Are Your Blog Questions for Learning or Judging?


Questions open our minds, says executive coach Roz Savage, but we need to go from judging to learning. While old-style leaders ask questions to elicit facts, new-style leaders ask questions “to unlock the intelligence of the team”. In her book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, Marilee Adams compares judging questions with learning questions. When we leap to judgment, that prevents us from learning very much, she teaches.

At Say it For You, always on the hunt for ways to improve the way we go about business blog content writing, we wondered how questions can be used in blog content itself, in which the “conversation”, at least at the start of the encounter, is one-way! Neil Patel suggests asking questions on social media as a way of learning more about your target audience for the blog. The first and most important question you need to ask, Patel says, is What are my readers worried about? The answers will allow you to provide a better customer experience and blog reader experience.

A question in a blog post title is an invitation to participate in a conversation, Patrick Armitage of BlogMutt suggests in uplandKapost.com.  And, while in a blog post, Armitage says, you’re often providing answers to questions that your potential customer might ask, the very fact that it’s in the form of a question allows readers to feel you’re helping them form them form their own opinions.

Visitors are, without a doubt, judging your website. If it does not appear attractive, easy to navigate, or knowledgeable, you’ve lost your customer, cautions Webociti. Relevant information they should find includes questions and answers, Joe Mediate explains.

As Marilee Adams emphasizes, learner questions lead to discovery and understanding, while judger questions more often lead to blame and frustration. In keeping with that concept, blog content should focus on expansive and productive questions, such as “What’s possible?” “What are my choices?” “What’s useful here?” In the real blog marketing world, I’ve found, the content writers focus on appealing to consumers’ fear. My own thought has always been that, to appeal to a better kind of customer – the one who buys for the right reasons and remains loyal, the content must appeal to readers’ better nature – and to their ability to arrive at intelligent answers to “learning” questions.

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Effective Blog Post Titles Force Readers to Figure it Out

blog post titles
As a blog content writer, I’m always fascinated by what makes certain word combinations used in advertising pack such tremendous marketing power, while others come across as mere “slogans”. Years ago, a presentation by humorist Dick Wolfsie provided a clue. In order for a joke to be funny, he said, the person listening to or reading the joke has to be forced to figure things out. The laughter, he explained, is the reward that listeners or readers give themselves for having understood the meaning of the punch line.

I was thinking about that concept the other day, realizing why some TV ads just seem to “fall flat”, while others stick in my mind for days. Xfinity’s “Simple. Easy. Awesome.”, for example, doesn’t tell me a thing about the company’s products or services, or even relate to their funny video. The title fails to make me think, giving me nothing to figure out. In contrast, USAA’s title “What you’re made of, we’re made for” compelled me to try and figure out the meaning of the message.

“Whenever you think of the brands you know or perhaps love, there are chances that you not only recall the brand name, but campaign slogans, too.” Anne Carton writes in designhill.com, “Slogans are the taglines or phrases that are used by a company to express the importance or the core idea of their products or services,” Carton continues. Effective slogans have the positive “X” factor that makes us look twice or even thrice, she adds.

As I often stress at Say It For You, blogs are not advertisements, and therefore blog titles are not slogans. Still, there are two basic reasons titles matter – a lot – in blogs:

  1. For search – key words and phrases, especially when used in blog post titles, help search engines make the match between online searchers’ needs and what your business or professional practice has to offer.
  2. For reader engagement – after you’ve been “found”, you’ve still gotta “get read”.

The Dick Wolfsie insight comes into play here: Effective blog post titles not only relate to a reader’s search, but force the reader to figure out if and how!

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Blog Posts Can Have Similar Settings, Yet Tell Different Stories

settings for blog posts

 

Readers first meet both J.M. Barrie’s character Peter Pan and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist in bedrooms, we’re reminded in Everything You Need to Ace English Language Arts in One Big Fat Notebook. But of course these two texts tell very different stories, because each author wants to emphasize different things. Life is peaceful and private in Peter Darling’s home, while Oliver sleeps on a rough hard bed in a large orphanage.

It’s the same with blog posts, I teach at Say It For You. Today’s post can slant in one direction; tomorrow’s can take the same theme and deal with it in a different way, perhaps appealing to different segments of the business’ (or the practice’s) audience. Different posts can offer valuable information and advice relating to different aspects of your product or service offerings.

The Oliver Twist approach:
Using the Oliver Twist setting, content writers aim to demonstrate they understand the challenges the readers are facing. It must be clear that you (or the business owner or professional practitioner client you represent) understand online searchers’ concerns and needs.

The Peter Pan approach:
Using the Peter Pan setting model, in contrast, means helping readers visualize themselves “soaring”, picturing the end result – the relief, wealth, ease, pride, and comfort they stand to achieve through following the advice in the blog post. While the Peter Pan story is far from realistic, it’s important to describe realistic, achievable and easily identifiable signs that will tell clients that they are on a trajectory leading towards the desired outcomes.

Whichever approach you select for the “setting” of any one post, the authors of Everything You Need to Ace English Language Arts in One Big Fat Notebook offer a “sound argument checklist” blog content writers will find useful:

  1. Everything must relate to the central idea.
  2. All the evidence must be relevant.
  3. Word choice is important, including analogies and allusions.

“Fiction is imaginary,” the authors conclude, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything from it,” At Say It For You, our business blog content writers know that’s certainly the case!
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Unleash the Combined Power of Statistics and Stories in Your Blog


“Every 55 seconds someone in the US develops the disease,” Jason Abady, community engagement manager for the Central Ohio Alzheimer’s Association, let our audience know. In fact, I thought later, Abady had used this one simple but startling statistic to engage his audience.

Abady’s presentation confirmed a long-held belief of mine: nothing speaks quite as loud as numbers. In teaching business owners and professional practitioners how to create content for blog posts, I stress the power of using statistics in blogs.

  • Statistics can serve as myth-busters, dispelling false impressions people may have regarding your industry.
  • Statistics grab visitors’ attention.
  • Statistics can be used demonstrate the extent of a problem (just as Jason Abady did in his talk), opening the door for your to show how you help solve that very type of problem.

Statistics relate to the theory of social proof, meaning that, as humans, we are more willing to do something if we see other people doing it. (That, I suspect, is what is in play with the Alzheimer’s Walk, which brings numbers of people together in an activity, rather than merely soliciting individual donations.)

There’s another side to this story, based on my own experience at Say It For You, training blog content writers and working with business owners and professional practitioners: Statistics alone, although powerful, are not enough to create positive results in a marketing blog. True, what blogging does best is “deliver” to blog sites customers who are already interested in the product or service provided by that practice, business, or organization. The blog content assures readers they are not alone in their need for solutions to their medical, financial, or personal challenges.

As John Pullinger observes in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, “Statistics provides a special kind of understanding that enables well-informed decisions. As citizens and consumers we are faced with an array of choices. Statistics can help us to choose well.” However, as blog marketers, it’s important for us to remember that the first choice that people make when presented with a statistic, is whether to take action at all.

Numbers give us quantifiable information, but when it comes to communicating how things can actually impact readers’ real lives, some form of humanizing or grounding the data is often effective, Barnard Marr explains in Forbes.

One way to boost the power of a statistic is to turn it into a story. The story then becomes a call to action for readers. In fact, one big, big part of providing business blogging assistance is helping business owners formulate stories. Online visitors to your blog want to feel you understand them and their needs, and the story enhances the potential value (to them) of your product or service. In his presentation, Jason Abady did exactly that, sharing the story of his own grandfather as an Alzheimer’s patient.

Unleash the combined power of startling statistics and inspiring stories in your blog!

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Letting Your Blog Verbs Breathe


Even if you’re not into verbifying your nouns (the topic of my latest Say it For You blog post), at least let the verbs you do use, b-r-e-a-t-h-e, is my advice to content writers. “Don’t smother verbs”, Mary Cullen writes in 87 Advanced business Writing Tips That Actually Work. 

The three cautions Cullen offers are:
  1. Use clear words rather than using punctuation to emphasize your point.
  2. Don’t smother verbs by changing them into nouns (this is called nominalizing, the opposite of verbifying).
  3. Don’t overuse adverbs; instead, use stronger verbs.
Weak sentences frequently begin with “There is” or There are…”, Cullen explains.  Cut to the chase, she advises.  Find the real subject – and the real verb expressing what’s happening – and start there. Just as over-introducing a speaker takes away from, rather than enhancing, the impact of the talk itself, in your blog content, get to it, I teach at Say It For You.
Composing a blog post can be like creating a resume, in that it’s better to opt for strong, positive verbs. More verbs make for more dynamic blog content. Verbs connote activity and excitement, advises Bits.blogs.nytimes.  

“Good writing has a point, a goal – to sell something, to convince someone of something, or to explain how to do something, but whatever the point, the goal informs every line., says Dustin Wax of lifehack.org.” Strong verbs move readers in the direction of that goal.
Powerful writing is compelling, demanding attention, Wax continues, in any of three ways
  • the force of the argument
  • the importance of the topic
  • the strength of the language
My point today – now you’ve discovered the strength verbs can lend to your content, don’t sabotage that strength with adverbs and cumbersome wording – let your blog verbs
b-r-e-a-t-h-e!
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