Ever get writer’s block? ‘Course you do, we all do at one time. Have you ever posted what you thought was a killer post only to get no response at all? We have all posted stinkers that were greeted with tumble weeds, I know I have. Here are ten proven post formulas to get your creative juices, and your traffic, flowing.
Nick and I were discussing last night about what posts work and don’t work. There is a little disagreement between us about what is important that I think we have resolved. Nick favours posts that illicit a community response, he likes to see lots of comments. Me, I like to see my posts read by hundreds of people, lots of links, tagging and bookmarking as icing on the cake. In the end I think we agreed the ideal is both. A post is probably most interesting when it is well read AND commented on. I think we should start using “interestingness” as a metric. Keep this in mind as you read this post to see how you can salt some of these ingredients through your posts to make your blog more interesting. Anyway, on to the list..
1. How to
Let’s start with the obvious one shall we? “How to” is perhaps the easiest starting point because most niches will have new people entering the space that need to be brought up to speed. Everyone can learn something, there is always something new to learn about even if it is a new twist on a very old idea. You can get ideas for topics by looking around forums and email discussion lists for common questions or problems people commonly have. Even better if you have already answered these problems successfully you are half way there. “How do I” questions are solid gold inspiration material.
Make sure you post with a clear benefit to the reader and you clearly target the correct audience. “How to make a million from your blog” would be a good topic for this blog, “How to program an operating system in 7 days” probably would not be.
If I am not careful I will start becoming a bit of a joke around performancing. How many top ten lists have I written? Thing is, lists work. They are easy to skim and digest. They also help structure your writing to make writing them easier, the outline is already there. Coming up with the ideas are a little trickier but digging around and finding two related items is all you need to brainstorm the full list. I like ten items but any number above two works as long as it is a decent list without duplication.
Campaigns are a funny one. They either work very well or go down in flames and it is difficult to know beforehand what your audience will rally round. Newspapers do this a lot. It helps to get your audience hot under the collar and against a common enemy. There are lots of campaigns in the blog world, from web standards to free speech.
The great thing about campaign posts is they can be a force for positive outcomes. In the search space a popular guy disappeared, the call to action to find him and bring him home really brought the community together and all the blogs were buzzing. The important thing is you have to be passionate about it and your audience needs to care. A tricky one to pull off but if you do the effect can be magnetic.
If you are really stuck and you have access to niche celebrities, get them on IM or the phone and interview them. I must say I don’t have the knack for interviewing but some people seem to do it naturally. The key to a good interview is asking questions either the audience wants to know answers to or that elicit answers that are very interesting.
1. Do your research
2. Prepare questions beforehand not off top of your head
3. Send your questions to the interviewee in advance
4. Interview is about the interviewee, not about you
5. Ask open-ended questions, yes/no answers kill interviews
6. Interact! Don’t just fire off questions, make the conversation flow
7. Thank the interviewee for their time and ask if there is anything they would like to say or add
Reviews are good if you pick a product or service people are interested in, properly review it rather than writing a sales letter, choose criteria that really work. It usually helps to be the first to get hold of the product, reviews can be a bit lame when you are the Nth to write an Ipod Nano review. Write enough good reviews and you might start getting sent stuff, which is nice. I still get sent technical books to review even now when my last book review was years ago.
6. Case study
If you can write from real world experience then case studies can be very powerful. The same information could be in the form of a how-to but I actually like the case study format better for example “How I made my first million” rather than “How to make a million”. It is a matter of perspective and choice but there is no harm in doing both.
7. Research results
Research is a good way of getting publicity and headlines. It always works best when it is your research and using the internet research is easy. Gone are the days where you had to cold-call or walk the streets with clipboards. Use open source polling and survey software, ask some questions you would like to know the answers to and put it out. When you have a decent number of responses (over a thousand preferably) analyse the results. If you can draw interesting conclusions all the better.
8. What’s new, trends
If you are really immersed in your niche then it should be possible to spot trends and report on them. In the blog world this translates to spam blogs, new advertising models, the maturing of blogging from public diaries to businesses.. Have a think about your niche, can you spot any patterns? If you can give a catchy name to it then you might make yourself famous, for example “long tail” and “ajax” to name just two trends that have made names.
Going on the offensive is risky but definitely drives traffic. We have talked about this before, especially in Nicks linkbait post.
A different take is to set up an argument then knock it down (I believe this is called a straw man but I know the phrase has other definitions).
Think of the documentaries you watch on TV. They usually are advertised with intriguing ideas like “Can you really lose weight by eating only cheese?”, “Were the bombings planned by the CIA”, “New UFO evidence” or “Can this man really read minds” (a little insight into my television viewing habits there folks!). You get pulled in, they throw out lots of “evidence”, only for the last ten minutes to be all about how the evidence is wrong and it can’t possibly be true because of X, Y and Z. This approach is a bit misleading but it can also work simply as a more moderate “other people believe this, this is what I think and why”.
10. Ask the audience
As you will see in just a couple of paragraphs, I like to finish by encouraging feedback but some great articles are only that. Once you have a decent sized audience ask them questions and encourage response. As Nick likes to say, people love to talk about themselves, give them the opportunity. I used this approach to choose a feedreader package, Nick used it to discover the perfect laptop for his needs. Everyone wins with this approach.
Some of the best posts are combinations of the above. I would always encourage feedback for example, and reviews can be combined with case studies and how-tos.
I am sure there are ideas I have missed, what has worked for you in the past?