How Do You Answer the Question?
One of the most important questions for a prospective blogger isn’t: “Can you write?” and it’s not “How are your credentials?” It’s actually “Do you read blogs?”
If you want to be a successful blogger, you need to read other blogs. Bloggers can take different tones, expound on different subjects, and target different audiences, but they all do it in a certain environment (on the Web) and rely on a vehicle with a consistent structure and function (a blog). No matter how brilliant you are and no matter what you have to say, it’s important to understand the environment and make the most of the vehicle if you want to have a great trip.
To ask “Can you write?” implies that you can’t learn as you go. You can. Writers usually improve with practice, effort, and training. Besides, writing for the Web is not like other types of writing and online readers are different too, so expect a learning curve no matter what your initial skill level.
By the way, if you don’t feel like a writer and don’t want to change, you can still blog. Try a photo or video blog—audio blogs, usually called podcasts, are also popular. Collect and curate external content about a particular subject or field by making blog posts from collections of useful links. No matter what content format you prefer, you’ll need to stay up-to-date with the blogging norms and effective practices that apply to your situation and work for your audience.
Bloggers & the Written Word
Back to writing then. If you’re going to write it’s important to write in a way that works for your readers and subject matter.
Blogs are perfectly suited to both short form and long form posts. SEO services/tools like Scribe suggest creating tightly-focused written posts of at least 300 words to optimize your blog posts for search engines. (Disclosure: Scribe is a tool we use, love, and recommend—that’s why we’re an affiliate.) Many bloggers prefer posts that come in closer to 1,000 words (like this one). If you need even more elbow room, you can split longer posts into parts or expand them into a series. Unless your post is very short, keep it reader friendly by breaking up your content with headings or including other media.
Consume Content Before You Create Content
Reading blogs will give you a feel for the tactics different bloggers prefer. Top ten posts, tips and tricks, essays, commentaries, educational explanations, rants… Your blog can use any or all—as long as it works for your audience. When you’re blogging for business your blog isn’t for you, it’s for your business—that means your audience comes first and your ego doesn’t even rate the back seat.
If you read other people’s blogs you’ll soon come to understand why successful bloggers use the platform in the ways they do. When you see a blog on someone’s website, notice the visual layout of the posts themselves. What elements stand out? What elements communicate effectively? What draws your eye down the page?
Tips & Tools
Your credentials are important too, as is having something to say, but if you don’t understand how to structure your posts and leverage the platform itself you’ll have a harder time reaching your goals. For example, blogs exist on the Web and people have Web-related expectations when they read blog posts. Web-readers tend to:
- skim text
- respond well to images
- like bullets
- prefer short paragraphs, and
- appreciate a clean writing style.
So give the people what they want!
If you don’t know about RSS readers for blogs, it’s time to learn. RSS readers pull blog posts from your favorite sources into one place so that you can review and read them conveniently. If you don’t go to the actual blog and read the post, you’ll have a different visual experience in most readers, but you’ll still appreciate short paragraphs, useful headings, and writing style no matter where you do your reading. Even though Google announced that it’s going to retire its well-loved Reader, it’s clear from the outcry that RSS is far from dead and can make your life easier.
As you prepare to blog, I recommend that you carve out a couple of hours to sit down to look at 20 blogs in your field and then read 20 different blog posts. You’ll soon find yourself scanning for the information you want, appreciating well-executed headings, skipping over words or perhaps entire paragraphs, and clicking links for more information. This is how your readers will do it too, so make their experience the best it can be by including relevant links, having a point, and staying focused.
Empathy for your reader is yet another reason to read blogs if you want to be a successful blogger.