The internet is full of guides for bloggers and content marketers engaged in blog writing. The more I read them, the more problematic some of their suggestions seem to me.
Judging by the amount of writing and blogging guides that I’ve read in the last months, I will be probably winning the Nobel Prize for Literature next year. My e-mail box and social media news feeds are bombed on a daily basis with different articles, all of them claiming to be “the ultimate guide” for blogging. Indeed, with so much advice, I am surprised I have not yet reached the list of top 10 most popular bloggers in the world.
The problem is that the more guides I read, the more I find a series of repeating clichés and problematic premises. At first sight, these lessons may seem completely normal and useful, but having a deeper look, we see that they insinuate certain lessons we would not want to take home.
The following tips and advice are real examples that were repeated in a number of guides I read in the last weeks. The main aim is to understand what is problematic about them, not to troll or shame particular writers who wrote them. I will therefore not make reference or link the particular websites on which I found them. Here come the fabulous seven:
- Write great content.
- Write longer posts.
- Write “killer” headlines that spark the curiosity of the reader.
- Become an expert on your topic.
- Find your own voice, write from your own experience.
- Think about your audience and publish for them.
- Distribute your content in as many platforms as possible, as many times as possible.
Now, are you ready? Let’s go bust these myths!
The king is dead, long live the king
“Write Great Content”
Let’s start with my favorite tip. Imagine a book by Bob Dylan titled “How to become a legendary songwriter”, starting with the tip “Write great songs”. Imagine a book by Leonel Messi titled “How I became the world’s greatest football player”, with the first chapter titled “Play great football”. Imagine a Michelin guide on how to nail it with a restaurant, and the first advice being “Cook great food”. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? And so does “write great content”.
Why is it such a useless advice?
First, it states the obvious. Of course you have to write great content if you want your blog to be popular. Shakespeare didn’t build his fame on writing crappy books, did he?
Second, it is general and abstract. What is this “great content”? How do you write it? Truly valuable advice needs to be detailed and concrete. Like a recipe, it has to provide with an exhaustive list of ingredients and lead the reader step by step, putting things together.
Do people who simply write “write great content” think that blogging and writing are so easy, that all you need to do is just “write great content”?
My tip beyond the cliché: Stating the obvious and giving general and abstract advice is something I would definitely define as “not great content”. There are no magic tricks. Glory is achieved only with years of learning, practicing, and striving for perfection. Even if you are a born writer, be prepared for a lot of hard work. “Writing great content” is not something you can achieve overnight.
But don’t be discouraged! There are plenty of practical ways to improve the quality of your content. Here are only a few small, concrete tips that I find important for every text:
- Answer a question. If you don’t know what you want to write, ask a question that is bothering you or your audience. While writing your entry, be sure that it is written in the form of an answer to this question.
- State facts and provide sources. Few things disturb me more than general, unfounded statements. Don’t start sentences with “everybody knows that…” or “it is commonly agreed”. Bring facts, numbers, and always (always!) mention the sources of these facts. A fact without a source is like street food – you don’t know where it came from, and buying it is on your own responsibility. If you are basing on online sources, linking the source is even better.
- Watch your language. One cannot emphasize it enough. Your text is your reputation, and too many mistakes will make you look unprofessional. Review your text at least two-three times before publishing, and preferably let another person proofread it. There are also good tools to help you with this work: use, for example, Grammarly, to proofread your text, and Hemingway App to check its readability.
- Enrich your vocabulary. If your text is supposed to be enriching, informative and challenging, let the language reflect it. Work with tools like word-counter and thesaurus to make sure you are not repeating specific words too many times, and to find alternative ways to express yourself. It’s good not only for your readers, but also for you, as you will yourself feel enriched and empowered by the experience.
- Don’t be afraid to be artistic. Text is not the only way to create contet – enrich it with visuals, video and audio. When you write, don’t forget to use the essential elements of good literature: an interesting story, emotional climates, metaphors, round characters, surprise, and a personal voice.
It’s not the quantity, it’s the quality
“Write longer posts”
Once, the recommended blog post averaged 500 words. Now, most blogging guides talk about 1500 words and above? Why? For several reasons: (1) people appreciate high-quality content, and writing longer posts gives a sense that you know what you are talking about; (2) longer posts keep readers on your page longer; (3) search engines’ algorithms favor pages with significant content.
This revolution in blog posts’ length amuses me. It feels like only yesterday we were fed with advice to “keep it short”. People’s attention span is shrinking, and we should remember it when writing, so no more than 500 words and goodbye. Suddenly, the trend has been reversed. Short: out, long: in.
Wait, what happened, when did the average blog post’s length triple overnight? I think that when people get obsessed with the length of blog posts, they forget one basic thing: it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality.
Have you ever seen a serious discussion about the optimal length of a book? Of course not. There is a good reason for that: for a good text, length is irrelevant!
Blogs come in different lengths and forms and give the writer a lot of flexibility. If you have a lot to say about a certain topic, and you can make it interesting, informative, and engaging, you can write an encyclopedia and people will still read it with thirst! If you have only a short update or thought, there is no reason to waste people’s time with fluff. In either case, you don’t need to adjust your text to any given length set in advance.
My tip beyond the cliché: Write as much as you need. Not more, not less.
Clickbait factory called, said they’re running of out headlines
“Write killer headlines that catch the readers’ attention”
A couple of days ago I read on a blog post about “the ultimate clickbait headline formula”. The writer suggested readers to “steal” this formula and start applying it to see a raise in the number of views of their articles.
Good headlines are surely important, but several things are problematic in promoting clickbait headlines for blogs:
First, there is a reason why “clickbait” is being used as a derogatory term. Clickbaits have become a synonym of low-quality websites that abuse the so-called “curiosity gap” only to get readers to click on articles, without offering them any significant piece of content. Articles are usually short and uninformative. Is that the image you would like to associate to your website or blog?
Second, clickbait viral headlines are a temporary marketing trick. It will not be long until the new generation of internet users will be complete immune and cynical towards it. This might not be a popular stand (it is hard to argue with the big clickbait Goliaths that are doing so well), but watch out, the movement already started. And what will be left after the trend passes? A bunch of ridiculously-written headlines that have nothing to do with quality writing and look all like a copy of each other.
Third, a blogger’s mission is to bring informative and useful content, helping to create a community of readers that discuss topics of interest. Clickbait headlines have nothing to do with this mission. They look more like an experiment in marketing psychology conducted by sleazy and dubious salespeople. On which side do you prefer to be?
My tip beyond the cliché: Yes, headlines are extremely important. Of course, they should be interesting and catch the readers’ attention. But a true blogger, who is part of a community of knowledge, cares about the audience, and wants to develop high-quality long-term relations, would never use sleazy headline formulas to trick readers into articles.
“I know one thing: that I know nothing”
“Become an expert on your topic”
Become an expert is one of the most bizarre pieces of advice I’ve ever read online. Can somebody please tell me, what does it mean “to become an expert”? It means I start writing about something of which I have no clue, and within a month I read all possible articles on the topic and become a worldwide known expert? Seriously?
The right thing to say is “be an expert”. Don’t blog if you are not an expert. There are 7 billion people in the world. You can find an expert on basically anything, and if you try “becoming an expert”, you will surely (and quickly) find there is someone doing it better than you. Why would people blog about something of which they are not experts? What value would it have?
Being an expert is a life-long process of learning, accumulating knowledge, and gathering experiences. Again, there are no magic tricks. Nobody can “become an expert” in a couple of days just for the sake of writing a blog.
My tip beyond the cliché: Don’t become an expert. Be an expert. Take that one thing you are passionate about, that you have been reading and writing about since childhood, that you can’t pass the day without – and dive deep. Remember that the biggest feature of great experts is humbleness. Never stop learning and researching, and accept Socrates’s confession: the more we know, the more we understand that we know nothing. Share your knowledge, and be open to the knowledge of others.
You are your blog
Find your own voice, write from your own experience
You know this situation when you are on Twitter and someone has in his/her personal description the epic sentence: “Tweets are my own”. Well, whose else?! Wake up call, this is the social world, you are expected to be yourself!
In a normal world, it would be obvious that bloggers write from their own experience. This is the whole idea of a blog – a genre based on personal experience and perspective – as opposed to news, advertisement, or fiction literature. A blog that is not written from a personal perspective misses the definition of a blog, and can be called something else.
Why, then, do people still have to remind bloggers to “write from their own experience”? Because, unfortunately, some bloggers forgot about it. Some bloggers are here only for the money and for the publicity, and forget the authenticity of blogging. This results in two main types of blogs:
- Blogs that are one big piece of advertisement. If you forgot to write about yourself and your blog looks like a collage of brands and products, congratulations: you are a marketing specialist, not a blogger. Just remember: the main reason why people read blogs (and trust them), is because they see the personal experience in them. They can identify with writers on the most intimate and personal level. Once your blog starts looking more like a billboard and less like a personal diary, you will hurt the trust of your readers and might end up losing your audience.
- Blogs that just copy ideas from other blogs and don’t bring anything new to the table. The French postmodernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard speaks about “simulacra”: a group of things that endlessly copy from each other, so much that in the end nobody understands where is the original version. In the blogosphere, one can find, unfortunately, too much of that. There are way too many blogs that just copy ideas and formats from other blogs, looking for what is popular and repeating what is successful. These blogs have no added value, and they just create a lot of white noise. To stand out from the crowd, a blogger has to be innovative and unique. You can use some useful standard formats, but must fill them with your original personal insights. Otherwise, you are not yourself, and your blog is nothing but a mirror of other blogs. It doesn’t mean that you cannot be inspired by other blogs; you are always part of a bigger conversation. But whenever joining a discussion or referring to content presented by others, make sure that you are introducing also something new!
My tip beyond the cliché: You are the most important thing to yourself and to your blog. Don’t sell yourself to advertisements or to the will to do “what is popular”. Be true to yourself, to your style, to your opinions, and let your blog speak first of all in your voice.
Don’t think, be!
Think about your audience and publish for them.
“Think about your audience” is another tip that makes me laugh. I’d give it the title “understatement of the year”. It is actually a remain from old-fashioned linear, one-directional communication methods. What I get from it is: yes, you need to think about your audience, but still, remember that you are the information provider. Listen, but always talk more than you listen; think about your audience, but be the one who is writing.
This is completely untrue in the world of 2.0. You don’t write for your audience, you are part of it. Read blogs related to your topic, see what people are talking about. Find out what are the hot topics, what is bothering people, and what has already been said and does not need to be repeated. Be in touch with the readers’ community throughout the whole process: understand what they want to read, what insights they can contribute, and what they think about previous articles. When writing, think “would I like to read and share this article?”.
My tip beyond the cliché: Don’t think about your audience. Be your audience.
Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours
Distribute in as many platforms as possible, as many times as possible
Jonathan Perelman, VP of Strategy and Development at BuzzFeed, said once in a paraphrase to the greatest quote of content marketing:
“Content is king, but distribution is queen”
The point is well made. With so much content being thrown to the virtual space every minute, you can write great stuff, but unless you know how to distribute it efficiently, your content will die silently and unnoticed. You can, and should, give people a chance to enjoy your content. If it’s good content, it will be everybody’s win, and the audience will appreciate it. So go ahead, go public, go social, run and tell your friends.
What I’ve noticed lately is that people take this advice way too seriously, and go around flooding the web with their content.
A variety of tools offers you the opportunity to automatize your social media accounts. It’s a great thing when you use to create a logical narrative of posts and to spread your posts around different days and hours to ensure that you are there for your audience all the time. It’s less great when you use it to social-spam your audience with recycled content. Sharing the same content repeatedly for dozens of times might make you look spammy and impersonal.
The same goes for e-mails and newsletters. It’s good that you can send content directly to your audience, but be careful not to abuse this opportunity.
My tip beyond the cliché: Provide your audience with content without being overwhelming and without causing a burden.
Conclusion: blogging is what blogger does
Blogging guides are nice, I admit. Some of their advice is useful, some tips are definitely good points for consideration. But I don’t like when they become a recipe for mass commercial writing. When badly written, they present two dangerous features:
One is the promise of instant and easy success, based on standardized rules and formats.
The other is an orientation towards commercialization of content, and an approach that sees blogging first and foremost as a tool for money making.
My idea in this post was to encourage another type of writing, going back to the roots of blogging. A blog, for me, is a place to build communities and be part of them; a place to aggregate knowledge; to maintain relationships; and to talk about things that matter for us.
This is why I don’t like when bloggers are offered with magic growth tips, many of them taken from the grey-zone of marketing and advertisement.
True bloggers don’t have visibility and revenues as their one and only priority when they blog. They work out of inspiration and devotion.
Look carefully at these clichés we analyzed today. Take what is good for you from them, but don’t follow them blindly. You are a blogger. You write. That’s what you do, that’s what you always wanted to do. You care about what you write, you are fascinated about it. Inspiration will shine from your words and contaminate every reader.