Archives for July 2010

10 Advanced Blog Writing Techniques Used By Professional Bloggers

Anyone can write a basic blog. It’s not that hard. And I’ve talked for hours, whether at seminars or at a one-on-one “brain picking” session about basic blog writing. But I rarely get the chance to talk about advanced blogging, the secrets that I use to improve my blog, and make it stand out from the hundreds of thousands of basic blogs.

Cover of Corporate Blogging for Dummies book

This is a good book to use for advanced blogging. At least until I write my own.

Here are 10 advanced blog writing techniques we use for our clients and ourselves.

  1. Use WordPress.org: I don’t have anything against platforms like Blogspot.com, WordPress.com, or Posterous.com (I have blogs on all three). But WordPress.org is what a lot of the pros use, because it’s extremely customizable and you can improve its functionality with a few plug-ins.
  2. Use a search engine optimization plug-in: We use All in One SEO Pack and Zemanta. Both of these let us do some additional optimization on our articles, which is something the other blog platforms don’t do as well.
  3. Choose 1 – 2 keywords or phrases per post: Stick with the mantra, “one idea, one keyword, one post, one day.” This post is about the keyword phrase “blog writing techniques,” and nothing else. Not about choosing topics, not about winning readers, not about whether video or photos help with readership, it’s just about how you actually write posts. By doing this, I not only boost my SEO efforts, but I don’t overload people with information.
  4. Write catchy, dramatic headlines: Your headline needs to be catchy, interesting, and compelling. Include phrases like “10 Secrets” or “5 Tips” to fire peoples’ interest. Also, be sure to use your exact keyword phrase in the title for better SEO.
  5. Use keywords in your anchor text: If I’m writing about blog writing techniques, I need to link that phrase to another article about that phrase (which I just did. Sneaky, huh?).
  6. Watch your keyword density: Density means the percentage ratio of keywords to copy. This particular article has about a 1% keyword density (1 keyword every 100 words). If the number is below 1%, search engines might not realize what your post is about. Anything over 2 %- 3% could be seen as keyword stuffing, and the search engines could drop you. Shoot for 1.5% – 1.99%. Divide the number of keywords by the total number of words to figure density.
  7. Automate your cross-posting: Use services like Twitterfeed.com and Ping.fm to promote your posts to your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, and 40 other social networks. It will save you several minutes every time you publish a post.
  8. Use analytics to determine how your effectiveness: This lets you see where your traffic is coming from, what brought them there, and how long they stayed. You may learn that a particular keyword is getting a lot of traffic, so you write about that topic again. Or that a particular website is sending a lot of traffic, so you work to get published on that site again. I like Google Analytics for solid analytics.
  9. Publish your blog 2 – 3 times a week: Everyone who starts blogging has great intentions, but life intrudes and this resolution gets broken like it’s January 3rd. If you want to excel at blogging, you must write more than once a week. Schedule an hour a day to write, or schedule a three hour block, and write all your posts in advance.
  10. Become a fast writer: Writing fast means being able to find the best words and assemble 400 of them in 20 minutes. If you can’t do this, focus on those things that are holding you back, and work to overcome them. Being able to write fast will also help you publish more frequently.

Wither Goest the Newspaperman? Why Blogging is Killing Print Media.

Whither goest the newspaperman, that bastion of bulletins, that purveyor of print?

He is, I’m afraid, about to be swallowed up by the electronic era.

When I was in college, I wanted to be a reporter. I wanted my stories to be delivered with a thwack! on the front porch. To be folded up and carried in a suit pocket. To be clipped and stuck to the fridge. I wanted to use words like “lede” and “slug line.” I wanted to rip my story out of a typewriter, and shout “COPY!” (I used to do this when I wrote for my college newspaper, to great laughs from my editor.)

Sadly, it was not to be. Instead, I work as a professional blogger, and am looked down on by “real” journalists at “real” newspapers. (Full disclosure: I am also a newspaper humor columnist, appearing in 10 weekly print newspapers around the state. So there.)

Last year, 53 weeks ago in fact, I wrote a humor column about Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky, who wrote his own column sneering at bloggers with:

I DON’T have a blog. If I did blog, this is what it would be like. (To make it seem like a real blog, I’ll include typos and factual errors.)

I would link to Stu’s original column, but it, like most of his fellow newspaper reporters, are no longer available. They have been cast aside, presumably to make room for newer, more up-to-date pieces.Stack of old newspapers

Bykofsky, who is perhaps best known for saying this country “need(s) another 9/11” needs to realize that blogging is not going to go away. Newspapers, on the other hand, are fast disappearing from our landscape. I think reporters would do well to rethink their attitude.

To paraphrase Chicago humorist Rex Huppke (@RexHuppke):

It’s funny when journalists mock (blogging). It’s also funny when people about to be eaten by a bear mock the bear.

Huppke’s quote was originally about Twitter, but mocking a bear is mocking a bear.

So what are the journalists’ complaints about blogging? That we didn’t go to journalism school? They’re teaching electronic media writing in J-school right now. That our pieces aren’t properly fact-checked and vetted by editors? Disgraced plagiarizer fabricator New York Times reporter Jayson Blair could tell you a thing or two about that. Or is it that our stories aren’t printed on dead trees? I found Bykofsky’s original column online.

Citizen journalists — the people who are picking up the slack that the mainstream media are missing — have taken to the web to cover the news and write about the issues that journalists have been missing. If they’re not former journalists who became bloggers, they’re learning how to do proper journalism. The really good citizen journalists are writing stories that are just as good, if not better, than a lot of the mainstream media stories.

These modern day pamphleteers share the news and their opinions via a blog instead of a printing press. And while they are still looked down on, these citizen journalists have uncovered a lot of stories that Byofsky and his ilk have ignored, overlooked, or scorned. We’re breaking the news before The News does.

Griping about bloggers is nothing but pure elitism. Snob journalism at its finest. When children start playing a game, it’s not uncommon for the child on the losing team to pout, whine, and make excuses for why he’s playing poorly. And Bykofsky’s blogging gripes make him sound like he’s taking his ball and going home.

The newspaper industry has been in decline ever since the advent of radio and TV news. It slipped further into decline when Craigslist became popular. And now, blogging is threatening to be the final stake through print journalism’s heart.

We’ve seen significant gutting at our local paper (the Indianapolis Star will now be laid out in Louisville. Sounds about right for Gannett.), and journalists are being thrown overboard left and right.

A friend of mine worked for the Associated Press in Indianapolis, and was let go right before Christmas 2009, after 17 years of service. Why? The AP was losing money because fewer newspapers were licensing their content. So rather than stick with the professional who had the most experience and best judgment, they let him go in favor of someone with a lower salary and less experience. In another state.

So we have younger, less experienced journalists — remotely — running our country’s newsrooms, and it’s bloggers who are being dismissed out of hand as Not Real Journalists?

I’m sad to be watching all of this unravel. I think the decline of the big city American print newspaper is one of the great tragedies of our time. But I also see the future of the industry, and if it’s going to survive, it’s going to be online, not on dead trees.

Journalists need to stop deriding blogging, and embrace it instead. Learn how to do it now, rather than watching it pass by. You can either mock the bear or turn and face it. Otherwise, your next byline will be from the south end of a north-bound bear.

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Conan the Barbarian Thinks Your Mission Statement Sucks

I hate your mission statement.

I hate vision statements, statements of purpose, guiding principles, mottoes, and business raison d’etres of all kinds.

That’s because most of them suck. They’re bland, boring, and don’t tell me a single thing about what a company does. Seth Godin found a doozy back in 2005:

To satisfy our customers’ desires for personal entertainment and information through total customer satisfaction.

It was so bad the company removed it from its website.

Now here’s a good mission statement:

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. — Conan the Barbarian

There is no doubt what Conan’s mission in life is. He wants to do one thing, and do it well. Anything else is a distraction that must be dealt with (which, in Conan’s case, involves sword play and eventual dismemberment.)

So why do companies write bad mission statements? Partly because they lose focus. Partly because they don’t want to offend anyone. And partly because they let more than one person write it, usually not the person in charge.

According to a 2008 article in Fast Company, AOL had a mission statement on a plaque in their lobby: (T)o build a global medium as central to people’s lives as the telephone or television… and even more valuable.

Once they accomplished that, and had become one of the media powerhouses of the new century, they asked a committee (GAAH!) to write a new mission statement. They came up with: To serve the world’s most engaged community.”

Seriously? It took more than one person to create that? Something that generic, bland, uninspiring, and just plain emotionally limp took an entire team of people? I’d bet they even met more than once to create it.

It is, as Fast Company said, “a creed that could just as well suit a Hardee’s.” While I don’t think this is what contributed to AOL’s downfall, they certainly lost their way from becoming “central to people’s lives… and even more valuable.” Life imitates art, and mission statements imitate corporate attitude.

Mission statements should inspire and motivate. They’re a battle cry, calling the organization to great and noble things. They’re not some namby-pamby, floppy, pitiful excuse for a gathering of words. They should be the very foundation of what that organization stands for.

President Kennedy established the space program in a speech in 1962 when he said “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

NASA made that one statement their goal, and were successful six months before the end of the decade. That’s because they had a definable goal, a single principle to stand behind. They could look at any activity, idea, or program and ask, “will it help us land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth?” If it would, it stayed. If it didn’t, it was rejected.

So what does your company believe in? Is it something generic and noncommittal? The business version of “we should do something sometime?” Or is it loud and proud, demanding crushing and lamenting?