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Why limits matter in blogging and other creative pursuits

October 23, 2016
Mario - sticky notes

Photo: Ronaldo Ferreira (CC)

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.

• • •

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Weaponize content

October 16, 2016
Amazon Greek frieze

Photo: Carole Raddato (CC)

Stories aren’t meant to be posted and forgotten, dear bloggers. They’re meant to be wielded.

It’s time to weaponize your content.

This goes beyond the usual publish-and-promote routine. You want to maximize the value of your posts after all the time you put into coming up with them. The goal is to connect with readers on multiple levels, so they remember and share your stories.

1. Start with headlines that provoke. No one will read your story if the headline doesn’t pull them in. They can tease, they can bring laughs, they can contradict common sense. But they must compel you to read further.

More headline help.

2. Use images that stir the heart. Stock images rarely register anymore. Social channels have become visual playscapes of captioned videos, memes, animated gifs and cute puppy faces.

Your photo must be relevant, and it must help attract attention to your post.

3. Convert for specific channels. You must understand where your audience finds your content and create alternate forms that meet their expectations. A Pinterest fan may expect to see your story as a vertical pin with a gorgeous image and enticing headline. A Facebook fan may expect to see a Promoted Post which sends them to the Facebook Instant Article version.

The better you work within each channel’s limits, the further your content will go.

4. Give subscribers a real reason to return. Your most loyal readers still need a reason to see your post. That means consistently great stories delivered on time. Bloggers who can’t make good on this basic promise are invisible.

The trick isn’t to get visitors to your site. The trick is to get them back.

Weaponize content, and you can have a real lasting impact on the world.

• • •

My free weekly newsletter will give you
more ideas than you can handle …


Is blogging still a thing? Hell yes.

October 2, 2016
sunset jup

Photo: Carmela Nava (CC)

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 …

Contact me

Video: Content Curation for Smarties [SPRF]

September 26, 2016

Video: Content Curation for Smarties

I’m back from the Gulf Coast with a couple of new videos from my most recent presentations. Both are seminars I gave at the Southern Public Relations Federation annual conference.

The video above is for a talk I gave in Atlanta a couple of years ago called “Content Curation for Smarties: Know Everything All the Time.” If you struggle for fresh topics and updates on your social channels, or drive traffic through inbound marketing to your blog or site, you need to watch.

I give smarter ways to curate content for your audience and different options for sharing it.

Two notes on the video: First, I’m out of frame part of the time, so you have a great view of the slides but not little ol’ me. Second, that doesn’t really matter, because once again, the video stops about 14 minutes in, leaving audio for the rest of the hour. My filmmaking skill is apparently regressing with each outing.

My thanks to SPRF for having me speak at the event.

Contact me if you want the slides and worksheet that accompany this presentation.

A detour from the serious route

September 18, 2016

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?

Some marketers feel that clickbait headlines and unending outrage are the most effective ways to lure people to their cause. We might find another way forward.

Hit them in their funny bone. Their laughter might open their hearts and minds to our requests.


A post shared by Funny Church Signs (@church.signs) on

The comeback of copywriters

September 11, 2016

Photo: Spiros Vathis (CC)

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 …

Contact me

Video: More on picking the right marketing channels

September 5, 2016

A question comes up regularly when I give talks. How do we know how much time to spend marketing using Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or …?

That question came up at a corporate retreat for a media company. (It came up at a talk I gave to Alabama Media Professionals.) I outlined the steps to take to determine what channels to use and how much to use them.

Watch the video, and let me know your questions about digital marketing.

More videos? Visit my YouTube channel.

The rewrite for SEO is on

August 28, 2016
pencil eraser

Photo: Brandi Redd (CC)

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 …

Contact me

Revisiting the question of catering to smartphones again

August 21, 2016

Accelerated Mobile Pages, Facebook Instant Articles

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:

Because Birmingham Blogging Academy is a site, AMP is built in.

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.

More on catering to mobile audiences.

Video: What makes us distinct as a brand?

August 7, 2016

Brand is tossed about casually in marketing these days, but it’s so critical to a company.

At a recent talk, an attendee asked me about standing out on social media. It’s not about what we do all the time, but who we are.

Are we as special as we think? Does it make a difference to the world around us?

Watch the video, and if you need help with your brand, contact us about our 4-hour assessment.

More videos? Visit my YouTube channel.

Blogging fear: Not knowing where to start

July 31, 2016
index cards

Photo: Sanickels (CC)

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.

Audio: Do the hustle

July 24, 2016

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).

Revisiting the question of catering to smartphones

July 10, 2016
teen on smartphone

Photo: Pabak Sarkar (CC)

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 …


Video: Picking the right marketing channels

July 4, 2016

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.

Blogging fear: Stuck using a phone to blog

June 26, 2016

WordPress app

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 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.

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