Cleaning Up Trashy Web Content: How to Create Posts That Don’t Stink
Eww, what’s that? Something stinks … wait, I know, it’s like 75 percent of the content on the Web. That lingering stench has overstayed its welcome, which is why the Panda cleaning crew has come to throw out the worst of the worst – about 12 percent, give or take. But what about all that other content – the stuff we’re responsible for every day through blogging? The stuff that’s not quite bad enough for Panda, but we still know is kinda trashy? That’s the stuff we’re going to talk about today, specifically quality blog posts.
Last week, Virginia and I had a pow-wow. We realized that with everything that’s been going on here at Bruce Clay, Inc., and all the projects on our plates, that perhaps our blog has been suffering a bit. At that moment, we realized we wanted to take more control of the quality of our posts — even amongst all the million other projects we had.
We first agreed we needed a new approach to our editorial calendar. Then we thought of ways to make our posts more captivating and thorough through formulaic guidelines. And we knew we had to be more diligent in tracking metrics if we were going to find out if any of this is going to actually make an impact. Stay tuned and we’ll share some of these tips with you.
WTF is So Hard About Blogging?
Blogging isn’t hard. Quality blogging is.
One goal of blogging is aiming for freshness in content to keep up with the competition online. A challenging aspect of writing content for content’s sake is “writer burnout.”
The responsibility that comes with thinking of new and interesting angles each and every day while trying to remain informative, unique, witty and engaging is enough to put you into a tailspin of self-deprecation and doubt. (No wonder Hemingway drank.)
You’re not alone if you’re feeling the pressure. But as bloggers, we do have a responsibility to improve the Web’s content. The least we can do is be accountable for what we, as individuals, put out there.
With the time crunch we all feel on a daily basis, you might ask how it is that we are supposed to churn out pieces that are in-depth and of quality every single day. Well, it’s definitely work.
I caught up with Lauren Litwinka (@beebow), publications manager and online account manager at aimClear, and asked for her tips on how bloggers can stay fresh and produce quality, day in and day out. She had this to say:
“To my mind, a big hurdle with blogging on a daily basis can be deciding what the heck to write about on any given day. On-the-spot brainstorming can be a high-pressure time-suck, and can seriously derail you from the actual task which is, namely … writing.
An awesome tactical solution is to have a massive one-off brainstorm session at the start of a new month or quarter. Sure beats coming to work and spending 45 minutes chasing down a post idea.
The goal of the brainstorm should be to amass at least 30 to 50 potential blog topics, concepts, headlines, etc. Don’t be afraid to explore the sticky and sideways, i.e., let your freak flag fly. Get out of your comfort zone and allow yourself to be creative. For sure, any content that’s expected to be engaging and of quality most assuredly has to come from a place of creativity.
Of course, not all of ideas you walk with will get the seal of approval from your boss or client. Let these cool on the counter for a bit and see if they don’t naturally transition into something a little more mellow (attainable), or inspire a new idea all together.
After the brainstorm, flesh out your ideas into well-organized blog post concepts. Lay them out on an editorial schedule, or simply keep the supply on-hand. That way, you’ll always have a few dozen writing ideas at your disposal at the start of every work day, which can ultimately allow you to devote more time to writing an awesome, engaging, top-quality blog post.”
Create a Formula for Your Blog Posts (as a Guideline)
Can writing and math go hand-in-hand? You betcha. Formulas for writing can be a very helpful thing. You don’t have to stick to them each and every time, but use them as a guideline. Think: elements in your posts that add value and give it some backbone. Create a checklist for yourself of the things you think make a great post. Try to incorporate all or the majority of the elements in every post you create.
Now I’m not saying there is a magic formula. But, from experience and taking stock of some of the more popular posts I’ve written, here are some things that I think go into making a great post:
1. Have Original Perspective
Anyone can report the news, and if you’re a newsy-type site, then you’ve got it easier than some (just sayin’). As a blogger, you have to not only talk about the relevant trends but also come up with original perspective and even opinion on them.
That said, try including your thoughts on any given matter instead of just reporting the deets in your posts. This allows people to connect with you, the blogger, and motivates them to keep coming back to hear what you, specifically, have to say. If your audience wanted cold, hard reporting, they’d go to a news site.
2. Use Additional Perspective
Sometimes it’s not just all about you. As a blogger, we can sometimes be self-indulgent, relishing in the idea that people want to hear what we have to say. But there’s a fine line.
Is there a way you can balance out your own perspective or even support it by including quotes from thought leaders in your space? This takes some time to harvest those connections, but it can add a little meat to your post.
Oftentimes, just linking out to authoritative sources that you feel support the topic can be just the lift your blog post needs. And it doesn’t always have to be outside sources, either. If you have archived information on the blog that helps get readers up to speed on the history of the topic, use those, too. This also gives the added benefit of bringing people deeper into the blog.
And if you happen to be diligent enough, it’s always very nice to use anchor text that incorporates a keyword of the page you are linking to. If not, at least make the anchor text descriptive and inviting.
Matt Inman from The Oatmeal tells us how to pet a kitty, the right way.
Matt Inman from The Oatmeal tells us how to pet a kitty, the right way.
Just linking the word “kitty” is not really descriptive of what people can expect when they click through. Is it going to be a picture of your grammy’s cat? Is it going to tell you how to pet a kitty – what? Remember, it’s always about your audience, catering to them, giving them information and not making them think too hard.
P.S. You get a fun surprise when you view page source on Matt’s stuff.
3. Incorporate Visual Aids
Don’t forget some visual aids to counterbalance all the letters and words on a page. Videos are great. Images you find on Flickr work, too (we use a lot of those we find licensed under Creative Commons).
But you know what’s kinda cooler? Original images. If your post can warrant a screen shot, do it. If you can snap photo with your iPhone or Android, do that, too. It doesn’t have to be fit for print. But sometimes it’s a lot better than trying to drudge up an image from someone else that you feel captures your post’s message.
Or how about an infographic? If you have the resources to throw something together there, you can feed two birds with one seed (my non-animal-abuse version of the old-timey saying) by creating something people can share outside of just the post. Then you can dedicate a special URL for it on the site and/or upload it to Visual.ly for sharing.
4. Leave Takeaways
Don’t leave your readers hanging. What is it they can apply to their daily lives from your post, aside from just gaining your humble perspective? Always give your audience something for their time. We’re all busy. People don’t want to waste time on something that doesn’t benefit them in some way. It’s the age-old marketing/writing rule of thumb – your readers always want to know what’s in it for them.
5. Fact Check
Here’s something we can preserve from the days when the media were the gatekeepers. Nowadays, anyone with a laptop can be a blogger, yet many have not had basic training in journalism, which teaches us to be diligent in reporting the facts. You know how rumors get started; one person says something and then another repeats it and so on. If you’re going to report something, double check your sources.
6. Edit, Edit, Edit
Read through your work and when you feel like it’s golden, read through it again. And get a second opinion if you can. It’s very rare that we don’t swap content pieces to one another here at Bruce Clay, Inc. for a second pair of eyes.
If you don’t have that luxury, try putting the piece down for a few hours (or better yet, overnight), so you can look at it with a fresh perspective. This seriously does wonders.
7. Track Metrics
Figure out what will be the key performance indicators for measuring the success of your posts. If you’re not already familiar with Google Analytics and you don’t have it set up in the sites you blog for, that’s Step 1. Then, think about other factors that matter to you (supported by research on “if” they really should matter).
Assuming you have social share buttons on your blog posts, this includes things like how may Tweets your post receives, how many Google +1s you get, how many Facebook “Likes” you’re receiving, and so on. It’s not enough, however, to say that more Tweets = a better post. Be mindful of what the value of that Tweet is to your goals. Maybe people tweet your post and never read it. Back that up with Google Analytics data.
We know that Facebook “Likes” help spread content deeper into the Web, but how does that impact your goals specifically? And many are now speculating about the impact of the +1 button and how it may affect click-through and rankings, so this might be a priority for you to add to a post. Think your KPIs through before committing to them.
And depending on what industry you’re in, you may have certain KPIs that include recognition, such as where the blog falls in the Ad Age Power 150. For us in the search marketing industry, another KPI might be if we made it into Search Engine Land’s Search Cap.
And of course, all of these assumptions can be backed with data, then wisdom of what you believe are factors outside of just the hard data.
Welp, that’s just one blogger’s opinion on creating quality posts. What’s yours? Leave us some feedback below!