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10 Writing Tips for Advanced Bloggers


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)

Going Viral: Learn How to Write Popular Posts from This Blogger’s Success


Paula Pant Going viral: we all want it, yet it seems impossible to achieve unless you’re already a popular blogger. What about up-and-comers? Do we have any chance of hitting that traffic jackpot with one of our posts?

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Paula Pant about how she writes popular posts. Paula will be speaking about the art of jaw-dropping content at NMX 2014 (get your tickets here). Here’s a little preview of what you can expect at the show:

Allison: What has been your most popular post of all time and why do you think it was?

Paula: My most popular post is one that I think the NMX community would also love: Stop Crying That There Are No Jobs. Create One.

I wrote this post after speaking back-to-back at two conferences: one for journalists, and one for bloggers.

I felt that many of the people I met at the journalism conference were feeling pessimistic about the future. Newsrooms were on hiring freezes, were laying off their reporters, or were shutting down entirely. Major newspapers like the Rocky Mountain News had recently collapsed. There was an undercurrent of “we’re screwed.”

Then I went to a blogger conference. Most of the people there had no formal training in writing or storytelling. But they were ultra-optimistic about the future. They spotted online opportunity everywhere they looked.

I’m a journalist-turned-blogger, and I write about shattering limits, ditching the cubicle, and living life on your own terms. My readers are the type of people who refuse to get confined by limits. If no one will create a job for them, they’ll create one for themselves. That’s the Afford Anything way of life.

You write so many awesome posts – what do you think it was about this one in particular that resonated with so many people?

I’ve intentionally cultivated a readership that loves the idea of entrepreneurship, location independence, freedom, and controlling your destiny. The themes of this post fit my readership perfectly, and I used storytelling as my tool to illustrate that theme.

This isn’t an instructional post — it’s a motivational post — but not in the cliche-drenched, “rah-rah” cheerleader sense of the word. It motivates through telling a true-life story, not through reiterating feel-good slogans. Storytelling is our most primal form of linguistic communication; even young children love hearing stories.

How did you come up with a title for your post? Do you think that the controversial message contributed to the popularity?

Prior to this article, I wrote gentle headlines. The headline of this particular article is far more “in-your-face” than what I usually wrote.

After I saw it’s success, I began writing more controversial and opinionated headlines, such as “Quit Thinking About Consumption. Start Thinking About Creation,” and “The Rebel with a Retirement Plan.”

Popular posts are great, but as we all know, readers’ attention spans are limited. How do you keep people engaged after reading the post instead of bouncing onto the next thing?

I keep a call-to-action at the bottom of each blog post, encouraging readers to join my email list. After all, my goal is list-building, not just pageviews. I also internally link from the article to numerous other articles, use the nRelate plugin and the LinkWithin widget, and keep a list of my most popular posts on the right-hand sidebar site-wide. Lately I’ve also started using Opt In Monster to increase my list sign-ups, as well. I’ve been pleased to see that I consistently have strong metrics in average time-on-site and pages-per-visit.

When you were writing this post, did you have any idea how popular it would be? Or did it surprise you?

I had no idea that this post would become so popular. To be perfectly honest, I feel as though I’ve written plenty of posts that are better than this one. But my readers seem to adopt a different view.

I’ve found, in general, that the posts that become most popular catch me off-guard. I’ve learned to stop making any predictions about which posts will leap to the top of my most popular list. Instead, I focus more on the process — writing top-notch posts — and allow the results to unfold as they will.

Thanks, Paula, for a great interview! Remember, you can grab a ticket to see Paula speak live at NMX 2014. Make sure you’re in the audience to ask her any questions you might have about writing great content that goes viral!

6 Keys to Every Great Blog Post


bigstock-Blog-10686950 Despite the uniqueness found in every blog post, there are certain commonalities that exist in every great blog post. Use this list and make sure your post has all six of these elements before sending it out to the world.

1. An Intriguing Title

Why are you reading this post? It’s probably because you wanted to learn about how to write a better blog post. My title was intriguing, attracted the right audience, and brought in readers like you.

Use different types of hooks to grip your readers. Some of the most captivating hooks include:

  • The Educational Hook: connects a concept with the mind.
  • The Topical Hook: connects a concept with the news.
  • The Fresh Spin Hook: connects a concept with a normally unrelated idea.
  • The Self-Interest Hook: connects a concept with the reader’s personal identity.
  • The True Story Hook: connects a concept with real-life stories.
  • The Curation Hook: connects a concept with a series of unrelated ideas.

Can you tell which hook I’m using in my title?

2. Examples

Blog posts are much more interesting and useful when the author uses examples. Some ideas of examples that you can use in your post include:

  • Pictures
  • Charts/Graphs
  • Screenshots
  • Videos
  • Article References
  • Statistics
  • Excerpts
  • Case Studies

These are all great ways to show (not tell), and it helps keep the post more interesting and sharable.

3. Breaks in the Content

Breaking up your content is a crucial part of a great blog post. While it doesn’t change your message, it can quickly determine whether or not readers will actually read through and share you blog post.

People don’t like to read. Instead, they scan blog posts, looking for the most important points before moving on.

The Nielson Norman Group found that only 16 percent of readers read web pages word-for-word. That means that most of you aren’t actually reading this. You simply read my subheadings and moved on.

Posts without breaks in the content are visually unappealing and hard to read. Here are a few tips on how you can break up your content:

  • Use subheadings.
  • Write short paragraphs.
  • Include bullet points or numbered lists.
  • Bold or italicize important points.
  • Add pictures.

Remember white space is an element of your blog post. Use it.

4. Proper Conventions

If I run across a post that’s packed full of spelling and grammatical mistakes, you can be sure that I’m never returning to that blog again no matter how qualified the author is to speak about the subject.

Realistically, though, I can easily let a few mistakes slide; mistakes are understandable. However, if an author’s not willing to edit and revise their content, it’s not worth my time to try putting the pieces together and guess what they’re trying to say.

On the other hand, a blog post that uses proper conventions sounds more professional and is easier and more enjoyable to read.

Bookmark a good grammar site and check any rule or wording that you are unsure about, or use a grammar checker if you don’t have a second set of eyes to scan your post before it goes live.

5. An Engaging Appeal

While I wouldn’t say that an engaging aspect is essential for a great blog post, it certainly helps peak readers’ interest and helps them get the most out of the piece.

You have to get your readers involved. For example, you might include an exercise to get your readers more engaged in the subject, or you could simply ask a question for them to answer in the comment section.

The Write Practice certainly has this down, and they have thousands of followers because of it. In each of their posts, they include a practice exercise and have readers share their results in the comment section.

6. A Unique Voice

A survey conducted by SmartBlogs.com found that 43.41 percent of respondents say a distinctive voice is the number one aspect a successful blog needs.

This means that readers love unique writers, someone who doesn’t copy another writer’s voice and can put their own personality to their work.

Your voice should not be forced, and it is yours alone. Not sure what your unique voice is yet? Use these 10 Steps for Finding Your Writing Voice which includes exercises like:

  • Describing yourself in three adjectives
  • Examining the types of writing you like to read
  • Listing your favorite cultural influences

Your unique voice will set you apart and give your audience a reason to follow you. So find a voice, stick with it, and add some creativity and uniqueness into your posts.

When reading blog posts, it’s clear when the post is great, but when we break it down like this, creating your own spectacular blog post becomes a bit easier. Do you include all six in your blog posts?

Image credit: Bigstock

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


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


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

20 Ways to Be More Creative on Your Blog


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?


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


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.

How Lying Can Vastly Improve Your Blog


lying on your blog

Allison Boyer (that’s me) is a liar.

Lest I be accused of sensationalizing a title for a post that doesn’t live up to the hype, I want clarify something right now. This post is not going to be able how to trick or mislead your readers. So before you start thinking I’m a major scumbag, please understand that I’m only a huge, stinkin’ liar, but to one person: myself.

And this post is going to teach you how I lie to myself and why it has helped me vastly improve my posts.

It all started with a challenge to myself.

After NMX 2013, I heard someone mention that they didn’t think the conference had enough advanced content. This is something I believe to be untrue, but as I perused our blog, I realized that I had recently been writing a lot of beginner-level content. It made me think to myself, “I don’t want our advanced attendees or potential attendees to have to hunt for relevant content. I want them to read this blog and know that we’re dedicated to providing education at all levels.”

And so, I started to think about what I could do to “up” my game. I wanted to challenge myself to grow as a blogger and attract more advanced learners. After all, I have been blogging for over a decade and professionally since 2006, so there’s no reason I can’t teach to a “beyond-the-101-level” crowd.

First, I thought that it would help to imagine an A-list blogger reading my post. After all, this is the type of reader I was hoping to attract. But that wasn’t really enough, because it’s about more than the education. It’s also about the delivery. So then, I thought:

“What if I completely lie to myself and write a blog post as though it’s part of a portfolio I’m sending to my favorite advanced-level blogger to get a job.”

This idea came to be on a whim. I had just been speaking to a friend the day before about the fact that I hadn’t updated my writing portfolio in a long time because I wasn’t looking for a job. I remembered thinking how much work it was to choose and prepare pieces for this portfolio because you want to put your very best foot forward. Nothing seems good enough.

I might as well have been a cartoon character with a light bulb popping on above my head. Ding! How would it improve my writing to lie to myself about the posts I was writing was for my portfolio, which I’d be presenting to an A-lister in my field.

Self-deception Research

I started looking into the idea of lying to myself to improve my writing, and I actually found that research shows this kind of lying, officially called “self-deception” by scientists, can be beneficial. In an article by Sue Shellenbarger at the Wall Street Journal, experts note that this kind of lying has enormous advantages – in small doses. Says Robert Trivers, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University and author of “The Folly of Fools,”

“Believing we are more talented or intelligent than we really are can help us influence and win over others. An executive who talks himself into believing he is a great public speaker may not only feel better as he performs, but increase how much he fools people, by having a confident style that persuades them that he’s good.”

Most of us lie to ourselves on some level, and research by Zoe Chance from Harvard Business School suggests that we don’t even realize it.

Certainly self-deception can lead to more destructive behavior. We want something to be true, so we tell ourselves it is true, even when the facts say otherwise. Doing this can leave to giving ourselves permission to do terrible things. For example, someone might justify picking a male candidate over a female candidate, but when self-deceptive excuses are wiped away, the truth is that there was a gender bias.

Or maybe the male candidate actually was the better choice. Self-deception is tricky because it is so often unconscious.

The major theme I saw in most articles and studies about self-deception is that while their are benefits, lying to yourself can spiral out of control. So definitely proceed with caution. Don’t lie to yourself and say you’re not lying to yourself! Lie-ception!

The Experiment

The problem with self-deception in my experiement is the inherent consciousness that I was lying to myself. Writing a blog post like someone is going to read it as part of a portfolio is very different than writing a blog post you know someone is going to read as part of a portfolio.

To make it a little more “real,” I looks on some job boards and found a few high-level blogging and social media jobs. I tried to reach beyond my own skill level when searching, looking for jobs where I knew I wouldn’t be the most qualified candidate, or at least jobs where I wouldn’t be the only qualified candidate if I applied. If I wanted to be hired in any of these positions, I would have to really have to convince them to take a chance on me. I’d need to have the strongest portfolio possible.

The result? I wrote a number of posts I’m very proud of including these right here on the NMX blog:

I take pride in every post I write both here and on my own blogs. However, when I told myself that someone would be looking at these posts in order to consider me for a high-level job, I kicked things up a notch.

But this method isn’t sustainable.

I think that going through this process has helped me stretch myself as a writer, but it also isn’t sustainable over time. It’s easy to start thinking that no post is good enough, to start doubting everything you write. Analysis paralysis is no fun.

Also, in writing this kind of content, it’s easy to ignore what the beginner audience needs, at least in my specific case. Not every blog post you write has to be super detailed, analytical, or creative. Sometimes, you just need to get basic information across in a clear way. Here’s an example of that: How to Track Conversions from YouTube Viewers [Video]. I wouldn’t typically use this post as part of my portfolio, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a good lesson for people looking for this specific information.

Still, this was a great experiment. Most of the posts I wrote received a higher number of social shares than normal, including some attention from the advanced-level bloggers I did hope to attract. It may not be the approach I take when writing every blog post, but lying to myself was definitely a great exercise that I will use again to continue to grow my blogging skills.

Black Eyes and Bruises: How to Finish a Blog Post That’s Fighting You


Finish a Blog Post That's Fighting You

Most of the time, blog posts just kind of flow from my fingers as I type. I might do a bit of an outline before I start, but I can finish the first draft of most posts in under an hour (and sometimes in as little as 10-15 minutes).

But every so often, a blog post decides to fight me. I have a great idea–or so I think–but the words just won’t come. I’m stuck staring at a blank screen, and when I do finally get some words written, I’m not happy with what I’m producing.

So I scream.

Or, at least I want to. I don’t actually scream because I don’t want to frighten the neighbors, but I have a little temper tantrum that usually involves me slamming my laptop closed and proclaiming that I’m giving up blogging and all other writing jobs because I’m no good. At one point, I actually told my boyfriend at the time, “Stick a fork in me! I peaked while in college! IT’S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE!”

I might be a tad dramatic when I have writer’s block.

Yet, this isn’t traditional writer’s block in that I don’t know what to write. I know exactly what I want to write. The words are just in a boxing match with me.

I’m going to share with you a few ways I get through it whenever this happens, but please tell me that I’m not alone. Have you ever experienced knowing what you want to write but for some reason not being able to write it? What do you do to get through this kind of writer’s block?

My tips:

  • Delete everything.

Yep. It seems harsh, but sometimes, the best course of action is to highlight the entire post and hit the delete button. When you aren’t feeling it, your readers aren’t going to feel it either, and editing a pile of crap is often not worth the trouble. Save the idea, but burn everything else to the ground. Starting fresh can be cathartic and it might inspire you to approach the topic in a new way, giving you the ability to write something worth reading.

  • Have the tantrum (and work on something else).

As I mentioned, when I can’t seem to write, I throw a fit like a five-year-old who’s balloon just popped. It’s actually pretty effective. I get really mad, pace a bit, and then work on something else. Like a post about what to do when you’re trying to finish a blog post that’s fighting you. (Seriously, I just got done with a tantrum about another post that is bothering me.) Sometimes, I just need to come back to the original post with fresh eyes another day.

  • Play devil’s advocate.

Sometimes, it can help me clarify my opinions on a topic if I try to write the opposite. Playing devil’s advocate is not easy, especially when you have really strong feelings about a topic, but doing so really helps me find weaknesses in my own argument. Looking at a topic from a different angle is also great for getting the creative juices flowing, so for that reason alone, I like doing this writing exercise.

One thing I never do, no matter how frustrated I might be, is publish a post that isn’t my best work. The amount of utter crap on the Internet disgusts me, and by not putting my best foot forward with every single post, I’m only adding to the problem. In addition, it opens up the gateway to complacency. One “meh” blog post easily turns into two and before long, you’ve lowered the bar for your entire blog. So, even if a post takes a little more time, I’ll let it give me a black eye while wrestling it to perfection instead of just muttering “good enough” and hitting the publish button.

Your turn: when you can’t find the right words for what you want to say, how do you get through the blogging slump and finish the post that’s fighting you?

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