When I first started blogging, I was knee-deep in my over-caffeinated college education. I took the writing I was doing for class, or the ideas that my teachers didn’t want to read, and turned them into blog posts.
They were long.
They were dense.
They were brilliant, if I do say so myself.
But goddamnit, they were boring.
When I started studying with Jon Morrow I learned that good blog writing isn’t the same as good writing anywhere else. Academic writing is different than legal writing, poetry is different than business plans, and novelists are singing a different tune than grant writers.
Somewhere along the course of my blogging career I learned that my dense academic writing wasn’t doing me any favors.
It was probably somewhere around the same time that I realized my traffic rankings were never breaking the double digits, and my mom had stopped bothering to even pretend to read.
Exhausted from all of my hard work, I decided to take a step back and take the intensity out of my content. I started writing more like I was talking to a friend and less like I was talking to a professor. More like “Jen’s had three glasses of wine and isn’t afraid to make someone mad” and less like “this blog is going to please everyone and I’m going to instantly become recognizable for my brilliance.”
Lesson #1: Write Like Your Most Fun and Engaging Self, Not Your Smartest Self
Most people, when trying to sound like their smartest self, come off like an asshole.
You know when you go on a date and the other person is just trying way too hard? How you never want to go out with them again? How they end up looking more like a needy insecure looser than someone that’s much more aloof and far less desperate? Well, don’t be that guy.
Do you know what will prove that you’re smart?
Making interesting points. Captivating people’s attention. Proper use of grammar (for the love of God, check your “its/it’s” and “you’re/your” and “to/too” before you press “Publish”). These things alone will set you above 99% of published content on the internet.
Do you know what will make people come back to your blog?
Being engaging. Being humble. Admitting what you don’t know (and being passionate with what you do know). Having character. Being relevant. Teaching your readers something useful that they want to know (not just that you want to talk about).
Blogging, my friends, is a lot like life in this way. Have real value, have grace and humility, don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself, and don’t be arrogant. Oh, and know your grammar.
Lesson #2: TL;DR* – Break Up Text with Sub-headers
One of the biggest lessons newbies mess up (and I still fail to do myself, sometimes) is break up text visually.
Internet eyes are skimming and wandering eyes. They’re like the boyfriend that’s always looking to see “what else is out there.” They are not committed people, my friend.
So, if you had a boyfriend with a wandering eye, would you sit down and explain to him how wonderful you are to convince him to pay attention? No, you’d put on a skimpy dress and walk around like he doesn’t exist. Much more effective.
Similarly, if you try and get someone’s attention by putting a big dense block of text on the page, they can’t skim it, so they lose interest and wander off elsewhere.
But, if you break up the text with catchy little subheads they are able to skim, they get caught up in the buzzy little titles, and are forced to read to see what it is your talking about.
For instance, tell me which of these pages you’d rather read:
No subheaders. Just a lot of Jen.
Still a lot of Jen, but now elegantly divided up with little inner teaser titles (aka, sub-headers)
The efficacy of sub-headers when looking at a piece of text is one of the many reasons list posts are so effective. For instance, one of my most popular posts is the eloquent piece “7 Signs You’re Dating a Sociopath” (apparently I’m not the only one interested in these things). One of the reasons I believe it’s so effective, though, is because of its visual appeal and intrigue:
Lesson #3: Let Multimedia Spice Up Your Life
One of the coolest parts of producing content online is that you can embed images, audio, and video anywhere you like.
We all learned the “show don’t tell” philosophy in elementary school, and now we can take that to a whole other level.
If you’re trying to explain how to do something but one step is particularly technical, make a short YouTube video demonstrating it and embed it in your post.
Draw diagrams. Doodle. Draw pictures.
One person who has mastered this is Austin Kleon, who I interviewed here on Blogging Fearlessly for his book Steal Like an Artist. We can also learn from web comics like The Loading Artist or Hyperbole and a Half.
The message is, there are many ways to illustrate ideas and concepts – the more mediums you’re able to throw in there the more stimulating your blog post will be for the reader, and the more likely your message is to resonate and make an impact.
At the end of the day, make content that’s fun to read. The more you can provide real value and be entertaining, the more likely people are to come back and want more. x
*TL;DR = “Too long; didn’t read.” When Chase and I first started dating he said this about all of my blog posts. He later learned that if he wanted a girlfriend that that acronym could no longer be a part of our relationship internet messaging dialogue.