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Top 10 Reasons to Stop Writing Top-10 Posts

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number-ten

number-ten Lists: Bloggers love them. Readers love them. Pinterest loves them. So why not write lists all the time, right? Well, not so fast. Before you go churning out one more top-10 list on your site, consider the following reasons why you shouldn’t:

1. They’re Overdone. Everybody writes top-10 posts. You can find top-10 posts about everything from Ask Men’s Top 10 Websites to Use in 2014 to the FedEx Blog’s 10 Best Posts in 2013. Why be like everybody else? When you join the top-10 crowd, you can get lost in the sea of similar content.

2. They’re Gimmicky. In an oversaturated blog world, top-10 posts can be rather lacking. They’re gimmicky. They’re link bait. They promise something valuable but often leave readers disappointed, feeling like you’re just trying to get them to click through your site.

3. They Come Across Phony. Why are your top 10 reasons your top 10 reasons? What’s the significance? Why are they the best? Most lists won’t say this, creating a phony significance that your readers will know isn’t real.

4. You Might Annoy Your Readers. Curated content is OK, but too much curated content can annoy your readers. So when you merely repackage past posts into “top 10s,” your readers could wind up feeling cheated — and cheated readers don’t stick around.

5. They Make You Seem Stale. Everybody knows lists are a go-to tool for writers stumped for ideas, so when you post a lot of lists, you tell your audience you’re out of things to say.

6. They Take Time. Despite how they may seem to readers, lists take time to create, even if you’re just sifting through blog archives to find which posts to use. If this time isn’t yielding results, it’s wasted — why not focus on drafting original content instead?

7. They Don’t Go In-Depth. By their very nature, top-10 lists tend to be quick, shallow articles that don’t explore a topic in depth.

8. Write 10 Posts Instead. That quick top-10 list could turn into 10 informative posts if you would break it apart and explore each point further. This not only generates more content for you, but it also gives more value to your audience.

9. You Run Out of Ideas and Fill Your List with Fluff. When you’re writing a “top 10,” you may feel pressure to come up with more ideas than you have — and those fluff ideas aren’t actually helpful to your readers. Top-10 lists put you into a box.

10. Care about What You’re Saying. Here’s one of the biggest reasons not to write a top-10 list: You don’t care about it. When you’re only writing a list to write a list, everybody will know it. So rather than writing about what you think you should write about, write about what you care about instead.

Your Thoughts
Do any of the above reasons ring true to you? Do you write top-10 lists? Do you read them? Why or why not?

10 Writing Tips for Advanced Bloggers

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writing tips for advanced bloggers Just because you’re been doing this for a few years doesn’t mean you have nothing to learn. I’ve collected some of my best tips for advanced bloggers in this post, and I hope you’ll add your own to the end. Here’s how to continuously improve your blog:

1. Challenge yourself to cut your post down by 30% to 50% before you publish.

When it comes to pure writing tips, this one has helped me more than any other tip out there.

Long posts are fine, but only if you’re making every word count. I will gladly read a 5,000+ word post if it takes you that many words to cover the topic. I will not read a 5,000+ word post if half-way through I realize that the rambling author could have accomplished the same thing in 500 words.

Like many bloggers, I started my career as a freelancer, and at that point, most of my clients asked me to hit a certain word count every time I would take an assignment. Subconsciously, I trained myself to write for that word count, which means I’m often wordier than I need to be to get my point across. So, I now challenge myself to cut out at least 30% of my words every time I finish the first draft of a post.

Even if you end up not cutting out any words (or even if you end up adding words), re-reading your post with this kind of “cut the fat” eye will help you polish your work. It can also help you begin to learn your own writing faults and weaknesses.For example, until I started this practice, I didn’t realize how prone I was to using the word “really” unnecessarily.

2. Use the scientific method when giving advice.

I often do not often see bloggers’ advice backed up with proof or even a process of experimentation. A newbie in your field may take your word on something because you’re more experienced, but if you want to hold the attention of mid-level or advanced readers, you’re going to need more than just an opinion.

One of the ways you can do this is by using the scientific method to structure your blog posts. No need to pull out a fourth-grade text book: I covered how to do this here: How to Use the Scientific Method to Write Better Blog Posts.

3. Do some research into the psychology behind what you are teaching.

I talk about psychology a bit on my post about using the scientific method, but even if this is not your process for writing a blog post, the psychology behind what you’re teach your readers can help take your blog post to the next level. Most people are extremely interested in why not just how. So, if your blog posts lends itself to the why part, read into it a little and give your readers some links to find more information.

The king of this is Derek Halpern, so check out his blog if you want an example of someone who does it well.

4. Get out of your feed reader.

We’re all guilty of getting into routines. When is the last time you got out of your own feed reader to find new blogs to read?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that reading blogs isn’t important. Reading in general is one of the most important activities you can do if you want to become a better writer. Jon Morrow, for example, often advocates spending time reading not just blogs and business books, but also novels (His favorite is Stephen King.)

No matter what you’re reading, though, every once in a while, you have to forget about your favorites for a moment (yes, even Stephen King) and instead embrace new writers so you can continue to grow.

Check out my post about how to find new blogs to read if you’re struggling to discover great bloggers whose names you’ve never heard.

5. Before you publish your list post, write a post to support every point.

Have you noticed that every point in this post has corresponding links to go with it? Believe it or not, I actually started working on this post months ago. As I wrote, however, I realized that each point could become its own post in and of itself.

Linking to supporting content makes any list post more valuable. And if you don’t have supporting content on your own blog, you probably have peers who do. The best list posts are a springboard for readers; they give readers many new ideas so people can pick and choose those they feel are best. From there, each reader can do more research into that specific topic.

If you aren’t providing links, people will do that research on their own, which means that they might not be finding the best content out there.

6. Don’t just ask your readers about their challenges; ask your peers.

One of the best ways to come up with ideas for blog content is to ask your readers about their struggles. They’ll come up with dozens of questions for you! But if you really want to become an authority in your niche, don’t just ask your readers for advice. Ask your peers.

When you write content for beginners, you allow new readers to consistently find your blog. However, beginners often don’t know what they don’t know. You’ll blow minds if you can solve problems they didn’t even know they had! To do this, you have to brainstorm a list of more advanced questions to answer. So, ask more advanced readers about their problems.

Depending on your blog content, this might mean that you have to not only poll your readers, but also seek advice directly from peers. Don’t be afraid to contact a-listers to ask about their most common struggles. You’ll blow their minds too if you can find a way to solve a problem they have.

7. Start recording video blogs.

“I look like a total dork on camera.”

I get a lot of resistance when I suggest that people should start recording videos. Most bloggers, especially introverts, hate how they look on camera. I get it, because I feel like that too. But here’s a secret: most of the time, as long as you look presentable (i.e. you don’t have visible Pig Pen fumes radiating from you), most people will be so focused on whatever you are teaching, that ten seconds after the video ends, they won’t remember what you’re wearing. Your content is what matters!

If being on camera intimidates you, try instead doing some interviews. When you interview someone else in your niche, you’re not the focus of attention, so it can feel a little more comfortable. Check out some great tips for landing interviews here.

You can also record videos where you’re off camera, like screen capture tutorials or video scribing.

8. Use active voice when possible.

In most cases, using the active voice instead of the passive voice will make your sentences more powerful. This trick also helps with editing, since passive voice tends to be wordier.

For those of you who need a quick grammar brush-up, active voice simply means that your sentences are written with the formula “Subject – verb – object.” For example:

The blogger wrote ten blog posts.

“The blogger” is the subject of this sentence, and wrote is of course the verb. “Ten blog posts” is the object, because it is on the receiving end of the verb. If I wanted to rewrite this sentence using passive voice, I would write:

Ten blog posts were written by the blogger.

In this case, we have the same three elements – subject, verb, object – but the object of the sentence comes first and is, thus, highlighted. Sometimes passive voice makes sense, but depending on your writing patterns, you may be using it too often. Could active voice make your writing better?

9. Create a massive resource list around one of the questions you’re most commonly asked.

What is the one question you get the most?

Now imagine this: for every person who asks you this question, how many people have this question as well but have just not asked it?

Whatever that question may be, it makes a great topic for an ultimate resource guide/list about the topic. Think about everything a person needs to know about the topic. Don’t just answer their question. Go above and beyond to cover every detail. You want anyone who lands on this post to be dumbstruck at the valuable information they’ve learned.

Worried that the content is too much for a single post? Instead of creating just one post, create a series of posts, like the one I did about selling digital products (starting with this post). You can do a more formal series where you publish one post per day (or per week) or you can just slip posts in over the course of a few months then do a round-up of the posts at a later date.

As an added bonus, creating a massive resource list is good for SEO. Google has started ranking in-depth articles, but even if you don’t get picked up in this sense, common questions are often typed into search engines, and if your post is helpful, it will likely rank well for that search term.

10. Be helpful, above all.

One of the first things new bloggers learn is how important it is to be helpful. Help your readers and they will reward you ten times over. Help your peers and they will promote you. Help your customers and they’ll buy from you again and again.

But sometimes, in the long list of what we’re supposed to do as a blogger can cloud our judgment. We’re supposed to have a dynamic, clickable title. We’re supposed to use keywords to improve search engine optimization. We’re supposed to quote others in our niche or link to statistics that support our theories. We’re supposed to create pin-able images. We’re supposed to have a call to action at the end of the post. We’re supposed to…

I could go on and on. Above all, however, we’re supposed to be helpful in some way. You can be helpful in the traditional sense, where you’re actually teaching the reader how to do something, or you can be helpful in a less obvious way, by inspiring readers, helping them see the situation in a new way, or even entertaining them.

Before you hit that publish button, make sure your post is as helpful as it can possibly be about the topic you’ve covered. If it’s not, head back the drawing board.

What’s your best writing tip for advanced bloggers? Leave a comment!

Image credit: Bigstock (altered)

Blog Writing Tips: 5 Ways To Write Posts that Google (and Your Readers) Love

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3d person holding a megaphone forming the word blog. According to Jamie Stilgoe’s Guardian article, Google is on a mission to eradicate content farms and poor quality link building. Google is out with a machete to axe any web page with content that doesn’t measure up to the quality that was hitherto expected only from principal brands.

The content marketing scene has changed drastically through the years of the existence of the Internet. There was a time when nothing more than a cluster of words did well, but fortunately, it’s a new ball game altogether now. It isn’t just businesses and brands that are buckling under the mounting pressure; bloggers, individuals, and almost everyone else with written content on the web is feeling the heat.

While blogging – as an art, as a source of revenue for bloggers, and as a great medium for marketing and brand building for businesses – faces the brunt of Google’s policing, content marketing in all forms is set to change. It’s time to prepare for the future.

Here are five ways to make sure that your blog posts are left standing long after the bloodbath is over…

1. Choose Your Topic…Before You Start Writing

On the Internet, you do have space for rants, ravings, and ramblings. You can randomize your communication as much as you want. But this can’t be done when you are blogging professionally. As a blogger writing for yourself or for a business, random is out; focused is in.

Strong posts are not random, covering several scattered ideas. Create separate posts for each thought, instead. Stay focused as you are writing and even consider coming up with an outline first so you stay on topic.

2. Back Up Your Statements

When Paul Graham writes about startups, businesses, and anything to do with entrepreneurship, it tends to be a post that’s worth reading. When Warren Buffett talks on investing, you’ve absolutely got to bookmark the post. But that’s about Paul Graham and Warren Buffett, not everyone else, right?

For the rest of us, we have weapons called research and pointed justification. Present an opinion, but back it up with the words of an authority. Bring out a clear message, but tag it with observations others have made. State facts and then line up your thoughts based on them.

Write what you want to but pour credibility into your posts by using research, facts, expert opinions, and other references. Strong writing is adorned with specifics and evidence.

3. Be Passionate

Either you are passionate about your niche or you are not.

If you are writing with passion, it’ll show in your blog posts. Unfortunately, it’ll also show if you aren’t. One of the secrets of great commercial writing lies in the throws of passion and character. When you begin to write about something you feel strongly for, there’s no way your posts will begin to read like content-mill chaff.

Passion produces energy. Passion leads the way to clear, concise, opinionated, and strong articles – just the kind of fuel blogs need. Do yourself a favor and don’t blog if you aren’t passionate about your business, the niche you blog on, or the topics you write on.

We are talking about years of effort wasted. The Internet is not a dumping ground for useless bytes of information.

4. Write Confident Posts

Meek writing is weak writing. Blog posts with unsure and indirect “umms,” “perhaps,” “So, I’d like to conclude with,” are all signposts to your readers that they are on patchy roads without tarmac. They are reading looking at weak efforts that have no value to offer.

Strong writing is also often opinionated writing. It’s writing with facts and truth backing up every post, but it is also experience, knowledge, oddity, disposition, personality, and the uniqueness that’s “you” which shows through your writing.

5. Don’t Write if you have Nothing New to Offer

Mike McGrail pointed out in points out in Social Media Today that a blog is flexible, that it’s yours, and that it’s a perfect hub. I say it’s more than that—it’s a platform which enables you to provide value.

Every post you write should have a “takeaway” lesson. The value you offer to your readers is in the takeaways from a blog post: Was it pure information? Was it opinion? Was it insight into an in-depth topic? Was it entertainment?

Every piece of content must offer something. Your blog posts should inform, inspire, trigger a train of thoughts, engage with your readers, and point out a new angle to look at that old mousetrap.

Editor’s Note: The biggest lesson in this post, perhaps, is that if you write posts your readers love, Google will love them as well. If you want to survive every single Google update, win over your readers. You’ll always have the edge with SEO if you write posts that your readers want to share!

Want to learn more about writing posts that readers (and Google) love? Join us at NMX 2014 in Las Vegas to learn from some of the world’s leading content creators! Learn more here >

On Agony and Blogging: How to Start Writing and Stop Panicking

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bigstock-Crying-Girl-In-The-Office--9619043 I was in second grade when I wrote my first blog post.

Okay, back in 1992, blogging wasn’t exactly a “thing” yet. But I had just received a shiny Lisa Frank diary for Christmas, and the blank pages were killing me. I had to fill those pages, and I had to do it now, before the white sheets drove me crazy.

So that night, I wrote my first entry. Or, at least, I tried. But as I sat there with purple gel pen in hand, I didn’t know what to write. I had so much to say that I didn’t know how to start writing. I began to panic. How would I ever grow up to be a famous novelist if I couldn’t even write a diary entry? I can remember my cheeks streaked with tears that first night as I cried myself to sleep, my new diary still completely empty.

Eventually, I filled that diary and several others like it with my joys, frustrations, and deepest, darkest, childhood secrets. Reading them now is hilarious. I was an intense child. And they are clearly “blog post” style – I wrote to a reader, not to myself, with apologies when I didn’t have time to write for a few days.

To this day, though, what sticks out to me most about writing in my diary is that terribly agonizing feeling of having a world of word jumbled in my head and not knowing how to start. It is one of the most frustrating part of being a blogger.

The Power of a Good Opener

Online, you a reader’s attention for only a moment. They’re gone in the blink of an eye. The best blog posts, the ones that thousands of people stop to read, have one thing in common: their opening paragraphs are awesome. I mean truly awesome.

And they’re engineered to be that way. The Internet’s top bloggers don’t get lucky. They know that a strong opening that really grips the reader is going to keep the reader reading and, eventually, sharing. Without a great opener, it’s nearly impossible for a post to go viral.

But writing a good opening and writing your first sentence aren’t the same things. There’s no rule that says the first sentence you write has to be the first sentence of your post (and if that were a rule, I would recommend breaking it). That said, there’s power to the first thing you write, too.

The Power of a Good First Sentence

You know that moment you write something good. You just know it. The sentence sings.

And then, suddenly, the floodgates open. The words begin to flow, I get into a groove, and the rest of the post makes it out of my head. The first sentence I write isn’t always the first sentence of the post, and sometime I end up cutting that sentence in editing or moving it to a different post. Having a first, finished, good sentence, though, is powerful. It unlocks the block in your mind and gives you the confidence it takes to write the post.

That’s something lost of people never talk about: blogging takes confidence. Your words are going out there for hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of strangers to read. They matter. Writing words that matter is scary. When you don’t know how to start, panic sets in, because people are counting on you (even if they don’t know it) to improve their lives in some way.

How to Start Writing

So how do I do it? I’ve written thousands of blog posts (no, I’m not exaggerating), and many of them have started with me wanting to throw my computer out of the window. So what’s my secret?

I’m sorry to say that it’s nothing magical. The way I write so many posts, always jumping that hurdle of not knowing how to get started is this: I force myself to just start.

I do a little outline of all the topics I want to cover in the post, and then I start writing. If I don’t know what to write, I just write something. Even if it isn’t good. I don’t let myself delete that sentence and go back to a black screen. I write another sentence. And another. I write until I have at least one good paragraph, then I delete all the crap and re-read what is left. And then, I don’t feel so bad. Because I have something that doesn’t completely suck.

I have a start.

Even on my worst days, when the agony of not being able to put my words on paper feels like it is strangling me, I don’t let myself quit. Sometimes I get mad and slam my laptop closed a little harder than I probably should. I go for a walk, I get in the kitchen and cook something (that’s my zen place), I read a few chapters.

And then I make myself write again.

Don’t give up. Don’t let the panic drive you to tears like it did to me when I was a kid. Blogging is not easy. Let me say that again: Blogging is NOT easy. Sometimes you have to force yourself to keep going, even when you want to stubbornly quit. But once you get that first good sentence ready, it will get better. It always does. You just have the first hurdle to jump, then you’ll be running downhill from there.

Image Credit: Bigstock

6 Subheadings Strategies You Need to Know

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bigstock-Beautiful-woman-with-thoughtfu-29888243 One thing can kill your blog post faster than a boring topic and flat language: subheading mistakes.

Of course, the biggest mistake of all is not using subheadings. Readers need subheadings so they can quickly find what they are looking for. Subheadings and space breaks give them the scannability and simplicity they crave.

But when it comes to pleasing writers, it’s about more than just using subheadings. It’s using them well.

Provide the Most Important Information First and Last

Readers land on a page and make a split-second decision if they want to stay or not. So don’t hide all of your best information toward the bottom. Give readers a juicy piece of information right off the bat so they immediately feel satisfied and interested.

Sprinkle in other important points throughout the rest of the article, but remember to save something really good for the end. Ending strong will reward the reader for making it to the end. It also establishes trust with the reader, making them far more likely to read your content to the end the next time.

Editor’s note: A great way to ensure that your beginning and end are strong is to use the Bookend Blog-Writing Technique.

Avoid Puns Even If It’s Fun

Playful titles and play-on-words might work for other mediums (like books, movies, and essays), but when it comes to online content, it’s better to say exactly what you mean.

Being clear in your subheadings helps impatient readers find what they are looking for and also helps keyword-hungry search engines label the content. Avoid titling a subheading something you think will make your reader laugh, unless you can do so while being clear. Instead, deliver a useful subheading that will make your reader understand.

Refer Back to the Title

The title of this article is 6 Subheading Strategies You Need to Know, so each of the subheadings in this article are strategies. Make sure that whatever you offer in the title, you deliver in the body.

It would be confusing to readers if the subheadings in this article were “Subheadings Are Important” or “Why You Should Use Subheadings”, as those phrases don’t refer back to what the reader is looking for — a list of strategies.

Separate Similar Sized Sections

Use subheadings to separate sections into roughly the same size of text. Notice how I use a subheading to separate the text every two or three paragraphs.

Keeping information under subheadings to roughly the same size keeps the depth of the information evenly dispersed. It shows if you have elaborated too heavily on one topic and not enough on another.

It doesn’t have to be exact, but you get the point.

Don’t Be Vague: Use the Subheading to Tell Your Reader Something

Even if you are writing a blog post where the subheadings sound like they should be short and simple, find a way to add extra useful information to the subheading.

If you are writing The Best Apps for Watching your Weight, don’t only put the app name in the subheading: “Workout Trainer” and “MyNetDiary”. Add bonus information that tells the reader more: “Workout Trainer: For Planning Work Outs” and “MyNetDiary: For Counting Calories”.

Count Down and Number Steps

Add numbers to your subheadings when they add context to the information. This happens most frequently in count downs or steps of instructions.

Numbers next to an element in a countdown are useful because they represent the value of an item. For example, #2 in a subheading in the article Countdown of the Best Beaches tells the reader the beach is pretty great. Numbers in steps of instructions are helpful because it tells the reader which step of the process they are on.

Numbers are great in subheadings, but only if they add value. Don’t add them if they have no point or context.

When it comes to subheadings, it is all about making things easier on the reader. So help the reader by clearly and simply offering them the information that they want.

Image Credit: Bigstock

Creative Blogging with a Persona: An Artist, Journalist, and Reviewer Walk into a Blog…

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We’re all guilty of going on auto-pilot with our blog once in a while: maybe we missed our deadline and need to whip up something quick, or we have to churn out a piece on a hot topic everyone else has done already, or worse yet, our eyes glaze over at the same old format on a blank screen. Such is the life of a blogger and time-crunched small business owner.

But what if you had someone else writing your posts occasionally? No, I’m not talking about a guest blogger, ghostwriter, or God forbid copying and pasting content from elsewhere…It’s You. Take on a new persona and “profession” for your next post. Who knows? By being creative, you could end up enjoying it, learn a new skill, and best of all, attract new readers and shares.

The Amazing Artiste

We hear over and over that visual web content—be it graphics, video, or presentations, is much more likely to be looked at, engaged with, and shared than its less sexy but equally important counterpart, text. Our brains are wired to pretty, shiny things. It’s no wonder Pinterest and Instagram have grown by leaps and bounds.

Graphic content also helps us digest information quicker: In fact, 40% of people will respond better to visual information than to plain text. And with all the choices on the Internet, our attention spans have shrunken to ADD proportions, so we are instantly attracted to snackable web moments. In other words, serve up imagery to tell your story quickly instead of relying on numerous keystrokes.

When it comes to visual storytelling, pretty much anything you can say with words will work with images. Find that challenging? For starters, you can keep it simple with brief commentary on an animated gif, a baffling series of Tweets from a major brand, one stark photo, or slideshow.

If you’re feeling more ambitious, go the data visualization route and combine data and graphic elements that blend well as an information shortcut. Create graphical representations of content with Infographics, the fastest growing way to display facts. There are many free resources to help. Or consider Mind Maps to explain big and small concepts alike.

More interested in videos to show your artisitc prowess? Photobucket, Vine, and Instagram Video are a few that can help. Or grab an existing video and write a few choice sentences about it. Some examples include: How a TED Talk inspires your work or makes a point about your industry, or an educational video for your readers. The only barrier is your  imagination. Either way you’ll be pulling double-duty delivering pre-packaged content that is already validated, while reinforcing your brand.

Reminder: Before you post content on your blog that is not yours, always check content usage guidelines.

The Rugged Reporter

Add instant color and flavor with interviews and quotes to your post by playing the enterprising journalist. Whether it’s a tech celebrity, industry luminary, or the chef at the hottest restaurant in town, get the words directly from the source to breathe new life into your blog. Also, the Q&A format of the interview is easily digestible and ready-made for readers to scan.

When interviewing someone “famous” or better known than yourself (which happens often), it can be intimidating. Believe it or not, though, by virtue of the fact that you have a blog, you’ll be granted instant credibility (even more so if you’re a published writer).

Truth be told, most people love to talk about themselves no matter who they are, and will happily promote their latest book, or whatever is most important to them at that time. For instance, in my post about bogus cosmetics claims, I located, researched, and interviewed the lead FDA attorney on a related and well-known case as an expert without any red tape (impressive for the government!). Or do a straight up interview. Posting a conversation with web-famous people also helps to build your SEO and traffic.

The Rogue Reviewer

Or take the opposite approach: Give your opinion, no holds barred. But let me clear about “reviewing.” We’re not talking about pay-for-play: I’m not advocating sponsored and/or paid reviews (unless they are clearly disclosed as such), but rather  expressing your opinion, and sharing your knowledge.

Do your homework before you try this style, and research the type of review you are doing. For instance, if you are doing a book review, take a look at popular review sites, or, if you’re doing a roundup on the latest phone apps, note the style and soak up some inspiration for what works (and what doesn’t) in that circle. Your readers will appreciate that you are doing the work for them, from product reviews to industry trends.

Be Everyone You Want to Be, Anytime

If you’re getting bored with your blog, chances are so is your audience. Why not shake things up for yourself and your readers?

15 Brilliant Bloggers Talk About Writing Persuasive Content

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Brilliant Bloggers is a bi-weekly series here at NMX where we look at the best posts from around the web all surrounding a specific topic. Every other week, we’ll feature a brilliant blogger, along with a huge list of more resources where you can learn about the topic. You can see more Brilliant Blogger posts or learn how to submit your link for an upcoming edition here.

This Week’s Topic: Writing Persuasive Content

I have a confession to make: I hate trying to convince people to do something.

I understand that this is an important part of marketing, but writing persuasive content has never been my strong suit. That is, if I’m persuading someone to do something that will benefit me. I think I can argue my own point well to persuade you that I’m right about something, but persuading you to buy something, download something, etc. has never come naturally to me.

Luckily, there are people out there who are insanely good at it, and they’ve shared what they know in blog posts. I hope this week’s edition of Brilliant Bloggers is as helpful to you as it has been to me!

Brilliant Blogger of the Week:

henneke 58 Ways to Create Persuasive Content Your Audience Will Love by Henneke Duistermaat

I love this post on Copyblogger because it gives you a roadmap to making sure that your content is as persuasive as possible without crossing any lines. Internet marketers get a bad name because there are so many people using slimy, gray-area techniques to convince others to spend money. Henneke’s post, however, doesn’t encourage you to do any of that. Her tips simply help you take your content and make it more persuasive.

After you read the post, which includes all you need to know from writing the headline to editing before you publish, check out Henneke on Twitter at @HennekeD and visit her blog, Enchanting Marketing. (Psst…she also has a great guest post on Kissmetrics about this topic called “7 Lessons Apple Can Teach Us About Persuasive Web Content“)

Even More Brilliant Advice:

  1. 11 Ways to Write Persuasive Content by Thomas Timely
  2. 48 Elements of Persuasive Written Content by Uttoran Sen (@uttoransen)
  3. How Do I Write Persuasive Content? by Jeff Hahn (@HahnPublic)
  4. How To Create A Persuasive Message To Motivate Your Audience by Aura Dozescu (@AuraDozescu)
  5. How to Write Persuasive Content? by Jeevan Jacob John (@JeevanMe)
  6. The Psychology Behind Persuasive Writing by Jani Seneviratne (@janiopt7)
  7. The Secret To Being Memorable And Persuasive by Joe Romm
  8. Ten Recipes for Persuasive Content by Colleen Jones
  9. Ten Timeless Persuasive Writing Techniques by Brian Clark (@copyblogger)
  10. What is Persuasive Content? by Ian Truscott (@IanTruscott)
  11. What’s more persuasive? “I think…” or “I feel…”? by Derek Halpern (@DerekHalpern)
  12. Writing a Persuasive Blog—The Key to Content Marketing Success by John McTigue (@jmctigue)
  13. Writing Persuasive Headlines with the FAB Formula by Julia McCoy (@expwriters)

Did I miss your post or a post by someone you know about writing persuasive content? Unintentional! Help me out by leaving a comment below with the link.

Next Brilliant Blogger Topic: Social Monitoring Tools

I’d love to include a link to your post in our next installment– and if you head to the Brilliant Bloggers Schedule, you can see even more upcoming posts. We all have something to learn from one another, so please don’t be shy! Head to the schedule today to learn how to submit your post so I won’t miss it.

20 Ways to Be More Creative on Your Blog

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blog creativity

Between attempting to monetizing your content and trying to build your community, it’s easy to forget that at its core, blogging is an outlet for creativity. Yes, professional blogging allows you an avenue for educating, inspiring, and entertaining your readers, but it can also be a channel for you to explore your ideas about a topic in a creative way.

When’s the last time you infused a little creativity into a blog post?

The fringe benefit is that a bit of creativity creates a pattern interrupt. It isn’t just good for the soul; by doing something different, you give your readers a little jolt that can be extremely effective in sparking them back to life. That’s why humor is so popular. So much of what we read online is serious that something funny catches our attention.

Creativity isn’t just about being funny (though that can be one form). Here are some other tips to help you be more creative on your own blog:

1. Challenge yourself to imitate a blogger you admire.

Humans learn by intimidating, so one of the best ways to grow creatively is to emulate bloggers your respect. It seems like an oxymoron, that copying someone can help you be more creative, but the innovation comes from expanding your horizons and trying new things. (When imitating, remember to never cross the line into plagiarizing. Always respect others’ work.)

2. Get out of your comfort zone with content creation.

Do you usually write short posts? Write something longer. Does video scare the crap out of you? Record one instead of always posting text. The comfort zone is, well, comfortable, but doing something a little scary can help get the creative juices flowing.

3. Tell a personal story that you might not otherwise share.

Creativity comes in many forms, but one of the most underutilized is storytelling. Telling your story, especially a personal one that you wouldn’t normally share, can help you more creatively blog about a topic.

If you want to learn more about storytelling and creativity, I recommend this podcast from Get Storied.

4. Write about the opposing opinion.

It can be an awesome challenge to talk about the other side of a debate. Play devil’s advocate, even if you feel strongly about a specific topic. When you’re done, you might not what to publish your blog post if you stand strongly on the other side of the argument, but writing the opposite can help you strengthen your own argument. And you never know, you might expand your way of thinking. Questioning our own ways of thinking can help us grow.

5. Change your scenery.

Want to be more creative? Go outside. Or take your computer to your local coffee shop. Or even just work in another room. It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do for your creativity and productivity.

6. Get visual.

Usually, I start with a post idea and at the end, I find images to fit. When I want to get creative, I do things backward. I find an image that I think is beautiful or inspiring or interesting, and I try to write a post around it. An example? This post: “Blogging and the Candy Corn Problem.” While searching for an image for another blog post, I came across this shot of candy corn on a black background, which I thought looks striking, so I decided to get creative and think of a way to incorporate the idea of candy corn into a post about blogging.

7. Look for a connection between two seemingly-unrelated things.

Think about the things that inspire or interest you in life. For me, this happens when I learn something new. I like to share what I’ve learned with others. But what if it’s not related to my niche? How can I tie these two things together? Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but looking for these connections can help you get creative. Remember, you don’t have to publish every experimental post you write!

8. Open your mind about your own skills.

What are you really good at?

Okay, now what if I told you that everything you knew about that topic is wrong? Questioning your own skills and knowledge is a great way to think creatively about a topic. For example, this doctor gave a TED talk about how questioning his knowledge about diabetes helped him think about the problem in a new way. Be confident, but always ask questions, even of yourself.

9. Stop asking yourself how you’re going to monetize or drive traffic.

The pressure to make money or drive traffic to a blog can stifle your creativity, because we’re worried about failure. Give yourself permission to fail by not caring at all about the ROI of a post. Certainly, if you want to make money with your blog or are otherwise using it to support a business, ROI is import, but we occasionally need to let loose and simply be creative.

10. Take a risk.

Risk-taking is scary. Again, the fear of failure is very real and can be suffocating when you’re trying to be creative. Every once in a while, though, you have to take that leap of faith and just do something different. Put yourself out there and do something that just might be a flop. It’s okay to fail occasionally, because that’s how we learn and grow.

11. Do some mind-mapping.

I’m not a huge fan of brainstorming. There are actually studies that show this isn’t a super effective tool because there is no criticism (see the next point). However, mind-mapping is a different beast. With mind-mapping, you’re organizing your thoughts, which allows you to see holes in your place. It can help you pull some creative ideas out of those nooks and crannies of your brain.

Lifehacker has a really great post on five mind-mapping tools you can use to help you with this process. And check out the mind-mapping post we published in the past about your new media opinions.

12. Be critical of what you’re doing.

Brainstorming is supposed to give you a safe environment to dump everything you can think of onto a paper or whiteboard or whatever, no matter how bad your ideas may be. The thought is that if you aren’t inhibited by being worried that your ideas stink, you’ll come up with some great, creative ideas, even if most of what you brainstorm is crap.

Except this model for creativity doesn’t really work. What works better, according to some studies, is to freely brainstorm ideas, but to debate and critique these ideas as you go. So as you’re coming up with some creative ideas for blog posts, look at them with a critical eye. Or, better yet, work with a friend or a mastermind group to “brainstorm” some ideas, but using the debate model, where you think about each idea critically.

13. Consider Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

The Six Thinking Hats that de Bono wrote about can help you with thinking…and with being creative about your blog posts. These hats are:

  • White: the facts
  • Yellow: optimism, benefits
  • Black: judgement (devil’s advocate, see point #4)
  • Red: feelings, intuition
  • Green: possibilities, alternatives
  • Blue: management of the thinking process

The last hat, the blue one, is more about how the other five types of thinking work together, but take a look at what the white, yellow, black, red, and green hats represent. When you write a post, “put on” one of these hats and think about how you could rewrite differently. For example, if you wrote a highly emotional post (red), could you put on the white hat and go back to add in more facts? Or if you wrote a most about why something is great (yellow), could you go back into the post and address the downsides (black)?

You can learn more about the six thinking hats here.

14. Think about alternative realities.

It’s a lot of fun to play “What if…” Think of some crazy scenarios and write about them. For example, I wrote, “12 Ways Blogging Would Be Different Without Twitter.”

15. Solve a problem with limitations.

Sometimes, the best way to think outside of the box is to put yourself inside of the box. Set some crazy limitations for yourself and see what you come up with! For example, if the readers of your fashion blog could only buy black and white items, how would you suggest they add style to their wardrobe? Or if the readers of your food blog needed to prepare a satisfying vegan meal that the meat-eaters in the room would also enjoy AND that was low-carb, what would you suggest?

16. Practice.

Like anything, creativity takes practice. The first post you write might stink. That’s okay. Don’t publish it. Try again tomorrow!

17. Keep a journal and use note-taking tools.

Sometimes, a creative idea may come to you from an unlikely source. Once, I was at a Holocaust museum in Israel when I realized it would be the perfect feature for a post about storytelling. If I didn’t have Evernote to jot down my idea on the spot, I would have forgotten it by the time I got home. Instead, I ended up with the post, “Telling Your Brand’s Story: Historic Lessons and Modern Applications,” which I am very proud to have written.

There’s a great list of note-taking tools here, or go old school and get a journal!

18. Work with people from different backgrounds.

Blogging is often a lonely endeavor. But as writers, we can sometimes benefit from working with our peers. Lots of bloggers belong to mastermind groups, but I actually think you need to go a step farther. Get out there and work with some people who aren’t in your current circle of friends. Look for people who come from different backgrounds, like different countries/cultures, different niches, and different experience levels. Fresh eyes on your project (and lending your critiquing skills to their projects) helps everyone get more creative.

19. Work on projects that make you excited.

It’s hard to be creative if you couldn’t give a you-know-what about the blog post you’re writing. Stop what you’re doing and move on to a project that does make you excited.

20. Ask why.

I’ve found that when I question the norm, people get uncomfortable. But it also allows me to say, “I’m not going to take this rule at face value. I’m going to get creative and come up with another solution.” If everyone is saying there’s one best way to do something, question it.

Bonus Tip: Stop reading, thinking, and planning. Start doing.

To be creative, you need to get out of your head and start DOING. Stop thinking about how you can make your blog post more creative. Just try something. Don’t plan out every little detail or outline your post. Start writing.

And for heaven’s sake, stop reading this post. Get out there and start working!

Image Credit: Bigstock

Can Guest Posts Make You a Better Blogger?

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Laptop3 Over the past year, fewer blogs have been open to accepting guest posts. Kristi Hines talked about this shift in the blogging world early this year in her post entitled, “Guest Blogging in 2013: The End of Unsolicited Guest Posts?” and why it is happening. Bloggers can still guest post, but these opportunities are not as abundant as they once were, especially if you’re not well connected to others in your niche.

As someone who manages the guest post emails we get here on the NMX blog, I know how crazy some potential guest posters can be. Posts are poorly written with little to no “meat” on the bones. They’re fluff. Or they’re stuffed with keyword links and self-promotion. Or the grammar is so bad that I would have to rewrite the entire piece to prepare it for publishing.

I’ve even had potential guest posters be rude or downright nasty to me when I’ve asked for changes or decided not to publish. Word to the wise: if you want to have a guest post relationship with someone, don’t speculate on their mother’s weight.

But the silver lining is that working with guest posters has made me a better blogger. Here’s why:

  • I’m pushed to raise the bar on my own posts.

It isn’t fair for me to ask of guest posters what I don’t do myself. When someone is interested in guest posting, I typically send them a list of directions to follow, which include things like, “link back to relevant posts from the past” and “use headers or bullet points to make the text more readable.” Having this set of rules sets the bar for posts on the blog, my own included.

  • Editing makes you a better writer.

Like many people, I’m a horrible editor of my own work. But I think I do okay editing others’ posts, and practicing this skill makes me a better writer and self-editor for my own posts.

  • Guest posts give you a break.

Although I do subscribe to the notion that you should only blog when you have something to say, I also know that post frequency does affect your traffic. With guest posts, a weight is lifted because you’re not pressured to produce X number of posts per week. Editing and preparing a guest post is still a lot of work (sometimes even more work than writing a post yourself), but you don’t have to be wearing your creative writing hat when doing it. You’re less likely to burn out if you allow guest posts on your blog.

  • Guest posts can inspire future content.

I’m always inspired when I read other blogs, and the same is true of guest posts. Even when a post isn’t well-written and I ultimately say no to publishing it, the topic can help me brainstorm future ideas for my blog posts. And, if I do publish because the guest post is up to par, I can link back to it in my own post. One of the great things about blogging is that you can build off each post to tell a comprehensive story. I like to think of blog posts like stories in an anthology. They all work together on some level, despite being stand-alone.

Accepting guest posts isn’t for everyone. Some bloggers don’t want to make time to deal with the copious number of poor requests. Others worry that guest posts will lead to a weaker brand. But before you say a blanket “no” to guest posts, think about the advantages as well. I believe guest posting can make you a better blogger, despite the extra work you have to be willing to do if you accept them.

How to Use the Scientific Method to Write Better Blog Posts

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scientic method blog posts Despite science not being a strength for me in elementary school, lesson I do remember is the scientific method. I liked the step-by-step process of discovery, and even won the fourth-grade science fair because I was so good at executing this method of experimentation.

If you think elementary school science has no bearing in your life, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to use the scientific method to write blog posts. Not every blog posts lends itself well to the scientific method, but if you’re testing a theory or making an argument, it can help lend credibility to your post and explain your findings in a clear and concise way.

Need to brush up on your science skills? Let’s go through each step of the scientific method to explore how you can use it to write blog posts. In this post, I’m going to refer use “How Lying Can Vastly Improve Your Blog” as an example of a post I wrote using the scientific method, so you may want to open this link in a new tab/window to refer to it.

Step One: Ask a Question

The first part of the scientific method is to ask a question. This is what start the entire process. The question in my example blog post was: Can lying to myself help me improve my blog? You can leave it at that, but when writing my post, I prefer to take the route of explaining why I am asking whatever the question may be. We’re bloggers, after all. Telling the story is part of what helps draw people in.

Step Two: Do Background Research

This is a step that many bloggers skip over. However, adding some research to your posts makes it a much stronger final product. In the case of my example, I did some research on lying and what others say about self-deception. I included several links to my findings.

I find that in topics relating to blogging and social media, understanding the psychology behind our behaviors is extremely helpful. Depending on your topic, you may also want to find out what other bloggers have written about it before. If I were a scientist, opinion might not matter to me, but with this modified version of the scientific method for bloggers, opinions, especially of top bloggers in your field, matter very much. And if you confirm their opinion, you can reach out to them to let them know your results.

Step Three: Construct a Hypothesis

At this point, it’s time to narrow your focus and construct a hypothesis that you can test. This is a little more involved than step one, where you just ask a general question, and you want it to be a statement that you’re testing, not a question. In other words, what do you think your experiment will prove?

So, in my example, my hypothesis was: I will write better blog posts if I believe someone will be reading them as part of my portfolio.

It’s important to be honest about the concerns you have regarding your hypothesis. For example, I noted that because my lie was self-deception, I was aware that it was a lie. A lie told by someone else would be more powerful.

Step Four: Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment

This is the fun part: test your hypothesis. For kids, it means mixing baking soda and vinegar to watch a homemade volcano erupt. For you, it means writing blog posts or using social media or otherwise changing your behavior to see what happens.

Three things to keep in mind when doing an experiment:

  1. Work in a controlled environment as much as possible.
  2. Do your experiment several times.
  3. Have a plan for measuring your results.

I’m sure some scientists out there are cringing at my idea of an experiment, but we’re not trying to cure cancer here. It’s okay to be a little more relaxed than you would in a laboratory setting. But you’ll get better results if your experiment is structured. So, in my example, I told myself that I was applying for a new job and someone would be looking at my blog posts as a factor in deciding whether or not to hire me. I even browsed some job boards to make the self-deception more “real.”

Having a controlled environment is important. Otherwise, your results could be reflecting factors other than what you are testing. For example, my blog posts will automatically be better if I am super passionate about a topic. So, for my tests I trying to choose topics that I am moderately passionate about, but not that I had some kind of deep burning desire in my soul to write about.

I also wrote about a myriad of topics, from Twitter to business values to web TV. Whenever you experiment with your blog, its important to look at your results over time. I always find it extremely frustrating when someone tries something new on their blog for one day and then proclaims it doesn’t work. You need to give experiments a chance.

Lastly, you have to be able to measure your results. If your hypothesis is “Tweeting out more links will bring me more traffic” but you don’t have Google Analytics or another such tool set up on your blog, how will you know if it works? It might seem like you have more traffic, but maybe you in fact have the same amount of traffic, but more comments.

Step Five: Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion

Next, you have to take an honest look at the data you’ve collected from your experiment. It’s easy to manipulate data to believe what you want to believe. Try to keep an open mind! For example, once tested whether or not pop-up ads increased my subscriber numbers. They did. Even though people complain about pop-ups, they work. It was something I didn’t want to believe, but the numbers proved me wrong.

During this step, it’s also important to look at data holistically. Data can easily be manipulated if your only look at one piece. So, if you are testing pop ups, you might say that they work because you saw a spike in subscriber numbers. However, what happened to your unsubscribe rates? Or your bounce rates? Or the number of complaints you received from your community?

In addition, I believe it is important to sometimes say, “I don’t care what the data says. This is not right for my readers.” Sometimes we get too caught up in what works that we forget what’s the right thing to do. I wrote about this problem here. Scientists may not consider their feelings about a result, but they would consider the ethics, practicality, and side effects behind their experiment’s conclusions.

Step Six: Communicate Your Results

The last part of the scientific method is to communicate your results. Scientists publish papers and report findings, often struggling with this step. As a blogger, you should have no problem communicating your results! As you write your blog post about your experiment, keep the entire scientific process in mind. Talk about your question and the research you did. Outline your hypothesis/experiment and analyze your data. Using this process to structure your blog post makes sense.

You blog post doesn’t have to read like a technical report. After all, this isn’t a lab. It’s a blog. Even though I used the term “experiment” in my example post about self-deception, I don’t think people read that post and though, “Oh, she’s using the scientific method to test a hypothesis.” Give your post some flavor.

Overall, I’ve found that using the scientific method has helped my up my game when writing blog posts. I encourage you to try it out yourself–and if you do, definitely come back to this post to leave a comment telling us about your results.

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