Blogging pioneer shares tried-and-true tips for creating compelling content
Here at Gregory FCA, a major part of my job is helping our clients execute blog and content strategies that augment their ambitious efforts to engage core audiences. Since we’re always on the lookout for inspiring ideas, I earmarked “10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Creating Content When I Started” as a must-see presentation at FinCon 2018.
Bright and early on the first full day of the popular conference in late September, speaker Darren Rowse enthusiastically took the stage. Rowse emerged as a blogging pioneer in 2002, when few people around the world could even identify a blog. Within six months, the Australian had become a full-time blogger and was making six figures a year, catapulting a career he continues to build as the founder and editor of ProBlogger.net. His enduring experience includes many valuable lessons learned, which Rowse amiably offered to the eager attendees at FinCon.
“When I really thought about it, there are so many more than 10 tips I could mention, so let’s just call this session, ‘Heaps of Things I Wish I’d Known About Creating Content When I Started,’” he joked.
Great content emerges when you know who you’re creating it for and how you’ll change their lives, related Rowse. “[A pivotal moment] for my blog came when I really started thinking about the human beings on the other side of my content. You need to understand who your readers are when they arrive and who you want them to become after they read your blog.”
So what should you blog about? “The intersection between what you know and what readers want,” recommended Rowse. “Identify your cornerstone topics. What questions do new readers come with? What lessons did you learn to get where you are? What keywords are people searching for? What do you want your blog to be known for? What could you create that people keep returning to? What posts have you already written that performed well?”
Beginner content is powerful and shouldn’t be overlooked. Rowse intended to speak as an expert voice when he started blogging nearly two decades ago, but soon discovered readers were asking some very basic questions. “I’ve learned that when people are too embarrassed to admit they don’t know something to their friends, they’ll probably search for the answer on Google,” he said, drawing laughs from the audience.
As a blogger, you want search engines to direct people to your site when they have those elementary questions. For evidence, consider that one of the most popular posts ever published by Rowse simply discussed how to hold a camera.
Vary the intent of your content as well, so that different posts serve the following functions:
- Inform (spread news, teach and instruct, provide information). “The Deal on the Dollar: Divergence,” by Francis Scotland from Gregory FCA client Brandywine Global Investment Management, offers a good example of an informational post that tells readers about the increasing strength of the dollar and its potential ramifications.
- Inspire (touch emotions and feelings, allow readers to dream, share stories). “The Trillion-Dollar Club: How to Be a Growth Superstar,” by Joe Duran from client United Capital, adopts an inspirational angle by encouraging advisers to embrace change so they can take their businesses to the next level.
- Interact (ask questions, build community, give readers someplace to belong or something to do). “Tech Tip Tuesday: Billing Lockdown,” by Eddie Sempek from client Orion Advisor Services, interacts with readers by asking questions and building community among a group of people who face common challenges.
“Create momentum with your posts,” emphasized Rowse. “This drives pageviews and creates anticipation. People will be more likely to subscribe if they anticipate something is coming that they don’t want to miss.”
Write like a human and avoid jargon, he added. Use contractions as well as short, simple and clear words. Put your reader in the spotlight by integrating the word “you” and imagining that person as you write. From a grammatical standpoint, utilize spell check, adhere to a style guide and hire an editor. Additional recommendations include:
- Write with personality and passion. “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader,” said Rowse, quoting famed poet Robert Frost.
- Tell stories. These can range from personal discoveries to successes, failures, biographies, autobiographies, case studies and more.
- Have an opinion. “Very often with a blog, your opinion actually matters more than the facts themselves. Take a stance and evoke an emotion from your readers.”
- Incorporate visual content. This point has become so important in modern media that Rowse never publishes a post anymore without a visual component, especially embeddable elements like photos, infographics, tweets and polls/quizzes.
He also encouraged publishing posts that don’t emphasize text content at all, such as recorded/live video and podcasts, to keep the experience fresh for both audience and blogger. “Don’t just be interesting, be interested,” added Rowse. “Marketers talk about getting people to know, like and trust you. But that’s a two-way street. Show your readers that you like them too by asking for their insight.”
Adding archive maintenance to your editorial strategy is another savvy investment that can pay big dividends. “Successful bloggers these days put as much effort into upgrading their archives as creating new content. Archives are an asset but they depreciate when left unattended. Maintenance can slow or reverse that trend, leading to increased readership, SEO, social sharing and income.”
Rowse recommended focusing on previous posts with high traffic, as well as those that have underperformed or are outdated. Refresh that content by making it more current or comprehensive, correcting any errors, adding or improving visual elements, testing and fixing broken links, optimizing for SEO/sharing and updating calls to action.
One of the most vital aspects of creating content is also caring for the creator. “The well-being of my blog is connected to my own well-being,” related Rowse, advising bloggers to pay attention to their diet, exercise, sleep, social connections and mental stimulation/health.
“It’s OK to go off topic sometimes too,” he concluded. “Follow your passions and curiosities. Collaborate with others and listen to what they have to say. What builds a blog is the consistent creation of useful content over time.”
*The slide presentation for “10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Creating Content When I Started” can be found at problogger.com/fincon18