Don’t know what to write? Here’s 6 ways you can find content for your blog

I often get asked this question – how do you find something to write about in your blog?

Once you start blogging, you need to change how your view the world. I call it clicking into my blogging mode.

You need to train your mind to be always on the look out for possible blogging fodder. You should become susceptible to recognising suitable post material wherever you go, what you read, what reacts with you or whatever you bump into.

There’s nothing more irritating than forgetting a brilliant idea. So whenever something pops into my had, I scribble it down in a notebook so that I remember it later. It will remind you what you want to write about when the time comes, rather than scratching your head and kicking yourself for forgetting.

So where can you find stuff to write about?

1. Your in- and out-boxes in your email system is a fabulous place for content. You’re probably fending off questions at work all the time, and if you’ve managed to write a successful or relevant reply to a particular query, why not rewrite it as a post so that more people can benefit from your wisdom?

2. Subscribe to as many blogs as you can within your industry or niche.  It’s good to read what other people write about in similar subjected blog. This could inspire you to write about the same things in your own style and from your own point of view. What other people are writing about is probably what your readers will want to read.

3. Set up Google Alerts to receive prompts from other blogs.  Subscribe to ScoopIt, Feedly and other news feeds as well. This is how you’ll find out which projects and topics have successfully caught the search engines. Reading and commenting on ‘hot news’ will draw attention to yourself, but show you are riding the wave of ‘now’.

4. Be vigilant on social networking sites. Visit and participate on various social groups and communities to find out what’s happening. I got the idea for this post from a LinkedIn group. Check out the bookmarking sites such as Digg and StumbleUpon, where there will be lots of new material to read, learn, respond to and share with others.

5. Researching which keywords are ‘a la mode’ right now. Go to Google Keyword Tools to find out popular long-tail keywords the search engines are responding to at this moment. Base your blog post around it, but remember to write for your readers, not necessarily for the search engines. Using too many keywords could be detrimental.

6. Go for a walk with the dog to let the creative juices flow. A change of scene can work wonders. Doing things outside of work will stimulate new ideas, and sleeping on a problem will allow your subconscious to work overnight. Speak your ideas into a dictaphone or scribble them in a notebook so to not lose them before your write your next post.

–o0o–

Alice ElliottAbout the author: Alice Elliott is a Digital Marketer whose award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog provides jargon-free and highly visual WordPress training to solopreneurs. She is well known for her ability to “explain things really simply” to inexperienced bloggers and enables them to increase their visibility and reputation through successful blogging.

So what really makes a blog attractive to its readers?

An attractive blog doesn’t necessarily means a pretty blog.

I know this is subjective, and many women bloggers are adamant that if their readers came across a horrible theme, it would turn them off and they would never return.

OK, this may be true if your blog looks hideous, or is terribly outdated, or appears really tacky and cheap. But since there are lots of extremely good free themes and templates available, this issue really shouldn’t arise.

And if you want to spend loads of money on an expensive web-designer, go ahead, but what really makes your blog more attractive to your readers isn’t what it looks like, but how it performs and how it is seen by your public.

Content is always King

First thing to consider is how and what you write. Remember your posts should be of top quality, the best you can possibly do.

Now don’t get in a tizzy about improving your writing skills, what you need to concentrate on is your style – oh, and your subject matter too, of course.

Let’s look at style. If you examine the most popular bloggers, you’ll notice how they communicate with their readers. Their posts resemble conversations. They tell stories. Even when they’re providing information or showing off their expertise, it’s done in a forthcoming, friendly manner their readers can relate to.

And now subject matter. Write stuff their readers want to read. Present everything in your readers’ point of view. Use the same words as them. Give them practical and actionable advice. Bring your content up or down to the correct level without undermining them.

Get to know your audience

One thing blogging gurus bang on about is developing your niche. But remember, you’ll need lots of knowledge and passion to make that niche exciting and readable, bursting with continuous content people are falling over themselves to read.

And even if you’re obsessed with it, will your readers be too?

To make your blog more attractive, you need to totally understand who your readers are. How they think, what they do, what they want to know. It’s almost that you need to become like them, empathise with them, experience their problems and participate in their successes.

Make it easy for them

You may have splashed your cash to get your blog looking fabulous, but how easy is it for your readers to do anything on your blog?

What I mean is this: will your readers instantly recognise what your blog is about? Are your posts clear and legible? Is it obvious how readers can share your posts or leave a comment?

Sometimes a theme can be so fancy, it detracts from the blog’s raison d’être. You want your readers to realise they’ve come to the right place, stay and read your posts, and then take action by interacting (commenting and sharing). You will also want them to sign up to your newsletter, or browse your blog to read other posts or pages.

So as well as looking pretty, your blog needs to be practical, in a digital marketing sense, to encourage longer stays (less bounces), more content read (other relevant posts), and to make connections (subscriptions).

And what about the search engines?

Do you know something – even if you spend tonnes of dosh on an exclusive digital agency, who will happily spread-eagle your poor blog over the Internet, exposing it to all sorts of shenanigans to get Google to notice it, would it draw in the kind of traffic you really want?

Traffic is just numbers. Faceless, worthless and irrelevant. It makes your blog’s attractiveness only appear skin deep. OK, you could apply simple search engine optimisation to help your posts a bit, as it’s always nice to see them high in the search results, but this is only temporary, quickly evaporating away.

Traffic is not the same as readers. What you want are those who would regularly return to read what you have written, who would feel comfortable to add their feedback, follow you on social media, and join in a conversation.

What you want are readers who are interested in what you have to say, who will be willing to share it with their friends, who say something worthwhile in your comment box.

So what does attractive mean to you now?

Pretty colours and nice graphics are all very well, but an attractive blog is also a successful blog. Consider the points above: produce content people want to read, take action to build up your readership, make efforts to retain them, and who knows what will happen next?

One thing for sure, you’ll feel a lot happier about your blog!

–o0o–

Alice ElliottAbout the author: Alice Elliott is a Digital Marketer whose award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog provides jargon-free and highly visual WordPress training to solopreneurs. She is well known for her ability to “explain things really simply” to inexperienced bloggers and enables them to increase their visibility and reputation through successful blogging.

 

Why starting small is good for your online marketing (and your business)

Everybody who has a business strives to be bigger, better and more successful. Of course you do, or why would you be in business in the first place!

But I think it’s wise to try and achieve lots of small successes first before you branch further afield. I read somewhere that entrepreneurs always see the bigger picture, and many are so impatient, they want to run before they can walk.

If you are a sure-fire entrepreneur, go ahead. But if you are of more mortal stock, stand back, gather your resources, increase your expertise to dizzying heights and gain the necessary reputation within your chosen niche before you take the next step.

And if you are successful in accomplishing all you can within your locality, or your chosen social platform, watch how your reputation spreads through natural marketing methods:

Word of mouth, referrals, retweeting, subscriptions to your RSS feeds, comments on your social media profiles and blogs, requests to speak at events, being talked about when you’re not in the room, bombarded with questions because you’re the first person they thought of, LinkedIn profile groaning with recommendations, meetings diary booked up months in advance – I could go on…

Where are you within this picture?

What are your strategies for getting your business seen online (and offline)? What are your successes so far? What more do you need to know…?

–o0o–

Alice ElliottAbout the author: Alice Elliott is a Digital Marketer whose award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog provides jargon-free and highly visual WordPress training to solopreneurs. She is well known for her ability to “explain things really simply” to inexperienced bloggers and enables them to increase their visibility and reputation through successful blogging.

 

Providing the best customer service should be easy for solopreneurs

If you’re a solopreneur, working on your own, it’s sometimes tough to keep up.

But – you actually do have advantages over large companies. With today’s technology, it’s easy to respond quickly to people who try to connect with you. It’s easy to share your knowledge and publicise your expertise – for example, work within a niche. It’s easy to get out and about, both off and online, to promote your company. It’s easy to make quick decisions or react to problems, and seize amazing opportunities.

This means you shouldn’t neglect the common courtesies that make up business. Respond as quickly as you can to emails and telephone calls.

Prioritise your work so that nobody is neglected or large contracts fail to finish on time. Always be polite to your clients, even if they are rude and obnoxious – and remember you can easily ‘sack’ any that you really can’t work with!

At the end of the day, with the amount of flexibility you have, and without the millstones of bureaucracy hanging on your shoulders, working for yourself should be enjoyable. If you can’t accomplish a particular problem, you can always outsource it to an expert, while you spend the time earning more money doing what you know best. Don’t waste your time doing things half as well, when they could get done by someone else in half the time.

So the outcome of this post is: be courteous, prompt, responsive, friendly, helpful, explain things well and manage your priorities.

And don’t forget what the most important element of your business is: your customers!

–o0o–

Alice ElliottAbout the author: Alice Elliott is a Digital Marketer whose award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog provides jargon-free and highly visual WordPress training for beginner and post-beginner bloggers.  Alice is well known for her ability to “explain things really simply”, relating her teaching to each learner according to their lifestyle and ability.

Adapt your writing style to make a bigger impact with your reader

How a piece of writing is presented will have a big effect on how it is read. If it is placed in the wrong place, it will instantly become more difficult to read, understand and appreciated within the environment it finds itself.

As a writer you need to think what you want to achieve, as well as how the writing should be delivered and in which context. Is the media suitable? How legible is it? How would it attract readers? Does it entice people to read it? Would they manage to get to the end?

Writing needs a purpose: to convey a message, to impart information, to educate or entertain, to encourage reactionary feedback, to get people to take action. Also how will it make the reader’s life better, and put you as the writer into a better light. Therefore its location is imperative to get the best results.

On the printed page

Reading print is a totally different experience than reading online or on a mobile device. Light bounces from an external source back into your eye rather than from the screen, which means that design and typesetting are imperative if the publication is to be legible, readable and therefore an enjoyable experience.

Old fashioned book design may seem boring, but it’s the best because it works! Text should be diverted away from the edges with margins, columns separated with ample gutters, and fonts should be legible – the latest trend can hinder quick reading and sometimes prevent comprehension and focus! And keep to white paper and black text for a good reason – it’s much easier to read!

Column width and quantity also either helps or hinders reading pace. Magazines mainly provide leisurely reading, so the columns should be wide to cope with longer paragraphs. Whereas newspapers are for short and quick fire presentations, as their information doesn’t hang around for long, so narrow columns promote faster moving text and shorter paragraphs.

On the screen

Reading online (computer, Kindle, tablet or whatever) has that light behind the words, making colours brighter and more accessible. Light backgrounds are always better than dark ones, as the same rules apply: black words on a white page is much easier to read (as you can see on this blog’s body text compared to its sidebars).

Good webdesign that follows old fashioned typesetting styles usually fares the best: full margins bring the eye inwards, navigation placed underneath the banner and widgets found in the sidebar, not the footer where they may be missed. Web content needs clearly defined parameters to prevent visitors getting confused: the usual route for a reader’s eyes on a website is in the shape of an F, so place the most important stuff at the top left hand corner going across, and remember a second arm spreading to the right half way down.

Blogs represent online magazines or newspapers and therefore will show varying column widths. When choosing a theme, consider how the content will be read: leisurely perusal of communicative posts requiring a wider body space, or multiple narrower columns presenting information for quick selection. The type and size of font will also have an affect, larger for slower reading, smaller for listings.

Social media varies its column use to accommodate constantly updated content. Facebook and LinkedIn have a wide central column as their content tends to stick around, Google+ and Pinterest use multiple narrower columns to accommodate the rapid inclusion of new material. People read things fast in Twitter (they have to) and applications like Hootsuite and TweetDeck that keep abreast of the many streams use multiple narrow columns that aid faster reading.

How does this affect writing?

Actually this affects how you write and for what medium. Do some research into what you are writing for, and whether it is in magazine or listings mode. Articles are slow, so can afford to be wordy with long paragraphs. Brochures are informative and contain a lot of pictures, so should accommodate both leisurely and scanning reading activities. Blogs tend to be more newsier, and are more frequently scanned before a decision is made to read the remainder. Social media is very fast moving, responding to instantaneous and reactionary information and communication.

Writing style needs to be adapted to ensure easier and faster reading. Social media thrives on conversations, sometimes incomplete as the threads get mixed up. Blogs communicate more thoroughly and can explore a concept or subject over a wider area. Newspapers fling facts at their readers. Brochures spend time to educate their readers with relevant information. Articles ramble on for ages to extend an idea and present references and examples to back up their claims.

You can see how these would benefit from different design to accommodate them. You can’t place an article into Twitter! News wouldn’t work in a brochure. Websites have blogs to showcase their information in a quicker and more accessible form. Pinterest is a social platform that presents multiple images for selection and viewing, and news360.com is a listings website of the latest posts it recommends. Each have their own style of design to present their information in the best possible way.

–o0o–

Alice ElliottAbout the author: Alice Elliott is a Digital Marketer whose award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog provides simple, jargon-free, highly visual WordPress training for beginner and post-beginner bloggers. She specialises in before-and-after screen-shot e-courses that make no assumption of prior knowledge, constructively beginning at Blogging Level 0 to ensure a good foundational training. She is well known for her ability to “explain things really simply”, relating her teaching to each learner according to their lifestyle and ability.

Home truths: your homepage isn’t your website’s front door any more

Alice Elliott

Back in the old days it was common to think the homepage was the front door of your website. It was the first thing people looked at when they arrived there, so the answer was to pack as much as you could into it to reassure the visitor they’ve come to the right place.

But now with the rise of more sophisticated search engine use, this isn’t the case any more. Visitors can enter a website from any page, as long as it’s live. And this is done through links and keywords.

Let’s look at links first

Links are like doorways from one website to another. If they are left unlocked (do-follow) they allow both humans (visitors) and search engines (spiders) to go through. Locked (no-follow) links allow people to visit another website, but prevent the spiders from indexing it. Whether you leave your doors locked or unlocked depends how much you care about where they lead to and what happens on the other side!

Links are a vital mechanism for gaining traffic back to your website. They also allow you to pinpoint exactly where you want your visitors to go, for example, to your blog to read your latest post, a squeeze page to sign up to your newsletter, or a sales page to buy your product.

I also mentioned keywords

Search engines match up search requests with specific keywords, and if that particular keyword is present in a specific page in your website, the visitor will be directed there. It’s like a game of snap, and search engines always look for the most appropriate match, which certainly won’t be your homepage.

Therefore to take advantage of this phenomenon, it’s wise to think which keyword is the most suitable for that webpage, and how to can attract the right kind of visitor or customer. This is the basis of search engine optimisation (SEO), which is the practice of appropriately populating a webpage with keywords and links to make it more attractive to the search engines.

Create mini-homepages

Think how you can adapt each webpage as a sort of mini-homepage. Whenever the visitor lands there, they need to be able to be reassured they’ve come to the right place, recognise the subject or purpose of that page, and understand what they need to do before leaving.

A canny webpage will take advantage of the visitor by not only providing valuable information, but will collect their details for further communication, entice them to share the contents on social media, or guide them further into the website. Getting a visitor to stay or explore further prevents them from ‘bouncing’, a term that refers to when a visitor doesn’t do anything or leaves immediately. Bounce rates in analytics are an indicator of how good you are at encouraging your web visitors to interact and respond appropriately.

What’s the homepage for?

Don’t assume your website’s homepage is redundant. Think of it as the front door only for posh or first time visitors. It needs to be welcoming, explanatory, directional and reassuring. It’s like entering a fancy hotel’s foyer with a smiling receptionist guiding you where you need to go, and the bell hop taking your bags to your room.

Whereas some people don’t need to enter that way. You may know more a direct door into the hotel, understand how to negotiate the back stairs, and get to your room more quickly and efficiently. Or your friends may know the extension number direct to your hotel room without having to go through the telephone exchange.

When not to use the homepage

One thing that is terrible, especially in online advertising, is when the link directs the visitor to the wrong page rather than the correct sales or squeeze page. For example, the advert offers a good deal on some garden furniture, but the link either goes to the homepage of the business, or to another page that has nothing to do with the product. In both cases this will result in no sale and a bounce.

Direct your visitor to your homepage rather than the more appropriate webpage, and you’ll lose them. They will be confused because it won’t match their expectations. They will have to negotiate the navigation options and may get distracted on the way. They will lose patience because they will have to work to get what they want, rather than having it given to them directly. You will lose their trust and willingness to do business with you.

A website is like an open house, with many doors, so make sure all of them are welcoming and can guide the visitor where they want to go and give the information they want quickly, easily and efficiently. And come to terms with the fact that the only access isn’t via the homepage any more.

–o0o–

Alice ElliottAbout the author: Alice Elliott is a Digital Marketer whose award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog provides simple, jargon-free, highly visual WordPress training for beginner and post-beginner bloggers. She specialises in before-and-after screen-shot e-courses that make no assumption of prior knowledge, constructively beginning at Blogging Level 0 to ensure a good foundational training. She is well known for her ability to “explain things really simply”, relating her teaching to each learner according to their lifestyle and ability.

How to ask what your customers really want

If you start thinking in questions, it will benefit you to:

• focus your mind on what your customers really want or need
• ask your customers what they are asking for
• work out what your own business should be asking for
• then aim to provide what your customers are searching for

This sounds deep, but it isn’t really. It’s not worth providing something nobody really wants.

Years ago I designed wedding stationery which many people told me was beautiful. But it wasn’t what brides wanted. It’s no good designing beautiful stationery that 99.9% of brides don’t want. I spent 2 years of my business life churning out stuff nobody wanted because I didn’t ask. The trouble was, when I eventually found out what brides wanted, I didn’t want to produce it because to me it seemed so tacky. If only I’d known, I wouldn’t have wasted all that time and effort.

Do you really know what your customers want?

Do you think it would be a good idea to ask questions to find this out? Are you willing to adapt or change it if necessary? It might make all the difference to your profit margins…

Think of five questions that would provide you with all the information you require. They should be designed for you to find out whether you are giving your customers exactly what they want. Make sure the questions are open ended so they aren’t replied to with a single word, and are carefully structured so the answers don’t go off on a tangent.

Go to a questionnaire source like surveymonkey.com to compile your questionnaire and send it to all your contacts.

If the questions require a full answer, put them onto separate pages: it will facilitate a better response. Include an explanation as to why you are asking these questions, and provide some sort of incentive to get a reply, like a free gift or prize. And once they’ve been completed, don’t forget to take heed of the answers and undertake some sort of process in analysing them.

More information = better informed = higher value = greater success

Alice ElliottAbout the author: Alice Elliott is a Digital Marketer whose award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog provides simple, jargon-free, highly visual WordPress training for beginner and post-beginner bloggers. She specialises in before-and-after screen-shot e-courses that make no assumption of prior knowledge, constructively beginning at Blogging Level 0 to ensure a good foundational training. She is well known for her ability to “explain things really simply”, relating her teaching to each learner according to their lifestyle and ability.

Are blog comments dying?

I suppose some things only have a finite life; even good, valuable things like blog comments.

Blogs have been plagued with spam for quite some time, and spammers have become more and more clever at getting their comments through the spam-filters. Humans have replaced robots to get past the CAPTCHA systems and spam comments now consist more than the brief ‘Nice post’ that gave them away in the past.

Good comments have become a rarity

‘Tis a pity that I very rarely get a real, publishable comment on my blog nowadays. I usually have to ask a friend to write one for me, or I leave one on another blog in the hope they might return the favour. But what I get in ever increasing quantities are smarmy, ingratiatingly nauseating responses that drip oily compliments, usually squirming around my ankles with very bad English and equally awful grammar, contributing no value whatsoever regarding the post they are attributing to.

But hang on, didn’t we receive and give more comments in the past? What’s happened to prevent our readers from expressing their point of view or continuing the conversation?

The readers aren’t declining (hopefully), but the mechanisms put in place to deter spammers are also putting them off. I’m afraid these are necessary, as moderation helps to protect our blogs not only from inappropriate spam, but prevents their detrimental links from undermining our blogs’ ranking within the search engines. We are living in an increasingly toxic world that sometimes it feels we’re losing the battle; we’re damned whichever way we turn: not enough comments makes the blog look neglected and unread, whereas too many spammy comments causes untold damage.

Where have all the readers gone?

So where are the readers, if they’re not on our blogs?

In the wonderful world of RSS (Really Simple Syndication), blog posts can be read within social media without needing to visit the blog itself, or if they do have to venture in, feedback and comments are distributed elsewhere and not in the blog comment box. This is probably another of the main reasons why the area below a post looks like a desert without so much of a camel on the horizon.

People are so much more used to interacting within social media. There is little moderation here, no restrictions to prevent spam and no commenting hurdles to jump over. Unfortunately if something unpleasant does arise, or contributions are submitted that don’t conform to best practice, even though they may be published before removal, it seems tolerance is strong within social networking circles, even with self-regulation occurring. Spammers have yet, so far, to make a proper impact here.

Conversations and discussions expand rapidly and readily within social media. Contributors can enter a ‘thread’ midway without embarrassment and with full acceptance, and people are able to express themselves freely to share their knowledge and information. There is a relaxed sense of informality that encourages comments, and makes it easier to submit them.

Nothing seems permanent any more

Of course there is the point that, unlike their blogs, writers don’t own social media so have no ‘claim’ over the comments they receive. There are plugins that ‘collect’ these comments to show them below the posts, but should the social media rules or algorithms change, there is no staying power or permanence regarding these response contributions. Whereas real blog comments written on the blog can be kept there in all perpetuity for everyone to read.

But some bloggers see comments as fluid and merely a continuation of the discussion generated by the post itself. They are an expression in real-time and don’t need to be ‘owned’ or archived. They are responding to the moment and should be enjoyed in the context of the receiver’s positioning at that time. It doesn’t matter if they fade away as the post grows older, or even require renewal should the post receive another flush of SEO activity.

Does this mean blogs will start to permanently close down their comment facilities, or even be built in the future with this feature removed or unavailable. Don’t forget this was the reason why blogs were different from websites; back in the early days of Web2.0 it was exciting to be able to comment on the post you had just read, writing a response there and then in the same platform and seeing it published almost instantaneously. ‘Tis a pity this particularly special feature is now viewed as a nuisance or a breeding ground for undesirable practices.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below – go on, be controversial and go against convention!

–oo0oo–

Alice ElliottAbout the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger whose website Fairy Blog Mother teaches beginners and post-beginners how to blog using ordinary, everyday words with easy to understand, highly visual workshops, e-courses, videos and e-books.

Long or short blog posts – which one is best?

This question is asked many times whenever I speak about blogging at networking events. I know why people ask it – they are worried that blogging is going to take up a lot of their time, so they secretly hope I’m going to say a blog post should be short and sweet.

But actually I’m going to burst your bubble and suggest ‘the longer the better’. According to my research, the optimum length of a blog post that will capture the most attention from the search engines is actually between 2,400 and 2,500 words long!

Help! I hear you cry inwardly. And I’m not surprised. This is almost as long as a thesis appropriate for a PhD. This is a real headache for anyone who is not used to writing, and the idea that you’ve got to write 2.5K words will put many people off from blogging. But I want to educate you that although it is suggested that longer is better, it is not size that matters, but what you do with it that counts.

Why is longer considered to be better?

Long posts are better for SEO (search engine optimisation) because there is more content to index and work on the keywords within it. It isn’t necessarily the main keyword that is affected here, but also other secondary or relative ‘long tail’ keywords Google can find that will satisfy its search matching requirements.

I’d better explain this. SEO consists of placing keywords within a blog post to make it more attractive to a search engine. The idea is that these keywords need to be matched up with a search query like a game of snap. The more relevant the connection or match, the better the chance of your post being brought to the top of the search results.

What are ‘long tail’ keywords?

People’s habits in what they type into the search query box has changed. Single or few disjointed words are no longer entered, instead it’s whole sentences or questions. These are called ‘long tail’ keywords. The problem is that these are quite difficult to weave into a blog post without the copy seeming contrived or stilted, and this is much more prevalent in a short post.

Therefore a longer post will rank better for these kinds of keywords. Google likes these best, because the more succinct the match to the request, the more likely the post will be selected. And this means it’s important to think of a suitable ‘long tail’ keyword that people are more likely to type into the search engines and work your post around this, and certainly place it in the headline.

Google will be able to give you suggestions in its Adwords site, but usually these are inappropriate to the subject you want to write about, so a bit of juggling or copywriting rearrangement is necessary.

The art is to think of a phrase that your target reader is most likely to ask or think about in order to search in Google for the answers. A tip is to focus on the problems rather than the solutions, because if the reader knew the solution they wouldn’t need to ask Google for it!

I never said it was going to be easy

Writing longer posts is not an easy task. It requires a different skill than creating a short, snappy post, which are usually used to introduce a subject or alternative media such as a video, podcast or an infographic. Short posts work best with the fun factor, fantastic ideas, announcing exciting news, poignant observations or other forms of entertainment, and are good for time-hungry readers with short attention spans.

Whereas long posts are used to explain subjects in more detail, usually with additional meaty material such as statistics and pie charts, visual examples, case studies, educational videos and relevant links to other websites that reinforce an idea or concept. In fact a long post will benefit from being interspersed with alternative media to break it up, as a sea of writing can be just as off-putting as an academic white paper.

What are the techniques?

Long posts are more difficult to create and achieve success because they take a long time to write, let alone read, and need to be carefully constructed to keep the reader’s attention throughout. Inexperienced copywriters may cop out of this by filling their posts with fluff and drivel. This can become a problem, as the forced practice of needing to write a lot of stuff to satisfy the idea of a long post may become detrimental, and undermine a good writer’s expertise in creating excellent copy.

Jon Morrow from CopyBlogger suggests that writers certainly should contribute stuff that is interesting in their posts, but then edit them to take out all the uninteresting stuff that isn’t needed. This means that failing to remove all the superfluous fluff that is purely positioned as padding can be the difference between a good post and one that is long-winded and boring. I know exactly what he means, as filling a post with concise and poignantly relevant and necessary material is vital to maintain the interest factor from your readers.

Converse with your readers

A conversational style is another way of ensuring a long post will be read, just like a garrulous speaker who is entertaining and exciting in keeping their audience spellbound. The idea is to treat your writing as a translation of how you imagine speaking to your readers. Envisage your ideal listener sitting next to you, having a cappuccino in a café and enjoying a piece of chocolate cake, and the conversation flows freely, albeit one-sided, as you explain what you need to share with them.

Conversational posts arise if you are able to transcribe the speech that goes on in your head straight onto the page, without inhibition of content, constriction from English lesson nightmares and other grammatical horrors! It is an art I have been cultivating over many years, and still aim to get right!

The process of transcribing a conversation in post form is a necessary skill within social media. It encourages engagement and interaction, and these concepts certainly help towards search engine attraction both within and outside the blogging environment. It is important to understand what your audience wants to read, what will interest them and make their lives better with the information you impart, as you unleash the extent of your knowledge or reveal the results of the research you have been doing.

Can this really go on for ever?

At this point this post is kicking around the 1,000 word mark, and I am beginning to get exhausted! The idea of 2,500 words may prove to be inappropriate to accomplish, let alone maintain the attention of the reader, and if the search engines haven’t got the jist of this post by this point, they probably never will.

To be honest, this was an experiment to see if I could achieve the lofty heights of achieving a long post. Goodness knows how those copywriters who are successful manage it, as I certainly can’t. I suppose if I was armed with lots of quotations, statistics and visuals I might be able to continue a little longer, as these would provide me with the necessary leverage to pad out my post, but I don’t want to and neither do I have these resources to hand.

What results will this bring?

This experiment will continue as we see what response this post will bring, both from the audience and from the search engines in the statistic results it produces. WordPress.com is a bit limited in the analytics it provides, but you never know, it might make more of an impression on Google than a shorter post, and certainly I wouldn’t have been able to express myself so freely within such constraints.

Some bloggers say 1,500 words is best

And yes, I agree! This post is fast approaching that milestone, and for my mainly British readership this is more than enough. The idea that the optimum post length is 2,500 words is frankly ludicrous, and if you’ve made it this far, then I salute you! Thank you for staying the course! Who has the time to waste reading so many words, we probably have better things to do (let alone spending that amount of time writing this)!

Blogs are written to impart knowledge that is easily accessible, understandable and actionable, whereas articles that ramble on for pages cannot be given the time of day, let alone the accolade of being called a blog post. I think Seth Godin has got it right, with his famously provocative short posts, hitting us between the eyes with his amazing knowledge and succinct communication skills.

So what do you think? Please leave a comment below…

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Alice ElliottAbout the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger whose website Fairy Blog Mother teaches beginners and post-beginners how to blog using ordinary, everyday words with easy to understand, highly visual workshops, e-courses, videos and e-books.

Is it a good thing to recycle your blog?

Fairy Blog Mother logo

Fairy Blog Mother

The commitment to consistently contribute to your blog can sometimes be a daunting prospect, and I bet there have been several times when you have sat looking at a blank screen wondering what you could write about.

This phenomenon is not new, and I have noticed that several quite eminent bloggers have appeared to have this problem. How can I tell? Well, I have been following their blogs for quite a number of years, and having the memory of an elephant, I began to recognise certain posts that I had seen before!

You may think that this is poor practice to regurgitate old posts dressed up as new. I suppose it is, especially for time-poor and extremely busy entrepreneurs who insist in writing their own blogs, and can’t possibly farm out the process to a ghost-blogger – perish the thought!

But then I stopped and thought about it.

What was written two or more years ago may have changed, and new information can be added to up-date the post. Only the other day I wrote a post that simulated the second chapter of the story I had first started a year ago – sort of like a ‘follow up’.

And what about the new audience the blog had amassed over the years, not all of those readers will bother trawling through the archives to read old stuff, so ‘recycling’ your posts to entertain, educate and amaze all those voracious new recruits can only be a good thing.

After all, if you only have a finite amount of stuff you can talk about, it just needs presenting differently each time!

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Alice ElliottAbout the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger who runs Fairy Blog Mother which trains, explains and creates awareness about blogs and blogging for businesses and individuals. She specialises in using ordinary, everyday words within easy to understand workshops and courses.

Think like your customer, not yourself, when marketing online

It’s important not to forget how your customers think. There’s the old adage: “put yourself in their shoes” – but there any many businesses who don’t.

The trouble is, they get so wrapped up in what they’re doing, the technology and the objectives, the jargon and the statistics, the products and the profits, that they stop seeing the wood for the trees.

It seems the larger the organisation, the more cocooned in their technological bubbles they become. The marketing lingo is almost like a foreign language, acronyms are bounced about like rubber balls, the bigger picture is adhered to without any consideration for the ‘here and now’.

Therefore it is a good thing to deliberately put yourself in the place of the customer, and try and analyse exactly what is going on, what decisions they are making, what your promotions actually mean to them and how understandable they are.

This is a common problem in such a fast moving technological world, where new methods are constantly created and objectives, opportunities and outcomes change. So much new knowledge needs to be absorbed, implemented and monitored, and it is easy to forget that your customer may be struggling to keep up.

So sometimes the words that are used, the message that is put across, the way your business communicates with their customers, seems to have lost touch with the ‘real world’.

Some owners are so proud of their products and this can cloud over the real purpose of any promotion: you need to use the same words the customer would use, empathise with their problems, and provide a solution with real added value.

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Alice ElliottAbout the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger who runs Fairy Blog Mother which trains, explains and creates awareness about blogs and blogging for businesses and individuals. She specialises in using ordinary, everyday words within easy to understand workshops and courses.

How to make your online marketing match the big boys

OK, so we don’t have the multi-million pound budgets the big corporates have to play with when it comes to marketing, but that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the approach you take, using these three simple and common sense marketing techniques that shouldn’t cost the earth.

First, make your messages regular, repetitive and always upbeat.

There are plenty of ways to achieve this: blogging and other social media  help us to reach our followers (or potential customers) with carefully constructed marketing messages frequently posted to gain maximum effect.

The good thing about Twitter, for example, is that is you only use 140 characters (or 120 to leave enough room for, hopefully, retweets) so you have to think about what you are going to say before submitting it. This is a very good practice all marketers should adhere to.

The same should apply when posting on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites: keep it short, sharp and sweet, making it obvious what you’re talking about from the beginning, and be appropriate, relevant and newsworthy.

Second, turn your marketing around so you don’t mention the product or service directly. 

Mention instead how it will affect the customer, how they will feel, who it will change their lives for the better, what impact it will have.

This is a concept most successful businesses employ, and it works! Customers aren’t interested in your product, they only care how it will affect them: will they get their money’s worth, will they look good, feel good, be the envy of their friends, raise their social status or whatever?

Third, be consistent with your marketing messages by creating a routine.

OK, this is difficult for solopreneurs who may not have much time, but try and make it part of your weekly marketing activities; I’m sure you can slot in a few tweets and calendarise a blog post now and again? It will pay dividends, as large successful businesses promote their new products well over 20 times, in the hope that their customers will see it at least 7 times.

Frequent marketing tactics will eventually sink in: this is all part of building your relationships with your customers (which is what marketing is all about), either for immediate effect but definitely for the future. Remember, you don’t want them to forget you, or be seduced away by your competitors, do you?

How can questioning Google make people find your blog?

The process of Google understanding your questions has just got that bit easier. This is because there’s a new algorithm around…

An algorithm is a bit of mathematics the search engines use to make their spiders collect content to index into their ‘pages’. You’ve probably heard of Panda and Penguin from my earlier posts – well, this one’s called Hummingbird.

The name was supposedly given because it’s so fast acting. Certainly this is the case, it was a complete and instantaneous upgrade of an algorithm round about the beginning of September, and luckily it works well with existing algorithms too.

What does Hummingbird do?

Well, it makes Google better at interpreting complex questions. The search mechanism has changed to a more ‘conversational’ style, especially with people using SIRI in smart phones and tablets to find out information, so a more appropriate solution was needed.

Before Hummingbird, Search merely recognised individual words and responded accordingly. Now Google analyses each word’s meaning in the context of the whole search query, and behaves more like a ‘comparison engine’ to provide a more succinct and meaningful response.

How does this affect me?

Actually, not very much. Most bloggers and web content marketers, who are following the correct SEO patterns that keep Panda and Penguin happy (writing good quality content, lots of interaction with social media, information and help based rather than selling, and concentrating on using highly relevant and authoritative links rather than collecting them), will hopefully continue as before.

But if your customers are avid mobile users, it’s important to be aware of the correct ‘long-tail keywords’ (when a keyword is extended into a short sentence or statement) that is used within search patterns or questions, and incorporate these into the titles, headlines and meta-descriptions of your content to achieve the best results.

People’s search criteria is changing, and Google has now caught up with this, so it’s necessary to jump on the bandwagon so you don’t get left behind.

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Alice ElliottAbout the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger who runs Fairy Blog Mother which trains, explains and creates awareness about blogs and blogging for businesses and individuals. She specialises in using ordinary, everyday words within easy to understand workshops and courses.

How commenting contributes to blogging success

Recently I wrote a blog about comments which received a large amount of comments of its own. I was very pleased about this, as I also received a similar amount of valuable comments via the various LinkedIn groups I positioned my post into.

This was particularly gratifying because getting comments, especially good quality comments by real people interested in what you write and willing to share their enthusiasm with you, is increasingly rare.

Comments are good because they are seen as an extension to your post, which is considered as additional content by spiders, totally relevant stuff to start munching on ready for indexing and ranking higher in the search engines.

In fact a recent tweet to me proved that this is true:

Thanks for the confirmation Matt! This is an excellent example of a comment to my tweet – note the full stop before my Twitter username so that all his followers see the tweet as well as me, exposing it to a much larger audience.

(In fact if you like his response, this link is live for you to suitably retweet it so more peeps get a chance to share the news.)

Comments from anywhere within social media and from real people (not spammers) are always welcome and rewarding, but the best ones are on your blog, because they are immediately connected with that post and its subject. They are captured there for all perpetuity and hopefully will encourage others to leave a comment too. A post that has many comments justifiably appears to be popular and will command more responses.

To get a higher chance of comments, write your post in a style that will stimulate a response, aggravate an argument, or provide a question that needs answering. Put forward your point of view on a particular subject that will spark off debate, ring true with many or raise the hackles of the reader in defiance!

And then there’s always the call to action: ask your readers to give you their point of view of your post or its subject matter. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! So how about letting me know what you think of this post? – your call, the comment box is just below!

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Alice ElliottAbout the author:
Alice Elliott is an online marketer and blogger, who runs Fairy Blog Mother which trains, explains and creates awareness about blogs and blogging for businesses and individuals. She specialises in using ordinary, everyday words within easy to understand workshops and courses.

Been neglecting your blog? Never mind…

I have to admit to you all that I have been a bad girl and I hardly wrote any blog posts over the summer.

Yes, yes, I know, I’m not practising what I preach. And being so incredibly busy is certainly not an excuse. The upshot is that this blogger hasn’t been blogging much recently.

What’s done is done, and you can’t wind back the clock, but you can begin again. Fortunately it’s like riding a bike or going swimming, once you get started it all comes flooding back. And having a break can enforce a renewed vigour that can only be beneficial to you, as long as you keep up the momentum.

Being ‘dark’ (a theatrical term I think is particularly apt) for a while may be detrimental to your stats, SEO status and readership memories, but it can be recovered. Let’s hope that your competitors haven’t stolen a march while you’ve been ‘away’, or you will have to work that bit harder.

The best line of attack is to think of some suitable topics to create some sort of editorial calendar. This will make it easier for you than sitting there looking at a blank screen, silently screaming at yourself as you force your brain to come up with some fabulous new content that doesn’t exist. And having prepared your subjects in advance means you can then plan the rest of your online marketing around them (or alternatively you can base your posts around the exciting things you’re going to be doing over the next few months).

And if you’re still stumped, look over your past communications you’ve been doing while not blogging. I bet there’s plenty of good stuff you could write about that your readers would appreciate. And if that doesn’t work, look at all the other blogs, newsletters and e-zines you’ve kept back to ‘read later’ because you’ve been so busy, and – no, I’m not going to say the word ‘steal’ – be stimulated by that content to write some posts of your own.

But the main thing is that you get started again. And really that’s probably the hardest thing over and done with, because once you’ve overcome that stumbling block the rest is just plain sailing!

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Alice ElliottAbout the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger, who runs Fairy Blog Mother which trains, explains and creates awareness about blogs and blogging for businesses and individuals. She specialises in using ordinary, everyday words within easy to understand workshops and courses.

Your home office may not be the best place for new ideas

There will always be times when you’ve lost your mojo, everything grinds to a halt and you feel as if you’re wading through treacle.

If that happens, the best thing to do is to ‘get out of the office’. And I don’t mean go to see your clients or attempt some networking, I mean a complete change of scene. You’re never going to help yourself by staring at the four walls of your office and the infuriating mess on your desk (well, at least that’s the state of my desk at the moment – and yes I could sort it out, but I can’t be bothered!).

If it’s a lovely day, go sit in the park. If not, find yourself a local coffee shop, with or without wifi and chocolate cake! Wherever you do end up, it should be a totally different environment to where you had been before. Perfect for stimulating new thoughts and blowing away the cob-webs, and you’ll find the new ideas will soon start to flow.

I was once admonished by an alternative health therapist for not finding enough ‘me time’ for myself. She was shocked that almost every waking second of my day was around either my business or my family. That is all too common for many women entrepreneurs nowadays, we get so swallowed up in what we do, it takes over our entire lives.

And our poor minds start to wear out without the TLC they so justly deserve. Even 15 minutes a day of doing ‘nothing’ can be a great tonic. I go running before breakfast to just let my brain do its own thing (I get the most amazing, unrelated thoughts sometimes), and as well as the benefits of the physical exercise I usually find my sub-conscience has sorted things out for me. A good night’s sleep does the same.

Harping on the sub-conscience, if you haven’t yet experienced hypnotherapy, do so, as this is another great way to ‘feed’ your thought processes.  Having reflexology or an aromatherapy massage can do absolutely wonders… and afterwards you’ll probably find yourself amazingly productive once you do return back to work.

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About the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger, who runs Fairy Blog Mother which trains, explains and creates awareness about blogs and blogging for businesses and individuals. She specialises in using ordinary, everyday words within easy to understand workshops and courses.

Creating a new product or service? Aim with the end in mind

My mother used to publish books about Brighton, and her company was a non-profit organisation which traded from her home. As a self-taught publisher, she relied on her vast experience of art and design combined with learning new technological skills, and as a result produced excellent and well reviewed books as well as managing her own website and blog.

One thing she had to adapt to was the current economic situation. She planned her books from the finished product, that is, worked backwards starting with the end in mind, making sure there are the correct number of pages, photographs, chapters, etc on the correct size of page to fit in with the printer’s requirements. She noticed that people weren’t spending so much any more, so a fixed retail price of under £10 was set, and the contents, paper quality, presentation and final finish had to be budgeted accordingly to suit.

Do you work with the end in mind?

I’m currently preparing to launch a new product in the New Year. This means I’m not concentrating on what happens ‘now’, instead I’m focusing on the mechanisms I need to do to reach the launch date, and even further in the future than that – who knows where this might lead? We all should have at least a five year goal to aim for, and the idea is to work backwards from that concept, to fill in all the time-slots required to make your idea happen.

Whatever you are working on now, it  should have been meticulously planned in advance in order for you to reach your objective. Blindly lumbering about with no sense of direction will not enable you to reach your goal. Having some sort of sense as to what the outcome should be and how to get there will force you to undertake more profitable and useful transactions that project you forward, fully focused on the way ahead to achieve your dreams.

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Alice ElliottAbout the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger, who runs Fairy Blog Mother which trains, explains and creates awareness about blogs and blogging for businesses and individuals. She specialises in using ordinary, everyday words within easy to understand workshops and courses.

Don’t get bogged down with technicalities when blogging

There’s nothing like a whole lot of rules and regulations to curb your style and restrict your flow. I know this, especially yesterday as I sat looking at a blank blogging screen wondering where I was going to write, just because I couldn’t find an appropriate keyword to base my post around.

Then I realised that this was just silly. Google hadn’t changed the Panda and Penguin algorithms for me to worry about where keywords were going to go and whether I was going to fulfil all the SEO requirements or not. In fact, the most promising posts I write with the best responses are the ones when I don’t bother with all that sort of thing.

Where had I gone wrong?

Carefully constructed posts using the right kinds of words and all sort of clever SEO stuff have the tendency to become boring, stilted, dull and eventually unreadable. The last post I wrote, following my SEO plugin to the letter, was definitely not my best, and the stats didn’t hide the fact that, although it may be a textbook case to keep the plugin happy, the result was not what I was looking for.

I felt a little stupid, because my last Lunchtime Learning subject had been about SEO and how it could improve your search engine rankings, but really is that so important? What Google et al are looking for is good content that people want to read, delivered in a way they can access and appreciate, and in a regular and consistent fashion.

What to do about it

So my advice for writing posts is: keep it short, sweet and simple. Chose a subject that others would be interested in, and then let them know your personal point of view using a conversational style that communicates well. If your readers enjoy your posts, they are far more likely to receive and understand your message and (hopefully) act upon it.

And if you do this without the trials and tribulations of any SEO plugins holding you back, what is allowed to come out is not only better, but is accomplished so much quicker, effortlessly and is, basically, much more enjoyable for everyone!

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Alice ElliottAbout the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger, who runs the Fairy Blog Mother, an educational website resource that trains, explains and creates awareness about blogs. Find out what she can offer you regarding blogs and online marketing athttp://fairyblogmother.co.uk

How many kinds of blogs are there?

There are, in fact, six main uses for a blog. These are:

  • Self expression
  • Showcase expertise
  • Writing for others
  • Multiple contributors
  • Content marketing
  • Affiliate marketing

Let’s explain these uses in a bit more detail:

Self expression

Since a blog is an online diary, it will be a medium to explain yourself, vent your feelings, describe your day or somewhere to safely explode! For many this is the valve of the pressure cooker of their lives. The style is humorous, conversational, entertaining or thought-provoking.

Showcase expertise

I have a friend who uses her blog as her example platform. She is a writer and her blog is an online presentation of her prowess, style, versatility and skill. She cleverly uses social media to promote and publicise her work to a much larger audience than she would have had access to in the past.

Writing for others

There are plenty of bloggers who write reviews for products, as this is perfect for making some extra cash on the side. Reviewer blogs require a healthy readership to be eligible, and this can be gained through good writing and choosing products that their followers would be interested in.

Multiple contributors

There are blogs, like this one, that benefit from many authors providing posts on structured or particular subjects. The regular content is not only good for the blog, its owner and the readership, but also keeps the search engines happy, who value a well-used blog. They are an excellent medium to provide a larger audience to writers and bring more traffic back to their blogs.

Content marketing

The use of blogs in online marketing is usually based around creating content about the company, product or marketing campaign. The blog acts as the ‘mothership’ of social media, as everything comes from and goes to it. Social media is used to capture the attention of the customer and draw them to the blog where the main marketing message can be explained in full. Then a suitable call to action directs the customer to the website where the business transaction can take place.

Affiliate marketing

The final method of making money through blogs is via affiliate marketing. This does require huge amounts of traffic to guarantee enough clicks on the adverts or banners to ensure a suitable return. Therefore it is necessary to post several times a day with the kind of content that would attract the search engines. It is a difficult way to use a blog and would certainly benefit from more than one contributor to keep up the momentum, but would not necessarily result in good content.

So which kind of blog appeals to you?

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Alice ElliottAbout the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger, who runs the Fairy Blog Mother, an educational website resource that trains, explains and creates awareness about blogs. Find out what she can offer you regarding blogs and online marketing at http://fairyblogmother.co.uk

The similarities of blogging and social media

Social media and blogging are surprisingly similar. Another word for Twitter is micro-blogging, which I think is a very apt description. Even though you are restricted to only 140 characters, it is an excellent medium to express yourself in whatever you want to say.

This is also true in the status update fields in Facebook (profiles, pages and groups), LinkedIn and Google+ and any other social media platform that has social updates. When did you last add in a comment into these? It has the advantage that you’re not restricted to only 140 characters as on Twitter, and in some cases your update can be republished on Twitter with a link to see the remainder of your message.

Is socialising networking?

So why should you express yourself on social media? Watching some of my contacts socialise I’ve been fascinated in how well they are doing. In this case I mean online (I’m sure they are equally successful offline). To unimaginative marketing types all this gossip and interaction could be seen as a waste of time, but I see it as networking.

Social networking online is as important as offline networking, and an added plus is that it’s relatively inexpensive. It is immediate, convenient and constant. It should deal with everyday stuff that is happening now: gossip, observations, reports of events, fun and amusing stories – what people want to read or be part of. The more user-friendly social media activity is, the more likely it will become interactive, receive comments and get shared amongst friends. That is what social media, and therefore networking, is all about.

Can you socialise on a blog?

A blog is a more formal element of social media. It is more permanent, steadfast, archival and dependable. Sometimes it doesn’t come across as being immediate, though it certainly can be. The BBC website is a blog that is updated every second, and there are many blogs that have posts published several times a day.

Blogs thrive on new content, as that is what they are designed to do: publish regular updates. They are a fabulous media for self expression, sharing news, exploring a concept, educating its audience, entertaining its readers, publicising a viewpoint, elevating an expertise or describing a business. They provide content that people want to read and become part of, comment and leave feedback, and share on social media so that others can participate too.

The main difference is that you can say so much more on a blog. The space is endless, whether in post or page form. There are no restrictions as to how much content can be published at one time, or over a series of days, weeks, months or more. What cannot be fitted into a website can be continued on a blog. And the style should not be formal, but friendly, informative, conversational and social.

Socialising includes interaction

Blogs also thrive on interaction like social media. They are connected via RSS feeds and the power of links creating traffic back and forth. Posts should encourage readers to leave comments and have buttons that allow sharing content on other social media profiles. And comments are seen as new content by the search engines and are indexed appropriately, keeping the posts alive a little bit longer.

Therefore I like to think of the blog as the hub of social media, as everything comes from it and back to it. Social media can feed traffic to a blog, and posts can be fed to social media. A blog will contain important content that explains the online marketing campaign, whereas social media will act as a draw and direct prospective clients to the blog or special webpage where the business transaction can take place.

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Alice ElliottAbout the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger, who runs the Fairy Blog Mother, an educational website resource that trains, explains and creates awareness about blogs. Find out what she can offer you regarding blogs and online marketing at http://fairyblogmother.co.uk