They’d read your blog (more often) if only…

Homes & Antiques magazine cutting: Dec '09
Homes & Antiques magazine cutting: Dec ’09 (Photo credit: H is for Home)

You used photos, videos, drawings — visuals!

I’m amazed, and dismayed, by how few bloggers consistently add visual content to their posts. A sea of words is daunting and dull. Magazines and newspapers know they must seduce readers into their material, not simply subject them to an unbroken and wearying sea of type.

You thought more like an editor

When you write for an editor, your ideas, and how you plan to express them, have to pass muster with someone else, often several. They usually ask you to explain, a little or a lot, why you think this story is worth doing now. Blogging offers writers tremendous freedom of expression — please don’t abuse it.

You remembered that your readers are busy, easily bored and quickly distracted

Journalists are taught to use the “inverted pyramid”, in which the most essential information in any story is at the very top, usually within the first sentence or paragraph. We do it because readers are like very small tired children — they have short attention spans and wander off within seconds. Grab them fast!

You wooed me in 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 competitiors. 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 —Β  and another.

You used lots and lots of paragraphs

Don’t force readers to scale a huge unbroken block of copy! It’s lazy and editorially rude. They’ll just click away, irritated. And I see this a lot.

You posted more frequently

A blog that shows 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. Your readers are there for a reason. They want to read what you have to say! Don’t disappoint them.

You posted less frequently

True, dat. Some bloggers, giddy with the delicious freedom of being able to hit “publish” after every little thought flitting through their head, post constantly. I know that some bloggers relish the writing challenge of producing a post a day, but do your readers have that much time or interest?

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

You had more of a sense of humo(u)r

The best blogs have some lightness to them. They’re not a laugh riot all the time, and can often be serious. But being earnest all the time ? We usually shy away from that in real life, so why would we choose to read it? Mix it up a little.

You remembered I don’t live nearby, and don’t get your points of reference

I live in a town north of New York City, and most of my readers also live in the U.S. But I also have readers in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, India, places where a reference I might make to a local politician or cultural figure or news story may mean nothing to someone who’s never heard of them. Add a link to help your readers far away better understand what you’re talking about.

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)

You didn’t mistake a public blog for a private journal

This is the single greatest mistake I see in too many blogs. I really don’t want to read someone whining: “I don’t know what to write.” A blog is a public document, visible in perpetuity to anyone who finds it — your friends, family, employer, future employers. Make it lively, interesting, compelling and intriguing.

You didn’t underestimate the power of a great blog

A few bloggers have won paid writing opportunities, or more, thanks to their terrific blogs. A well-written and illustrated blog, with smartly-chosen links and consistently compelling material, is a fantastic way to showcase your design, thinking, ideas and insights — far more effectively than any resume can.

If you’re a current high school or college student, fresh grad or work-seeker, consider creating a blog strategically. It’s your very own billboard.

You understood that it takes time to grow an audience

Some fortunate few find thousands of followers within weeks, but more likely this will take months or years. Broadside has almost 4,000 followers now, but it began in July 2009, has more than 1,300 posts, (archives help), and has been chosen for Freshly Pressed six times, each time bringing in thousands of views and new followers. (My best-ever day, thanks to FP, brought in 7,606 people.)

Tried using bold and italics once in a while

A sea of unbroken copy is bad enough. Readers need breaks! We need to know when and where to pay extra attention. Read books and magazines — even their on-line versions — to get a better feel for this.

Linked to and quoted others

Readers are hungry for well-curated content. What else are you reading or listening to?

You revealed more of yourself

Readers are hungry for authenticity. We don’t need all the gory details, but we want to feel we “know” the people who are asking us for our limited attention.

Or less…

Some bloggers beat us to death with detail. Why is what you’re posting of compelling interest to others?

You introduced yourself

There are far too many blogs where the writer hasn’t even bothered to fill out the “about” page. Every single magazine includes an editor’s letter and their photo, in addition to “our contributors” pages, with their photos and mini-bio’s. In a world of competing voices, why should we listen to yours? Who are you? Where do you live? Have you any specific experience or credentials that add authority to your posts? Don’t be too cute or coy. The blogosphere is a public space and staying totally anonymous means I have no idea why I should give you my very limited time and attention.

You leave me wanting more

Don’t overshare. Many bloggers bury readers in minutiae, a level of detail about their kids or cats or classes, super personal stuff that’s too internal and not focused on me, your reader. Make me hungry to hear more, not covering my ears going lalalalalalalalalalalalalalala.

78 thoughts on “They’d read your blog (more often) if only…

  1. Excellent tips. I would add that it’s important to develop a consistent voice. This took some time for me but it has helped my writing enormously.

    Prose must have personality. That’s something I’ve learnt from my own reading habits. I go to Broadside for crisp, authoritative, to-the-point writing, whereas I go to other sites for sassy self-deprecation or a dose of righteous indignation.

    I have also found that I like to read things I would not like to have written. I am interested in self-absorbed rants and in those who over-share but I would be mortified to post these myself. I suppose it makes me a literary voyeur, and somewhat vain.

    1. True…but, with exceptions. I’ve been intrigued to see how very much appreciated my musing/meandering/stream of consciousness posts — like the Manhattan party or a Manhattan afternoon or my time in Ontario — are as well. I enjoy mixing it up, and it reminds me I don’t only think one way or write with only one voice. I like taking different styles out for a spin here, since it’s unpaid labor anyway, not something I have to sell to a client…

      I enjoy reading a consistent voice, but (maybe just me) I also get bored with it. One writer I started to follow just kept navel-gazing and saying the same breathless things over and over (she was certainly consistent!) and I stopped reading. So that’s a tough issue.

      Literary voyeurism is, i suspect, what drives the blogosphere for many others as well. πŸ™‚

      Thanks, as always, for commenting. It’s great to have you back here!

  2. I think the Internet has created tremendously false expectations of how quickly and effectively one can build a large audience. Some do, and that’s terrific. But they tend to be niche (in my experience). Just because we can bang out something and post it minutes later on no way reflects how quickly (if at all), it will be read or replied to…let alone followed in the future.

    I get followers, but views remain much lower than these numbers would suggest. I find that frustrating but am too busy chasing an income to fuss much about fixing it. I admire people with gazillions of views. But that’s not my focus right now.

  3. Hi Caitlin. Thanks a lot for your link to my post on writing headlines. I’m doing a class on this topic, so I really appreciate the good thinking you’ve done. I’m beginning to feel as if clarity is even more important online, though I love a clever headline. The first question I make my corporate training students ask themselves is, “Do you get it?”

    1. So true. I think the medium is misleadingly seductive. When we write/publish on paper, there is a permanence to it that (one hopes!) makes clear the need to be very clear. I think online writing feels easier (which it might be, in production terms) but the basics remain the same.

    2. I’m also writing a paper about the blogosphere. Specifically, I’m looking at the authenticity side of this genre. It really surprises me how much authenticity matters in the blogging world.

      1. Not me!

        We live in a world filled with spin, lies, distortion and marketing. The more we’re buried in data and tweets and information — from who? sent why? why to me? — the more we crave some sense we’re really listening to a real person telling us genuine information for no other reason than they wish to share it. (That may be naive, but I think it’s a very real desire now.) Social media is often not very social in the classic sense, as Facebook is often just a pile of posts showing you how GREAT someone’s life is when we know it’s not like that all the time. Hence — a hunger for authenticity.

  4. sort of reads like your damned if you do, and your damned if you don’t… it’s a fine line though, and I agree with you on every count. Still getting to 4,000 followers for a fairly niche blog is hard! I suppose it depends on why you are doing it, though. I have a little group of core followers who I feel I really connect with, and I in turn follow their blogs and it’s a nice little world! I think it’s also important to mention that blogging is a reciprocal thing. There’s a whole community out there waiting, but you have to be polite and follow the rules, to some extent.

    1. I have mixed feelings about the community aspect of blogging — and to each his own. I have maybe 20 blogs, at most, that I follow, and several of them are work-related or focused solely on visual work (art, design) so they don’t require or demand interaction. I do comment as often as I can on the blogs I follow and I check Freshly Pressed regularly as well; (when someone I know, like Matthew Wright, who is featured there right now, is up, I make sure to ‘like’ it or comment in solidarity.)

      I think it’s probably quite a different thing for people who blog for pure pleasure (as many do) and those of us who enjoy it, but also have to do so for professional reasons to remain visible and, arguably, grow a provable audience for our paid work. I already have a large real-world writers’ community, so have no additional time to seek or nurture much more of one beyond this site. That may be an unpopular thing to say, I know, but I have no salary and every single minute I spend here is costing me income when I’m not seeking or completing paid work. No matter how much fun this is! πŸ™‚

      1. I don’t think so I think you’re just being realistic. I blog for pleasure but i don’t have the time or inclination to follow everyone who follows you take time to respond to your readers though and that’s important.

  5. Bookmarked, PDFed, and I would totally print this post out if I was somewhere stationary.

    I suck at titling my posts but that one line on your second link on headlining made it all clear:

    “Figure out the takeaway before you write a headline”

    Doh! Of course! *face palm*

  6. I definitely need to stick to some of these rules when Im posting on my blog such as great headings and writing content to interest my readers but its hard to be spot on every single post, especially since Im not a professional writer nor do I have a natural talent for it.

    1. I guess I really do raise the basic question, though…why are you blogging?

      If all a blogger wants is attention, that’s not offering their readers anything specifically of value to THEM. My advantage, writing for a living, is not so much any technical skill, (as there are plenty of places on the ‘net to pick that stuff up now), but my bone-deep awareness that I am COMPETING with millions of others for my readers’ eyeballs, attention and comments. If I don’t make a real effort, I think it’s both naive, and disrespectful to my readers.

      But to each his/her own…

      1. I guess I blog because I enjoy writing and sharing my own experiences with my job and being a student. I saw a gap in women who work in Engineering not really writing about it and so I wanted a chance to fill it.

        However sometimes I just like to write for me and its mixed in the blog too.

  7. Amazing tips. I have always found the blogosphere a difficult place to write in. There aren’t specific guidelines like other traditional forms of publications. From now on, I will blog by your tips.

    1. The whole point of blogging is the creative freedom. But if you need specific guidelines, that would be difficult. I’ve been writing for a living for 30 years in journalism, so a lot of this is now second nature for me. I think a lot of bloggers would be very well served, in fact, by visiting and reading sites on how to write journalism — tight, factual, lively and to the point.

  8. ianprichard

    Thanks for another great post, Caitlin. I just put up my seventh post, so I’m still brand spankin new to blogging and really appreciate stuff like this, especially from someone with your experience and in the concise clarity I’ve come to expect from and appreciate about your blog. (not to mention all the time you put into the comments!)

    I was in the middle of writing that post yesterday when this list came up, and I changed some things in that post to incorporate some of these tips, and I think it’s a huge improvement over previous posts, so thanks thanks thanks.

    The patience pitch really struck me. I yapped for years about starting/not starting a blog and never did, but looking back on it, I think I probably would’ve abandoned it soon after starting anyway, for not having a million followers in a week. I’m thirty years old and feel like I’m only now developing any kind of patience about… anything, really. I’ve spent the last couple years learning how to set realistic expectations and do things more slowly and for their own intrinsic benefits in the hope (dare I say faith?) that doing so will pay off in the long run. And it’s made all the difference in how much reward I get from actually doing the work and not worrying constantly about the results.

    Maybe that line between writing for ourselves and writing for readers’ pleasure can get kind of thin (or thick and murky and blurry, depending on how you look at it), I think one’s motivations really show, and I hope to have a blog that people know comes in large part from a place of earnestness instead of bald self-promotion or some misguided or disproportionate desire for attention (“disproportionate” because we’re all writing and publishing with the hope that SOMEone cares).

    And on that last thing – finding those who care – that is, finding one’s niche – I imagine will take some time, too. I’d like to hunt down my niche and promote myself into it, but that, it seems to me, would require a ton of MY time, and I’m not sure I want to spend it doing that. So I’ll probably just wait for general time to pass and take care of things, one way or another.

    Thanks again!

    1. I think blogging is a lot more complicated — emotionally — than we generally care to admit.

      There’s no way anyone (short of some Youtube sensation) is going to pile up a gazillion readers fast. Not gonna happen. How could it? Think of every possible distraction: TV/radio/video games/books/magazines/social media/work/friends/family/life! and how much time we each have on any given day to — read someone’s blog. It makes me a little nuts to get so few views, but I can’t fuss over it. I’m so damn busy I can barely write or read my own.

      You have to decide what your goal is. Mine is to grow an audience for my books.

      I think many bloggers just want attention, to be viewed and heard, and that’s fine…but not if you/they expect a stampede of fans.

      Good luck with it. πŸ™‚

  9. I figure the inverted pyramid structurei is even more crucial in the online world. Reading speeds and attention spans all seem to plummet when we come to the screen. Interest in content also seems to be transient – more akin to a daily paper than a magazine or book. Interesting reflection of the way blogging frames things.

    I have always been bemused at the number of people, too, who very obviously blog under a pseudonym, even if they’re trying to build an author (or other) platform for themselves. First step to authenticity is admitting to your own name! Even if, like mine, it’s common – uh I mean, ‘wildly popular’ (the chief returning officer of the electoral office tells me there are 42 other Matthew Wrights on the roll here in New Zealand. I know they include a Matthew Wright in Auckland who blogs poetry and isn’t me, another in Greymouth who writes railway histories…same as I do…and so it goes on…)

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  11. Whatta great tips you give, Caitlin! I try to make my writing even better. However, I’m a newbie in blogging and sometimes I still write things for myself. Well, I hope it’s a good start for a beginner.

    1. Thanks Puji!

      Blogging is a lot of fun, and my tips are those of a journalist who sets certain expectations…I think it’s possible to write for one’s own pleasure and still make it something of value to others. Good luck.

  12. Excellent tips. Many of the points boil down (in my opinion) to patience. Patience to build and grow your audience, patience to take the time and proof your post before hitting publish, patience to look for and add in visuals…

    1. Thanks!

      I do think the ridiculous ease with which anyone can bang out and publish a post — look, I’m a writer!!! — is misleading and creates some really awful stuff. ‘Publishing’ online does not = quality. Speed does not = something worth reading just because you feel an URGENT need to show it others. And just because it’s been made public doesn’t mean anyone is going to bother to read it. Annoying as hell, but simply realistic.

      You, as a fellow writer who’s done a lot of revision, know this!

  13. Great tips!! I’ve been following your blog on Google Reader for a few months and just realized I wasn’t following via WordPress. I love reading your writing, especially when you give tips on blogging. I’ve been trying to put your tips to use with my writing. It’s really helping me, as I’m not a professional writer. Just a Mommy blogging to keep me sane. Lol πŸ™‚ Seriously, I enjoy blogging and I really enjoy reading what other people write about.
    Love this post! I’m going to take your advice!! Thank you for sharing!

  14. Pingback: The Wonderful Blog That Almost Made Me Quit Blogging | The Misadventures of the Sassiest Blonde in Town

  15. Wow. Don’t hold back now! Seriously, most of these tips are very helpful depending on what you expect to get out of your blogging experience. Some bloggers write posts just to vent, share or express their feelings or memories. Others are motivated by hopes of publishing in the future. One day, I’m in one group; another day, I’m in another.

    For someone who feels the overwhelming desire to have billions of views; your advice should be followed to the letter. One point of contention I have with your advice would be to write every blog as if you were an editor. I’m not sure what you meant by saying “blogging offers writers tremendous freedom of expression” and then warn us not to abuse it! You lost me on that one.

    But, then again, I’m just a cranky old lady who writes for enjoyment. If I was writing to obtain fame and fortune; my carcase would have been discovered long ago along the lonely literary highway.

    I enjoyed reading this article and I’m sure it’s going to be helpful to many bloggers.

    1. “One point of contention I have with your advice would be to write every blog as if you were an editor. I’m not sure what you meant by saying β€œblogging offers writers tremendous freedom of expression” and then warn us not to abuse it! You lost me on that one.”

      What I meant was that when you write a post — try to see it from the perspective of someone who has no interest in it. Why do they care? Is it worth writing or reading? Is is spelled correctly? Grammatically correct as well? An editor’s eye and ear often protects writers from publishing stupid mistakes, in tone or content. Bloggers have no one to do that for them, so we have to do it for ourselves.

      It’s true that my advice is largely aimed at people who want a large(r) audience. Some do, some don’t. But for some of those who yearn for it, let alone a paid writing gig as a result, they have to up their game.

  16. Wonderful tips. Thank you. If I could add one thing, I would suggest somehow linking older posts in your current posts. That way people who may not have read your older stuff can go back and explore. You never know; they may find something they love!

  17. Thanks for this! I’m pretty new at this game and am trying to soak up as much as possible to make my little corner of WordPress interesting and relevant to someone besides myself. I can see what of your list I’ve violated and a few that I may be doing okay on – looking forward to continuing improvement. – Teri

  18. gradabout

    From a fresh grad and new kid on the blogging block: Thank you. This is a really helpful post. Your blog is also an inspiration.

  19. Most of the WP blogs I’ve seen as of late (yours excluded of course) are all about how they wish they’d get Freshly Pressed. Oh why oh why haven’t I been FP’d yet? Please FP me. So when it doesn’t happen automatically, the blogger starts to do things like attempting to write humorous –when they can’t and that hasn’t been their MO all along, or they write about subjects with the hopes of getting noticed by the FP crew.
    Just write what moves you—just like you said–but more eloquently of course.

    1. It seems random — but it isn’t that random. I think many of the FPs have really clear, strong voices BUT (and I love your blog’s voice), they tend not to be too &^@#!^)___%$@-filled. I swear and don’t care, but I’m vanilla enough to not offend.

      After that…blog well, blog often. Some people blog very very infrequently. Like anything, not every single post is GREAT…some are lousy. It’s a numbers game, to some extent as well.

  20. I’ve come back to find this older post because I want to thank you for it, specifically, as well as all the other great reads and fantastic conversation. I employed the suggestions you gave here in my own blogging, and was recently freshly pressed on a topic which is very important to me. The comments people shared are priceless: useful, meaningful, thought-provoking considerations. Thank you for sharing. Michelle

  21. Pingback: Are they reading your blog? | Broadside

  22. Niobe Falls

    No wonder this blog has been chosen plenty of times here on WordPress. Very useful tips. I hope to learn more.

  23. Niobe Falls

    Oh, I noticed I have commented on this post a few years ago. Haha. Sorry. I still find it very useful though. πŸ™‚

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