your posts work.

Yes – this is an area that those of us who don’t like to pay attention to detail and those who blog in a language that isn’t their first language can struggle with, but it does pay off to work on.

As mentioned above – I’m not the guy to teach you how to improve on this aspect of blogging. As a result I’d like to point you to some others who are!

Resources for Bloggers

Posts to Read:

Blogs to Subscribe To:

Books to Buy:

Feel free to add resources, blog posts and blogs that you’ve found helpful in comments below.

Read the Full Series

This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.

13 Ways to Add New Dimensions to Your Next Post

What do you see when you look at this image?

bubble blowingImage by Lord V

OK – so it’s two flies right? Yes it is…. but look a little harder.

Have you ever used one of those crazy eye cross eye 3D multidimensional pictures? This is one of them. Relax, cross your eyes a little and stare (for a more details version of how to see the 3D impact read here). Do it right and the the ‘flies’ become one very 3 dimensional ‘fly’. If you like the effect I’ll show you some more in a link at the bottom of this post.

What does a 3D image have to do with Blogging?

In this post I want to share 13 ways to make your blogs go deeper and become more multi dimensional.

  • How deep do your blog posts go?
  • Do you bang out a post that covers the basics of your topic and then hit publish?
  • What would happen if you just took a few extra minutes once your next post was finished to ask yourself – how could I make this post more useful to readers?

Over the last few weeks we’ve been exploring 10 points in the writing of a blog post where it is important to ‘pause’ and take a little extra time in crafting the blog post.

Today I want to explore a question that you can ask yourself after writing a blog post (and before hitting publish) that I have found can exponentially increase the impact and effectiveness of a the post.

It is a question that I think can help good posts great and help it to stand out from the clutter of millions of posts going around the blogosphere at any given time.

The question is simple:

“How can I add more depth to this post?”

A theme that I continually go on about here at ProBlogger is ‘creating useful content‘ for readers. The question about ‘adding depth’ is all about making your post more useful. An alternative way of asking it would be:

“How can I make this post more useful?”

13 Ways to Add Depth to Your Next Blog Post

Following are 13 of simple techniques that can add a new dimension to your post – techniques to make good posts great:

1. Use Examples

Too many bloggers simply talk in theoretical terms and don’t ground what they are talking about in reality. There’s nothing wrong with ‘theory’ but you can do your reader a real service with two simple words – ‘for example’. Show how the theory can be applied in an actual situation and you’ll make your post much more effective. Readers will not only come away with an idea of how to do something – they’ll have seen it in action – something which takes them a step closer to actually implementing it in their own lives.

Adding examples to posts is something I’ve been doing for years without really thinking about it. I just searched on Google for “for example” on ProBlogger and found it used over 1000 times.

For example (I had to add one here didn’t I) – check out my post on how to find new RSS subscribers to a blog where I give give examples on every 2nd point that I make.

2. Add an Analogy, Story or Metaphor

An example need not just be a ‘link’ – it can be some kind of story or analogy that helps readers to unpack what you’re writing about.

As I’ve discussed earlier in this series – stories are particularly effective ways of opening blog posts – however they are also useful within and at the end of posts. They engage the imaginations of readers, help to reinforce what you’re saying and can be very persuasive tools.

As Brian Clark of CopyBlogger writes – “Stories allow people to persuade themselves, and that’s what it’s really all about.”

Personal stories can also be very effective at establishing common ground between you and your readers – something that makes people be able to relate to you.

Read more on using different types of stories on a blog.

3. Add Your Opinion

If you’re writing about ‘news’ or linking up to something another blogger is saying – don’t just report the news or tell your readers to go read something because ‘it’s good’ – tell your readers what YOU think about what you’re linking to.

Giving your opinion takes your post to a new depth, it stimulates readers to think about their reaction to what they are reading, creates conversation, adds value and helps to make your post unique. Don’t just echo the news around the blogosphere – inject something of yourself into it.

4. Suggest Further Reading

One of the simplest ways to add value to a blog post is to recommend other reading that a reader could do on your topic. This can be done formally at the end of a post with a ‘recommended reading’ type list of links – or informally during a post when you hyperlink relevant articles on key ideas that you write about.

Further reading can be both internal links to other things you’ve written on your topic and/or external links to what others have written previously on the topic you’ve covered. Only do either of these if they do add value and are on topic.

5. Add Quotes

An effective way of adding authority to a blog post is to add the voice of another person using a short quote. Most students know the power of using quotes in the writing of essays (they show you’ve researched and read widely and grasp a topic) – the same thing is try with blog posts.

There are two main ways of using quotes in blog posts:

  1. quote someone talking about your topic (I did this above in the ‘stories’ point with a quote from Brian Clark).
  2. quote someone talking about something unrelated, but still relevant to your topic (something I did in my post – What Thomas Edison Can Teach You about Blogging).

6. Interview Someone

If you can’t find an existing quote to use from someone – create one by approaching them for a quick comment or interview on your topic.

Identify another person who has expertise on the topic you’re covering and then asking them a specific question (or more than one) on that topic so that you can use their answers within your post. Effectively this is what journalists do when they’re working up a story.

While this might sound like a long process – with instant messaging, skype and email it can actually be very quick to get comment from others.

7. Add Reader Comments/Tweets

Another way of adding other ‘voices’ to your blog posts is to actually use the words of those reading your blog by elevating their comments into the post itself.

I’ll share some ways to do this below but first let me say how powerful this is as a technique as it shows your readers that you notice what they say, that you care about them and gives them a moment in the spotlight which can make a lasting impression. It all comes down to making your readers famous.

  • Use Comments from Previous Posts - if you’ve written on the topic you are blogging about before check out the comments section on that post. Hidden away there you might find gems of wisdom that you can pull out an include in future posts.
  • Ask Readers in a Post - this takes a little thinking ahead but if you know you’re going to be writing on a topic a day or two ahead of time – post a question on your blog asking for readers to give feedback on that topic. Then use some of their comments in your next post. For example – I asked readers about how they’d promote a blog here and then used their responses as a post later in the week here.
  • Do a Call for Comments on Social Messaging Sites – I do this regularly on Twitter and Plurk. All it involves is to ask your followers/friends a question as you write your post and then to include some of the best ones within your post. To see this in action – I did this recently in my review of the iPhone as a blogging tool and when I wrote about the benefits of Twitter.
  • LinkedIn Q&ALinkedIn has a great Question and Answer feature that is fantastic for gathering the opinions and ideas of those within your network. I’ve used it on occasions to generate some great discussions which could then be used to add depth to blog posts.
  • Email readers – if you don’t have enough Twitter followers or LinkedIn contacts – why not email a few of your most loyal readers and ask them if they have any thoughts on a topic you’re writing about.

I can’t express to you how much of an impact that using readers comments in blog posts can have. When I do it I get a lot of emails of thanks from those that I use the comments of and also find that it adds a lot of wisdom to my posts.

8. Set Homework

If your post is a ‘teaching’ or ‘how to’ type blog post an effective way of adding depth to your post is to actually set your readers homework or some kind of ‘assignment’.

By finishing a post with a task to go away and do you help your readers to immediately apply what they’ve just learned (most of us learn better by ‘doing’ than just consuming information) and you increase the ‘participation’ levels on your blog (it takes readers out of ‘lurking’ mode).

I discovered the power of homework on my photography site a couple of years back. Our readers there loved the idea so much that we now have a weekly assignment in the forum. Heaven forbid if we miss a week – our readers love it so much that if we do miss one they certainly let us know! Read more on setting readers homework

9. Offer Points of Participation

I’ve touched on this earlier in this series also but it is amazing how much value can be added to a blog post simply by inviting readers to respond and participate in the post. Ask for comments, add a poll, invite readers to blog about the topic on their own blog…. again this is about giving readers an opportunity to bed down what they’re learning and reinforce it in their minds by ‘doing’ something.

Many readers learn best not just by listening to others but by putting their thoughts into their own words.

10. Add Illustrations or Charts

I will talk more about this in the next post in this series of ‘crafting blog posts’ – but it is amazing what a simple image or chart can do to illustrate a point. I’m not just talking about eye catching title images – but those that actually add value to your posts.

This will of course relate more to some types of posts than others but when you do it it is like adding a visual example to your posts. I find this is most effective either when doing a ‘how to’ or tutorial type post (I do it on photoshop tutorials on DPS) or any posts that you quote any kind of statistics in).

11. Look at the Flip Side

A simple technique to add depth to any kind of post that shares an opinion is to explore not only one side of an argument but two. I find it quite amazing how many bloggers write posts that are one dimensional and that argue strongly for one perspective but fail to show that there might be another point of view.

You don’t need to sit on the fence with your posts and can still express your preference strongly for your argument – but at least show that you’re aware of other arguments as it’ll show your readers that you have thought through an issue fully in coming to your point of view. You’ll also find that it doesn’t alienate as many readers who don’t share your opinion and gives a better foundation for constructive dialogue.

12. Look Forward and Create Momentum

One very effective way of adding depth to your post is by telling readers that you’re not done yet and are going to write a followup post in the coming days.

While this doesn’t actually give immediate extra value to a post it creates a sense of momentum and signals to readers that the topic you’re writing about means something to you and is worthy of further exploration.

So before you hit publish on a post consider whether there is any areas within it still not explored that could be the subject of a followup post. A great way to do this is to use mindmapping to plan your next blog posts.

13. Make an Honest Appraisal of Your Post

Before hitting publish on your post ask yourself again – does this post matter?

Is your post useful to readers in some way? Does it inform, entertain, inspire, educate, provide community, motivate or do something else that will enhance the lives of your reader?

Not every post you write will set the world on fire (and that’s ok) but every post should add value to your reader and take you closer to your blogging goals.

If it doesn’t – don’t publish it. Go back to your post and keep adding value.

9 More Thoughts on Adding Depth to Posts from my Twitter Friends

As I was writing this post I decided to put my advice into action by asking my Twitter followers for their experiences on the topic. Here’s just a few of the responses (you’ll see a few new ideas and recurring themese):

  1. @ruraldoctoring – add personal experiences, quotes, open up possibilities for opposing views–>depth. I hope.
  2. @Jonathan_Gunson – How? Try reading your draft posts out loud to someone who cares. Their reaction can produce deep insights you never imagined.
  3. @mark_hayward – give the post some thought while running, write a rough post or outline, do research, and continue to refine over several days.
  4. @ashishmohta – adding some real time example, case studies about 1 hour ago
  5. @DanBlank – To add depth, I add images, and take time between writing sessions, often using ideas that germinated in my head for days.
  6. @johnwroachiii – I have my wife read it and give me her unanwered questions.
  7. @tynansanger – leave it until the morning then look over it again. see if any new news has added to or taken away from the story
  8. @cornerscribe – I let a post “rest” for a while. That helps me see where I need to add detail and depth.
  9. @Arbenting – I usually let a post sit for a day or so before going back to it. Once I re-read it I’ll usually find things that need expanded.

How Have You Added Depth to Your Blog Posts?

There’s lots to digest in this post I know – but I’m certain that among the ProBlogger readership there’s a lot of wisdom and experience that could be added – so what have you tried to add depth and new dimensions to your blog posts?

PS: If you want to see some more 3D Crazy Cross Eye Images – check out 9 more here.

Read the Full Series

This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.

Calls to Action – 12 Tips To SNAP Readers Out of Passivity

The vast majority of visitors to your blog are paralyzed by passivity.

They never comment, they don’t vote in polls, they won’t subscribe to your feed or newsletters, they won’t buy the affiliate products that you recommend, they won’t email a friend about your blog, they won’t vote for you in social bookmarking sites and most of them will never come back.

Call-To-ActionImage by Aaron Jacobs

Depressed? You’re not alone.

Some days it gets me down that readers can be so passive too.

In this post (a part of our crafting blog posts series) I’m going to share how using Calls to Action can significantly increase the interactivity on your blog. I’d also love to hear what you have to say on the topic.

The Problem of Passivity on Blogs

I still remember early in my blogging expressing my frustration to another blogger. At the time my main concern was that while I was getting a lot of visitors, so few of them left a comment.

He responded to me with a question that was like a SMACK to the side of the head with a BRICK – it was so simple yet stupidly I’d never thought of it. He said:

“Do you ever ask for comments?”

He went on to explain to me a ‘secret’ that copywriters have known for ages – ‘Call to Action‘ – if you don’t call your readers to action they are far less likely to take it:

  • If you want people to comment, invite them to do it.
  • If you want people to subscribe, don’t assume that they’ll think to do it themselves, ask them to. If
  • If you want people to buy something – give them a way to do it.
  • If you want people to come back tomorrow, give them some motivation to do so and show them how to remind themselves.
  • If you want a vote on Digg or StumbleUpon – ask.

Call me ‘Captain Obvious’ – but so few of us bloggers have mastered the ‘Call to Action’ in their blogging that it is no wonder that so many of us struggle with passive audiences.

Why Calls to Action are Important

After my friend gave me the above advice I began to experiment with inviting readers to comment on my posts. Here’s what I found:

  • Some People Respond to Invitations - When I invited comments and didn’t assume that people would leave them I noticed a marked increase in comments. While the majority of my readers still ‘lurked’ I’d estimate comments were up by between 50-100% on posts.
  • Action grows Reader Engagement - I began to notice that when people commented once it would open a floodgate of comments from them over future days. When I questioned a few of these readers I found that some had been ‘lurking’ a while, too scared to comment but once they had they felt more ‘ownership’ and ‘confidence’ to do it again.
  • Action brings loyalty – I noticed that first time readers would become loyal readers – they’d often come back to the blog in the days after their comment to see how other people responded to it.
  • Action breeds Action - When you grow the interactivity on your blog it draws others to be interactive. When a first time visitor to your blog sees that you have thousands of subscribers and hundreds of comments they take notice and many will be drawn to do likewise (it is called social proof).

In time I saw similar things as I ‘asked’ readers to do other things (vote in polls, subscribing to feeds etc). I learned that as obvious as it might seem to us as bloggers to do these things – many readers don’t think to do these things unless asked to.

12 Tips for Calls to Action:

So how do you effectively use Calls to Action on your blog?

Let me say that the following Call to Action Tips come out of my own experience of experimenting with this type of thing. I’m by no means a copy writing expert (although am about to start some training in it) and would love to learn from your own experiences of Calls to Action so please do feel free to share you own experience in comments below.

1. Know what Action you want Readers to take

Sounds almost too basic to include in these tips but I think it’s really important to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve with your blog post. This really builds on the last post in this series which talked about making your posts matter and identifying purposes for posts. What’s the purpose of your post? What do you want readers to do as a result of reading the post? Answer these questions before writing your call to action and you’ll be in a great position to write an effective one.

2. One Call to Action Per Post

Early in my own experiments with Calls to Action I wrote a post that was linked to by the uber blog Slashdot. It sent more traffic to my blog than I’d ever seen before and so I decided to update the post with some calls to action. Problem was that I stuffed so many of them into the post that no one did any of them. I asked for comments, pointed to my RSS feed and newsletter, asked for people to link to the post… etc. I find that I have a lot more luck with just one call to action per post – it gives people a simple next step rather than overwhelming them with choices.

3. Make it a Win/Win Call to Action

There’s nothing wrong with benefiting from the actions that your readers take on your blog. Don’t be afraid to ask things of them – but do make sure that what you ask of them will have an upside not only for you but for them.

4. Make the Action Simple and Achievable

I was recently asked by a reader to look at a competition that they were running on their blog and to give my opinion on why no one had entered it. Upon looking at the competition it became clear that while the prize was great and the blog did have readers – that the requirements to entry were too complicated. The blogger was asking readers to leave a 500 word comment, write a post on their own blog linking to their competition AND subscribe to his RSS feed (and to prove it take a screen shot of the subscription confirmation page). Ask your readers to jump through too many hoops to do the thing you want them to do and you’ll get significantly less of them to take that action.

5. In Post Calls to Action Work Best

Positioning is everything in many aspects of your blog and calls to action are no exception. In the same way that click through on ads increase when you put ads near or in content – responses to calls to action will work significantly better for you within posts than if you slap them on your sidebar. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an invitation to action in your sidebar (almost every blog I know does this with RSS subscription invitations for example) however in post invitations will generally work best.

6. Express Clearly what you Want People to do

This really builds upon the ‘simple and achievable action’ point that I’ve made above but comes down to the way you communicate the desired action to readers. In the same way that I’ve suggested taking extra time to craft post titles and opening lines it is important to pause and consider the words that you use in your call to action. If your call to action isn’t a simple thing (and sometimes it is unavoidable) consider outlining what you want readers to do in ‘steps’ or a list of points. This is what I do on my Group Writing Projects and I find it works quite well.

7. Multiple Calls to the Same Action Can Work

While it’s best if you keep the number of actions you call for to a minimum (preferably 1 per post) this doesn’t mean you can’t invite readers to take that action more than once in the post. The most logical place for a call to action is at the end of the post – after all it is where readers stop reading and start thinking about what to do next. However I find that adding a call to action earlier in the post can increase the likelihood that people will take the action. This works for two main reasons – firstly you are sowing the seed of the action in their mind early and secondly some people will never make it to the end of your post but may actually take the action early on. For example – in this post I’ve already invited comments twice – and I’ll do it once more at the end of the post.

8. Draw the Eye to Calls to Action

Why do we make titles bigger and more eye catching on blog posts but leave our invitations to action as plain text languishing at the bottom of our posts? As with any important part to a post it is important that your readers see calls to action. You can ensure this happens in a number of ways including putting a heading above them, using an image near them, making the call to action a striking image itself, using text formatting (bold, italics, capitals), using colored backgrounds and borders around the calls to action etc.

9. Lead your readers to the Action

Your post itself needs to lead people to the action. The call and the topic of the post should strongly relate to one another and you should give reasons why the action would benefit readers. One technique that is worth using with some calls to action (particularly bigger ones) is to paint a picture of what life would be like after the action is taken (or what it’d be like if it is not taken).

10. Give an Incentive

Some calls to action will have an incentive to the reader built into them – but at times you might want to add extra incentive. This can be especially effective if you’re promoting an affiliate product and want to give your readers extra value by offering a bonus.

11. Mix Up Calls to Action from Post to Post

Readers can become a little blind (or numb) to calls to action over time if your calls are always the same (either given in the same way or asking them to do the same thing). Mix things up from post to post. Also don’t feel you need to have a call to action in every post. If you’re constantly asking your readers to do things you could burn them out.

12. Don’t Hard Sell But Call with Confidence

Using Calls to Action can be a bit of a balancing act at times. In talking to bloggers I find that they usually struggle with them in one of two ways. Either they feel awkward asking readers to do anything OR they SELL SELL SELL and lack subtlety. Somewhere between these two extremes is the place you need to dwell. The place you position yourself along the spectrum will differ from blog to blog and probably based upon your personality. Some bloggers get away with the hard sell better than others – the key is to experiment, listen to your readership and how they respond and to try to strike a balance between the two extremes.

What Was Your Most Effective Call to Action?

What I’ve shared above is my experience of Calls to Action but as I’ve said above – I’m still on a learning journey on this topic and would love to hear what you have leaned on the topic? Feel free to give an example of what you’ve done with a link and share your lessons in comments below so we can all improve our call to action technique!

Read the Full Series

This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.