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?

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?

The usual suspects: why we don’t buy as readily as we sell

After my recent ramblings about LinkedIn I thought I might return to another topic of interest: marketing and blogging. There is a lot to be said for taking a marketing approach what you do on your blog. Especially if you’re wondering why some things you do just fall flat for no apparent reason.

Buyers Prioritization

You got yourself an audience, a good call to action to get your readers to join your subscribers list, you’re sending them information about your products/services… and then, well, nothing. Well, not nothing – but… You’re an expert. Surely everyone is going to want to buy the valuable stuff you have to offer? Why aren’t the %% higher than this?

In this post I’ll take a roundabout tour through marketing and then get back to your blog.

Marketing and the usual suspects

Purely from a marketing/sales view it’s a matter of buyer’s journey or even ‘buyer cycle’, which has phases to mark where on the road towards your first or next purchase you might be.

  1. If you’re in the right group of people (say busy working mum who loves high-heeled boots but won’t risk twisting an ankle again running after child no. 2) you’re a suspect. In fact we’re all someone’s suspect. We all buy something at some point.
  2. The moment you subscribe to anything, you turn into a prospect: someone who shows a definite interest in the kind of services/products a company offers. In some cases it means you get spammed daily – companies seem to think they need to haul you in NOW or you might end up buying a competitor’s product.
  3. Once you’re in their webshop…
  4. … loading stuff into your shopping cart (or taking similar actions) there’s an almost audible drum roll.

In many cases people never get beyond stage two. Why not? There are plenty of tips out there that focus on mending the leaks in your sales funnel, but I’m not going to discuss incontinent marketing processes here.

Theorize about your potential buyers’ priorities

Think about yourself as a reader of blogs (and a potential customer for someone) for a moment. Since I don’t know you, I’ll make up for this bit by talking about myself and pretending I’m a version of you. In this multiverse there must be a universe where I’m you 😉

You read and view loads of stuff every day, either for personal or professional purposes. Depending on your job and other interests, some topics matter a lot, others a little. There’s one topic that you’re mainly interested in because it affects your job. You don’t need to know everything, but you do need to keep up to date. So you read up online. After all what’s the internet for? Then you attend an webinar. From the moment you subscribe you get spammed by at least half a dozen companies trying to sell you stuff that’s related to the subject of the webinar. Preferably expensive and IT-related. Oh, great…

Enter the wonderful world of the ‘buyer persona’

Using a buyer persona (or several) means you basically assemble some characteristics into a credible theoretical buyer. Age, lifestyle, and depending on what you’re trying to sell you throw in a job title, professional issues – or health problems and family situation. It’s a lot like certain police series, where they try to narrow down the group of possible suspects.

In the case where you are the customer, companies are guessing what you might be interested in buying, and they approach you with information that seems relevant. Despite these efforts many marketers still can’t, or won’t, take into account your personal priorities (or your influence on your company’s budget, for that matter). Now, rather than veering off into a discussion about prioritization in this post, here’s a link if you’d like to read how Eisenhower prioritized his to do list. I’ll stick to reinterpreting this handy matrix around the question “to buy, or – to forget about it”.

Your priorities – and how they affect your buying decisions

Many of us – those of us with any savings in the bank, anyway – make buying decisions much like this:

  1. Do I need it? Yes. When? Now! Unless you’re broke you’ll have no problem spending money on things you really need, urgently.
  2. Do I need it? Yes. When? Well, let’s say within the next 3 months. Hmm, I’d better get some more information… and see if I can get a discount somewhere.
  3. Do I want it? Yes. Do I need it? Not really. How much does it cost?
  4. Do I want it? I might, if it’s fun. Do I need it? Nope.

Businesses put a lot of effort trying to close the gaps that make you hesitate. For example, many retail shops know their customers, including you, well enough to be just within the price range you had in mind 😉

Back to your blog’s usual ‘suspects’

When you’re blogging you may get a lot of visitors, but the ones in category 1 are a definite minority. You do need some casual visitors though – a blog that never gets comments, likes, or shares won’t appeal even to people who are looking for a solution to their problem, NOW. So you cater, in some ways, for visitors of categories 2, 3 or even 4. If that means your blog is more fun and less businessy, hey, what’s wrong with a readable blog? But do make sure that there is something for Number One.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If so, please share it – or share your thoughts about marketing, blogging and the like in a comment. Thanks 🙂

Ways to Improve Your Blog – A Theatrical View

Sometimes it is refreshing to look at your own blog from an outsider’s viewpoint. This way you can find out if you have all the essentials in place – the right place. Therefore let me ask you a question:

If your blog were a theater, how well would it perform? How do the various parts of your blog contribute to your audience’s overall experience?

To help you take the outsider’s view, here are a few starting points.

The theatrical view: setting the stage

Setting the stage for your blog: inspiration from the theater

Curtain call – How does the setting of your content impact your blog’s performance?

All aspects of your blog form the setting for your performance. They should ideally enhance your story, or at least not hinder your audience when they want to enjoy what you’re offering them. It is basically a matter of giving your content the right package.

Your blog posts are at the heart of the theater. Your performance takes place in the spotlights, on stage. I’m assuming you play your part well; in this post we’re looking at the other bits.

The backdrop consists of all the things you set up early on: layout, colors, picture.

The comments section is probably the equivalent of the bar. The adds would be the merchandise sold in the hall. I think we can safely avoid the toilets issue.

There are two differences you should keep in mind:

Theaters are full of people who have paid before entry.

Their decision to pay is based on information they got at an earlier stage. And they are paying for the performance, not the merchandise (though they may do that too). It would be great if people would pay to read your blog but getting them to buy your e-book is the closest you’re likely to get.

Some theater visitors see their visit to the bar as an important part of their evening out.

For others, it is where they stay at break times and make themselves comfortable by pulling up a chair and having a drink. They may, or may not, take the opportunity to start a conversation with complete strangers while they wait. Somehow I can’t see your blog’s visitors making a bee line for the comments section.

10 Tips For Improving Your Audience’s Blog-Reading Experience

If you’ve tried different things and aren’t sure whether you are on the right track, check this list – my suggestions are based on my experiences as a blog reader. Ranging from comments to ads to checking if things work the way you intended, here are my tips:

  1. If you have the comments section enabled, invite your blog’s visitors to use it. Every time. Find out which calls-to-action work best to engage your readers.
  2. Consider if using a forum or community instead would give your readers a better opportunity to react to each others’ ideas too, and give you ideas for new blog posts at the same time.
  3. Invite non-commenters to reach out to you on social media. Specify your favorite channel(s) for conversations. This way you may be able to start the conversation elsewhere.
  4. Are your ads in the right place, or are they really crammed in a draughty hall where visitors come only out of necessity? If you write short posts and have adds trailing down the page, that is not going to work for clicks. Try to find a balance on your page by reducing the quantity of ads.
  5. Be creative in your ad choices. Affiliate marketing is really nice, right up until the moment when your activity on the web causes every single website or blog you visit to boast exactly the same ad.
  6. Opt-out: if you have a solid list of readers: does your blog include an option for regular visitors who really like what you do but would happily pay up to $2 to not see your ads for a month? Just a thought…
  7. Are your ads blocking your audience’s view of the stage? Pop-up ads don’t always work. This is especially true in a mobile view because they can get seriously in the way of reading – and the enjoyment of the experience. What you risk is either people leaving your site, or adopting a business-like attitude to your information and assessing it on a more rational – or sceptical – basis than if they had been able to read your whole post without getting interrupted. Of course, if you’re delivering high-quality content on a regular basis, visitors may be lenient on this point.
  8. On a related note: Floating sharing bars. These bars look great on a full size screen – but they are really annoying if you maximize the text for easy reading on a small screen. Make sure they don’t get in the way and that they work as expected. Press every single button yourself for preference.
  9. Check your blog regularly as you make changes to it. How does your blog look on a tablet, laptop or on a smartphone? Change one thing (add one widget) at a time so you can compare your blog’s performance and looks and remove your change if necessary. A page, for example, that repeatedly flips back to the top when you try to scroll down will not help your visitors.
  10. Be wary of how you present your gifts. Do you surprise your audience with a FREE nice gift then tell them to fill out a form in the next screen? Take your audience seriously. Show them that what they are getting from you is worth giving their time as well as their input. This is especially important if you ask them for seemingly irrelevant information that is in fact essential to you. And remind them that you do appreciate their efforts.

Did I miss anything essential? Do you have a favorite? If you would like to add #11, you’re welcome to do so in a comment below. Or find me on Twitter @contentrambler