You just read a click-bait title. I apologize for that.
Before you run away, dear valued reader (see what I did there?), here’s my thesis:
A person should not blog or publish on the Internet (not all publishers are bloggers) if they are blogging to fulfill a perceived “need”. If they are doing it for reputation, links, or anything else, blogging is a wasted effort. Blogging or publishing works when you do it because you cannot help but write and publish.
Barry Adams recently wrote a post on State of Search entitled Can The SEO Industry Embrace Longform Content? Within that post, Barry talks about why internet marketers, and specifically SEOs, are not set up to write longform content because of the current mindset, which includes in Barry’s stereotype:
- Lack of time
- Lack of monetary compensation
- Short term thinking is a good thing for SEOs
- SEOs chase hypes, not substance
- We’re not journalists
- The Internet favors short content
I’m not going to respond to each of these at length here. But to me, all of these are nothing more than excuses.
SEOs don’t lack time – most don’t make time. SEOs don’t lack for monetary compensation – priorities are other places than writing (and you prioritize what you love/care about). SEOs are short term thinkers – to their detriment, because the tactics they beat to death don’t last. SEOs chase hype – once again, to their detriment because there is a lack of deep thinking, which goes back to the previous point. We’re not journalists – true, but most of us are experts. The Internet favors short content – really? I and many others disagree:
We’ve tried to work longer on stories for greater impact, and publish fewer quick-takes that we know you can consume elsewhere. We’re actually publishing, on average, roughly one-third fewer posts on Salon than we were a year ago (from 848 to 572 in December; 943 to 602 in January). So: 33 percent fewer posts; 40 percent greater traffic. It sounds simple, maybe obvious, but: We’ve gone back to our primary mission and have been focusing on originality. And it’s working.
If You’re Not A Writer, Don’t Write
This is a strong statement, but I think I’m going to stand by it. Part of the reason why I have put off writing this piece for so long is because I like to encourage people to write, since I love to write. There is nothing worse, though, than someone who writes because they feel like they should write, and not because they want to write. Barry’s points of lack of time, lack of compensation, and lack of being a journalist are never a factor for someone who loves to write.
I remember talking about this with Rand one time over email about blogging. I commented that I don’t feel like I have a choice but to write – writing is in me. Writing is how I get my thoughts out of my head (I’m definitely an extroverted sharer, as talked about in this post from Will Critchlow), and Rand is the same way. Writer’s can’t help but write.
Writing should inspire you. Here is a quote from Brian Clark (CopyBlogger) that sums up my thoughts about it:
“If I had to spend my day building links the way you guys do, I’d shoot myself. I have to be able to create content. To me, it’s like cold calling. I just built websites and the leads came to me. It’s a team building exercise, just like any other discipline. Everyone has their roles. Writers have their own roles, and you can’t underpay them anymore.”
That is the attitude of a writer. Writers take into account all of the following questions:
- Will this build affinity with my readers?
- Will my readers share this content?
- Will someone finding this post without context for who I am get value from this post?
- Have I provided the level of detail that the title requires?
Of course, not every post is going to meet all of these, and not every post should. But if this is a mindset shift for you, think long and hard about whether or not you should write.
Is It Helpful/Lasting?
I was recently looking for resources about broken link building. I went to Google and conducted a search for [broken link building resources]. Then I searched for [scale broken linkbuilding]. For a lot of these searches, the articles that I clicked on, that appeared to be helpful from their title and meta description, were about 500-700 words of fluff that offered nothing useful to me. Most could be summarized into:
- Find websites
- Find the broken links on the site
- Email and ask them to change the link
That kind of content is unhelpful. Some of you may be saying “But they did their job! They got you to the page!” They did their job as an SEO to get the page ranking perhaps, but they failed as a writer in my opinion. The posts had nothing of value to them. I skimmed through, realized that nothing was useful, and left. I don’t even remember the sites. Why are you writing unless it’s to build a brand/site, sell a product, or build loyalty/readership?
All of these posts were also just lists, with 5 points, and a paragraph of text. What happened to people learning from posts like What Kind of Content Gets Links in 2012:
If you’re reading this post and you haven’t even thought about the type of content that is going to earn links or increased engagement, you’re probably not a very good marketer and you’re probably not a very good writer. There, I said it.
Change Your Style
If your posts are not receiving engagement from your audience, as measured by social love or time on site, you probably need to change your tactics to better suit your audience. I’m not saying that you need to have a different writing voice (diversity in voice online is part of what makes it great), but tweaks to the format of your writing can make a huge difference.
Writing online should be both able to be skimmed by a reader as well as digested deeper. And few people online (at least passive readers who come across your site via search instead of subscribing) want to read a wall of text.
Imagine if I wrote The Future of The Visual Web, which looks like this:
And instead had this:
“Just look at the growth of Pinterest over the past year, which is really just images:. It has grown from 2 million to 25 million users since November 2011.
Some other examples of visual content are:
TheVerge’s organic traffic has skyrocketed recently too, by the way.”
That’s the text in that section of the post, but because images were included, you were able to get a true idea of what I was talking about instead of seeing a list. Most blogging today is lazy blogging. Do the work.
Put In Time, but Publish As Ready
Blogging is a lot of hard work, believe me. I have been writing on this site for almost 2 years and trying to publish about two posts per week. When I had myself under that pressure though, of trying to keep to a content calendar of publishing every Tuesday and Thursday, I ended up releasing content that was not as good as it could have been, simply because I felt like I needed to publish, like my readers would care if I didn’t write.
Check out this traffic graph, before and after I was publishing twice a week:
Vary Your Content Types
One of the interesting parts of being a marketer and a blogger is that you know the types of content that work on the Internet.
Another interesting note is that different kinds of content can do equally well. For example, all of these types can do well in the right place:
- Short content (look at Seth Godin)
- Longform content (look at the #longreads Twitter stream)
- Presentations (look at Slideshare)
- Infographics (Visual.ly exists for a reason)
- Video (WBF, Youtube, Vimeo)
Many marketers recently have lamented that they are seeing longform posts for the sake of writing longform posts. This is a trap of being a short-sighted marketer and a writer – you will start to fit your writing into other formats just because you think that doing so will get you more readers. The unfortunate part is that sometimes this is true, for a short amount of time.
I want to encourage all of you to think about how you are packaging your content, and how it is being displayed. If all you do is blog, you’re not leveraging all of the channels that you could use to build an audience of engagers.
My latest favorite example of someone branching outside of their comfort zone of blogging and embracing a new medium is Dan Shure, who has started his NoBoard Friday series to share his thoughts, but in a different format:
Hire An Editor
My final point, if you still want to write, is to write a lot. Write all the time. Commit to writing 200 words a day. If you’re going to get better at your craft, you have to practice. There is a reason why people say that it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert (that’s from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which I highly recommend). But as Seth Godin so well puts it:
You win when you become the best in the world, however ‘best’ and ‘world’ are defined by your market. In many mature markets, it takes 10,000 hours of preparation to win because most people give up after 5,000 hours. That’s the only magic thing about 10k… it’s a hard number to reach, so most people bail.
But remember that no one knows everything, so please do us all a favor and ask someone who you know will give you tough feedback to read your post before it’s published. We do this at Distilled (with an internal Quality email group) so that every post or external communication is edited for at least grammar, and content when it is needed.
My most popular posts on this site were all looked at by at least one person before they were published. Moz edits all of the posts that go on their site (either the main blog or YOUmoz) for grammar and punctuation. If you care about the quality of your writing, get a trusted friend to edit your work.
If you don’t care about the quality of your writing – stop writing.