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12 Types of Content That Spread Fast

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12 Types of Content That Spread Fast

Everybody knows the more eyes that see your content, the better—That’s why it’s so important to craft content that spreads. Do you know what makes content shareable? Does your audience regularly pass along your email newsletter? Do they repost your status updates? Are you getting retweets? Knowing the difference between content that’s read and content that spreads is the secret to going viral. So to give you a leg up, here are the 12 types of content most likely to spread.

1. News: Breaking news is always attention-grabbing, if only because it’s new. People like to feel in the know. So give your readers something worth spreading by announcing a big change or update.

2. Memes: Memes are made to be spread. They may be photos, videos, tags, or other media, but they go viral quickly, making them the perfect social media tool. Wonder how a company or blogger can use memes to spread a message? Consider the following examples:

3. Photos: Beautiful, eye-catching, noteworthy photos do well on many forms of social media, from Pinterest to Facebook. In fact, according to some research, Facebook posts with an image generate 120% more response than posts without one. So to maximize your influence, post attractive images readers will want to share.

3. Photos with Text: Sharing a quote is powerful, but sharing a quote as an image is even more so. Overlay attractive photos with text you wish to share to maximize its power.

4. Infographics: Infographics take photos with text to the next level, as they showcase important statistics and/or research in an eye-catching way. Whether your infographic shows the top risk factors for a certain disease or the difference between organic and non-organic produce, if the information is relevant to your audience, they’ll be interested and want to share it.

5. Lists: From “5 tips to improve your golf swing” to “The 12 secrets to saving money on car insurance,” readers like lists. These resources typically attract attention and get shared.

6. How-To Articles: Everybody likes a good “how to” piece so write posts that show your audience, clearly and compellingly, how to do something. When your information helps them, they’ll want to tell their friends.

7. Vulnerable First-Person Stories: If you want to move people to action, touch their hearts. That’s the logic behind the power of vulnerable first-person stories on social media. When someone shares something vulnerable and raw, readers respond—just look at this blogger’s birth story that has over 3,000 comments and counting.

8. Negative Stories: It might seem unfortunate, but it’s true: People are fascinated by bad news. Write about the negative side of a topic, and watch how many people click to read it.

9. Research: Facts and figures are sharable because they’re hard to refute—Nothing proves a point faster than cold, hard data. Share studies and statistics when they’re relevant to what you do, and your audience will be listening and sharing.

10. Video: If there’s one thing YouTube has taught the world, it’s that people love video. The most shareable videos are attractive, thought-provoking, and unique.

11. Problem Solvers: This type of content goes back to knowing your audience: What do your followers need? What problems can you help them solve? When you provide an actual solution to a problem, you can bet they’ll appreciate it—and that they’ll want to spread the word.

12. Posts That Mention Other Bloggers: When you post a roundup of favorite links from across the Web, you do more than give your readers resources—You promote other bloggers who will often, in turn, promote you. Bloggers like to let their readers know where they’re mentioned—so mention them in your content, and they’ll want to pass it around.

What do you think? Have you tried all of these content types already? What have you found as a result? Could implementing these ideas help push your content farther into the world? Why not give them a shot?

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.

Is Removing the Dates from Your Blog Posts a Good Idea?

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dates One of the defining characteristics of a blog is that they’re updated instead of just being a static website. Over the past few years, however, more and more bloggers are opting to remove the dates from blog posts, so if you land on a single post/page, you have no idea when it was actually published.

Here’s why some people are doing it:

  • People will judge a post because it is older, even if the content is completely evergreen.
  • People hesitate to share older posts, even if they enjoyed the content.

Advocates of removing dates from their blog posts point to their traffic. When tested, bounce rate decreased and pageviews increased for many bloggers, so it seems like a really great argument for at least trying this out on your own blog.

I’m not sold, though. Just because something is good for your stats doesn’t mean that it is good for your readers. This is the same argument we see with pop-up advertisements. Time and time again, bloggers who use them point to the fact that their stats show that pop-ups work. However, people hate them so violently that you’re also potentially driving away your community if you use them.

Here’s why I’m not sold on removing dates:

  • Readers should be allowed to make the decision about whether or not a post is evergreen.

When you remove the dates from a blog post, you’re not allowing a reader to make the decision about whether or not a post is relevant. As a reader, that annoys me. I should have the ability to think, “You know what? Even though the blogger thinks this post is evergreen, I don’t want to read advice from 2008. I want to read advice from 2013.” I actually make a point to stop reading blogs that no longer include dates and I will rarely link to them. It just makes me feel like they don’t value me as a reader. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

  • Evergreen content is rarely actually evergreen.

I don’t know about you, but my opinions shift over time as I learn and grow. I also like to link out to other posts, which might not be as evergreen as the post I’m writing, and whenever possible, I like to use examples and data in my post, which both get outdated pretty quickly.

  • Few of us only write evergreen posts.

Removing dates might sound great for your evergreen posts, but what if you want to write a post that is dated? In this case, you’re doing a disservice to your readers if the post doesn’t have a date on it. You also have to stay away from saying stuff like “recently” and “yesterday” in your posts, since readers will have no concept of what that was. Syed Balkhi wrote about how removing the dates hurt his community because so many of the posts he writes are not evergreen, even though so many large blog have opted to remove their dates.

  • The comments could be non-evergreen.

One of the great things about blogging is that your community can add to a post by leaving comments. Sometimes, the comments have a better discussion than the actual post! But your commenters can say stuff that is dated, even if the post is fairly evergreen. I’ve seen some bloggers keep dates on comments even though they are removed on the post, but that seems a little counter-productive. However, once you remove the dates from comments, you’re risking giving future readers outdated information by mistake. As a commenter, I would also worry about looking dumb if I left a comment and someone read it three years later when it was no longer relevant even though someone might assume I said it last week.

  • Sometimes we don’t realize that what we’re writing isn’t evergreen.

The world changes. New services pop up. Platforms’ popularity waxes and wanes. Scandals happen. Having a post dated is almost like protection against a changing world. For example, I might do an awesome evergreen interview with someone today and a year from now find out that the person is scamming people. If my post is dated, anyone who comes to it can clearly see that I sang my praises for the person before they were outed as a scam artist. Or as another example, I might give people advice based on the face that Facebook doesn’t have certain features. If Facebook introduces those features next year, my advice would sound stupid or incomplete.

Even though there might be traffic benefits, I truly believe that removing the date is the wrong choice for most blogs. Notice I said most but not all. Ultimately, you have to make the decision that’s best for your content. I just encourage you to not only look at your stats when testing, but also to think about what your community of readers really want and need.

Do you have dates on your blog posts? Why or why not?

10 Movie Plots That Can Help You Write Better Blog Posts

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Formulas can make your writing boring, but they exist for a reason: they work. The key is making the same old, same old you own with a little creativity. In this post, we’ll go over 10 movie plots that can help you write creative, engaging blog posts for your community.

some like it hot

1. The Fish Out of Water

Description: The main character gets thrown into a situation where he or she is very uncomfortable. Hilarity typically ensues, and the protagonist usually learns a lesson.

Movie Examples: Big, Some Like it Hot, Edward Scissorhands

The Twist for Bloggers: We’re all a little set in our ways. Try putting yourself in a situation that isn’t comfortable for you, and reporting back on the results. It’s even better if you can put your own little spin on it. Teach your readers a lesson through your experiences.

Blog Example: Let’s say you run a food blog that typically posts home-style recipes, just like mama used to make. What would happen if you took one of her butter-heavy favorites and made a healthier version? Sure, you might not be a traditional health food blog, but this could be a nice spin, especially if you not only post the recipe, but also talk about what you’ve learned about slimming down a meal.

karate kid

2. The Coming of Age

Description: Coming-of-age films follow the story of a child becoming an adult. Through the series of events in the movie, the protagonist matures physiologically and enters a new stage of life.

Movie Examples: My Girl, Can’t Hardly WaitThe Karate Kid

The Twist for Bloggers: Tell your readers a “coming-of-age” story that makes sense for your topic. In other words, talk about your transition from one way of thinking to a more mature way of thinking.

Blog Example: A tech blogger, for example, could tell the story of how he/she always hated a certain brand of cell phones, until getting one for Christmas and finding out that all assumptions about the brand were wrong.

up

3. The Buddy Comedy

Description: Buddy movies pair two unlikely candidates together and put them in a situation where they have to rely on one another. Usually, the two people are of the same sex and they solve some kind of crime or defeat some kind of evil together, with hilarity ensuing at every turn.

Movie Examples: Men in Black, Up, The Odd Couple

The Twist for Bloggers: Team up with another blogger to do some joint debates, where you take one stance and the other blogger takes the opposite stance. You can combine these into one post, or write separate posts. The point is to give the reader a look at both sides of the coin so they can decide for themselves. It’s great for getting community interaction on your blog, since people like to give their opinions on polarizing topics.

Blog Example: We did this right here on the NMX blog when we asked Jason Falls and Marcus Sheridan to each talk about their opinions on using curse words on your blog.

texas chainsaw

4. Serial Killer/Slash

Description: Most serial killer (slasher) movies start with a group of unsuspecting teens or young adults who are having fun, and then start getting picked off one by one. At the end, there is usually one person or a couple left standing.

Movie Examples: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Evil Dead, Halloween

The Twist for Bloggers: The same way killer might pick off people one by one, you can pick off topics one by one in a special series, where you cover one item in a category every week/day.

Blog Example: Let’s say you have a home improvement blog. You could do a series on the types of tile, with each post covering one type and going over the advantages, disadvantages, and costs.

titanic

5. The Love Triangle

Description: One of the most common chick flick movies is the love triangle, where two people randomly meet and develop feelings for one another, but one of them is already engaged.

Movie Examples: Titanic, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Wedding Planner

The Twist for Bloggers: The essence of the love triangle is that one of the people realizes that they are not in love like they were or they realize that the relationship isn’t right and they should break it off. Think about a habit or technique relating to your topic that you really should quit, and talk to your readers about the outcome of doing so.

Blog Example: If you run a fashion blog, you could talk about how you have a tendency to buy or keep clothing that is too small, and how it was liberating to purge your closet of items that just remind you you aren’t as thin as you used to be.

slumdog millionaire

6. Rags to Riches

Description: The hero of this story goes from being poor and downtrodden to being rich in a strange turn of events. This can also mean that the “ugly” girl is turned beautiful or that the geek is turned into a popular kid.

Movie Examples: She’s All That, The Blind Side, Slumdog Millionaire

The Twist for Bloggers: How did you change your life? People read your blog because they want to be like you. So teach them lessons based on your own experiences.

Blog Example: On your financial blog, you could talk about how you got out of debt or on your marketing blog you could talk about how you grew your email list to over 100,000 people.

day after tomorrow

7. Man versus Nature

Description: The characters in the story are battling a natural disaster that threatens to totally wipe out mankind. Or, the characters are battling an animal that threatens to totally wipe out their little group. Either way, man is fighting Mother Nature, usually just battling to survive because there is no possibility of stopping the natural world.

Movie Examples: The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon, Jaws

The Twist for Bloggers: What challenges are inevitably found in your life? How have you overcome these challenges? When you’re dealt a certain lot in life and don’t have a choice in the matter, what can you do to still succeed? The theme of your post should be survival of something you have no control over.

Blog Example: Maybe you run a small business blog and you can talk about how a small real estate firm used social media to survive the housing marking crash. Or maybe you have a green blog, and you talk about how you grow your own ingredients, even though your apartment has no outdoor space.

v for vendetta

8. Man versus Society

Description: The protagonist of a Man versus Society movie is battling against “the man.” He or she sees a problem in the world and chooses to stand against it. Often, this person ends up leading a revolution.

Movie Examples: Schindler’s List, V for Vendetta, Braveheart

The Twist for Bloggers: What do you see happening in your niche that is bad? It can be scarey to speak out against other big-name bloggers or common advice that everyone follows, but doing so can also start a revolution.

Blog Example: On our TBEX (travel exchange) blog, our CEO Rick wrote “You Are Not a Travel Blogger” about some of the bad behavior he sees in this niche and how some people who call them professionals aren’t really professionals.

shrek 2

9. The Sequel

Description: When a movie does well in the box office, it is usually followed up with a sequel. Sometimes the same actors are involved. Other times, it’s a completely new cast. Rarely is the sequel as good as the original, but sometimes it is even better.

Movie Examples: Shrek 2, The Dark Knight, Aliens

The Twist for Bloggers: Got a post that’s getting tons of traffic or comments? Write a follow up to that post. You could pull inspiration for your new post from a discussion in the comments or go into further detail about your opinion.

Blog Example: If you wrote an informative post about a recent news story, you could follow it up with an op-ed about the story. Or if you wrote “15 Tips for…” you could follow it up with “15 MORE Tips for…”

true grit

10. The Remake

Description: When a movie is good the first time around, it sometimes gets remade. People are usually highly critical of the remakes, because they loved the original, but you’re starting with a proven story, so there’s the opportunity for greatness with a remake.

Movie Examples: Dawn of the Dead, Scarface, True Grit

The Twist for Bloggers: There’s no reason you can’t rewrite a post to modernize it. Update the information so it’s more relevant for users. You can also do this with posts from other blogs, but make sure you’re adding something valuable of your own, not just rewriting information, and always give credit where credit is due.

Blog Example: Say someone in your niche writes “The Top Things You Need to Know about…”. You could write your own version of this, referring to some of his/her points, but also adding some of your own.

Some Final Thoughts

Of course, most movies are actually a combination of formulas and plots. If they weren’t, going to the movies would be pretty boring. So think about how you can combine some of these formulas and use them to create interesting blog posts. No matter what your niche, you can use these plots to make your blog better.

The Art of Constructive Controversy on Your Blog

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Without a doubt, controversy can drive tons of traffic to your blog. I do, however, believe that many if not most bloggers out there are going about this in a destructive way. Controversy is the cholesterol of the blogging world: there are both good and bad forms. Both drive traffic, but if you perfect the art of good controversy – what I like to call constructive controversy – you can reap the benefits beyond a spike in traffic that doesn’t stick and a plethora of emotionally-charged comments on a single post.

What is Constructive Controversy?

Constructive controversy is like constructive criticism; it can sting, but ultimately, the conversation is helpful. You could take a tone that is accusing or snarky if that’s the style you want to use, but you have to do more than pontificate. A constructively controversial post follows these guidelines:

  • Research or real-life examples are given to back up the opinion.
  • The alternate view is considered, not dismissed.
  • The post starts a conversation about the topic – and it’s a conversation that really matters.
  • The opinions in the post are genuine, not manufactured for the sake of a good post.
  • The post attacks ideas, schools of thought, practices and the like – not things people can’t control like gender or race. (I like to call this the no name-calling rule.)

The post “Why 150 Followers Is All You Really Need” from Srini Rao is old, but a good example of constructive controversy. Writing this post, Srini had to have known that some people wouldn’t like it. Most Twitter tips are about how to get more followers. But within the post, he used examples to back up his opinion, and the post was about starting a conversation about why we care so much about quantity and ignore quality.

Another great example is “Are Universities Giving Hall Passes for Hate” (warning: link goes to a post with strong language and is on a NSFW blog, though the post itself is SFW) by Erika Napoletano. In this post, Erica writes strong opinions about an event in the news, and not everyone in the comments section agrees with her. But it’s a post supported by facts and opens a dialogue. On Erika’s own site, Redhead Writing, she often publishes posts in this vein – very opinionated and very snarky, but also a way to get everyone talking about the topic at hand.

Whether or not you agree with the post has nothing to do with whether the post is constructive controversy or not. It’s about the goals of the post, not about the message.

What is Destructive Controversy?

The antithesis of constructive controversy is destructive controversy. As the name implies, this kind of controversy isn’t about creating conversations. It’s about destroying them.

Sometimes, these posts attack people, not for doing bad (or perceived bad) things, but for being female or gay or whatever the hate flavor of the day might be.

Usually, destructive controversy bloggers are the first to cry “free speech!” but often they heavily moderate comments to only include those that agree with the post. It doesn’t matter if a comment was constructive or not. Or, sometimes, these bloggers take the complete opposite approach and don’t moderate comments at all. They stay out of the comments section, just opening it to be a free-for-all between trolls and legitimate commenters.

Destructive controversy is usually really smart. The post is written to play on people’s emotions, fears, and ignorance. The goal is not to start a conversation, but rather to beat people down so the blogger can stand over the pile of bodies triumphant. Bloggers who write destructive controvery blog posts have, in my experiences, low self esteem and the need to stroke their own egos.

In some cases, the controversy is manufactured – the blogger doesn’t actually believe what he/she is saying or at least does not feel very strongly about the subject. It’s all rhetoric to bait people. Destructive controversy usually comes attached to a sensationalist headline. The goal is to get as much traffic as possible, simply for personal gain.

I’m not going to link you to examples of destructive controversy. You know who they are. It’s a fine line that some bloggers walk between constructive and destructive, but we’ve all read posts that were little more than troll comments (for the record, this is a really good post about what a troll is, because a lot of people use the term incorrectly).

The Controversy Tsunami

Of course, I’m advocating that you write posts that are constructive, not destructive. But even if  you choose every word very carefully to be as diplomatic as possible, prepare for the storm that may be heading your way. If you choose instead to take a more accusing or even mean tone (and yes, you can still be constructive this way), prepare for the storm that is definitely heading your way.

A few facts about humans on the Internet:

  • When you voice an opinion, there will always be people who disagree. Some may be nasty about it, so a thick skin is necessary. Beyond that, however, be prepared for the trolls you’re going to attract. These aren’t just people who disagree. These are people who’s purpose is to disrupt the conversation, attack you personally to hurt you, and otherwise be destructive even when your post is constructive.
  • Stupidity breeds stupidity. In other words, once one troll shows up, you can usually expect more. You can also expect commenters to start attacking one another, especially when there’s a troll loose in your comments section.

So be prepared. It’s like a tidal wave – if you’ve written an interesting post that goes viral, you might see hundreds of comments in the span of an hour or two. If you lose control, it’s hard to regain it. Controversial posts are not posts you want to schedule to go live while you’re on vacation.

Controversy online, when done well, can lead to really interesting new ideas about topics that often divide people. It’s an art, though, to do controversy the right way, an art that I’m perhaps still learning myself. What’s important is not that you master this art before you publish controversial posts, though, but that you realize you’re a student. Aim to be constructive when you’re controversial, and you’ll be adding value to the entire online community and solidifying yourself as someone with a blog worth reading, not just dumping sludge on the Internet and basking in short-lived, negative glory.

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How to Set Off Fireworks with your Content: 10 Tips for Writing Explosive Blog Posts

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Here in the United States, today is the Memorial Day holiday, and as with most summer holidays in this country, it’s an excuse to set off some fireworks. Fireworks are special. No matter how many shows you go to every summer, that first pop and burst of color leaves you ooo-ing and ahhh-ing. Want to see amazement in it’s purest form? Watch the face of a child seeing fireworks.

Wouldn’t it be great if those same feelings of wonder and amazement were felt by readers every time you wrote a blog post? We all talk about how “content is king,” but what does that really mean? How can you make your blog posts “explosive” so you build a community of people who can’t miss your posts? Doing this takes more than being helpful or even being personable. Here are the 10 tips you need to keep in mind when writing every blog post in order to make it truly awesome:

1. Write about things that matter.

So often we get caught up in the mundane, that we miss chances to start online conversations about topics that really matter. Of course, what “really matters’ is subjective, but if you have a social media blog and missed writing about how social media had a part in the Egyptian uprisings because you were too busy writing yet another post about how to write awesome headlines, you’re missing out on the big picture. It’s not that learning how to write a headline is unimportant. It’s that sometimes, we have to open our eyes to the world around us and prioritize topics, saving less important topics for another day. Bloggers have a chance to change the world, and I would even go as far as saying that we have a responsibility to help shape online content so it is more important and less trivial. Let’s not neglect our responsibilities.

2. Write about things you actually care about.

It’s pretty obvious when bloggers write something because they think they have to. That’s one of the great things about being a blogger, though – you don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to take every opportunity to rank well for a certain topic, be the first to report a news story, or weigh in on an issue that everyone is talking about. Write about topics that matter, but make sure they matter to you, not just everyone else. If you honestly believe a subject you don’t care about at all needs to be covered on your blog, have a guest blogger write a post, hire a ghostwriter, or create a link list of resources where others are talking about the topic. But doesn’t waste another second of your time writing when you don’t care about the subject matter. There are more important things to cover.

3. Give yourself blogging freedom.

Having consistent features on your blog makes sense. For example, here on the BlogWorld blog, I post the New Media News Break every Wednesday and Brilliant Bloggers every other Friday. However, some bloggers fall so deeply into a routine, that they don’t have any room for flexibility. Unchain yourself! You need freedom to write spontaneously and cover breaking news. This also relates back to my first to points. You don’t want your blog to be so structured that you feel responsible to spend your time working on your regular features and have no time to write about thing things that matter (and the thinks that matter to you).

4. Choose words artistically.

Language is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, with today’s mindset that “anyone can blog,” language has been falling to the wayside. Sometimes, posts are total snooze-fests not because they have boring information but because the writing itself is boring. Think about the words you are typing. You don’t have to be Shakespeare, but take a little pride in your word and play with language in your blog posts. Remember, editing is key.

5. Tell interesting stories.

Storytelling is an important part of your online presence, as it can help build your brand and sell your products. I just created a huge list of resource where you can find people talking about the importance for storytelling and how to best tell your story. But storytelling isn’t just about manipulating the reader so they like you more or buy whatever you’re peddling this week. Sometimes, storytelling is just about being interesting and making it easier for people to understand your point. Not every story is in the form of “one time, this happened to me.” Here’s a really good example of a blog post/story from Elizabeth Potts Weinstein that breaks the traditional mold.

6. Clarify your message.

When readers reach the end of your post, can they answer the question, “So, what was the point?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read blog posts that were written with beautiful language and great stories about topics that really matter…and then, I reach the end and have no idea what the thesis statement was. You don’t have to smack your readers in the face with the point, but you should definitely ensure that your message comes across in at least two places: your introduction and your closing.

7. Stop worrying about length.

If I see one more comment about how important it is to keep your post under X number of words, I might scream! If post length was so important, Glen over at ViperChill would have no readers, since he usually goes on and on and on waaaay past the recommended word count. He’s not the only long-winded blogger either. People will read your content if it is good. Period. Does that mean it always makes sense to write 2,000 words? Certainly not. For some bloggers, that might never make sense. But don’t stifle yourself because someone else says you have to cap posts at a certain length. Write the number of words you need for the topic, edit to take out unnecessary content and tighten the post, and hit publish even if your post is super long.

8. Close the show well.

The end of a fireworks show is typically marked with a bunch of blasts in quick succession. It’s a kick, a punch, a POW to the already great show you just saw. Your blog posts show have that same fire at the end. Often, I see bloggers just kind of…well…stop writing. But if you do that, there’s no call to action, no reason for readers to leave feeling excited about what they just read. So don’t skimp on the closing paragraph. Make every word count.

9. Know your weaknesses and work on them.

As you look over this list, you might be thinking, “I do that well….I do that well…I need work on that one…I do that well…” and that’s a good thing. You don’t have to be perfect; you simply have to know where your weaknesses are so you can work on them. Otherwise, you’re just sticking your head in the sand and ignoring problems. As I’m writing this post, even I know that I need to boost my efforts with some of these tips, while others are tips I have down pat, almost like they are second nature. Whenever you write a blog post, be aware of your habits, both good and bad.

10. Blog often.

Lastly, I can’t stress enough how important it is to blog often. This is an art form, a craft, a skill. You need to work at it to get better. This does not mean you have to commit to a daily schedule, but if you’re only blogging once a month (or even less often), you aren’t going to get better as a blogger. Don’t have time? Make time. You make time to sit on Pinterest or Facebook. You make time to check your email seventeen times a day. You make time to do other things you like to do. Make time to blog. Blog when you have something important to say, but if you don’t have something important to say regularly, I question whether or not you should be blogging at all. And there’s nothing wrong with saying this blogging thing isn’t for you. Just make sure to admit that, rather than popping in every three months to write, “Sorry, guys, I’ve been really busy.”

Blogging is not easy. Writing good content is a talent that not everyone has, and even those with natural talent need to work at it, the same way a talented singer has to work on her scales or a talented baseball player has to work on his batting. Writing explosive blog posts – yes, every single time you hit the publish button – is possible, and hopefully the above tips will help you, but it doesn’t just happy. You have to be willing to work for it.

If you liked these tips about creating content, I hope you’ll consider joining us at BlogWorld New York next week for even more fantastic content tips!

Original image credit (without text): Tsuacctnt at Flickr Creative Commens

Ice Cream Cone Blogging

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On a hot summer day, there are few things better than a sweet, dripping ice cream cone. There’s this little old school ice cream shoppe in my neighborhood that has the best flavors and homemade sugar waffle cones. It’s so yummy and refreshing that I don’t even mind when it melts in the sun and is impossible to eat without getting as sticky as a four-year-old. That’s part of the joy of an ice cream cone in the summertime.

Today is not a hot summer day. I’m not in the middle of a blizzard or anything, but it’s January in Northern Virginia. The nights are cold, snow is a constant threat, and we have a bag of rock salt waiting by the door just in case it’s needed.

Now, I probably wouldn’t say no to an ice cream cone right now. I love ice cream! But it’s not the same. During the winter, ice cream is still good, but it’s just not the same. As you stroll down the street with your favorite flavor, your fingers and lips get cold and it just doesn’t have the same refreshing effect.

Blogging can be similar. Your content might not change, but it doesn’t always taste the same.

The “if you build it, they will come” idea of blogging is a romantic one, but the quality of your content isn’t the only things that plays a part in your overall success. One of the factors that few seem to talk about is timing. You’re the ice cream maker. It’s up to you to serve your customers the best treats for the season. Some customers might still want ice cream during the winter, but you should at least offer some hot chocolate too.

Timing is about two things: research and your gut.

Timing Research

Ever wonder why so many products launch on Tuesdays or why Sunday night Facebook posts seem to get a lot more attention? It’s not a coincidence. There are certain days and times of the day that are statistically better than others.

When I was younger, I worked in a butcher shop and deli (sexy, I know). At the end of every month, we’d see a dip in sales – people didn’t buy as much because they were waiting for their social security checks or government assistance. So, my bosses would put the more expensive items on sale. The way, people could afford these items – and the tended to buy more. It was a well-timed sale.

Think about why people do things online. If your target audience is under 18, they probably aren’t going to be online at 10 AM on a Tuesday – they’re going to by online when they get home from school. If your target audience is older, they’re probably going to be online after the kids go to bed. If your target audience is technologically-minded, they probably are going to be online during the day at work (at least a little), and will be especially hungry for content on Fridays when they’re anxiously waiting for the day to end and the weekend to begin.

Do a little research with your content. Test out your theories by releasing posts at different times and on different days and recording what happens. You can even set up split tests with your email lists to see when you get a higher open rate. The numbers don’t lie – and this could help you drive higher traffic number with little extra work.

Going with Your Gut

Sometimes, you have to throw research out the window. As much as it might make sense to announce your new book on a certain day or send out an affiliate email during a certain window or time during the day, don’t let your research cloud your good sense.

My birthday is in February. And I want ice cream. Normally, ice cream isn’t as good during the winter, but there’s an exception to this rule and if my friends didn’t bring out the ice cream just because it was “too cold,” I’d be very disappointed.

Going with your gut makes sense. When something is timely, release it while emotions are high, before people have the chance to cool off and stop caring about a topic. When your blog needs a pick-me-up, post sooner rather than later. When you’ve built up some anticipation for content, give the people what they want because if they have to continue to wait, they’ll loss interest. If you have a really innovative idea, post it!

Do research and follow the rules regarding the timing of your blog posts – but don’t be afraid to break those rules.

Personally, I’m still studying the best times to release new posts and when to follow the rules versus when to go with my gut and post immediately. Do you have a certain time you like to post on your blog? Do you think it matters?

An Argument for Not Using Images

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A picture of a camera? How meta. I like reading a post that includes an image, especially if the image being used is personal (i.e., not just stock photography). Even with stock photography, though, an image gives the eye a little break. It’s a good design tool for most blog posts.

Notice I said “most” in my previous sentence. A lot of bloggers will tell you that you have to use images with every single blog post. I disagree. I think there are a few cases when images aren’t necessary, and today, I’d like to make an argument for those situations.

  • You need to get news out as quickly as possible.

If you read breaking news on any of the major news sites or aggregation sites, you’ll notice that posts change throughout the day as more information comes in. What starts as a one-paragraph post turns into a much longer piece by the end of the day. It’s not just about text, though. If you need to get a breaking news story out as quickly as possible, it makes sense to forget the picture, at least for the time being. Just post the news. You can make the post more eye-pleasing in the future.

  • You use other visuals to help break up the text.

For example, in this post I’m using bullet points. Numbered lists, videos, and other visuals can also help make the text more manageable. If you already have a ton of visual interest on your site (i.e., there’s a lot going on with ads, the sidebar, etc) you might not need a picture too, unless the post calls for one.

  • Simplicity fits your audience.

If your audience doesn’t mind reading text without tons of visual interest, maybe it makes sense to simply concentrate on the text of the post. Not sure? Poll your readers. If they don’t care about pictures, adding stock photography just for the sake of having an image might be a waste of your time.

  • It’s an important announcement where images make no difference.

For example, let’s say that you ran a contest on your blog and are announcing the winner. People will read that post to find out if they won regardless of whether or not you have a picture with the text. Of course, you still want the post to be eye-pleasing, but if there’s no picture necessary to make your announcement, it might make sense not to include one.

I want to caution against using these points to justify being lazy. Like many others out there, I’m sure, formatting is my least favorite part of using a blog post. Make sure it truly makes sense not to use images, though – don’t just tell yourself that you don’t have to put in that little bit of work because Allison said so. :-p

Most of the time it makes sense to use an image – and if your theme pulls them for thumbnails on the homepage, like here at the BlogWorld blog, always include one rather than having a blank box on the homepage or, worse, breaking your theme. I just wanted to illustrate how a common blogging “rule” isn’t 100% the best rule to follow every single time for every single blogger. When it comes to images, do what fits best for your blog and for your individual posts.

Do you use images in every single blog post? Why or why not?

What I Learned from the 12 Days of Blogging, part one

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Over the weeks leading up to Christmas, I posted the 12 Days of Blogging – a play on the 12 Days of Christmas where I featured advice from over 100 bloggers from around the world on topics like recoding podcasts and using Facebook. It was definitely a learning experience for me, since I got to read hundreds of awesome posts, but the education didn’t stop with what the posts taught me. I also learned a log about two other things: writing a series and making information available on a blog.

Today, as part one, I’m going to share with you what I learned about posting a huge series like the 12 Days of Blogging:

Lesson #1: Tell people what to expect – and when.

When I wrote the first post, it hit Twitter hard, with a lot of awesome people passing the link around to their followers. My first post was a long one, and after the links, I just kind of ended the post and moved on with my life. I got a TON of questions about future installments over Twitter. If you’re doing a series, tell people when they can expect the next update and how they can be notified (Should they subscribe? Will you be tweeting about it? Do you have an email list?). People who liked the first post don’t want to miss out on subsequent posts.)

Lesson #2: Plan twice as much time as you think you’ll need.

This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I knew that the 12 Days of Blogging would be a huge undertaking, but I definitely did not plan enough time for it. There were problems. On one post, for example, a blogger closed his site, so the link was broken and I had to find another relevant link to replace it. One of the bloggers I was going to feature in an upcoming post emailed and asked for a different link to be included under another topic, so I had to switch things around and find some new links. Reading posts, just to ensure that they were high quality, not just an interesting title, took a LOT of time. There were also bloggers I knew I wanted to include, but I didn’t have a specific post in mind, so it took time to look through their sites and find the best post to highlight. Bottom line, it’s better to plan for something to take three hours and have some free time than to plan for something to take one hour and be scrambling to finish.

Lesson #3: Make yourself available after posting each installment.

One of my major mistakes, at least with the first few posts, was going to bed or leaving my computer to relax a little right after posting the next installment. Because so many people were following the series, there were comments and questions both on the site and on Twitter, and I should have been available to answer them as quickly as possible. Instead, most went unanswered for several hours. I learned my lesson by the third or fourth day, but I likely annoyed some people from the first few days.

Lesson #4: Link, link, link.

If you do a series of posts, MAKE SURE you link to the other posts in the series at the end. This is something I did with the 12 Days of Blogging, and I saw a lot of traffic to all of the older posts every day, through links on the newest post. Not everyone has been following the series since day one, so make sure they can find older posts too.

Lesson #5: Explain what the heck you’re doing.

To go hand-in-hand with the linking lesson, make a single post or page on that lets people know what you are doing and why, as well as includes links to all of the posts in the series. At the beginning of every new installment, link to this post so that people new to the series know what’s going on. I’ve seen a lot of series that do not do this, and it is confusing for someone who comes in well after you’ve started the series.

Have you written a series of blog posts? If so, what’s the best tip you have for making it happen and keeping readers involved?

Part Two – on what I learned about site organization – coming tomorrow!

Do You Use the "More" Tag?

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Today, no reflective posts about failing, no comparisons between bloggers and insects…not even a reference to Disney. Today, I just want to pose a simple question: Do you use the more tag?

In case there are any new bloggers out there, the “more” tag on a blog post allows you to show just part of the post on your homepage. Users who want to read the entire post can click “read more” and see the single post page to continue reading. I see three major advantages to the more tag:

  1. It allows you to show more posts on your homepage in the same about of scrolling space, so readers see more titles from the start.
  2. It increases the number of page views and single-post views you receive, which is helpful if you’re being paid according to stats when writing for someone else. This also increases the number of times an ad will load on your website, so advertisers generally like to see higher numbers.
  3. You can more accurately track which posts are most popular, since people can’t read the whole thing on  your homepage.

Some of the best bloggers out there use the more tag, or some other code to show only part of a post on the homepage. Mashable shows the first few sentences. Copyblogger shows the first paragraph or so. David Risley shows the first five to ten lines. Shoemoney uses the more tag if the post is more than a paragraph or so.

There are also some well-respected bloggers out there who don’t seem to be using the more tag. Kommein, Successful Blog, Jonathan Volk, Seth Godin…as far as I can see, they don’t use the more tag or show partial posts on their homepages. Chris Garrett uses it some of the time.

With the three advantages listed above, it’s easy to see why a lot of people are using the more tag. So why am I (and other bloggers that I’ve listed) not firmly aboard? It isn’t for lack of caring or being lazy. My main concern is that the busy reader won’t click through to read the entire post.

I’m confident in my ability to write interesting, helpful blog posts, but I’m not always a “straight to the point” type of girl. I think about how i read websites myself. If the post doesn’t catch my attention right away, I’m probably not going to click through to read the rest. However, if the full post is up on the home page, I’ll typically read past where the more tag would have been before deciding that the post is boring and looking for something new to read.

That means that a post has more text to get through to me.

I probably miss some really cool posts that way. No matter how good you are at writing a title or excerpt, every reader is different, and what catches the attention of one person might not catch the attention of another. I worry that using the more tag means that fewer people will read to the end of my posts.

At the same time, the above three reasons to use the more tag do make sense. So, what I personally do is use the more tag if I hit 800 or so words in a post. Shorter than that, I post the full text. Do you use the more tag? Why or why not?

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. Yes, she used a picture of the creation of this very blog post to illustrate. It blows her mind, man.

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