The Subtle art of Successful Blogging – an interview with NYT Bestseller Mark Manson

subtle-art

Mark Manson is arguably one of the hottest bloggers in the world right now. Over two million people visit his self-improvement blog each month and his new book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life has gone off in a big way, recently hitting The New York Times bestseller list.

Mark started blogging in 2008 in the dating space, before pivoting to personal development in 2011. He attributes most of his success to the fact that he is very seriously dedicated to the craft of writing. In this interview Kelly Exeter chats with him about his writing process, monetising his two million monthly readers, and why vulnerability in blogging is over-rated.

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KE: First things first. My current obsession with the show Suits obliges me to slip a gratuitous reference in wherever I can at the moment. So, tell me – do you watch Suits and has anyone ever said you remind them of Harvey Specter?

MM: Hah, never seen it. And though I’ve heard the name Harvey Specter before, can’t say anyone has told me I remind them of him.

The subtle art of successful blogging - an interview with NYT Bestseller Mark Manson

Seriously? They’re basically the same person

KE: Ok, now we’ve gotten that out of the way … Your most recent post, The American Dream is Killing Us, took six months to write. It’s a long, well-researched, highly-considered piece about where the USA is today and how it got there. How do you build out a piece like this? Do you start with a base premise in mind – or does that emerge? And most importantly – you nailed the ending. How hard was that to get right?

MM: I always start with a base premise. That’s true for any article, but especially for a piece this long and complex. You need to have a strong overarching argument in mind going into it, otherwise you’ll just get lost in the brush and forget what you’re writing about after a couple thousand words.

With the American Dream piece, I knew the overall point I wanted to make from the very beginning. It took a couple throwaway drafts to get the message right (the ‘lemonade stand’ metaphor), and from there it was just a matter of assembling a lot of the history and data into the right spots to back up the main argument. Then you have the ending — which, thank you, by the way, I’m thrilled you loved it, as it was a huge struggle — which took another 2-3 rewrites to nail by itself.

I should note here though, so people don’t get super impressed or anything: I wasn’t writing the entire six months. It was a couple weeks in the beginning, then me taking a big break from the piece because it burnt me out and I had a book coming out, then coming back to it and spending another week or two to finish it up. But yeah, it is definitely one of the most difficult articles I’ve ever written. Many of my articles get written in a single afternoon. Most others in a couple days at most. This one seemed to drag out forever.

KE: How does one go from penning a dating blog to writing pieces like The American Dream is Killing Us and An Open Letter To Brazil. What does that journey look like?

MM: Before I started my dating advice blog back in 2008, I had been arguing about politics and culture and music and technology on internet forums for years. That’s really where I developed as a writer, actually. I was that obnoxious internet forum guy who would spend entire afternoons writing three-page replies to people explaining, in detail, why they were wrong about something. I know: ‘What a dick.’ The point is, these kinds of topics and ideas pre-date my business by quite a bit. You could say they were actually my original passion.

My business started out in 2008 specifically being about dating advice and after working on it for a couple years, it was clear that the only thing that distinguished me from other people in the niche was my writing. So, when I focused on that [the writing], the business became fairly successful as a result.

But dating advice gets kind of boring. I mean, there are only so many ways you can tell people not to text creepy things. You can only give people three hot first date ideas so many times before you want to stick a frisbee in your mouth and commit seppuku. So, after a few years, the business began to feel stale.

I think the way I was able to successfully pivot out of dating is that ultimately, what made me stand out in the dating advice niche wasn’t simply good advice, it was that I looked at common dating/relationship problems in ways people hadn’t considered before, and in ways that were illuminating and simplified the struggles they were going through. Put bluntly: they liked how my brain worked, and so when that same brain applied itself to culture or travel or happiness, they gladly stuck with it.

The subtle art of successful blogging - an interview with NYT Bestseller Mark Manson

The post that give rise to his bestselling book

KE: I once heard you say you judge the strength of a piece, not on pageviews/shares, but on whether it moves people to email you. By this standard, what’s been your ‘strongest’ post and why do you think it connected so strongly with people?

MM: I look at and consider everything — traditional analytics like pageviews, bounce rate, shares, etc. — as well as qualitative feedback: how many emails I get about a piece, how positive/negative the comments are, how long people still email me about an article after it’s published, even how many people mention an article to me when they meet me in person.

When you put all these things together, you get a really interesting perspective on your content. Some articles perform fantastically in terms of analytics, but they fizzle out quickly and don’t have a lasting impact on the site. Other articles perform poorly in terms of traffic and shares, but I’ll get a steady stream of emails telling me how much they loved the article and how important it was for them. When I look at my archive, I want every article to have some sort of value for the site and business. Some articles are much better at grabbing people’s attention and maybe getting them to stick around for a bit. Other articles aren’t as glamorous but they seem to have a really deep impact on people. Other articles are useful for very specific topics like how to handle long-distance relationships or how to get better at writing. These aren’t going to appeal to everyone, but they’re going to have an extremely high amount of value for a minority of readers. Ultimately, I see my entire archive as one collective work. And every article should be adding something useful or interesting to it. If an article isn’t, I will often remove it from the site.

KE: You’ve been blogging for nearly 10 years now. What’s easier now than it was 10 years ago (for bloggers)? And what’s harder?

MM: It’s easier to start now, mainly because the tools are so much better. Pretty much anybody can open up an account at Medium, write something, post it on Facebook, and within a day have a couple dozen people reading their ideas. Back in the day, not only were things more difficult technologically, but getting those first few dozen readers (not counting your friends and family) felt almost impossible. I think I blogged for a year before I ever had more than 100 people come to my site.

What’s harder these days is that the internet is much more crowded and there’s almost too much information out there. So, while it’s easier to get your work in front of people, it’s also that much harder to make a meaningful impact on them and hold their attention.

KE: Your development as a writer and blogger over the past 10 or so years has been very iterative and organic. Do you feel people entering the blogging sphere these days are in too much of a hurry to achieve ‘success’ and forget that it takes time to develop their craft?

MM: I feel like a lot of people start blogging because they want to start an internet business, but they have no idea what they want to do or sell, so they figure they’ll just start writing and see what happens. On the one hand, that’s better than doing nothing. Blogging is a good way to test out ideas and see if they’re sticking.

But the truth is, a blog requires years of work to get to the place where you can even consider making money. As a business plan, blogs kind of suck. You need a great brand and great ideas and be a great writer, all at once, and then you have to do it for at least a year non-stop, and then, maybe, you can start making some money off of it. It’s not going to be practical for the vast majority of people.

It’s for this reason that I always advise people that if they’re going to start a blog, it should either a) be because they love writing about something so much, they can’t help but do it anyway, or b) the blog should be supporting some other internet venture they’re starting. There needs to either be passion or purpose there, otherwise past the honeymoon of the first six months or so writing, there will be nothing to keep you excited about blogging.

KE: Your writing philosophy is ‘be so good they can’t ignore you’. Have you always taken this view? Or was it a mental shift you made somewhere along the way? And what exactly do you do to ‘be so good they can’t ignore you’?

MM: I’ve never been one to half-ass anything. Whenever I get into something, I get obsessive about it and want to be the best I can possibly be. That’s always just been an aspect of my personality, and also a part of my personal ethic: if you’re going to do something, strive for excellence in it, no matter what. As the famous MLK quote goes: if you’re a street-sweeper, sweep the streets the same way Shakespeare wrote poems or Picasso painted.

On top of that, let’s be honest, a large percentage of the content on the internet is absolute garbage — lots of lazy copy/paste jobs and scammy marketing. In that sense, developing your own writing ability is practical to differentiate yourself and your content. If you and three other bloggers are saying the same thing, then people will gravitate to whoever says it best, whoever can communicate with the most power and clarity. This is incredibly valuable in the long-run.

As for how I got good at writing: I think I just took it very seriously much earlier than most bloggers. Back around 2010, when I decided to get serious about my blog, I went out and bought half a dozen books about writing and how to improve at it. I started reading famous non-fiction writers such as David Foster Wallace, Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson. I started reading literature by greats like Hemingway and Tolstoy. I started dabbling in fiction and poetry in my spare time. On the blog itself, I began to experiment with different forms and styles, longer posts about a wider variety of subjects, and became much better at editing — as that’s 90% of what good writing really is: good editing.

KE: With great power (i.e. over 2 million readers a month) comes great responsibility. How seriously do you take this responsibility/how does it sit with you?

MM: I try to make it clear as often as I can to my readers that I don’t have all the answers. I reject the “guru” model of self-help — where someone stands on stage with all the answers. I write most of what I write not because I have all the answers, but rather because I’m struggling (or have struggled) with the same questions as my readers. In that sense, I see my writing as a very public form of therapy.

The subtle art of successful blogging - an interview with NYT Bestseller Mark Manson

The ‘cover blurb’ on Mark’s home page

KE: The sub-title of your blog is ‘Personal Development That Doesn’t Suck’. And that’s a pretty accurate summary of what you write about. I’ve always wondered if the fact you’re not a psychologist allow you to say things about self-improvement you wouldn’t be able to if you were a psychologist? And whether you consciously leverage this?

MM: Not really. My language may be more colourful, but the underlying principles are the same. A lot of psychologists have told me that they recommend my articles to their clients — which always makes me feel good.

KE: You have two guys working for you who have their Masters in Psychology. Do they ever pull you up and say ‘Hey Mark, you can’t say that’ or ‘it would be irresponsible to say that’? How much influence do they have over what does and doesn’t get published.

MM: They occasionally keep me in check and make sure I don’t say something that’s out of line. But at this point, I’ve done so much research over the past five years that their value is less in teaching me things about the subject and more in helping me understand specific research or data I come across. They’re trained to read research in a way that I’m not.

KE: Vulnerability is the tool bloggers tend to use to create a connection with their readers, yet there is a real absence of personal vulnerability in your writing. Is that a conscious choice? How do you create connection in its absence?

MM: I actually think most bloggers, especially when they’re starting out, have a tendency to write about themselves too much. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to be open and transparent with your readership. But ultimately, if you’re sharing something from your own life, that story should be driving some larger point that is going to be relevant to your readers’ lives.

I’ve learned over the years that people respond much better when you talk about their problems directly, rather than hinting at them through your own experiences. My own experiences are nice, and sometimes I share them when they’re relevant (my book has a lot more personal stuff than my blog), but if I can get a point across without inserting myself into it all the time, I find it more effective to do it that way.

KE: As mentioned previously, you have over 2 million people reading your blog every month. How do you monetise that readership?

MM: Two books (one self-published, one traditionally published), online courses, and I’m experimenting with a subscription model where people can get access to extra content for a small monthly fee. That’s still a work-in-progress, but it’s going well so far.

The subtle art of successful blogging - an interview with NYT Bestseller Mark Manson

Mark’s unique, on-brand call to subscribe

KE: You’ve said the main reason you went with a publisher for The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck was because you felt that would introduce your work to readers you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to access. Has this panned out?

MM: It definitely has. I’ve been on the radio and in a number of newspapers, hit the NYTimes bestseller list, and promoted in hundreds of book stores around the country. I’ve sold way more copies of the book than I ever would solely through my email list. So, I’m very happy with the decision.

KE: What’s next for Mark Manson? More pieces like The American Dream is Killing Us? Next book? 

MM: I will start writing another book early next year. That one will likely come out in 2018. As for the blog, every time I finish a book, I find myself feeling the need to stretch out and dabble in other topics. That’s why there have been a number of posts this year about culture, politics and technology. Some of them have been better-received than others. So, we’ll see how it goes. But with my writing, I aim to always be moving ahead, always experimenting and exploring. A repetitive blog is a dead blog.

—–

Kelly Exeter is a writer, editor, and designer who’s endlessly fascinated by the power of the stories we tell ourselves. She explores these on her blog and in her books Practical Perfection and Your Best Year Ever. Connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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Reading Roundup: What’s New in Blogging Lately?

Reading Roundup: What's new in blogging this week / ProBlogger.net

New emojis have given me cause to celebrate this week, as has the encouragment of early sucking – read on!

The Importance of Sucking at a New Job for a Year Or Two | Ross McCammon

I can’t stress the importance of this! Even if the “new job” is your blog. You need to suck at it, and suck at it early so you can get better at it faster! Don’t be afraid of doing something other than perfect.

8 Ways to Have More Time | Chris Gillebeau

Again, because time is the one thing we all say we lack – I LOVE all of these rules.

Why Instagram Captions are the New Blogging | Select All

Someone said to me the other day “Instagram has killed blogging”, and for the first time, I agreed. Not killed it entirely, but definitely helped shut down the camaraderie and closeness the blogging of yore used to encompass. Not bad, just different. And I’ve definitely seen people soar to great success with this method, yet don’t really have much traction on a traditional blog.

The iPhone is finally getting a facepalm emoji | The Telegraph

*Does a happy dance*

Six Questions to Assess if You May Be Addicted to Social Media | Psych Central

I know, we have to be on social media all the time in this business. But it’s not great to be on the “addicted” side of too much. Have you crossed that line?

Social Media “Influencers”: A Marketing Experiment Grows into a Mini Economy | The Washington Post

“In other words, while influencer marketing rose to prominence as a raw, credible antidote to the slick world of television and glossy magazines, it has metastasized into something every bit as calculated” – for some, this is so, so true. But as usual, plenty to think about.

5 Reasons You Need a Content Marketing Strategy Right Now | Entrepreneur

You can only go so far without a plan!

Plenty of Room on the Island | Seth Godin

Can’t agree with this more.

Using Instagram to Sell Products Just Became That Much Easier | Hootsuite

Hooray!

How to Repurpose Your Snapchat Stories | Social Media Examiner

Sometimes my best work is where the least amount of people see it. Well, no more!

What has caught your eye this week?

 

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The Ultimate Editing Checklist for Content Marketers

This is a guest contribution from Benjamin Brandall.

Unless you’re writing instructions or technical copy, writing is a creative process. When writers are in the flow, they work in bursts of energy, hammering out paragraphs without stopping to think about editing.

Unedited writing is, in the words of Annie Lamott: shitty. And so it should be. If you’re stopping every three words to check what you’re doing, you’re going to take days to write a disjointed, awkward piece. That’s where using an editing checklist comes in.

Editing is a misunderstood practice

A common misconception is that editing is looking at the spelling and grammar. Maybe in the days before word processors, that’s what it was, but now we have Grammarly, Google Docs and a wide range of tools to help us fix common errors in seconds.

What’s important for the post-Grammarly editor is style, fact-checking and readability. Some of these elements are technical, and you can reduce them to a formula, but as I’ve learned since being the gateway everything on the Process Street blog goes through before publication, you can’t ‘teach’ style.

In this article, I want to share with you an internal process I’ve developed for editing articles and hope that it helps you, too. It includes:

  • Copy editing
  • Editing for SEO
  • Optimizing your visuals

Part 1: Copy editing

Since this part is going to take the most amount of time, it’s best to get it out of the way right now.
Before focusing on the finer details (SEO and visuals), make sure that the words are correct. Let’s get into it.

Analyze the article’s structure

We know this one from school.
An article should have an intro, where it gets the reader’s attention, conveys the value of what they’re about to say and sets expectations.
Then, it should go on to make a series of structured points, all living up to the promises of the title and intro.
To wrap things up, you need a conclusion to summarize your points, call the reader to action and leave them with something to think about.

perfect-blog-post

(Source: Lotem Design)
While reading the article, think about whether the article follows a logical sequence, all the way through.

For more information about article structure, check this out (which, of course, has a great structure).

Check spelling and grammar with Grammarly

As I was saying, editing isn’t only spelling and grammar, but it is part of it. It’s the bare minimum, and will catch the most obvious mistakes in the eyes of the reader.
Check you’ve corrected all the words and phrases flagged by Grammarly.

Grammarly isn’t perfect, but it’s the best tool around. It’ll catch incorrect comma placement, confused words and all spelling errors, but it doesn’t compensate for that alchemical ingredient — style.

grammarly-editing-drop

After reading through the article once with Grammarly and making corrections, move onto fact checking.

Check for inconsistencies without Grammarly

Grammarly can’t flag everything up. As pointed out by Ian Luke on ProBlogger, some terms like ebook / e-book / eBook are a matter of taste, not concrete.
Grammarly or another spell-checking tool could miss that, so you have to turn it off sometimes and let your brain do the work.

Fact-check the article

This step is far more important for news pieces than personal blog posts, but you do always need to make sure you’re backing your facts up. A good method of catching opinion presented as fact is by asking yourself “how do you know this?” for every statement you read.
Check all numbers, facts, quotes and percentages have a source link.

cite-a-claim

A good way to find a citation for unsourced statements is with Google Docs’ research toolbar. It brings up a mini-version of Google search in the right-hand pane and you can search keywords to find a source to back the claim up. Ideally, however, your claims will come from sources in the first place.

Remove filler words (especially adverbs)

There are, there is, however, regardless, perhaps, possibly, rather, a bit, well.

Filler words make it sound like we’re nervous about what we’re writing, and adverbs don’t often add anything to the sentence.
Here’s a list of the scoundrels: 297 Flabby Words and Phrases That Rob Your Writing of All Its Power.
It’s not reasonable to expect you to check for all 297, but check that list of filler words while editing to get a feel for the words to cut.

Convert from the passive to active voice

The passive voice is unclear. It either clouds the facts of what you’re talking about or sounds long-winded.
According to The Daily Post, you can recognize passive sentences by looking for these things:

  • A form of the verb “to be”
  • A past participle (usually the -ed form of a verb)
  • Optionally the word “by” followed by a noun

Passive: The window was broken.

Active: Ben broke the window.

Passive: The ice hockey match was hosted by Russia this year.

Active: Russia hosted the ice hockey match this year.
Seek and destroy passive sentences.

Cut out the cliches

If you condense Orwell’s fantastic essay “Politics and the English Language” down to just a few points, a major one would be:

destroy-all-the-cliches

What do I mean by cliches? I don’t think I could do a better job than this huge list of 681, to be honest. So, let me give you a few examples and leave it at that.

  • avoid like the plague
  • take the bull by the horns
  • on a roll
  • wake-up call
  • pull your punches

When you read a cliche, your brain shuts off and doesn’t cognate the meaning because it’s seen the phrase so many times. You don’t want your readers to switch off, do you?

Weed out weak verbs and adjectives

One strong word can replace 3 weak ones with ease. Instead of padding writing with adverbs, adjectives, and extra fluff, use strong words to convey meaning.
Example:

  • Think up a plan —> Devise a plan
  • Go and see the world —> Travel the world
  • Not very good —> Atrocious
  • A bit of a pain —> Excruciating
  • Quite interesting actually —> Fascinating

A good way to CTRL+F for these is to search for ‘very’, ‘quite’, and other useless modifiers.

Don’t stress over commas, but be consistent

I know, I said already to use Grammarly early on to catch grammar mistakes, but one debatable rule concerns commas.

Since we’re writing to be read, not to pass an English exam, ensure the writer uses commas to help the text flow. The AP Stylebook advises against it, whereas Oxford University demands it, so pick your side.
As long as you’re consistent in your usage, it doesn’t matter. A writer’s aim is to put their thoughts into words. If you’re going mad working out whether to adopt the Oxford comma, ask yourself the question: “Will it help the reader understand my point?”. There are many cases where it does.
To use Grammarly’s example:

  1. “I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty”
  2. “I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty”

Which is less confusing?

Type like you talk

Convert your cognitions into words befitting of the common vernacular. Write using everyday language. If you’re trying to think of more intellectual-sounding synonyms, don’t bother. You don’t become an authority by alienating your audience. Type like you talk.

type

For a solid guide on this topic, read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well.

Self-editing? Leave the article for at least a day

Writing is a draining process. If you’re anything like me, you’ll not have the energy to edit after the wide-eyed coffee-fueled writing process.
You’ll also be too attached to the piece to be objective. After a day, when you re-read the article, you’ll find parts of it that you hate, and it’ll be obvious passages need rewriting.

comic

“The professional writer says, ‘It is almost certain that most of what I write will not resonate with most people who read it, but over time, I will gain an audience who trusts me to, at the very least, be interesting.’” — Seth Godin

Part 2: Editing for SEO

Writing with SEO as a key concern is the simplest way to… write slow, awkward articles. Others might disagree, but I find that on-page SEO is much easier to edit in than to keep as a consideration all the way through. Maybe you’re writing an article with a keyword already in mind? That should be more than enough preparation because the whole article is what you’re targeting.
After the copy editing, it’s time to add in on-page optimization for search. Backlinko recently updated its mega-guide to on-page SEO with an amazing infographic, so let me break that down into action steps for editors.

Put the keyword at the start of your H1 title

Search engines put more weight on the keyword in line with how early on in the title it occurs. While it’s not an exact science, it’s best to put the keyword in the first half of your title.
For example, instead of ’10 Checklists for to Help Your Startup With Employee Onboarding edit this to ’10 Employee Onboarding Checklists for Startups’.
Additionally, your title should be in H1. This is very likely a default if you use WordPress, but check and make sure in the HTML of your article in preview mode to see that the title is wrapped in <h1> tags.

find-h1-tags-in-inspect-element
In Chrome, right-click on a page and go to Inspect Element. You should be able to hover over the article title and see which H tag it’s wrapped in.

Make sure the slug is only your target keyword

Instead of your slug (everything after your domain.com in the article URL) looking like this:

example.com/blog/catgories/editing/checklists/2016/01/editing-checklist-for-content-marketers-and-their-mothers

Set it to be just this:

example.com/editing-checklist

Not only does it look better and is easier to remember, search engines prefer it.

Include images, videos, infographic, embeds

As well as not boring your reader to tears, multimedia increases time spent on the page, which signals to Google that the post was interesting enough for the user to stick around. A 2-minute video could increase the time on page by that time, for example.

Plus, media breaks up the text and makes the post scannable. A reader scrolling further down the page is another signal to Google of quality content.
What’s better?

typei

Straighten up your subheading hierarchy

With your title tag in H1, you need to make sure that your subheads are in H2 and any sub-subheadings in H3.

As a general rule, you can never use an H2 without an H1, never an H3 without an H2, and so on.

headings

This should come naturally if you structured the article properly in the first place.

Use your exact keyword 2-3 times in the body

Your keyword should appear in the body 2-3 times. It’s important that one of these occurrences is within the first 150 words of the article. This will also force you to cut the intro down and get to the point, which never hurts!
To check this, CTRL + F your keyword.

Use 2-4 outbound links every 1,000 words

It’s well known that outbound links (to sources or further reading) increase the authority of the article because Google knows it’s well sourced. A new guideline from Brian Dean gets more specific. Brain recommends you use 2-4 outbound links in every 1,000 words you write.
If you’re writing a well-sourced piece of work, you shouldn’t have to work hard for this.

Internally link (like Wikipedia)

Golden Age SEO Joke: How do you get 10 backlinks in one post? Internal linking, my good mate!
Believe it or not, even Wikipedia has an SEO strategy, and internal linking is a big part of it. Why? Because link juice flows through your pages according to where they link to. So, if you get backlinks to a page with plenty of internal links, the authority passes to the pages you linked internally.

finmal
Internally linking both the keywords of the target pages, plus leading phrases like ‘ported to several other platforms’ (begs the question ‘which other platforms?’), helps both SEO and reader engagement on your site overall.

Part 3: Optimizing Your Visuals

Visuals increase people’s willingness to read your content by 80%. Garbage visuals, however, do you no favors.
Get rid of any pictures that look like this:

istock_000018245750xsmall
Which brings me to my first point.

Please… Get rid of those stock images

At Process Street, we have a general rule that helps our blog posts not look godawful.
All images should either be custom graphics or screenshots. Just take a look at this collection HubSpot put together of 13 hilarious stock images. Want your blog post to look like a non-parody version of that?
As Kathryn Aragon says, images should not be:

  • Inserted willy-nilly, just to have an image.
  • Trite or overused stock photos.
  • Thought of only as share-bait.
  • Boring or irrelevant.

The point is, stock images are shoved in for the sake of it. What could a clinically smiling guy with a briefcase be illustrating to the reader? (Apart from ‘the person who wrote this hates good things’.)

Make sure your media fits full-width

There’s something visually pleasing about aligning your text with your media by keeping both the same width.

Depending on the column width of your blog, make sure your image will fit. For a visual reference, the column width of Process Street is 800 pixels.

You want your images to look like this:

full-column-width

Not this:

broken-column-width

(sorry, quaint farming blog 😦 )

Use a wide range of visuals

This might seem like I’m assuming you all have no attention span, but seriously, a variety of visual stimuli is better for reader engagement. Try to balance between:

  • Gifs
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Screenshots
  • Other embeds (like checklists, hint hint)
  • Custom graphics (we use a range of templates and custom SVGs)

With a range of media, you’re more likely to keep readers on the page. If you’ve got relevant podcast episodes or audio of some sort, these are also great to embed using a service like Soundcloud.

Optimize your titles and alt text

It’s important to optimize your image titles and alt text for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it aids your on-page efforts as I talked about earlier. If you have supporting alt text in line with your keyword choices, then it boosts the optimization of your page.

Secondly, you get the chance to rank your images in Google Images. People don’t often talk about image backlinks being important, but Process Street consistently gets a few solid links per month thanks to custom image attribution. If those images weren’t properly optimized with alt text and titles, the linker wouldn’t have known they exist.

add-alt-tags-and-optimize-the-title

Keep custom graphics consistent

At Process Street, we have a selection of backgrounds and SVGs, used in conjunction with 3 main colors and 1 font.

That keeps our images consistent, but not uniform enough to be boring. This step stems from the need for having a solid visual style guide for your brand and blog.

For more information about the power of visual content and how to create it, check out this infographic from Digital Information World.

If you don’t have brand guidelines to refer to, you can create some. They don’t have to be fancy 30-page PDF documents like this one (screenshot below) but use those for inspiration.

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Here’s a simple image I use to share with writers making custom images for our blog. It shows the hex codes of the 3 main Process Street colors, and the font used is Cabin.

Having resources like that for writers to refer to will save plenty of time in the editing process on your end.

You can’t edit a bad post into a quality post

After all this, there’s something to be wary of — you can’t edit a bad post and turn it into a top-notch post. Editors traditionally start as writers because editing is harder. It takes a keen eye, great taste, and strong analytical skills. If you’re an editor working alongside a junior writer, the best course of action while running this checklist is to add comments (either in Google Docs or screenshots with annotations) to help the writer improve.

Editing in silence doesn’t help the writer get better.

Get this post as an interactive editing checklist

Click here to get this guide as a checklist you can run through for every post you edit. It’s handy for teaching new writers, and also training yourself to be a tougher editor.

Bear one thing in mind…

Did you find this post useful? Do you have anything to add? Let me know in the comments, and we can have a chat. 🙂

Benjamin Brandall is the head of content marketing at Process Street. When he’s not at work, he runs obscure entertainment blog Secret Cave. Find him on Twitter here.

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Don’t Kill Your SEO Chances Before Your Blog Has Even Begun

Don't Kill Your SEO Chances Before Your Blog Has Even Begun

This is a guest contribution from Matt Clough.

There’s nothing like the rush of a new idea forming in your mind, the adrenalin that comes from suddenly have a clear focus and direction. This is as true with blogging as it is anything else.

If you’ve got an exciting new blogging project, it’s very tempting to get the not particularly exciting stuff – hosting, blog platform selection – over and done with as quickly as possible in order to move on to truly bringing your idea to life.

But wait! As hard as it can be to put the brakes on an idea and take a slightly more measured approach, it is absolutely critical to do so if you want your new idea to survive the initial burning passion phase. By not looking to the future and failing to plan for the route your new website may take, you can seriously impede its ability to thrive – particularly in terms of SEO.

SEO – short term actions for long term goals

It’s a tried and tested truism that to be truly successful when it comes to attracting organic traffic from search engines like Google, you have to be willing to stick at it. Some people see results in weeks; many have to wait several months to really begin to see any significant traction.

However it’s a common mistake to assume that because SEO is a long-term traffic strategy, the actions you take to get the ball rolling can be spread out over a long period of time, too. In fact, some websites can be left rueing decisions taken in their first days and weeks of existence years later when their SEO potential is restricted.

So what are some of the key choices that are imperative to get right if your blog is to become an organic traffic success story?

Hosting

Hosting is important from both a site speed and a reliability point of view. Whilst it can be tempting to find the cheapest hosting solution, paying a little more can lead to a site with much faster server response speeds that can relied upon to keep running consistently.

Site speed is an important piece of the on-site optimisation puzzle if you’re to encourage Google to reward your site with strong rankings, and no amount of tweaking aspects of your site can ultimately overcome a slow server.

Site reliability and SEO have an obvious connection. If your site struggles to deliver on what it promises visitors from search engines, they’ll inevitably return to their search, informing the engine at the same time that they’ve bounced back. Search engine crawlers will also take a dim view if they repeatedly find they can’t access a page.

Domain URL

Choosing a URL is one of the more fun set-up tasks, but it also has a significant impact on your SEO.

The main part of your URL should follow your branding, rather than chasing rankings with an exact match domain. Domains centered around your target keywords have had a decreasing effectiveness within Google’s algorithm for some time, meaning they’re no longer the potent SEO tactic they once were. Additionally, going after one specific niche or keyword can act as a limitation when you want to expand your blog’s horizons in the future.

The TLD (top level domain) part of your blog’s URL – where you decide if you want a .com website or a variation such as .net – is also important. If you’re blogging from somewhere with a country-specific TLD, such as the United Kingdom, you should think long and hard about your audience. If your content will only ever be relevant to that country, consider using the country TLD for added trust from users. If, however, you think your blog will be applicable to readers the world-over, don’t commit to just one country’s code, which makes it much harder to make an impact upon foreign rankings.

CMS

Unless this is your first time at ProBlogger, the chances are you will have read the comprehensive guide on how to start a blog. Here the importance of selecting a blogging platform that suits your needs is stressed, and the guide will serve as a fantastic resource to help you make the right choice.

Your CMS, or content management system, is essentially the engine that powers your blog. Not only is it where you create your posts and pages, it’s also what allows you to connect with new plug ins and add functionality to your website. Of the hundreds of options out there, WordPress is by far the most popular choice for blogs.

The key thing for preserving your SEO potential when choosing a CMS is to leave your options open for the future. If there’s a possibility of branching out into selling products from your blog, for example, choosing an out-of-the-box option that offers no eCommerce support will have serious ramifications.

Most CMS nowadays offer a strong degree of SEO-friendliness, but where problems arise is when a site has to change their CMS in order to continue to grow. Replatforming a site is a project brimming with pitfalls and can be a major undertaking for someone without development and SEO experience.

Permalinks

Of the four areas we’ve covered so far, permalinks tend to be the easiest to change (if you’re using a CMS such as WordPress), however that’s not to say that they don’t still pose plenty of future headaches if you don’t set them up in an optimal fashion. Google likes permalink to follow a consistent and easy-to-understand pattern. If faced with two identical pages, one of which has the URL www.example.com/example-product-name and the other which uses www.example.com/1223334444, the search engine will have an easy decision to make.

As Richard Richsh talks about here, there are a dazzling array of different permalink structures you can use. While there are some golden rules to follow to make your links SEO-friendly, there are plenty of options to decide which structure fits your site best.

As with picking your CMS, the key thing from an SEO perspective is to choose an optimised taxonomy for your URLs that doesn’t restrict your options in future. For example, if you plan on introducing keyword-optimised landing pages in the future, then it’s best to avoid using very short URLs on early blog posts – you may need these for later.

Changing a permalink structure, like your CMS, isn’t impossible. However, it can throw up a lot of problems, and it’s always a nerve-wracking moment when you press the button to change the URLs for all your ranking pages!

Keyword targets

While it can seem a bit early to think about keyword targets when, in all likelihood, you’re not sure exactly what direction you’ll end up taking your blog in, conducting some research here can be invaluable.

Even if only implemented upon your homepage, getting into the habit of identifying keywords that you want to target is never a bad idea. The keywords utilised on your homepage also play a role in helping search engine crawlers to understand the main theme of your blog.

If, for example, you ran a makeup review blog but didn’t mention keywords such as “makeup review” on the homepage, then search engines would potentially have a tough time deciphering whether your aim was to review and inform audiences or if you were selling or promoting the products you were covering.

Post structure

Similarly to permalinks, post structure isn’t something that you’re tied to forever once you’ve chosen it. That said, it can be a huge pain to go back through hundreds of old posts and laboriously change them, one by one, to a new style.

Generally speaking, it’s great to keep all your posts consistent from a structural point of view. It helps readers move from post to post with greater ease, makes your older posts look less dated and gives your blog an overall more professional feel.

If that’s not enough to convince you, it also has an SEO benefit. Structuring your posts with the correct headings will make them much easier to understand for Google and other search engines.

Perhaps the most common error on post structure is multiple uses of the H1 tag, called ‘Heading 1’ in WordPress. Ideally, you only want one H1 tag per page. Many blog themes will automatically turn your post title into an H1, meaning you shouldn’t use the main heading option anywhere in the body of the post. There are no limits on how many H2 tags, H3 tags or any other denomination that you use, but aim to use them in a logical manner, with headings as H2s, sub-headings as H3s, and so on.

Conclusion

When it comes to blogging, it’s never too late to make some major changes, whether it’s to your hosting, your platform or your post structure. However, it can be a major upheaval. The downside is that for many, without making certain changes, your blog’s potential to rank for big keywords may be permanently hindered.

By making sure that certain boxes are ticked with the information above, you can save yourself countless headaches in the future and spend your time focusing on the important stuff!

Matt Clough is the Head of Search at Kubix Media and has written on marketing for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, The Next Web, and others.

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