Tag Archives: Blogging

Episode 65: How to blog about boring topics without sending your audience to sleep

While it would be wonderful if every piece of work we undertake, as freelance writers, was thrilling and enthralling, in reality we do, at times, get assignments which are terribly boring. In this podcast episode, Lorrie provides six ideas to help you create fascinating content when the topic you are writing about is deathly dull.

Show Notes

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to a Little Bird Told Me, the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade.

We talk about the highs, the lows, and the absolute no-nos of successful self-employment, saving you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guiding you – hopefully! – to the very top of your chosen profession.

Freelancing is amazing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Tune in to the podcast every week, and if you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, you can subscribe to ensure you never miss an episode.

Whether iTunes, an RSS podcatcher or Stitcher Smart Radio is your platform of choice, we’ve made it really easy to sign up and be the first to hear our latest words of – again, hopefully! – wisdom. There, you will also find any links we mention, our own websites and social media feeds, and the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook Page, too.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and today, I’m going to be getting you into the swing of 2014 with a solo episode. The lovely Pip, my usual co-host, is squirrelled away and working hard, so this is a solo gig. But fear not, she’ll be back in a fortnight’s time to share her words of wisdom and filthy laugh with you all again.

So, this week, I was thinking about talking about New Year’s resolutions – new starts, business plans and all that, but the Internet has it all pretty well covered. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit of sick of it already.

So, I’ve decided to steer away from all the New Year’s Resolution stuff (apparently 88% of them fail in the first month anyway) and talk instead about something that no freelance writer I’ve ever met has managed to quit – and that’s writing about boring, boring topics.

Now you’ll probably already have wondered about how to write about boring topics, and if you go on the net, you’ll find loads of worthy posts about how there are no boring topics, only tricky topics, or boring people, or bad writers, or whatever. It’s not true – it’s a complete lie.

English: Traffic cones Part of the Deanside Tr...

English: Traffic cones Part of the Deanside Transit railway yard beside Makro at Hillington is now being used to store traffic cones and roadworks related signs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are boring things in the world; my boring isn’t the same as yours, and yours isn’t the same as someone else’s but we all get bored – we’re all human. If you have to write about something you find boring, it can be really hard, so it’s no good pretending that everything is sunshine and roses and unicorns, and that you think everything is super interesting because nobody does. So I’ve come up with six ways to write about a boring topic without sending your audience to sleep.

So tip one is to be clued up. Now, we all know what it’s like, sitting there, trying our best to absorb a topic that Just. Won’t. Get. Interesting. And whether you’re cowering on the back row of your year 11 chemistry lesson or you’re slouched in front of a computer trying to read the latest news about algorithms and metrics and measurements – sigh, Pip loves those – the feeling is always the same: painful, impending death.

On the other hand, we all know what it’s like to be engrossed in a topic that, while it might be complex or unpopular, just never fails to be fascinating. For me, it’s grammar. I love grammar – how it works, the rhythm of it – I think grammar is beautiful – how it develops, the patterns that spiral out and out from parts of a word to parts of a sentence to parts of a paragraph like some gorgeous grammatical galaxy. I really do like grammar.

But why do I love grammar but not chemistry? Well, part of this is down to natural abilities – I’m a linguist, not a chemist. I have a natural affinity – and ease of understanding – with words that I don’t have with chemical compounds. The enjoyment comes from the understanding. Grammar is one of the most hated topics I know, especially here in the UK, but because I understand it, it fascinates me. And while you can’t choose your natural talents, you can improve your knowledge and use that knowledge to open the door to others.

Now, writing about boring topics requires relatability, and the only way people are going to be able to relate to a boring or complicated topic is if you bring it to them in a form they can understand and relate to.

So, I could talk about grammar as building blocks, if I wanted to be really simple – and, let’s face it, a bit hackneyed. Or, I could use my imagination and use an analogy like my earlier one – grammar as a galaxy. With imagery like this, I could talk about the connections between parts of speech, and use the idea of orbits to discuss how certain words act as an anchor for others in a sentence…you get my point.

But if I didn’t understand grammar, I couldn’t do that. And the same goes for any topic – this is my point. You don’t have to be an expert in something to write engagingly about it, but the deeper your understanding, the more chance you stand of being able to reframe the topic in a way that will spark your readers’ imaginations.

Not only that, and this is the good news for you, the more research you do on a topic, the deeper your understanding becomes. And the deeper your understanding becomes, the more you enjoy the topic and want to learn about it. It’s a beautiful thing.

Tip two: be human

You have to really try to be human when you’re writing. Removing the human element from an article on a potentially boring topic can often be the kiss of death.

Your readers are human (we hope), so you need to appeal to them on that level. People are generally group animals – we like communicating with one another and learning from each other and connecting with one another, so stay present in the content you write.

You don’t need to be “you”, necessarily – you’ll need to be the voice of whoever you’re writing for, and there may be tone or brand guidelines to follow if you’re writing for a client – but you do need to be human and engaging.

The human touch has another benefit when it comes to topics that risk becoming boring due to their complexity – it helps to build trust.

If you – or the client you’re writing for – have a consistent voice throughout your body of content, your clients and prospects are far more likely to engage with the material you present to them and trust what you’re telling them – very helpful when you’re dealing with facts, figures, explanations and things like that.

Build a relationship with your readership over time, and you’ll find that they invest a little more in reading what you have to say – they’ll want to read you and they’re more likely to seek you out again. This is exactly why social media is so effective – when people have an engaging voice, others are drawn to that.

Now, blogging can be a writer’s playground, as long as you have clearance to go ahead with the tone you’re choosing to use.

And remember, if you’re blogging for yourself, it’s important to use your best self for your brand, but not a fake self. Choose and consistently use the funniest, wittiest, most intelligent, most engaging parts of yourself – maybe you wield a great sense of irony, maybe you can spot and shoot a cliché down from 10 paces away. Maybe you’ve got a chaotic family full of hilarious members and there’s always a lesson in whatever your grandma says or does.

Whatever topic you’re writing about, be yourself but be your best self. And, as people get to know you, they start to listen more closely to what you have to say.

Tip three is “Be relatable”. Following on from being human and understanding your topic, we’ve got being relatable. And while this could realistically (and easily) have been included under those two headings, I think it’s important because of the emphasis it places on your target audience.

Being human and well clued-up on your topic is all very important, but you have to aim your writing square at the reader you’re hoping to enthral. Otherwise, all that wit and wisdom is going to do no good at all.

You need to write in a way that touches the target audience, and encourages the reader to create images in her or his own head. And to do that, you can’t always be informing the reader about things she or he has never heard of – although you may need to do that plenty, especially with informative blog posts – you need to tap into things they already know, understand and find compelling.

Now this might be general human truths or it might be sector-specific. So when you’re looking for analogies to liven up your writing, look for the kinds of things that – when you tell someone about them – they interrupt you and go, “Ohhhhh yeahhh…”; the kinds of things that we – or your target audience – have all got a story about.

Showerhead

Showerhead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Looking at general stuff, it could be the embarrassment of falling flat on your face in public; or the inevitable fact that, if you ask someone to look in the fridge for the jam that you know is at the front of the top shelf, they won’t find it and you’ll have to get it yourself, or the fact that 97% of your time in the shower is spent staring into space and coming up with things you should have said in an argument you’ve already had.

Being relatable is a way of building a strong connection with your reader. All you have to do is find out how it fits with your topic!

Tip four: be relevant. Now I know a lot of people say bad things about click bait and it’s true – patent click-bait without substance is rubbish.

But, you do need to be relevant. It’s worth coming up with ways to link your content to relevant topics but make the content evergreen content as well. So situate your content in a wider context – tap into things that people are reading about, and understand about, and care about. Situate your topic relevantly and people are more likely to want to go and read it – you have to hook them in.

If your boring garden machinery topic comes out of nowhere, then it’s only going to appeal to people who are impassioned by garden machinery.

But if you can link this to something in a wider context – say, there’s some new legislation that says that people can’t use this particular equipment any more, or you can find a political or even celebrity topic that could link to your topic with more than just a bare thread, then that will help you to be found on search engines, it’ll encourage people to click through.

So don’t be mercenary but don’t be afraid to be relevant and get a few more click-throughs on that content.

Tip Five: be creative. So imagine that you weren’t listening to a podcast right now. Instead, you’re reading a dry as toast study about the various factors involved in creating compelling content for blogs.

The text is small, the text is grey and the sentences are looong and unwieldy and boring. There are no pictures, no examples, it’s just corporate boredom hell. You probably wouldn’t get to the end of the article.

Now blog posts about boring topics can’t be boring – that’s the rule: they can’t be boring, not if you want your content to succeed. So instead of lecturing people via the written word, you have to engage them. So, ok, maybe you can’t record a podcast every time, but you can perk up your blog posts with a bit of creativity.

Boost reader engagement with rich media content – it’s all out there: images, videos, infographics, you can create your own web graphics. Even bullet points and tables are a good way to break up text. Appeal to the eye, ear and senses as well as the shrivelled, minging little dry bit at the back of your reader’s brain that enjoys reading about this boring topic.

So find interesting images – steer clear of stock photos as far as possible (no more blonde women in headsets!). Find creative additions to your text – you’re never too old to enjoy text being broken up by something interesting. It doesn’t matter what your topic is – nobody minds a bit of rich media.

Tip six: be sneaky. OK, so as I said at the start of this podcast, when you read what people have had to say about writing about boring topics, most of what you’ll find is a bunch of right-on, faux profound “Nothing is boring, except the writer!” rubbish.

It’s not true – some stuff really is boring. Not for everyone: there’s a topic for everyone, and there’s a person for every topic, but I believe Philippa had an encounter with someone who had to write about traffic cones the other day. And while that might be alright for one or two blog posts, I can imagine that a whole blog on the topic would start to wear you down.

So, here’s a tip: don’t write about the boring subject. Sounds sneaky? Well, it kind of is, but it’s also an intelligent approach.

You can apply this advice on a micro or macro level: either inject different subjects into a blog post about the boring topic, or inject whole blog posts on different subject into your blog about the boring topic.

Now, I always wondered, at school, why they kept making us draw spider diagrams. I couldn’t come up with many possible adult uses for them, but we did so many – it was always, “OK kids, it’s spider diagram time!”.

But this is the time of the spider diagram – its hour is nigh! Take your boring topic, stick it in the middle of a massive spider diagram.

Then think about your target audience, and what they might like to read about. Say, let’s talk about traffic cones again. You could talk about roads, town-planning, people wearing traffic cones on their heads after a night out (weirdly, this seems to happen a lot when people are drunk), different colour cones…I’m being a bit ridiculous, but if I had a spider diagram, I’d come up with much better ideas.

So think about your audience, their interests, the topics that relate to them, or your topic, or the sector, or the current news…and keep doing this until you’ve got a whole range of topics you can write about around the boring one. And you might find you can categorise these topics.

I’ve come up with a few editorial calendars for clients in the last few weeks, and while I wouldn’t say that my clients’ sectors are boring (of course I wouldn’t; they pay my bills), they’re not necessarily topics I’d want to write about all the time. But I found myself becoming more interested as I worked on finding topics around the topics I normally write about.

Imagination - HNBD

Use your imagination: if you’re writing for yourself, go wild. If you’re writing for someone else, I think they’ll appreciate the fact that you’re using your imagination.

At the end of the day, they don’t want the next Tolstoy novel, they just want a blog that people want to read. And if you can show that you’re coming up with new ways to tempt people in and that you can still link the content to their product or service, you’re spot on in what you’re doing.

So to sum up, what it comes down to it, this is actually good advice whether you’ve got a boring topic or a fascinating one: you can’t write endless things on the same subject from the same angle forever. Well, you can but it’ll bore everyone’s socks off.

You need to find new, relevant, current, imaginative ways to write, whether it’s a topic you enjoy or not. So remember:

– Be clued up – do your research, read, learn. It might hurt at first, but the only way to uncover interesting bits is to go digging.

– Be human – make sure people know they’re not just reading a bit of corporate spiel.

– Be relatable – come up with analogies people can relate to, even if you’re informing them about something new.

– Be creative – don’t think in black and white; bring in some colour, some sound, bullet points, shading, borders, different fonts – although not Comic Sans, obviously.

– Be sneaky – if you have to write about traffic cones, write around traffic cones. As long as it all ties in, gets the message across and still works, go for it.

It’s the mark of a really good writer if you can bring a really dry topic to life, so put your back into learning how to liven up those tricky topics and I promise it’ll pay off in the long-term.

That sums up episode 65: Six Ways To Write About A Boring Topic Without Sending Your Audience To Sleep. What remains is the Little Bird Recommendation Of The Week.

Now, HubSpot’s on the money again this week – I might as well just call this my “HubSpot recommendation of the week” at this point, but it’s really good.

So, my recommendation is for a wee slideshare – it’s nothing too taxing; we’re all tired. I don’t want a big blog post and I don’t think you do either – that they’ve created to help you find out where to get really tweetable information.

Now, Christmas and New Year is always a funny time on social media – a lot of people do wind down and just tweet tired, Christmassy/New Year’s Resolution-y things. But, give it a week or two, and by January, everyone’s revitalised again.
Things go from 0-60 and if you’re not sharing interesting content, you’re unlikely to keep up with the pack and there’s nothing worse than starting the year off and feeling like you’re failing.

Finding shareable content can be a drag, particularly when it’s dark and cold, and you’re feeling overworked and underpaid. So use this little slideshare to help you come up with some new ideas – I actually found it really helpful, and I hope you will too. It has some really good ideas, both about finding topics and about automation. It’s not heavy or in-depth but it did spark my imagination.

So that really does bring us to the end of A Little Bird Told Me Episode 65: Six Ways To Write About A Boring Topic Without Sending Your Audience To Sleep. Really hope you’ve found this helpful – I’d love to hear any feedback.

If you want to see where Pip and I reside on social media, just go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com or you can come and have a chat with us at facebook.com/freelancewritingpodcast – tell us about the most boring topic you’ve ever written on.

We may give you a round of applause; we probably won’t give you anything else but you can still share the pain.

So stay tuned; we’ll be back in about two weeks with another dual episode. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com via iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or one of those fancy podcatcher things that Pip understands better than me. Subscribe and you’ll be the first to hear when we have another episode out.

I’ll leave you to it for now, and wish you a very Happy New Year – I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and Pip and I will catch you next time.

Podcast Episode 17: How to Create an Editorial Calendar

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You might have heard of editorial calendars, or you might have been convinced that they are a good idea, but actually creating one can seem like an intimidating task. Is there software? How flexible will it be? And where on earth do you start?

In this solo episode, Lorrie explains what editorial calendars are, recommends software and gives some great information on the subject.

Show Notes

Links and sites mentioned during the episode:

There are several ways to make sure that you don’t miss out on A Little Bird Told Me.

Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

And finally, please ‘like’ us on Facebook to be the first to hear our news and to talk with us about what you hear on the podcast!

Transcript:

Hello and welcome to Episode 17 of A Little Bird Told Me – the freelance writing podcast that charts the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today’s episode is another solo effort, so for anyone longing to hear the dulcet tones of the lovely Pip – and I miss her too – you’ll just have to go along to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and, there, you can subscribe to the podcast via RSS, with iTunes or with Stitcher Smart Radio, and that way, you’ll be the first to know when another duel episode comes out.

Today, I’m going to be talking about how to create an editorial calendar that works for you. As a freelance writer, you’ll find there are many times when all you seem to have time to do is hit external deadlines: copywriting, editing, proof-reading, social media consultancy – anything you offer, all the stuff that pays the bills. But while you do usually have to prioritise those deadlines, producing unique, interesting, topic content for your own website, or for guest posts (which Pip discussed in her last solo episode, which I think was number 15), it’s all part of marketing yourself and the services you offer.

World Calendar

World Calendar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, why do you need an editorial calendar? It’s often not possible to share work that you’ve completed for clients, either for confidentiality or SEO reasons, but many prospective clients would really prefer to see what you can do in terms of producing content. So, if you have regularly updated content on your own website, or articles and features on other websites that you can direct people to, there’s just that little bit more proof out there that you really are as good as you say you are.

Regularly updated content on your site will also, as Pip and I have mentioned before, help to keep your site ranking high up on Google, making you more easily searchable for key terms, say for people hunting for, say, “Copywriter in London” on Google, Bing or where have you. It’s also a sign that you’re  still on the planet and still trading, and that you’re engaged and up-to-date with the latest developments in copywriting and any industries you specialise in. All in all, it’s a really good thing for you, your website and your prospective clients.

But, while it’s easy to see why regularly updated content is a positive thing, what’s not so easy is making sure you find time to produce and upload it. It’s easy to get started but it’s also easy to let it taper off again, which is where the editorial calendar comes in. It’s a brilliant tool, not only for planning, but for accountability as well, which is something Pip and I talk about a lot – you may have noticed! When you work for yourself, it’s easy to let those “internal deadlines” slide. And by that, I mean deadlines that you set for yourself. An editorial calendar can at least help you to see what you’re supposed to be doing at any one time – obviously, it’s not going to make you do it, but you can see what you’re supposed to be doing and at least try and hit those targets.

While it might sound like something fancy,  an editorial calendar is essentially a schedule that helps you to keep track of your content across your website, blog, your guest posts, publications, e-marketing campaigns, monthly newsletters and social media feeds, to name just a few. If you’re a copywriter, you’ll know that somehow, content ends up everywhere!

But yes, editorial calendars are a great way of seeing what you’ve got coming up in terms of content, and by having those deadlines written down and ready to tick off, you’re more likely to stick to them. Lots of the deadlines will actually, in time, become regular commitments if you stick to this, which will help you box off the time in your calendar or diary from the word go. So rather than thinking every week “Ugh, where am I going to find the time for that blog post/guest post/e-newsletter?” it’ll actually become second nature to block off in your diary when you’re not free and when the work needs to be done.

When it comes to actually setting up an editorial calendar, there are a number of ways you can go about it – starting with the most simple: the trusty spreadsheet. There are a number of spreadsheets you can use: Google Drive, Open Office, Excel – they’re all pretty much the same and they all do a pretty no-frills job. There are a number of software apps you can use instead but if you’re happy using a spreadsheet, it’s a perfectly reasonable option.

If you do want to have a look at some of the apps out there that are undoubtedly more intuitive than Excel, there are things like DivvyHQ, – bit of a weird name, it’s probably from ‘divvying things up’ rather than ‘being a complete divvy’, but a bit risky in my opinion! – but yes, but they are generally paid for. I think Divvy, for a sole trader (you have different options: Divvy for sole traders, small businesses and large businesses, and obviously the price expands accordingly) is about $30 a month, and you do get a free 30-day trial for sole traders, so it’s something to think carefully about because it’s a bit of an expense, so if you’re watching the pennies or you’re just starting out and you don’t know if you’re going to stick to using editorial calendars, start with something a bit cheaper – i.e. free.

Another way of setting up an editorial calendar – and it’s one that’s free, and one more reason to switch your email to Gmail if you haven’t already – is using a Google Drive spreadsheet and synching it with your Google calendar. While this sounds complicated – you might be sitting there thinking, “I don’t know how to synch things! What are you talking about?!” – it really isn’t complicated – there are a number of editorial calendar templates and step-by-step instructions you can use to help you get started. I’ll include instructions on how to do this in the show notes.

To take another tack, if you’re looking to organise the content on your WordPress blog or WordPress-based website, there’s also a handy little app – again, link will be in the shownotes, called, imaginatively enough, “Editorial calendar” – imaginative! It’s a brilliant little tool, it’s completely free, and it’s well rated by a large number of people, so you don’t just have to take my word for it.

Not only does the WordPress editorial calendar give you a clear overview of your blog post schedule (and that’s something that’s not always that easy to see in WordPress), it also offers a pretty intuitive drag and drop facility, which is really nice, actually – you can shuffle posts round, manage drafts, change dates, and perform quick edits on your blog title, content and times. It’s really good little plugin, so if you have a WordPress website or blog that has a pretty busy content flow, it’s definitely worth trying this plug-in.

Now I’ve talked a bit about what editorial calendars are and the different options for setting them up, I want to chat about what needs to go in them.

I think a lot of people find the fancy name ‘editorial calendar’ quite misleading. It sounds like some huge, complicated document full of super neat information, but that’s really not the case at all. The whole point of an editorial calendar for freelance writers, at least, is to keep all your bits and bobs in one place, so to speak. It’s the digital version of sticking loads of post-it notes in your diary. So, for most freelance copywriters, the process for the production of your own content – and I’m not talking about work you get from clients – should go something like this:

Planning proces

Planning proces (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Firstly, researching topics you want to talk about, finding places you want to publish them (this might be on your own website or blog, or somewhere else) and deciding when you want to publish them. Ideally, you’ll be thinking ahead and writing something that will be suitable for publication at a later point in time, but if you’ve written something about some breaking news or development, you’ll obviously need to have a rejig – I remember when iPhone 4 came out and I got a lot of clients getting in touch with me saying, “Is there any way we could like the iPhone to our business, because it’d be great for SEO!” So yes, if something like that pops up, you need to be seen to be on the ball. So yeah, have a rejig and an editorial calendar will help you rejig without forgetting things.

Secondly, in your processes, actually writing each piece of content according to your production schedule – you won’t need to start writing a piece that’s due in six weeks, for example, but you may well want to get started on a draft for something that’s coming out at the end of the week.

Thirdly, proof-reading and editing your content. Can’t stress this enough – you have to proof-read and edit your own content. I think Pip is actually planning on talking about how to proof-read your own work soon, so stay tuned. But yes, as a freelance copywriter, proof-reader, editor, whatever, the last thing you want is to proudly announce to the world that there’s a new article out that just so happens to be chock full of terrible typos and rubbish spelling! It’ll do you so much damage, so proof-read!

Finally, publishing. Whether you hit send manually, you schedule a number of posts at one time, or you choose to synch your editorial calendar so that the publication of posts is automated, the content actually needs to find its way out there. Once that’s done, you can tick it off and start all over again – yay!

A few pointers to remember

OK, so to sum up, I just want to include a few things that I personally find helpful when it comes to editorial calendars. Firstly, no matter where you create your calendar – whether it’s Excel, Google Drive or whatever – I think it’s a great idea to include two things other than just the calendar itself. Number one: a brainstorming area, where you can jot down ideas for any upcoming posts, or any links you want to refer to, and number two: an annual overview, complete with important dates that might influence anything from your content, your theme, your tone, right down to your expected open rate.

Say, for example, you’re a Brit like me and you forget that Americans have snuck in an extra holiday before Christmas – with yet more turkey – namely Thanksgiving. If you send out a huge e-marketing campaign on that day, you can pretty much kiss goodbye to any expected sales because they’ll be stuffing themselves with turkey, not reading your email.

Or, worse, you publish a happy, jokey, cheery blog post but you forget that it’s actually September 11th – you can actually risk offending or hurting the feelings of the very people you’re trying to target. An annual overview will help you avoid these pitfalls so, when you set up your calendar, take an hour or two to really scour the web for major public holidays, religious festivals, bank holidays here in the UK, memorial days and anything else you can think of.

The best way to find an editorial calendar set-up that suits you is to get started. If you’re really unsure of how to go about it, start with a template and build up from there. As I say, there will be some templates in the show notes. Think about the kind of things you’ll need to keep track of, the basics being:

– The title of your content, if applicable
– The date you’re going to start writing it
– The date you’re going to proof-read and edit it
– The time and date it’s going out
– The URL where it’ll be hosted, if applicable

Once those are sorted, you might want to include more details (you also might not!), such as:

– Keywords or phrases
– Tone / theme
– Target audience
– Call to action – what you really want people to take away from the blog post, email or newsletter.

So, organise yourself week by week, then month by month, then by year if you need to – I like to, as I say: I like the annual overview thing, and then it feels nice and neat to fit things into an annual plan. But remember, if you end up looking at the calendar and thinking it’s too complicated and you’ll never get everything done, you can always take stuff off. At the end of the day, it’s about optimising your time, not over-filling it. There’s no point sticking stuff on there if you’ve literally got no time to do it. But, if you can, set up an editorial calendar, add some modest targets. Honestly, I promise, it really is worth producing content on a regular basis for yourself: it keeps your skills polished, it shows clients you’re still engaged with things and it keeps you nice and high on Google – what’s not to love?

So, I hope this has been a helpful introduction to creating and maintaining an editorial calendar. Obviously I’ve not been able to cover everything – for the sake of brevity, I’ve kept it simple, but as I say, I’ll pop a range of resources in the show-notes for you, which should help you get started.


If you have any questions or comments at all, Pip and I don’t bite. You can find all of my social media details at the podcast page, which is alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. You can also find the same details for the lovely Pip there, plus loads of ways to subscribe to the podcast so you’ll never miss another episode. So get in touch and subscribe! I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, thanks so much for listening and Pip and I will catch you next time.

 

Podcast Episode 15: Guest Blogging for Exposure, Brand Building, Backlinks and More

Guest blogging is currently a really popular way to build backlinks for SEO purposes, however it has much wider benefits than that. In this solo episode of the podcast, I talk about how to go about guest blogging, how to find appropriate outlets for your guest posts and how to approach the webmasters, as well as the myriad of bonuses that guest blogging can bring to a freelancer.

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Show Notes

Links and information mentioned on this week’s show.

How to do a search to find blogs to guest post on. The examples mentioned in the show are:

“social media” + “write for us”

“internet marketing” + “guest blogging guidelines”

Google Reader: http://reader.google.com 

Free Page Rank add-ons for Chrome and Firefox

Little Bird Recommendation of the Week: Cease and Desist: Four Blog Writing and Marketing Practices That Have Got to Go

Transcript

Hello and welcome to A Little Bird Told Me – the podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful freelance writing. I’m Philippa Willitts and this is a solo episode. If you’re missing Lorrie terribly already, don’t worry – just tune in next week and we’ll both be here. Otherwise, please listen on.

To make sure you never miss another episode of A Little Bird Told Me, go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and subscribe to the podcast via RSS feed, iTunes or Stitcher Smart radio – or on the Podomatic page itself. That way, you’ll never miss another episode. Additionally, there you can find the link to our Facebook page and to the various websites and social media feeds of myself and Lorrie.

Blogging Readiness

Blogging Readiness (Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg)

Today, I’m going to be talking about guest blogging. Guest blogging can be a really effective way of getting your name out there, making some great connections and it can also have SEO benefits if you want to promote your website. However, there are some very clear no-nos involved in guest blogging, so today I’m going to talk about the benefits, how to do it, and perhaps most importantly, how not to do it.

If you’ve got your own website – or even if you haven’t – guest blogging is a really good way to expand your reach and put yourself in front of other people’s audiences. I have done guest blog posts for various freelance writing websites and it just puts my name out there in front of people who probably wouldn’t have heard of me otherwise. It builds your brand and makes more people aware that you exist, basically. Another benefit of guest blogging is that you make contact with some really good people. The guest blog posts I’ve done have involved some really good conversations with other freelance writing webmasters. Also, sometimes being edited by other freelance writing webmasters is a really nice experience. It means that when I talk to one of those people on Twitter, they know who I am, they may be more likely to retweet me or reply, whereas prior to guest blogging for them, they had no idea who I was. And when you’re freelancing, especially when you’re internet based, those kinds of connections are really important – not just to grow your business but to reduce your isolation and have people you can get in touch with if you need advice or if you want to pass information on.

And the more your writing is published on other people’s websites, the more you’re able to display your own expertise. If you’re a specialist in a particular area, if you write specifically about any topic really, then guest blogging on websites dedicated to that topic – not necessary freelance writing ones – will help to grow your authority. If you specialise in writing on food and drink, then if you can get some guest blog posts on some really prominent food and drink websites, then people will know your name and associate it with the great writing and expertise that you’ve shown. It grows your authority, basically, and when you’re on the internet, clients and potential clients don’t really know how good you are. So, if you can show that you’ve written for the top four food and drink blogs, then clients in that sector are more likely to take you seriously. Your status improves in that context.

So, how do you go about the whole process of guest blogging? The first thing to do is look for suitable websites to host your guest blogging, and you want ones that accept guest bloggers, obviously. So the place to start is to think about the kind of websites you’d ideally like to appear on. Now, this might be top freelance writing websites, or top websites in your niche, so food and drink, travel, business – don’t just go and approach everyone. Start from the place you’d really, really like to be. Now, ideally, if you do specialise in a particular area, you’ll already know where the tops websites are and you’ll be familiar with them, which is a really great start and will save you a lot of work in the beginning if you already know the kind of content that these websites publish and the style they like their blog posts in. So, start with the top blogs in your area – really study their websites. You want to find out first of all – do they accept guest blog posts. If they do, they’ll probably have some guest blogging guidelines. You want to study those really, really carefully because if they have guidelines and you don’t stick to them when you contact them, especially if they’re a big website, they probably won’t even reply.

Some guest blogging guidelines I’ve seen, somewhere near the bottom, have a particular ‘coding’ just to check that the person approaching them has read the whole document. So, I’ve seen guidelines that say things like, “Somewhere in the email, mention the word ‘red’, then I’ll know you’ve read the whole thing.” It’s a really amateur mistake to not check for that kind of thing and not follow it. Secondly, if you’ve got the information you need about the kind of writing they like and how to approach then, you need a brilliant idea for a post. Don’t just contact them and say, “Um, hey…would you like a…guest blog post…about travel?” because their whole website is about travel. They want to know specifically what you can offer them – they write all the time about travel. But if you recently did a cycling tour of Italy, and offered them a specific blog post about the specific things you learn about Italy when you go cycling there, they’re much more likely to take you seriously and think, “Oh, this person might actually have something to offer us.” So think carefully about what you want to propose – don’t just send a generic email.

The next thing, and it may seem like a small detail, but it’s so important, is to find out the name of the person you’re approaching. For my Social Media Writer website, I get offers of guest blog posts several times a week. It’s a relatively small site, so if you can imagine with a big site, they must dozens or hundreds of offers a week, but the number that start with “Dear Sir/Madam…” is unbelievable, and I don’t read any further. If they can’t be bothered to find out my name, I don’t want them to appear on my website. The next thing they tend to say is, “I would like to write a guest blog post for you about Social Media Writer UK because I am really interested in Social Media Writer UK. In return, I would like two links to my website. Please consider this free content that will benefit your site – thank you.”

Now, it’s just wrong in so many ways – I’m not “Sir/Madam”, I’m Philippa or Ms Willitts, if you want to be formal. Next, if you can’t be bothered to separate the name of my site – Social Media Writer UK – from your email… it’s just blatantly a form email that goes to everyone, where the name of the site is inserted into the email. I don’t want a guest post about “Social Media Writer UK” – if you come to me and say “I have a guest post about the specifics of LinkedIn to promote your business”, then yeah, I might be interested. So, be sensible and think about it from the webmaster’s point of view. If you received an email, how would you want it to be? If you wanted someone you could really take seriously as a guest blogger, what would it say? And do that. Personalise each email you send. It feels like it adds to the hard work but it’s the only way to be taken seriously.

If you’re not familiar with the main sites in your niche for some reason, or if you’ve tried those and had no luck, you might then want to search for other websites that accept guest blog submissions. Now, there are a few ways to do this – one of these is very common now, and I know this as much from the analytics on my own sites as anything – I get lots of referrals to my site from Google searches for things like, “Social media accept guest blog posts” and it’s clear that people are doing a Google search to find websites on a particular topic that accept guest bloggers. Now, there are some quite effective ways of doing this search, and I’ll provide examples in the show notes because it might be difficult to grasp just from listening. But basically, if you know a bit about how Google advanced searches work, you can really drill down a search so it gives you the results you need. The best way is to do a search for [open quotation marks] and then your topic of choice and then [close quotation marks]. Then you want a ‘plus’ symbol, then [open quotation marks again], then something like ‘guest blogging guidelines’, [close quotation marks],or ‘write for us’ in quotation marks.
What this does is tell Google that the results you want are to do with your topic…and the reason they’re in quotation marks is so that all the words have to be together in that order. So, social media, in quotation marks, or internet marketing, in quotation marks. And the plus sign tells Google that not only do you want results with that topic in, but also results that have – again, in this exact wording, guest blogging guidelines, write for us, something like that. So, it’s a good way of drilling down your search so that all the results you get are your exact topic and are also sites that offer guest bloggers a chance to write for them.

So once you’ve got your search results for that (and again, if it all sounded confusing, don’t worry – go to the show notes and I’ll give a written example that will make it all clearer!). So then you look through the results; look through the different sites that Google has brought back to you. And, a few things to check for: you want to make sure it’s not a really obscure with no readers – otherwise, you’re just wasting your time. One way to see how big the site is, is to look in Google Reader – do a search for that site – and it will tell you how many other people subscribe to the site in Google Reader. Now, this isn’t a fool-proof way of making sure the site is popular but it gives you a good indication. If it has 3 subscribers, you might not want to prioritise it. But, if it has 300,000, then yeah, you’ll probably want to go for it!

Another way is to look at something called the page rank. You can get add-ons to Chrome or other browsers that will tell you at the top of the browser what page rank that site has. Now, again, Page Rank is something I believe Google don’t focus on anymore and, again it’s not guaranteed, but it can be a good indicator. If a site has a page rank of 0 or 1, then it suggests there aren’t that many backlinks to it, and that it isn’t that popular. You’re unlikely to find a site with 8, 9, or 10 so ideally, somewhere between 3-6 in page rank suggests a site has a good number of readers.

Also, look at things like the Twitter account and Facebook page of the site – do they have lots of followers and fans? So again, by doing this, you can focus on four or five authoritative blogs you can approach. And the approach is exactly like I described earlier – personalise it, offer them something really good and don’t, in your initial email, make demands on how many back links you want because that’s another thing that makes webmaster switch right off. If I get a guest blog submission with a specification of how many backlinks they want, then clearly their focus is that rather than providing good content to my site.

And if you think about it, why would I or any other webmaster purely want to promote your site? What webmasters want is things that their audience is going to enjoy and find valuable and useful. By studying the kind of content they already prefer, you can pitch your pitch carefully. So, do they normally publish really long, in-depth analysis posts; are they quite short, pithy and funny? Are they in the first person or the third person?

Have a look at some of their most popular posts and make it clear in your email that you’re familiar and are going to produce something their audience will like. Because if they normally produce in-depth analysis posts, then the people who read that site do so because they enjoy in-depth analysis posts. So you want to provide something that the webmaster knows their audience is likely to enjoy, read and share with their colleagues and friends.

Now, as well as getting the benefits of extra exposure, building your brand, raising your authority level, guest blogging also has other benefits, including SEO benefits. If you get a link in a post to your website from an authoritative, popular, well known site, that’s not going to do your site any harm. It’s a good thing. Like I said earlier, this shouldn’t be the main aim of your guest blogging because site owners deserve better than that and they can see through it in an instant. But think of it as an added bonus. Bearing this in mind, it’s worth thinking about how you’re going to word your link. Now, mostly, guest  bloggers are offered an author box or bio box at the end of the post, which will say something like, “Philippa Willitts is a freelance writer who specialises in writing about SEO, social media and internet marketing. You can find her website here.” For instance.

Now what you really don’t want is that last sentence – a link from the word ‘here’. The anchor text – the word or phrase that is clickable – you want that to be useful and relevant. So instead, you might say, “Philippa Willitts is a freelance writer, who specialises in writing about…” and have the link to your site clickable from the words ‘social media and SEO’ for instance. Some host blogs will let you provide links within the text of the post as well as the bio box, but don’t abuse this – only do it if it’s really relevant, such as in your travel writing, cycling around Italy post, if there’s something really relevant like, “This was different from when I cycled around Scandinavia…”, which you’ve written about on your own blog, so there could be a valid, relevant link from “cycled around Scandinavia”. Don’t just make the words ‘travel writing’ clickable, because that’s just not how it’s done, unfortunately!

As well as the SEO benefits, there are also benefits of increasing your reach in a longer-term way than just that immediate post. If your post is so good, and so fascinating and well-written that people do click through to your website once they’ve read it, you can also, from there, if you make it easy via your website, have the potential to get them to follow you on Twitter, like your Facebook, join your mailing list or subscribe to your blog. So, make sure, as well as writing a brilliant guest post, when those people visit your site, it’s easy for them to find out how to engage with you. Make the most of the opportunity of very targeted visitors coming to your site. Make sure what they see there is brilliant and that it’s easy to find your Twitter, Facebook, RSS feed, LinkedIn account – whatever you’d like them to find. If you write something that’s brilliant for someone else and it’s good enough to make people click through to your site, if they then find really uninspiring content, or no updates for the last four months, or just a generally underwhelming experience, they’re not going to be impressed and your post won’t have much of a wider benefit for you than the immediate exposure itself.

Now, if your own website is even slightly findable in the search engines or has even a modest readership, the chances are that, as well as wanting to guest post for other people, you might well also get guest post requests from other people. Now, as I mentioned earlier, in my case at least, it’s unusual for me to receive anything that isn’t a blatantly copied and pasted form email that doesn’t inspire me at all to give these people access to my website and readers. So, if you get approached, don’t devalue your website by accepting anything and everything just because it’s free content. You do yourself and your business  a disservice by publishing some PR agency’s spun, dull, generic post that’s only written for the sake of getting some targeted links in the bio box. So think carefully before you give anyone else access to writing on your website. If it’s really going to benefit you, if it’s an amazing post that someone will write specifically for you, or if it has a good angle or edge, then consider it. If it starts with, “Dear Sir/Madam, I want to provide free content to your Social Media Writer UK site on the subject of Social Media Writer UK…” then add it to your spam folder, frankly. There are benefits of getting good guest posts on your site – it does give you free new content – but adding rubbish to your site does you no favours and won’t help clients take you seriously when they find it.

So there we have information that will hopefully help you get some really positive guest blogging slots in our own niche that will help you to expand your brand awareness, your reach, your audience, possibly your social media followers and email subscriptions, and on the rare occasions, opportunities for you to help someone else in the same way. Just be sensible – think what you’d like to receive if you were the webmaster in question – and don’t try and trick people with copy and paste form letters. It doesn’t work; you’re wasting your time and their time. Does you no favours.

Now, last week, Lorrie and I introduced a new segment for the A Little Bird Told Me podcast, which is going to be in every episode from now on, and that’s the Little Bird Recommendations. Every week, we’ll recommend something to our listeners. This might be something we’ve read, a brilliant Twitter update, a tip that we want to share, another podcast we like – anything and everything, really. So here we are – the second ever Little Bird Recommendation ever!

My recommendation this week is a blog post that I’ll link to in the show notes, called Cease and Desist – for blog writing and marketing practices that have got to go. This is somewhat related to guest blogging practices in that it’s all overall about how to produce really good blog posts. Now, this post originally appeared on a website called Business 2 Community, and it has some really good advice – some of which seems sensible, but you’d be amazed at how many people break these rules.  It’s got advice on avoiding clichés and buzzwords – I don’t know about you, but if I hear the phrase ‘laser targeted’ one more time, I might throw my computer out of the window. It has advice on making sure your title matches your content – I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of clicking on a link because it had an amazing title, and then the blog post being unrelated and disappointing. It advises against using bad stock photos – there are some embarrassing examples. And also, talking about whether social media marketing really is free because although you don’t pay for accounts, however the time it takes makes it not free because our time has to be valued, especially if you’re a freelancer.

So, anyway, I’m going to link to that post in the show notes and that is this week’s Little Bird Recommendation. I really hope you’ve found this episode useful, especially if you’re interested in guest blogging yourself or accepting guest bloggers. It will hopefully help you to have much more success in approaching even the most high profile and impressive websites. If you want to make sure you don’t miss the next episode, do make sure you subscribe to us on Stitcher Smart Radio, iTunes, RSS or join our Facebook page. All the links are in the show notes at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. Thank you so much for listening, I’ve been Philippa Willitts and we’ll see you next week.