Five Pieces of Blogging Advice I Wish You’d Stop Giving

I don’t know why I bother sometimes.

(“I don’t know why you bother ever.”)

Whenever someone writes a “five blogging secrets” post, I keep thinking, “maybe this is it. Maybe this is the one. Maybe this blog post will have at least one useful blogging tip that I can use.”

But it didn’t. It doesn’t. It never did. It was written, just like every other post on blogging, for the absolute beginner, who, given the constant bombardment of amateur advice, no longer exists in this world. We’ve polluted the Internet so much with useless, remedial blogging advice that it’s gotten into the water, and our children are born knowing the five most important steps to successful blogging.

I’ll admit, I’ve given this advice. Hell, I still give it in talks, depending on my audience and who I’m writing for. But everyone is giving it. I’m seeing it all over the goddamn place, and if I see much more of it, I’m going to scream at someone.

So, please, if not for me, then for the good of the country: stop it. Just stop it. Stop giving the same damn advice over and over and over again. Stop copying and pasting each other’s “five blogging secrets” posts.

These are the five pieces of blogging advice I want you to stop giving.

  1. Write good content: Blah, blah, blah! People say this like it’s The Most Important Advice Ever. It’s stupid, vile, and utterly useless, because everyone a) knows it, and b) thinks they do it. “I think I’ll write completely utter crap,” said no one ever. The problem is, everyone already thinks they write well, and that their work is just as good as everyone else’s. Even the conspiracy theorists who write 10,000 word treatises in a single day think what they’re producing is gold, and they’re surprised the world isn’t beating a path to their door. Telling people to write good content is like telling people to breathe or chew their food when they eat. It may be important to hear for anyone who’s brand new to blogging, but the people who know enough about the Internet to find the blog post where you shared this little piece of dreariness have already seen this more than once.
  2. Grow your social network: Really? I thought having my brother and a couple friends from work following me on a Twitter account I rarely use was a guaranteed step toward social media rock stardom. So you’re saying that the more people who read my stuff, the more success I’ll have? BRILLIANT! Give that man a Pulitzer prize for extreme cleverness! Next week, check out my new wealth creating blog post, “buy low, sell high.”
  3. Find your niche/passion: Okay, this one might not be such a Duh! piece of advice, but I’m tired of it. Anyone who has a barely detectable pulse has heard this one before, so it’s nothing new. Combine this with item #1 — write passionately about your content — and Tony Robbins will personally punch you in the nose.
  4. Erik's Tumblr Feed

    Alright, alright, fine! I have a Tumblr feed. But I have it ironically.

  5. Create value: Value is in the eyes of the beholder. And if you’re giving advice like this, there’s a whooole lot of beholders who are more than a little annoyed with you right now. Everyone perceives value in their own way. While I might think your literary comparison between Dr. Who and Mr. Ferrars from Sense and Sensibility is completely useless, there are plenty of Dr. Who/Jane Austen fans who would disagree with me loudly. No matter what you create, there will always be someone who finds some value in it, somewhere. So as a piece of advice, this is value-less.
  6. Blogging is Dead: Muh-huh. And what are you reading right now? That’s right, a blog. And what’s that place where you share all your photos and pithy little comments about your friends and their quirky hats and ironic bow ties? That’s right, your blog. What’s that? You have a Tumblog, and that’s not a blog? The hell it’s not. That’s exactly what Tumblr is, a blog for people who can’t read more than three sentences without their lips getting tired. One day, when you grow up and move out of your mom’s basement, you’ll start writing longer pieces of content, like a job application at a coffee shop. Until then, stop telling people blogging is dead. If your world view can be summed up in 140 characters and a retro photo filter, that tells me it’s not a world view worth listening to. Stick to bumper stickers on your fixed gear bike.

Just once, I would love to see someone share some useful blogging advice that did not include any variations of these five completely useless tips. While I know many people are still new to blogging, I don’t think anyone would ever knowingly violate these little “gems.” You can stop sharing them, and move on to the next lesson.

What Goes Into Writing a Blog Post?

After yesterday’s post on Suggested Freelance Writing Rates — Midwest Edition, I was asked why it costs so much ($75 – $125) to write a blog post.

“It’s 350 – 450 words. How hard can it be?”

Actually, that depends. It depends on what you’re writing. If you’re writing a personal blog entry about the hamburger you enjoyed at lunch with your besties, that’s not hard at all. Takes you 15 minutes tops. But I have yet to meet anyone to hire me to ghost write their personal blog entries.

Writing corporate blog posts is a different matter. The actual wordsmithing — spinning out 350 – 450 words — is pretty straightforward. Yes, you’re paying for the writer’s expertise and skills (remember, this is a trained professional who has dedicated himself or herself to the written word), but there are other factors that go into corporate blogging. Here’s the basic process that most professional bloggers follow:

  • Regular research of the client’s industry. We have to know as much as we can about your industry, reading related blogs, trade journals, and news articles.
  • Interview the client. For Pro Blog Service, I interview our clients about that month’s blog posts, record the interviews, and we write the posts based on that.
  • The writing. This is the act of putting the words into a word processing document.
  • The editing. Any writer will tell you that the editing process is just as crucial as the actual writing. As first draft writers, most of us vary from horrible to passable. There are very, very few people who can write a great first draft. So the editing is just as difficult as putting down the actual words.
  • Publishing to the blog. This includes adding photos, any outbound links, using tools for SEO like WordPress SEO and Schemas. This is the other place people have problems, because they don’t have the time to dink around with finding photos, creating links, etc.
  • Promoting each blog post. You can’t just throw up a blog post and let it sit. You have to promote it to your social networks. And you have to grow those networks. A full-service professional blogger will also include that in their offerings, helping you grow your network so you can reach a bigger and more target audience

Blogging is much, much more than just spinning out the actual words, although that’s certainly the most important part of it. Without the research, the editing, and the promotion, you’re just writing in a diary about whatever randomly pops into your head.

If you’re thinking about blogging, more power to you! Please do. It’s an important part of social media marketing. But just remember that it takes about 1 – 2 hours worth of work to come up with a single blog post. That’s why you either need to hire it done, or allow for that much time in your schedule.

In future posts, I’ll be talking about what makes a good writer, and why, even though we all learned how to write in school, those skills are not enough to make an effective writer.

Ten Steps to Blogging Every Day

I’m always amazed — and irritated — at my colleagues who are blogging every day. I’ve tried that. I did it for a whole year once on my humor blog. By month four, I was regretting my choice. By month seven, I hated my blog. And by month 10, I longed for the sweet, sweet release of a sledgehammer to my monitor.

But I stuck it out. I made it the whole 12 months. And I saw a great increase in traffic. So much so that it is now about 80% less than what it once was, now that I’m publishing once a week. But I gained enough regular readers that publishing day (Friday) is the same level it was when I was doing the daily thing. That is, my regulars keep showing up and they keep reading. They just don’t keep coming back every day.

Tired marathon runner

Yeah, you'll feel like this around the 9th month

But if you want to blog on a daily basis, here are the 10 steps I took to make sure I made it all 365 days. (And remember, “daily” means “every day,” including Sundays. Be sure to take that into account.)

  1. Write certain evergreen posts that can be used anytime. Plug those in when you just can’t write that day from sickness, vacation, other plans.
  2. Write all posts the day before. That gives you an extra 24 hours cushion for that time you missed a post.
  3. Be prepared to use videos and photos. YouTube is a veritable cornucopia of blogging topics. Do a quick search, embed the video (when it’s permitted of course), write a few sentences of commentary, and voila!
    • Do the same thing with photos.
    • Depending on your blog platform, you may be able to email your posts in. Snap an interesting picture with your smartphone, attach it to an email, tap in a few sentences, and email it to your blog. You can always go back in later and expand it and clean it up, but at least you have the beginnings of the post.
    • (Note: Most blog platforms publish the emailed content as soon as you send it, so that won’t work to save ideas for later. Use Evernote for that.)
  4. Carry around a notebook and write down ideas as you get them. Nothing is worse than an escaped idea. And if you can start sketching out notes at the same time, do it. Even go so far as to make an outline. Think about the outline on your way to and from work. Then, when you sit down at your computer, the thing is already written. You just need to type it out.
  5. Go for brevity. Remember, a blog post is not a 750 word column. A post can be 400, 300, even 200 words. You don’t want to make a regular habit of writing short pithy 100 word posts, but you can slip them in once in a while.
  6. Break up longer posts. Got a top 10 list of something? Turn it into two top fives. A couple months later, take each item from that top 10 list and expand on it for an additional post.
  7. Set a regularly scheduled topic for certain days of the week. For example, on my humor blog Sundays were always videos, Wednesdays were always reprints of old humor columns.
  8. Find other outlets in your industry that are about your chosen topic. Pull from them for inspiration. Since I wrote about some of the stuff that stupid people did, I got a lot of inspiration and ideas from (And let me just say, the British Town Councils are ripe for the picking for a satirical humorist.)
  9. Schedule your blogging time. Make it the same time every day. If you don’t, you’ll have to…
  10. …get up earlier or stay up later. This is like pro athlete training. You have to do it every day and you have to make sacrifices. That means missing sleep on one end of the day or the other, especially if you were screwing around and didn’t get it done when you should have. A few days like this, and you’ll learn to stay on schedule.

Your daily blogging goal will not succeed unless and until you commit to doing it. I don’t mean, “yeah, it sounds like a good idea,” but then it’s broken like a New Year’s resolution, by late morning on the second day. I mean, you absolutely say you’re going to do it, come hell or high water. (And then the theme to Rocky starts playing, and you find yourself dancing around at the top of your courthouse steps with a bunch of computer nerds yelling and cheering around you.)

When I made that commitment, it meant a lot of bleary-eyed posts that were written at 1:30 am and had to be polished up the following morning. It meant a lot of scrambling around to find new post ideas, and rehashing a lot of old topics. And sometimes it meant putting up some less-than-worthy posts and ideas just so I could keep going.

All in all, I’m glad I did it. I had a sense of accomplishment when I was done. It got me noticed by a lot of people, and got my name out to some new people. And I find myself being drawn back to it. This blog post marks the third business day in a row that I’ve written something on this particular blog, after being sporadic from time to time.

Will I keep it up? I don’t know. Do I have enough to say that I can keep up the momentum? Definitely. Do I have the time? That’s a tough one. I have clients to take care of.

I do know that I’m skipping weekends.

Photo credit: Kit Oates (Flickr)

Four Ways You Can Earn Money as a Blogger

So you’ve been blogging for several years, or at least several months, and you want to start seeing a little cash for your efforts. I was recently talking about making money with blogs on a blogging forum, and shared this answer. I thought it was worth expanding on and resharing here, since it’s a question I’m frequently asked when I give talks about blogging.

1) Sell ads.

Put a Google AdWords feed on your blog. As you write content, Google will examine your content and put up ads that seems to fit what you’ve written. Then, as people show up to read what you’ve written — presumably because they’re interested in the topic — they’re more likely to click an ad, because they’re interested in a product or service about that topic.Spray painted dollar sign on street

Upside: Very passive. You don’t have to do anything extra to your blog. Set the code, and then you’re done. Just get traffic and hope they click. However, you’re always in readership gain mode, which you should already be doing. But if you’re depending on this for your income, you need to focus on getting readers more frequently.

Downside:It feels a little slimy, if you don’t want to commercialize your site. It turns your blog into a billboard. And depending on the kind of blog you have, it may not work, or it may just clash with the theme and topic of your blog. If your blog is for your business, ads will probably not work. And why would you want to damage your credibility for the sake of a few bucks in Google Ad revenue?

2) Become an affiliate marketer.

This is where you open, say, an Amazon affiliate account and link to a few books that you really enjoy. When someone clicks a link that you provide (with your affiliate account embedded in the link), you make a little money if that person orders the book. The more people who buy your affiliate product, the more money you make. You could even become a book and product reviewer. Whenever you link to that book or product, you embed your affiliate link and see if you can get people to buy the product based on your review.

You can be one of two kinds of AMs — the sell everything everywhere kind, or the kind who wins a really big audience of loyal followers who will buy anything you suggest. The former kind are usually messing around with every type of affiliate product they can find, the latter are in constant network growth mode (see #1).

Upside: Better return than ad sales. Decent rate of return, especially as you load more products onto your affiliate site and get a bigger audience.

Downside: Affiliate marketing can be hard work, and often requires you to take on several products with several websites if you want to make a lot of money (if you want to be the first kind), or work your ass off to become a rockstar with thousands and thousands of groupies. You may also open yourself up to spam tactics if you want to be one of the big-dollar affiliate marketers.

3) Become a product or service reviewer.

I need to preface this by saying you should never, ever charge a company to review their product. That’s not ethical. You’re a citizen journalist, you have a media outlet. If you charge money, then you’re writing an advertisement, not a review. However, you are completely free to accept a product or service in exchange for reviewing it.

Let’s say you’re a parenting blogger, and you want to start reviewing products. You could review baby products, toddler toys, and children’s books. Or you could take a techy turn, and review technology products and services that might be of interest to other parenting bloggers (i.e. video cameras, blog platforms, blogging conferences), which in turn helps you become a better blogger and reach an even bigger audience.

Or you could become a family blogger, which opens up other avenues, like trying out new family-friendly restaurants or vacation spots. (I do some travel blogging for my state’s office of tourism, so I get to take some trips around Indiana once in a while, but my stories always have a family angle.)

Upside: Free stuff!

Downside: No money. You do this to earn perks and benefits that you might not otherwise get, which can stretch your family’s budget, but this is a tough way to earn a living. On the upside, it could lead to other opportunities later on. I know someone who started writing a travel blog, and is now a professional travel writer who gets flown to far-off locales and gets paid to describe his experience. You also have to disclose any kinds of financial gifts or payments you received, according to the FTC’s blogging rules.

4) Become a freelancer.

Professional Blog Service is a corporate blogging services company. We write regular blog posts for corporate clients who want to have a corporate web presence. We’re ghost writers, basically. And even though our company is an agency, I know several freelancers who are ghost bloggers on their own, without being an “official” agency. We’ve even (gladly, willingly) helped a couple of our freelancers get started and become our competition.

Good writers can earn anywhere from $500 – $1,000 per month for a single client. Get 4 – 5 clients, and you’re earning a decent salary. You can work from anywhere, work your own hours, and get to hone your writing skills constantly.

Upside: This is going to be the best, most consistent way you’re going to make money as a blogger. You’re not building readership and are not in reader generation mode. You just write. However, it’s a real job with real responsibilities and work hours. You don’t get to take a “I don’t feel like doing anything today” day.

Downside:It’s hard work. It’s also not on your own blog. No one will ever know what you’re doing, because you’re a ghost, and you’re supposed to keep your involvement quiet. You will also do a lot of writing, which can cause burnout. There are days I’m so tired of writing that I slam my laptop lid down a little harder than necessary and just sit in front of the TV. And if you love writing, you may start to not love it if you’re not careful.

Bloggers, how do you make money doing what you do? Are you a full-time blogger? Or are you just earning a little extra cash on the side? Any methods or ideas you’d be willing to share? And newbie bloggers, are there any questions you have?

Photo credit: Leo Reynolds (Flickr)

U.S. Court Declares Bloggers Second Class Citizens, Not Part of Media

Update: Judge Marco A. Hernandez has since clarified his ruling on this matter, and stated that his ruling was only meant to apply to Crystal Cox, and not all bloggers. Read my latest blog post for the rest of the story.

A U.S. district court just ruled that bloggers — at least bloggers in Oregon — are not part of the media, and therefore, not protected by Oregon’s media shield laws.

As a citizen journalist, this scares the bejeezus out of me. If you’re a blogger of any kind, it should worry you too.

I’ve been clamoring for years that bloggers are citizen journalists. That is, we should be entitled to the same First Amendment protections, the same access, and the same considerations that newspaper, TV, and radio reporters get. At the same time, it means that bloggers need to act like journalists: with great power comes great responsibility, etcetera, etcetera.Handcuffs

But a U.S. District Court judge in Portland, Oregon just set us back to pre-1990 days when he ruled against Crystal Cox, a blogger, after she was sued by Obsidian Finance Group for defamation over blog posts that criticized the firm and co-founder Kevin Padrick. The judge also awarded Padrick $2.5 million.

In his ruling, the judge wrote:

. . . although defendant is a self-proclaimed “investigative blogger” and defines herself as “media,” the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law.

Seriously? Pamphlets? In other words, if she had slapped together an 8-page booklet at Fedex/Kinko’s, she would have been protected?

Whether this is a problem with the judge not understanding the Internet, or — more likely — Oregon having a media shield law that doesn’t reflect 21st century technology, this may have a chilling effect on bloggers, even in states with media shield laws.

As it stands now, Oregon’s media shield law says:

No person connected with, employed by or engaged in any medium of communication to the public shall be required by … a judicial officer … to disclose, by subpoena or otherwise … [t]he source of any published or unpublished information obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public[.]

Seems comprehensive enough: any medium of communication to the public strikes me as anything from newspapers to TV to radio to the Internet (including blogs). But when someone learned about the Internet from the Ted Stevens’ School of Technology, they may not realize that the Internet is far more evolved than pamphlets.

Compare Oregon’s law to Washington’s media shield law:

Any newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book publisher, news agency, wire service, radio or television station or network, cable or satellite station or network, or audio or audiovisual production company, or any entity that is in the regular business of news gathering and disseminating news or information to the public by any means, including, but not limited to, print, broadcast, photographic, mechanical, internet, or electronic distribution;

(Read more about Washington’s media shield law here.)

Washington at least spells out what they consider to be the media. But any state that has not included “the Internet” in their shield laws may be able to exclude bloggers from the people who should be protected.

In other words, if you are a pamphleteer, you’re protected. If you type something on a typewriter, reproduce it on a mimeograph machine, and staple everything together by hand, you’re protected by the First Amendment. But if you publish the biggest online-only newspaper, and have for the last fifteen years, tough. You’re not protected by media shield laws in Oregon, or several other states.

This will have a chilling effect on your rights as a journalist, as the government can impose sanctions on bloggers and Internet-based writers, simply by declaring they are not part of the protected media.

Photo credit: Tourettte (Flickr)