broadsideblog

Ten ways to blog better — (but 20 more you missed!)

In behavior, blogging, education, Media, Technology on November 11, 2013 at 1:44 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Broadside now has more than 8,060 readers worldwide, adding new followers daily.

Here are are 10 of the 30 tips I shared yesterday with the students in my webinar, “Better Blogging.” I hope you’ll sign up for the next one. I also do individual coaching; if you’re interested in learning more, please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

photo(6)

Please use photos, videos, drawings — visuals!

I wish more bloggers consistently added quality visual content to their posts. Often, a well-chosen, quirky or beautiful image will pull in a curious reader more quickly than your very best words.

Every magazine or newspaper, and the best blogs and websites, uses illustrations, maps, graphs and photos — chosen carefully after much internal debate by skilled graphics and design and photo editors and art directors, each working hard every single day to lure us in. A sea of words is both daunting and dull. Seduce your readers, as they do.

Think like an editor

When you write for an editor, (as every journalist and author does), your ideas, and how you plan to express them, have to pass muster with someone else, often several. Their job is to ask you why you think this story is worth doing, and why now. (Just because you feel like hitting “publish” doesn’t mean you should.)

Who is this post — and your blog — written for? Have you made your points clearly?

Would your next post get past a smart editor or two?

Your readers are busy, easily bored and quickly distracted

All readers resemble very small tired children — they have short attention spans and wander off within seconds. Grab them fast! Keep them reading to the very end using “golden coins”. (Tip No. 30!)

Woo me with a fab headline

Magazine editors sweat over coverlines, the teasing short sentences they choose to put on their magazine covers, hoping to make you buy their edition over that of their competitors. Newspaper editors know they need powerful, succinct or amusing headlines to catch our eye and pull us into a story.

Have you ever studied some of the best heads? “Headless body found in topless bar” is a classic. This is an excellent headline as it immediately made me read the post — it’s bossy, very specific and focused on a place I know well. Sold!

Here’s a link to how to write great heads —  and another.

Break your posts into many paragraphs, and keep them short

Don’t force readers to confront a huge unbroken block of copy! It’s lazy and editorially rude. They’ll just click away, irritated. (I see this on too many blogs.)

Post more frequently

A blog that only pops up every few months is the sign of someone who just isn’t that into blogging. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it takes time. Once you’ve found an audience, your readers want to read more of what you have to say! Don’t disappoint them.

Or less

Some bloggers, giddy with the delicious freedom of being able to hit “publish” after every thought flitting through their head, post constantly. Do your readers really have that much time or interest?

We’re not writing for ourselves, but our readers’ pleasure.

Your readers probably don’t live nearby, and may not get your points of reference

While you assume we know the cafe/restaurant/politician/streets you’re referring to, we probably don’t. Remember that your readers — and potential new followers — are coming to you from all over the world. Which is incredibly cool! But consider  including links or a helpful brief explanation so we feel included, not shut out by our (natural) ignorance of what’s super-familiar to you.

English: Broadway show billboards at the corne...

English: Broadway show billboards at the corner of 7th Avenue and West 47th Street in Times Square in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Edit, copy-edit and proofread

Lightning — not lightening.

Palate — not pallet.

Spell-check will leave plenty of terrible errors in your posts. Read each one over carefully at least three times before hitting “publish.”

Introduce yourself

Is your “about” page still empty? Why?

In a world jammed with competing voices, why should readers choose to listen to yours?

Who are you? Where do you live? Have you any specific experience or credentials that add authority to your posts?

The best “about” pages include an attractive photo of you, some fun facts and a few paragraphs that give us a taste of your voice and point of view. It’s your very own editor’s page or movie trailer, and ideally makes us eager to dive into your archives.

I love the one here, at key and arrow, written by a young couple in Austin, Texas — it’s quirky, charming and informative. (Their logo and header are also terrific.)

PLEASE SIGN UP FOR THE NEXT WEBINAR — LEARN TO THINK LIKE A REPORTER — 4:00 p.m. SUNDAY NOV. 17 AT 4:00 P.M. EST.

DETAILS AND REGISTRATION HERE.

  1. Good info, Caitlin. Sometimes it takes repeated advice for it to finally sink in. Even if we only grasp and implement one or two ideas, we continue to improve.

  2. Great tips! I think blog posts which don’t include images are too dull and dry. A reader needs something to look at other than words, especially when reading on a screen. My eyes get tired when I’m reading long blog posts and it’s nice to break up chunks of text by using strategically placed graphics and images.

  3. You know what I wish, Caitlin? That people would stop telling me what to do. My blog is text. And text only. Short. Rarely (@grace above) exceeding 300 words. I have done as little as a sentence and to a great response. Who (what) are followers? People who siphon off and have nothing to say?

    How can anyone engage with 8000 plus [followers]?

    As to your plugging for your seminars: If I lived round the corner and had the money I’d be glad to give up my time. Alas an ocean divides us.

    On which note, ever so petulant, I have just vacated my ‘about’.

    U

    • 1) This is actually — as is every blog post written by any soi-disant expert — take it or leave it advice, Take what works (if anything) and leave the rest. I didn’t earn a dime from producing it, and it didn’t cost you a penny, except some of your time. Advice is there for the taking, or ignoring. It is hardly directed personally at you, or anyone else.

      Clearly, every blogger has their own idea what is Amazing, and if they’re finding hundreds and thousands of eager followers and gathering lively comments, it’s working! But many blogs — and the people who really wish they could grow an audience — are stuck and stagnant, sometimes for the simplest and most solvable of reasons.

      Who — if anyone — EVER gives critical/helpful/objective feedback on your blog? If you never want it, no harm, no foul from my side of the table.

      2) Short is great. Yet some of the best posts I’ve read are long — 1,500 words long. Short is not a magic bullet, although received blogging wisdom says it is. Chacun a son gout.

      3) What are followers? Technically speaking, people who have chosen to sign up to read this blog on a regular basis. If they “siphon off”, the number WordPress shows me will reflect it. If they have “nothing to say”, that’s a shame, and I’m always very interested in hearing new voices…and I make sure to welcome them.

      It’s not my in control who stays, who speaks up or who feels like placing a public and permanent comment on my site. Many people “like” a post but never say a word….ever. That’s their choice and who am I to devalue it? Or you?

      4) How can “anyone” engage with 8,000+ followers? Great question. Send them each a birthday card? I began to do a census of the people who have followed this blog but it proved extremely time-consuming and the ROI unclear. So the engagement is exactly as it has been from the very start — when people make the time to comment, 95% of the time I reply to them personally and quickly, to let them know their input is valued. That’s called “engagement.” If I just kept pumping out copy — and no one ever commented (aka engagement) — I’d stop. Or re-tool significantly.

      5) Well, given that my webinars are being Skyped into by people from New Zealand, Australia and London…that’s up to you. Skype is free. Much as my students “give up” their time, as they do, I also give them a tremendous amount of individual advice, skill and experience. It is a fair trade.

      6) Whatever works for you.

      • Ursula, I just read a few of your recent posts.

        Your tone — deliberately? – is angry and bitter. If that is attracting and keeping lots of readers and comments, keep going, but it literally raised my blood pressure just reading it.

      • Like most people you misunderstand anger. Anger is fuel. Often for the good and better. By all means, do avoid anger, if it gives you peace of mind. Won’t make any issue go away.

        Going back to your first response to my comment:

        1 – You ask “who if anyone ever gives critical/helpful/objective feedback on ‘your (my) blog”. Truth be told? Few. Though people do grow more robust as they get to know me. Hope you will – instead of pussy footing around.

        2. “SHORT” is great. The shorter the better. You say “the best posts [you] have ever read are long – 1,500 long”. Really? Please show me the way.

        3. “What are followers?” Followers, other than those who actually comment on your blog, are leeches.

        4. “8000 followers?” Caitlin, remember that old 60’s saying about flies and shit.

        5. I am not on Skype.

        6. Whenever I hear “Whatever” or your “Whatever works for you” I hear nothing.

        U

      • I’m not “most people.” I choose not to expose myself to anger/bile/rage/bitterness/invective. It’s a legitimate choice and one to be respected.

        In the context of my writing, as readers here know, I’m angry about social and economic injustice and attacks on women’s rights, which I blog about frequently.

        4. “Flies and shit”?

        I’m done with this conversation.

  4. Have to hand it to you, Caitlin: You are quick off the mark. Am I angry? All round? Yes. Very. So angry my sunny self finds itself searching for rain bows. Always find them. Bitter? No. Deliberately angry? Yes. Absolutely: People’s cages need to be rattled. So far I have kept my volume down. Raising your blood pressure? My dear Caitlin: It’s my purpose in life to raise blood pressure. Only my mother’s I keep down. As best I can.

    Will answer your longer comment asap – am in middle of cooking dinner.

    U

    • Interesting.

      I have changed my approach in the past few years. I now assiduously avoid any and all people and situations filled with anger, conflict, recrimination and bile. They happen, of course, and I cope when I must. But now, when I can get the hell out, quickly, I will do so. Why stick around? Life is difficult enough without marinating in someone else’s rage.

      Not sure what the appeal is to readers. The one post I put up recently about being angry was very much not read and very clearly not liked. I found that interesting and instructive.

      • Is life too short to marinate “in someone else’s rage”? Throw me a morsel. I might not swallow. Though most likely will. What of your own rage, Caitlin? Choke on it? Surely not.

        Don’t know if you have any Italian blood in you. If you do let it simmer. Skim. Clarify. Taste. Divine.

        U

  5. Webisites? Typo first sentence, second sentence under point about graphics. (Sorry to point this out, but thought you should know.)

  6. You were right (it doesn’t hurt to say that a few more times), emphasis on the points of reference.

    While I would love to be Dick Button or Scott Hamilton in regards to just pointing on what triple jump or ridiculous spin an elite figure skater has just done, I have to slow it down for the sake of my readers, especially 87 DAYS before the upcoming Winter Olympics. The readers love the artistry of the performances and the outfits, but I don’t think I’ll retain my readers if I can’t do a better job at explaining what’s going on.

    Great advice!

    • Thanks! I so enjoyed our session together!

      I am really looking forward to your helping us better understand it all…and I’d be happy to link to some of your posts when they’re up.

  7. Good grief, what a fire fight! I’m always impressed that you manage to respond to every comment and still earn a good living. Adding online classes to your already full life makes me feel like a serious slacker. Good on you, Caitlin.

    • :-)

      The classes are manageable because, for now, each is only a one-time session. I’m not yet ready to commit to a longer series as this has already booked up my weekends for six weeks as it is. But I’m enjoying it and the income provided has offered me a very needed break for a while from pitching/writing/chasing down editors and payments.

      Not sure my living is “good” but the bills always get paid!

  8. Thank you for the tips! I’m fascinated by the differences between reading blogs (or anything on a computer screen from the Internet) and regular physical books. I suppose each article in a newspaper has to grab me like a blog has to, but of course a book is something I set out to read, and generally it (and its author) get a lot more leeway, at least at first.

    You must know what you’re talking about. Your blog is imminently readable, even on my iPhone while I do my best hamster imitation on the treadmill at the cardio-rehab sessions. I would have trouble thinking of something to write about every single day–on the rare occasion when I do log one post very soon after the one before it, it’s seldom anything important or even interesting. I’m not real committed to it, but that’s not to say if I was it would be any better.

    I did read quite a bit from angry blogger (above) today, and it’s true–she doesn’t need pictures. She’s a pretty good writer and doesn’t bore, but I confess that even though I read a few pages of older posts, (remember: tread mill,) I probably won’t become a regular because I think trying to “sell” anger is stupid and counter-productive. I don’t watch “reality” TV shows or listen to shock jock radio talk shows either. Life is too short.

    • Thanks for such a thoughtful comment!

      I’m also really intrigued by the differences (and similarities) between writing for a blog and writing for print. I think (speaking personally) that one’s voice on a blog as a writer is (or can be) 100% different from that at work — which is why it’s so appealing to bloggers. I know when I write a commissioned/paid piece it’s for the client, not for me. They have to like it or I don’t get paid. Here, I hope people like it….but who knows?

      Thanks for the kind words about this blog. I’ve been writing for a living for 30 years, so I better have some skills by now! :-)

      I read a few of her posts and found them all angry. I have been subjected to a tremendous amount of anger, in my personal and professional life. I find it deeply toxic and now stay far far far away from people who enjoy it. I agree with you.

      Good luck with your cardio rehab!

  9. all great advice! i’m so glad you like our ‘about’ page & that our intent was noticed; we wanted it to be concise, informative, & give readers a quick taste of our personalities all at the same time. thank you for linking to us! // on another note, i agree with roy’s comment (above). i, too, could tell from the angry blogger’s comments that she may have some talent as a writer, but life is too short to keep anger/angry people around. yikes! i have to applaud you on your responsiveness to your readers and your professionalism.

    • I think your blog is really lovely — I think 7 for 7 brilliant. Really enjoy the spirit you share there. Always happy to find — and share! — terrific work.

      Ursula lost me by being so insulting. Feedback, yes. Insults, no.

      For me, blogging is for sparking and engaging in lively/civil convo’s…Journalism now often feels very sterile in comparison. :-)

      • thank you for your kind words. we think the same of your writing! {i need to take your next webinar!} // i agree, feedback is nice, but insults are not constructive. you handle things well! // ha! yes!

      • I’d love it if you came to the next one…probably won’t do it again until February. Can always do a one-on-one, if you like…just a little more $$.

  10. I would love to sing up for a webinar; I would love to have another mode of payment other than paypal…I have had numerous paypal problems in the past including identity theft… If you would accept a check I would be interested in participating……

  11. If you feel insulted, Caitlin, I do apologize. That was not my intent. Forget the 60’s saying. You interpreted it in a way it wasn’t meant. Sometimes a thought falls flat on its face (as, incidentally and literally, I did today. I am fine, thanks for asking).

    I expressed an irritation about bloggers telling bloggers how to run their blog. Like you I am highly critical of writing and have, occasionally, pointed out to people errors as I perceive them. What raised my ire to read that blogs under however many words are not worth reading, that blogs without visuals are to be ignored. Isn’t that dismissive, rude, insulting? If you want visuals I give you visuals (once I can persuade my computer to make friends with my scanner. They haven’t been on speaking terms for ages.)

    Blogs are written for many different reasons. Yours and some others (I read few on a regular basis) are polished. Very. Mine? Not so. My blog is what I call my water cooler moment. Brief observations, spur of moment. A bit of gossip. Some venting (of anger, yes, that too). I fling myself on the page without a second thought, just as one does in conversation – and will live with the fallout.

    Like you I encourage discussion. Which is why – essentially – my blog happens in the comment section. The actual post being a hook. No more. If it were meant as a showcase for my ‘serious’ writing I’d be ashamed of myself. So, thank you and Roy for complimenting me on what can only be called ‘slap dash’.

    To summarize: Maybe if bloggers gave each other (and their different styles) a little bit more slack instead of being prescriptive we’d be all happy chatty. Which reminds me: Should I ever get serious about blogging I will have to change my blog name. It came about in a fit of anger (yes!) when attacked out of nowhere, and I do like alliteration.

    I hope you are not done with me, Caitlin. In fact, I’d be honoured if you showed your opinions on my blog. In my life’s experience, possibly not yours, some of my best friendships have blossomed out of initial antagonism.

    U

    • “What raised my ire to read that blogs under however many words are not worth reading, that blogs without visuals are to be ignored. Isn’t that dismissive, rude, insulting? If you want visuals I give you visuals (once I can persuade my computer to make friends with my scanner. They haven’t been on speaking terms for ages.)”

      I read a few blogs that rarely or never use visuals. I don’t enjoy it, but their content is strong. I did not use the words “not worth reading.” I argued the point that a blog needs to woo readers. It does. And for many people a huge chunk of copy, (let alone in an ugly font and a barely-legible theme — like white on black), with no paragraphs or visuals is a slap in the face. It is not inviting.

      Do the math…read a few blogs with large/growing audiences. See what they are doing well. Then do it, or don’t.

      No professional publication or website anywhere throws a ton of type at its readers without a concurrent sense of design, including layout, font, visuals, color. I also have thick stacks of magazines and newspapers to read — written and edited and designed by skilled professionals, their contents offered in a beautiful way. If the pro’s are making that effort, maybe they have a reason for it.

      Why should a blogger assume they are not competing for their readers’ attention with others, print or otherwise? They are.

      Whether you find my comments rude, dismissive or insulting, they are my reasoned, experienced opinion. Take it or leave it. If my blog has been Freshly Pressed six times and recommended by WordPress, (the editors with 400,000 blogs), someone who knows this stuff has decided this blog, and the way I present material, is worth a look.

      I’ve made my living as a writer and photographer for 30 years. My stories in the New York Times are the third most emailed of the day’s edition. Whether or not you agree with me, I know what readers and viewers want. Some bloggers are hungry for guidance and advice. For every person who wants to be “cut slack” there is one eager to win more readers, perhaps move into paid work as a writer. Take it or leave it.

      As for using photos or other visuals, WordPress offers photos to every one of its bloggers through a program called Zemanta, which I have been using for four years. It is free and suggests photos based on the words in each post.

      • It’s ok. Caitlin. I get the drift. Who is angry NOW? Not me. Why are you so defensive where there is no need? I complimented you on your writing. All I said that to dismiss blogs on the grounds of criteria that you (and some of your commentators) make up arbitrarily lacks manners. Who is laying down the law? And why do you keep bringing up your credentials? I know. And I congratulate you. Yet, having credentials under your belt does not make you exempt from being questioned as to some of your reasoning.

        You may well be right about lengthy blogs needing to be broken up by visuals, indeed the odd TED talk, or piece of music. The lecture you give me in your last response is lost on me since, as you know, I do not write essay length posts. Maybe I should. And if I did I truly hope that I’d be able to take (well meant) criticism. Blogging is a dialogue not an ivory tower from which we throw morsels to passing-by seagulls.

        That you did not take my hand in my peace offering a little disappointing. Not one word of reconciliation. Acknowledging that views may vary. It happens. Ever the optimist I can’t say I confirm your view of life. Still, I am at the bottom of my learning curve. Let’s hope I stay there.

        On a more practical note, Caitlin, and I tried to convey this in one of my previous comments: How we conduct our blogs depends very much on what we are trying to achieve. Yours is a showcase, mine just a private little caper. You want to attract as many followers as you can, I get nervous when someone in Quatar reads my blog. WHY would they? Help!

        If you would like to continue this, and other, conversation(s) I’d be delighted. If not, it’d be a shame. As the cliche goes: You may lead a horse to water. You can’t make it drink.

        U

  12. There’s no winning a firefight, is there? I’m new to Broadside but my take is that this is a blog whose mission is to teach bloggers what works in this form of communication. If
    Caitlin attracts 8k visitors a day, it’s because Broadside offers a strong point-of-view and solid information.

    I’m happy to get a nice link to Caitlin’s good opinion through my post on the role of cleverness in a headline. Like Caitlin, I blog to augment my credibility as a blogger for Microsoft, and lots of other business clients. My experience as an advertising creative director for 30 years tells me that this post–and many other Broadsides–are dead on. Thanks for the good writing.

    • Thanks, Cynthia…

      I do not have 8,000 views a day….or, if I do, news to me. But the number of followers is that high.

      I blog for a variety of reasons, one of which is to help boost my writing business, as does yours.

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