Another Year, Not Just Another Blog

2016 Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Everybody, it seems, has advice about how to make your blog better than ever in 2016. John Egan, writing in the Huffington Post, sort of sums it up in two words: “Aim high”, by which he means never sacrificing quality merely to achieve quantity.

BlogTyrant makes some predictions about blogging SEO in 2016 centered around speed, because “even a second or two of lag can cost your business thousands of dollars”. Learning “how to shrink stuff” – photos, images, graphics, etc. can save loading time. Blogtyrant predicts that guest posting will still be one of the “absolute best ways to get your name out there and grow traffic.”

As a checklist for themselves, blog content writers might wish to use the judging criteria for the UK Blog Awards 2016, which include the following five aspects of a blog:

  • Design
  • Style
  • Content
  • Marketing
  • Usability

“Determine why you are blogging,” advises Maisha Walker of Walker outlines the four reasons a website exists to aid a business, and suggests ways to measure success for each goal:

  • build a brand (what awareness studies will you do?)
  • generate leads (How many phone calls or emails to you want to get from your blog?)
  • generate direct sales (How many readers and page views will it take?)
  • generate advertising revenue (How much do you hope to make? How many readers and page views do you need to do that?)

“Your previous years’ outreach can clue you into what balance will work best. Take stock of what you did the past year: What was a home run? What was moderately successful? What underperformed? And what were the reasons for your content’s success or failure?” Amanda Hicken of advises.

Then, looking towards the coming year, Hicken says, go through the holidays, seasonal events, and conferences that impact not just your industry, but also the industries related to your target audience. Uncover other newsworthy topics and trends by using a monitoring tool. But, she cautions, “don’t fall into the trap of operating on autopilot”.

How will you approach blogging in the new year?


Blogging Assumption-Free

Follow the Guidelines sign isolated on white backgroundI’ve been doing some heavy thinking about assumptions, and it’s Daniel Herndon’s fault.

“Assumptions can be good or bad, but either way they inform our beliefs and opinions,” Herndon says. Assumptions inform the decisions we make, and often they can be productive, he admits. But what about when our assumptions are counterproductive? he asks. (That’s precisely the question I haven’t been able to stop turning over in my mind ever since his thought-provoking newsletter hit my inbox.)

What if our assumptions are keeping us from doing something great? (Read these examples from the Herndon post– you won’t be able to get them out of your mind, either!)

  • What if your parents are not always right?
  • What if you don’t have to change your oil every 3000 miles?
  • What if you don’t have to go to college to get a good job?
  • What if some things don’t ‘happen for a reason’?

I’ve been “translating” this assumption-challenging attitude into my own field of blog content writing.  “What if all those rules we were taught at all those webinars and seminars and ebooks and “15 things” lists are actually stopping us from writing truly great content?” is what I’ve been asking myself.

  • What if blog readers don’t have as short an attention span as we thought?
  • What if they don’t all read at a sixth grade level?
  • What if you don’t need to keep the content “above the fold”?
  • What if searching Google AdWords isn’t the best starting point for creating posts?
  • What if being almost obnoxiously opinionated on issues in your field is just fine?
  • What if you went ahead and gave away all your how-to “secrets” in your blog and your readers still wanted you to provide services for them?
  • What if keeping below 65 characters wasn’t the most important thing about writing a title for a blog post?

What if you had your ideal prospect sitting right in front of you, and you were going to take three minutes to teach him one thing he needs to know how to do? What if you were going to take three minutes to share with her a valuable insight, or express and explain your point of view on a controversy that’s in the news?  No blogging platform, no SEO, just talking.

Now sit down and do something great. Write your blog post directly to that one man or woman.  Assume they’re going to read it – every word.

Next time you’re getting ready to write copy for a blog post, ask yourself Daniel Herndon’s question: “What if what you believe and take for granted is actually a false assumption?”


Accentuate the Negative?

“Eliminate the negative an’ latch on to the affirmative” was Johnny Mercer’s musical advice back in food Playing to one’s strengths has, in fact, been a popular fad in management development circles. As a blog content writer, though, sometimes I wonder.

The latest issue of Modern Dog magazine features eight article titles on its cover:

  • How Not to Train Your Puppy
  • Gift ideas galore
  • Big Dogs and their Puppy Counterparts
  • Winter Survival Tips
  • Great Gear
  • I’m Adoptable
  • Find a New Best Friend
  • Why is My Dog Staring at Me?

Guess which one attracted my attention the most – Yeah, gotta admit… it was the negative one telling me how NOT to train my puppy. And guess what? It’s not just me.  People are drawn to articles with negative titles, my friend and fellow blogger Lorraine Ball pointed out a year ago. Posts with negative titles stand out in a blog roll, on a Twitter feed or LinkedIn page, and the negative posts are more likely to be shared, retweeted and read.

What’s with us? Well, “edgy language draws attention”, Lorraine explains. (Lorraine’s title “Why Your Blog Titles Suck” is a bit too edgy for me, but I get the idea. I do.) Fact is, I would’ve picked “Why is My Dog Staring at Me?” before “How to Train Your Puppy”.  It was that How-NOT-to that drew my attention.

But that doesn’t jibe at all with Rich Brook’s advice on socialmediaexaminer: “The how-to is the most powerful of all the blogging archetpyes.”  Your prospects and customers have a problem and you can help them solve it by creating a step-by-step post that walks them through a solution, he says. That may be true, counters Lorraine Ball, but fear of failure is core to who we are as people, and it’s hard to resist reading material about how to avoid it.

Could it be that accentuating the negative, and only then latching on to the affirmative is the best advice for us business blog content writers?


Blog Writers’ Opening Lines have a Big Job to Do

Curiosity conceptThe first words of a novel can be enough to set the tone for the whole book,” explain the editors of The Book of Random Oddities.

Some of the most famous first lines quoted in the book include:

  • All children, except one, grow up”.  (“Peter and Wendy”)
  • Marley was dead, to begin with.”  (“A Christmas Carol”)
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times (“A Tale of Two Cities”)
  • “Call me Ishmael.” (“Moby Dick”)

Each one of those four openers arouses our curiosity. (Who is the child who never grows up? Why is the fact Marley is dead only a fact to begin with? How can the times be both the best and the worst?  Why should we call him Ishmael – is that really his name?)

But, unlike novelists, can we blog content writers afford to be that enigmatic in order to arouse curiosity?  We know how essential for us to assure readers that they’ve come to the right place to find the information that satisfies the needs that brought them online to find answers – otherwise they’ll bounce away from our site before we get to share our thoughts!  What I call “pow opening lines” are great, but if we fail at showing how that “pow” answers readers’ needs, we won’t be given the chance to tell them the “how” (how what we have to offer will better their lives in some way).

One solution comes in the form of “Huh?” blog titles or opening lines.  “Huh”s need subtitles to make clear what our post is going to be about. The “Huh” startles and arouses curiosity; the subtitles or second sentences clarify what the focus will be.

The “Call me Ishmael” line introduces the narrator of the piece. Although the central figure of “Moby Dick” is Captain Ahab, readers are going to be told the story by Ishmael. The same literary device might be useful for a business blog post, so that readers understand who’s talking. “Call me Jeffrey. Before I started my Slimbo exercise program, I weighed 345 pounds and could hardly walk around the block.”

“Marley was dead, to begin with.”  The same format might be used in a blog post for home remodeling company. “My kitchen was cramped, to begin with.”

The point for business bloggers: As with a novel, in blogging, the title and opening line will set the tone for your entire post. Arousing interest and curiosity is much to be desired, but be quick to clarify where you’re going with the content of the post.

Blog posts’ opening lines set the tone and arouse curiosity, but it’s best not to sustain the mystery for very long.