|(photo by Galymzhan Abdugalimov via Unsplash)
Welcome to part three of my week-long series on ways to grow your blog in 2014. If you missed them, you can view part one here and part two here. Today I’m talking about how to produce great content for your blog, get past writer’s block, and draw inspiration without sounding like a parrot.
The magical question that many bloggers ask is, “How can I write posts that will draw more readers, and keep them coming back?” And the answer that’s usually offered is simply, “Produce great content!” What’s missing, obviously, is the how, and for many of us, the when. It’s hard to be a well-spring of great ideas 24/7 and while it’d be nice to think that we’ll have time to blog daily, many of us struggle just to keep up with e-mail on a daily basis, much less post that often! Here are some things I’ve learned over the years that can help you consistently produce top-notch content for your blog.
Keep a day planner/memo book
The reality is, ideas tend to come in waves: you might have lots of inspiration for posts one week and nothing at all the next. I like to write down all of my ideas and save them for backup on the days when I’m drawing a blank at the keyboard. This is also a good way to keep track of any time-sensitive events that you might want to blog about, like a holiday, a product launch, a seasonal trend, etc. Writing an editorial calendar might sound kind of silly, but if you’re serious about posting on a consistent basis, it’s a must.
Use scheduled posting
Some bloggers are incredibly averse to scheduled posts, and I honestly have no idea why–they’re a lifesaver! Write your posts ahead of time and schedule them to go live throughout the week, rather than posting a clump all on one day. This allows you to tap your inspiration when it’s active and spread out the results for a consistent flow of great posts over a longer time period, which gives readers a reason to return to your blog.
Take great photos
I’m going to cover this topic in more depth tomorrow, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But in short: take lots of great photos, or grab free ones online through sites like Unsplash, which sourced the photo used in this post. These make your posts more attractive, which helps draw in new readers, and also make them Pinnable, which encourages shares via social media!
Sign up for challenges and link-ups
Whether you commit to a month-long daily blogging challenge or pick a fun weekly link-up, you’ll challenge yourself to craft content on a regular basis, plus you’ll have writing prompts to get your writerly brain revved up. Bonus: since you’ll probably add your blog link to a widget that shares all of the linked posts for other bloggers to see, you’ll boost exposure for your blog.
Touch trends lightly
I’m of two minds on trends. On the one hand, if it’s December and you’re out of ideas for new blog posts, writing about anything Christmas-themed is a) an automatic topic filler and b) a way to jump in on a trending topic, potentially boosting pageviews. However, I think it can be tempting to shape your blog content around current trends in an attempt to garner extra views, and that can hurt the quality of your content if you’re just putting words on the page for the heck of it.
I don’t write lots of Christmas content because December is the busiest month of the year for me at my “real” job, so finding time to blog is hard. I could force out gift guides and holiday beauty tutorials, but my heart wouldn’t be in it and I know the quality of the posts would suffer as a result. My advice is, if you have an idea for how to write about a current trend in a way that’s really pitch-perfect for your blog, go for it. Otherwise, don’t feel bad about skipping the trends.
Talk about yourself
The extent to which you get personal on your blog is, well, a personal decision. Some people are comfortable putting it all out there in cyberspace, and some blog under a pen name for privacy. I’m somewhere in the middle–I blog under my real name and talk a little bit about myself, but I don’t talk a lot about where I live or work or about my family and friends. How far you go is up to you. Keep in mind, though, that it’s hard for readers to connect to a blog written in an impersonal style.
You don’t have to be a pro to write in your own voice, and you don’t have to be super-explicit about your personal life to inject a little flavor into your blog; you just have to be real. Talk about the challenges of taking your family meatless one night a week, or how you do your makeup in five minutes flat in between college classes. Explain why a family history of diabetes led you to be so passionate about running that you just had to start a blog about it, or show off your collection of crazy coffee mugs in a post about your favorite hot winter drinks. That personal spin turns an average post into something unique and makes it “stick” with your readers.
Look at your pageviews and comments
Yes, you read that right. Lots of people say you should ignore your pageviews, but I think they can be helpful in refining your posting. Caveat emptor, sometimes great posts get low pageviews and average posts get lots of comments, so don’t take it personally if a post that took a lot of work only gets a couple of comments. It happens. That said, to a point, looking back over the view counts for my posts has helped me identify what I’m doing really well and where I could improve: did this post have great photos? Was it well written or did it ramble? Did it have a good title? Was it something that encouraged reader feedback?
Three years ago I wrote a post about the debatable cruelty-free status of Neutrogena, and to date it remains the most-read post on my blog. As it turns out, lots of people were just as eager as I was to get in between the layers of jargon on the company’s FAQ page, and a post that was merely the result of my personal frustration with trying to go cruelty-free turned into a hit. I realized that concise breakdowns of similar policies from other popular brands were kind of lacking for a lot of people, so I eventually started a much-viewed series of posts about the responses (or lack thereof) that I’d gotten from major beauty brands as I eliminated animal testing from my cosmetics bag. I also learned from writing that post the importance of using a good title and strong keywords, to improve your chances of being “spotted” by search engines (translation: more pageviews).
Take a break to read and experience
We all hit a point where we’re unable to find anything new to say on our blogs. When that happens, it’s time to dive into your topic and have fun experiencing it (rather than writing about it), as a way to kickstart your creativity. As an example, I primarily blog about beauty and fashion. When I feel my creative juices drying up, I pull out my style magazines and read style blogs. Looking at all of those OOTDs and pretty pictures of makeup really gets me in a mood to sit down and blog. Maybe it’s time to take a new fitness class, try a new recipe, or read a new book. Step back from your topic as an author and enjoy it without expectations of “getting material”, and you’ll probably find yourself relaxing enough that you get back in the blogging mood without realizing it. Sneaky, huh?
Inspiration vs. copying
I feel obligated to make one last note here. Sometimes you see something so cool in a magazine or on a blog that you just can’t wait to try it out yourself on your blog. However, there’s a fine line between taking inspiration and just plain stealing an idea. As an example of a general rule, if you see a cool piece of nail art on someone’s blog and want to try it out for yourself, at the minimum you should let your readers know where you got your inspiration, and link back to the original post. When it comes to something like a recipe, ask the blogger if they mind if you re-post it on your own blog (with credit and a linkback, of course). Other blogs can be a great source of inspiration, but be respectful and don’t rip off other bloggers’ ideas. It’s rude and it creates mad drama within the blogging community.
So there you have it–some of my best tips for creating great content, even when your muse is on vacation! Tomorrow I’ll go into more depth on the topic of photos, how to take them, where to find freebies, and how to use them to draw new readers. Until then, leave me any questions in the comments section below!