Last week, I attended a class at CreativeLIVE, a startup-to-watch that offers free, high-quality live workshops on everything from photography to design to marketing taught by world-class experts. (If you can’t attend a live class online, you can purchase the course later to access the video and all the bonus materials).
The course was Fearless Marketing by Barbara Findlay Schenck, a marketing strategist and small-business advocate whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years. During her course (which I highly recommend if you’re a freelancer or creative entrepreneur), she asked me to weigh in as an editor on what makes a blog post stand out and more likely to be shared. So, I thought I’d round up my top five tips for better blogging:
1. Establish your expertise. What sets you apart in the crowded blogosphere?
As of a year ago, there were nearly 42 million blogs in the U.S. alone. So getting noticed can be a real challenge. While it can be tempting to blog about everything that interests you (who doesn’t love talking about baby pandas and existential cats?), it’s often better for your readers — and easier on yourself — if you establish a theme that relates to your expertise, focuses your energy, and gives readers a sense of what to expect from you.
Remember: Pick a topic you can keep up with for more than just a few months. As WordPress notes, “Many of the bloggers you admire have probably been at it for at least a year.” Before you blog, brainstorm as many story ideas as you can in five minutes. If you can’t think of more than three, your topic is too narrow or doesn’t deeply interest you. Think about what you have to say on a topic that hasn’t already been said ad nauseam.
2. Be timely. Tie your posts into notable birthdays, anniversaries, or hot topics.
Inspiration to write strikes at unlikely times. When that happens, write — but don’t necessarily publish right away. In the editorial world, timing is essential. A story about Patrick Swayze’s best lines from Dirty Dancing is evergreen, but it’s more likely to get shared on social media on his birthday or the anniversary of the movie’s premier. Research notable birthdays, anniversaries, or hot topics related to your industry or theme.
The second piece of this is to keep a calendar. If you’re writing a post about the hot new toys for the holiday season, publishing in mid-December is way too late — you need to strike while the iron is hot before Black Friday, even earlier. Keep track of major events and milestones in a calendar so you can plan for those in advance. That way, you can save those on-the-fly, quick-response posts for relevant hot topics in the news.
3. Think visually. Images and videos are highly shareable, but quality matters.
If you have a knack for presenting info in a visual manner, tap into that. If a recent study comes out and you can break it down into a compelling infographic that simplifies the data, your picture will be worth a thousand words. Are you rounding up a list of local startups or small businesses of note? Get photos. Do you have a great idea for a video series related to your industry? Don’t be afraid to put something together for YouTube.
And for that matter, make sure you have quality images (either a headshot or photos of your business) that you can share if reporters come knocking on your door. If you get a press mention, be sure to post the video or a screenshot of the article on your website. Press begets more press, and prospective clients, consumers, and media outlets view these kinds of mentions as you having credibility and thought leadership in an industry.
4. Use bullets, numbers, and bold headings to make your post scannable.
People love lists. In fact, they love lists so much that there’s a new term for an article in list format — a listicle. We’ve all seen those lists from sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy circulate on our social media feeds: “51 Corgi GIFs That Have Changed the World” (seriously) or “27 Way More Awesome Things to Buy With $38 Than Facebook Stock.” You’d be tempted to click, right? They’re funny, interesting, and highly shareable.
Think about topics in your industry that lend themselves well to lists. Even if you don’t use numbers or bullets, use bold headings to make your post scannable. Remember: People are reading on devices the size of an index card, and you only have a matter of seconds to grab and hold their attention. A list that promises six items helps readers know how much time they need to commit to your post — and they’re more likely to make it to the end.
5. When it comes to promotion, think like the tortoise rather than the hare.
If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. That’s one of the hardest things to accept about blogging or building an online presence in general. So what do you do if you feel like the only feedback you’re getting is crickets chirping? Well first, remember it’s slow and steady wins the race. Building an online following of the right audience takes work and time. While it’s tempting to go after quantity, you should focus on quality instead.
Gimmicks to get people to like your profile or post might work in the short-term, but they don’t build the long-term following of readers or influencers you’re trying to attract. Always respond to people who post meaningful comments, and be sure to follow like-minded people, from fellow business owners to reporters covering your industry. And remember — don’t just promote yourself. Share interesting ideas from others. Be an invaluable resource.
Finally, if you’re wondering why blogging is worth it, remember that relevant content is what brings people to your website or business. Aside from being good for SEO (search engine optimization), it shows that you have authority and personality — two valuable traits in setting yourself apart and getting noticed. For further reading, I recommend two sources:
– The Resources page on Barbara Findlay Schenck’s website, BizStrong.com
– Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
Good luck, and happy blogging!