10 Things I Wish I Knew About Blogging and Content Marketing When I Started
Today, I want to share the audio of a keynote I gave at a conference early last year about 10 things I wish I’d known about blogging and creating content for content marketing when I started.
In episodes 204 and 205 I shared some recordings of keynotes I’ve given, and the response from many of you was that you wanted to hear more of that style of podcast. So today I dug out a talk I gave at the Super Fast Business conference, which is run by James Schramko here in Australia.s
James, who puts on a great event, asked me to share some of my story and give some practical tips on content creation.
I talk about defining what your blog is about, the three phases of creating great content, how to mix up the different types of content you feature on your blog, idea generation, creating ‘content events’ on your blog, and how to differentiate yourself in your content.
I loved doing this talk, and I hope you enjoy it too.
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Slides from the Talk
For those of you who would like to follow along with the slides – here they are.
Further Listening on 10 Things I Wish I Knew About Blogging (and Content Marketing) When I Started
- 059: What Should I Blog About? 15 Questions to Ask to Help Identify Your Blogging Niche or Focus
- 033: 2 Questions to Ask to Help You Find Readers for Your Blog
- 011: Create 10 Blog Post Ideas for your Blog [Day 11 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog]
- 084: How to Come Up With Fresh Ideas to Write About On Your Blog
- 086: How to Get into the Flow of Creating Great Content for Your Blog
- 087: 9 Questions You Should Ask Before Hitting Publish On Your Next Blog Post
- 152: How to Use Embedded Content on Your Blog [Challenge]
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In today’s episode, I want to share with you an audio from a keynote I gave at a conference early last year. The topic was ’10 things I wish I had known about blogging and creating content for content marketing when I started’. A bit of a mouthful, but you get the idea. Back in episode 204, 205, just a few episodes ago, I shared a couple of recordings from keynotes I’ve given at my ProBlogger events and I had so much positive response from that. People really enjoyed that format, a presentation, a talk. Longer form and also the slides from those talks as well.
I wanted to do it again because many of you wanted more of that style of podcast. We’re not going to do it every week by any account. I don’t give that many talks. But I did find this one from the Superfast Business Conference. It’s a conference that is run by James Schramko. Many of you will know here in Australia. It’s run in Sydney and it was a great event. I really enjoyed getting to that particular event.
James puts on a really good event, and he asked me at the event last year to share some of my story but also give some practical tips on content creation. Really, that’s what the focus of this talk is about. In it, I’ve given a few tips on defining what your blog is about but then we get a lot into content creation itself. I talk about three different phases of creating content. I talk about how to mix up the different types of content that you might want to feature on your blog. I talk about idea generation, some tips on creating content, finishing content, running content events and challenges on your blog and also how to differentiate yourself through your content as well.
I really enjoyed this talk and I hope you do as well. I’ll also put up the slides from this talk in today’s show notes. There are a few times during the talk where you probably will want to refer to the slides. Whether you do that as you’re listening if you’re at a computer or whether you want to come back to the slides later, you’ll be able to do that. I bet 95% of what I do talk about in this talk doesn’t rely on the slides but you might want to have them. The show notes are at problogger.com/podcast/213.
The only other thing I will note is that at the time of this talk, there was a tool that I was using called Blab. Blab is a live streaming tool that allowed multiple people to be on the screen at once. Now, that tool doesn’t exist today. But when I do talk about it, you can pretty much substitute most of the other live streaming tools that exist today. It’s only a brief mention during the talk but I did want to point that out.
Some of the points I mention in passing during this keynote were expanded upon in later podcast. At the end of the talk, I will come back on and suggest some further listening for those of you who want to dig deeper into some of the things I touched on during the talk. But again, I’ll link to all of those in the show notes as well. problogger.com/podcast/213. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you enjoy this talk and I will come back at the end just to wrap things up.
Host: Our next guest is a superpower in the blogosphere. In fact, I remember going to an event, my first event in the United States several years ago, and I found out he’d been to one before that, one of the early ones. I found a transcript of what he’d been doing and what he talked about. I read through it and I thought, “This is great.” He’s probably one of the seeds to my original direction towards content marketing. And then I recently saw him in the Philippines, presenting. I thought, “This information is very in line with what we do.” His version of what I talk about with OTR, but he’s been doing it a lot longer than I have. He can do things like write and spell. He’s prolific and he’s really, really good at it. Without further ado, I’d like to introduce Darren Rowse.
Darren: Thank you. It’s really good. Who’s feeling like they’ve already got enough value from this and they could go home almost? I, literally in the lunch break, had to rewrite the opening story of my talk thanks to an earlier presentation. I put all my content onto an app, thanks Jared. I’ve killed my idea for the ProBlogger album and t-shirt range. I have been considering doing a pyjama range, ProBlogger workwear for bloggers.
I’ve had to call the team and tell them to put all the content behind a subscription. I’ve deleted all the apps on my phone and I just took a hot and cold shower. It’s been a busy lunch break. I hope you’ve had a productive one.
I want to talk about content marketing, and to help you understand the perspective that I’ve come to this topic from. I want to tell you a very brief version of my story. I got an email a couple of days ago basically saying, “We’ve got lines for speakers.” It was basically cut out all your story because people just want the tips. I’m like, “But that was the first 20 minutes of my talk gone.” I’m going to tell it to you in two minutes and it does skip over some of the stages of the format for storytelling before.
For me, it all started in 2002 with an email from a friend. I was sitting at a desk, one of the part-time jobs that I had, and this email pinged in. A voice said, “Master, you’ve got mail.” Did anyone else install that? I was the only one. Okay, It was 2002 and I got this email and it had four words in it and a link. The four words were, “Check out this blog.” I had no idea what a blog was so I clicked the link out of curiosity. I ended up on this site that changed the course of my life not because of the content on it, although that was interesting, but because it was my first discovery of blogging and of this amazing tool called a blog.
What I found on this blog was this tool that enabled this guy on the other side of the world living in Prague, to talk to me in a really powerful, personal way. It amplified his voice in a way I’ve never seen a voice amplified before. I’ve done some public speaking. I’ve never had my voice amplified in that way. Around his voice was this community. Everyone was getting smarter as a result of not only what he was saying but the fact that there was a community there.
These two things captivated me. Within a couple of hours, I decided I needed to start a blog. Now, unfortunately, I had no credentials whatsoever to start a blog and if I thought about it for any more than about five minutes, I wouldn’t have done it. I’ve had 20 jobs in the last 10 years, none of which had anything to do with blogging. The only qualification I had was a Bachelor of Theology, which hasn’t really helped a whole heap. I wasn’t a great writer. It was my worst subject in high school and I was incapable of making text bold on that blog for three months after starting it.
Back then, you had to know a little bit of HTML and I had no idea, technological. But for one reason or another, I started that blog and that was the best thing that I’ve ever done in business. This is what it looked like. It was ugly. I designed this myself. It was based upon my wedding invitation, which makes me doubt my wife’s choice in colors. But if you’ve seen her blog, she’s a very colourful person.
Anyway, I did meet some people who knew how to make text bold and they eventually redesigned my blog for me. It was a personal journal of sorts. I was writing about spirituality, politics, movies. It was pretty much an outward pouring of what was in my mind, which was quite scary. What was even more scary was that thousands of people a day found it and read it. I didn’t know why but I was quite happy that they did.
I became very quickly addicted to blogging and creating content, with no intent whatsoever of making it into a business. It was just a hobby. It was something that I did for pretty much seven hours every night when I got home. It was a big part of my life and it became an addiction.
I began to experiment with other blogs over time. My next blog was a photo blog. I was going to share photos of a trip I was taking to Morocco with my wife, with my brand new digital camera. Turns out no-one had looked to any of the photos but I posted one review of the camera I was using and it ranked number one on Google for that camera. The entrepreneurial lights began to go in my mind.
I transitioned that photo blog onto a digital camera review blog, where I wrote reviews of other cameras and aggregated reviews that other people were writing around the web. It was a good time to start a digital photography blog because digital cameras were just starting to really take off.
In 2004, blogging had become a part-time job. In fact, it almost became a full time job. With this particular blog, I started to put some AdSense ads on my blog and some Amazon affiliate links to earn those 4% commissions on those $10 books. I didn’t really earn a lot but it was the beginnings of a part-time job, which over the next year, became a full-time thing for me.
In 2004, I started ProBlogger. It was pretty much me saying to the world you can make a living from blogging and is anyone else doing it out there because no-one was writing about it. It was my attempt to find other people on this same journey to learn from and to share what I was learning with.
I transitioned my photography blog into Digital Photography School in 2007 and this is my main blog today. It’s about ten times larger than ProBlogger. ProBlogger is a bit of a side project for me, which pays a full-time living in and of itself. But this is the main thing that I do today. It’s a how to take photography-type site.
Thirteen years later, I’m not the biggest blogger in the world and I’m not the best blogger in the world. But given the fact that I had no idea what I was doing when I started, I’m pretty pleased with what’s happened as a result of it. There’s a whole heap of numbers there which I pinch myself at. But the thing that I really love about what’s opened up for me is the opportunities. The opportunities to write a book, to start a conference, to speak at amazing events like this, meet amazing people.
But the best thing of all is when people come up to me at a conference like this, as happened this morning, and say things like, “You wrote this post that changed my life. In some small way, it helped me to start a business.” Or like James said before, “Influence the way I do things today.” That is something that I get really excited about. That’s the biggest compliment for me.
Thirteen years later, I find myself as a full-time blogger. Blogging and content marketing for me really tap into this quote that you’ve probably heard a million times before at conferences like this. “People do business with those that they know, like, and trust,” and content has the ability to help you to be known. Who would’ve ever thought I would be known by four million people a month? To be liked.
Who would’ve ever thought that someone will walk up to me this morning in a conference and give me a hug? I’m an introvert. I don’t like hugs, but I love the fact that people actually feel like they know me and they like me. It opens up opportunities for you to be trusted. This is what content marketing, this is what blogging is all about for me.
I want to say right upfront, whilst I’m talking about content marketing today, I’m doing it as a blogger. A lot of what I share today comes out of that experience. Blogging for me is the center of the mix. These are all of the other things that I do with my time and I could probably add some more circles to that. This week, I started on an app called Anchor. I don’t know if anyone’s started playing with Anchor. It’s like an audio version of Twitter. It’s fun. You leave a message and then everyone else leaves a voicemail message effectively back on your message and a conversation happens that way. It’s a really cool tool.
Anyway, I’m always experimenting with lots of different things. For me, the blog is the center of the mix. Whether that’s the case for you or whether a podcast is that or whether it’s something else, I think pretty much everything that I want to share this morning and the ten things that I’ve learned since I started applies to pretty much any medium and most of the models that you’ll be experimenting with before.
I’m going to whip through ten things. The first two are fairly foundational and then we get a little bit more tactical as we go along. This is something you’ve probably already thought about but I think it’s something that you really need to come back to on a regular basis. Define what it is that your blog or your podcast or you are about. There’s a variety of ways that you can think about this. The most common of which is to choose a niche and to think about that niche.
Has anyone got a niche in the room that you would say you got a niche? I’ve got a photography blog. That’s my niche. I’ve got a blogging blog. That’s a niche. This is Chris Hunter. He’s got a great blog called Bike EXIF. It’s about custom and classic motorbikes. He’s the only male I know who’s got something like 400,000 or 500,000 Pinterest followers. A lot of people say Pinterest is for women only. No way. There’s a whole heap of men on there and they’ve got their own niches.
He has a niche. I’ve got a niche. A lot of bloggers though that I meet say, “I don’t really want to just write about one topic.” And so another way to define what you’re on about is to think about your demographic. This is Gala Darling. She writes about travel, horoscopes, tattoos, relationships, travel, all kinds of stuff. But they relate to the one kind of person. She thinks about her blog as a blog for youthful, alternative, unconventional, individual, eccentric women. Her words, not mine. That’s her demographic.
The third way I think is, you can add to these other two, and that is to have a fight. I think this is a particularly powerful one. ProBlogger, when I started in 2004, it was a blog about making money from blogging. That was quite a controversial thing to write about in 2004 because blogging was seen as a very pure medium. And so for me to say I’m making money from blogging and I’m making six figures from it back in 2004, that was quite a stir. People really reacted to that in one of two ways.
Some people said, “He’s lying.” Other people said, “You shouldn’t make money from blogging.” And other people said, “Yeah, I want to do that too.” For me, the fight of ProBlogger back then was that you can do it and you can actually do it in an ethical way. That was like me putting a flag in the sand and people either reacted against it or they rallied around it. A lot of people were inspired by that idea. A lot of people shared that journey.
Having a fight for what you do is a very, very powerful thing. My wife, she’s a style blogger. She has a niche. Style, fashion, homewear, that’s her niche. She has a demographic as well. She writes for moms. But she also has a fight and it comes out in a lot of the content that she writes. You don’t have to give up on style when you’ve got three little, I was going to call them brats, boys running around in your home who fight against their stuff. That’s her fight. That something that really resonates with a lot of moms and so she weaves that into her blog and people rally around it.
When you’ve got a fight, you give something for people to join and that’s a very powerful thing when it comes to content. What is it that you do? This is something I go back to quite regularly and think about. The other thing I’d say about choosing what you do, choose something that’s meaningful to you. You’re going to be at this for a while so you might as well do something you enjoy and something that’s meaningful to you. If it’s meaningful to you, it will shine through in the content that you create.
I’ve had 30 blogs over the years. I have to say 28 of them I started because I thought they’d be profitable and they didn’t really mean a whole heap to me. I couldn’t sustain them and people who came across those blogs could tell that they weren’t meaningful to me and so they didn’t come back again. Do something meaningful to you.
Number two, understand your reader and how you will change them. Most people have been through some sort of an exercise like this and have created something like this. These are the reader profiles that I created when I started Digital Photography School in 2007. Some people would call them personas or avatars today. I know some people like personas and avatars, other people don’t.
But what I would say to you whether you’ve got one or not, you need to understand who’s reading your blog. The better you understand them and what is meaningful to them, the better position you’ll be in to create great content, to find more of those readers because you’ll start to understand where they’re hanging out. You’ll also understand how to build community with them and you’ll suddenly get ideas for how you monetize as well. The better you understand who is reading your blog, the better.
But here’s the thing. Most people’s avatars, most people’s understandings of their readers ends at ‘They’re 34, they’re male, they live in these sorts of… ‘Their demographical information. That’s good to know but you need to understand these kinds of things. You need to understand their needs. You need to understand their problems. You really need to understand their desires, where they want to be, their dreams. Those things are really powerful things to understand.
You need to understand their fears. Their fears are the things that are stopping them to get to their dreams. Even if you just understand their dream and their fear, that’s a very powerful thing to understand. It will inform your content. Again, it will inform how you brand yourself, how you promote yourself, how you build community and how you monetize. These things need to be crystal clear in your mind.
Whether you’ve got an avatar or not, understand these things. Find out what is meaningful to them. When you understand those things, that is meaningful stuff. Understand what’s meaningful to them. You can do it in a whole heap of different ways. For us, we use surveys. One of the things I love about live streaming, Periscope or a tool like Blab, has anyone used Blab? It puts you into a conversation. A very real-time conversation with people. That’s great for broadcasting your ideas and for creating content but it’s even more useful in terms of understanding the needs of people.
I remember the first time I did a Blab. It’s like Google Hangouts but it works. It put me into a conversation with three of my readers. I’ve never heard of them before. I didn’t recognize their names but suddenly, I was seeing them on the screen, hearing their voices, hearing their frustrations, hearing their questions. I wrote the best content that afternoon, after that Blab, because it was written out of the pain of my readers and the real life questions of my readers.
Use these sorts of tools to understand who your readers are. I think the great thing about an event like this, if you have enough readers to hold an event, is that you understand, you meet those people. It will infect the way you create content.
But here’s something where you can take your avatar writing to the next stage. Most people don’t do this. They have an avatar. They might know their reader’s problems but here’s the question I’d ask you. How will you change your readers? How are you going to change them? Here’s a simple exercise that you can do. Actually, before I give you the exercise, great blogs and great podcasts, they leave a mark on their readers and so I want to encourage you to think about the content you create.
It’s not only getting people onto your list or getting them to know, like, and trust you but understand that that content that you create has the potential to change your readers. If you create content that changes your readers, that’s a very powerful thing because they’ll come back and they’ll bring other people with them.
Here’s the exercise. You can do this later. It’s a very simple one. You just need a piece of paper and a pen the draw a line across it. At point A, I want you to describe who your readers are when they arrive on your blog or your podcast or where it is that you have first contact with people. This will be your avatar of sorts and it should include their needs, their problems, their desires, and their fears, those types of things.
Most people do this when they’ve got a blog but hardly anyone does this, where will your reader be as a result of coming into contact with you? Where will they be in a year’s time? Where will they be in five years’ time? What’s your dream for your readers, for your audience? Describe that change. Very powerful to understand that change. It should inform everything else that you do. It should inform the content you create, the product you create, the way you engage with people. Get crystal clear on that change.
Digital Photography School, my main blog, the change is very simple. I want people to get out of automatic mode on their cameras and to have full creative control of their cameras. Most people use their cameras in full automatic mode but they don’t know the full potential of their cameras so I want to give them creative control of their camera. That’s a very simple change. I talked to a parenting blogger the other day. She was starting a whole membership site for parents. I got her to do this exercise. We were both in tears by the end of it because she described desperate families who couldn’t communicate, who are angry and dysfunctional and then she described the most amazing families that you could ever imagine.
What a change she is bringing. By understanding that change, she suddenly had ideas for content. She suddenly had ideas for products. She suddenly had ideas for what her community could be through this exercise, very, very powerful thing to do. Essentially, what you’re doing is creating a before and after avatar for your audience.
Number three thing I want to talk about is three phases of creating content. Most people have a content creation process that was like my one used to be. You sit down and you think, “Shit, what am I going to write today?” Has anyone had that moment? You spend the next two hours working out what you’re going to write about. And then you write it and then you bang, publish, and it goes out. That’s the way I used to publish content. It was thoughtless, it was sporadic, and I’ve very rarely built momentum from one piece of content to the next.
Great blogs take their readers on a journey. Great podcasts take their readers on a journey. They build momentum over time. They’re thoughtful. They’re consistent and they do build momentum. Have a think about those words. They don’t just happen. You need to be intentional about the kind of content that you create. I want to encourage you to be intentional in three areas of your content creation. I’m going to dig deeper into each of these.
The first one is idea generation. Most bloggers kind of understand they need to come up with good ideas to write about but most bloggers do it in the moment that they’re creating the content itself. I want you to consider doing that ahead of time.
Secondly, the content creation. First, most of us understand we need to put time aside for that. Here’s the one I think most people could lift their game in. That’s the completion of their content. Most bloggers I come across either have a whole heap of drafts that they’ve never published. I had 90 at one point on the ProBlogger back end, or they publish content that could be a whole heap better, that they could be completing better. I want to give you some tips in each of these three areas as the next three points of my presentation.
But before I do, I want to encourage you to put time aside for this. One of the things I loved in one of the earlier presentations was about separating your tasks out. James shared his weekly schedule before. I’ve got a little way to go to clear mine but this is how I structure most of my weeks. You’ll get these slides later and you can look a little more deeply into it. I put time aside. Every week, I make an appointment with myself every week to come up with ideas. It happens on Friday morning. I spend half an hour on it. That’s all. Half an hour and I brainstorm by myself.
Then my team shows up for the meeting and I share what my ideas are and they tell me which ones are good and which ones aren’t. They develop them a little bit further. We probably spend about 45 minutes in total on ideas and that type of thing. Friday afternoons, I spend time planning the content I’m creating next week. I find really useful on a Monday morning when I look ahead for creation of content, to know ahead of time what I’m going to create that morning. I don’t have to come up with the idea. It’s already come up with and I’ve already given myself the deadline of when it needs to be created by. Monday, Tuesday morning, I spend time creating. Whether that be blog post or podcast or webinars or whatever it might be.
In the afternoons, I’d spend time completing. That’s really important for me to do because that’s my natural tendency, is to publish half finished content. I just like to get it out there without really going to the next level and taking that content from being good to great. I want to show you how to do that in a moment.
The fourth thing I want to talk about is generating ideas. Really, I want you to return to this exercise. This is what I did in 2007 when I started Digital Photography School. I worked at this overall change I was trying to bring and then I decided to fill in the gaps. For you to take your audience from one point to the next, what needs to happen? What do they need to know? What mindshifts need to happen? What skills do they need to develop? What areas do they need to build their confidence in?
I started to fill in the gaps. Here are some of the things I came up with for my audience. They needed to learn about aperture, shutter speed and some of those technical things they needed to grow in their confidence. They needed to understand really basic skills of how to hold a camera. I came up with 207 things in this exercise. It took me a whole afternoon to do. I returned to it the next day, I came up with another 100 so right about 300 things that my readers needed to do to get from fully auto to creative control. That was my first two years content for the blog.
I turned that content, step by step, into cornerstone pieces of content that I gave away to my audience. I placed them in an order that would take my readers on a journey from being in fully automatic mode to having creative control of their cameras. These four pieces of content here were some of the first pieces of content that I wrote. I looked at the stats the other day. Each of those pieces of content has been read over two million times since I started.
To this day, it still gets thousands of people to each of these pieces of content. I’m constantly linking back to these cornerstone pieces of content. Every time I mention the word aperture, it links back to the aperture article. Every time I mention shutter speed, it links back to the shutter speed article. It’s because I mapped out the whole road map ahead of time that I knew with confidence that the end of those two years are the base of what I was wanting to teach.
Do that exercise. It’s very powerful. If you’re ever running out of ideas, again, think about the change you’re trying to bring and build a road map for your readers. Six more really quick tips on generating ideas. You need to keep a record of every question you’re very asked or every question you ask yourself, every problem you ever notice. Again, this is the thing I love about live streaming, Periscope, it’s the thing I love about webinars, coming to conferences. I’m constantly writing down the questions people ask me. If one person is asking them, other people are asking them too.
Set idea traps. This is so powerful. The best thing I ever did for coming up with ideas was to set up a survey. I did it on day three of Digital Photography School. When I set up an autoresponder, you sign up to our newsletter, two or three months after you’ve been getting these weekly newsletters, I send you an email saying, “Would you mind filling in a survey? It helps us to understand you better. It collects a little bit of demographical information about our audience but there’s an open ended question.
The open ended question reads something like, “Do you have any questions or problems you want us to write a blog post about?” It’s an optional question. We had about 200,000 or 300,000 people complete that survey since 2007. That’s a lot of data. About 50,000 of those people have asked a question in that survey. I never run out of things to write about because I just go to the SurveyMonkey and look at the latest questions that we’ve been asked. It also shows your audience that you are interested in answering that question.
Set idea traps. You can use surveys. Your Facebook updates every now and again. You can ask that same question. Is there something you’d like us to write about? I’ve come across a number of bloggers recently who set up Facebook groups and they run polls every week in their Facebook group to test five different ideas for articles that they’re thinking about writing and they get their Facebook group members to vote on which one they want them to write a piece of content about.
Set up these little traps to collect ideas. You should be monitoring every blog post you write, every tweet you put out to collect those questions. If you don’t have people reading your blog yet, and leaving comments, head to someone else’s blog and look for the questions. Someone who’s a bigger blogger in your niche. YouTube is the best place ever to come up with questions. The comments left on YouTube clips in your industry will give you ideas for blog posts.
Forums also, we used to run a forum on Digital Photography School. It was amazing how many people would set up an account and I never post one thing. It was almost always a question. People joined forums to ask questions so you need to sit in those places and collect those sorts of questions.
And then find a brainstorming buddy. I don’t know if you’ve got these but one of the best things I did when I started ProBlogger was to commit with two other bloggers in my niche to throw out ideas at each other and to give each other ideas to write about. We became writing buddies.
The last thing, this is something that’s very simple to do particularly if you’ve been blogging or podcasting for a year or two, is to look back on your archives and ask yourself the question, how could I extend that old post or repurpose it or update it in some way? I actually do this everyday. Everyday, I look back at what I published this day last year and this day the year before on this same date. I actually go back through the archives all the years that I’ve been writing, every single day, to ask myself the question is that post still relevant? Could I update it? Could I repurpose that content in some way?
That’s where most of my podcasts, for the first year of my podcasting, have come from. Just looking back at the blog post that I’ve written and repurposing them and updating them.
Number five, I want to talk about creating content. Five really quick tips on this, firstly, write to your avatar or write to people that you actually know who are readers. My best blog post almost always start out as an email, a question from a reader or a conversation that I had at a conference or something that happens on Periscope. I write with the person in mind and my content comes out more personal.
It’s amazing how many people come out and say, “I feel like you’re writing to me. Did someone tell you about me?” It’s usually because I know someone like them and I’m writing in a more personal way. Write to your avatar and consider a blogging template. If you’re stuck in your writing, sometimes, it can help to get out of that stuck place by creating a template.
This is a template that Michael Hyatt came up with. I really didn’t like this idea when I first came across it. He follows the same template in almost every post he writes. I was like, “I’d never do that.” And then I start thinking about my own writing and I realize I pretty much do the same thing without actually having a template. Most of us develop a style of writing so if you’re stuck, maybe look back at some of your old post and work out what your template is or maybe steal someone else’s like Michael’s. He’s put it up and you’ll get a link to that in a moment.
I tend to back track my content. I’d much prefer to sit down from morning and write three or four blog post than to sit down four morning and write four blog post. I’m very much about batching what I do with my time. I set deadlines. We use a tool called CoSchedule, which is a WordPress plugin. It helps us to map out our content plan for a month, sometimes two or three months in advance and to assign tasks. We work as a team. I know what I have to write at certain times and then I may have to pass it over to Stacey who edits my content for me.
I’m a really big believer also that if you want to create great content, you need to consume it. This is something that I fell short on for a couple of years. It’s only more recently that I’ve started to re-consume content. Sometimes, it’s very easy to get very busy and not fill your own cup. I think consuming great content, one, is good because you will learn more but two, you will also pick up production ideas.
I’ve started listening to podcasts recently. Most of which have nothing to do with what I write about but I always come away from those podcasts with ideas from my own show.
I want to talk about completing content. This is a big area that I think most content creators could up their game in. Firstly, get help if you can afford it. This is Stacey and Darlene who edits my blogs for me now. Since giving this to someone else to do, we’ve produced a lot more content and a lot better content. If you can afford to get someone in to help read your content out loud, it’s amazing how many mistakes you’ll find. I find it particularly good if you’re reading it out loud to another person.
If I’ve got an important piece of content, I’ll ask my wife Vanessa listen to it as I read it to her. I know she’s not really listening but just the fact that she might be helps me to pick out all the mistakes that I would’ve been making.
This is something I think we all could lift our game in and it’s in polishing and making your content more visually pleasing and easier to consume. We don’t publish a blog post, we don’t publish show notes anymore without an image. Every post has to have at least one. Most of our posts have several images.
That’s not just because I’ve got a photography site, that’s also on ProBlogger, we’ve tested it. The post that have images get read at least 40% more than the post that don’t have images. The same with all of our social media now. Almost every tweet I do now has to have an image in it. They get retweeted significantly higher. They get more responses to them. It just works. You just have to have an image of some kind. Whether it be a diagram or a chart. Over time, you get to see which images are working well as well.
Spend time crafting those titles. The title is going to be pretty much what determines whether someone reads the opening line of your post. And then your opening line needs to be something you really need to polish as well. These are two places that I’m spending a lot of time in my content. I usually write my content first and then come back to the title and the opening line and then craft those and spend significant time on those areas.
Pay attention to your formatting, particularly your headline. It’s really important as well. People do not read content online. They scan it first and so if you can use headlines to tease them, they will then want to go back and fill in the gaps between the headlines. So really pay attention to that. Draw their eye down the page with images as well at key points, anywhere you want them to look.
Add depth to your content. Every time I go to Hit Publish, just before I do, I always ask myself and I’ve trained my team to ask themselves, could they add more meat to it? Could they make it a better post in some way? Maybe by adding in an example, maybe by telling a story or using an analogy, maybe by adding an opinion. It’s amazing how many blog posts go out about new technology and they have no opinion. It’s just here are the specifications of the new MacBook Pro and here’s a picture. That’s it.
Tell us why we should buy it. Whether it’s any good, who would be applicable for it, add your opinion. This is what makes your content unique. People aren’t reading your content for specifications. They want to know what you think. That’s what gets the conversation going as well.
Suggest further reading. We have good SEO benefits mentioned this morning about having links to your own content but also links out to other people’s content. It shows your audience that there’s more to do, there’s more to learn and that you know where to find that. That’s good for you own credibility. Also, it builds relationships with other sites when you’re linking to them as well.
Add quotes. It’s so easy to tweet someone and say, “Do you have any thoughts on this?” And then embed that tweet reply into your content. I email Seth Godin all the time. He didn’t know me from anywhere but he almost always responds to those sorts of emails. “Do you have one line to say about this topic? Thanks Seth.” I’ll borrow your authority and I’ll plug that into my content. It makes my content more useful and adds another opinion, another voice and shows your readers that you’re going to the extra mile in gathering different opinion for them.
Suggest something for your readers to go and do. This adds depth. I’ll show you some examples of how we do this on Digital Photography School. This is something that is just so easy to do. It’s so easy to embed something else. We again heard good SEO reasons for doing that. If you can keep people on the page longer, it helps your SEO ranking, also makes your content better. Just look at all the places you can get embeddable content these days.
We all know you can embed YouTube clips. That’s easy to do. Just do a search for your topic and find a video that related to what you’ve got to say. But there are so many other places you can get embeddable content. I judged a blogging competition for social media examiner recently and the blogs that won all used embeddable content. They mixed it up. They were embedding tweets. They were embedding Facebook page status updates. They were embedding videos. They were embedding audio clips. This new tool that I mentioned before, Anchor, you can embed that anchors that you create and the anchors that other people create as well. Give your readers different things to do while they’re on your site. It’s so easy to do.
Mix up your content. I was talking to a restaurateur down in Melbourne, a very well known one recently who’s had a top level restaurant now for 10 years. I was quite amazed when I heard that he’d been going for 10 years. He’s been at the top of the game for 10 years. I was like, “This game of having a restaurant, it’s very fickle. There’s always the new cool place down the road that everyone’s rushing off to.” I asked him, “How do you keep at the top of the game?” He said, “Basically, I reinvent myself every year. Sometimes two times a year.” He’s had four fit outs in that time. He reinvents his menu every year, several times. He actually does it seasonally. He’s always reinventing things.
The people who have come to this restaurant know what they’re going to get. They know the sort of the food that he has. They know the level of service. But he’s always constantly experimenting with new things. I think this is really true in this place, in this time where so much content are being created. There’s always new sites springing up.
Your readers need to understand that quality is always going to be high and the type of stuff you’re talking about is going to be consistent. But you need to mix up the type of content that you’re producing. I want to encourage you to do it in a number of ways. One is to produce content that has different styles to it. This is what I say to my team, “Every week, I want you to create content that informs, inspires, and interacts.” If you look at each of those blog posts that I’ve got up there, they’re all on exactly the same topic. Long exposure photography.
We publish the first one on Monday. It’s information. It’s a meaty article, a tutorial. To be honest, hardly anyone reads it on Monday. You know when they read it? They read it on Wednesday, after we publish an inspirational post and we link back to it. The inspirational post is 15 beautiful photos that we’ve curated. That post has hardly any text at all. It’s all about showing what could be. It’s all about showing our readers the type of photos they could take. It gives them a reason to go and read the tutorial. Inspire them and then drive them to the information.
At the end of the week, on Friday, Saturday, we give them a challenge. We say, “Go and take a photo using the technique you learned on Monday, looking at the photos that you saw on Wednesday. Go and try it for yourself and come back and share the photo with us.” We use Discuss as a communing tool, which allows embedding of photos in the comments. This really works. Both of those posts drive traffic back to the informational posts. We got extra paid views as a result of it.
The best thing though is that our readers actually learn something because they learn information, they’re inspired to use the information. They’re given a chance to implement what they learn. We all know that people learn best when they do. Inform, inspire, interact. 90% of our content is information but we sprinkle it. We season it with inspiration and interaction.
Another way to mix up your content is to try different formats. You’ll find over time that your audience will respond best to certain types of content and we’ve certainly worked out that information content is our best, we use a lot of guides, how to’s, tips, tutorials but we sprinkle it with stories.
Storytelling is another way of inspiring and some of our best posts have been more inspirational content telling stories. But there’s a whole list of different types of content that you need to constantly be experimenting and seeing what’s working with your audience. The same with different mediums.
For us, blog posts have been a big part of it. But more recently, I’ve started to get into more visual content particularly through our social media, infographics, and cheat sheets have really been working very well for us lately and live streaming as I said before. Actually, what I’m finding is live streaming so Periscoping everyday is driving people to my podcast and the podcast is driving people to the blog for some reason. That seems to be the flow of our readers. Just experiment with where you can meet new readers and where you can take them as a result of that.
I want to talk for a moment about this idea of know, like, and trust that opened this quite before. People do business with people that they know, like, and trust. So if you want people to do business with you, you want them to know, like, and trust you. How do you create content that takes them through this process? It will be different for everyone of us but I want to show some examples of what we do. This is an infographic. We didn’t actually create it. We curated it. We always link back to the source.
We find that infographics work very well as a first point of contact with our audience on Digital Photography School. Our audience share these like crazy. They can’t get enough of them. That’s good at getting known. People share that kind of content. But in and of itself, that doesn’t really help because people generally would bounce away from an infographic very quickly. What we do and you can see that underneath a highlighter, that we have further reading based on that infographic.
We used to just post the infographic and that was great for traffic, getting the eyeball. But since we started giving further readings that relates to that infographic, we’ve seen a lot more stickiness to the sight so highlight and underneath it, you can’t read it. It’s three articles on how to hold a camera, which is exactly what the infographic is about. We give them a meatier piece of content. That’s the content that people like. They begin to not only see you and know you. They begin to like you and trust you.
Underneath that, we have other articles for beginners because this is a topic that’s very beginner-y. But we can’t post infographics all day everyday. We have to go to the next level. You have to start asking yourself, what’s going to take people to the next level of liking us? Again, this is where we have more of our inspirational content. This is where storytelling is very powerful. Content that’s going to make people grow in their desire, in inspiration and motivation. Sprinkle that type of content.
But again, you’ll see there, I’ve highlighted links further into the sight. We’re always trying to get people to the content which helps them to trust us. That helps them to build credibility and authority for us. This is another type of content that helps likeability. It’s any kind of interactional. This is one of our challenges. We do them every weekend. Here is something for you to go away and do. Show us your work. People like to show off. People like to talk. We give them an opportunity to do that. That gives them a sense of belonging.
And then trust. These are meaty articles. That post there on the right, The Ultimate Guide To Learning How To Use Your First Digital SLR is like 6,000 words long. That’s a big piece of content but it grows authority. We’ve actually found that long form content is outperforming anything else on the sight at the moment. I don’t know if you can see that but that post has been shared over 149,000 times. It took a lot of work to get that piece of content together but it’s paying off because not only is it being shared, it’s growing trust. It’s growing credibility.
That piece of content, we tracked it, is responsible for a lot of people buying our ebooks than buying our products as a result of that. Okay, we know, like and trust. What about buy? Because we all want the sale, eventually. How do you actually get them to buy? What we’ve found is that our blog posts are not a very good place to get the buy. For our audience, it just doesn’t work at all. We actually tracked this ebook that we launched last year. It was responsible for about 5% of our sales, our blog content.
We just don’t sell blog content anymore. We sell for our email list. We’ve got an email list of about 800,000 now and it drives almost all of our sales. Social media just doesn’t convert for us at all. We don’t use social media or our blogging content, or even the podcast to sell. We use it to drive people to our newsletter.
This is what most people do on their blogs. They have their blog and then they have a sight wide opt in on the side bar. Get our cheat sheet or get our ebook, whatever it might be. This works, this is good but what’s even better is to have multiple opt ins. One of the trends we noticed last year was a lot of blogs now are using a library of opt ins and they’re matching the opt in that relates best to a certain category of content.
What’s happening even more this year, this is another shift that I’ve noticed is that cool kids are now creating opt ins for every blog post that they do or every podcast that they do. I think James mentioned or alluded to this earlier. This is what Amy Porterfield did. She interviewed me for her podcast a few months ago and she said to me, “Can I take three of your best articles from the blog, put them into a PDF, and then add some of my own thoughts to it? She created a very simple opt in for that podcast. She wouldn’t be promoting it anywhere else except for that episode.
This is what RazorSocial are doing in Cleary. He actually gives anyone who comes to his blog a PDF version of every blog post. You can just download a PDF version of the blog post but it’s behind an opt in. It’s converting really well for him. It’s a very easy way to create an opt in.
This is Jill from Screw the 9 to 5. They’ve started creating checklists or swipe files the relate to blog posts. They don’t do it for every blog post but certainly the ones that are meatier, the longer form content. They’re adding blog-post specific opt ins to them. I think we’ll see that just well a lot more and more in the next 12 months.
Talking about content events, as I look back over the last 12 years of my own blogging journey, I quite often live in Google Ad Analytics and I love just to look at what happens when there’s spikes in traffic came, just a good habit to get into. I noticed recently that a lot of the spikes in traffic in my site have happened around events or content events.
The first one was back in 2005 on ProBlogger. I was sitting in bed one night at 2:00AM and I had this little idea for a 31 day series of content on the blog. I was going to give a little bit of teaching everyday and then a little activity to go and do for my readers. I couldn’t go to sleep so I got up and I just wrote this blog post and said, “I’m going to do this thing. I’m going to start it tomorrow and I’m going to call it 31 Days To Build A Better Blog.” Put no thought into that idea at all.
I had no idea what the 31 days were going to be. I think I may have had a couple of ideas and I just went to bed and I slept easy. I’ve got it out of me. Put the blog post up, woke up the next morning, there was more comments on that post than I’ve ever had on a post before. I was like, “Okay, what’s day one going to be?” Quickly, I came up with day one and it started this little series of content over the first 31 days.
Traffic was two or three times higher that month than I’ve ever seen before. I was like, “What is going on here?” Essentially, I was doing the same thing I was doing every other day. But because I called it something and ran it over a defined period, people wanted to join it. There was a sense of an event happening and people like to join events.
I did the same series in 2007. This time I put an opt in around it. I said you can get an email every day and essentially, it was the same thing, almost exactly the same content. It was two or three times bigger than the first year. I did it in 2009 again and this time, we had a little community area. Today, I’d probably use a Facebook group or something like that. People really responded well in not only getting the content and the task, but coming together and sharing their knowledge.
This event idea really took off. At the end of 2009, my readers said, “Could you give us this in a PDF or an ebook? We’ll even pay you for it.” I was like, “No, you won’t.” They were like, “Yeah, we will.” I put it into a PDF and I created 31 Days To Build A Better Blog, The ebook. 12,000 people bought in the first three weeks after launching it, at $20 each. I’m like, “What in the world happened?”
Events are very powerful. People like to join things. Any sort of a defined period is a very powerful thing. I’m going to let you work through this slide later when you get it but there’s a whole heap of benefits of doing an event. I was going to say I think it’s about joining. It’s about something social. It’s about doing something together, achieving something together that can be very powerful to do.
Here are a few examples. This is my wife. She does events. She actually did her first event two weeks into her first blog. She had no one reading her blog at all. I think there was like 10 readers. By the end of that week, she had 200 readers a day because she did this event. It was just a very simple event. She told her readers to take a photo of themselves wearing a certain color everyday for a week and post in on Instagram with a hashtag. It went crazy. She does these events now every three or so months and every time, it significantly increases her traffic.
This is one around fitness. You can do this in pretty much any niche. This is one around organizing your pantry of all things, an event that this blogger did. She had thousands of people to the pantry challenge together. This is a 52 weeks event on finances and saving up money. You can really do it in lots of ways. If you’ve ever been to Bali, this is the braiding your hair challenge. Literally, Kristina did. She does 30 days of braiding your hair and she turned it into an ebook at the end of it.
People joined in and then she used that as the launch of her new product. Any kind of an event worked really well. Again, I’ll let you read through those. I don’t like bullet points but I thought it would be a quick way of getting the information to you and allow me to get on to my last two points.
This is the biggest challenge I think, for us as content creators today. How do you differentiate yourself? We live in a time where, I think I saw the stats the other day, there’s around 74 million plus blogs on wordpress.com. That’s just the wordpress.com version and there’s the wordpress.org version, which is even more popular, then there’s Tumblr and Blogger. There’s so much content being created all the time. Looking at podcasts, app store, there’s so many podcast out there. There’s so much content being produced.
It’s probably one of the most important things that we need to really get our heads around as content creators. How do we stand out? Seven quick tips to do it. Firstly, and this is the hardest one. It’s almost impossible to choose a unique topic but it still is kind of possible. Firstly, you could be first and it was helpful to be one of the first people talking about blogging and making money from blogging. But this is pretty much impossible. There’s 1,000 blogs on almost every topic you can think about.
But you can be the first one to combine two topics together. This is Manolo, the shoe blogger. He started blogging in 2007 and there were thousands of blogs on shoes already back in 2007. But he was the first person to blog about celebrities and their shoes. He went viral. He went crazy. He was the first one to bring two topics together.
This is Jen and Jadah from Simple Green Smoothies. Jada spoke at our event last year. She told the story about how she had I think four or five different blogs, none of them worked whatsoever until she noticed Green Smoothies starting to take off. And so she started Simple Green Smoothies. They have hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, hundreds of thousands of readers to their blog. They built a massive business around Simple Green Smoothies.
This is Donna Moritz, some of you will know, she’s an Aussie blogger. She had a social media blog as did thousands of other people. It was pretty much the same content, talking about all things social media. And then she noticed visual content was starting to grow and become more important. She noticed the post that she was writing on visual content started to really take off so she killed all her other posts and just focused on visual content. Jumped on that emerging trend.
Serve and ignore demographic. I think this is a very powerful thing because yes, there is a blog on every topic out there but there’s a whole heap of ignored demographics. Has anyone come across Nerd Fitness? This is a great blog if you’re a nerd. There’s tens of thousands of fitness blogs out there but they all look the same. They’ve all got chiselled guys with six packs on the front and they all speak in the same language that I have no idea what they’re talking about.
Steve Kamb decided to start a fitness blog for nerds. He gamified getting fit. Nerds want to get fit too but we’ve been ignored, we’ve been left out of that whole thing. Did I say we? Yeah. This is a great example of serving and ignoring. He’s really presenting the same information. He just changes the language and he’s branding it in a way that is relevant for the ignored niche.
There are all kinds of ignored niche, whether it be gender, disability, life circumstances, age that you are. I came across a few bloggers recently who’ve been creating blogs for seniors and retirees, who have felt left out of certain niches as well. There are all kind of ignored demographics.
Use a different medium or format. A lot of you read The Verge. When The Verge started, almost every tech blog had been successful the nerd, The Verge was using short form content. Engadget, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, they were publishing 10 to 20, sometimes 30 or 40 blog posts a day and they were almost all one or two paragraphs long The Verge came out now publishing 4,000, 5,000 word articles.
They stood out because they changed the format. This is Brian Fanzo. He was a social media expert as were thousands of other people but he spotted this live streaming trend going on and so he now is flying around the world talking about live streaming and he’s made a name for himself because he chained the medium that he was using to talk about the same topics.
Publish in a different pace. Everyone here probably knows John Lee Dumas. There are lots of entrepreneurial blogs out there but no one was doing daily. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t know how he keeps us but he changed the pace of publishing content. As a result, that’s one of the reasons that he stood ou