15 Easy Ways to Refresh Your Website

person using macbook
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

This is a repost of an article originally published in early 2019, but the information is just as pertinent today. Enjoy!
Remember to check out this week’s writing prompt.

With apologies to the queen of decluttering, Marie Kondo, “Does your blog or website make you happy?” Does it excite you to read it or post to it? Or does it feel stale and uninspiring?

Maybe it’s time to declutter your website?

It can be easy to overlook your website or blog once it’s up and running. But like anything else, it can quickly turn boring. And if it’s boring to you, imagine how your readers feel about it. If you don’t feel excited about your own site, you’ll put in less effort to maintain it properly. Once you lose interest in it, your readers will too..

I’m always looking at ways to freshen up my website. I’ve tinkered with it here and there — with mixed results.  Here are a few ideas that can help give your blog a new lease on life.

1. Update your bio. When was the last time you reviewed your About Me page on your website? Does it still give readers a realistic view of who you are? If it’s a bit thin, add a few more details about your experience, either as a writer and blogger or as someone with specialized knowledge and expertise. Have you published any pertinent articles, taken an exotic vacation recently, or completed relevant education that would add to your credibility? Add that information to your bio.

Your professional development doesn’t stand still, so neither should your professional profile on your site. With every new life experience, education course, or job change, review and update your bio. In fact, I recommend reviewing your bio at least once or twice a year, just as you would your resume.

2. Update the Resources page. A helpful tool for your readers is a list of resources related to your blog topic. A separate page with resources can include links to other websites and blogs you follow, organizations you support, publications, and downloadable materials that may benefit your readers. Double check the links at least one or twice a year to make sure they are still active. If you don’t already have a resources page, consider adding one to your site. When you share resources on your site, it positions you as an expert just as if you had created those resources yourself.

3. Update site images. Be honest with yourself. When was the last time you updated images on your website or blog? If you’ve had the same images since the day the site went live and that was more than three or four years ago, consider replacing with new photos. Either take your own photos (make sure they’re high quality) or use one of the free image sites like Pixabay or Flickr. Be sure to give credit to the source of any photo you use that isn’t your own.

4. Change the layout. If you’re bored with your site, maybe it’s the layout that needs updating. If you’ve used the same layout on your site since day one, consider changing it up. What I like about WordPress is the numerous themes they offer, and new ones are being added all the time. Maybe you still like the theme but use a slightly different layout, like two-column instead of one-column. Test out different themes and layouts to see which ones look best. You may find after testing them that you like what you have. That’s okay. At least you made an educated and informed decision.

5. Update your color scheme.
Maybe the color scheme has gotten stale, or it no longer appeals to your sense of artistic integrity. Maybe it comes across too somber when what you really want is something more cheerful, or conversely, maybe it comes across as juvenile or immature when you want your readers to see you as mature and professional. You want a color scheme to reflect your site’s topic and appeal to your readers at the same time. If your color scheme isn’t working for you, test out new combinations. A new color scheme can breathe new life into a tired-looking site.

6. Add video. Video has become the hot new trend in website content. Video has a sticky quality because it encourages visitors to linger longer on your site. Video is especially valuable for teaching purposes. Think demonstration of yoga poses, how to use carpentry tools, or cook a meal.

7. Interview experts. If you’re tired of writing the same types of stories or you run out of ideas, consider doing interviews. To start, stick with a few brief questions. Seek out people who have expertise in your selected topic. For example, if you write about outdoor adventures, consider interviewing a biking enthusiast who just completed a 100-mile trek, or the leader of an adventure travel group. Five easy questions can make an easy-to-write post into an interesting-to-read story.

8. Write a book or movie review. Read any good books lately? See any great films? Book and movie reviews are another way to add strong relevant content to your site. They’re also helpful for stirring up discussion and debate, which helps you engage with your readers.

9. Conduct surveys and post the results. Want to know what your readers think about a particular topic? Just ask them. Set up a survey on a site like Survey Monkey, then link to the survey from your blog or website. Once you compile the results, be sure to share them with your readers. For example, a movie fan website might do a survey about the Academy Award nominations. Surveys are a great way to generate more interactivity with your readers.

10. Invite guest posts. If you’re connected to other bloggers or experts, consider inviting them to write a guest post for your blog. This approach is especially helpful if you plan to be out of town for vacation and won’t have time to contribute articles to your blog. It’s also helpful if you simply run out of creative ideas. Having guest posts can expand your audience to include the guest blogger’s readers as well as your own.

11. Write how-to articles. We live in a continuous learning society, and readers are always looking for easier ways to get things done in an easy-to-read format. How-to articles are a great way to showcase your expertise, especially if you can clearly explain complex subjects.

12. Add downloadable materials. Consider posting freebie content, such as a podcast, a white paper or a chapter from an upcoming book you’ve written. These items can whet readers’ appetite for more material you create.

13. Include client testimonials. Do you work with clients? If they’re pleased with the results from your work, ask them for a testimonial that you can post to your website.

14. Add social media links. Invite readers to follow you on social media to keep the engagement going off site.

15. Share your portfolio.  Have you written for other blogs? Have you been published anywhere else? Or are you an artist with pieces you’d like to sell or show off to visitors? Set up a portfolio to showcase your work. Especially for writers and other creatives, this is a great way to show what you can do for potential clients or employers.

A site that looks and feels stale won’t inspire confidence in you or your readers. Any one or a combination of these ideas can make your site more interesting and reader-friendly.

Use Your Writing to Build Authority

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Be sure to check out this week’s writing prompt: Write a story about a childhood memory related to food (learning to cook, family barbecue, tasting something for the first time, etc.)

When you’re just starting a writing career, you naturally want to be taken seriously by your readers. This is especially true if you’re writing non-fiction or starting a blog, or anything based on factual content as opposed to fiction writing.

It can be difficult to establish your authoritative voice in a sea of experts on the internet. How do you set yourself apart from them? How do you establish your own authority? How do you make your voice stand out from the rest?

This is especially important if you’re a beginning blogger. Many beginning bloggers are unsure what to write about, so they write about everything. Unfortunately, this gives the impression of being scattered, so scattered that it’s hard to know what their specialty is. Even publishing expert Jane Friedman has admitted that she did not have a niche when she began her blog. But that’s okay. Sometimes your niche or book concept can grow over time as you post consistently and readers respond to your posts.

So how do you establish your authority? How do you reveal your expertise? Here are some steps you can take to help build authority with your writing.

1. Take stock of your experience. What are you good at doing? What professional work have you done (bookkeeping, legal, marketing, etc.)? Do you have any hobbies or special interests you’d love to tell people about? Most important, what are you passionate about? Perhaps you’re an expert knitter, love animals or play golf? Make a list of all your hobbies, special interests, and work experience, then rank them according to how passionate you feel about them.

2. Focus on a single niche. Once you’ve done your self-assessment from step one, you’ll have a good idea what you’re an expert at – and what expertise you want to promote about yourself. If you’re figuring out an angle for your blog, this step is imperative. A blog focused on one topic shows more authority than a blog that covers multiple topics. A good example is The Art of Blogging (all about blogging).

3. Do your research. Even if you have particular experience about something, there will be times when you need to do some research to supplement your knowledge. Adding quotes from experts or sharing the latest research can put you in good stead with your readers. Adding one or two statistics can bring more meaning to your piece. For example, for the magazine features I write for my client, I usually include one or two statistics to demonstrate key points. When you use data from recognized experts in your industry, it adds to your authoritative presence.

4. Know your audience. Think about who you are writing for. What do they want to know? What types of questions do they ask? Use their questions as a guide for future blog posts or an e-book. By providing readers with answers to their questions, you establish yourself as someone they trust and will come back to for more information.

5. Surround yourself with outside experts. While you may focus on one niche, there may be times when you want to cover a topic that is related to your niche but goes beyond your expertise. Then you’ll want to refer to subject matter experts. Ask them questions to fill in the blanks of your own knowledge and experience. Know who you can go to when you don’t have all the answers. Be sure to provide proper attribution when you quote them. Sometimes being an authority means recognizing that there are some things you don’t know. To find an SME, check associations, booksellers, universities and think tanks for possible leads.  

6. Provide real value. Once you understand your audience’s needs, you can offer meaningful and helpful content for your readers. Avoid writing fluff content that only fills space. It might help to think of one takeaway you can include in each blog post you write. Or if writing a non-fiction book or e-book, think of takeaways for every section or chapter. What can readers learn from you that they can’t get from anyone else? Readers want information that is readily adaptable to their own needs. When you provide meaningful, practical information, readers will begin to see you as an authority.

7. Be consistent. If writing a blog, be consistent with your posting. Whether you post a story every day or once a week, make sure it’s posted around the same time or on the same day of the week. Readers who follow you will begin to look for your story at that time.

I once produced a bi-monthly residential newsletter for an apartment high-rise community. Every other month, the newsletter would be slipped under their doors. If by the first of the month, the newsletter didn’t appear, the management office would receive calls from residents asking where it was. They knew when to expect the newsletter because we were consistent with the schedule. When you’re consistent with your schedule, readers are more likely to trust you.

8. Limit attributions. It’s not necessary to attribute every piece of information in your blog post or work of non-fiction. After all, your stories reflect everything you’ve ever learned by the VIPs, teachers and parents in your life. However, attributions are necessary if you are using a direct quote or sharing a principle that someone else formalized. While you still need to give credit where credit is due, if you include too many attributions, people will wonder how much of the writing is coming from you. If it isn’t original, it isn’t authoritative.

9. Use a variety of media to share your expertise. Once you establish you’re authority, you may want to broaden your reach. If you love social media, use it to establish a following. Write e-books, guest posts for other blogs, magazine features or opinion pieces for local publications. Alternately, you can establish your own YouTube channel, produce a weekly podcast, or appear on local radio shows. If the media isn’t your thing, you can teach workshops or make presentations.

Keep in mind that building authority with your writing takes time. If you find you lose interest in your chosen topic, it’s okay to switch gears. But you’ll have to go through this process all over again, and perhaps find a new audience.

With consistent practice and patience, you can begin to garner a loyal following of readers who see you as a trusted authority on your chosen niche.

How to Manage Distractions during Your Writing Practice

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the most common – and annoying – aspects of maintaining a writing practice is dealing with distractions. Especially when you’re working on a deadline or immersed in your latest work-in-progress, distractions are not very welcome. They can interrupt the flow of thoughts that you need to put down on paper. They can disrupt your momentum, slow you down or make you lose your place in your manuscript.

I suppose distractions can have an upside too, although that’s rare. For example, they might help you notice a plotting problem in your story while you’re away paying attention to the distraction. Or they might inspire a new story idea. Still you need to get back to the task at hand.

Minimizing distractions is important for writers because good writing requires time and focus, writes Joyce Carol Oates on the Masterclass. Without that time and focus, the writing will lack clarity and impact.

In my experience, I’ve noticed five types of distractions.

1. Physical environment. Room temperature and uncomfortable furniture can make you lose your focus. A messy desk can be a sign of a cluttered mind. Outside noise, like construction and leaf blowers can disrupt your thoughts.

2. Familial environment. If you have kids, they may be curious about the work you’re doing, and pets may want your attention when you want to work. If you live in a condo building, neighbors may start renovations in their units that requires drilling and vacuuming. The occasional ambulance with its blaring sirens can disrupt your thoughts too.

3. Technology. Electronic devices, such as your phone and laptop, can tempt you when you should be working. You might be tempted to work with the TV on to keep an eye on a baseball game or catch up the latest breaking news. Social media is always a temptation because writers have a need to know what’s going on in their world.

4. Internal noise. These are the voices and conversations inside your head that may have nothing to do with your work. You might experience negative thoughts, replay arguments you’ve had or worry about upcoming events. You may be more focused on your worries and fears that you lose track of what you’re supposed to be working on right now.

5. White noise. Part of the background most of the time, white noise has little impact on your writing progress – or it shouldn’t. It might be the ticking of a clock, passing traffic from the expressway near your house, or the drone of a plane flying overhead.

Distractions, in whatever form they take, are inevitable. But you can minimize the impact they have on your writing practice. Here are a few suggestions to do that.

1. Identify the distractions that affect you the most. Before you can reduce distractions, you need to know what they are, according to the Author News blog at Penguin Random House. Take note of what is taking your attention away. Is it a pesky pet who insists on sitting next to you on your desk as you work? Is it the constant barrage of emails and phone calls that distresses you? If there’s one particular distraction that is bothersome, then find ways to remove that distraction. Perhaps move the cat to another room, or set aside a specified time to respond to emails.

2. Set office hours. Most successful writers treat their writing like a real job with set hours. Those steady office hours let others in your household know that you are busy during that time and cannot be interrupted.

3. Know your productivity hours. Every writer has a prime time for writing, where they feel at their most creative and productive. It could be during the early morning, or it could be late at night before you go to bed. Establishing a regular writing session during your most productive time of day can help eliminate unnecessary distractions.

4. Put away your electronic devices. This might be easier said than done. Most of us rely on our computers and phones to get our work done. But do you really need them for your writing? I’m a big proponent of writing longhand on pads of paper. I find it easier to brainstorm blog post ideas and fiction scenes that way. I can draft scenes in a heartbeat with only a pen and paper. Using a computer or phone to write or research might feel more productive – as long as you stay on task – but it can also be tempting to check your emails and your social media accounts. I recommend turning off the TV as well. The focus should be entirely on your writing.

5. Keep a neat, tidy desk. Put everything in its place and use only the materials you need to get your writing done. When writing my blog posts, I have my file with my blog calendar and list of story ideas, a lined note pad for drafting an outline, and a pen. I find that a clutter-free desk translates to a clutter-free mind. It’s also important not to have other tasks and deadlines hanging over your head, say experts at Mediabistro. Take care of those details before you begin your writing session so they don’t creep up on you while you write. Need to make a doctor appointment? Make that appointment now before you begin writing.

6. Reward yourself. If you still struggle to keep distractions to a minimum, try this experiment. If you’ve managed to stay away from the Internet and social media during your writing session, reward yourself with a social media hour or an hour of internet browsing or online shopping. If writing is your real job, then treat social media as play time. It’s what you do when you’re done with your work day. Knowing that you have a full hour of social play time waiting for you at the end of your writing session might be enough to keep you focused on the writing task at hand.

Distractions are a normal part of our work days, but you don’t have to let it ruin your writing practice. Start by identifying the pesky distractions that bother you most, then take action to minimize their impact. You’ll find you have more head space to produce better quality writing.

Seven Easy Ways to Make Readers Love Your Writing

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

This week’s writing prompt: If there was a “Do-over” button, what event in your life would you like to do over or have a second chance at? Rewrite that event in your life the way you’d like it to turn out.

It’s not always easy to get people to read your stories or blog posts. It’s even harder to get them to like your work, share them or comment on them. How do you know people are reading your works? How do you know that they like what you’ve written? Figuring it out is like shooting an arrow at a target in the dark.

The most important thing is to pay attention to any feedback they give you. Which posts are getting the most likes? The more likes you receive, the more likely they enjoyed that story more than others. That might be a sign that perhaps they would like to see more content like that.

They may not always like the work you put out there, but that’s okay. As long as you meet certain expectations, they will like YOU. It’s up to you to give them what you want.

While you may not control how readers respond to your stories, you can control what you write and how it’s delivered. So whether you’re managing a blog or creating short stories or essays to share on Medium, here are six easy ways to make readers appreciate you what you do.

1. Be consistent with your writing. Set a schedule for when you post stories. If you manage a blog, decide how often you can post updates, whether it’s only once a week, or once a day or somewhere in between. Then stick to that routine. When people recognize the schedule you follow, they will likely follow along with you. They will begin to expect it. So if you post a story on Monday morning, they’ll look for it in their inbox. Readers like consistency and routine. It makes you easier to follow when you set that routine for them.

2. Keep your work clean and error-free. You might spend most of your time drafting stories and doing research, but don’t overlook the importance of proofreading. Check your grammar, spelling and punctuation to make sure it’s spotless. There’s nothing more annoying than reading a blog post filled with misspelled words; it’s distracting and it sends the message to readers that you don’t care about your work. Sure, there will be times when a misspelled word slips through after you’ve posted the story. That will happen. Readers will forgive an occasional error like that. Just be sure to take the time to proof your work before hitting the Publish button. Or if you’re unsure of your proofing skills, have someone else review it for you.

3. Write conversationally. Imagine that you are having a conversation over your favorite adult beverage with a close friend. You would likely ask the other person questions. You would probably use “you” to address them, and “I” when talking about yourself. Avoid heavy-handed descriptions and flowery speech that readers may not understand. Be blunt if you need to be, and don’t be afraid to break a few English writing rules if that’s what it takes to express yourself personally. The experts at Copyblogger have a few additional suggestions for writing conversationally on your blog.

4. Be passionate about your topic. Whether you’re writing a blog, a short story or an essay, be passionate about your writing. Indifference will come through, and readers will notice it. “It’s astounding how much better writing is when we write about something we care deeply about. The words flow easily, and we are much more convincing and engrossing,” writes Amy Newmark, publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series in a Forbes magazine interview.

Maybe your passion is caring for your dogs. Then make dog care the focus of your blog. Then stop writing about things that have nothing to do with dog care, like the last restaurant you went to or the DIY home improvement project you attempted last weekend. When your topic is all over the map, you’ll have difficulty finding your target audience. When you stick with your core topic – dog care – you can expand your audience to include not only dog owners, but dog walkers, veterinarians, pet shelters and anyone who like dogs. Again, it’s about managing your readers’ expectations. If you establish early on that your blog is about dog care, readers will expect it from you again and again.

5. Give readers what they want. This is an extension of what I wrote about above. Pay attention to likes, comments and feedback from readers. They’ll tell you what they like best. If they respond positively to a particular story, say starting a dog walking business as a side hustle (to use the example above), then perhaps that is the angle you should keep writing about. If you’re a fiction writer, then give them fiction stories.

6. Give readers added value. Give them a few extras that will whet their appetite for good content. For example, I recently offered a weekly writing prompt which is consistent with my blog content about writing. In your case, you may decide to offer a weekly trivia question or a survey question related to a blog post. Those little extras become something new and interesting that readers can share with others, and makes them want to come back to see “what’s next?”

7. Be sure to respond to questions and comments. If readers really like what you’re writing, they’ll tell you by leaving a comment or asking a question. There’s nothing more flattering than receiving a compliment from a reader. Be sure to thank them though. Engage with them. Be responsive to their questions and comments. A simple thank you goes a long way to establishing trust with your readers.

It takes time for readers to find you and even longer for them to love you. But these simple steps will make it easier for them to appreciate what you have to offer.

What Are the ‘Silver Linings’ of Your Writing Life in 2020?

Photo by Adam Kontor on Pexels.com

Check out the new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar menu.

“Every cloud has a silver lining.” You might have heard that proverb at one time or another. It means that there’s something good or hopeful to be found in every bad situation.

Dictionary.com has its own definition: “A sign of hope or a positive aspect in an otherwise negative situation.”

The year 2020 has shown us an overabundance of negative situations, from a pandemic of a highly contagious and dangerous disease and social isolation from loved ones to social injustice, civic unrest and political and economic uncertainty. It’s been a difficult year, but somehow we’ve made it to the end with the hope that 2021 will be better. It has to be better, right? We can only go up from here.

Yet despite the turmoil in our world, there is reason to hope. There are silver linings in the year that was. It’s called “counting your blessings.” We all have them if we look close enough.

So what silver linings have I noticed in my world? For one thing, I was highly productive with my writing projects.

* Consistent blogging. I recommitted to my blog, posting stories at least once a week, sometimes two. With this renewed commitment, I am now considering expanding my offerings to include a weekly writing prompt, white papers and e-books.

* Experimentation with writing styles. Without clients to write for, I’ve used my free time to experiment with different writing styles, most notably e-books and novellas. At 30,000 to 50,000 words, novellas are shorter than novels and tend to have only one plot line, but they are longer than short stories.

* Reading challenge. I kept up with my reading challenge throughout the year. Reading provided the needed escape from the darkest moments of the year.

* Professional development. I took advantage of discounted webinars, online workshops and virtual conferences that were offered, which I would not have participated in otherwise. I studied everything from building a freelance business to content marketing and writing holiday romances.

* New technologies. Like many people, I participated in more online meetings than ever before which meant learning new technologies, such as Zoom and Google Duo.

* Expanded offerings. I completed and posted a white paper on my website and plan to do another one in 2021. I also have two e-books in the works.

* Networking. I launched an email networking campaign to one group of contacts to search for new clients. The second phase of that campaign will begin in the New Year.

A writer’s work is never done and it goes beyond just writing stories. There’s the business of running a writing business and all that it entails – accounting, networking, marketing, etc. Despite it all, I feel hopeful and optimistic about the future.

I realize that in the midst of darkness, there is light too, like a rainbow after a storm. We must all learn to adapt to this new reality of ours, because frankly, it’s not going away anytime soon and our lives will be changed. Things won’t be the same as they used to be, even though we may wish them to be  “back to normal.” Each of us will have to redefine what that new normal means for us, and more important, what it looks like for us.

So how has your writing life changed – for better or for worse – because of the upheavals of 2020? What are the silver linings in your year?

Fresh Start 2019: 11 Easy Ways to Refresh Your Website

With apologies to the queen of decluttering, Marie Kondo, “Does your blog or website make you happy?” Does it excite you to read it or post to it? Or does it feel stale and uninspiring?

Maybe it’s time to declutter your website?

It can be easy to overlook your website or blog once it’s up and running. But like anything else, it can quickly turn boring. And if it’s boring to you, imagine how your readers feel about it. If you don’t feel excited about your own site, you’ll put in less effort to make it so with good, relevant content.

Another fresh start to 2019 (I promise, this is the last one) is looking at ways to freshen up your website. Here are a few ideas that can help give your blog a new lease on life.

1. Update your bio. When was the last time you reviewed your About Me page on your website? Does it still give readers a realistic view of who you are? If it’s a bit thin, think about adding more details about your experience, either as a writer and blogger or as someone with specialized knowledge and expertise. Have you published any pertinent articles, taken an exotic vacation recently, or completed relevant education that would add to your credibility? Add that information to your bio. Your professional development doesn’t stand still, so neither should your professional profile on your site. With every new life experience, education course, or job change, review and update your bio. In fact, I recommend reviewing your bio at least once or twice a year, just as you would your resume.

2. Update the Resources page. A helpful tool for your readers is a list of resources related to your blog topic. A separate page with resources can include links to other websites and blogs, organizations you support, publications, and downloadable materials that may benefit your readers. Double check the links at least one or twice a year to make sure they are still active. If you don’t already have a resources page, consider adding one to your site. When you share resources on your site, it positions you as an expert just as if you had created those resources yourself.

3. Update site images. Be honest with yourself. When was the last time you updated images on your website or blog. If you’ve had the same images since the day the site went live and that was more than three or four years ago, consider replacing with new photos. Either take your own photos (make sure they’re high quality) or use one of the free image sites like Pixabay or Flickr. Be sure to give credit to the source of any photo you use that isn’t your own.

4. Change the layout. If you’re bored with your site, maybe it’s the layout that needs updating. If you’ve used the same layout on your site since day one, consider changing it up. What I like about WordPress is the numerous themes they offer, and new ones are being added all the time. Maybe you still like the theme but use a slightly different layout, like two-column instead of one-column. Test out different themes and layouts to see which ones look best. You may find after testing them that you like what you have. That’s okay. At least you made an educated and informed decision.

5. Update your color scheme.
Maybe the color scheme has gotten stale, or it no longer appeals to your sense of artistic integrity. Maybe it comes across too somber when what you really want is something more cheerful, or conversely, maybe it comes across as juvenile or immature when you want your readers to see you as more mature and professional. You want a color scheme to reflect your site’s topic and appeal to your readers at the same time. If your color scheme isn’t working for you, test out new combinations. A new color scheme can breathe new life into a tired-looking site.

6. Add more video. Experts say video is key component to your website content. They have a sticky quality to them because they encourage visitors to linger longer on your site. Video is especially valuable for teaching purposes. Think demonstration of yoga poses, how to use carpentry tools, or cook a meal.

7. Interview experts. If you’re tired of writing the same types of stories or you run out of ideas, consider doing interviews. To start, stick with a few brief questions, like five questions. Seek out people who have expertise in your selected topic. For example, if you write about outdoor adventures, consider interviewing a biking enthusiast who just completed a 100-mile trek, or the leader of an adventure travel group. Five easy questions can make an easy-to-write post into an interesting-to-read story.

8. Write a book or movie review. Read any good books lately? See any great films? Book and movie reviews are another way to add strong relevant content to your site. They’re also helpful for stirring up discussion and debate.

9. Conduct surveys and post the results. Want to know what your readers think about a particular topic? Just ask them. Set up a survey on a site like Survey Monkey, then link to the survey from your blog or website. Once you compile the results, be sure to share them with your readers. For example, a movie fan website might do a survey about the Academy Award nominations. Surveys are a great way to generate more interactivity with your readers.

10. Invite guest posts. If you’re connected to other bloggers or experts, consider inviting them to write a guest post for your blog. This approach is especially helpful if you plan to be out of town for vacation and won’t have time to contribute articles to your blog. It’s also helpful if you simply run out of creative ideas. Having guest posts can expand your audience to include the guest blogger’s readers as well as your own.

11. Write how-to articles. We live in a continuous learning society, and readers are always looking for easier ways to get things done in an easy-to-read format. How-to articles are a great way to showcase your expertise, especially if you can clearly explain complex subjects.

A site that looks and feels stale won’t inspire confidence in you or your readers. Any one or combination of these ideas can make your site more interesting and reader-friendly.

 

Fresh Start 2019: Better Content Planning for Your Blog

blackboard-620314_1280
Photo courtesy of Hubspot

If your goal for the New Year is to launch a new blog or refresh the one you already have, an easy place to start is with content, namely story selection. It can be a challenge knowing what to write about as you stare at a blank page or computer screen.

If you’re constantly wracking your brain for story ideas, it could be that you haven’t planned your content ahead of time. Any successful blogger can tell you that having good content and posting frequently are keys to attracting and keeping readers. A content plan (what I sometimes refer to as an editorial plan) can help you develop your story ideas before you begin to write them and schedule them over the coming weeks and months. Having a content plan helps you sort through all your story ideas by theme and by month, while giving you some flexibility to add stories as news breaks that is worth following.

The blog planning tool I use is very simple and straightforward. It consists of three columns: the topic, keywords and date posted. (See image below for sample form.) You might be able to find similar planners online or adapt one for your own use. Make sure there are enough rows to write down your list of stories.

blog worksheet2

Here’s how the blog content planner works:

1. Begin brainstorming story ideas. Think of as many as you can related to your blog’s central theme and jot them down on a blank sheet of paper or your laptop. For example, if your blog is about budget-friendly travel tips, you might come up with stories such as using Groupon to plan tours and visit restaurants, cheaper alternatives to hotels, and cheap or free things to do at your destination.

If you struggle to think of story ideas, have a friend help you. Sometimes they may think of angles you had not considered. It might also be helpful to keep a file of news stories that may be worth covering on your blog.

2. Assign each story to a category.
As you complete your list of story idea, you may notice common themes developing. For example, you may notice six stories about tours and sightseeing trips and a few others related to overnight accommodations. In the space next to the story idea, write the theme or category. Most if not all of your stories will fall into one or two categories.

3. Jot down categorized stories on the planning worksheet. For every story categorized under tours and sightseeing, for example, write them down under the topic heading on your planner. In the line that says theme, fill in the blank with your category (Tours and sightseeing trips). Each category will have its own page, so you will want to have multiple copies of the planning worksheet. One sheet will be story ideas related to overnight accommodations, another for cheap eats on the road, and a third for tours and sightseeing, and so on.

You may only have five or six story ideas per category. That’s okay. You can add to the list as you think of more stories.

4. Determine which month your stories will be posted. For example, you might post a series of stories about springtime weekend getaways that would be ideally suited for posting in March or April, while stories about staycations might be a good choice for late fall or winter. My theme for January is “Fresh starts and new beginnings,” so my stories have that theme. February will have a different theme and my story selection will reflect this new theme.

blog worksheet3

5. Keep to a schedule.
As you post a story, enter the date in your blog planner. Most important, set a schedule of posting and stick to it. Write regularly and consistently. That way your readers will know when to expect to see updates to your blog. Consistency is key to driving readers to your site.

A blog planning worksheet can simplify your thought process and save you a lot of time down the road. Once you’ve done the brainstorming and assigned categories to each story, the hard work is over. Planning content around a monthly theme means you don’t have to scramble looking for ideas. It’s especially helpful when you’re pressed for time because you don’t have to think about what your next story will be. Just refer to your blog planner for your selection of stories. Then begin writing.

Tips for Naming Your Blog

pants-1255847_1280
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Last week, in my post Six Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business Blog, I wrote about how to determine whether a blog is right for your business. The next step is coming up with a name that best captures the focus of your blog business.

But coming up with a name for your blog or website can be an arduous task. So many names to choose from, so many URLs available.

But I found as I went through this process, that not every name available was suitable for my business, and the names I really wanted had already been taken. I had to get creative to generate a blog name that best reflected who I was and what I offered to the business community. I also had to keep in mind my own personal brand. How did I want clients and colleagues to see me?

For many business owners and entrepreneurs, their full name is their brand, like J.K Rowling or Derrick Rose. In most cases, the full given birth name works because it’s short, snappy and memorable.

But other names are not. I did not think my given name was memorable or snappy enough to use for my blog. I also had a potential dilemma with my last name – Ludes – which has alternative connotations that I did not want associated with my writing business. (Ludes is the nickname for a drug called Quaaludes, a sedative and hypnotic drug. Its official name is Methaqualone.) Naturally, I did not want my writing business associated with a drug. It is not how I want clients and colleagues to remember me.

An alternative is to use initials or a different form of your name. It’s a way of personalizing your blog without revealing your full name. For example, Regal is an abbreviated version of my full name – Regina Ann Ludes. It made sense to use an abbreviated version to create my brand identity. It captures the essence of my personality and matches my ability to communicate with tact, diplomacy and integrity in the business world, just as any member of royalty might.

This naming process also helped me define the focus of my blog – to write stories identifying situations that demonstrate proper use of communication tools and strategies, to show what works and what doesn’t. How you and I communicate is an extension of our personal brand. When you communicate well, you present yourself well. How I write also speaks about my personal brand.

A third option is to create a name that defines the purpose of your blog or website business. For example, writer Carol Tice created a blog devoted to sharing tips and advice for writers called Make a Living Writing (www.makealivingwriting.com). Although she also has her personal website that promotes her own writing business too (www.CarolTice.com).

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when creating a name for your blog or business.

Determine your brand identity. How do you want people to remember you? Is there a quality about you that stands out – a phrase you use, a piece of clothing, a unique name? Ask friends, colleagues and family members what they think of when thinking of you or talking about you. They are in the best position to know how you stand out. Their responses can help you pinpoint the strengths that you want to emphasize in your blog name.

For example, perhaps they see you as a passionate person, someone who cares deeply about certain issues, like animals, women’s rights or the environment. Consider using the word ‘passion’ as part of your brand identity, then use it as your blog title.

Make a list of possible names. Play around with variations of your key word or phrase, and make a list of them. Then do a Googe search of these names and variations to see which ones have been used already. Check out the availability of the URL on sites like Go Daddy or Register.com. Test out different names with your family and friends and get feedback from them. Which one works best for your blog or website? Does the name accurately reflect what you do and who you are?

Be clear about your business focus. Choose a name that matches that focus. I almost chose Regal Ink as a blog name. But when I searched URLs, Register.com offered an alternative name, Regal Tattoo. Apparently, my initial desire to use Ink as a symbol for my writing business may be better suited for a tattoo parlor – not the impression I wanted to give. So I scrapped that idea.

Consider the cost of the URL. Most URLs are inexpensive, less than $10. But some words are determined to be more popular and sought-after. The word Regal fell into that category. For some URLs, I’d have to pay nearly $2,500 to use it for my business. No name is worth that much money. So I was forced to find another alternative, like hyphenating the URL or adding the word “the” before my blog name.

However you go about identifying your blog name, remember that it should be unique and easy to remember. A well-crafted blog or website name is key to marketing your services to others. Make sure the name you choose accurately reflects who you are and what you have to offer clients.

Six Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business Blog

blackboard-620314_1280


Does your business really need a blog?

Whether you manage a start-up or have worked at a small business for a while, you might wonder whether a blog will help your business grow. One of the biggest mistakes many business owners and managers make is assuming that they need to be on every social media platform and have a blog in order for their business to succeed. But that may not be the case. I know plenty of small businesses that are successful, and they became successful without having a blog.

For example, my accountant and her business partner have been in business together for nearly 20 years. Their business is thriving. They don’t have a blog and they don’t need one because they provide good service to their clients. They built their clientele the old-fashioned way – word of mouth advertising. Good service always breeds repeat and referral business – with or without a blog.

Granted, there are plenty of reasons to have a blog. Small businesses with blogs generate 126 percent more leads than businesses that don’t have a blog, according to Social Media Today. (Check out their awesome infographic about blogging.) Also, 81 percent of consumers trust the advice and information from blogs, and 61 percent of consumers made a purchase based on a blog post. Think of a blog as one more tool in your arsenal to market yourself. It’s the cherry on top of your banana split.

But deciding whether to have a blog often depends on two main things: what type of business you operate, and who your clients are. For example,  not-for-profit groups can benefit from a blog as a way to build community support for their cause. Likewise, it’s important for associations to keep a blog to keep its members informed of industry news and association events. While it’s important for a business start up to have some sort of online presence, a blog may not be the most important concern for the short term. Business owners have many decisions to make; whether to start a blog should not be one of them. Focus instead on providing good customer service, and clients will reward you with follow up business.

Before starting a blog for your business or group, here are a few key questions you should ask yourself to decide if having one is worth your while.

1. Do you have the time to devote to it?

Blogging takes a lot of time. Writing one story can take up to three or four hours, especially if you do a lot of research for it. Multiply that time by three to five times per week, or whatever number of weekly posts you strive for, and you can see how easily the work load can pile up, just for your blog. That can take a huge chunk of time away from managing other aspects of your business.

To have any impact, your blog must be updated frequently with good, valuable content. For example, I commit to posting to my blog twice a week. Other businesses I know post at least once or twice a day, while smaller businesses might only post once or twice a week. As long as you post regularly, your readers will learn to expect it from you. Any sudden absence of posts and your readers will wonder where you are. If you cannot commit to working on your blog on a consistent basis, your clients may wonder how committed you are to them.

Bottom line: if you don’t have the time to commit to writing regularly to your blog, then you may be better off without one. Of course, if you still desire to have a blog but don’t have time to work on it, the best solution is to hire someone to manage it for you. Be sure they are good, experienced writers who understand your business and are available to prepare stories on a regular basis. Be prepared to pay them well for their time.

2. What kind of business are you in?

Some businesses are better suited for a blog than others. But I know plenty of small businesses that are successful on their own, and they don’t have a blog. Their success comes from building strong relationships with their clients. Dental offices, accountants, attorneys, and other service professionals usually succeed without a blog, while not-for-profit groups and associations who want to stay in touch with their members or promote their cause can benefit.

3. Why do you want to have a blog for your business?

Are you trying to sell a product or service, demonstrate your knowledge and expertise, or attract new clients? Be clear about your goals. If you want a blog just because you think you should or because your techie nephew says you should, then you may be better off not having one for the time being. If you don’t know why you are doing it, your blog will lack focus and you will quickly lose interest in it.

4. Who is your audience?

Knowing who your clients and customers are and why they do business with you is key to understanding whether or not they will read your blog. Are they reading it because they like the content you are sharing? My accountant doesn’t have the time or the inclination to write a blog for her business. She doesn’t need to because she knows her audience well enough to know that they will keep coming back to her for her service and expertise, not because of a blog.

5. Do you have specific expertise or perspective that other professionals in your industry do not have?

Clearly, if this is the case, you might want to invest the time and energy to manage a blog. However, if you have nothing unique to share, it will be more difficult to come up with compelling content for your blog that sets you apart from competitors.

6. How comfortable are you with writing, and are you good at it?

Let’s face it, many folks just don’t have good writing skills. You could have the best ideas for stories inside your head but if you don’t write well, those ideas will come across as inarticulate and confusing. You could hire a professional writer to translate your ideas, but be sure that the writer has industry knowledge and is able to grasp the concepts you are trying to convey.

Experts say 95 percent of blogs are abandoned after only 120 days. There is nothing more frustrating than visiting a blog that hasn’t been updated in several months. If your blog looks neglected, what does that say about the way you handle your business? Will your clients feel neglected too?

While having a blog can help you attract new clients and showcase your knowledge and expertise, it is not a requirement for success. If anything, it’s a luxury. If you can’t do a blog right – post consistently and provide meaningful, valuable content for your readers – then you are probably better off not doing one at all.