How to Craft Post Titles that Draw Readers Into Your Blog

Blog-Post-TitlesTitles change the destiny of your posts.

Those few words at the beginning of your blog post can be the difference between the post being read and spread like a virus through the web like a wild fire and it languishing in your archives, barely noticed.

This month we’ve been talking about how to ‘craft’ blog posts and are looking at key moments in the writing of blog posts that it is important to pause and put a little extra effort into.

While there will usually only be a handful of words in your post title – they are the most powerful words that you’ll write because for most of your readers the decision as to whether to read the rest of your post rests upon them.

Why Blog Post Titles Matter

Blog post titles appear in:

  • Search engine results
  • RSS feeds
  • Links from other bloggers
  • Social media sites
  • On your archive pages (depending upon how you format them)

In each of these occassions the title can be the only thing that people see and the sole thing that people make the decision to visit your post on. Write a boring, complicated or confusing title and it doesn’t matter what you’ve written in the post – very few people will ever read it.

What should a Good Blog Post Title Do?

There are many techniques that copywriters use in crafting titles or headings both online and offline – but there’s generally one common goal behind them all. It can be summed up in the words of David Ogilvy who in Oglivy on Advertising (a great copywriting book) again and again echoes the refrain that:

the purpose of a title is to get potential readers to read the first line of your content.”

This is one of the lessons that has helped me the most in my own blogging and I’ve seen it’s power again and again.

Write a captivating and intruiging title and you’ll draw people into reading it every time.

How to Craft a Blog Post Title – 8 Tips

Titles-1-2How do you craft a blog post title that get people to read your blog posts opening lines?
There are many techniques for crafting blog post titles that will draw readers into them. Below I’ll outline a few (you won’t be able to do all of them in every single post).

Before I share them – let me give one universal tip – Don’t Rush – this is the main point of this whole series on crafting content. If there’s nothing else you come away from today – take away that if you rush your titles you could well be wasting the time that you invest into your actual posts. Invest time into your posts, it’s something that will pay off!

Now that we’re taking our time – here are 8 tips that I use in the creation of blog post titles. Note: you’d not be likely to use all of them in the one post (although for fun I did my best to get quite a few of them into the image title above). Different techniques will work better in different situations.

1. Communicate a Benefit

This is SO IMPORTANT. If a potential reader comes across your post in Google search results or your RSS feed or on a site like Digg and they see a title that promises to meet a need they have – they’ll click that link on almost every occassion. Identify a need in of potential readers (we talked about this in yesterdays post) and communicate that your post will solve this problem or need in your title. This is why posts with titles like ‘How to Hold a Digital Camera’ and ’10 Ways to Take Stunning Portraits’ (LINKSSSSSSS) have driven hundreds of thousands of readers to my photography blog in the last year. They are not ‘clever’ or ‘cryptic’ titles – they simply SCREAM at those that see them what they’ll get if they visit the post. These titles don’t draw everyone that see’s them to them, but they’ll certainly draw in people with the needs that you’re aiming the post at.

2. Create Controversy or Debate

Another technique that can be very good at drawing people into a post is to set the scene for controversy, debate or a strong opinion. You need to be willing to back these types of titles up with posts that reflect the title – but controversy is one of those things that tends to pique people’s interest. Keep in mind that when you create controversy you’ll attract strong reactions in people.

3. Ask a Question

When you ask a question those who read it are wired to respond (or to see what the response is). I find that questions at post titles can be very popular at not only drawing in readers – but particularly effective at getting readers to leave comments – particularly if the comment directs a question AT the reader (ie use the word YOU in the question) rather than just being a random question. I’ll write more on personalizing titles below.

4. Personalize Titles

Titles-3When you write blog posts you are potentially writing to vast audiences of many thousands of readers – however readers can feel like the post is laser targetted in on their own specific situation, particularly if you personalize the language that you’re using. One of the easiest ways to do this is simply to use the word ‘you’ in your posts. I wrote a little about this in First Person Blogging about ‘You’ but mainly talked about using the word ‘you’ in the post itself but in the title of your posts it can have an even bigger impact. Example – 21 Ways to Make Your Blog or Website Sticky.

5. Use Keywords

Keywords in titles are good for two main reasons:

  • Firstly they grab the attention of readers who are scanning content – I noticed this recently when I was in a buying mode looking to get an iPhone. Anytime any post in my RSS feeder had the word ‘iPhone’ it was like a flashing light and attracted my attention to it. I could hardly help it but because I was on the look out for information to help me with that purchase the keyword was a great attention grabber.
  • Secondly – keywords are important for the long tail life of your blog post as they tell search engines what your blog post is about and will help it to rank highly for those words. Search engines pay particular attention to titles to assertain what a web page is about – particularly if you use the words in your page ‘title tags’ as well (read more on title tags and SEO).

So use keywords that relate to your post in your titles. This is a particularly useful tip if you write about products, people or companies as these types of ‘names’ are some of the most searched for terms on the web.

One more tip for keywords – if you can include them at the start of your title they can have more impact with SEO than if you include them at the end of a title (particularly if the title is long).

6. Use Power Words

Not all words are created equal – some evoke a powerful response in readers and it can be well worth your while to find out what they are.

It’s difficult to compile a list of these ‘power words’ but a few that I’ve found that can work (although read my disclaimer below):

  • Free – there’s something about the idea of getting something for nothing that triggers a response in most of us.
  • Stunning – I use words like ‘stunning’ on my photography blog a lot. These words are ‘big claim’ words that draw people into the post to see if it matches up (see below for more on ‘big claims’)
  • Discover – everyone likes to make discoveries. Another ther related word is ‘revealed’.
  • Secrets – this triggers a response because it promises to show you something you don’t yet know. Similarly – you could use ‘Little Known Ways to…’ as an alternative to ‘secrets’.
  • Easy – similarly to ‘free’ – we all like ‘easy’ don’t we? – also use ‘quick’. Better still – what about ‘quick and easy’?

Disclaimer – power words can be very beneficial, however they can also trigger negative reactions. Some people get skeptical when they see titles with these types of words and will resist clicking them – others will click them but get angry if the post itself doesn’t live up to the title. Proceed with caution.

7. Big Claims and Promises

I’ve mentioned this technique already but it does deserve a little further exploration as it is a definite way to draw people into a post. Making a bit claim or promise really extends upon my first technique – ‘Communicate a Benefit’ – but takes it to a place where the benefit being shared in the title just cannot be ignored.

These sorts of ‘big claims’ make guarantees that even people without a real need in your topic will want to check out.

The only problem with big claim posts is that if you can’t actually back them up with the post itself, you run the risk of putting readers offside.

8. Humor Titles

Titles-2The humorous title is yet another technique that can be very effective at drawing readers into you blog – that is IF you pull it off.

The risk with humorous posts is that they can also fall flat on their faces and leave you with a post title that not only fails to draw loyal readers in but which is not optimized well for search engines (unless you manage to incorporate some keywords).

Two More Quick Tips on Writing Blog Posts:

Keep it short – while it is possible to actually grab people’s attention with a very long title (the length itself can draw people to it) – in most cases you’ll want to keep it simple and easy to digest. This is good for readers but also search engines (they will only show 65 or so characters so if you go too long your full title doesn’t appear in search results).
Don’t use Periods (full stops) – this one might just be my personal preference and open for debate (although I’ve seen a number of copywriters talk about it) but using full stops or ‘periods’ at the end of titles can stop the flow of your readers. It’s not a big one but something that could have an impact.

Further Reader on Blog Post Titles:

  • Andy Beal wrote a thought provoking post – How to Optimize Blog Post Titles – in which he explores two audiences of blog posts and how he suggests you optimize titles for each at different life stages of a post.
  • Brian Clark has written some fantastics posts on Blog Post Titles in his series Magnetic Headlines. It includes some title templates that are worth experimenting with.

What have you learned about writing blog post titles? Do you use some of the above approaches or have you found other techniques to work for you?

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.

The Why and How on Repeating Content on Your Blog

Many bloggers come to a point in their blogging after they’ve been at it for a sustained period of time where they need to make a decision about repeating content and posting on topics they’ve already covered. Here’s a recent question from a reader who wished to remain anonymous:

“I would like to get your opinion about content repetition. When you have an audience that is always changing, it would seem that you would need to cover some content again. I realize that basic information can be linked to static pages but otherwise, what kind of rule do you have to regulate content repetition.”

This is the type of question that many bloggers come up against after they’ve been blogging for a while. It arises out of a number of realizations including:

1. Running out of new things to say – in some niches a blogger gets to a point where they realize that they have begun to exhaust their own expertise on their blog. This is particularly common on ‘how to’ type blogs (it’s easier to keep fresh content coming on a ‘news’ related blog where there is always a breaking story.

2. On blogs with a high rate of attracting new readers – as is mentioned in the question above – when you have a blog that is constantly visited by new readers it can be a challenge to direct them to content that will help them that you’ve already covered.

As a result of these two situations bloggers come to a point where they are faced with the choice of covering topics that they’ve already posted about on their blog.

For some bloggers this is a big hurdle to overcome on a number of levels:

  • guilt – some bloggers feel guilty about it and feel like they’re somehow cheating or short changing readers.
  • boredom – others find that going over ground that they’ve already covered can lead to them as bloggers getting bored and feeling un-stimulated.
  • reader expectations – Some longer term readers will react negatively to these ‘repeated’ topics.

So what’s a blogger to do about Repeating Content?

I am sure that different bloggers will settle on different approaches when it comes to repeating topics on a blog (and I’d love to hear some of these in comments below).

My own approach is that I definitely do go over old ground on my blogs.

The way I justify this (if it needs to be justified) is:

1. As my blogs attract a lot of new readers I feel that repeating some of the basics is actually doing a service to those new readers.

2. I am constantly learning more about the topics that I blog about and as a result my own ideas and knowledge is growing. While I cover the same ground as I have previously I do try to add extra value and updates on what I’ve been learning for longer term readers. In a sense I see repeating topics as a way of updating my blog.

Alternatives for Repeating Topics:

There are a number of ways that a blogger can go about repeating past topics on their blog. Here are a few that I’ve done:

  1. Repost Old Posts as Fresh Posts – this is what I do on Digital Photography School. In these cases I occasionally will go back to old posts and rewrite or update them and then change the date of publishing the post to the current date so that it appears to readers as a new post. This means that any outdated information on the post can be removed and that you can actually get a little extra search engine juice to the old post as it is appearing on your front page again. Important Note: this only really works if you have a permalink structure that doesn’t change depending upon the date that you publish the post on!
  2. Update Old Posts and Announce the Changes in a New Post – if you have an old post that is dated or now inaccurate there’s nothing wrong (in my mind) with going back to that post and reediting it. If you don’t want to republish it as a new post simply write a new post with a link back to the old one saying that you’ve updated it. This drives people back to the old post. When making changes to old posts I would usually highlight where on the post I’ve made updates so that readers are aware that what they are reading is ‘fresh’.
  3. Write a 2nd Post – this is generally what I do here on ProBlogger. My approach with this is to tackle the topic afresh as though I’d not written the first post (in many cases I don’t even look at what I’ve previously written until I’ve finished the new post as I don’t want to simply repeat it word for word). I attempt to find a new way to approach the topic, new insights, new examples and even write it in a different style/voice.

A Few Other Tips on Repeating Content

  • Mix it Up – whichever method you decide to use to repeat topics I would strongly advise that you mix the ‘repeated’ content up with fresh content. Don’t make every post that you do a rehashed version of an old post but give your longer term readers fresh content and topics also.
  • Guest Posts – another way to bring freshness to things that you’ve already covered is to use guest posters to cover the old ground. I’ve done this recently on DPS and it’s worked really well. For starters it means I don’t get bored by covering ground I’ve already covered but it also brings freshness from a reader perspective.
  • Highlight Key Posts for New Readers – one of the reasons some bloggers feel obligated to cover old ground is that new readers keep asking them questions about things they’ve already covered. One way to combat this problem is to create prominent gateways back to key content that you’ve already covered. Link back in your sidebar or navigation area to ‘best posts’ or ‘beginner’ content so that new readers have ways of finding the key things that they need.
  • Acknowledge The Reader Life Cycle – it is a difficult thing to hear that a reader has decided to stop reading your blog because they don’t find it as useful as it once was and that you keep repeating ‘old stuff’. What I’ve come to realize is that most blog readers have a ‘life cycle’ and in many cases will grow out of your blog (particularly if your blog is a ‘how to’ type blog. They come to you as beginners and lap up everything that you write about but in time they learn and grow. They might lose interest in your topic or simply become proficient in it (partly due to your helping them). At some point they realize that they don’t need your blog as much as they used to and begin to ‘move on’. This can be hard to watch as a blogger – but it is actually natural and not worth beating yourself up about. Sure – do keep trying to connect with your long term readers but at some point don’t be surprised if they move on.

Do you repeat content? If so, how do you do it?

How to Choose a Topic for Your Next Blog Post

Today I’d like to talk about choosing topics for blog posts as part of our series on how to craft a blog post.

choose-topic-blog-post.jpgImage by devorocks81

Choosing the right topic to write about on your blog is vital if you want to write a post that engages your reader.

Rushing the choice of topic can set you off in the wrong direction and end up wasting both your time and that of your reader.

While sometimes the idea for a post hits you and needs little adaption – I find that many (if not most) times the first idea that comes to me for a post needs a little molding (or marinating) before it’s just right. I will often come up with a post idea and end up evolving it into something that is quite different – but which is much richer in terms of how interesting it is.

Here’s how choosing a blog post title often works for me:

  • I’ll jot down an idea for a post topic in a text document on my desktop (this usually happens while I’m doing something else).
  • Once a day I scan my ‘idea’ text documents and look for a topic that connects with me for that day (I like to work on things that give me energy).
  • With that document open I’ll begin to brainstorm points that I could write about, title ideas and think particularly about reader needs that the post might overcome). I often use a mind mapping technique to do this brainstorming – it can actually lead to hundreds of post ideas.
  • As I brainstorm a post begins to take shape and more importantly the topic emerges. While I have points and title ideas jotted down it is the ‘topic’ that I’m particularly trying to nail down at this point. Anything else is a bonus and will help cut down work later – but it’s the topic I’m attempting to identify.
  • Quite often as I engage in this process I’ll end up with more than one topic – many of these i’ll put aside for another day but some will emerge into a series of posts.

Other tips on choosing a topic for your next blog post

  • Identify a Need – As mentioned above – I’m particularly trying to name a need or problem that my reader has. I find that if I can have this in my mind as I write a post that it not only ends up being a well focused post – it ends up being useful to readers. So as you choose a topic to write about – identify concrete needs that you’re aiming for the post to fulfil and questions that you want the post to answer.
  • Picture a ReaderChris Garrett often talks about how he has a number of readers in mind as he blogs – he keeps their situation, needs, questions and challenges in front of him as he writes and even pictures them in his mind as he chooses topics and writes them. In this way he doesn’t just end up theoretical or abstract topics – but is closer to writing concrete and applicable posts that will connect with readers.
  • Break out of the Echo chamber – one trap that many bloggers fall into is producing blogs posts that simply regurgitate what others are writing on their blogs. If the topic I’m wanting to write about is one that others are also covering one of the things that I attempt to do in this phase of choosing topics is to find a new angle. How can you bring your own spin to the topic? How can you give your readers something unique to ponder? Read more about breaking out of the echo chamber (and also here).
  • Write Something that Matters to You – I find that when i write a post that matters to me (as opposed to one that is merely reporting news or tapping into a popular topic) that it tends to connect on a deeper level with readers. I guess it is logical really – when something matters to you it shines through in the way you communicate about it and this has a way of engaging others who also think it matters. Another way to say this is to ‘let your topics choose you’ rather than you choosing what topics you want to write about.
  • Write Something Topical – Writing on a topic that is currently popular or that people are searching for information on is defitely something to keep in mind as you select a topic to post on. Use a tool like Google Trends to watch trends of what people are searching Google for, keep an eye on social media sites to see what people are voting for there – these topics can be well worth tapping into – particularly if you find a fresh way to explore them (see above point on breaking out of the echo chamber).
  • One Topic per Post – this will vary a little from blog to blog depending upon your niche and style of writing but I find that posts that really hone in on one particular topic and communicate one main idea tend to do best. There is nothing wrong with writing long sweeping posts that cover many things, but do keep in mind that most people’s reading style on line is to scan content, flip between pages and not to dwell on any one thing for too long. So refine the topic for your next blog post down to one simple idea. If you have more than one write a series of posts or put those that you’re not going to focus upon into your ideas journal for another day. After all, you’re writing a blog and can expand upon your other ideas every day for the rest of your blogs life!
  • Plan Ahead – one thing that has helped me a lot in my blogging when it comes to choosing topics to cover is to think ahead about my blogging and develop an editorial calendar. I do this in my computer’s calendar program (I use iCal) where I have a calendar dedicated to each of my blogs. I don’t use this all of the time but find it particularly useful when I know I’m going to have a busy week or two (or when I’m traveling) as it helps me to think clearly and plan ahead for my blogging. Chris G has a nice post on planning blog post topics with an editorial calender.
  • Looking for more ideas? – also on the theme of choosing a topic to blog is my recent post 24 Things to Do When Stuck for a Topic to Blog About – In it you’ll find quite a few other ideas for coming up with post ideas.

Not every post that you write will be able to do all of the above things.

There are times where in most niches you’ll need to cover a story that doesn’t really ‘matter’ to you so much – or where you write about something that does matter that is not topical – however somewhere in the mix of all of these things a post’s topic will emerge.

Take Your Time With Topic Choice

The point of this current series is to challenge us as bloggers to take a little extra time at different points in the process of crafting blog posts.

So main point today is simply to do that when it comes to choosing a topic. Don’t fall into the temptation of always writing about the first thing that comes into your mind. Instead, take those ideas and mold and shape them into something special – something that will engage both you and your reader.

One More Tip on Selecting Topics for blog posts

Looking for a little more inspiration and teaching on how to select topics for your blog posts?

Here’s a video that I made a few months back that shows you how to find blog post topics by analyzing your blogs statistics.

Got some tips of your own on choosing topics to post on? Add them in comments below – looking forward to hearing how you do it.

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 Craft a Blog Post – 10 Crucial Points to Pause

It hits you like a TON of BRICKS! It’s an idea for that KILLER blog post that is just bound to bring you all the traffic that you’ve ever dreamed of.

With the idea fresh in your mind you sit down at your keyboard and BANG it out – desperate to hit publish as quickly as you can for fear that someone else will beat you to the PUNCH!

PublishImage by pallotron

As SMOKE rises from your keyboard you complete your post, quickly add a title to it and proudly hit PUBLISH!

Visions of an avalanche of visitors, incoming links and comments swirl before you.

But then…

Reality hits you like a SLAP in the face. There are few visitors, no comments and no links. It’s not a KILLER post – it’s DEAD.

Ever had that experience?

I have – many many times over.

Today I want to start a series of posts that will walk you through an alternative workflow for constructing a blog post – one that takes…. time.

Image by Samyra.S

If there’s one lesson that I’ve learnt about writing for the web it’s that a key element to writing successful blog posts is that in most cases they take time to CREATE.

I emphasize ‘create’ because I think too often as bloggers we ‘PUNCH’ out content as though we’re in a race or under some kind of deadline. It’s almost like we’re on a production line at times – unfortunately the posts we write often reflect this.

In this series I want to suggest an alternative approach – the crafting (or creation) of content.

This process is a more thoughtful process that is about crafting words and ideas – shaping posts into content that take readers on a journey.

To kick off this series I want to suggest 10 points to pause at when writing a post on your blog. I’ll include a link to each post that follows in this series as I update them.

Instead of rushing through a post – I find that if I pause at these key moments my post rises to a new level of quality and posts tend to get more traction with readers. They don’t guarantee the perfect post – but they certainly take you a step closer to a good one.

  1. Choosing a Topic – take a little extra time defining your topic and the post will flow better and you’ll develop something that matters to readers.
  2. Crafting Your Post’s Title – perhaps the most crucial part of actually getting readers to start reading your post when they see it in an RSS reader or search engine results page.
  3. The Opening Line – first impressions matter. Once you’ve got someone past your post’s title your opening line draws them deeper into your post.
  4. Your ‘point/s’ (making your posts matter) – a post needs to have a point. If it’s just an intriguing title and opening you’ll get people to read – but if the post doesn’t ‘matter’ to them it’ll never get traction.
  5. Call to Action – driving readers to do something cements a post in their mind and helps them to apply it and helps you to make a deeper connection with them.
  6. Adding Depth – before publishing your post – ask yourself how you could add depth to it and make it even more useful and memorable to readers?
  7. Quality Control and Polishing of Posts – small mistakes can be barriers to engagement for some readers. Spending time fixing errors and making a post ‘look’ good can take it to the next level.
  8. Timing of Publishing Your Post – timing can be everything – strategic timing of posts can ensure the right people see it at the right time.
  9. Post Promotion – having hit publish – don’t just leave it to chance that your post will be read by people. Giving it a few strategic ‘nudges’ can increase the exposure it gets exponentially.
  10. Conversation – often the real action happens once your post is published and being interacted with by readers and other bloggers. Taking time to dialogue can be very fruitful.

Taking extra time at each of these 10 points looks different for me in every post that I do – but I believe that every extra moment spent of these tasks pays off.

Some times the pause I take in one step will be momentary while in others it could take hours or even days to get it just right. Sometimes the above process happens quite automatically and other times I need to force myself to stop and ponder something like a title or the timing of a post.

Each of the 10 points above have much more that could be said about them so over the weeks I’ll be tackling each in turn in the hope that we can have some good discussion and sharing of ideas around them. I’ll link to each of them from within the list above as I release the posts.

For each point I hope to give some insight into how I tackle them and will share a few practical tips and examples of what I’ve done that has worked (and not worked). Don’t expect posts each day on this series – like all good things – this will take us some time!

24 Things to do When Stuck for a Topic to Blog About

Stuck for something to write about on your blog? Here are a few suggestions of things that might help get the creative juices flowing.

Stuck For A Topic To Blog About

1. Use Mind Mapping

I’ve previously talked about how Mind Mapping can be used to generate hundreds of ideas for blog posts. It can be used both to come up with fresh ideas for posts but also in extending previous posts that you’ve already written.

2. Change Your Blogging Environment

Sometimes simply writing in a different place can release a little creativity in you. If you’re fortunate enough to have a mobile device or laptop – hit a cafe, park, try a different room in your house, go to the beach…. You might be surprised what will come.

3. Answer a Question

The best posts are often those which answer specific questions. Questions tap into people’s needs or problems and can often be greatly appreciated by readers (this adds to reader loyalty).

There are lots of ways of getting relevant questions to answer:

  • Answer one of your own questions
  • Ask your readers to submit a question
  • Ask another blogger for a question
  • Ask your Twitter followers for questions
  • Check your comment section to find questions from readers
  • Visit other blogs and forums to search for questions from their readers
  • Put yourself in the shoes of a beginner in your topic and imagine what their questions might be
  • Look at your blog’s search engine referral statistics to see what people are asking to find your blog

Once you’ve got a question – answer it.

Tip: Start a ‘question journal’ of your own that you note any questions that you come across. Add any reader questions to it as they ask them – this way you’ll always have a question on hand to tackle.

4. Start with a Title

Most bloggers start writing their post first and add a headline later – however sometimes doing it the other way around can be fun. You might not end up using the headline that you start with – but it might be enough to spark a little creativity and get the ball rolling on a blog post.

5. Take a Break

One of the best things that I do to come up with ideas for blog posts is simply to go for a walk. Not a walk to think about blogging, just a walk, usually with my son. It is amazing what a little exercise and a little time thinking about something else can do for your creativity and ability to think clearly.

6. Give Yourself a Deadline

I have an unwritten deadline in my mind that I have to publish a post every night at midnight on both of my blogs (the timing varies a little from day to day but I have to at least have one ready to go by that time). I find that having this deadline in mind motivates me to come up with something. While there’s no one there to enforce the deadline it still seems to work for me.

7. Rid Yourself of Distractions

One of the biggest barriers for me in writing posts is getting distracted. Emails, instant messages, phone calls, family noise, online games, researching my next gadget purchase….. I could go on but even as I’m writing this I’m feeling the urge to do something else!

While there’s nothing wrong with any of these things – clearing time to write and putting barriers in place to keep the distractions at bay is important. For me one of the best ways to stop a lot of the distractions that tempt me away from writing is simply to get offline. Other tips include maximizing your screen so all you see is the document at hand, switching off email and instant messaging clients, using a tool like Writeroom (a mac tool that leaves you with nothing to look at on your screen except what you’re writing) etc.

8. Introduce ‘Random Challenges’

This is a little ‘odd’ thing that I sometimes challenge myself with – but on occasion I’ll challenge myself with writing tasks that are a little left of centre. I think I got this from Edward De Bono who in one of his books has a brainstorming exercise that challenges you to think of 10 ways that XXXX is like a XXXX. The exercise is designed to free up your mind and while most of what you’ll come up with is going to be rubbish it sometimes helps you to come up with new ways of looking at problems.

A recent example of this in my own blogging was a post on what the Mona Lisa Can Teach Portrait Photographers. While the Mona Lisa and portrait photography might not be too random – I actually started out to write a post that was about what Leonardo Da Vinci could teach us about blogging! The thought process that I went on led me to a much better topic.

9. Revisit a Previous Post

Once you’ve been blogging for a while it is easy to feel like you’ve said everything you want to say on a given topic. While you don’t want to be saying the same things every day – it’s OK to revisit previous topics.

The key is to find new ways to say those things you’ve said before, keep information up to date and relevant and to show that you’re developing and growing in your understanding of a topic.

  • What have you written about previously in your archives that is now dated and in need of revisiting?
  • What have you learned about since you first started your blog that you could write a new post on?
  • What have new readers to your blog missed out on in your archives?

10. Speak the Post Out Loud

Sometimes I don’t get stuck with the initial idea of what to post – but the next step of refining it into an actual topic that I can write about.

When you’ve got the start of your topic it can be helpful to actually start talking about it – get it out of your head and explain it (even if it’s just to yourself). Sometimes the act of verbalizing ideas can crystalize them in your mind.

11. Free Writing

Similarly to verbalizing it – sometimes just sitting down and writing can release creativity. Many writers use this technique simply as a ‘warm up’ exercise – they sit down with their writing tool (pen and paper, computer etc) and simply write…. they write anything that comes into their mind. It might be total rubbish – but the exercise is not designed necessarily to come up with any ideas (although you might) but simply to get your brain into gear.

12. Switch ‘Voices’

Most of us as bloggers write the majority of our posts in the one ‘voice’ or ‘personality’. Sometimes forcing yourself to write as someone else would write can be helpful. The best fun I ever had writing a blog post was when I wrote 5 Things You Should Know about My Dad the ProBlogger – in the voice of my 1 year old son (I know – most of you thought it was really him…. but it was me!).

The experience of writing about my topic through the eyes of a family member was not only a lot of fun but it also brought a new perspective to a topic I’d covered many times – it also connected with readers in a different way.

13. Switch Styles

In a similar way – sometimes switching the style of writing can be helpful. By style I mean switching from writing ‘list posts’ to writing ‘rants’ or from writing ‘reviews’ to writing ‘case studies’. I’ve put together 20 types of blog posts here that might help you find a new one to experiment with.

14. Repurpose Other Communications

Many of the tasks that we do in the day to day of life can make excellent blog posts if only we’re on the look out to capture and repurpose them.

In my post 5 Ideas to Come up with Blog Content from Your Daily Life I examine these techniques for coming up with post ideas:

  1. using answers to reader questions
  2. using email communications as blog posts
  3. documenting how you complete tasks
  4. videoing yourself doing things
  5. recording conversations

Sometimes your next blog post is in what you’re doing right now.

15. Achieve Something Else

Sometimes it’s not the coming up with an idea that stops you writing – it’s that you need to be doing something else. There’s a pile of dishes in the sink, your dog needs a walk, the lawn needs mowing and an assignment at work or school is over due…

I find that when other jobs are clouding my mind and stopping me from writing well that if I pick one of them and knock it off that the sense of achieving something can roll over into my writing. So put your writing aside for 15 minutes and go and do those dishes and get it off your mind before sitting down to write.

16. Go Surfing

I don’t mean to grab a surf board and actually go surfing (although that would tap into a few of the ideas I’ve already written about and could work) – but go surfing online for ideas. There are a number of places to head:

  • Other blogs in your niche – what are they writing about? How could you extend what they’ve written? What have they missed? What are their readers asking? DON’T steal their ideas and DO give credit when they stimulate something that you write – but don’t be afraid to bounce off another blogger – that’s what blogging is all about!
  • Forums – one of the richest places that I find for idea generation is forums. It’s actually one of the reasons that I started a photography forum – because every day there is a treasure trove of ideas created in it.
  • Social Media – what is popular on Digg, Delicious or StumbleUpon today? What type of articles go viral and how could you apply the principles you see in posts that do to your own topic?
  • Social Messaging – ask your Twitter and Plurk followers questions, interact with them around their answers – you’ll find that quite often as you interact in these messaging services that ideas will flow.

17. Go Surfing for Ideas Offline

One of my favorite places to go trawling for ideas is a local news stand. Almost every time I go there I come away for ideas for topics after 10-15 minutes of looking through magazines there. Sometimes it’ll be a topic that a magazine writes about that I can adapt for my blog and other times it’s just the titles that I find inspire my writing.

Similarly – libraries or bookshops can also be good sources for inspiration.

18. Play Devil’s Advocate

One of the best ways to come up with a fresh post is to take something that you’ve written about previously where you’ve argued strongly FOR a particular way of thinking – and then write an article taking the opposite view.

You might not completely agree with the post – but can present it in a way that makes this clear. For example – I once wrote a post on why people should consider joining a blog network and then did a followup post looking at why they shouldn’t. While I personally resonated more with the first article the second one actually was well received as it brought balance to the topic.

19. Involve Someone Else

If you’re completely frazzled and incapable of coming up with any ideas for yourself – it might be worth involving someone else.

  • Ask someone to write a guest post for you.
  • Invite someone to come on and be interviewed by you.
  • Swap blogs with another blogger for a day.
  • Ask another blogger if they have any ideas for posts.

Sometimes an outsider’s perspective can give you the lift you need.

20. Identify Your Golden Hours for Writing

My best time of day for writing is mid morning. I regularly block out this time purely for writing.

For other bloggers that I know the evenings or afternoons are best. The key is to identify the time that you work best and then block out time in that window for writing. Don’t let it be crowded by less important tasks but diarize the time for what is most important – content creation.

Having said that – don’t feel you can’t mix it up. Some days when I just can’t get going in the morning I’ll throw in the towel and go do something else until later in the day.

21. Big Picture vs Small Picture Posts

One problem that I see many bloggers struggling with is being overwhelmed by the hugeness of their niche and the topics within it and feeling the need to cover it all in each post. As a result they write these mega posts with 40 points and then find themselves with not much else to say because they’ve just covered their whole topic in one post.

What I encourage them to do is to think about writing a combination of ‘big picture’ posts and ‘smaller picture posts’.

For example – this very post is what I’d consider to be bigger picture. While it is all on one topic it’s covering a fair bit of ground (20+ points). However over the coming months I could follow up some (or all) of the points in this post with more in depth expansions upon each one.

Alternatively I could have chosen to break this actual post down into 20 or so smaller posts – a series.

22. Ask Your Readers a Question

You don’t need to be the one with all the answers on you blog. Come up with a question to ask your readers that relates to your blog’s topic. You could run it as a poll or simply as a discussion starter.

When you ask readers questions there often will arise possibilities for followup posts including:

  • answering the question for yourself
  • compiling reader answers
  • compiling a list of resources on the topic you’ve asked about

Asking questions also gives readers a sense of involvement and develops community on your blog.

23. Set up News Alerts

If your blog has a ‘news’ focus you’ll definitely want to set up alerts using tools like Google Alerts or Technorati’s watch lists. These alerts will email you or notify you via RSS when a news service or blog posts about the keywords that you identify to be ‘watched’.

Such alerts are also useful for non newsy blogs also as they will let you know how other blogs and news sources cover the topics that you’re writing about. It’s often through these sorts of alerts that ideas for new posts will come.

24. Summarize what Others are Writing

One of the most popular posts that I’ve written on my Photography blog lately was 25 Great Photography Tutorials and Links from Around the Web.

The post was simply a compilation post of posts that other bloggers in my niche had written, plus a few from my archives and a few videos.

While the post is simple (it does take some work to pull together but it’s a different kind of work to writing your own tips) it was very popular with readers and did quite well on social media sites.

What I also found as a bonus is that in compiling the list I ended up with quite a few ideas for future posts of my own!

What Do You Do When You’re Stuck for Ideas to Write About

All of us struggle to find things to write about on our blogs from time to time – I’ve shared a few strategies of what I do – but what about you? I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on how you break though those dry patches too – share your thoughts in commetns below.

How Long Do You Take To Write a Blog Post?

As part of a little research I’m doing for a post (or a short series of them) next week here at ProBlogger I’d like to ask readers to answer this question:

How Long Do You Take To Write a Blog Post?

I know each post varies depending upon what it is – but on average how long would you say you take to write a blog post? I’d be interested to not only hear the time it takes you but also you usually write posts in one sitting or come back to them over time. Also it’d probably help a little if you told us the type of posts you generally write.

GRAB Your Reader’s Attention and HOOK them into your blog

Hook-1Do you want to learn how to SNAP readers out of their zombie like surfing and HOOK them into your blog?

If so – read on….

Image by Essjay in NZ

Before I was a blogger I did a lot of public speaking. I did a number of courses in public speaking and used to spend a lot of time with my head in books on the topic.

One of the techniques that I was taught that I found to be very helpful was to include something at the start of every presentation that was there unashamedly to grab attention and create interest.

The theory was that in most presentations (whether it be in a work context, conference, church, school or even in a social context where a speech was given) the majority of your audience quickly will slip into a zombie like trance even as you’re getting up to speak. The act of sitting down and listening to someone speak in a monologue is not really something most of us are wired to do.

So to snap your audience out of this state where they’re incapable of comprehending your 16 point presentation the theory is that you do something, say something, show something or claim something that grabs their attention.

Whether it be a joke, question, controversial statement or claim, powerful story, funny title slide or intriguing and surprising opening line – the primary aim in the first moments of your presentation is to grab attention and create interest in what you’re about to present.

This same principle applies to blogging in two ways.

1. Grabbing Attention on a Post Level

Let me start with the more obvious place that you can (and should) be thinking about grabbing the attention of your readers – within each post.

Every time a reader see’s one of your posts in their RSS feed, stumbles upon it in search engine results, spots it linked to on another site or even sees it on your blog – they make a snap judgement whether they’ll read it or not. This is based upon a number of factors:

  • The post’s title
  • The opening lines of your post
  • An intriguing question
  • A Story
  • The topic being covered and how relevant and useful it is to the reader
  • Visual cues on the page (pictures, sub headings, comment numbers, page design)
  • A controversial statement or bold claim
  • A great promise
  • The voice and style you’ve written in

We could probably add a lot more to this list – but I guess the point I’m wanting to make is that ‘grabbing attention’ is something a blogger needs to think about in the writing of each post.

2. Grabbing Attention on a Blog Level

While grabbing attention on a post by post level is important there’s another one that is worth thinking about also – on a bigger picture level as you think about your whole blog.

What hooks a first time reader into your blog?

Not just into the post that they’ve arrived on – but to your whole blog?

I’m not just talking about how to make your blog sticky (although many ‘sticky’ techniques will help a lot) but I’m talking particularly about getting ‘attention’ of readers.

Many of the points on a post level (point #1 above) come into play on this as they will be the first thing that a new reader sees – however there are other factors too – particularly:

  • Clear Communication of Topic – Communicating what your blog is about, who it is for, what needs it will fulfill etc all can potentially hook a reader.
  • Distinct Site Design and Branding – Whether it be a bold logo, distinct colors, an eye catching picture or some other factor design can stop readers in their tracks momentarily and get them to take a second look at your blog.

What attention grabbing techniques have you tried on either a post by post level or a bigger picture blog level?

PS: As I’m hitting publish on this post I’m reminded of a great little book – Hot Button Marketing: Push the Emotional Buttons That Get People to Buy.

This book looks at a variety of buttons (or hooks) that marketers use to make customers buy. While this might not seem that relevant for blogging – I found that as I read the book that a lot of the buttons described were similar to what I’d seen work at engaging readers on my blogs.

How to Make Your Blog Posts Stand Out From the Rest – Lessons from the MacBook Air

Have you heard that Apple released a new laptop called the MacBook Air yesterday?

If you haven’t – you are not reading the same blogs that I am. The news is everywhere at the moment with thousands of bloggers ‘breaking’ the news.

Here’s how Technorati has tracked the mentions of ‘MacBook’ on blogs in the last month. They tracked around 7000 blogs using the word yesterday (I think it’s much more than that – but you get the point of the chart).

Here’s how blogpulse charts it with just under 1% of all blog posts in the blogosphere containing the word ‘MacBook’ in the last day.

So with 1 out of every 100 posts being written about MacBooks – a blogger is faced with a real challenge.

How do you stand out of the crowd?

5 Ways to Stand Out From the Crowd When Covering a Popular Story

I want to suggest 5 ways that you can take a story that everyone else is writing about and do something that gives you a chance to differentiate yourself:

1. Compare – some of the posts that I’ve seen about the MacBook Air that have gotten more attention than others skipped over ‘reporting’ the features of the new laptop and got straight into comparing it with the features of other laptops in its class. Gizmodo currently has a good post doing this with a helpful chart that compares the MacBook Air and four of its competitors. This type of post usually starts appearing a couple of days after a story breaks – but there’s nothing to stop you doing it earlier.

2. Translate for Your Audience – most people hear the facts of the news fairly quickly (I mean even my Mum saw the new MacBook Air on the TV news last night) – but what is harder to find is people who will tell you what it means for them. OK – so Apple released a new laptop last night – it looks thin….. “but is it something that could enhance my life? Does it suit my needs? How would it fit with my life?” These are the types of questions your readers will be asking when they hear news. These are the types of questions they’ll be searching for opinion on from others who they see to be ‘like them’. So in the case of the MacBook Air – a post like ’10 reasons why the MacBook Air will help You be a better Accountant’ or ‘Why Farmers are Better off Not Buying a MacBook Air’ might be an angle to take. This type of post might not get linked to by everyone in the blogosphere – but it’ll be appreciate by your regular readership and by other blogs in your niche. In a sense Treehugger did this with their post on the ‘greenness’ of the MacBook Air.

3. Give an Opinion – reporting the news is going to satisfy some readers and their thirst to be in the know – but most readers want more. They want to know what YOU think about that news – they want your opinion. In the case of the MacBook Air there has been plenty of opinion stated so this technique might not have as much impact now 36 hours after the announcement – but what I noticed in the hour or so after it was announced was it was largely opinionated posts that rose to the top of the social bookmarking sites – particularly posts that had strong negative reactions to the laptop. This is what Paul Boutin did with Why I’m Disappointed in Apple’s Ultraslim New Laptop.

4. Use Humor – often when the blogosphere is all going on about the one thing it is the blogger who dares to do something satirical or humorous that stands out from the bunch. Once again – I didn’t see a lot of this but Gizmodo did very well on Digg with their post Apple Introduces Manila Case – The World’s Thinnest Notebook Case. While Gizmodo has the advantage of a huge audience to start with – it was humor that stood out from the thousands of other posts going around the web reporting on how many ports the MacBook Air had and how it didn’t have a replaceable battery.

5. Extend and Predict – when a story breaks most bloggers get caught up in reporting the fact. Of course we all know that the facts get in the way of a good story – so why not tell a story of where you see things rolling out from here? I’ve not seen anyone do this yet with the MacBook Air (of course I’ve only read a small portion of the 0.9% of all posts written in the blogosphere yesterday so I’m sure someone has) but I think an interesting angle to take would be to analyze the direction that Apple has taken with their new line of laptops and extend it. Obviously this is just the first of a new line – what will the next MacBook Air have in terms of features? What will it look like? What will this mean for computing in the years ahead? update – Mac Rumors did this with Multitouch on the MacBook Air and Beyond

If you’d like to read more on a similar topic check out How to Add to Blogging Conversations… And Eliminate the Echo Chamber