Back in the early days of this blog, when I was still faffing about, thinking that blogging was writing on the internet, I happened to win a book in a giveaway. It was called ‘Problogger: Secrets for blogging your way to a six-figure income’. “Yeah, right,” I thought, tossing the book on the dining table (repository for all things Fibro) when it arrived and thinking no more of it. A few days later, on a slow news day, I picked up the book and read it from start to finish. By the end of it, I was not making a six-figure income, but I had some very good ideas about what I wanted to do with my blog – and what I didn’t.
Darren Rowse is Problogger (@problogger on Twitter to be exact). He started his first blog in 2002. He now has several blogs, several books (if you’re a new blogger, do not miss his 31 Days to Build A Better Blog Workbook), and a brilliant career extolling the virtues of blogging to the wider world. If you want to know how to make money on your blog, or off your blog, he’s your man. He’s also the go-to guy for tips on creating blog communities, using social media, and building your blog into a force to be reckoned with.
But I didn’t want to talk to him about any of that. Oh no. I wanted to ask him all about the art of writing for blogs. So I invited him to the Fibro and, oh joy, he popped in for a (virtual) cuppa and a chat.
Settle back, this is good.
Do you believe that writing for blogs is different from writing for other forms of media? Why/why not?
Darren Rowse: “Tough question. I’ll say yes… but with a small disclaimer! In general, I think blogs can do well with a more personal and playful voice than perhaps writers in other forms of media could get away with. This informal and personal style is something that blogs had a lot of success with in the early days and, from what I can see, is still often important in building an audience and relationship with readers.
“Having said that, my disclaimer – it does depend a little upon the style of the blogger and the goals of the blog. Some blogs do really well being written in a more formal and less personal voice. I am also increasingly seeing the more personal style appearing in other forms of media.”
I’ve seen the line ‘content is king’ over and over – do you think that comes down to what you say or how you say it?
DR: “I think it’s both. What you say is of vital importance – it needs to be useful to people in some way. I find that the best content is content that solves a need that somebody has. That need might be a big or important one like ‘I need to know how to raise my child’. Or it could be something a little more frivolous, like ‘I’m bored – entertain me’.
“How you say it is just as important though – in some ways, I think it is often what lifts good content to being great content. Your style or voice as a blogger is something that for most people comes over time and is hard to teach. Some bloggers just seem to be born with it (Mojo), while for others it develops as they experiment with different approaches to writing and see how others respond to it.”
Do personal bloggers need to worry about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)? How can they incorporate it without losing the rhythm of their writing?
DR: “My philosophy with SEO is pretty simple:
“1. Search engines are some of the biggest referrers of traffic going around. When someone wants to find information, it is more often than not a search engine that they head to.
“2. So if you want people to read your content (whether that content be ‘personal’ or something else), it makes a lot of sense to me to pay some attention to SEO and maximising your chances of being found in search engine results.
“3. So I advise learning the basics of SEO. Having a good understanding of how search engines rank sites and what you can do to optimise your blog is something that can be the difference between having a blog that is read – or not.
“4. However – I don’t personally obsess about SEO. I know the basics and find that knowing them and practising them a little will, in time, bring changes to the way that you blog, that will lead to a natural SEO as you blog. For example – knowing that the keywords you use in the title of your post is important in SEO means you start to think about keywords more and, in time, develop better-optimised titles.
“5. Google is in the business of ranking the best and most authoritative content highest. So one of the best things you can do with SEO is to write high-quality content and build trust, credibility and authority in your niche through networking. While there are things you can tweak in your content to improve your SEO, the best thing you can do is write quality content that people share around.
So, learn the basics, implement them, don’t obsess about SEO and build something of high quality.”
For me, blogging is about voice. Stand-out bloggers have stand-out voices. Would you agree? Any tips to help bloggers develop their voices?
DR: “Voice is one of those elusive things that I wish I could bottle and hand out to bloggers. It’s difficult to teach – some bloggers seem to be born with it, others find it develops in time and for others, it just seems to elude them.
“The main tips I could give:
*Practise – it takes time to develop your voice. The first 5000 posts are the hardest!
*Experiment – part of practising is experimenting with writing in different styles and voices. Set yourself tasks to write different types of posts. Experiment with different lengths, with formal and informal writing, with humour, with writing in the third person, with writing lists posts, case studies, question/discussion-based posts.
*Pay particular attention to how your posts are received – watch for sparks of energy and resonance from your readers. As you experiment, you’ll find that some posts just seem to click with others, while others flop. This gives you hints as to what types of posts to keep experimenting with.”
If you were a writer trying to build a community and a profile through a blog, what would you focus on? Is it enough to just write good stuff?
DR: “There are other factors that I think are important in building a good blog. Content is part of it, but I always try to add two other elements:
*Community: Engagement from readers (and among readers) is where the magic often happens. Ask readers questions, get them interacting with you and each other, give them homework, make them know that they’re valued, build a culture of inclusivity. All of this helps make your blog more useful, but it also builds social proof and makes it easier to grow, because when new visitors come they will be more attracted to a site that is obviously active and inclusive – rather than one that simply has good content.
*Get off your blog: A ‘build it and they will come’ mentality doesn’t really work with blogging. Just focusing all your energy on building a great blog is part of what you need to be doing, but also important is getting off your blog and interacting with other people’s spaces. Identify who you want to read your blog and where they are already hanging out online – then go and interact (and be useful) in those spaces. In doing so, you’ll start to build yourself a profile, credibility and, hopefully, in doing so, find readers for your own blog.”