Have you ever “borrowed” content from someone else’s website? Did you give credit to the author? Sometimes reusing content is perfectly OK (“fair use”) and times when it isn’t, but how do you know which is which?
I invited Kelley Way, an attorney specializing in copyright law, to share her expertise with you. You can find this and other relevant content on her blog.
Take it away, Kelley….
Can I use Content From the Internet in My Work?
I get this question a lot. Sometimes, it’s not even a question – the person assumes it’s fine as long as they [use less than a certain amount/don’t make money from it/clipped it from Google/insert justification here].
Unfortunately, the mere fact that the content is on the Internet and easy to copy or download does not mean that it is free to use. Just like anywhere else, the normal copyright rules apply. When in doubt, assume that the content is copyrighted.
How to Safely Find and Use Internet Content
Good news: you have choices.
Use awebsite that offers free content. If a website tells you that something is free to use, you’re reasonably safe using the content. Some search engines, like Google, also have filters that will only show content labeled for reuse. Just check and make sure that the website is legitimate, and the person who made the content has given permission for others to use it. The Internet is rife with stolen content, so do your due diligence before going this route.
Pay for a license. This is a safer route than the free websites, and it helps support the artists who created the content. There’s still a chance that the content was taken without permission, though, so you still want to make sure that the website is legitimate.
Reach out to the owner directly and ask permission. This option is a bit of a gamble. On the one hand, if the owner says yes, you’re golden; you have a green light to use the content, and they can’t take it back later. On the other hand, if they say no, you’re back to square one and have to find someone else’s content.
Fair use is a legal doctrine that permits the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research are examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.
You may try to rely on fair use, but in many cases fair use is a bigger gamble than the options above. The courts declared that every claim of fair use must be decided on a case by case basis. In other words, claiming fair use won’t stop copyright owners from suing you, and you won’t know for sure that your claim will hold up until the lawsuit is over.
Fair Use Test
Courts use a test to determine whether something qualifies as copyright infringement. You can apply this same test to see how likely you would be to win a copyright infringement lawsuit.
What’s the nature of the use? If you’re using the content in a way that benefits the public (such as for teaching, criticism or commentary), the court is more likely to find fair use. If you’re using the content to make money, the court is more likely to rule in favor of the copyright owner.
What kind of content are you using? Copyright protects creativity. The more creative the content, the more protection it gets. Fiction would get more protection than non-fiction, and an elaborately staged photograph would get more protection than a snapshot of your dinner.
How much of the content are you using? If you’re quoting one sentence from a full-page novel, the court is more likely to find fair use. However, the courts also look at quality, not just quantity. If that sentence is the major selling point of the book, the court is more likely to find copyright infringement.
How does your use affect the market for the content? This may be the most important question. If your use means the copyright owner can’t make money from their own copyright, then the courts will very likely find in favor of the copyright owner. On the other hand, if your use really doesn’t impact the owner’s bottom line, then there hasn’t been a lot of harm done.
If you would like to learn more about fair use, or any of the other options I wrote about, email me at email@example.com.
Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice, and that an attorney-client relationship is not formed by reading the article or by commenting thereon.
And here we are, the culmination of all your hard work: writing and publishing.
Let the Fun Begin
Even with all the preparations you’ve made, writing can still seem daunting. Here’s a pro writer’s tip: just get words down. Follow the outline you created. Your goal is to complete the first draft of your blog not write The Great American Novel.
Pro Writer’s Tip
Do. Not. Edit.
Let me repeat: Do. Not. Edit.
Too many writers spend so much time polishing their first paragraph that they never get the rest of the blog written.
So, again: Do. Not. Edit. That’s the next step. First things first: complete your draft, no matter how rough.
Walk away. Take a break. Do something else. Editing requires a very different mindset. I know few people (OK, nobody. Certainly not me.) who can easily shift from writing to effective quickly.
A Process for Editing
Editing is the hardest part of writing. Here’s the process I follow. Editing takes me several passes; please don’t feel you have to tackle everything in one go.
Structure. Are the paragraphs in the right order? Do your thoughts flow logically from beginning to end? Are you taking any detours that might confuse your target audience?
Paragraphs. Does each paragraph capture a discrete thought? Have you opened each paragraph with an interesting sentence? Does the last sentence and lead the reader on to the next paragraph?
Sentences. Unless you’re writing for academia, tighten up your sentences. Ruthlessly remove extraneous words. Make your point in as few words as you can. Vary sentence lengths for interest. Use active voice. Edit like a surgeon with a finely honed scalpel.
Words. Find the best word possible. Add color and pop. Are you using jargon? If so, will your readers understand it? If not, find a better way to say it. Make friends with the thesaurus.
SEO. Have you used your keywords effectively? Expert opinions vary, but I recommend using your main or focus keyword in:
The title of your blog
In at least one subheading
At least twice in the body of your text
I don’t usually do all my editing in one sitting. Very often I’ll tackle the overall structure and paragraphs, but will come back at least once more for the rest. I love wrangling the words, getting just the right phrase, but I need to police myself to be sure I don’t get lost in the dictionary. There is such a thing as good enough.
What’s the difference between editing and proofreading? Editing starts with a first draft and polishes content until it sparkles. Proofreading follows editing. It eliminates misspellings, grammatical and punctuation errors, inconsistencies, formatting errors, and other basic mistakes .
Always. Proofread. Your. Copy.
If you’re not good at catching your own errors (I’m not), get a friend or colleague to proofread for you. At this point, after all this work, it would be embarrassing to undermine yourself with small errors that detract from your expertise and authority.
Some things to look for:
Correct spelling for names.
Correct titles, organization names, addresses, phone numbers, and URLs.
All quotes have attributions. (You’ve given the source where you found the quote.)
All images have captions and are attributed to their sources including yourself, if you are using one of your own pictures. (Note on the uncaptioned photo above: I used a free stock photo site and they did not give attribution to this picture.)
Punctuation is correct.
Spelling and grammar are correct.
Publishing is the easy part. Copy your blog into your website blog posting tool or content manager. Format headers, add images, insert relevant links, and be sure to proofread here, too. Save your work, set a publication date, and pat yourself on the back.
One more thing: let the world know you’ve just written something.
Scheduling Social Media Posts
If SEO is important, then this is your chance to let the interwebs know you’ve written something. Digital marketer Riley Haas says there are three steps to posting something on social media:
Tell the internet.
Tell the internet you’ve told the internet.
Remind the internet that you told the internet you told the internet.
Here’s a schedule you can follow:
Within 1-2 days of posting your blog, post to whatever social media media accounts you use for your business. Include a link to your blog. Use an image that you use in your blog, too.
Two to three days later, tell the internet you’ve told the internet.
About five days after your first social post, remind the internet. (“In case you missed it, here’s a link to my latest blog post on….”)
If you actively use LinkedIn, don’t forget to post your blog there as an article. Do this about two weeks after you’ve posted it to your blog for maximum effectiveness. And don’t forget to let LinkedIn know you’ve published the article.
Tools I Use
When it comes to proofreading, ’m in love with the AP Style Guide. The online version is kept up-to-the-minute current; useful when you’re writing about the topic du jour.
No tool will catch everything, and they all miss the finer nuances of writing. Don’t let an app be the boss of you. Sometimes writers break the rules. Just break the rules with purpose, not because of a lack of attention to detail.
Tips for Success
When editing, you’ll reach the point of diminishing returns and spend a lot of time on something that isn’t going to get much better. It’s a fine line, but pay attention to where your time is going. Get the problems fixed, yes, but don’t spin your wheels.
If you plan to do a lot of writing, you may want to create a content tracker so you know what was published where, and how you got the word out. Blog posts can become longer articles, or topics for speeches or white papers. Tracking how your content evolved can save a lot of time and confusion later on.
When you’re editing, read out loud to yourself. A paragraph that seems fine on the screen may sound awkward or senseless when spoken.
If remembering to post to social media seems as daunting to you as it does to me, use a social media publisher like Edgar, Hootsuite, or Buffer. You can create all your posts at the same time, schedule them, and forget about it.
Still Need Help?
Thanks for sticking with me. It’s been a long ride. If you’re still feeling stuck, don’t panic. If you need some inspiration and maybe a little help getting unstuck, schedule some time to talk with me. If nothing else, we can commiserate.
Part 4 covered research and gathering expert information.
Betcha thought it was finally time to start writing.
You’re never going to attract readers if you don’t give them an enticing headline. And you’re not going to grow your business without a clear (and non-spammy) call to action.
Do I Really Need a Great Headline and a Persuasive Call To Action?
It depends. What are your blogging goals?
If you’re writing for yourself, then no. People write blogs all the time and don’t worry about this stuff. Say you’re capturing vacation details for friends and family. They’ll read your blog anyway; no need to worry about headlines or calls to action.
But if your goal is to attract readers who become customers, then yes, you need a headline and a call to action that get the results you want.
How To Write an Eye-Catching Headline
Here’s where the experts will drive you crazy. I’m going to give you the best advice I can, at the time this blog is published. However,
SEO evolves and trends change. What makes a good headline today may not work next month.
You’re a human being writing for other humans. Don’t let your desire for strong SEO results get in the way of good writing.
Incorporate your target keyword or keyword phrase.
The closer to the beginning of your headline you can place it, the better for both human readers and SEO.
Promise to address a problem, explain a benefit, or offer a feature.
Remember all that research you did in the planning step? Now’s the time to use that information. Build it into your headline with phrases like “How to…” “Three Challenges Facing…”, “Worried About….”, “Why You Need….”.
Write to be read on any device.
Some experts will tell you blog headlines should be about six words long for legibility on mobile devices. Others insist they need to be at least 10 for SEO. How to decide: where will your ideal reader be viewing your content?
Create a list of 10-20 candidate headlines to start. Play with the sequence of words, rearrange them to see if that adds punch. Look for a combination of powerful, emotional, and uncommon words.
Engage Readers With a Call to Action
A call to action (CTA) is what you want your reader to do once they’ve finished your blog:
Download a freebie like a white paper, a checklist, or a template they can use
Sign up for your newsletter, a webinar, or an event where you’ll be showcased
Follow you on social media
This is an ideal opportunity to encourage readers to build a relationship with you.
I Hate Calls to Action!
I get that; some people worry about sounding too “sales-y.” But hang on a sec. Remember you’re promising to solve a problem for a customer. Why lead them this far, then drop them like a hot bowl of ramen right out of the microwave?
If you want to build a relationship with your reader, this is where you nudge them to the next step in solving their problem. You don’t have to be all “call me now!!!!” Use a gentle approach to let the reader know it’s up to them: they can choose to follow your CTA to not. If they like what you’re saying, they will continue the conversation with you; the decision is in their hands. It’s as simple as that.
Call to Action Done? You’re Almost Ready to Write
Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. The hardest part is done.
Now that you have an opening, a closing, and your keywords, outline the major points you want to make. As you’re writing, identify where you want to add:
Links to other websites
At least one link to another page in your website
Links to other interesting sources of information like research, videos, or data sources.
Images and video
In the next post, we’ll talk about actually writing, editing, and publishing your baby, the best blog post in the world.
Use CoSchedule’s free headline analyzer to help you select the best headline. (You want a score of 70 or higher.) While I generally like CoSchedule, it can lead you to sound like clickbait. Remember, this is just a tool. It’s not perfect and a good score won’t guarantee success.
Another great analyzer is the American Marketing Institute’s Emotional Marketing Value analyzer. In this case, you’ll want to hit 30-40% emotional value if you can.
Tips for Success
Take your time writing headlines. Search algorithms aside, you’re writing for busy people. You have just a few seconds to grab their attention. It’s worth sleeping on an idea and worrying about getting the wording just right.
Don’t be afraid to be bold, but know there’s a fine line between bold and off-putting. Follow your gut on this one: balance your comfort level against what will get attention.
At the risk of repeating myself one more time, don’t miss this opportunity to include a call to action. Seriously. You went to all this work, why blow the payoff? (You’d be surprised how many people get this far and forget this last step.)
No matter what, I’m good with the election. America has always been an experiment in democracy. Whoever wins will be the president. Period. Here’s how I feel: I’m through with the double standard. I’m sick of “they’re all idiots” (or worse). We all say no one wants to be called a name (true), that we need to open our minds and hearts and have honest conversations (true); but we also say “the other person” is demon spawn out to wreck civilization. “We” are right. “They” are criminally wrong.
That’s got to stop.
To use my father’s worst insult, Trump is a wet horse turd. He’s a poor excuse for a human being and a reprehensible gonif. That does not mean all Republicans are like him. No more than all Democrats are old white men with a bad stutter and a son with poor decision-making skills, like Joe Biden.
I understand why Republicans don’t like Joe Biden or Democrats. It’s not what they believe in; I get that the grand promises the Democrats make rub the up-by-your-own-bootstraps Republicans the wrong way. That doesn’t make all Republicans heinous child abusers or crazy-ass conspiracy theorists.
I understand why the Democrats want to promise safe housing, health care, and a happy retirement to everyone. They’re big dreamers who don’t always think about the details–like who, and how much, and where, and when. That doesn’t make all Democrats cannibalistic baby-eaters or crazy-ass conspiracy theorists.
We can agree to disagree. That’s the point. This is a democracy.
A pro-Trump contingent paraded in progressive Marin recently. Maybe they did it just to piss the liberals/progressives off. Because they could. Because it was a predictable action with a predictable reaction. Because this is a democracy.
In this blog, one of a series on writing a blog, I’ll explain why and how to research content. Even for experts, research is important for building your reputation. Gathering citations, quoting other experts, and getting the basic facts straight is key to reinforcing your authority and expertise.
Researching Content For Your Blog is Easy
This often-overlooked step causes bloggers a lot of heartache. One wrong fact, one unattributed quote, and you’re an Internet meme. There goes the reputation you worked so hard to build.
Don’t assume you know everything in your field, even if it seems that nothing has changed in a long time.
Don’t assume your memory is perfect, even if you’re an expert. Especially if you’re an expert.
Part of being a pro is knowing who the other pros are. Giving credit where credit is due makes you look like an authority–and a good person.
Confirm the Facts
Take some time to research content for your blog topic. Review recent data so you’re current. Check even the simple things: the correct spelling of a name, complete titles, accurate organization names, dates of important events you mention. This sounds trivial, but it reinforces your credibility; if you can’t get the basics right, readers will wonder what else you’ve gotten wrong.
Gather Quotes to Support Your Content
This is another way to improve your SEO, but more importantly, it also helps communicate credibility. If you can, interview colleagues and influencers and get their opinions. You can use this information in two ways: to support your position, or to refute someone else’s view. Either way, it gives you something to write about.
Always, always, always give credit to your sources (unless they prefer to remain anonymous, of course).
Look for Instructive Images
Researching content for your blog goes beyond words and data. You’ll want to include supporting images in your post. Look for visuals that add meaning. Charts and graphs are great for illustrating complex concepts, data, and trends quickly.
Collect attribution information for each image so you can give appropriate credit in your post. Do this even for free images. It’s the right thing to do.
Use Canva to create images, infographics, and social media-ready posts. The free version may be robust enough for your purposes, though the subscription is reasonably priced.
There are a number of sources for stock images. Getty Images, Shutterstock, Pexels, Unsplash, Nappy.co, and Pixabay are all places to explore. I love Unsplash for its inclusive pictures: size, gender, skin color, people from all walks of life. Nappy is another great source for high-quality images of Black people.
Tips for Success
If you’re not exactly Michaelangelo, consider investing in a graphic artist to help. Someone with a trained eye can probably create what you need quickly–and it’s a lot less expensive than doing it yourself.
Consider your readers when you’re looking for images. Do pictures of people represent your target audience? Photos of nothing but white people are, well, boring. They also communicate an unwelcoming message.
For heaven’s sake, don’t grab text or images from someone else’s website without asking permission from the owner. You can get yourself in a heap of trouble that way–not to mention having to fork out money when the lawyers come calling. Don’t believe me? Read this post from Kelley Way, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property. (She addresses fair use content in another blog post.)
If you’re curious about Parts 1 through 3 of this series on how to write a blog:
How to Write a Blog, Part 1, gives you an overall approach to guide your blog writing efforts. A little bit of structure can be a good thing.
Part 2: Plan for Strong Results walks you through how to plan out a series of blog posts. Why go to all the work of writing a blog if you don’t have a goal?
The first article in this series outlined my process for how to write a blog post. The second one gave you a framework for success with some planning.
In this article, I’m going to cover an essential concept for bloggers: on-page search engine optimization (SEO). I include it in the Research step of my process, but this is an important topic and worth a separate post.
Why Should You Care About SEO?
Chasing SEO rankings can be frustrating, especially if you’re a one-person shop or small business. You may not think you have a chance of ending up on the first page of search results, but SEO is essential if you want to:
Boost your reputation for credibility and authority
Attract new customers and retain existing ones
Build your brand
Increase traffic to your website
Stay ahead of your competition
There are two broad categories of SEO: technical and on-page. Your webmaster can help you with the intricacies of technical SEO; that’s above my pay grade. As a blogger, however, you can take some simple steps to improve your blog’s on-page SEO.
What Is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO is just Google’s term for good writing. It includes all the things a writer should be doing to produce great content, plus one more to make search engines happy. Good on-page SEO:
Answers readers’ questions
Employs clear, concise, well-formatted copy
Provides information for search engines so they can find and display your content
Keyword Questions You Were Afraid to Ask
On-page SEO starts with keywords, so let’s dive in.
What Is a Keyword?
A keyword is a wordthat a user enters into a search engine when looking for information. For example, I typed “backpack” into Google’s search bar. Here’s the search engine results page.
In about a second, Google served up 740,000,000 (!!!) results: images, maps, snippets of information, and links to other sites. It even helpfully organized all of this data into separate tabs to help me find what I want. Even so, it’s overwhelming.
What is a Long Tail Keyword?
A long-tail keyword is a phrase that more accurately describes what someone is seeking. Searchers use phrases to help narrow down the list of results and make them more relevant. For example, when I entered the long-tailed keyword “waterproof backpacks on sale near me,” Google presented the following information.
Google knows my location, so it shows nearby stores selling waterproof backpacks on a map. It also lists many more places where I can buy waterproof backpacks. The search results page has about two-thirds as many listings (448,000,000 is still a huge number). But the information presented is much more useful.
When you’re a small business, it can pay to use long-tail keywords. They’re more likely to answer a specific user question, and therefore more likely to put you closer to the top of the search results page.
Note: from now on, I’m going to use “keyword” and “long-tail keyword” interchangeably.
What Are Paid Search Results?
Paid search results are advertisements. Many businesses pay to advertise on Google and, while they have to match the keyword you entered to show up in your results, some paid advertisements get ranked at the top of the page. They’re also marked to show they’re ads.
There are two ways to identify a paid ad:
Look for the word “Sponsored” near the top of the page, as shown in the screenshots above.
Depending on what you’re searching for, you may also see “Ad” in a small box in the search results listing.
What Are Organic Search Results?
Organic search results appear below ads on the search results listing. Google ranks items based on how well it thinks the content matches a searcher’s intent. (It’s not that simple, but this is a good enough explanation for our purposes.)
Do I Have to Buy an Ad To Show Up on Search Results Pages?
No, you don’t have to buy an ad on Google. Paid advertising can get expensive, especially for popular keywords. Besides, most users have learned to ignore paid ads and skip to the organic search results.
Can I Have More Than One Keyword?
Absolutely. For the best results, you should plan to use a combination of keywords and long-tail keywords in your blog.
However, you need to select one as your target keyword. You’ll incorporate your target keyword into the blog title, at least one header, and the body of your text.
The rest of the keywords are called related keywords. Google recognizes related keywords, so it’s worth working them into your content. (We’ll talk about using keywords in the next couple of articles in this series.)
So how do you research keywords?
Step 1: Know Thy Customer
If you haven’t done any planning for your blog, stop now. Go back to the second post in this series, “How To Write a Blog, Part 2: Plan for Strong Results. One of the topics talked about understanding your customer well enough to know what problems you can solve for them. If you need to, review that before you go any further with keywords. When you understand your customer and her challenges, figuring out your keywords becomes much easier. (And that’s one of the reasons why the planning step is so important.)
Step 2: Build a Keyword List
Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Ask yourself how you might search for the topic you want to address. Write down every idea that comes to mind; you can prune later. If you get stuck (I do), ask a customer, colleague, or friend how they might go about the search.
Once you have a list, key the words and phrases into Google’s search bar and note the suggestions that it displays. For instance, when I keyed “backpacks on sale” in the examples above, Google presented the following results.
Right there, I have more ideas for search terms (keywords) others are using. You may want to do this several times to get ideas for more keywords.
You can also use the Google Keywords Planner to get more detailed results. Here’s an example of what I saw when I searched for “backpack,” “waterproof backpack,” “tote,” and “backpack near me.”
The Keywords Planner gives you a lot of good information.
Broaden Your Search lists suggestions for other keywords
Refine Keywords helps you target a specific audience using several criteria
Avg. Monthly Searches tells you the popularity of the keyword with searchers
Competition indicates how many other people are using the same keyword
The rest of the information applies to paid ads. The data will show just how popular a term is by showing how much advertisers will pay to use it. You may not care about paid advertising, but this is useful information for gauging how popular your keywords are.
You can download this list if you want, though it can be a long one. I prefer to add the keywords I’m interested in, the average monthly search data, and the competition ranking to my own spreadsheet.
Step 3: Review the List
Once you’re satisfied you’ve identified the relevant keywords, review the list. If you have a long list, score each keyword (high/medium/low, or 1, 2,3) to help you focus on the best choices. Sort the list by score and see what pops out.
If it seems like the keyword list is steering you to different topics than the one you planned on using, you have two options:
Look for different keywords
Reconsider your topic or the angle you planned to take
Step 4: Choose One To Be Your Target Keyword
Once you have a final list of keywords, pick one to be the target keyword/phrase for the blog. There are two philosophies about how to do this:
Popularity. Higher competition for a keyword means more advertisers are bidding for that term. If you want to tackle a popular topic, this might be the right keyword to use. But it will also be tough to get a high search ranking–if that’s important to you.
Lack of popularity. The opposite approach may identify a niche. The fewer advertisers there are bidding for a term, the easier it’s going to be for you to rank highly in search results.
There’s no right answer here, and sometimes it comes down to a coin toss.
Good for you! Your keyword research is done. Next up in this series on how to write a blog post, I’ll talk about writing eye-catching titles and calls to action. Titles are the first place where you put your keyword list to use. They signal to the reader (and to search engines) what problem you’ll be solving for them and they’re key to getting a reader to pay attention to you.
Tools You Can Use
Moz offers a Keyword Explorer tool that’s free for up to 10 keyword searches a month. This option is perfect if you’re a blogger and don’t need anything else.
SEMRush and Ahrefs are also excellent sources for keyword research and much, much more. But like Moz’s full-service offering, subscriptions can be expensive. They may not be worth the investment unless SEO is your thing.
If you use WordPress for your blog, I highly recommend adding the Yoast plug-in. Even the free version will help you improve your SEO with actionable suggestions. If you want to learn more about using keywords, Yoast has an excellent blog on the topic.
Tips for Success
Google offers a great series of workshops in the Google Analytics Academy. I recommend watching Analytics for Beginners to develop a basic understanding of this topic.
Don’t overthink your keywords. About a third of the effort you spend on your blog should go to planning and research together.
Need Help With On-Page SEO For Your Blog?
Are you stuck? Want to brainstorm? Don’t know where to start? Schedule some time to talk with me. I may be able to help you get unstuck and give you ideas on how to find and use keywords successfully.
If you’re making the effort to write a blog, you want people to read it. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of competition. Hosting Tribunal says it in a nutshell: “To date, there are more than 500 million blogs out of 1.7 billion websites in the world. Their authors account for over 2 million blog posts daily.”
How can you stand out? Some forethought and planning will help.
What precisely do you want to gain from blogging? If you’re not sure about this before you start, the whole thing becomes an exercise in frustration.
Answer your customers’ questions. That means you have to know who your customers are and what they want.
Put your spin on it. Yes, a lot of people write blogs. And yes, your customers care what you have to say.
Plan For Writing a Blog
Before you start dashing off ideas, take a few minutes to think through your goals, your audience, and your angle. Clarity at this stage makes writing a blog much more rewarding.
Don’t start writing until you can answer the questions below. Or at least recognize that for you, blogging is a hobby, not a way to grow your business. (No judgment from me. I’ve blogged for all sorts of reasons, not all of them related to business.)
Question 1: What Are Your Blogging Goals?
If you’re going to commit to the work of writing, figure out what you want to achieve before you start. It’s OK if you’re going to write because you love it. (I do.) But don’t miss this opportunity to reach a specific goal.
Do you want to:
Acquire sales leads?
Attract people to your website?
Build a following?
Demonstrate your expertise?
Expand your network?
Be specific. There’s no wrong answer, and you may have more than one goal. Best to sort that out now.
Question 2: Who Do You Want To Reach With Your Blog?
Determine exactly who your audience is. (Clue: the answer is not “anyone who….”) Be as specific as possible; you’ll do your best job when you write as if you’re addressing a single person.
Marketers will tell you to create a persona, a detailed description of your ideal customer. For most of us, it’s easier to pick a favorite customer: someone you like and someone who you would like to work with again.
Question 3: What Problems Can You Solve For This Person?
What would your favorite/ideal customer want to know? This is not the same question as, “what can you write about?” For example, I write about a lot of things, but my writing solves problems like these for my clients:
A start-up in the autonomous vehicle space wants a white paper that explains their idea to investors in a simple, non-technical way.
A digital marketing agency needs updated website content that showcases their recent work in industries they want to penetrate.
A consultant lacks case studies that highlight her expertise for potential clients.
Question 4: What’s Your Angle?
Your angle is your take on the topic. It’s your positionor viewpoint, based on expertise and a deep understanding of your ideal customer’s problems. Your angle helps you stand out from the army of other bloggers writing on the same subject.
Many would-be bloggers tell me they don’t think they have anything new to add, that everything’s already been said by people who know more than they do. That’s probably true.
But it’s equally true that your customers rely on you, not other bloggers. They want to know what you think, what you believe, how you feel. In short, they depend on your expertise.
If you’re having trouble coming up with an angle, answer these fundamental questions to solidify your perspective.
How do you feel about the topic?
Why is this worth writing about?
Whatdo you think your reader shouldknow?
What’s in it for them, from your perspective?
If you need inspiration, this is an excellent opportunity to agree with or dispute what others say. It can generate more ideas for content and maybe even boost your SEO. (More on SEO in the next blog in this series.)
Question 6: What’s Your Call to Action?
A call to action (CTA) is what you want readers to do when they’ve finished reading. Should they:
Download a checklist, white paper, or case study?
Set up an appointment?
Visit your website?
It’s OK not to have a clear call to action. Just make it a conscious decision; don’t let this be a missed opportunity.
My Favorite Planning Tool When I Write a Blog
Yup, you got it—sticky notes. They are my all-time favorite planning tool for anything from updating my herb garden to managing a major systems implementation.
If you want to know why, my friend Shawne Greene says it all in her blog.
Tips for Success
Once you’ve completed this planning exercise, you may not have to do it again. What you learn in this step will probably hold true for a while.
Blogging regularly can seem overwhelming. You do have other things to accomplish. Schedule a time and write several related posts at once. It’s more efficient, and you will be able to catch inconsistencies more easily.
To save your sanity, create a content calendar dedicated to the activities needed to publish a blog. Establish how often you want to post and put that in the calendar. Add milestones to account for the different stages of work, and for any tasks that others need to complete in support.
Keep an idea bank. Jot down anything that comes to mind, no matter how crazy. A list of ideas will is another resource for when you need inspiration.
Other Posts in This Series
This is the second in a series of posts on writing a blog. Here’s the series:
Get started with my thoughts on whether non-writers can blog (spoiler alert: they can, and should), and the process I use in How To Write a Blog, Part 1.
Here’s the thing about writing a blog that gets results: most people know what they want to write. What they’re missing is a process to guide them in creating a blog that people will read. So I’ve created a series of posts that lay out the process I use.
This post covers the preliminaries: whether you should write a blog (even if you’re not a writer), an overview of my approach, and a couple of my favorite writers on the subject. Future posts will cover:
Do some planning so you get results
Research and search engine optimization (SEO)
How to create a strong headline, an outline, and a call to action
Writing, editing, and publishing
Saving your sanity with a content calendar
Should I Blog?
Content is king, or so the pros tell us. We need, we must have, our business will die without blogs, videos, and social media posts. Lots of them, frequently posted, and all with fresh content. It can be overwhelming. Who needs something else to make them crazy right now?
For many of us, the easiest place to start with content is a blog. After all, how hard can it be? We write all the time: emails, presentations, reports–each of us generates a ton of content. Pick a topic and have at it, right?
As it turns out, blogging is a bit of work. But here’s the thing: the more effort you put into the upfront work, the easier it will be to write the blog and the likelier you are to be successful.
But I’m Not a Writer!
You don’t have to be a great writer to author a successful blog. You just need some expertise or a point of view about something in your field. Most of us have at least one of these qualifications, usually in aces.
You also need a process to guide you on how to write a blog. There are some basic things you can do to produce excellent content that your audience will appreciate. They aren’t complicated and, even better, most of it doesn’t involve writing.
How To Write a Blog: A Process
Here’s the process I follow when writing a blog for myself or my clients. I’ve adapted this from several sources and added some bits that I think are important. I’d particularly like to acknowledge Anne Janzer’s “The Writer’s Process” and, “Everybody Writes” by Anne Handley. (Both authors publish excellent newsletters, too, if you’re interested.)
Before you ever put pen to paper, answer these simple questions.
Who are you trying to reach?
What do they want to know?
Whatdo you want them to do once they’ve read your blog?
Only after you’ve completed this step should you proceed. Because if you can’t answer these questions, the content you’re so proud of will fall on deaf ears.
In fact, I think this topic is so important that I’m going to address it in its own post instead of combining it with the next step, research.
There are two parts to this step: keyword research (for SEO) and research to confirm facts, gather quotes from experts, and find appropriate images.
Yes, you should do this before you start writing. You may uncover something that changes what you want to say or how you want to approach the subject. To improve your SEO rankings and build credibility, you’ll want quotes, experts to cite, and websites you can link to.
SEO research doesn’t have to take a lot of time or involve the use of arcane technology (though it can). I’m going to recommend some simple tools and a basic approach that will get you started. Where you go after that is up to you.
Draft a strong headline and a call to action (CTA), and identify the major points you want to make. Take it from an experienced writer: headlines are often the hardest part of the entire process.
I know you’re itching to write, but Google and humans both pay a lot of attention to headlines. You want something crisp, concise, and compelling that will draw people in. And if you don’t bring them in, all this work is for naught.
As for a call to action: you don’t always need (or want) one, but make that a conscious decision. Don’t waste this opportunity to let people know what you offer and how they can reach you.
Once you’ve got your opening headline and closing CTA, the rest should fall into place–another reason why you want to do this before you start writing.
This is the easy part because of all the work you’ve done to get this far. Have at it. Write to your heart’s content. You’ll worry about cleaning it up in the next step. Don’t edit yourself, and don’t worry about length right now; focus on getting your message across.
Polish and Publish
Editing your work can be a painful experience. Frankly, it’s challenging. I’ve just told you to pour your heart out, and now I’m saying, “wait a minute here.” The thing is, it’s essential to get your ideas out of your head so you can share them. In this step, you’ll polish those gems until they shine like the diamonds they are.
Never fear, I’ll be giving you some suggestions for how to edit your writing in a future post, along with a few things to know to prepare your blog for publishing. There are some excellent automated tools to help, and I’ll tell you what they are, too
If you’re in business you’re a writer. Text, email, and social media are text-based. You can write a whole sentence using emoticons 😝 and acronyms IMHO (in my humble opinion) but unambiguous business writing requires a command of the language. Good news: writing tools can help you with English, whether the language is new to you or you’re an experienced writer.
The Etymology Dictionary is for word nerds. Enter a word or phrase and find out how it originated. Great for research—and for understanding where today’s vocabulary came from.
Use Answer The Public (answerthepublic.com) for an idea generator. Enter keywords and discover the most popular searches. ATP pulls data from Google searches and may give you ideas for your next article.
Polish Email and Simplify Social Media
I use Grammarly every day for on-the-go checks of my writing, especially on my iPhone and iPad. ProWritingAid is similar, though the free version seems more robust than Grammarly. The statistics and ever-so-helpful suggestions for change can overwhelm, however, and may not be valuable to you.
CoSchedule (coschedule.com) offers a free headline analyzer tool. I use it for punching up email subject lines and blog titles. Shoot for a score of 70 or higher.
Have you ever grappled for new ways to say the same thing? Check out Related Words when you don’t exactly want a synonym or you’re looking for a different way to phrase something.
If you do a lot of social media posting, look at PromoRepublic for scheduling your posts. It’s reasonably priced and well worth it for the treasure trove of ideas, content, and templates that save time and help you create eye-catching graphics.
Create Eye-Catching Data Visualisations
If you’re a data wonk, Onomics offers free data visualizations. I haven’t needed to use it yet, but it came to me highly recommended and I’m looking for an excuse to dive in.
Writing Tools Help But They Don’t Write For You
Writing is a creative process. Sometimes you break the rules deliberately. Your style of writing is your style of writing. Yes, there are rules, best practices, and the right way to use punctuation. And if everyone followed the rules, we wouldn’t have Ulysses by James Joyce, Catcher in the Rye by Holden Caulfield, or anything by Ernest Hemingway.
Writing tools are just that: tools. They catch errors and generate suggestions. Use that information wisely but don’t let it rule your writing.
Know a Someone Who Could Use This Information?
Forward them a link to this post.
Better yet, I give a talk with practical suggestions to help businesspeople become better writers. It’s loaded with simple tips and will help you see improvements right away. Interested in learning more? Contact me and let’s talk.
There’s a good reason why videos are increasingly popular. They’re easy to consume and they can be easy to make. You don’t need an expensive crew, equipment, and studio to produce a decent-quality video.
In a memorable video, the speaker communicates their message clearly and succinctly. Viewers are gripped by your call to action. They leap to their feet, ready to volunteer, write a check, fund a capital campaign. Inspired, they share your message with other equally generous people.
Ah, if it were only that easy…
Three Steps to Scripting a Memorable Video
We’ve all sat through DIY videos listening to speakers “uh” and “erm” their way along. The speaker seems lost and befuddled, wanders off into side-topics, gets distracted by the cat (or dog or kid) that comes into the room, and completely forgets their point.
Don’t be that person. Instead, follow these tips to script a memorable video.
Step 1: Grab Attention With a Powerful Title and Opening Sentence
You’ve only got a few seconds to lock in audience attention. Don’t waste this time. Hook your audience from the start. If you can’t communicate your message right away, nobody will bother watching the rest of your video.
Start with a powerful title that piques curiosity, then lure viewers in with an equally powerful opening sentence. Script the opening sentence to support your headline, then polish, polish, polish.
There are lots of free tools available to help.
Check out this article from HubSpot. Yes, it’s about email subject lines. But you can use this approach to craft great video titles.
Use the free headline analyzer at CoSchedule.com to craft a memorable video title. (CoSchedule’s headline analyzer will also score it for search engine optimization (SEO) characteristics. This will be useful if you post this video on your website.) Aim for a score of at least 70.
Step 2: Close Out On a High Note
It’s counterintuitive I know, but next, write your closing. Script a sentence or two that recaps and reinforces your message and includes a call to action. Polish until it shines. This is what people will likely remember, so it’s worth the effort.
A call to action is the step you want your viewer to take. It may be to enroll in a workshop, donate generously, or volunteer. Whatever it is, make sure you clearly state that next step.
Don’t forget to include your or your organization’s name and contact information (name, website, email, and/or phone number).
Step 3: Fill in With One to Three Talking Points
Now develop the body of your script. Here’s where you tell your story.
Most videos are short (30-90 seconds) — just enough time to make a couple of points. You need to decide whether you want to dive into one point or skim lightly over two to three points. The more you have to say about any one topic, the fewer topics you should have.
Jot down a few five or six words for each bullet point. As you write, hone your message so that it is tightly focused. If there’s a specific example you want to use, note it. Write down specific words or phrases you need to remember.
Worried about forgetting something? Keep your notes on your smartphone or on a pad nearby and refer to them if you need to when you’re recording.
Should you script every word or just use bullet points? I’m not a fan of scripting every word, but then I’m comfortable ad-libbing. See Bonus Tip 4 for my thoughts on this topic.
What kind of details should you share? It depends on your audience. For example, bankers, accountants, and lawyers may be more comfortable with bare facts. Parents might want to know how your organization helped another child before they trust you with theirs. Medical professionals might not want to share anything because of patient confidentiality and safety concerns.
A little humor can work, but it can be tricky to pull off. If you’re not a natural with humor, don’t force it. And if you are, avoid snark and irony. It may backfire if your audience is listening but not watching the video.
Bonus Step 4: Practice, But Don’t Practice Too Much
The key to any successful video is practice. Practice enough so you’re comfortable, but not so much that you sound rote. Be able to deliver your opening and closing as scripted, but allow yourself to explore your topic in different ways with each run through. You may discover something you forgot when scripting your talking points or find a better way to say it.
An old Toastmasters trick: memorize your opening and closing sentences. Know the major points you want to make, and let your words flow naturally as you move from open to close.
It’s perfectly OK to get excited, even passionate about your subject. Just don’t overdo it. Worse, don’t fake it.
If you’re recording your video yourself on your smartphone, your first recording or two (or more) may sound forced and unnatural. You may be nervous and you’ll probably make a couple of mistakes. That’s OK; this is practice, remember?
The trick is to recognized when you’ve practiced too much. Be aware when you start feeling tired or sounding rote. Time for a break.
Do I Need a Videographer For a Memorable Video?
It depends. Some of the most effective videos I’ve seen were shot on smartphones with no set, script, or video team. They succeeded because the speaker was passionate about their topic and wanted to share that excitement with me, the viewer. Their energy shone through and pulled me in.
But there’s a good argument for paying a professional videographer. It takes a lot of pressure off you, especially if you’re not technically inclined. A professional videographer will add polish to the final product in ways you probably can’t.
I’m all for paying a pro to do something I can’t do as well or when it would just eat up my time. In the long run, a professional videographer can save you time, money, and a lot of frustration. They can be well worth the investment.
If you want to see a wide range of videos, from polished to home-made on no budget, check out Indiegogo. It’s a fundraising site for everything from start-ups to non-profits, and most projects include a video. Some are great, some are awful. Worth the look.
Oh, and don’t forget to lock the door to the room to keep pets out while you’re recording your memorable video.