Blogging impressions: how to get to the point

How much did you write when you started blogging?

When I started blogging I wrote with no aim in mind except that of writing. Because I simply had to write. Needless to say my posts were long, not to say rambling… One of my first ‘Blogging impressions’ posts was about getting a sense of focus into a blog post, for good reason 🙂

Writing along or getting to the point

The prescribed treatment helps if you’ve written a blog post and you’re wondering if you could have made it shorter than 1000 words… and whether you should make any alterations, and how. Continue reading

How your job experience will help you get your ideal career

Do you ever feel you’ve wasted years in all the wrong jobs? The bad news is you can’t get those years back. The good part is it was not all in vain.

What career perspective are you looking at?

Job experience is seldom wasted

If you feel you’ve mindlessly pulled someone else’s plough for years and think you’ve got nothing to show for it but sores, think again. Take writing, for example. Continue reading

Blogging impressions: your blog as an online portfolio

Apart from if you’re actually a professional blogger, what’s the use of having a blog?

Why would you want to blog at all?

What is in your blogging portfolio?

Portfolio cover of color plates by Charles S. Graham. Field Museum Library

  • Because you enjoy writing (or making videos, in case you’re into video blogging).
  • Because you don’t mind (or love) the attention.
  • Because you don’t mind the kind of work involved: writing, getting or creating pictures or videos, making sure your content is properly tagged so people who don’t know you will still find you by searching for the topics that are on your blog.
  • Because you need a portfolio. You need to create content for whatever purpose.

Even if you don’t start blogging for that purpose, posting fresh content on your blog will eventually build a portfolio of your content. What would you like to do with it?

Why would you want an online portfolio, and of what?

What goes into your portfolio – that is, onto your blog – shows a couple of things about you as a blogger which may be of interest to a potential client or employer:

  1. That you can write – in a language of your choice. (In my case I might have written in Dutch, but I chose English instead).
  2. That you’re able to create content to a schedule. That may mean posting daily, but it doesn’t have to be that intense. Once a week can be enough. Keeping it up for any length of time and consistently producing good or at least acceptable (although you should aim higher) content costs time and energy. Can you keep it up and still enjoy blogging?
  3. That you’re able to build a community around your blog. You may do so on your blog, or off – I know people who have little interaction on their blog, but much more on Facebook. In my case, readers react on my blog, on Twitter, or on LinkedIn.

Your blogging portfolio as a (first?) step in your career

A potential employer or client may be interested in one aspect of your blogging efforts or all:

  • content creation as a creative process
  • regular content production
  • community management on or off your blog

And of course depending on what you blog about, they’ll get some idea of you as an expert on one or more topics – and as a person.

What kind of portfolio is your blog turning into – and could it support your chosen career?

How a content strategy will help your blogging career

Suppose you want to turn blogging – or let’s call it content creation – into a career. The first thing it means is that you need a business attitude at least where it comes to how much content you’ll create about what topic(s). What you really need is some kind of plan for your content.

A Content Strategy is important for your blogging career. So is Meditation. Relax...

What are the characteristics of a (good) content strategy anyway? I ran into a nice, possibly helpful definition on Business2Community, to which I’ve decided to add my own perspective in this post.

A content strategy for your blogging career

Having a content strategy means you

  • deliberately create content
  • which you have optimized for search. This means that you base your content on keyword phrases that drive ‘organic search traffic’ (and conversions) – this is what the article I mentioned focuses on,
  • that demonstrates an understanding of your potential customer’s knowledge acquisition at various stages in their buying cycle. Don’t worry, I’ll explain later 😉

This means you don’t write whatever you like – a different approach from what you’d do on a personal blog. Instead, you start by finding out what keyword phrases your potential customers are probably using to find the information they need.

What kind of content is your potential customer looking for?

Put yourself into your customers’ shoes for a moment. What information you need depends on several aspects:

  1. Whether you’re already familiar with a type of product or service. Do you need to know what different smartphones do, or do you own one and do you want to compare the latest smartphones with yours?
  2. Whether you’ve already decided which product or service you want, or from which company you’ll buy.
    1. You may want to compare prices to get the best deal regardless of the brand so long as the product meets your demands.
    2. Or you know what product you want. All you need to know is which site or company offers you the best deal.
    3. Or you’re fed up with the lousy service you’ve had from company X and you need to make sure you find a company that does know that “customer service” contains the word “service” for a reason.

Every different situation means you’ll be using different keywords while looking for information.

A content strategy that is optimized for search means you take your potential customers’ search behavior into account even before you start creating content for your blog (or website).

What do you know about your potential customers? Can you ask any of the customers you already have?

Delivering your content to your potential customers

Next: you deliver your “optimized” content to your potential customers in a relevant and compelling way.

What is relevant depends on what your readers and/or your potential customers are looking for, not what you feel is important for you to tell the world.

Compelling is a word I’ve seen too often since I started reading about content marketing, and relevance takes care of a lot. True, it doesn’t help if you analyze quite interesting stuff down to the level of atoms for potential customers who either want you to help them or to entertain them. On the other hand, maybe you’re doing exactly the right thing to attract the people you need for your business. Do you know?

What kinds of content can you deliver on your blog?

A couple of categories of content that could work in the context of your blog are:

  1. Case studies that show how you dealt with a particular kind of issue. This lets people know what to expect from you.
  2. The ‘how to’ posts are familiar and they can be quite popular. However a post doesn’t become popular just because the title starts with “How to…”. Again, relevance to your potential customers matters most.
  3. White papers that give in-depth information to those readers you’ve selected as possibly interested in more than the average blog post.
  4. News about events you attend or organize, so people know where/when to find you.

Final considerations for a blogging career

If you’re serious about a blogging career you also need to consider which format suits your potential customers, and where they hang out for preference.

  • Are they the reading kind or do they prefer video?
  • Do they write lengthy comments on your blog or do they drop a short line on Twitter?

If, like me, you’re writing for the fun of writing, or to help your thinking process along, these considerations are probably not for you. But if you’ve decided to try to make money blogging, you’ll need to cater for your potential customers’ preference rather than stay in your own cosy comfort zone wondering where they went.

Blogging impressions: using images on your blog

It’s been a while since I wrote a ‘Blogging Impressions’ post. Here goes.

You may have noticed I’m a writing blogger… Even so, I like to have an image with every post on my blog.

Blogging Images for your blog

Pros of images on your blog

  1. It’s good for SEO (search engine optimization). Provided you add key words in the ‘alt’ (alternative text) box.
  2. It adds interest.
  3. You may even add your personal twist through the description.

Cons

  1. It takes time to find the right picture(s), unless it’s part of your daily activities anyway, and in business topics, to come up with an original picture which you can still use in a sensible way to enhance your post. Is anyone fed up with pictures of keyboards with a key saying anything from “Sell” to “Engage” yet?
  2. Time. To upload. To fill all the ‘metadata’. To add a description that bridges the gap between text and image in a meaningful way.
  3. Did I mention ‘time’? I’m a bit short right now 😉

Ways to find the right images for your blog

So far I’ve tried several approaches for images (call it “visual content”) on my blog:

  • Making them myself using PowerPoint. The results vary enormously depending on the time I have left when I decide to make an image rather than looking for one.
  • Taking pictures. I’m still learning when it comes to producing my own visual content in any form: whether it’s a cartoon, or a photograph. I keep practising though, but on my last holiday I completely forgot the camera I got last Christmas. The photograph I’ve added is one I made using an iPhone (4, in case you wondered). I halved its size before adding it to my blog.
  • Looking for them on Flickr – either in the “Creative Commons” section or by adding “Creative commons” to my search terms.
  • Looking for them on Flickr, specifically in the photos added by fellow blogger HikingArtist.com – perfect for blogs dealing with business or nature.

How do you get the right images for whatever content you want to share on your blog?

Your content strategy – and the subject matter experts

Of late I’ve found myself thinking that blogging is the easy side of the content story. At least content strategy-wise. In this post I’ll explore a few pros and cons of having a single versus having multiple content creators on your platform (blog, community, website).

Content Strategy And Subject Matter Experts

The lone ranger content strategy model

Check out my blog right here or consider your own blog.

  1. You’re on your own, typing away about anything you like. No meetings, calls, discussions via e-mail to get your content calendar filled.
  2. It’s up to you to come up with ideas and to decide if you need a content strategy – or if having a content strategy would suck all the creative juice out of your blog.
  3. If you don’t come up with new content, there will be no new content. Search engines will lower the frequency with which they scan your blog accordingly.
  4. You’ll need to do research to get the facts right.
  5. You need – well – discipline to go through the entire process every time. Having a content strategy helps you by planning what you do and when. But it doesn’t help you with the other aspects of content creation.

This model is great for people who love to create content. It can also turn into a time-consuming habit.

Team content strategy: the subject matter experts (SME) model

O-kay, here we go. You have multiple players in this model. Anyone can contribute. That adds up, content-wise. In theory.

  1. You’ll need to schedule at first, so that all ‘your’ SMEs get used to posting on a regular basis. And remind them it’s their turn.
  2. Without a schedule, if nothing gets posted, it’s nobody’s fault. They all thought someone else might produce or find some fresh content.
  3. SMEs don’t exist for your convenience. They have their usual tasks that need doing first.
  4. It’s easier for SMEs to share a bit of content that’s already out there than to come up with something new.
  5. How does your content strategy fare? You may have great plans, but if content creation within your team is not part of the picture, you’ll depend upon existing content created by others inside or outside your organization.

With many potential, but few actual content creators, “what to share when” quickly turns into this choice:

  • share now, because it’s fresh or
  • share later, when it fits into our content calendar.

A lot of content goes stale after a while, so it’s often shared at once.

How to ensure a constant stream of content?

I’d opt for a combination of both approaches.

  • By all means get your SMEs involved in your content strategy – only the owners of a (personal) blog can risk running a blog by themselves.
  • Make sure you have plan B prepared – in case your experts forget to show up 😉

Note: If you’re interested in content strategy and related topics, stay tuned for my next post.

Blogging impressions: tips to make guest blogging work for you

Since August last year I’ve written “Blogging impressions” posts regularly to keep track of my progress in blogging. I regularly share tips on how to overcome issues many bloggers must run into.

Today my first guest post was published. For that reason this post is about (first time) guest blogging.

Why it’s important to guest blog

Guest Blogging (summer visitor, picture from last year)

I’m not going to give you “get a bigger audience through guest blogging” talk. Plenty of blogs will tell you that, and then they’ll try to sell you their e-books for ‘free’ after which they spam you with 400 Dollar webinars until you unsubscribe or block them to keep them from clogging up your mailbox.

Guest blogging is important as a learning method: it offers you a new writing experience. You get to write for an audience you’re not familiar with, so you only have the blog owner’s advice to go on – that and having a quick look at previous posts, and possibly comments from readers.

For that reason I view guest blogging as a thinking exercise. You’ll consider how you’ll gently tweak your blogging habits to suit the audience you’re writing for. In my case, I’d started tweaking before I guest blogged.

Don’ts in guest blogging

  • Don’t even consider writing a sloppy guest post. If you’re lucky you’ll get turned down. If you’re not so lucky, you’ll get published and a lot of potential readers will have a chance to enjoy poor writing or a post with an unfinished feel to it.
  • Don’t write 5 times better than you would on your own blog. If you can’t put in enough time to produce good posts, anyone who finds your excellent guest post and then visits your blog will turn away disappointed.

Tips to make (first-time) guest blogging work

  1. Find a blog to guest post on that is as similar in style and/or topics to your own as possible.
  2. Make sure you meet the blog owner’s criteria: word count, picture, the lot.
  3. Make sure you meet your own criteria for publishing before you submit your guest blog. If you’re not sure if your post is good enough, consider drafting and previewing it on your own blog. If you have doubts about publishing it on your own territory, don’t submit it yet.

Whatever else you do, try to match your own blog’s best posts.

Why guest blogging isn’t a must-do for everyone

If you’re happy on your own blog and you have enough readers to keep you blogging along, that’s fine. It may take you longer to assemble a crowd of readers – but then again, it may not, if you’re able to connect with casual visitors. Which happens a lot on ‘private’ blogs because there’s so much we recognize in each others’ lives.

Getting a personal connection by talking about businessy topics is harder, and tends to happen (at first?) when you blog about something you feel strongly about. You’re only human – people get that.

What are your thoughts on – or experiences and tips from – guest blogging?

Blogging impressions: this is when you stop talking about yourself

A while ago I blogged about the difference between a journal and a blog. This post centers around the question when you should or shouldn’t blog about yourself.

An offline journal is usually written by you, about you and your latest experiences, and for you – and maybe a few others. Old ship’s journals or logs are like that. “Sailed 14 hours straight today, ended up at a new undiscovered patch of ocean in the middle of nowhere, possibly near India.”

Image by Dennis Skley [Flickr]

Easter eggs image by Dennis Skley [Flickr]

In the online version, a lot of readers can read along and enjoy your jokes or sympathize with you on a bad hair day.

Blogging, like I wrote in my earlier post, means you focus on your readers. Ideally you start a conversation with your readers. So how much can you talk about you on your blog – and when should you stop? What are definite don’ts?

Private blog: when do you stop blogging about yourself?

Hey, I’m not telling you what you can’t do in a general sense. It’s your private blog or possibly journal, not mine. However:

  1. If you catch yourself ranting or whining, stop. Don’t whine or rant.
  2. If you do decide to whine or rant, tell your readers why. And then make sure they take away a couple of tips like:
    1. Boiling the Easter eggs before painting them is a good idea.
    2. Appearances can be deceptive. Just a few pitfalls I fell into which you should avoid: 1, 2, 3…. 24… (perfect list post).
    3. How I tried to make money sleeping and was swindled out of my life savings in just under a week. (Surprise: takeaway tips should tell readers how to hold on to their money.)
    4. What blogging might lead to – see my post about my experience with the side-effects of blogging.

The entertaining type of post beats whining by a streetlength. If you know an appropriate street, let me know in a comment 😉

Business blog: when do you stop blogging about your company?

Don’t blog about yourself. You might ask how you’re supposed to do that but seriously, your blog should be as little about you as possible. Focus on taking the picture, not on being in the picture.

A few further tips:

  • Don’t tell me your company and services are unique. Share thoughts and facts based on your personal experience to show the (possibly unique) value you can add, without getting up people’s noses.
  • Don’t lump your readers into a group they don’t identify with just because you see them as a market segment. Whenever you do this, you’re taking yourself as a starting point rather than your readers’ interests or your clients’ needs.

When can you talk about you?

Feel free to share your happy (business) moments:

  • Upload that picture of your kitten after it crawled into dad’s empty pajama’s – you’ll keep people going for a week. (I’m sure my parents still have that photograph in an album from the, what, 1970s?)
  • Let us know you just launched new product X and how hard you worked. Then snap out of it and tell us how that will help us. Blogging is about your readers, remember?

What do you think: so long as you mind how you do it, talking or blogging about yourself or your business isn’t such bad thing – or is it? What are your definite don’ts in blogging?

Forget knowledge management – Write Me. {The Creativity Bug}

Of late I’ve been getting the impression that I’m in trouble. And it’s my own fault for starting this blog. It’s also the reason why publishing posts seems to be getting more difficult rather than easier some days.

Write Me. The Creativity Bug

For a long time some alien but at the same time eerily familiar presence has been chewing on my mind. As I lived my life it evolved with my experiences. From time to time it seemed to fade away. This presence consisted of flashes of a story. A long time ago I’m pretty sure there used to be a different story in my head. But whatever happens, after a while something will come inhabit the space between my ears and haunt me.

Blogging – the winding path onto the moor of creative fever

When I first started blogging here, focusing on business topics, there was no problem at all. A lot of energy went into writing, editing, improving the structure of my posts, coming up with suitable images, and the like. But now…

  • Every time I start a new post about some business topic, the spectre of creativity whispers into my ear “Don’t write about that. Write the story.”
  • Every time I try to make a sensible post out of a potentially complex issue, my story will inch closer and tell me “Forget knowledge management. Write Me.”

Write Me.

To be honest, I’ve even made the tiniest of starts online. Since I’m so used to putting my thoughts onto a screen I no longer feel comfortable writing on paper when it comes to ‘big stuff’. So when I heard about a tool called PressBooks, which is based on WordPress, I went to have a look. I got an account (private) and checked the features. Then I made a few ‘posts’. And finally I started writing. Just to be writing.

Um. I got two crappy sentences out. Ugh.

I came up with several possible reasons for that.

  1. It’s fiction whereas I’m used to non-fiction. It may be ‘an historical novel’ or it may be fantasy – I’m not entirely sure. If it’s history this is going to take some serious research.
  2. Maybe paper is better at this stage? I used to ‘mommy-blog’ (keep a journal) offline 😉
  3. I’m used to writing in English for non-fiction. Whether that’s going to work for fiction – I have no idea. I do know fiction is going to send me to the far corners of my English vocabulary. It would be the ultimate challenge. I like challenges. But is this one going to be too big?
  4. This story is mine. It’s lived inside my head for ages. My experience in writing those two sentences was a bit like, well, a warning. Like a first contraction. A warning that if I start this, I won’t be able to stop the process of going into full literary labor. A warning that it’s going to be painful. And messy. And if I ever manage to get out a first draft I’ll be up to my elbows in nappies and goo.
  5. Why oh why does it feel as though this story might take up a whole book? It might’ve been easier to raise a short story through infancy.

In short, it feels like I’m peering down from a dizzying height – I’ve just moved one foot slightly and dislodged a few pebbles. As I watch them tumbling down something, someone, is asking me: do you quite sure you want to find out how far down this will take you? Also, part of me is saying “Are you kidding? I don’t have time for this sh*t.”

Bitten by the creative writing bug

Why does this feel like the scene in ‘The Matrix’ where Neo is offered the two pills, one of which will show him how deep the rabbit hole goes? Having all these thoughts milling around like a herd of nervous sheep can’t be good for anyone’s budding writing process. Why is this so hard?

In deference to my personal creativity bug I have bought a little notebook just so I can try and sooth the writing itch for now, whenever I’m commuting by train… For jotting down anything that comes up. I’ll focus on ideas rather than sentences. If I’m lucky, my efforts may result in one tortured sentence per page to start with. Possibly 😉

Worst case scenario – if there’s such a thing as a worst case here – is that I continue to produce crappy sentences for a long time. But I don’t think it matters so long as it helps me scratch this infernal literary itch.

P.S.: I’ve tried out my little notebook and I’m loving it. Because it’s unpretentious. It doesn’t tell me “Listen. I’m important. So whatever you put on my pages had better be worth my space.” It’s small – a bit over smartphone-sized, and the lines start right at the top to fit in as many lines as possible. No extra room for headlines. No nothing. It’s perfect.

How do you cope with the creativity bug? Do you blog about anything and everything – or do you find that things well out of scope keep nudging you saying: “Write Me” ?

Blogging impressions: a short post about long posts

A nice tip from a fellow blogger and it’s all in the title: “I try to leave out the parts that people skip“. Boy if there ever were a tip written just for me this would be it. Then again, if I change too much I’ll end up having to change my blog name too.

Do you really need to keep only the content you think your readers will like?

Skip or keep? Goat in spring

Skip or keep? (spring picture by ewewlo on Flickr)

Should you skip all the bits you assume people don’t pay attention to? Or will adding structure and headings keep casual readers on board, scanning your blog post for the stuff they’re interested in?

Long posts and short posts in blogging

I’ve pretty much managed to weed out two-topic posts. The question now is how long or short a post should be.

  • For posts on a corporate blog I’m sure I read somewhere that 400 words is enough. The idea is that business people don’t have time for long reads.
  • Another number I found was 500-600 words per post. I don’t recall where I read that, and that’s probably because the blog containing the information wasn’t worth remembering. Which says it all I guess.
  • Blogs containing chapters of a fictional work tend to have, well, chapter-length posts. I don’t think anybody minds the long read 😉
  • For my own blog I stay well away from the 1000-word mark. Under 900 is fine. If I manage to say what I wanted to say without sounding too dry-factual (is that a word? I just made it one) using less than 800 words it’s worth a cheer and a “Well done you” stamp in my content rambling archive.

Deliver the message – the essence of any piece of writing

So far I’ve adhered to just one rule while blogging: the right number of words for a blog post is the number of words I need to deliver a complete thought or set of thoughts about a topic, preferably with a bit of fun added into the cake mixture.

When it comes to really compact writing I wonder if anyone ever managed to beat Tacitus. Come to think of it, I remember we actually asked our teacher for a text by that specific author, because we were getting bored with translating Vergilius (Virgil) in preparation for our exam and we needed the change – and a challenge. After just a week or two, getting back to Virgil was the ultimate relaxing holiday-on-the-beach!

What’s a good post-length for you as a blogger – or as a reader? How short is a short post, and what is too long in a long post? Does any kind of ‘rule’ work in blogging?