Your Blog Headline Sucks

Power tribes are all the rage on Triberr. This blogger is in three, and the jury is still out whether that will be the norm in a few weeks or not.

What’s happened as a result, however, are the headline and first two sentences (like the lead of a news story) become the most critical aspect of a blog post.

When your headline sucks, and I don’t know you or your writing ability, then your blog is bypassed, deleted, muted, or blacklisted. Your headline needs to be a summary of what you write about inside. It has to provide a creative depiction and enticement for me, the reader, to click, read, share, and comment.

Here’s what I’m seeing that isn’t good in headline writing:

  • One-word headlines that mean nothing and say nothing.
  • Headlines chock full of @ signs and hashtags (I believe that’s because people are writing headlines for Twitter?)
  • A series of peoples’ names that take away from the content
  • Use of first-person pronouns, kinda like, “What I Ate For Lunch”
  • Headlines that go on and on like a paragraph
  • No imagery, innovation or creativity to conjure a visual

Get my drift?

Because I’m in the public relations profession with a media relations expertise, I learned to write a headline that summarized and introduced the entire news release. In fact, I always spend the most time on the headline and then the lead (first paragraph). Now that I’m in these power tribes, I’ve changed up my first paragraph to be less about my thoughts and more about the content in the post.

Two headlines I’ve written (one just this week) prompted more comments and traffic:

Does  Your Blog Have Spinach In Its Teeth?

Should Video Be Like a Nude Beach?

You can see why these are successful; each creates a great visual, and the image you select helps further pull the reader. The first headline  came from a comment I wrote on Clarity For The Boss; I actually was speaking with Sharon Gilmour about vulnerability and asked her whether she’d tell me if I had spinach in my teeth, and lo, there was the idea for the blog post.

Tips For Better Blog Headlines 

(I could’ve used this as the post headline, but, don’t you think the one I selected instead is more enticing?)

Here are my tips for writing better blog headlines so yours don’t suck.

1. Go to the list of observations and don’ts and reverse them, of course.

2. Review your content and select some catchy words that serve to describe what you’re writing about; use those words.

3. Sex sells. Ask TheJackB how many times he’s used some sexual connotation as headline bait…works, doesn’t it, JackB?

4. Use tips — 10 Tips — is always a great puller; people love those lists.

5. How can you make me visualize a picture enough that I want to read the post? Be creative.

6. Never use one-word headlines; please, I beg you.

7. Why waste valuable real estate with peoples’ names in a header? Is that supposed to impress me and make me want to read because three people I don’t know are in the headline?

8. Key words? OK, if you have to, and guess what? Key words work for search marketing and they also work for readers. If I am seeking content on social media (which is often what I look for), then use that in the headline.

I’m always impressed by Mark Babbit’s headlines; without ever reading his content, I know he writes for interns, job seekers and about resumes. He always puts these key words in his headlines, and I applaud that.

Want to try some?

Old: My Boat That Sunk Yesterday

Suggestion: How To Repair Holes in Wooden Boats

 

Old: Special Halloween Family Dinners

Suggestion: Four Healthy, 15-Minute Kids Dinners Before Trick-or-Treat

 

Old: Why My Business Failed

Suggestion: Rescuing A Failing Business With A Lifestyle Coach

 

If anyone wants a bit of headline help, let me know. I’m happy to offer some tips or whip up a new thought for you to consider that is enticing, creative, and exemplifies your content.

 

Blogging In A Safe Community

This is a great reminder that blog posts get seen by the whole world. It’s easy to forget that when we’re blogging in our safe communities. Let me share a story that may help you edit a little more, or less, given the topic…

Shakirah Dawud is one of the most fantastic writers I know, and her blog at Deliberate Ink covers a bunch on writing, words, copywriting, and other topics. She asked me to guest post on a topic I couldn’t address, and it took me weeks to stretch my thinking to come up with a topic relevant to her audience, her blog’s theme, and something I thought I could speak to.

The post I wrote was along the lines of whether marketing can write for PR. It’s not something I ever think about, but I stuck my neck out to write in Shakirah’s safe community and promoted it within my network.

The post was well received with in-depth discussion in the comments, lots of questions, lots of friendly debate, and more RTs than I’ll ever see at my house. (Very cool.)

Then, an editorial assistant from Ragan.com sent an email at the end of the day asking to re-publish my post. Ragan Communications is a national company delivering PR, marketing, writing and other content, products, workshops, training courses, etc. to our industry.  I gave my approval, and the post went live at 5 p.m. last week.

The next morning, the first two comments were negative from anonymous folks, called trolls, who are keen on negating most of what they read but never add their name to their statements. That didn’t feel good, but I thanked each for their heartfelt negativity and said something like “all comments welcome.”

The next eight or so comments were more in-depth; some negated the writing, the concept, the “blanket statement” and even argued, in not so many words, I was full of it. A professor of public relations made some decent remark in a neutral way.  I took my time responding to each person and thanked them for their comments.  All the while, I was hoping for no more responses.

Why?

That community on Ragan.com had no idea who I was, had never seen me, didn’t know my qualifications, had never seen my blog, etc., etc. It was really easy for them to negate me, rag on me, call me stupid, or whatever, because they didn’t know me.

Think about that…when you write a blog, people in your community begin to get to know you, your traits, quirks, personality, tonality, and they form opinions. They determine whether to come back and keep reading or whether you truly aren’t the flavor of the month. When a post is published as a one-off in a community accustomed to who knows what and there’s been no prior engagement, the opportunity is ripe for the bombs to fly. Not saying I got bombed over there at all, but I can say it felt uncomfortable, for sure.

What I learned from this experience:

>>I am more grateful for YOU, this community we’ve developed.  When people disagree, it’s obvious, yet daggers aren’t sharp and pointed.

>>When you launch a blog, there’s safety in obscurity. Don’t hope for stardom before you’re ready; in fact, I’d like to hide under my rock a bit longer (not that this single blog post is going to change my life).

>>The tonality and ‘raderie are what make blogging fun for me. Upon reading those comments from complete strangers, I was cringing, although no one really fired any bullets. It was just uncomfortable, and I wasn’t used to it!

>>The content we write as bloggers can go anywhere — on portals, on other blogs, on ‘zines, be fodder for reporters/media, employers, and more. This story is a reminder that anonymous eyes read our material.

>>I’ve lurked on a few occasions when a guest blogger writes malarkey on a national business blog, like Forbes or Fortune. I watched as she/writer was taken to task so strongly that I felt badly although I agreed with the comments. The funny thing was the writer was nowhere to be found…she never responded to anyone’s comments.

If you’re going to take a position in your writing which could be construed as other than mainstream, stand up for your beliefs. It’s more damaging to let commenters control the message than it is to be front and center engaging people in comments as you protect your brand.

Thoughts?

 

 

 

30 Tips To Blog With Confidence

Everyone likes a good tips list, and it’s been awhile since I’ve developed one. They can be so annoyingly mundane; however, this topic ought to resonate with many a peer blogger. I’m seeing too many peeps having crises of confidence, and I’m hoping that some of these thoughts will help boost morale, ‘raderie, and support to keep on.

I invite yours; I also invite your selection about which of these you may want to see fleshed out into a more in-depth blog topic. (Heh, then I’ll ask you to write it! Kidding, but I may ask you to join with me on its development.)

Here we go:

1. Give yourself one full year before you cash it in. That means posting a minimum of three times weekly!

2. During that year, expect depression, lack of voice, few comments, fewer RTs, issues about what to write, and general malaise. But, you have to embrace these emotions and push yourself forward.

3. If you struggle with what to write about, then pick a favorite topic and begin writing. Make sure it’s comfy – talk about your grandma’s pie crust; share a story about a book you just read; review a social media book and share why you like it.

4. Focus OUT! If you’re depressed, your writing will be, too. See number three.

5. Select topics that are general, safe, and free of painful emotion. If you’re seeking a support network because of a very personal situation, you may turn away some readers who don’t wish to know that aspect of your life.

6. Try to define who you’re writing for – is it for small businesses like the writing by Ken Mueller, Laura Click or Erica Allison? Is it for sales people like Marcus Sheridan writes at The Sales Lion? When you define your audience, you’ll begin to tailor your writing to them.

7. Do you have a mission? Lisa Gerber at Spin Sucks shared their mission is to change perception about public relations. They develop content with that mission statement squarely in front.

8. How about some goals? Why do you blog? I have peeps who tell me they blog for themselves – just to write; others blog to help inspire and lend support to anyone who’s down and out, and still others blog to earn money.

9. Answer the question “why is blogging important?” Are you just blogging because everyone else is? Do you thrive on pushing the envelope and jumping into the limelight? Are you trying to overcome being an introvert and blogging is the way to do it?

10. Get someone to help you with the design of your “house.” When you write and post in a house that looks nice, clean, and sophisticated, then your content gets a boost, too.  There’s a sense of pride that you’ve just built a new home, and you want people to comment positively about that new look and feel.

11. Spend some time on others’ blogs and comment there. See how the comments come alive, and participate actively.  Try not to sow your oats in a community forum; it’s best to stay positive and contribute professionally without too much negative energy. You can become uplifted when others are passionate about what they’re saying.

12. Cautiously share your material. You’ll know when you love something you’ve written. That’s when you can distribute it from the roof tops and use ALL the channels available to you – including Triberr, Twitter, Facebook and Google+. You’re aware of the various ways these channels bring new readers over to your blog, right?

13. Do a round-up of your favorite bloggers for a #FollowFriday post. Bookmark your faves, and repeat them as a weekly feature, but be sure to share why you’re calling people out. Has a post hit home with you? Did you notice a ton of cool comments and were impressed by that? Others who follow you will be impressed with your generosity (that of sharing and recognizing peers, mentors, and others you appreciate). You know who always does this is @nittygriddyblog. She’s amazing.

14. You can do the same with a theme – select a topic you like; it could be stamp collecting or parenting or dachshunds.  Find all the bloggers you can on each of these topics and share them; or, begin writing your own “how-to” series on a topic and link back to others as resources.

15. Interview someone and write a story.

16. Launch a weekly Q&A – you ask the questions and ask your favorite peeps to answer.

17. You might think this list is about how to write good content for a blog; however, when you become comfortable about your content, then you also become inspired and excited about blogging.

18. I cannot stress how important it is to be inspired and excited when you blog. People want to feel your passion about a topic; when you’re earnest about something, then others want a piece of that, too. And, they want to share their own experiences, or join your community and participate.

19. Energy; POSITIVE energy. I just commented on Alaska Chick’s blog for the first time, and this woman is a newbie blogger, yet she’s crushing it with her positive energy.  She’s Amber-Lee Dibble, and you may see her commenting on blogs; she’s everywhere.

20. Brand yourself appropriately – Amber-Lee, may I pick on you here? You tweet @GirlyGrizzly; you sign your name Amber-Lee, and your blog is Alaska Chick, yet your company is something else entirely — something like Pioneer XX. Regardless, I’m confused what you’re branding, and with that confusion lack of confidence may follow.

21. Ask questions and no question is stupid; it’s the only way to learn. Here’s a funny story about my foray into blogging – I had no idea I had to upload WordPress.org as the foundation for my self-hosted blogging platform.  I tried to upload Headway Themes first and of course failed miserably. When I kept asking questions of the Headway developers, I became persona non grata – they didn’t have time for a dumb broad’s questions, yet I was their audience!  I was a wet-behind-the-ears blogger who knew nothing about the tech back end of a blog!

22. Admit your weaknesses, ask for help and add someone to your team who knows what you don’t. I use the word “team” loosely. My weakness is the tech back end; see #21, but I’ll struggle to DIY and fail! Only then I’ll ask for help. I’ve since added a great tech expert, @CarbonSpace. He’s Dwight Maskew, and he was recommended to me from a Twitter pal. (I recommend him; run, but I have first dibs.)

23. If you’re having a tough time blogging every day, keep that to yourself. Try not to air your laundry to the entire sphere; work around your roadblocks by taking a day off from the whole thing. Put it aside until you’re interested in seeking inspiration again.

24. Don’t be afraid to overhaul your blog’s look and feel. You’ll never stop doing this, but your house needs to be in order because it’s the first impression that’s the strongest.

25. Gingerly approach and master voice. Early on in this list I provided many ways to develop content; this was intentional. When I started I had no voice; I wasn’t confident about what the heck I was saying, and the writing was poor, forced, and uninteresting. Because I read everything, I take inspiration from articles in Ad Age, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal, Inc., and other publications. (I still do.) When I saw an article that prompted a serious reaction, I sat down and wrote about it. And, I wrote with conviction that a company was wrong, right, or had erred in judgment. Conviction begets passion, and people appreciate a good opinion. What are you passionate about?

26. When you get a commenter to visit, embrace them. Do not treat people like persona non grata if they only pop in once every two weeks or less. People are very busy, and your blog is out of sight and out of mind. When you do #13, you nearly guarantee people are popping in to pay you homage for the link love. If they like what they see, they will come back again, and it’s OK to nudge the people you most want back! (I love an invitation and reminder. There are so many places and people to see; it becomes challenging to visit everyone’s house.) Shakirah Dawud just wrote about this at Deliberate Ink!

27. Before you ask for help about your blog; know whether you’re prepared for brutal honesty. In my first year, someone asked me “Why are you blogging again? You’ve had a rough go of it the last five weeks.” I nearly threw in the towel; honestly!  I was discouraged, depressed, and knew this was not for me. And then I got all mad and said, “Who the flip does he think he is? I’ll show him!”

28. If you’re really down and out about blogging, look introspectively for a moment. Are the kids driving you insane? Are you and the partner having issues? Are you struggling to find a paying gig? Did you recently lose your job? Is it summer and are you just too crazed to be inspirational? Did you recently lose a family member or friend and you’re mourning? It’s life people! Life rocks our world, and that’s expected to influence blogging, too. Take a breather…it’s OK to go on hiatus until you get your mojo back.

29. Rather than hang out at the power bloggers’ houses, select a mid-tier group of bloggers (who also are experts in their own right) and hang out there. It’s less chaotic, the pace is less frenetic, the comments are not fast and furious, and you’ll earn respect and support in ways you’ll never expect. (Not that you don’t over at Gini’s, Danny’s, or Mark’s…)

30. KEEP ON! Do not stop; do not lose your moxie or mojo. If you do make that decision; however, know that you can always turn the switch back to “on.” And, when you do, that journey may take you on an entirely different pathway where new peeps you’ve never met become your best supporters.

What might you add? Which tip might you  like to see as a deeper exploration?

Who Are You Writing For?

Last week, Jenn Whinnem graciously offered a guest post and asked whether your blog writing may be offending readers. She got a litany of comments, and each of them had poignancy.  Yet, the answer was mostly skirted, so I need to address this in a different way while respecting all the comments people left who knew or were pondering the answer to that question.

Jack Steiner writes Random Thoughts, and he’s been at it for seven years as a blogger. This is miraculous; in fact, I don’t know anyone else who’s been blogging longer. And, his style is very much his own — he writes for himself about family, experience, personal thoughts, and some business, too. He doesn’t care to niche himself into one tier of audience because he clearly states he writes for himself. So, his audience is he.

Laura Click of Blue Kite Marketing said she is writing for small businesses about social media tips; yet, those who comment are her peers, and they may already know what she’s writing about. So, is her blog effective? Is it meeting her goals?

Leon Noone, that curmudgeon Aussie who recently guest posted on Spin Sucks, shares with Jenn that you need only have one audience. He states this based on his lifetime of direct marketing expertise. (By the by, you need to keep abreast of Leon — you can learn much.)

Adam Toporek shared that he’s blogging with SEO in mind so some of his topics are intended to push his Intense Fence business. He’s only been at it a little while, so he’s still trying new things.

Shakirah Dawud took Jenn’s comments to heart and suggested she needed a swift something or other to try and write for a larger audience. She claims she had been writing for her peer copywriter buds, but found that niche too narrow. She’s now considering casting a wider net.

Other bloggers have determined that personal introspection, therapeutic, and coaching content work well for them, and thus their audience is people who seek a community for support and a spiritual nature.

And, what about me, you ask? During that first year, I had no idea; my goal was to become a thought leader and I never asked anyone to hire me, buy from me, or other monetary gain. Knowing I wanted my clients to look at my blog and see something actively energetic, I had to write about what I knew — public relations.

But, writing about public relations begets other practitioners. So, eventually/fast forward to now, my blog has become a place for peers with a community built around social media, marketing and PR. Is that what I had intended? Nope. Didn’t want to be caught in the niche; but…I like it, it feels like home, and because I’m seasoned after 27 years in this field — well, I should not ignore that.

If your goal is to write for small businesses, writers, PR peeps, friends and family, or customers — keep in mind that there are those popping in to see what’s new who NEVER comment. (That’s why a “like” button is helpful; gives people a way to show they’re there without speaking up; ahem, @thesaleslion!).

So, clarify your blogging goals; defining your audience is exactly part of this process. Remember that goals can be adjusted as you grow:

  • Are you blogging to brand yourself?
  • Do you want to expand your service offering?
  • Do you need clients to see you in action?
  • Or, are you needing to grow as an individual and earn confidence while writing a ton and earn support from the sphere at the same time?

When you can definitively answer these questions,  you will know for whom you’re writing. And, maybe you already do.

 

Is Your Blog Turning Readers Off?

Jenn Whinnem is a regular here, and she brings a perspective I love with relish (dill, not sweet). She’s back in betwixt her recent gig at the Connecticut Health Foundation where she’s the muse for social media innovation. See what you make of Jenn’s view as she re-visits our neighborhood.

Jenn Whinnem Says:

Fellow bloggers, I want to know: who are you blogging for? Can you tell me right now who you’re writing for and what they can get out of your most recent post? What if your writing is turning readers off?

It’s something that’s been on my mind ever since I’ve been running around like a mad woman with my kicking new job. I’m a lot less active in the part of the blogosphere I previously called home. In fact, I’d say I’ve moved.

When I visit the old neighborhood, though, I get kind of confused. When I saw these blogs every day I didn’t question a lot. But now I see these blogs less often and I really notice what’s going on, kinda like the friends you only see every couple of months. And, I have to say, every time I dip back into my Twitter stream and read the posts that are being shared, I have a huh? moment.

See, lately blogs are making me flash back to pre-2009, when blogs felt like this to me (Lyle not Teodor). Honestly, who cared what I or you or anyone else was thinking about? The navel-gazing flat out didn’t interest me.

Then in 2009 I woke up and realized blogs had shifted into providing real business value, and I got into it. There was an exchange of information, not just opinions. Cool.

But recently some blogs are feeling, well, pretty self-indulgent. As a reader I’m not getting much out of it.  I’d like to pose this question — what are bloggers getting out of it? In my defense I’ll say I’m trying to avoid the echo chamber just like the rest of you. I definitely read new bloggers who have moved in, and I’m getting a similar feeling. Are they getting business out of it? If not…what’s the point?

So let’s talk about this. Do you know who you’re blogging for? What have you written for them lately, and is it something they want to hear? Or, am I completely out of whack? Wouldn’t be the first time!