We are most creative when facing limitations. Typically, those limits are time and money.
Fortunately for most of us, we’ll never have quite enough resources to do our jobs as we wish. Bloggers can always use nicer computers, faster Internet, better cameras, more hours in a day and so on.
But typically what separates one blogger from another is talent and how it is applied. A super-skilled blogger can grow complacent. A newbie can strive with each post to try something new. Where do each of us fall on that continuum?
Even arbitrary limits can create better results. Because blogging has no word limit, I read too many posts that ramble. No one is telling that blogger to rein it in, so we all suffer.
At one news site I managed, I set a limit of 500 words on every post, including my own. It was an arbitrary number, not based on some scientific study of attention spans or ideal SEO triggers — it could have just as easily been 300 or 750. Having that limit forced each writer to be concise. It made each post stronger than if every blogger had free rein.
This word limit forced bloggers to make choices, even under an artificial circumstance. No one says books must be shorter than so many pages, or TV shows must have fewer than so many episodes a year, or movies must run under so many minutes. But we have a word that describes creators who dare to heap on more for the sake of more: overindulgent.
Arbitrary limits aside, some of us face very real limits in our regular blogging lives. For example, we lack time to write posts, and when we get going, we have to stop for other urgent duties.
This constant time challenge can bring out our most creative sides, forcing us to tackle the problem in different ways. That could mean shorter posts, writing chunks on the go, using video, setting aside more blocks of time, imposing earlier deadlines or developing ideas that require less work. Many bloggers simply give up before trying alternate approaches.
But the best bloggers try something to make it work. We force ourselves to brainstorm, on our own or with colleagues, for a better solution. This is the creative problem solving that happens a million times a day in marketing departments, studios and on assignment.
For me, the best example has been Twitter. If I want to see creative writing with the most impact, I look at what’s tweeted about current events (debates, football) and from pithy personalities (comedians, peers, writers).
It’s why I’ll never get tired of reading best of Twitter posts or “Gameday” signs. It’s why I’ll never stop working on my writing, whether with a 140-character or 500-word or 10,000-word limit.
Limits don’t hamper us. They empower and unleash our creative minds.
• • •
Limited resources for blogging?
Let me help unlock the right ones for your company …
In honor of my 11th anniversary in blogging this month, I’ve written a two-part post. The second part, Hell no, will run Tuesday on Y’all Connect.
Blogging can be a tough sell. It seems like fewer people get started, and even fewer keep going. Why not Instagram and Snapchat your lives than blog them?
I’ve seen a lot of blogs come and go in the 11 years I’ve blogged, along with blogging groups, conferences and experts. Once you figure out the domain registration, the site setup, the formatting, the schedule and the audience, you still need the energy to actually write and upload photos.
Even putting videos on YouTube daily is easier.
I’ve thought a lot about blogging in 2016, what it means for clients and hobbyists, and whether it’s worth the effort. Today, I focus on the reasons why you should blog regularly for your company or organization.
1. Good blog content has a payoff in sales. Those unfamiliar with blogging automatically assume that bloggers can make money and that it’s a direct path from publishing posts to raking in cash.
That’s never been true.
What is accurate these days is that search engine optimization still exists and evolves, driven mostly by Google. And Google now emphasizes good, unique content in ranking sites. No more keyword stuffing, no more crazy tags, no more link farming — I mean, people still do that crap, but they penalize for their sites.
Posts that are helpful, entertaining or informative perform better on SERPs (search engine results pages). That improves SEO and draws more traffic. The smart brand uses that traffic to build leads and market directly to potential customers.
That’s the profit from blogging.
2. Blogging is the best way to stand out. This is an opportunity to resonate with people. Most brands blend together, but the only way to win fans and customers is to stand apart.
A blog provides the simplest way to keep a site (and its readers) up to date. Sure, companies should keep catalogs and pages current, but they make it an annual or biennual overhaul. How do I as a first-time visitor know if you have the latest equipment or are aware of the best options?
Consumers are armed to the teeth with information. They are no longer at the mercy of salespeople. Companies attempting to close the sale can either assist browsers with info — about models, specs, parts, manufacturing process, reviews, etc. — or hinder them.
And more customers want to connect with brands beyond price and color. They want to know what a company stands for, and how it crafts its goods. That’s the kind of insider info that belongs on a blog by diverse voices from all over the organization.
3. A blog offers full control and ownership of the message. Investing too much of the marketing resources into social media can backfire the moment those channels change the rules. Facebook has mastered this game, forcing even the biggest companies to pay for access to their own fans.
Setting aside resources for building and maintaining a home base platform on the company site should always be the starting point. It can drive creation of channel-specific content and guide visitors through the sales funnel.
Otherwise, marketers are always at the mercy of the rules and the limitations of each social channel.
4. Share your message with the world. Blogging remains one of the few universally accessible platforms. People can view posts in any browser without having to sign in, pay a fee or download an app.
The freedom to create and explore is unlimited. The responsibility is to offer readers a reason to stick to the end of the post and return for more good stuff.
That’s why blogging is still a thing. A big thing.
• • •
Still need help getting your blog started?
Contact me today …
Our daily routine is a constant act of persuading others to do our bidding. To get our kids to clean their rooms. To get our spouses to pay more attention. To get our colleagues to get with the program. To get another rush hour driver to let us in their lane. To get our Facebook friends to vote for this candidate (or not vote for the other candidate).
Our tactics may be to nag, to scold, to preach or to lecture. We already know their success rates.
We forget that humor is often the most effective and subtle form of persuasion. It humanizes us and offers a gentle tweak instead of a head-on attack.
Everyone is funny in their own way. Some have to work at it, but most have a natural style of getting laughs, intentionally or not. But we can be unnecessarily awkward in incorporating humor in our sales tactics.
Trying to be funny isn’t the same as being funny. We’re often better off leaving out the intentional jokes, given that the opportunity to fall flat increases dramatically with social media.
Those who succeed are willing to play the fool for others. They have a healthy self-awareness. They understand their audience. And they can be humble and contrite when jokes miss the mark.
If we’re willing to laugh at ourselves, can we get others to join in the fun?
Hit them in their funny bone. Their laughter might open their hearts and minds to our requests.
Writing never goes out of style. (Leave it to a writer to make such a pronouncement.)
I’ve coached writers and bloggers to practice their craft and to work on incremental improvement. It’s not easy. It requires time and a willingness to keep trying.
Good writing brings people to your site, and keeps people on your site. Bad writing repels them quickly.
Writing has become more important again, thanks to Google. In its myriad of factors for search engine optimization, Google puts clear informative prose as one of the most critical to ranking on searches. The searcher must find something useful, engaging or entertaining, or the search engine will rate a site lower.
Tricks such as keyword stuffing and buying backlinks have been ineffective for years. For many users, Google has one sole purpose: Take them to the right site as quickly as possible.
Site content must be unique and well written. It can be short or long. It can link out or not. But it must provide something of value or interest to someone somewhere (not a rambling nonsensical screed against the aliens of Jupiter).
This put copywriters in a great position again. Why take a chance on mediocre copy when we can hire pros to add snappy content to our sites for a reasonable price?
And for those bloggers and publishers focused on top-notch writing all along, congratulations! Keep up the good work.
This comprehensive guide to SEO-friendly copy is a must-read.
• • •
Is your site lacking a writer’s touch?
Contact me today for a free consultation …
I am not typically a fan of rewrites. Call me lazy, but I like to be done with writing something, even if it means intense editing and work on the front end.
But on the web, rewrites for specific content are mandatory.
I’ve resolved to give my About pages a good rewrite in the coming weeks. They haven’t been updated in years, and they should reflect who I am now and what my sites are about. This is good for readers, this is good for searchers, and this is good for SEO.
(SEO is search engine optimization, the way search engines understand what each site and page is about.)
Naturally, I’ll need to update other pages, too. But the About page is a good place to start. I should consider what the site goals are, which topics draw in traffic and what useful information to include on the page.
It shouldn’t take long, but it will give me renewed focus on attaining my business goals and using the right content and calls to action to draw in fans.
Casual readers won’t notice. Search engines will.
And I’ll have a better connection to those looking for help with communications strategy and training.
• • •
Need help bringing a sharp focus to your site?
Contact me today for a free consultation …
I gave some suggestions for catering to site visitors via smartphone in a July post, but I missed two big options for 2016.
I’ve spent part of this summer trying out both options, ones you may already be familiar with from a user standpoint. We should all implement Accelerated Mobile Pages and Facebook Instant Articles, if only to try them out.
Both serve the biggest audience, mobile users. Both strip away extra coding and bandwidth hogs to provide lean, fast-loading pages. Both require effort to implement, though in the end, the code does most of the work.
Accelerated Mobile Pages is an open source project, allowing for developers and webmasters to implement faster-loading versions of posts and pages. We typically stumble upon them in Google searches, as the company designates AMP articles with a lightning bolt.
Video: Intro to AMP
On my existing sites, accessing the posts and pages on a mobile device brings up either a responsive theme or a mobile-only theme. But at least a couple of sites are ready to go with Accelerated Mobile Pages.
I used the free official WordPress plugin, AMP. It handles posts but not pages yet.
To see the AMP version of any blog post (even from desktop browsers), add “/amp” to the end of a URL. For example, here’s the most recent post in standard and AMP forms:
- Standard: http://yallconnect.com/2016/08/15/help-baton-rouge-heres-how-video/
- AMP: http://yallconnect.com/2016/08/15/help-baton-rouge-heres-how-video/amp/
Because Birmingham Blogging Academy is a WordPress.com site, AMP is built in.
- Standard: https://birminghamblogging.com/2016/08/14/speaking-gigs-southern-public-relations-federation-annual-conference-september-2016/
- AMP: https://birminghamblogging.com/2016/08/14/speaking-gigs-southern-public-relations-federation-annual-conference-september-2016/amp/
Visitors won’t typically hit AMP posts directly. But for those searching online, Google will feature sites optimized with AMP prominently in results.
Facebook Instant Articles takes more work. It requires implementation on the backend of a site, as well as set-up within a Facebook page. WPBeginner has a guide to installing this feature on self-hosted WordPress sites.
Video: Introducing Facebook Instant Articles
The biggest tradeoff is ceding traffic to Facebook, which caches a version of a site’s original post.
For WordPress site, multiple plugins offer the ability to add Facebook Instant Articles. I use the free Allfacebook Instant Articles plugin.
To see the Facebook Instant Articles from Y’all Connect, visit the Y’all Connect Facebook page using a smartphone and scroll to a post marked with a lightning bolt (a catchy icon). Click the update to see a Y’all Connect post in Facebook Instant Articles.
These are the hoops we need to jump through in 2016 to embrace our mobile audience. And we’ll have more hoops to cross as the web shapes itself around an audience on the go with quicker questions and less time.
Try Accelerated Mobile Pages and Facebook Instant Articles to meet this group halfway.
I asked for your biggest fears in blogging, and y’all came through.
This week’s fear: “Not knowing where to start, because I have so many things I want to write about. And getting readers.”
(For getting more readers, please see this earlier post with my suggestions.)
I know a lot of bloggers who would love to have this problem. What a great problem to have.
I believe we all have a creative side, though not all of us indulge it. We can share it through artistry, through hobbies (from woodworking to knitting), through our everyday tasks (cooking, yard work, grooming).
Really, the most important thing is to start. Have trouble picking a topic? Write them on slips of paper and draw one out of a hat. Or randomly sort them into a list. But push forward by writing and publishing a great post about that first topic.
Sometimes, the only way to break the paralysis is to stop the procrastinating behavior and start writing. I know, I’ve cleaned the house or mowed the lawn many a time before writing a blog post.
You may find over time that you gravitate toward a narrower set of topics. Or you may go wild with even more ideas, topics and stories.
The worst outcome is that 3 months from now, you still are juggling ideas in your head with nothing to show for it on your blog.
Stop reading this post and go write something and share it with the world. Now.
Tell me about your biggest fear in blogging,
and I might answer it in a future post.
More in our Blogging Fears series.
During a presentation to Alabama Media Professionals, I took a question from a group member about marketing to difficult-to-reach target audiences.
It’s not easy, and it’s not always fun. But at minimum, it requires a willingness to put in the work. To hustle. In “Crush It!” Gary Vaynerchuk insists that hustle is required to launch a personal brand.
Listen to my response in the embedded clip, and don’t hesitate to ask if you have questions about communications strategy (either in the comments or through the contact form).
Chances are you’re reading this post on a smartphone.
You may have arrived here through a social media link, or my weekly newsletter. So you’re also checking your favorite channels and reading your email from your phone.
Why not? You have it with you all the time, you can keep up with your friends and family, plus work-related updates and questions.
Is your website helping or hurting fellow mobile users?
I ask, because I prefer using a laptop for my work and surfing. It’s light, it has good battery life, and I can have dozens of tabs open. But that’s not how the world sees my work.
They’re using phones, from their desks, from their beds, from their cars (sigh), from their kitchen tables and their walks and their conference rooms. All I can do is make sure my posts and pages load fast, read cleanly and cater to on-the-go readers.
You have several options to meet this audience halfway …
1. Do nothing. Let them continue to suffer through your site loading on a tiny screen like it’s still 2006. This is a good way to lose a lot of mobile consumers who are one or two steps away from making a purchase.
(This site is an example of doing nothing, albeit with a WordPress theme that auto-loads a mobile version. Most sites have no such alternative.)
2. Use responsive design. I’ve implemented this solution on many of my sites through WordPress themes. Basically, the site detects the screen size and displays content in a format that works well at that size. If you’re on a desktop browser, you can see it in action by making the window wider or narrower.
I’ve come to realize that while this is an easy solution, it can be a bad choice for pages with many elements and one goal, such as a lead generation form. What works on a desktop browser can be a terrible experience on a mobile browser.
3. Use a mobile-only design. I’m coming around to this approach, because it forces companies to think specifically about mobile users. Their needs are different and more immediate than those of someone sitting at a computer.
It requires smart planning and execution. It also requires more resources, because updates often require work on both the main site and the mobile site.
4. Make an app. I’m talking a real, completely from scratch, app designed for mobile users. Not apps that are basically reskinned mobile sites (I’ve seen plenty for news, weather, sports, banks and on and on).
These apps can be free or offer in-app purchases, or have ads, or sell subscriptions or a pro version. Typically, the best ones cater to users based on their location, based on their needs (to find a venue, to look up business hours or department phone), or to comparison shop. They already have an affinity for your brand, having downloaded the app previously.
• • •
This is not a conversation we should be having in 2016. It’s very likely that for however long we have websites, mobile usage will continue to dominate over desktop usage. The possible next stage, apps, might cement it.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes: Open your site on your phone, and imagine if you’d go any further.
Chances are you’ll need to refine your approach now and every year to follow.
• • •
Learn more ways to serve your readers and
customers better in my free weekly newsletter …
With so many way to market your products and services, picking the right marketing channels can seem daunting.
That question came up at my recent talk to Alabama Media Professionals. I explained what to do as a brand to ensure that your message reaches your target audience.
Watch the video, and let me know your questions about digital marketing.
More videos? Visit my YouTube channel.
I asked for your biggest fears in blogging, and y’all came through.
This week’s fear: “I fear of losing following, because I do this all via WordPress app on my cell, and there isn’t even editing tools there. I fear I will lose followers for my blog, and posts are too plain. All because I don’t have a computer.”
Let’s take these one at a time.
1. I’ve used the WordPress app on my phone. I hate it.
If I get a tablet someday, I might give it another whirl. But while I’m fine writing drafts on my iPhone (usually in Evernote or Notes), I can’t stand the WordPress app.
One alternative is to use your phone’s browser instead of the app. Log in to http://sitename.com/wp-admin/ and use the regular WordPress dashboard. You can use the full set of editing tools. Remember, the app has editing tools, even if they aren’t as robust as using the browser version.
I wish I had a better solution for you.
2. Losing followers is a natural fear for any blogger. But first, make sure you’re blogging for the right reasons.
Is it to have fun, to share knowledge, to make friends, to sell something? Is it to gain popularity, to connect to other bloggers, to learn to be a better blogger (or writer or photographer or storyteller or artist or entrepreneur)?
I find nothing wrong with pursuing fame. But it can be a hollow pursuit. While I enjoy being recognized from my posts, it’s not the reason I continue to blog after 11 years.
The fear of losing followers pushes bloggers to do irrational things, like pandering to gain more traffic, or doing it solely for the audience even as it saps your spirit. Trust me, it isn’t worth it. That’s what many bloggers have told me again and again over the years.
Just have fun. Make your posts as fancy or as plain as you like. Blog because it brings you joy.
Tell me about your biggest fear in blogging,
and I might answer it in a future post.
More in our Blogging Fears series.
I’ve attended quite a few webinars lately. Most gave good information and ran smoothly. But I find with presentations of any type, we always have room for improvement.
I’d like to do more webinars down the road, and having one under my belt, I’d like to share my tips on making webinars as stellar as they can be.
Webinars can be an excellent way to present ideas and demonstrations, to connect with an audience yearning to learn and to generate qualified leads. They can also turn off a lot of visitors quickly, so let’s work to make them compelling and easy to follow.
• Keep the interface simple. I know some presenters are stuck with whatever enterprise solution the brand uses. One webinar I watched had five or six separate windows in one screen. It’s sufficient to have a single window for the presentation, with an optional second window to chat or send questions to the speaker.
• Put a microphone on the speaker. And if multiple speakers, panelists and moderators are on deck, each one should have her own microphone. Audio is the main vehicle, so why skimp on this critical channel?
• Be sensitive to the audience’s limited time. Most webinars I attended this past month didn’t give the most critical piece of information in the promotions or the introduction: the end time. I want to know if I’m signing up for a 30-minute commitment, 1 hour or longer. Pick a time limit, and stick to it.
• Answer the most important audience questions up front. That means in the promotion, in the registration, in the confirmation email or in the first 60 seconds live.
- Will the slides be posted?
- Will the video replay be posted?
- Will the speaker have a Q&A session? At what point?
- What is the speaker’s contact info? Include URL, email and Twitter account.
- What is the schedule? This can be a rundown of speaker start times or topics to be covered.
• Employ a producer. This person is critical to the success of a webinar. She keeps the speakers on schedule, handles the technical aspects, monitors audience questions and problems and frees up the speaker to shine. The producer runs at least one practice session in advance of the actual webinar to work out transitions, technical issues and flow. She should have a private channel to all speakers to guide them during the event.
• Use more slides or more demonstrations. Each new slide is a new opportunity to sustain an audience’s attention. The longer the screen remains static with a slide (no matter how lovely), the easier it is for an attendee to check his phone or email. That’s the hazard of webinars: We can’t see the audience. Combat the stillness with lots of slides and a brisk pace, or a live demonstration. (Personally, I’m not a fan of videos in webinars or onstage talks.)
Taking the time to make webinars better not only makes the speaker look better, but the brand, too. It gives the attendees incentive to sign up for the next webinar and to share what they learned with colleagues.
Don’t use the slides to hide poor preparation and lackluster presentation skills. Make the webinar the highlight of each guest’s day.
More posts on holding better events.
I’ve used WordPress for 11 years, with few headaches or hiccups.
It’s a great content management system and blogging platform, if properly maintained. But it has security vulnerabilities like any popular platform. Users with self-hosted WordPress sites should pay close attention.
For example, this open source software has regularly occurring updates, but like locks left unlocked, they’re no good unless actually implemented. I know that updating carries its own potential problems, namely breaking the site or a plugin or a theme. (I have survived these uncommon but still possible events.)
But one of the biggest vulnerabilities is a default setting on new installs (as I recall: It’s been a while since having a tech put in a new site from scratch). It’s the given suggested username, “admin.”
Tens of millions of sites are self-hosted WP sites, and I imagine many of them still have admin has a user, perhaps the only one. This user has full access to the entire site.
This gives potential hackers one less hurdle to overcome in seizing vulnerable sites. Combine that with weak passwords (such as “password” or “123456”) and it’s a huge security hole.
Do what I and millions of other users have done: Change from admin to a unique username. This requires creating a new account and deleting the admin account: Use the steps in this video.
This WPBeginner post has two alternate methods.
Take a few minutes and fix this security hole today. The site you save could be your own.
More posts on using WordPress.