Tag Archives: Writing Content

Nine Ways to Stay Inspired and Avoid Blogger Burnout

The post Nine Ways to Stay Inspired and Avoid Blogger Burnout appeared first on ProBlogger.

This post is based on episode 170 of the ProBlogger podcast.

Most bloggers start off with a huge burst of energy and excitement. But then at some point (often in their first year or two of blogging) they come up against their first bout of “blogger burnout”.

And it can stop them in their tracks.

If you’ve been blogging for a long time then you’ve probably suffered blogger burnout a number of times. I’ve experienced it several times myself during my 16 years as a blogger.

So today I want to share nine ways to stay fresh and inspired with your blogging. They’ll help you spot burnout coming, and head it off before it hits you with full force.

But before we get into them let’s look at some causes of blogger burnout.

Why Does Blogger Burnout Happen?

Blogger burnout can materialise in different forms and for different reasons.

  • You may have run out of topic ideas, and feel you’ve said everything there is to say.
  • You may have become disillusioned with your topic, your niche, or blogging in general.
  • Despite working really hard on your blog, you may not think it’s paying off.
  • You may not be reaching the goals you set for yourself.
  • You may feel overworked and worn out.
  • Your blog may no longer align with the reason you started it. For example, you may have wanted to be creative at first, but now you’re focused on making money.
  • You may be overwhelmed by everything you need to do to keep your blog running.

Whatever the cause of your burnout, here are some practical things you can do to tackle it.

#1: Know Your Limits and Set Realistic Goals

You need to fit your blogging in around the rest of your life. But some bloggers don’t take this into account.

For instance, they might believe they have to post every day. But for many bloggers that’s just not feasible. Once, twice, or three times a week would suit them (and their lives) much better.

And it’s okay to be a little flexible with your posting schedule. If you don’t post as often one week, or even take a full week off, the sky won’t fall.

You also need to be realistic with your expectations and ‘big picture’ goals.

You may have dreamed of having millions of readers and millions of dollars in the bank. But I suspect you now know that achieving that kind of success with a blog can take years. And you need to keep producing consistently useful content the entire time..

#2: Get Into a Blogging Groove

I find blogging easiest when I have a particular rhythm to my week. That means having specific times when I come up with ideas, write content, and edit content.

I went through my own routine in episode 40 of the podcast. So feel free to take a listen if you want the details.

I keep my routine in a spreadsheet. But you don’t need to make yours that formal. In my earlier days of blogging my time was limited – an hour or so in the morning and an hour or so on the evening – I’d write in the morning and edit in the evening.

What sort of schedule could you create for your blogging? Think about what you need to do, and how you can fit it into your week. It might help you get into a blogging grove.

#3: Identify Your Sticking Points

WIth blogger burnout, there’s often a particular area where you’re getting stuck. Perhaps you don’t have any ideas to write about. You might be feeling disillusioned and/or unmotivated about blogging, but the real problem is a lack of ideas.

Maybe you keep comparing yourself to other bloggers, and feel frustrated that your blog isn’t yet as successful as theirs.

Or perhaps you simply haven’t had a break from blogging in ages, and need some time off to rest and recharge.

In episode 83 of the podcast I talked about blogger’s block and three places where you can get stuck:

  • idea generation
  • writing your content
  • completing your content.

These are all different types of blogger’s block. So if you’re feeling burnt out with creating content, you might want to give that episode a listen.

It may also help to chat with someone about your feelings of burnout, or even to get some professional help.

#4: Look After Your Body

The only way to sustain a healthy blog over the long term is to stay healthy yourself.

One of the biggest reasons bloggers burn out is they’re not in a healthy place. It could be their physical health, their mental health, a lack of sleep, or something else.

A few years ago I realised my blogging was suffering because I wasn’t looking after my body. My poor diet and lack of exercise took their toll on not only my body but also my mental health, creativity, and alertness.

I talked about my own health wake-up call and how I dealt with in episode 38 of the podcast. But here are a couple of quick tips.

  • Build exercise into your routine. It might be fitting a walk into your day, or getting up from your desk a couple of times a day and doing a few minutes of exercise so you come back refreshed.
  • Look at your diet. What changes could you make? They might be geared toward weight loss, or they might be about eating more healthy, nutritious food and less junk.

#5: Take a Break Every Day, Every Week and Every Year

Taking a break, resting or sleeping might seem unproductive. But they can help your blog in so many ways. The better you rest, the better you work.

It can help to think about rest and time away from your blog in different timeframes.

  • Daily: I work on my blog during business hours (normally 9–5). But I take a walk in the middle of the day, and the beginning and end of the day are blog-free.
  • Weekly: I try not to work on weekends. I may do a couple of really short bursts on a Saturday morning and a Sunday evening, but everything in between is time off. That weekly rest is really important.
  • Yearly: I schedule time off during the year to spend with my family – usually a couple of two-week breaks and a couple of long weekends.

It’s important to unplug regularly so you’re not thinking about your blog all day, every day. Your blogging will be better, and other areas of your life will also benefit such as your friendships and your relationship with your family.

Which leads me to…

#6: Build Relationships and Look After Them

Taking breaks with family and friends is good for your relationships.

When we work online in social media, a lot of our interactions tend to be virtual.

While online relationships can be very positive, it’s important to have grounded, real-life relationships as well.

Over the past 16 years I’ve been on the end of some pretty vicious attacks from strangers online that had me on the verge of giving. But while I had some good online friends helping me through those times, it was my real-life friends that gave me the real support I needed – and a place to retreat from the stress.

Of course, online relationships matter to, because your friends and family may not understand what you’re going through as a blogger. One of the best ways to solidify online relationships is to attend blogging events whenever you can. Meeting other bloggers face to face is a great way to strengthen your relationships with them.

#7: Fit Inspiration and Learning into Your Day

One of the most powerful things I do is schedule at least 5–10 minutes a day to watch or listen to something inspiring. I used to watch TED talks, but now I tend to listen to podcasts.

I try to include two types of podcasts: ones that inspire me, and ones that teach me something. Both are important, because they give you energy in different ways.

What you listen to or watch doesn’t always need to be about blogging or your blog’s topic. Maybe you get inspired by wildlife documentaries, and the beauty of the animal kingdom.

You don’t have to make a lot of time for them. But spending just ten minutes watching a video or listening to a podcast can help you feel inspired,and potentially more knowledgeable.

#8: Play, Pivot, and Evolve

I tend to get bored. And when I’m bored I feel a bit dejected. Doing the same thing the same way, day in and day out, kills my passion for things.

Over the years I’ve learned that I need to look for new ways to do things.

One of the great things about blogging and podcasting is they’re always changing. There’s always something new to try. And while that can be a distraction, I think it’s important to bring play and experimentation into what we do.

When I started the ProBlogger podcast after 12 years of blogging, it gave me a huge rush of energy and motivation.

Another blogger I spoke to had the same experience when she moved from writing about her topic to creating videos about it.

Just changing the medium gave us both a huge rush of energy. Maybe you could try something similar with your own blogging.

Another way to pivot and evolve is to add categories to your blog. On Digital Photography School a few years ago I added a category about post-production – how to process your photos in Lightroom and Photoshop. It energised both me and my readers as we explored a new area together.

You could also try:

  • Running a new series of posts
  • Monetizing your blog, or launching a new product
  • Changing the design of your blog, whether it’s getting a new logo or changing the colours

As well as energising you, these pivots and changes keep your blog fresh for your readers.

#9: Do Something That Matters

This is probably the most important thing you can do to avoid or get through burnout: do something that matters – both to you and to others.

When you’re doing something you have a genuine interest in and believe in, you’ll find you can keep the momentum going most of the time.

Over the years I’ve had more than 30 blogs. But today I only run two: Digital Photography School and ProBlogger. They’re are the ones I have the most interest in and the most passion for.

Of course, it will still get tough sometimes. But the fact you’re making other people’s lives better can give you the energy and inspiration to get through it.

Things that kept me going over the years of building ProBlogger were the emails and comments from readers letting me know something had a tangible impact on them.

If you’re experiencing blogger burnout right now, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break. Give yourself a week or two off. But make sure you have a point where you come back to start blogging again.

You might bring in some guest posters to cover the time you’re way. Or you might just tell your readers that you’re taking a bit of time off. They’re usually very understanding of things like that.

And while you’re on your break, you might want to think about implementing at least one or two of the points we’ve covered:

  1. Know your limits and set realistic expectations
  2. Get into a blogging grove
  3. Identify your sticking points
  4. Look after your body
  5. Take breaks on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis
  6. Build relationships and look after them
  7. Fit inspiration and learning into your day
  8. Play, pivot, and evolve
  9. Do something that matters

If you’re going through a tough time right now, please look after yourself. And feel free to reach out for help and support in the comments.

Image credit: Luke Porter

The post Nine Ways to Stay Inspired and Avoid Blogger Burnout appeared first on ProBlogger.

      

18 Ways to Create Scannable Content for Your Blog

The post 18 Ways to Create Scannable Content for Your Blog appeared first on ProBlogger.

18 ways to create scannable content for your blog

This post is based on Episode 176 of the ProBlogger podcast.

You’ve chosen your words with care, and put a lot of thought into them.

But no-one’s even reading your posts, let alone commenting or sharing.

If you want more readers, more engagement, and more sharing of your content (and let’s face it, why doesn’t?) then this post is for you.

Why Readers Won’t Read Every Word – and What You Can Do About It

Only 16% of people read websites word for word. Most people scan, and I expect you’re one of them.

I know I am.

When I arrive at a website or blog, I quickly scan the page to see if it looks relevant to me. If something intrigues me, I might scroll down to see what’s “below the fold”.

People make decisions in seconds. They decide whether your content is relevant to them, and whether it’s worth spending time reading it.

If they can’t see the benefits of reading on, they’ll click away from your site. They won’t read your content. They won’t leave a comment. They won’t share it. And chances are they won’t ever come back.

This means you need to learn to write scannable content. Because people will decide whether or not to read it based on their initial scan.

I’m going to give you eighteen techniques for doing just that.

#1: Write Great Headlines

The first thing people will see is your headline. It should draw their eye. Your blog design should help your headline pop off the screen. (If it doesn’t, you might want to change or tweak your theme.)

In terms of wording, your headline should be compelling and offer the reader a clear benefit if they read the post.

If you want some help with writing great headlines, check out Episode 156 of the ProBlogger podcast, or Seven Easy Ways to Write Better Headlines for Your Blog Posts.

#2: Write a Great Opening Line

Aside from your headline, the most read part of your blog post will be your first line. You want this to communicate a benefit, or create some curiosity. In your first line, you need to give people a good reason to read more.

If you need some help coming up with a strong opening line, check out 10 Tips for Opening Your Next Blog Post.

#3: Keep Your Paragraphs Short

Large slabs of text will turn readers off. If you keep your paragraphs short, it gives readers a visual clue that your content will be easy to read and put into action. If they see huge, daunting chunks of text, it’ll all seem too hard.

Stick to one idea per paragraph, and keep those paragraphs short.

#4: Keep Your Sentences Short

Short, clear sentences help readers feel your content is accessible. If your opening sentence is 40 or 50 words long and confusing to follow, they won’t want to read on.

I once heard a suggestion that you should keep your sentences to no more than 16 words, which sounds like a good rule of thumb.

For more on both short sentences and short paragraphs, check out How to Write Short Sentences and Paragraphs the Right Way (and Why It Matters).

#5: Choose Simple Words

Back in high school, my English teacher once commented on my essay saying that while words with four or more syllables may sound impressive, they make the writing inaccessible to anyone reading it. (I pointed out to her that the word “inaccessible” is a five-syllable word. That didn’t go down too well.)

Aim to write like you speak, and choose words that simply and accurately convey your meaning. Don’t use big words to try and sound impressive.

#6: Use Lists

On both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School, I’ve found that posts written in a list format do much better than essay-style content.

When readers can see your content is structured as a list, they know you’ve broken it down to make it easy for them.

You don’t necessarily have to create your whole post as a list, though. Even using bullet points throughout a post can help people scan your content.

For more on lists, check out How to Create a List Post (a podcast episode) and How to Use Lists Effectively in Your Blog Posts.

#7: Use Subheadings to Break Up Your Post

If people come to your site and just see text (even if it’s broken up into short paragraphs), nothing will stand out to them. This makes it harder for them to figure out what your post actually covers.

You want to break that post into four or five sections and give each a subheading that clearly communicates what the section is about. That way your readers have a visual cue about what’s coming up, and whether there’s a section of your post that’s particularly relevant to them.

For more on subheadings, check out How to Use Subheadings to Add Structure to Your Blog Posts.

#8: Add Other Types of Formatting

Beyond subheadings, there are other types of formatting you can use. You might use bold, italics, or even all-caps to emphasise key points. You might even change the size or colour of the text.

These things can really draw your reader’s eyes to important points in your post.

But show some restraint with this type of formatting. You don’t want your content to become a mismatch of these different techniques, or it’ll just look a mess.

If you’re not sure how to add formatting, check out our post How to Use the WordPress WYSIWYG Toolbar to Format Your Blog Posts Like a Pro.

#9: Use Images

You might already be using a featured image at the top of your posts. But are you using images within the posts?

Research shows that readers’ eyes are drawn to images. So putting images beside your key points – especially when those images closely relate to the content – increases the chance of readers getting to the end of your post.

However, make sure you’re not infringing anyone’s copyright. If you’re not sure how to find images you can legally use, take a look at How to Find Images for Your Blog That Won’t Get You Sued.

#10: Use Image Captions

In WordPress, it’s really easy to insert a caption for your image. Just click on the image to edit it, and type whatever you want into the “Caption” box. The caption will then appear just below the image in your post.

People naturally look at the descriptions below images. I suspect they’re one of the most read parts of your post (after your subheadings). So you could use an image caption that emphasises a point you’re trying to make, or even one that includes a call to action.

#11: Use Other Visual Content

Images are great. But there are other types of visual content you could create. For instance, you might use charts or even tables in your post to show information.

Anything that’s visual and conveys information differently can help draw the eye. It shows readers you’ve got something for them to look at – not just text for them to read.

You could even take a key quote from your post, create a nice image with it layered over a photo, and put in into your content to act like a subheader. This gives readers a reason to read more.

#12: Use Blockquotes

Almost all WordPress themes have a “blockquotes” style. This allows you to highlight a particular part of your content in some way. It’s normally used to highlight a quote, but you can use it in different ways if you want.

With WordPress, you can apply blockquotes formatting by highlighting the paragraph in question and clicking the “Blockquotes” icon in the visual editor.

If you want more help using quotes on your blog, check out The Why, How and When of Using Quotations on Your Blog.

#13: Use Whitespace

You don’t have to fill every inch of the screen. Creating space within and around your content means your readers won’t feel so overwhelmed.

Again, space can draw the reader’s eye down the page. While this is partly affected by design, you can also add more line breaks to create short paragraphs (which we looked at earlier) and space things out a bit more.

#14: Use a Good Design

Often, blogs are difficult to read simply because their design is cluttered. SImplifying things, or even switching to a different theme (template), can really help.

Two key things you can do are:

  • choose fonts that aren’t too small
  • add a little distance between the lines of your content.

Getting the advice of a good designer can also help.

If you’d like to dig into blog design, try our podcast episode How to Give Your Blog Design a Spring Clean.

#15: Make Your Main Point(s) Clear

One trap many bloggers fall into is burying their main point deep within their content where it probably won’t be noticed.

If there’s a key point you want your readers to understand or remember, just say it upfront.

If you’re writing a long post (say 2,000–3,000 words), try using summary statements underneath each subheading to help readers see what the point of that section is.

This gives readers an immediate reason to read the rest of that section. It’s like using a title and opening line, but throughout your post rather than just at the start.

#16: Repeat Your Important Points

Hopefully, you’ve got a clear idea of what you want people to get from your content. Repeat it – more than once.

Most people aren’t reading word for word. So you need to emphasise your key point several times throughout your content.

You’ll probably want to have it in your opening, in some of your summary statements, in your conclusion, and maybe in a piece of visual content as well. That way, your readers are much more likely to get that main point or call to action.

#17: Don’t Introduce Too Many Ideas in One Post

If you’ve got a lot of ideas you want to cover, it might be worth breaking them up into a series of posts.

While long pieces of content can work well, they can also be overwhelming for readers. The more points you make within a post, the less likely your readers will actually get all of them.

For more about structuring your content as a series of posts, check out How to Write a Series for Your Blog (and Why You’ll Want To).

#18: Write Like a Human Being

The more human-like your writing is, the better. People are more likely to keep reading if they feel a sense of connection with you.

That means you could tell stories, show readers who you are in some way, and write in a more conversational style.

For help with that, I recommend listening to 10 Writing Tips to Help You Sound More Human, where I interview Beth Dunn, the Product Editor-in-Chief at HubSpot.

We’ve covered a lot of different techniques in this post. You won’t necessarily want to use all of them for every piece of content you write. But using a handful of them could make a huge difference to how scannable your content is, and and how much it gets read.

Here’s the list of techniques again:

  1. Write great headlines
  2. Write a great opening line
  3. Keep your paragraphs short
  4. Keep your sentences short
  5. Choose simple words
  6. Use lists
  7. Use subheadings to break up your post
  8. Add other types of formatting
  9. Use images
  10. Use image captions
  11. Use other visual content
  12. Use blockquotes
  13. Use whitespace
  14. Use a good design
  15. Make your main point(s) clear
  16. Repeat your important points
  17. Don’t introduce too many ideas
  18. Write like a human being

Give some of these a try with your next post. And leave a comment below to tell us how you got on.

The post 18 Ways to Create Scannable Content for Your Blog appeared first on ProBlogger.

      

18 Ways to Create Scannable Content for Your Blog

The post 18 Ways to Create Scannable Content for Your Blog appeared first on ProBlogger.

18 ways to create scannable content for your blog

This post is based on Episode 176 of the ProBlogger podcast.

You’ve chosen your words with care, and put a lot of thought into them.

But no-one’s even reading your posts, let alone commenting or sharing.

If you want more readers, more engagement, and more sharing of your content (and let’s face it, why doesn’t?) then this post is for you.

Why Readers Won’t Read Every Word – and What You Can Do About It

Only 16% of people read websites word for word. Most people scan, and I expect you’re one of them.

I know I am.

When I arrive at a website or blog, I quickly scan the page to see if it looks relevant to me. If something intrigues me, I might scroll down to see what’s “below the fold”.

People make decisions in seconds. They decide whether your content is relevant to them, and whether it’s worth spending time reading it.

If they can’t see the benefits of reading on, they’ll click away from your site. They won’t read your content. They won’t leave a comment. They won’t share it. And chances are they won’t ever come back.

This means you need to learn to write scannable content. Because people will decide whether or not to read it based on their initial scan.

I’m going to give you eighteen techniques for doing just that.

#1: Write Great Headlines

The first thing people will see is your headline. It should draw their eye. Your blog design should help your headline pop off the screen. (If it doesn’t, you might want to change or tweak your theme.)

In terms of wording, your headline should be compelling and offer the reader a clear benefit if they read the post.

If you want some help with writing great headlines, check out Episode 156 of the ProBlogger podcast, or Seven Easy Ways to Write Better Headlines for Your Blog Posts.

#2: Write a Great Opening Line

Aside from your headline, the most read part of your blog post will be your first line. You want this to communicate a benefit, or create some curiosity. In your first line, you need to give people a good reason to read more.

If you need some help coming up with a strong opening line, check out 10 Tips for Opening Your Next Blog Post.

#3: Keep Your Paragraphs Short

Large slabs of text will turn readers off. If you keep your paragraphs short, it gives readers a visual clue that your content will be easy to read and put into action. If they see huge, daunting chunks of text, it’ll all seem too hard.

Stick to one idea per paragraph, and keep those paragraphs short.

#4: Keep Your Sentences Short

Short, clear sentences help readers feel your content is accessible. If your opening sentence is 40 or 50 words long and confusing to follow, they won’t want to read on.

I once heard a suggestion that you should keep your sentences to no more than 16 words, which sounds like a good rule of thumb.

For more on both short sentences and short paragraphs, check out How to Write Short Sentences and Paragraphs the Right Way (and Why It Matters).

#5: Choose Simple Words

Back in high school, my English teacher once commented on my essay saying that while words with four or more syllables may sound impressive, they make the writing inaccessible to anyone reading it. (I pointed out to her that the word “inaccessible” is a five-syllable word. That didn’t go down too well.)

Aim to write like you speak, and choose words that simply and accurately convey your meaning. Don’t use big words to try and sound impressive.

#6: Use Lists

On both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School, I’ve found that posts written in a list format do much better than essay-style content.

When readers can see your content is structured as a list, they know you’ve broken it down to make it easy for them.

You don’t necessarily have to create your whole post as a list, though. Even using bullet points throughout a post can help people scan your content.

For more on lists, check out How to Create a List Post (a podcast episode) and How to Use Lists Effectively in Your Blog Posts.

#7: Use Subheadings to Break Up Your Post

If people come to your site and just see text (even if it’s broken up into short paragraphs), nothing will stand out to them. This makes it harder for them to figure out what your post actually covers.

You want to break that post into four or five sections and give each a subheading that clearly communicates what the section is about. That way your readers have a visual cue about what’s coming up, and whether there’s a section of your post that’s particularly relevant to them.

For more on subheadings, check out How to Use Subheadings to Add Structure to Your Blog Posts.

#8: Add Other Types of Formatting

Beyond subheadings, there are other types of formatting you can use. You might use bold, italics, or even all-caps to emphasise key points. You might even change the size or colour of the text.

These things can really draw your reader’s eyes to important points in your post.

But show some restraint with this type of formatting. You don’t want your content to become a mismatch of these different techniques, or it’ll just look a mess.

If you’re not sure how to add formatting, check out our post How to Use the WordPress WYSIWYG Toolbar to Format Your Blog Posts Like a Pro.

#9: Use Images

You might already be using a featured image at the top of your posts. But are you using images within the posts?

Research shows that readers’ eyes are drawn to images. So putting images beside your key points – especially when those images closely relate to the content – increases the chance of readers getting to the end of your post.

However, make sure you’re not infringing anyone’s copyright. If you’re not sure how to find images you can legally use, take a look at How to Find Images for Your Blog That Won’t Get You Sued.

#10: Use Image Captions

In WordPress, it’s really easy to insert a caption for your image. Just click on the image to edit it, and type whatever you want into the “Caption” box. The caption will then appear just below the image in your post.

People naturally look at the descriptions below images. I suspect they’re one of the most read parts of your post (after your subheadings). So you could use an image caption that emphasises a point you’re trying to make, or even one that includes a call to action.

#11: Use Other Visual Content

Images are great. But there are other types of visual content you could create. For instance, you might use charts or even tables in your post to show information.

Anything that’s visual and conveys information differently can help draw the eye. It shows readers you’ve got something for them to look at – not just text for them to read.

You could even take a key quote from your post, create a nice image with it layered over a photo, and put in into your content to act like a subheader. This gives readers a reason to read more.

#12: Use Blockquotes

Almost all WordPress themes have a “blockquotes” style. This allows you to highlight a particular part of your content in some way. It’s normally used to highlight a quote, but you can use it in different ways if you want.

With WordPress, you can apply blockquotes formatting by highlighting the paragraph in question and clicking the “Blockquotes” icon in the visual editor.

If you want more help using quotes on your blog, check out The Why, How and When of Using Quotations on Your Blog.

#13: Use Whitespace

You don’t have to fill every inch of the screen. Creating space within and around your content means your readers won’t feel so overwhelmed.

Again, space can draw the reader’s eye down the page. While this is partly affected by design, you can also add more line breaks to create short paragraphs (which we looked at earlier) and space things out a bit more.

#14: Use a Good Design

Often, blogs are difficult to read simply because their design is cluttered. SImplifying things, or even switching to a different theme (template), can really help.

Two key things you can do are:

  • choose fonts that aren’t too small
  • add a little distance between the lines of your content.

Getting the advice of a good designer can also help.

If you’d like to dig into blog design, try our podcast episode How to Give Your Blog Design a Spring Clean.

#15: Make Your Main Point(s) Clear

One trap many bloggers fall into is burying their main point deep within their content where it probably won’t be noticed.

If there’s a key point you want your readers to understand or remember, just say it upfront.

If you’re writing a long post (say 2,000–3,000 words), try using summary statements underneath each subheading to help readers see what the point of that section is.

This gives readers an immediate reason to read the rest of that section. It’s like using a title and opening line, but throughout your post rather than just at the start.

#16: Repeat Your Important Points

Hopefully, you’ve got a clear idea of what you want people to get from your content. Repeat it – more than once.

Most people aren’t reading word for word. So you need to emphasise your key point several times throughout your content.

You’ll probably want to have it in your opening, in some of your summary statements, in your conclusion, and maybe in a piece of visual content as well. That way, your readers are much more likely to get that main point or call to action.

#17: Don’t Introduce Too Many Ideas in One Post

If you’ve got a lot of ideas you want to cover, it might be worth breaking them up into a series of posts.

While long pieces of content can work well, they can also be overwhelming for readers. The more points you make within a post, the less likely your readers will actually get all of them.

For more about structuring your content as a series of posts, check out How to Write a Series for Your Blog (and Why You’ll Want To).

#18: Write Like a Human Being

The more human-like your writing is, the better. People are more likely to keep reading if they feel a sense of connection with you.

That means you could tell stories, show readers who you are in some way, and write in a more conversational style.

For help with that, I recommend listening to 10 Writing Tips to Help You Sound More Human, where I interview Beth Dunn, the Product Editor-in-Chief at HubSpot.

We’ve covered a lot of different techniques in this post. You won’t necessarily want to use all of them for every piece of content you write. But using a handful of them could make a huge difference to how scannable your content is, and and how much it gets read.

Here’s the list of techniques again:

  1. Write great headlines
  2. Write a great opening line
  3. Keep your paragraphs short
  4. Keep your sentences short
  5. Choose simple words
  6. Use lists
  7. Use subheadings to break up your post
  8. Add other types of formatting
  9. Use images
  10. Use image captions
  11. Use other visual content
  12. Use blockquotes
  13. Use whitespace
  14. Use a good design
  15. Make your main point(s) clear
  16. Repeat your important points
  17. Don’t introduce too many ideas
  18. Write like a human being

Give some of these a try with your next post. And leave a comment below to tell us how you got on.

The post 18 Ways to Create Scannable Content for Your Blog appeared first on ProBlogger.

      

How to Make Your List Items and Bullet Points Super Smooth

The post How to Make Your List Items and Bullet Points Super Smooth appeared first on ProBlogger.

This is a post by ProBlogger writing expert Ali Luke

Do you ever use lists in your blogging?

They might be bullet points, tips that you’re sharing in a list post, or even a simple list of three or four items in a sentence.

If you’ve been writing blog posts for a while, coming up with bullet points or list items might seem like second nature. But there could be a crucial factor you’re overlooking.

Parallelism.

Say what?

“Parallelism”, in this context, simply means making sure the items on your list correspond to one another – that is, they’re parallel.

It’s often easiest to understand through examples.

Seeing Parallelism in Action

Here’s an example of a list that doesn’t work.

When you’re writing a blog post, it’s important to:

  • Give it a great title
  • Crafting a strong opening line
  • To use subheadings

All of those bullet points could work. But not in the same list.

Notice how the list is introduced: it’s important to. Every item on the list needs to fit with this opening phrase.

It’s important to … give it a great title. (Yep, that works.)

It’s important to … crafting a strong opening line. (Nope. It should be “craft” not “crafting”.)

It’s important to … to use subheadings. (Nope. It repeats “to”.)

To work properly, the full list needs to read:

When you’re writing a blog post, it’s important to:

  • Give it a great title
  • Craft a strong opening line
  • Use subheadings

But a lack of parallelism isn’t always obvious at first glance.

Take a look at these (fictitious) bullet points from a sales page.

  • Grow your business faster than ever before
  • Money while you sleep
  • This is the easiest system ever invented – you can use it straight away
  • Discover the secrets you’ve been missing all this time

As well as having a rather dubious “get rich quick” vibe, those bullet points don’t quite fit together as a list. They’re grammatically correct, as there’s no introductory text. But they’d read more smoothly if they all started with an imperative verb and were all roughly the same length, like this:

  • Grow your business faster than ever before
  • Make money while you’re asleep
  • Start using this super-easy system instantly
  • Discover the secrets you’ve been missing all this time

This might seem like a small thing. But when you’re crafting a sales page, you want to make it as easy to read as possible.

Great Places to Use Parallelism in Lists on Your Blog

Within your blog posts, look out for opportunities to use parallelism:

  • Whenever you have a short list within a sentence. For instance, “Today, I wrote a letter, visited my grandma, and went for a jog”. Note how each verb is in the past tense. You probably do this naturally already, but it’s worth double-checking when you edit your post to make sure all your lists are working correctly.
  • Whenever you create a list of bullet points. Even if you don’t have a specific phrase introducing your bullet points, make them all match. That usually means starting them all in the same way – with a verb in the right form, a noun, an adjective, or whatever works for your list. It could also mean ending them all in the same way (e.g. with a question mark).
  • Whenever you write a list post. The list items (usually the subheadings) in a list post might be separated by several paragraphs of text. But they should still match one another if you want your post to seem well constructed.

Elsewhere on your blog, look out for things like:

  • Calls to action on your About or Start Here page. If you’re offering readers several options, have you phrased them all so they match?
  • Lists of bullet points on your sales pages. We took a look at this earlier: parallel bullet points look polished and professional, and help create a good first impression on a potential customer.

As well as using parallelism within a single list, it often makes sense to create several lists that all match with one another. For instance, on the home page of my Blogger’s Guides website (where I sell premium ebooks) each Guide is summarised in five bullet points, and each bullet point starts with a verb (construct, write, produce, revise, develop).

Your readers may not notice that one product has four bullet points, one has five and another has six. They might not realise you’re only using parallelism within individual lists, and not to tie all your lists together.

But even if they can’t quite explain it, they’ll probably get a sense there’s something not quite right about your blog post or sales page. And that’s definitely not what you want.

Parallelism is a simple trick, and quite possibly one you’re already using. But if you’re not, or you’re not paying conscious attention to it, try revising a recent post or a key page on your blog to incorporate it.

By making your list items match one another your writing will read more smoothly, adding that extra little bit of polish to your blog posts and (even more importantly) your sales pages.

 

 

 

New bio:

Ali Luke is the author of the Blogger’s Guides, a set of value-packed ebooks that are on sale until Friday 1st March for just $20 (instead of the usual $60): that gets you all four ebooks plus various bonuses, as well as all future updates. You can find out more and get your hands on a great bargain here.

 

 

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How I Write a Blog Post: My Step-by-Step Process

The post How I Write a Blog Post: My Step-by-Step Process appeared first on ProBlogger.

How I write a blog post: my step-by-step process

This post is based on Episode 186 of the ProBlogger podcast.

I’m often asked how I write a blog post. What does the process look like from start to finish?

ProBlogger readers and podcast listeners have asked about where in the process I do specific things, such as writing the headline and the introduction.

In this post I’ll take you through exactly what I do so you can use my process (or your own unique twist on it) to make creating content much easier.

And this doesn’t apply to just blog posts. You could use the same process for creating YouTube videos or podcast episodes.

Step #1: Pick a Topic

The first step is pretty logical: pick a topic.

With my blogs – ProBlogger and Digital Photography School – that normally means identifying one of these:

  • A question one of my readers has
  • A problem one of my readers is trying to overcome
  • A task someone is trying to complete
  • A goal someone is trying to achieve

You may have already thought about some of these if you read my alternative take on New Year’s Resolutions for your blog.

My blogs teach people how to do things. Ninety-five percent of my posts are “how to” content, so I always start with one of these. They generally define the topic of my post.

If you have a different style of blog (e.g. it’s about entertaining people rather than teaching them), you may have a different process for coming up with topics.

Step #2: Think of the Reader

While my topics tend to come out of readers’ problems or questions anyway, at this step I take a moment to imagine my reader’s situation.

As a blogger, you’re so much more effective if you write with your reader in mind.

I’ve covered how to create a reader avatar before, so if it’s something you haven’t done you may want to take a look at these:

During this step, I write down a sentence or two about who my reader is and how they view the topic I’ll be talking about.

For instance, if I’m writing about a problem I might think about:

  • Why does my typical reader have that problem?
  • How do they feel about it?
  • What have they already tried to overcome it?
  • What’s stopped them from solving it in the past?

When you put yourself in your reader’s shoes, you can write your article with real empathy and make your post truly relevant to them.

At this point, I’m also thinking about what I want my reader to do after reading my blog post.

It’s really important to think about your call to action before you start writing. It will shape your headline, your introduction, how you write the main part of your post, and how you conclude it.

Step #3: Create a Working Headline

Some bloggers like to write the post first and then come up with the headline (the title) for it. And I totally understand that perspective because it’s what I used to do.

But what I like to do now is come up with a working headline once I have the topic and the reader perspective.

Creating a working headline sometimes helps me come up with a unique angle for the post.

For instance, I might have an idea for Digital Photography School on how to light a portrait. I’ve done the work understanding my reader: they’re a beginner and they don’t have much lighting gear.

So when I brainstorm headlines I might come up with “How to light a portrait using lights you find around your home”, or “How to light a portrait when you only have one flash”. You can see that just by selecting one of these headlines, I already have a much clearer idea of what the post will be about.

But it’s important to understand this is just a working headline (or a working title if you prefer). Once I’ve written the post I’ll normally go back and tweak it a bit. And sometimes while I’m writing I’ll realise that I need to change that headline a bit.

Step #4: Brainstorm and Outline the Post

At this point I list the main points I want to teach someone in my article. (You might come at this from a different perspective if your blog doesn’t focus on “how to” content.)

I don’t write a lot here. Normally it’s just a list of bullet points in a document on my computer, in a notebook, or as a mindmap.

As I do this, I brainstorm answers to the questions or solutions to the problem I identified, outlining the steps the reader needs to follow to learn a new skill or master a process.

It’s like coming up with the bones of the post. I’m not looking to add any muscle at this point.

The bullet points I create often become subheadings in my finished post. By coming up with the main sections and then sub-points for each section, the post begins to come together.

At this point, I often have more points than I’ll use in the finished post. So I cull the weaker or less relevant points and focus just on the most valuable things I want to say.

Once I’ve got those points, I take some time to arrange them in the best order. I don’t think many bloggers do this. But taking a moment to think “Is this a logical order? Are my points building upon one another?” can make a real difference to your finished post.

Step #5: Take a Critical Look at the Outline

With the outline finished, I ask myself some hard questions such as:

  • Will this post really be useful to my readers?
  • Will someone have a ‘fist pump’ moment when they read it, or just say it’s okay?
  • Is it meaningful? Will it change someone’s life in some way?
  • Will people still have questions after reading the article? Do I need to do some more research to address them?)

It’s important to ask these questions now, rather than after you’ve finished writing the entire post. That way if you realise you do need to do more research (or that it was actually a weak idea for a post), you’ll be prepared for it.

You might want to invest some time in research. Or you might get help from an expert by either interviewing them or having them write a section of your post.

Step #6: Write the Introduction

Some bloggers prefer to write the rest of the post first and then craft the introduction. But writing the introduction upfront works best for me. It helps me get into the flow of my post.

As with the headline, the introduction often shapes the direction of the post itself. My introduction is usually one to three paragraphs long. But again like the headline, I go back to rework the introduction after finishing the post.

As you write the introduction, think about the reader and their situation, question or problem. Show them you really understand how they feel.

If you can show some empathy in the first few lines of your post, you’ll make a deeper connection with your reader. And they’ll want to read the rest of your article.

This is also a good point to paint a picture of how the reader will benefit from reading your post. What will they be able to achieve (or what will be different) after reading it?

Step #7: Expand on the Main Points

With your outline in place, expanding on each point to create the main part of your content is quite straightforward. You just need to put meat on the bones you’ve already come up with.

As before, keep your reader in mind while you write. What worries do they have? What might they be confused by or wondering about at different points in your post?

If you need help with specifics on writing the main part of your post, you might want to check out some of these posts and podcast episodes:

It’s probably clear by now that I write my articles in the order they’ll be read: the headline, the introduction, then the main part of the article. For me, this is really important.

Step #8: Write the Conclusion and Call to Action

Good blog posts have some kind of conclusion. I create this after writing the main part of my post, and generally try to sum up what I’ve taught the reader.

I’ll return to the problem or question I set out in the introduction, and remind people what I’ve tried to teach them. I’ll also summarise the main points.

After that, it’s really important to give readers something specific to take action on. Go back to whatever you identified in Step 2, and clearly state what you want them to do next.

It might be encouraging them to try out the technique they’ve just learned, or to leave a comment or interact in some way.

Don’t give them several different things to do here. And make sure your call to action flows from the goals of your blog and this particular post.

Step #9: Add More Depth and Appeal to the Post

At this stage of the process, I look for things I could add to make a post even better.

For instance, I might look for:

  • A story or anecdote I could include
  • An image that would complement the post
  • A relevant YouTube video to embed
  • A chart or graphic that illustrates a key point in the post
  • A quote from someone else
  • Ways to make the post look more attractive to read

You could even consider interviewing someone else to add their perspective into your post, even (or especially) if they provide an alternative viewpoint.

This step is about making the post better and deeper, and making sure it looks good with plenty of visual interest.

Step #10: Edit and Proofread the Post

In this final step, it’s important to go over your post one final time to make sure you haven’t made any mistakes or typos.

For me, putting a bit of space between when I write and when I edit is really important. I think we use different parts of our brains for critical thinking about editing.

I talked about editing in detail in Episode 168 of the ProBlogger podcast. So you may want to check it out for a detailed look at the seven steps for editing your work.

The last thing you want is to undo all your good work with a post that’s riddled with glaring mistakes. Quality control really matters, so make sure you build in enough time to edit and proofread.

You could also get someone else in to help you at this stage of the process. It could be a fellow blogger who you swap posts with, or a professional editor or proofreader.

A Quick Summary of My Process

Here’s a quick recap of my blog post writing process from start to finish:

  1. Pick a topic
  2. Think of the reader
  3. Create a working headline
  4. Brainstorm and outline the post
  5. Take a critical look at the outline
  6. Write the introduction
  7. Expand on the main points
  8. Write the conclusion and call to action
  9. Add more depth and appeal to the post
  10. Edit and proofread the post

That’s my workflow. But I’d love to hear about yours. Maybe you have an extra step, or do things in a different order. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Regardless of your workflow, it’s important to pause along the way and be reflective. Keep coming back to who’s reading that content: the reader with the questions, problems and feelings. If you can show you understand them, you’ll create a real sense of connection.

So don’t just think about creating content. Think about crafting it, and taking care and time to make it the best it can be.

The post How I Write a Blog Post: My Step-by-Step Process appeared first on ProBlogger.

      

How to Write Short Sentences and Paragraphs the Right Way (and Why It Matters)

The post How to Write Short Sentences and Paragraphs the Right Way (and Why It Matters) appeared first on ProBlogger.

How to write short sentences and paragraphs (and why it matters)

This is a post by ProBlogger writing expert Ali Luke

If you’ve been blogging for a while, I’m sure you’ve come across the advice to write short sentences and paragraphs.

There are good reasons for this. And it has nothing to do with “dumbing down” the language or short attention spans (though they can certainly be a factor).

For decades researchers have known we don’t read on a computer screen the same way we read on a printed page. It’s more tiring to read on a screen, and “white space” (the blank, empty space on a page) is important for helping readers take in what they’re reading.

And in the past decade reading blogs on mobile devices has taken off. A lot of your readers will be reading on a five- or six-inch screen, and if your post is on a complex topic this can really slow them down. Using short, clear sentences and paragraphs can help.

How to Split Up Long Paragraphs

My personal rule of thumb is to split any paragraphs that take up more than three lines in the Word document or Google doc where I’m drafting. You might feel differently.

Here’s an example of a particularly long paragraph (adapted from my post How Long Should Your Blog Post Be?):

The next key consideration is whether your readers would prefer shorter or longer posts. If you already have a reasonable number of readers, you could survey them to find out. You could also take a look at your most popular posts in Google Analytics, or the posts that get the most comments or shares. Does short or long content seem to resonate better with your audience? You might potentially find that your readers like a mix of posts. Maybe they want fairly short and to-the-point posts most of the time, with a much longer piece of content occasionally thrown in.

In the original, that content is split into two paragraphs:

The next key consideration is whether your readers would prefer shorter or longer posts. If you already have a reasonable number of readers, you could survey them to find out. You could also take a look at your most popular posts in Google Analytics, or the posts that get the most comments or shares. Does short or long content seem to resonate better with your audience?

You might potentially find that your readers like a mix of posts. Maybe they want fairly short and to-the-point posts most of the time, with a much longer piece of content occasionally thrown in.

But if you wanted to you could split it even further. For instance, you might decide to turn the first sentence into its own short paragraph to help readers who are scanning or skimming:

The next key consideration is whether your readers would prefer shorter or longer posts.

If you already have a reasonable number of readers, you could survey them to find out. You could also take a look at your most popular posts in Google Analytics, or the posts that get the most comments or shares. Does short or long content seem to resonate better with your audience?

You might potentially find that your readers like a mix of posts. Maybe they want fairly short and to-the-point posts most of the time, with a much longer piece of content occasionally thrown in.

Can You Go Too Far With Short Paragraphs?

Although some blogs use very short paragraphs habitually, I think you can go too far with this. I wouldn’t put each sentence as its own paragraph. The text would end up looking choppy, making it harder for the reader to get a sense of the flow of ideas.

Here’s an example of what your text might look like if you went too far:

The next key consideration is whether your readers would prefer shorter or longer posts.

If you already have a reasonable number of readers, you could survey them to find out.

You could also take a look at your most popular posts in Google Analytics, or the posts that get the most comments or shares.

Does short or long content seem to resonate better with your audience?

You might potentially find that your readers like a mix of posts.

Maybe they want fairly short and to-the-point posts most of the time, with a much longer piece of content occasionally thrown in.

When Might You Not Split a Long-ish Paragraph?

Sometimes you’ll have a slightly longer-than-usual paragraph that you don’t want to split. There are a couple of key cases where this might happen:

  • When you’ve created a list of bullet points. While you can have multiple paragraphs within one bullet, it may look a bit odd. (If you have a lot of content for each point, I’d find a different way to display the list.)
  • When you’re using single paragraphs for the “tip” or “example” sections of a post. For instance, in my post Seven Sure-Fire Ways to Annoy a Blog Editor (and What to Do Instead) I wanted each “Instead” section to be a single paragraph (even though that meant some of them were a little longer than I’d normally go for).

How to Write Short Sentences

When you were at school, you were probably taught that a sentence needs to contain a subject and a verb. These are all complete sentences:

He ran.

She ran around the park.

After warming up, he ran around the park and down the road, before jogging over the bridge.

But when it comes to blogging you can use sentence fragments so long as they still read smoothly. This can add a sense of pace to your writing.

For instance:

After warming up, he ran around the park. Down the road. Over the bridge.

We know what “down the road” refers to where he ran. It’s not technically a sentence (it’s a sentence fragment), but it works fine for a blog post.

Now let’s look at what you can’t do when splitting up that sentence. You can’t take off the first clause (“after warming up”) and turn it into its own sentence:

After warming up. He ran around the park.

If you’re going to use sentence fragments, they need to make sense before the reader reads the next few words. “After warming up” doesn’t work on its own.

If you’re not sure about a particular short sentence, try reading that part of your post out loud. It can help you decide whether or not it’s working.

Here are a couple of examples of short sentences in action. See what you think of the sentences. Are they working for you? Would you read the rest of the piece?

Example #1:

Example of sentence fragments from Copyblogger.

(From 5 Timeless Ways to Earn Your Audience’s Time and Attention, Sonia Simone, Copyblogger)

Example #2:

Example of sentence fragments from The Write Life

(From Hey, Freelancers: This New Tool Could Make Your LIfe a Lot Easier, Jamie Cattanach, The Write Life)

If You’re Struggling to Write Good Short Sentences

You might find it tricky to work with sentence fragments. Perhaps English isn’t your native language, or you find it hard to “hear” whether your writing sounds right.

That’s fine. You don’t have to use sentence fragments at all. Just look out for any long or complicated sentences and try to simplify them.

The Hemingway Editor is a useful tool here. It will highlight long sentences so you can try splitting them up. (But occasional long sentences are fine, so don’t feel pressured to follow the app’s suggestions every time.)

Demo of the Hemingway editor

Ultimately, the great thing about having your own blog is that it’s your blog!

If you want to develop a punchy, hard-hitting style with lots of short sharp sentences, you can. If you want a chatty, conversational style with short simple paragraphs, go for it. If you want to write in a more thoughtful, detailed way, that’s fine too. Just keep in mind that you might want to break up your paragraphs a little more than if you were writing a book.

You don’t need to get it right in your first draft, either. Write your post however you like, then tweak the sentence and paragraph lengths when you edit it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do short sentences and paragraphs work for you? Do you feel it’s possible to go too far? Share your ideas and tips in the comments.

Image credit: Victor Garcia

The post How to Write Short Sentences and Paragraphs the Right Way (and Why It Matters) appeared first on ProBlogger.

      

What Do Your Blog Post Titles Say About Your Brand?

The post What Do Your Blog Post Titles Say About Your Brand? appeared first on ProBlogger.

What do your blog post titles say about your brand?This is a post by ProBlogger writing expert Ali Luke

If you’ve been reading ProBlogger for a while, you probably know the basics about writing blog post titles such as:

  • Be clear and specific
  • Use numbers where appropriate
  • Use powerful words and phrases such as “how to”, “easy”, “quick”, “great”, “little-known”, and so on.

Using these guidelines, you’ll end up with titles that do an excellent job of “selling” your post to your audience. Take a look at some recent posts on ProBlogger for good examples:

However, one thing that might be missing from your title is a sense of your brand. This can be an issue when you see a title you love on someone else’s blog and try to use a variation of it on your own site. What if it doesn’t really fit your own voice and style?

Here are six titles from very different publications:

  1. 22 Unbelievable Facts About The Human Body. #8 Will Astonish You! (EMGN.com)
  2. The Moment You Noped Out Of A Movie You Thought You’d Like (Cracked)
  3. If You’ve Experienced 21/31 Of These Problems, You’re Definitely a Baker (Buzzfeed)
  4. Police ‘could let violent suspects go’ (BBC News)
  5. The arts have a leading role to play in tackling climate change (The Guardian)
  6. Functions of the Apostrophe (Daily Writing Tips)

These are all good titles – if used in the right context.

Each of them hooks the reader in some way and gives a clear indication of the content of the piece.

Just looking at the list, you can draw conclusions about not only the type of article you’re about to read but also the brand publishing it.

For instance, The Guardian is a serious UK newspaper. I’ve never seen them publish a headline like the EMGN one. If they did, their readers would probably think it was a prank or a successful hacking attempt.

Let’s take a closer look at how they work.

#1: 22 Unbelievable Facts About The Human Body. #8 Will Astonish You! (EMGN.com)

You’ve probably seen quite a few of these titles. (They were everywhere a couple of years ago.) They all follow a specific format: a total number of items, followed by “(item number) will [astonish/amaze/surprise/etc] you”.

The formula works: it’s cleverly designed to pique the reader’s curiosity. But it also brands the site in a particular way. It can seem like a cheap trick, and be associated with low-quality writing.

If you want to try this on your own blog, I suggest using it with caution (and perhaps toning it down just a notch by using something like “amazing” instead of “unbelievable”).

#2: The Moment You Noped Out Of A Movie You Thought You’d Like (Cracked)

While most Cracked titles have a fairly standard format, I picked this one because of the word “noped”. If a title uses something slangy (especially slang associated with a particular age group), it’s a strong clue to readers about the intended brand and audience.

Even if you’ve never used the word “noped” it’s fairly clear what it means from the context, and suggests a post that will be cheerfully irreverent.

By all means use slang (or even swear words) if they’re a good fit for your audience and, most importantly, your own voice. Don’t use them just to look cool.

#3: If You’ve Experienced 21/31 Of These Problems, You’re Definitely a Baker (Buzzfeed)

This is a typical Buzzfeed post title. (Other examples include If You Own 23/33 Of these Products Then You Should Be A Beauty Guru and If You Get 9/13 On This Nursery Rhyme Quiz Then You’re Probably Four Years Old.)

It does a couple of clever things:

  • It targets a very specific audience (bakers) with a post that promises to “get” what they’re like.
  • It frames what’s essentially a list post in an interactive way by making it more like a quiz or a challenge.

As well as encouraging the reader to click, it also encourages them to share the post (and their score) with their friends on social media.

#4: Police ‘could let violent suspects go’ (BBC News)

BBC News headlines tend to be short – between five and eight words – so they fit easily in their sidebar. They also frequently use quotes from someone within the article. Five of the six words in this headline are within quotation marks, which isn’t uncommon.

Whether or not you like the technique (some writers aren’t keen), it does allow them to create short, powerful headlines without risking being accused of bias. (They’re required to be impartial in their reporting.)

Whatever your brand, you could experiment with using short quotes in your post titles and see if it increases the attention they get.

#5: The arts have a leading role to play in tackling climate change (The Guardian)

This title comes from the Guardian’s “opinion” section, which functions a bit like a multi-author blog. In fact, most of the headlines there sum up the argument or key point of the article.

This stands in clear contrasts to the headlines on Buzzfeed and EMGN, where the whole point is to “tease” the article. But it positions the Guardian as a place for serious journalism and quality, thoughtful writing.

You might also notice the Guardian uses sentence case rather than title case for the title, as does the BBC. This is a stylistic decision and perhaps lends itself to titles that can also work as sentences. (Sentence case for titles/headlines is also more common in the UK than in the US.)

#6: Functions of the Apostrophe (Daily Writing Tips)

This is a simple, straightforward title. But it works well in the context of Daily Writing Tips, which uses a lot of similar titles (especially in the “grammar” category). A short, clear title such as this promises a post that’s authoritative and complete.

On some blogs it would make sense to jazz up the title (e.g. “The Ultimate Guide to All the Functions of the Apostrophe”). But that wouldn’t suit Daily Writing Tips’ calm and slightly academic voice and style.

If you use a title such as this on your own blog, make sure you can deliver on the promise you make in the title. The post will need to be well-informed and comprehensive if you don’t want to risk losing your readers’ trust.

We’ve taken a look at six very different titles from six very different publications. Can you imagine any that would fit on your own blog, or that definitely wouldn’t work for your voice and your audience? Or do you have a different way of styling and branding your titles?

Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Image credit: Pineapple Supply Co.

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What to Do When Someone Steals Your Blog Content

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What to do when someone steals your blog content

This post is based on Episode 108 of the ProBlogger podcast.

One day, you come across someone else’s blog online that has surprisingly familiar content.

Very familiar content. Yours, in fact!

In most cases, they’ll have taken entire posts for your blog – images, links and all – by “scraping” your blog’s RSS feed.

Occasionally, it might be a little different. Perhaps someone has copied your whole post onto their brand-new blog because they really don’t know any better. They may even think they’re doing you a favour.

Whatever the exact situation, though, it’s never pleasant to realise that someone has effectively stolen your hard work. It’s even worse if they’re passing it off as their own.

So, you’re probably wanting to know what to do when someone steals your blog content.

In this post, I’ll be outlining the steps you can take to get that content taken down from their website – but first, it’s worth considering whether you want to take any action at all.

Should You Bother Fighting Content Thieves at All?

Let’s be clear: I know you’ll probably feel angry to find that someone is ripping off your content. But if their site doesn’t rank at all highly in Google and is covered in ads … chances are, no-one’s reading it anyway.

Years ago, I all but gave up chasing down sites that steal my content. There are so many that I could spend a couple of hours every single day just dealing with it. I decided, instead, I’d rather spend my time creating more content that serves my readers.

Before that, I’d tried to tackle the problem because, back then, bloggers felt that Google would penalise sites with duplicate content. So if someone else copied my post onto their site, I worried that I would be the one penalised.

Since then, Google has become increasingly smart about working out who’s the original source of the content.

If you find that a piece of your content has been used without your permission:

  1. Google a sentence or two (in quotation marks) from your post.
  2. See which site ranks more highly: yours, or theirs.

If your site is ranking more highly … it’s not worth your time doing anything at all. If their site ranks more highly than yours, though, it’s probably worth taking action.

How to Reduce the Impact of Content Scraping

“Scraping” is when someone steals your blog content directly from your RSS feed. They’re probably using some sort of tool to automate their theft, so in almost every case, they’ll simply publish your post exactly as it appeared on your blog … including all the links in it.

That means that it’s a great idea to:

  • Include at least one link in each post to another post on your blog. Hopefully you’re already doing this, as it’s a great way to encourage readers to stick around for longer! If readers come across the stolen content, they may well follow these links back to your blog.
  • Use a tool like the Yoast SEO plugin to include a link to your blog, and to the original blog post, in the footer of your RSS feed. If someone is scraping your RSS feed, they’ll probably publish that footer too. You can put in any text you want – e.g. “This article was originally published at….” or “The original source of this article is…” which can help clue Google in about which version of the content to prioritise in searches! (And if you’re not already using Yoast, I strongly recommend it for its many other SEO benefits too.)

When You Probably Will Want to Take Action … and How to Do So

While most content theft is the automated type I’ve described above, some is different.

I will take action if people use my content without acknowledging the source. They might strip out any links to my sites, and they might even publish it under their own name.

This only happens rarely, in my experience – but every year or so, I find someone doing this. Sometimes it’s just with one post, but often, it’s with a whole bunch of posts.

I’ve come across a number of bloggers who’ve taken over a hundred posts from ProBlogger or Digital Photography School, put their own names and images into those posts, maybe rewritten the first couple of paragraphs, and published it as their own.

This does make me angry! I put a lot of time into the content, or if it’s been created by a paid writer for dPS, they’ve put a lot of time in (and I’ve paid for it)!

I have a process I follow to take action – rather than just calling them out on Twitter straight away, which is always a bit of a temptation.

Step #1: Contact the Site That’s Taken Your Content

The first port of call should always be to contact the blogger in question. This can be tricky, as there may not be any contact details on their site. If you can get in touch with them, though, tell them clearly that they’re violating your copyright.

At this stage, you’ll probably want to be polite (if not exactly warm and friendly). It’s worth giving people the benefit of the doubt. More often than not, they’ll know exactly what they’re doing and why it’s wrong, but sometimes they may be genuinely clueless, or they’ve been duped themselves.

In one case, for instance, a blogger had hired someone to write content – and that person had ripped them off by stealing a whole heap of content from my site, and also from other bloggers’ sites.

I normally ask people to remove the content within 24 hours. If they’ve done something really bad (e.g. they’ve stolen a lot of content to pass off as their own), I’d also ask them to issue a public apology.

Step #2: Contact the Host of the Site That’s Taken Your Content

If you can’t get a response from the blogger, the next step is to contact their webhost. You can normally track down the site’s host through whois.net: type in the URL of the site and you’ll see a list of details. Look at the “name server” to see where the site is hosted.

(This can also be a way to get contact details for the blogger, if you can’t find those on their site.)

Hosting companies can get into serious legal trouble if they host a site that is violating copyright laws, so it’s in their interests to quickly take down any stolen content.

Many hosts have a process you can follow to issue them with a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice against the site in question.

The DMCA notice is a legal document that you’ll need to sign (so do make sure the blog really has stolen your content before issuing it – don’t take someone else’s word for it, but check into the facts yourself).

You can issue the DMCA notice to the blogger or directly to their webhost. Most hosts will take down copyrighted content very quickly after receiving a DMCA notice.

If the blog is on Blogger, Tumblr, Medium, or any other large blogging platform, look in the Terms and Conditions or the Frequently Asked Questions to find out how to issue the DMCA notice.

So that the host can investigate, you’ll need to provide:

  • A link to where your content was originally published online.
  • Information about when you published it.

I’ve only had to go as far as issuing a DMCA notice five or six times in ten years, so hopefully you won’t need to get to this stage.

If you’re in contact with the blogger, simply telling them “my next step is to issue a DMCA takedown notice” will often be enough to prompt them to take swift action.

Step #3: Bring More Pressure Onto the Blogger

If you can’t issue the DMCA notice, or if the process ends up delayed, you might decide you want to go further.

A couple of ways to do this are to:

Contact the Blogger’s Advertisers

If the site has ads all over it (and most of the sites that steal content do!), then contact their advertisers and explain that their ads are on a site that’s stolen your work. The advertisers may will withdraw, or threaten to withdraw, their ads – and you may well find that a blogger who had no ethical qualms about stealing your content will suddenly take it down when their money is on the line.

Publicly Shame the Blogger

I’ve  done this a few times – sometimes, perhaps, a bit earlier than I should have! I’m lucky enough to have a fairly large social profile, so my readers’ outrage probably helped a little. Even if you don’t have a large Twitter following or Facebook page, though, calling out a blogger on social media can prompt them to take swift action.

Hopefully, by this point, you’ve succeeded in getting your content taken down. If not, you have a couple of more drastic options:

  • Filing to get the site banned from Google and other search engines, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
  • Taking legal action. This can be a very expensive route to go down, so it’s definitely best viewed as a last resort.

In most cases, though, I’ve found that I don’t need to go beyond step one – sending the blogger an email. They’ll probably make some kind of excuse (I’ve never had anyone actually admit to knowingly stealing my content) – but they most likely will take that content down.

With any case of contact theft, it’s worth asking yourself: do I want to spend my time fighting this, or can I use my time in a more constructive way?

Only you can answer that – you’ll want to consider things like whether the site is outranking yours, and whether they at least link back to you as the source.

If you do decide to take action, I hope the steps above help you. Feel free to share your own experience, tips and suggestions in the comments.

 

Image credit: Markus Spiske

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3 Ways to Give Your Readers a Fresh Take on a Well-Worn Idea

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Give your readers a fresh take on a well-worn idea

Today’s post is by ProBlogger writing expert Ali Luke

Whatever topic you write about, you’ve probably seen a lot of ideas that have already been done to death.

If you’re in the weight loss niche, you might have seen a dozen posts on “How to beat the weight loss plateau”. If you’re in the freelancing niche, you’ve probably come across quite a lot of advice on “Should you charge per project or per hour?”. And if you blog about pregnancy and babies, you’ve probably read post after post about “Why breastmilk is better than formula”.

The problem is, you may also want to cover these well-worn ideas. Perhaps your readers have asked for a post on that particular topic, or maybe you want to make sure your beginner-friendly blog covers all the basics.

Of course, this is where I reassure you that your post will be different because you’ll be bringing your unique voice and perspective to it. (After all, that’s the advice I read time and time again when I started blogging.)

But while that’s true to a degree, I’ve read a lot of posts over the years across various niches that all seemed a bit too derivative.

Without a strategy in mind, it’s all too easy to write a post that just summarises other posts you’ve read on the topic. It ends up bland and boring, or skates over a topic without really giving any new insights.

So how can you offer something more for your readers? Well, I’m going to cover three options in this post, although I’m sure there are plenty more. You could:

  1. Use an analogy to make your post more engaging
  2. Acknowledge the other posts out there and subvert them
  3. Go much deeper into a particular topic than most people do

(If you’ve got other ideas for adding value to a well-worn idea, please share them with us in the comments.)

Method #1: Use an Analogy to Make Your Post More Engaging

If your topic is quite basic, or even slightly boring, an analogy can make it far more engaging. It will be not only more fun to read, but also thought-provoking for your reader. It can also be a lot of fun to write.

To create an analogy, pick something from outside your niche that you could compare with your topic. For instance, you might write about “How writing my PhD thesis taught me how to break my weight loss plateau” or “What McDonald’s can teach you about pricing per hour vs per project”.

Analogies can come from almost anywhere: other areas of your life and experience, or movies / TV shows / books you love.

Examples:

7 Unconventional Birth and Business Lessons from a New Mom – Nathalie Lussier, NathalieLussier.com. This great post from the founder of AccessAlly shares some key business lessons as they relate them to giving birth.

What Classic Monsters Can Teach Writers About Monster Clients – Amanda Stein, Craft Your Content. While there are plenty of posts out there about dealing with difficult clients, this post (published just before Hallowe’en in 2017) offers insights in a fun way.

Method #2: Acknowledge the Other Posts Out There and Subvert Them

Sometimes it’s best to openly acknowledge there are lots of posts on your particular topic out there. You can then explain how your post will be different. Maybe you’ll be going against prevailing wisdom in your niche, or offering a very different take on something.

If your readers are fed up with bland, one-size-fits-all advice this can be a great tactic. Just make sure you can stand by your opinions. Don’t write a controversial post you don’t really agree with.

Examples:

13 Effortless Productivity Tips To Keep You Sane (And Profitable) – Naomi Dunford, IttyBiz. From the first line of this post, Naomi makes it very clear she won’t be giving the type of advice readers have often seen elsewhere: “Productivity tips are generally things that make me want to poke my eye out with a spoon”.

When Life Happens: A Totally Doable Morning Routine for Writers – Hailey Hudson, Craft Your Content. In this post, Hailey (who has a chronic fatigue illness) goes beyond the standard advice on how to adjust your morning routine “when life happens”.

Method #3: Go Much Deeper Into a Particular Topic Than Most People Do

Sometimes, tackling a familiar topic means digging into it much deeper than most people do. Instead of just explaining the basics, you could give an in-depth guide with the hows and whys, or drill deep into one aspect of the topic.

This can be a great tactic if you think a lot of the content in your niche is a bit surface-level. Your readers may know all the basics, but they may be having trouble implementing them, or want to know more than most bloggers are offering.

Examples:

100 Mostly Small But Expressive Interjections – Mark Nichol, Daily Writing Tips. While plenty of writing-related sites explain what interjections are and give examples, this is an impressively long and detailed list.

Your Ultimate First Chapter Checklist, Pt. 1: Hooking Readers – K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors. There are plenty of posts out there on “How to write a first chapter”. But K.M. takes it a big step further, creating a series of three posts that each tackle the process from a different angle.

If you’ve always wanted to write about an idea but haven’t yet because it’s been done to death by other writers, I hope I’ve given you some ideas on how you could give your readers a fresh take on it.

And if you’ve got your own tips on how to tackle a well-worn idea without boring your readers, share them with us in the comments.

Image credit: Cody Davis

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How to Write a Series for Your Blog (and Why You’ll Want To)

How to write a series for your blog

Have you ever written a series of posts for your blog – a set of posts that are deliberately linked together?

If you haven’t, I hope I can convince you to give it a try.

Some bloggers feel writing a series of posts is more daunting than writing individual posts. But it’s often easier to come up with ideas for a ten-post series than for ten standalone posts.

Here at ProBlogger we’ve run a number of series over the years, including 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, which I’ll be coming back to later in this post.

So why should you write a series of posts instead of just individual posts?

How a Series of Posts Could Boost Your Blog

Writing a series of posts, even a short one, can be useful. In particular, it gives you the opportunity to:

  • Dig deep into a particular topic, showcasing your expertise.
  • Encourage readers to keep coming back for more.
  • Create plenty of internal links between your posts (good for both SEO and encouraging readers to dig deeper into your site).
  • Build a comprehensive piece of content readers can bookmark, share, and keep coming back to (especially if you have an introduction post or an index of posts).

Even if your blog is new, you can still run a series. In fact, it can be a great way to get some solid cornerstone content up there early on.

Two Different Approaches to Running Your Series: Which is Right for You?

When you look at a series of posts on the blogs you read, you’ll probably find they fall into one of two categories:

Type #1: Time-Limited Series of Posts

This type of series runs for a set period of time, and every post published on the blog during that time is (usually) part of the series.

For instance, a three-part series of linked posts may appear on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And on the following week, the blogger goes back to standalone posts.

We’ve done this on ProBlogger with ‘Theme Weeks’ such as Creating Products Week — a series of five blog posts on how to create products for your audience.

This approach works well if you want to create cornerstone content, or build up a piece of series content you might use later for an ebook or even the basis of a course. (More on that later.)

Type #2: Ongoing, Regular Series of Posts

This type of series can run indefinitely, with posts appearing on a specific day of the week or month, or even at a particular point in the year. And standalone posts appear as normal between installments of the series.

The series might look like:

  • A roundup of news/posts in your niche each Friday. (We used to do this in our “Reading Roundups”.)
  • An ongoing monthly series on the first Tuesday of each month. For example, if you blog about healthy eating, you might publish a new recipe at the start of each month.
  • An annual review of your progress in your niche each December or January.

If you want to build a sense of consistency and community on your blog, this can be a good type of series to use. It can also help you beat blogger’s block, as it gives you specific things to blog about. (Well, at least some of the time.)

Coming Up With a Great Idea for a Blog Post Series

It can be tough enough coming up with an idea for one blog post. So how do you come up with a great idea for a series?

For a fixed series with a limited number of posts, you might look for:

  • A topic that you’ve already covered, but not in much depth. A series could give you the chance to really dig into the topic and examine different aspects of it. We did this on ProBlogger last year with a series on guest posting.
  • Beginner-friendly topics that would make a good introduction to your blog or niche. The posts themselves could all be on different topics, but you can link them together by having them aimed very much at beginners.

For a regular, ongoing series, you might look for:

  • Something you could blog about pretty much indefinitely. It could be the week’s news in your niche, your monthly results from affiliate marketing, or common mistakes you see beginners making in your field.
  • A particular style of posts. You could have a weekly “Q&A” like Trent Hamm’s “Reader Mailbag” on his blog The Simple Dollar, or a “monthly motivation” post where you collect together inspiring quotes.

If you’ve got several ideas and aren’t which would work best, why not ask some other bloggers for input? (If you don’t know many other bloggers yet, the ProBlogger Facebook group is a great place to meet some.)

Structuring a Series of Blog Posts

Hopefully, you already feel confident about structuring individual blog posts. If not (or you need a quick refresher), check out these posts from our subject matter expert Ali Luke:

But when you’re structuring a series, you also have to make structural decisions about:

  • The series as a whole. It will need a beginning and, if it isn’t an ongoing series, an end. These might be short sections of a post, or posts in their own right (for a long series). For instance, you might write a post to introduce the series and explain what’s coming. You can then update this post with links to the different parts of the series.
  • The individual posts within the series. How can you structure these so they ‘match’ as parts of a coherent whole? You could:
    • use a specific type of image, or brand your images in a particular way
    • title the posts consistently
    • have a particular format for each post, such as a quick recap at the start and a task or assignment at the end.

Interlinking the Posts in Your Series

It’s crucial to link the parts of your series together so readers can easily navigate between them. Remember, not everyone will read your series as you publish it.

Some readers will be busy, and will want to catch up with the whole series later. But many more (hopefully) will come to your series in future weeks and months through search engines or social media.

You can interlink posts in any number of ways. Here are some you can try. (You may even want to use two or three in each post.)

  • Create a tag or category for the series, which is what we did with our guest posting series. Readers can then get all the parts of the series by clicking that tag/category name. If you’re running an ongoing series of weekly/monthly posts, this is probably the best way to organise it.
  • Put a link at the top of each post leading to the previous part(s), so readers can easily go back to any posts they missed.
  • Create a page or post with links to every post in the series. You can do this before you run the series and update it as you publish each part, or do it retrospectively.
  • Put links at the bottom of each post leading to the next part, so readers can easily go through the series. (Obviously, you’ll need to go back and add these in once you’ve published the later parts.)
  • Add links to the body of the post whenever you mention a topic you’ve already written about in the series. (You can also go back to earlier posts and link them to later posts in the series.) This saves you having to repeat yourself a lot, and makes it easy for readers to find the information they need at any given point.

Series links example

An example of links to all the posts in the series at the bottom of the post

However you choose to link your posts together, make sure you’re consistent. And remember to check back after finishing the series to see if there are opportunities to work in some extra links.

Taking Your Blog Post Series Further

Once you’ve completed a series, or have been writing an ongoing series for a while, it’s worth considering whether you can repurpose your series into something else.

That might mean:

  • Bringing your posts together as a free ebook, perhaps with some bonus content. For instance, if you’ve published ten monthly recipes on your blog, you could put those recipes into an ebook and add five extra recipes you haven’t published.
  • Publishing your posts as a product, such as a paid-for ebook or even an ecourse. (31 Days to Build a Better Blog went from a series of posts to an ebook, and this year we’ve turned it into a course.)

You might also use a short series as the inspiration for a longer one, or an ongoing series as an opportunity to get readers involved on your blog.

I’d love to hear how you’re using a post series, or what ideas you have for using them in the future. Leave a comment below to share your thoughts with us.

 

Photo Credit: JESHOOTS.COM

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