Blogging offers writers great rewards. We get to share our words with others. We educate and entertain. If we’re really lucky, our blogs generate income or interest from book agents. To do any of this, however, you need readers, and in the early days of any blog, readers are hard to come by. [Read more…]
Did you ever come across a blog post with a catchy headline but the actual content says nothing? Sure, there are a bunch of words there, but they never seem to back up the title. It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine. I’m a sucker for a good headline, so you can imagine my disappointment when I’m sucked in via blog’s title and end up receiving little or no return on my investment of time.
It’s easy to ramble on when blogging. However, if you’re going to write a title that promises something, you need to be sure you’re going to deliver. If you’re writing a how to, give a how to. If you’re going to discuss whether or not something works, explore what you promised. It’s kind of annoying to expect to learn something and instead walk away wishing you had those five minutes back.
Here are a few tips for writing blog posts that say something.
Write Your Headline Last
I know, I know….you’re supposed to think up a really catchy headline in order to bring in traffic, but what happens if you write a great headline and the rest of your post sucks?
Most of my ideas for blog posts come to me headline first. I title pops into my mind and I log it for later use before I can forget. When it’s time for me to blog, I choose from about 800 titles that are in my WordPress drafts. The problem with this is that I end up writing around the headline and often times the carpet doesn’t match the curtains. Now those headlines are merely ideas.
Here’s one of my best blog post writing tips: If you have an idea for a blog post, write the blog post first. Get an outline going and then write it out. When you’re done you can think of an appropriate headline. When you write with a headline in mind you might miss the mark. Write with an idea in mind instead. Play off the idea rather than the title and you’ll find it works out a lot better.
- Outline your blog post to make sure your ideas flow.
- If the purpose of your blog post is to teach, ask yourself if people actually learned something from your post.
- If the purpose of your blog post is to answer a question, make sure that question is being answered.
- Don’t write topics you have no business writing. If you know nothing about your subject matter, it will show.
- Don’t be afraid to let your passion show through. If you have a true passion for a subject your readers are sure to walk away with a good experience.
- Always, always deliver what you promise.
Put yourself in the reader’s place
In case you haven’t realized it yet, you’re a very small part of your blog and you’re not writing for you. Blog with your community in mind. Don’t assume they know about a topic because you do as not everyone has the same level of expertise. Write as if it’s the readers first time to learn about a topic. That’s not to say every single blog post needs to be on a beginner level, but it does mean that not everyone knows what your talking about. Don’t be afraid to add definitions and background or give a brief overview. If you don’t have time to give a brief primer, liberally link to definitions and explanations so your readers aren’t lost. Before hitting “publish” read your post as a reader, not as the author…you’ll see it makes a big difference.
I have to be honest. The inspiration for this post hit a few days ago after reading a title that asked a questions, but said nothing in the post. I was disappointed. It was clear the blogger was just getting his 300 words in. When was the last time you read something that said nothing? How do you make sure your readers are satisfied?
During our last night at SXSW, my good friends Andy Hayes, Chris Garrett and I enjoyed some dinner and conversation. Our topic revolved around blog community and whether or not our communities owe us anything for all the information we share. We all agreed that our communities support us in many ways including visiting our blogs every time we post. Without this type of support, there would be no reason to blog at all. I always said that without my community I’m nothing and both Chris and Andy agreed. We appreciate the loyalty of our individual communities and we find our reward in their enjoyment of our words.
With that said, sometimes your favorite bloggers would like to know that they have a supportive community. Yes, traffic does tell us something, but without participation sometimes it’s just bodies. I liken blog traffic without participation to walking into a restaurant and walking out again.
Restaurants have communities too, though. They:
- Stop by and order a meal
- Chat with regular diners and staff
- Support local promotions and events
- Recommend the restaurant to others
Sometimes bloggers wouldn’t mind seeing support beyond regular traffic. It’s not that we don’t appreciate that you all visit us each day, but we’d like to know how you feel and that our words have touched you. We want to enjoy your company. We want to learn about you as a community and also as individuals. Yes, visiting is enough, but here are some other ways you can support your favorite bloggers:
- Comment: Did you like a post? Hate it? Tell the blogger why. Even if you disagree, the blogger will appreciate your input and the community will benefit from all sides of the story. I can’t think of one blogger who doesn’t get a rise out of seeing his community respond to a post. Our biggest disappointment is writing a post that gets no comments. You don’t have to reach into your wallet to support a blogger, instead take part in the discussion. I promise, you’ll make his or her day.
- Recommend: Recommend blogs you enjoy to others. Share the love. Someone once said to me that she doesn’t recommend blogs because she doesn’t want them to turn into the “intimate local band that hit big and now everyone likes them and you can’t turn on the radio without hearing them.” I’m not sure I share this logic. What’s wrong with everyone enjoying the same thing?
- Share your favorite posts: If you liked a post give it a Stumble or a Tweet or share on Facebook. When a blogger sees that people have been sharing something she wrote, there’s no better feeling. When she sees one of her discussion topics stimulating conversation on the social networks, that’s the gravy. You don’t have to click on ads or buy ebooks to support a favorite blogger. However, occasionally sharing or recommending will make all the blogging so worth it.
- Send feedback: Do your favorite bloggers know how you feel about their blogs? Why not send feedback. Drop a line saying how much you like what they do. If there’s something you didn’t like, well say that too – but do be respectful. If the blogger has a survey or feedback form, fill it out. Feedback allows bloggers to write topics of interest to the community and lets them know if they’re on the right track.
Most of us blog because we enjoy blogging and just knowing you’re out there reading is reward enough. Some bloggers spend hours each day building their blogs to foster a happy community. If that means something to you, let them know. You don’t have to sing songs around the campfire, but adding your voice now and then will make your favorite blogger’s day. I know it makes mine.
How do you show support for your favorite bloggers?
Reader feedback is a blogger’s most important tool. By reading comments, emails and survey results pertaining to our blog, we’re receiving valuable information. Stats also provide a gold mine of information.
For the most part, the feedback received regarding the Freelance Writing Jobs blog network is extremely positive. However, that doesn’t mean the negative feedback we receive isn’t treated with the same respect. Every comment, every criticism and every stat is given the same consideration.
It’s from our regular survey and from reading feedback regarding this and other blogs that inspired today’s list. If you’re struggling with traffic or you can’t seem to get a regular community together, it may be folks are turned off by something at your blog. Maybe you can learn by some of my mistakes.
Here are some things blog turnoffs I learned over five years of blogging for and running Freelance Writing Jobs.
Disclosure: There are a lot of “I’s” in this post. I made it about me.That’s because I’m speaking about my experience as a blogger. I’m also sharing many personal anecdotes which I hope doesn’t turn into yet another turnoff. This blog has always been about sharing personal (rather than general) experiences.
I hope you’ll also share your experiences and let me know if you agree or disagree.
1. It has no defined purpose
Readers like to come to a blog and know what it’s about. They don’t want to have to search to see if there’s a theme and they don’t want to read a mishmash of ideas each day. They want to know a blog’s purpose. If it’s a personal blog, they expect varied thoughts. If there’s no indication of whether or not your blog is personal , or really what you’re going for, you’re going to lose some very confused readers. We can blog about anything we want. However, if your blog is just disorganized ramblings, it may not make it to the top of the rankings. I once had a blog that was supposed to be about the life of a work at home mom, but turned out to be anything but. It didn’t last long.
2. It doesn’t stay on topic
If your blog is about tomatoes but you spend too much time focusing on your two year old’s potty training, you’re going to lose some people. All bloggers go off topic now and again, and that’s kind of to be expected. When it happens on a regular basis your community might go to a competitor’s blog to learn all the stuff you’re not teaching. If you have trouble finding things to write about in your niche, it’s probably the wrong niche. If you write more about another topic, that’s probably the one you should be going for. All blogs have a niche. If you can’t stay true to your own, your readers won’t stick around.
3.It doesn’t teach
Sometimes blog posts hint at a point but never quite get to it. For example, if I’m going to write posts about freelance writing that talk about writing in a general way but never give you actual tips you can use, you really don’t have a reason to visit. If I wrote a post entitled “How to Land Your First Freelance Writing Job,” but gave a pep talk instead of actual practices to put into play, I’d be pandering to traffic, but I wouldn’t teach. My community would quickly realize that I didn’t have anything to offer. The people who come to this blog want me to help them to become successful freelance writers. They want to leave their office jobs and work at home full time. If I can’t share my methods, they’re going to call b.s. and move on.
4. It’s too negative
Rants are fun. They inspire discussion and bring in traffic. Ranty blog posts have dozens, if not hundreds of comments and everyone wants to weigh in. Who doesn’t love a good rant?
People who see them every day.
Hear me out on this one, I promise this won’t be another kumbaya. If you read this blog for the past few years you’ll know I’ve spoken out against places that offer residual income such as Examiner, Associated Content and eHow. You know that I think residual gigs are not my favorite way to earn an income and very few can make it work. However, my community didn’t appreciate my strong thoughts regarding this and I alienated many.
My community told me they don’t want my venom, they want me to share my tips. No one wants me to tell them I feel they’re making poor choices. So I stopped. I didn’t change my mind, instead I focused my passion on offering tips for success. Now, some of you might be thinking, “Why worry about those writers, they’re not who you’re speaking to anyway.” That’s where you’re wrong, they’re exactly who I’m reaching out to. This blog is for all freelance writers and if I can’t build a welcoming community for all, then I’m not achieving this blog’s goal. The negativity scared people away and that’s why I stopped.
5. It’s too positive
Too much positivity can also be a turnoff and I can speak from experience here too. After taking a vow of positivity this year, I received a flood of criticism. When you’re too positive people don’t feel you’re honestly presenting all sides of the issue. I totally get this. Being around a Perky Polly all day can get a little annoying. I’m not saying I’m going negative because I learned some very good lessons, but balance is always good. If I see something I don’t like, I’ll make it known but I’ll always try to be respectful about it. I don’t think that blogging is about being positive or negative, I think it’s about being human.
6. It’s misleading
Don’t you hate when a headline sucks you in but once you get to the blog post you realize it has no bearing on the headline? People don’t like to be misled. They want the drapes to match the carpet.
7. There’s no clear comment policy
Whenever I discuss a comment policy I receive cries of “censorship!” or “you don’t let people disagree!” Not true at all. I personally feel disagreement makes the world go ’round. However, I don’t believe in anarchy. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with a blogger as long as you’re respectful. When folks start attacking and cursing in the comments, I lose people. I hate “Oh you’re so wonderful and I agree” comments all the time. I enjoy lively discussion and I want comments with substance. “You’re a butthead and don’t know any better” isn’t a good rebuttal, though. If a blog’s comment section is a free for all with all sides hurtling insults, it keeps people away.
8. It’s sponsor driven
Whoa, Nellie. Just back the truck up. Where do I get off talking about sponsor driven blogs when I talk about my own sponsor every day?
Personally, I feel having an obvious sponsor kind of puts me in a perfect position to discuss it.
I can tell you from experience that having an prominent sponsor will turn some people off and drive them away. It can even cause rifts in the community. If you’re going to choose a sponsor make sure you really believe in said sponsor and it’s worth the loss in traffic. I make no bones about it, this blog is heavily monetized and until I can get more personal passive income projects off the ground, it’s going to be heavily monetized. Many other bloggers and community members don’t approve of or agree with this. Before you decide to heavily monetize your blog, remember what happened here.
9. It’s poorly written
I talk about my typos all the time, but a there’s more to a poorly written blog than typos. When words are constantly misspelled and sentences aren’t structured properly, folks notice. I’m called out all the time for not properly proofreading this blog. People notice. Trust me, they notice.
10. Every post is an attempt at link bait
I love writing lists. If you search around this blog, you’ll find tons of them. I don’t necessarily write them as linkbait, but more because I enjoy the list format and try to have a little fun with my writing. Because I make a lot of lists, I’ve been called out as a linkbait whore. I can totally see that. Now before I discuss why this is a turnoff, I want to say that I’m confused at why linkbait is such a terrible thing. I mean, don’t we want traffic and don’t we want other bloggers to link to us? I guess wanting it and being public about are two different things.
A blog’s community wants to feel intimate. They want to be like the small fan base that enjoyed a club band before landing a record contract and going Top 40. They want to feel as if we’re sharing tips and ideas, not looking for traffic and links. In all honesty, I do try and make every post here useful, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want others outside of this community to take notice, either.
I used to blog for me, but now I blog for the Freelance Writing Jobs community. Through their valuable feedback I know why they come here – and what keeps them away.
What does your community tell you? What are some of your blog turnoffs? Do you agree with the above?
Headlines are an important, often overlooked part of article writing. They are what prompt readers to click the link, pick up the magazine or buy the paper. Blog posts, magazine articles and news articles have unique characteristics that will be addressed individually in follow-up posts, but there are a few guidelines that apply across the different styles and medium of the articles.
Interesting & Descriptive
Headlines should attract reader’s attention while giving a brief overview of the article’s content. Sounds easy right? Well, given the dearth of boring and vague headlines in media there’s got to be more to it. A headline should:
- Include action words. Tell readers to stop doing something, start doing something, give something, take something, learn something – spur them to action and translate that action to reading.
- Avoid jargon, abbreviations or profanity. Unless writing for a specialized niche publication in which it is assumed all the readers will have a working knowledge of your niche language or abbreviations/acronyms, don’t use it.
- Be creative. When not a news headline, which tend to be very clear cut and straight forward, interesting plays on words or catchy titles work in grabbing a reader’s attention.
- Use punctuation. Commas, for example can be used instead of the word “and” in headlines. Utilize limited headline space by eliminating word clutter.
- Avoid exclamation points *most of the time. There are some exceptions, but most articles with exclamation points either cry of desperation or sales pitchy-type pieces. If you use one, make it count!
Non-Inflammatory & Clear
“Down with Deb Ng!” I’ve used an exclamation point, unclear language and inflammatory wording to get to you to click the link for this article. It worked, you’re here and it’ll probably work on the search engines. The problem is, the article is not about Deb (a true sweetheart), it was truly only written to prove a point – there are inflammatory, wildly inaccurate headlines all over publications today. This causes a problem for writers, publications and their readers because when you pull a bait and switch it is not only annoying, you’re readers begin to distrust your work and your wolf cries begin fade into the background of the rest of the media noise.
The post title is also unclear. “Down with Deb Ng!” could mean I’m banding together with a group of wild freelancers to crush poor Deb under our boot or it could also mean that “Right on, I’m down (or supporting) Deb Ng!”
The other no-no of this headline is I’m clearly using the Google juice of Deb’s name to boost the blog hits. All around it’s a stinker of a headline and readers are not stupid, they can smell sensationalism a mile away and are usually annoyed by it.
Take the time and make your headlines a priority not an afterthought. The next few blog posts will cover the specifics of writing headlines for different types of articles including blog posts, magazine articles and news.
When do you write your headline, before or after you write the article?
Perhaps the most daunting aspect of freelance writing is in finding interview subjects. Many writers are shy or have no idea how to find folks to interview. The thing is, it’s a lot easier than they think. Everyone has something to sell or promote and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who says “no.” Still, unless you have a specific person in mind you might be a little overwhelmed or unsure of the possibilities. Again, finding interview subjects is easy….if you know where to look.
Who to Interview?
Unless you have a specific person in mind, you might be unsure of who to interview. However, it’s as simple as researching your topic. Who are the experts and authorities in this field? Who is at the top of the search engines and best seller lists? Whose personal philosophy matches your own or who can provide an opposing point of view to a controversial topic?
You might also consider who has the most to promote. For example, authors with new releases or actors on press junkets are required to give interviews and help promote.. Bloggers who release new products and ebooks will want to talk about them. Anyone who releases products and services have to promote in order to make sales. Find these people and interview them.
Finding Interview Subjects in Your Favorite Places
I’m guessing that you want to interview prominent people in your chosen niche or that you’re under assignment to interview an expert for an article you’re writing. The more defined the niche, the easier interview subjects are so easy to find. For example, do you notice how the names of so many freelance writers sound familiar even though you may not have read anything they wrote? That’s because they all congregate at the freelance writing forums, job boards and various freelance writing blogs. Basically, it’s a matter of finding their favorite watering holes and pulling up a barstool.
Find your interview subject’s favorite haunts and reach out. Chat and build a relationship. Ask questions. When you’re comfortable with each other, ask if he would like to take part in an interview. Very few people say no.
Read Any good books lately?
My first couple of interview subjects were authors. I was writing on personal finance topics at the time and searched Amazon looking for people who authored books on my topics. Once I found an author I searched for contact information. If I could find an email address or website, I wrote to the author directly. If I couldn’t find the contact info I contacted the publishing house. Most publishing companies have information on their websites regarding interview requests, all you have to do is fill out a form and wait. The problem is, sometimes it takes months to hear back. I always prefer contacting the potential interview subject directly. Now, Twitter wasn’t around back then, but nowadays many authors have Twitter accounts. If so, try to reach out to them that way.
Here’s an anecdote for you, when I worked for BlogTalkRadio, one of our hosts landed an interview with Jimmy Fallon after talking with him on Twitter, so you never know.
H.A.R.O and ProfNet
Help a Reporter Out and ProfNet are two awesome tools for finding interview subjects. Both are similar in that you submit a request for interviews and if it’s approved, your request will be blasted to publicists, experts, bloggers and more. H.A.R.O sends thrice daily updates listing interview requests which means it reaches more people. ProfNet requires a fee of a couple of thousand dollars for professionals to subscribe to its service. Only those who pay for ProfNet will receive interview requests. Still, it doesn’t hurt to put your request for interviews on both channels.
More places to find interview subjects
- Search the Internet or your phone directory to find local experts such as accountants or attorneys and arrange for a phone interview or to meet face to face over coffee.
- Find experts at the blogs and social networks relating to your topic.
- Ask friends and neighbors.
- Join local networking groups.
- Attend conferences.
What to Say to a Potential Interview Subject
If you want to interview someone for a blog post or article, simply ask. Send a nice note explaining who you are and what you are writing. Tell the potential interview subject you’d really love to tap her brain and ask if you can ask a few questions. It’s very rare that you’ll get a “no.”
Shy writers like the email interview but phone interviews or face to face interviews allow for a more in depth piece. Offer your subjects the option. Picking up the phone may take your out of your comfort zone, but it can also make for a better interview. If it’s your subject’s preference, take a deep breath and make the call.
In our next post in this series, we’ll discuss questions to ask your interview subjects.
What’s in it For Them?
When requesting an interview, make sure you also outline what is in it for your subject. Let him know you’ll give him some time to plug his book or website and that you’ll offer links. Most interviews are used as marketing tools and your subject will be happy to talk in exchange for for the publicity. You might have to spill a few details about the place the interview will run. If it’s a household name magazine, you won’t have to do much selling. For blogs and websites you may have to recite stats and community demographic details.
Keeping it Real
You’ll find most potential interview subjects are very approachable. Be youself, be honest and be willing and the rest will fall into place.
Where do you find interview subjects?
When I first began working as a blogger, b5Media was at the top of my list of places to work. I mean, Liz Strauss, Brian Clark and Darren Rowse, all bloggers I looked up to, were part of b5Media. As someone who wanted to make a name for myself as a blogger, I felt this was a positive step in the right direction. My little freelance writing jobs blog was doing OK, I had some lucrative freelance writing clients, I just started working for About.com as their guide to Weblogs, a b5 gig was the icing on the cake…and I got in.
Good people, a good vibe…burnout
I dug the vibe. I made many friends and I learned a lot, especially with Darren Rowse’s regular blogging lessons. There was one problem; in order to bring in a decent paycheck I had to work my butt off. My goal with b5 was to work with the best bloggers in the business so I could learn to build my own stuff. However, the more I blogged for b5, the less time I had for my own blog.
Something interesting was happening though. I was writing over 100 blog posts per month for four different b5Media blogs and earning more with my own stuff. I was also beginning to burn out. Trying to make monthly quotas and traffic bonuses was taking its toll. Little by little I began letting my b5 blogs go and when I was offered a full time job as Community Manager at BlogTalkRadio, I gave it up for good.
b5Media made me realize my biggest blogging mistake. I spent so much time building up someone else’s brand, I wasn’t paying attention to my own. My freelance writing blog was doing well… damn well. If I had invested all those hours I put into someone else’s stuff into my own, it probably would have hit years ago.
The beginning of the end
Soon after I left , b5Media laid off many of their bloggers, cut pay for many more, and ceased production on many of their smaller blogs. Partners were fired. Some popular b5 bloggers were hired full time to continue popular blogs or blogs left behind by fired bloggers. Speculation and nastiness ensued around the web. As I watched b5 change from this happy, bloggy commune to a content portal I was sad for my friends at b5 but happy I made the right decision. The whole community element was gone. Everything I dug about the place was gone.
Better off blogging for myself
Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot. However, it was sad to see such a once mighty and promising blog network crumble. It also made me think about my own blog which was being built into a network. Though I don’t rely on VC funding or a board of directors, will it last? Will we continue to grow? I hope so.
I think b5Media’s downfall was that they were too big. They opened blog after blog after blog. They didn’t take the time to build and grow one blog at a time, it was an all or none effort. Beyond the above-referenced A-listers, most blog readers would be hard pressed to name many b5Media blogs or bloggers. The names aren’t as important as the brand. Now b5Media is as impersonal as it gets.
I’m in a better place now. I am grateful for my b5Media experience, but realize that if I put the energy into my own stuff that I put into theirs, my blogs would have started earning and growing years ago. I understand this isn’t an option for everyone, but it’s a good personal reminder.
Is it more important to build your brand or someone else’s? Where is your own time best spent?
What are your thoughts on the b5Media situation?
If you hung out on Twitter for any amount of time today, you may have learned b5Media had yet another round of layoffs. This time both part time and full time freelance writers for that content site were locked out of their blogs and shown the door.
Some of the laid off writers were with b5Media since its inception about five years ago. It’s a sad day for a company that once held such a great buzz and terrific vibe. I was a blogger for b5Media and the experience was valuable (blogging lessons from Darren Rowse, I mean, does it get any better than that?) and enjoyable. As you can imagine, my heart was heavy when I learned the news. b5Media closed its entertainment portal in order to make way for a brand new portal called Crushable.com
Now many b5media bloggers are looking for freelance writing work. Last year, a couple of of writers were hired for full time work at b5Media, after many of smaller blogs where shut down and those bloggers laid off. For the full time writers, today’s discussion regarding the egg/basket thing doesn’t necessarily apply. However. many of b5’s freelancers were also let go. Some of them did nothing but blog for b5. Now, they have to scramble.
As someone who has seen many web content sites and portals close shop leaving writers in the lurch, I have been advising writers not to put their faith in one client and one client only. No client whether it’s a magazine, a business, a private client or a blog network is ever a sure thing. Businesses dry up, magazines cease publication and, yes, content sites close doors. I’ve seen this happen to at least a half dozen sites over the past ten years.
I’ve had clients provide me with enough work to keep me fat and happy for months and then all of a sudden have to put a halt on things when times get tough. I worked for a publishing company where several magazines folded leaving both full time and freelance workers out of steady gigs. I know what it’s like to lose work when a client doesn’t have money for freelancers anymore. However, I always had another client or two (or three) in place so the cash continued to flow.
No job is forever. No client is forever. Spread your eggs around, folks. Now isn’t a good time to be out of work.
Do you have a morning ritual? Do you have a list of things to do before you begin working? I do. At first it was fifteen minutes, now it takes about an hour. I enjoy my morning ritual as it’s the perfect companion to my morning cup of coffee, but still, an hour. I wake up at 6:00 simply because I like to enjoy my coffee ritual in peace before the house wakes up.
After I stoke up the laptop I:
- Check the various email accounts and respond accordingly – or sort those I don’t respond to into the appropriate folders for later.
- Check blogs and comments, respond where necessary.
- Visit forums – Two private forums in particular -one my brothers, sisters and mom use to keep in touch, and one my friends use to keep in touch. I also like the private forum at Perfomancing Hive.
- Read the news
- Check in at Twitter.
What’s your morning procrastination coffee ritual?