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Jun

16

2017

How to Write Catchy Headlines and Blog Titles Your Readers Can't Resist

Published by in category Blog, Content Marketing, Daily | Comments are closed

catchy-titles-headlines-compressed.jpg

It’s one thing to write great content, but it’s another thing to get it read and ranked — which is where nailing the title comes in.

Titles are what sell the content. They represent it in search engines, in email, and on social media. It’s no surprise, then, that some of the most common questions we get concern crafting titles.Ready to take your blog to the next level? Take our free inbound marketing  certification course here. 

How long should my headline be? What words should I use? What words should I avoid? Should I optimize it for search, or for social? Or both?

Luckily, we’ve come up with a simple formula for writing catchy headlines and blog titles that you can reference from here on out. So let’s just dive right in, shall we?

A Foolproof Method for How to Write Catchy Headlines and Titles

1) Start with a working title.

Before you get into the nitty-gritty of coming up with a perfect title, start with a rough draft: your working title. What is that, exactly? A lot of people confuse working titles with topics. Let’s clear that up:

Topics are very general and could yield several different blog posts. Think “raising healthy kids,” or “kitchen storage.” A writer might look at either of those topics and choose to take them in very, very different directions.

A working title, on the other hand, is very specific and guides the creation of a single blog post. For example, from the topic “raising healthy kids,” you could derive the following working titles:

  • “How the Right Nutrition Can Strengthen Your Kids’ Bones”
  • “A Parent’s Guide to Promoting Your Child’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Well-Being”
  • “X Recipes for Quick & Healthy Dinners Your Teenagers Will Gobble Up”

See how different and specific each of those is? That’s what makes them working titles, instead of overarching topics. It’s also worth noting that none of those titles are perfect — they should just be specific enough to guide your blog post. (We’ll worry about making it clickable and search-friendly later.)

2) Stay accurate.

Accuracy is critical when trying to finesse a title, because it sets clear expectations for your readers. While I’m sure lots of people would love to click into a post that said “10 B2B Companies Killing Facebook So Freaking Hard They Don’t Need Any Other Marketing Channel” … it’s a little bombastic, no?

Unless, of course, you truly did find 10 B2B companies rocking Facebook that hard, and you could confirm that all 10 of them had stopped using other marketing channels. First and foremost, your title needs to accurately reflect the content that follows.

One way to ensure accuracy? Add bracketed clarification to your headline, like we did in this blog post:

bracketed-title-example-soph.png

In a study of over 3.3 million paid link headlines, we found that headlines with this type of clarification — [Interview], [Podcast], [Infographic], etc. — performed 38% better than headlines without clarification. Again, it’s all about setting clear expectations. Thanks to the brackets, these readers knew exactly what they were getting themselves into before they even clicked.

So if you remember nothing else from this blog post, let it be this: The most important rule of titles is to respect the reader experience. If you set high expectations in your title that you can’t fulfill in the content, you’ll lose readers’ trust.

Accuracy encompasses more than just hyperbole, though. With the example working title above, you’d also want to confirm all of the examples are, indeed, B2B. Or even that they’re all companies — instead of, say, individual bloggers that target B2B audiences. See what I mean?

3) Make it sexy.

Just because you have to be accurate doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to make your title pop. There are a lot of ways to make a title sexier.

Of course, all of this hinges on understanding your core buyer persona. You need to find language that resonates with them, and know what they find valuable. (Haven’t created or refined your buyer personas yet? Download this free template to create your own buyer personas for your business.)

Once you’re armed with knowledge of your buyer persona’s preferred style, try testing out some of these tips for making your headlines a little sexier:

  • Have some fun with alliteration. The title and header in this blog post, for instance, play with alliteration: “Foolproof Formula.” It’s a device that makes something a little lovelier to read, and that can have a subtle but strong impact on your reader.
  • Use strong language. Strong phrases (and, frankly, often negative ones) like “Things People Hate,” or “Brilliant” pack quite a punch. However, these must be used in moderation. As one of my coworkers likes to say, “If everything is bold, nothing is bold.”
  • Make the value clear. As we mentioned above, presenting the format and/or contents to a reader helps make your content a little sexier. According to our research, templates tend to be particularly powerful for CTR: We found that adding “[Template]” to our titles got the most average views of all bracketed terms.
  • Make it visual. Is there an opportunity to include visuals within your post? Make that clear in the title. Our research revealed that headlines featuring the word “photo(s)” performed 37% better than headlines without this word.
  • Focus on the “whos,” not the “whys”. Want to intrigue your audience? Focus on the “who”: Headlines including the word “who” generated a 22% higher CTR than headlines without it.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a post titled, “15 of Our Favorite Brands on Snapchat.” How might we punch up our accurate-but-boring working title? Here are some options:

  • 15 Brilliant Brands Who Are Killing It on Snapchat
  • Snapchat Success: 15 Inspiring Brands Who Just Get It
  • 15 Must-Follow Brands That Are Seeing Snapchat Success

4) Keep it short.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long or short your title should be. It depends what your goals are, and where your headline will appear.

Do you want this post to rank really well in search? Focus on keeping the title under 70 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search engine results.

Are you trying to optimize your title for social sharing? According to our own analysis at HubSpot, headlines between 8–12 words in length got the most Twitter shares on average. As for Facebook, headlines with either 12 or 14 words received the most Likes.

headline-length-vs-social-shares-2.png

Additionally, headlines with eight words had a 21% higher clickthrough rate than the average title, according to the folks at Outbrain.

The lesson? It’s always a good idea to run a few tests to see what works best for your particular audience.

Let’s say I was writing this blog post: “Think Social Media Is Just for Kids? Here Are 10 Statistics Guaranteed to Prove You Wrong.” To shorten it, I would simply try to rephrase it and cut out extraneous words. For instance, I might do something like this:

  • Before: Think Social Media Is Just for Kids? Here Are 10 Statistics Guaranteed to Prove You Wrong
  • After: 10 Stats That Prove Social Media Isn’t Just for Kids

See? It’s that easy. Try sounding out the title in your head to make sure it’s easily digestible for your readers. The less of a mouthful you can make your titles, the better.

5) Try to optimize for search and social.

I say “try” because, sometimes, trying too hard to optimize for these things can make your title sound strange. Remember: You want to optimize your title for your audience above all else, but if you can optimize for both search and social, that’s great.

The secret to thinking about all three at once? Focus on keywords that you know your audience is already searching for, then look into the search volume for those keywords.

Once you have a keyword in mind, you’ll want to be sure to place it as closely as possible to the beginning of your headline to catch your reader’s attention. (Again, you should keep your headline under 70 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search engine results.)

Another important consideration? Make sure your headlines are tweetable: “The 120-130-character range is the sweet spot for high clickthrough rate, according to an analysis of 200,000 tweets with links,” explains my colleague, Senior Marketing Manager Lindsay Kolowich. “This leaves enough space for people to include a short comment if they choose to manually retweet and cite you.” 

Here’s an example: Let’s say I’m writing a post titled, “X B2B Companies Using Facebook in Cool Ways.” Looks like there’s some wiggle room to optimize it without compromising clarity, right?

If the goal is to rank for the term, “Facebook Marketing,” I’d recommend something like this:

“New to Facebook Marketing? Here Are 10 B2B Companies Doing It Right”

This new title works for a few reasons:

  • It’s 56 characters long. This means that it’s short enough to not be cut off in search engines and it’s short enough to be retweeted.
  • The keyword is in the beginning. By moving “Facebook Marketing” to the beginning of the title, we’re ultimately increasing the odds that we’ll grab our audience’s attention.
  • It’s human. I wasn’t kidding when I said you should focus on optimizing for your audience first. This title presents both a pain point and a solution all wrapped up in one.

(Download this ebook for more data-backed SEO strategies we recommend.)

6) Brainstorm with someone else.

Once you’ve refined your title using the tips above, it’s time to come up for air and connect with another human. Title brainstorming is an essential part of the process.

Here at HubSpot, we spend a decent amount of time and brainpower coming up with our titles. The final step before scheduling a blog post is pulling another member of our team into a back-and-forth title brainstorm in a chat room. One member of the duo will post the title they recommend into the chat pane window. The other person will then refine that title even further, or suggest other angles. After several back-and-forths, the duo will agree on the title that’s accurate, sexy, concise, and SEO-friendly.

Only when both parties agree on a title do we schedule our post for publishing — which can take as little as five seconds and as long as ten or so minutes. While that seems like a long time, it’s essential to put our best feet forward with each post we publish.

What’s your process for crafting titles? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has been updated and for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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May

18

2017

How to Transform Your Blog Content into Compelling Videos

Published by in category Blog, Daily, Social Media, Video | Comments are closed

video-blog-content-compressed-1.jpg

Here at HubSpot, we’ve told fellow marketers about the importance of creating compelling video content to engage your busy audience. And for the most part, video content lives on social media channels — like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

But we wondered if video content had a place on our blog as well.

soi-anchor-cta-2017

Marketers are prioritizing visual content, but many marketers don’t know how to start — and others worry that video will disrupt and replace written blog content altogether.

Changing content preferences are an opportunity to innovate, not a reason to be afraid. Read on for our latest data about how content marketing is shifting and for a deep-dive into our first experiment turning blog posts into compelling video content.

The State of Video Content

We surveyed more than 6,000 marketing and sales professionals to learn how they’re changing their strategies to meet the preferences of the modern consumer. And a lot of the chatter was on the subjects of video content and social media.

Almost 50% of marketers are adding YouTube and Facebook channels for video distribution in the next year.

SOI-video-1.png

33% of inbound marketers listed visual content creation, such as videos, as their top priority for the coming year.

Video content fell below the top two priorities — growing SEO presence and creating blog content — but it occupies the minds of a large part of the marketers we surveyed. It was on our minds too, which inspired the experiment. Read on for the details and the results.

Can Blog and Video Work Together? Our Experiment

What

My colleagues Jamee SheehyNick Carney, and I wanted to learn if producing video content would improve traffic to HubSpot Marketing Blog posts and social media channels.

Why

I kept hearing that our audience wanted more video content. In a 2016 HubSpot Research survey, almost 50% of respondents said they wanted to see more video content and social media posts, so I wanted to start there.

When

Between February and May of 2017, I worked with the team to publish video content for seven new blog posts.

How

We published video content on YouTube, Facebook, and on Instagram Stories. For some blog posts, we published videos on both YouTube and Facebook. The YouTube and Facebook videos were then embedded into the blog posts for cross-promotion, and all of the videos on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube linked to the blog posts.

Results of the Experiment

Videos on Facebook and YouTube

1) How to Be Productive After a Long Weekend

What We Published:

We embedded a YouTube video in the blog post and published the same video natively on Facebook.

How It Performed:
  Day 1 Week 1 End of Experiment
Blog Post Views 1,395 1,770 2,196
YouTube Views 267 335 429
Facebook Views 3,900 6,100 6,229
YouTube/Blog Views % 19% 19% 19%
Social Referral Traffic 221 305 372
Social/Total Traffic % 16% 17% 17%
What These Metrics Mean:
  1. Blog Post Views = # of blog post visits
  2. YouTube Views = # of times viewers watched a video for 30 seconds or more
  3. Facebook Views = # of times viewers watched a video for 3 seconds or more
  4. YouTube/Blog Views % = % of blog post visitors who watched the YouTube video
  5. Social Referral Traffic = # of blog post visits that came from social media platforms
  6. Socia/Total Traffic % = % of total blog post visits that came from social media platforms
Key Takeaways:
  • The YouTube video achieved a 55% view-through rate: The average watch time was 0:41 of a 1:14-long video.
  • The YouTube video contributed more blog traffic than the Facebook video.
  • The topic choice reflected in the lower-than-typical number of blog post and video views across the board — video topics should be either highly visual or more universally compelling.

2) The Ultimate Social Media Calendar for 2017 [Resource]

What We Published:

We embedded a YouTube video in the blog post and published the same video natively on Facebook.

How It Performed:
  Day 1 Week 1 End of Experiment
Blog Post Views 4,366 16,509 28,882
YouTube Views 409 1,242 1,673
Facebook Views 12,320 16,000 16,456
YouTube/Blog Views % 10% 13% 6%
Social Referral Traffic 262 1,369 2,019
Social/Total Traffic % 6% 9% 7%
What These Metrics Mean:
  1. Blog Post Views = # of blog post visits
  2. YouTube Views = # of times viewers watched a video for 30 seconds or more
  3. Facebook Views = # of times viewers watched a video for 3 seconds or more
  4. YouTube/Blog Views % = % of blog post visitors who watched the YouTube video
  5. Social Referral Traffic = # of blog post visits that came from social media platforms
  6. Socia/Total Traffic % = % of total blog post visits that came from social media platforms

Key Takeaways:

  • This was the highest-performing blog post and YouTube video, and the second-highest performing Facebook video in the entire experiment. The topic is interesting whether you’re a marketer or not, and there is a lot of search volume around the topic. The video isn’t highly visual, but the interesting topic helped drive video and blog post views.
  • The YouTube video contributed more blog traffic than the Facebook video.
  • The YouTube video achieved a 72% view-through rate: The average watch time was 0:53 of a 1:14-long video.

Videos on Facebook

3) March Social Media News: Facebook vs. Snapchat, WhatsApp for Business & More

What We Published:

We published a video natively on Facebook and embedded it in the blog post.

How It Performed:
  Day 1 Week 1 End of Experiment
Blog Post Views 1,287 3,124 3,725
Facebook Views 6,066 6,872 7,001
Social Referral Traffic 177 286 340
Social/Total Traffic % 14% 9% 9%
What These Metrics Mean:
  1. Blog Post Views = # of blog post visits
  2. Facebook Views = # of times viewers watched a video for 3 seconds or more
  3. Social Referral Traffic = # of blog post visits that came from social media platforms
  4. Socia/Total Traffic % = % of total blog post visits that came from social media platforms
Key Takeaways:
  • Although neither the blog post nor the Facebook video achieved a huge number of views, the Facebook video drove a meaningful portion of views to the blog post on the day it was published.
  • A technical difficulty forced us to re-upload a new version of the Facebook video, which lost us a few thousand views.

4) April Social Media News: AR on Facebook, Ads on Snapchat & More

What We Published:

We published a video natively on Facebook and embedded it in the blog post.

How It Performed:
  Day 1 Week 1 End of Experiment
Blog Post Views 2,278 2,912 3,115
Facebook Views 10,847 12,039 13,214
Social Referral Traffic 123 179 215
Social/Total Traffic % 5% 6% 7%
What These Metrics Mean:
  1. Blog Post Views = # of blog post visits
  2. Facebook Views = # of times viewers watched a video for 3 seconds or more
  3. Social Referral Traffic = # of blog post visits that came from social media platforms
  4. Socia/Total Traffic % = % of total blog post visits that came from social media platforms
Key Takeaways:
  • The video featured video b-roll and animations instead of talking heads — and it performed well on Facebook (thanks to Nick Carney‘s video editing skills).
  • The video was published on a Friday, when people might be more willing to browse Facebook and watch videos — this could account for the first-day jump in video views.
  • A cool video doesn’t necessarily mean viewers will click through to read a blog post — this video was so informative, it stood on its own and didn’t impact blog traffic much.

5) Brain Typing & Skin Hearing: Everything You Need to Know About Facebook’s 2017 F8 Conference

What We Published:

We published a video natively on Facebook and embedded it in the blog post.

How It Performed:
  Day 1 Week 1 End of Experiment
Blog Post Views 1,107 1,855 2,114
Facebook Views 15,765 16,991 17,401
Social Referral Traffic 83 128 150
Social/Total Traffic % 7% 7% 7%
What These Metrics Mean:
  1. Blog Post Views = # of blog post visits
  2. Facebook Views = # of times viewers watched a video for 3 seconds or more
  3. Social Referral Traffic = # of blog post visits that came from social media platforms
  4. Socia/Total Traffic % = % of total blog post visits that came from social media platforms
Key Takeaways:
  • We published this blog post later in the day to cover the conference, so it wasn’t sent out with our daily subscriber email — the likely reason for low traffic on the day it was published.
  • This is another example of a high-performing Facebook video that didn’t translate into high blog post performance.

Instagram Stories

6) February Social Media News: Weather on Facebook, SNL on Snapchat & More

What We Published:

We published an Instagram Story with the option to swipe up to read the blog post. The Instagram Story wasn’t published on the same day the blog post was published, so attribution numbers aren’t as straightforward.

How It Performed:
  Day of Instagram Story End of Experiment
Instagram Story Views 2,372  
Instagram Story Clicks 149  
Blog Post Views (Day of Story) 726  
Blog Post Views Overall 2,031 2,580
Social Referral Traffic (Day of Story) 154  
Social Referral Traffic Overall 199 243
Social/Total Traffic % (Day of Story) 21%  
Social/Total Traffic % Overall 10% 9.5%
What These Metrics Mean:
  1. Instagram Story Views = # of times people viewed the Instagram Story
  2. Instagram Story Clicks = # of times people swiped up on the Instagram Story to view the blog post
  3. Blog Post Views (Day of Story) = # of blog post visits on the day the Instagram Story was posted
  4. Blog Post Views Overall = Cumulative # of blog post visits since date of publication
  5. Social Referral Traffic (Day of Story) = # of blog post visits that came from social media platforms on the day the Instagram Story was posted
  6. Social Referral Traffic Overall = Cumulative # of blog post visits that came from social media platforms total
  7. Social/Total Traffic % (Day of Story) =% of total blog post visits that came from social media platforms on the day the Instagram Story was posted
  8. Socia/Total Traffic % Overall = Cumulative % of total blog post visits that came from social media platforms total

Key Takeaways:

  • The Instagram Story generated the vast majority of referral traffic, and it was a big driver of traffic overall.

7) Are Notifications Driving Us Crazy?

What We Published:

We published an Instagram Story with the option to swipe up to read the blog post. The Instagram Story wasn’t published on the same day the blog post was published, so attribution numbers aren’t as straightforward.

How It Performed:
  Day of Instagram Story End of Experiment
Instagram Story Views 2,300  
Instagram Story Clicks ~ 100  
Blog Post Views (Day of Story) 186  
Blog Post Views Overall 1,626 1,979
Social Referral Traffic (Day of Story) 120  
Social Referral Traffic Overall 341 433
Social/Total Traffic % (Day of Story) 65%  
Social/Total Traffic % Overall 21% 22%
What These Metrics Mean:
  1. Instagram Story Views = # of times people viewed the Instagram Story
  2. Instagram Story Clicks = # of times people swiped up on the Instagram Story to view the blog post
  3. Blog Post Views (Day of Story) = # of blog post visits on the day the Instagram Story was posted
  4. Blog Post Views Overall = Cumulative # of blog post visits since date of publication
  5. Social Referral Traffic (Day of Story) = # of blog post visits that came from social media platforms on the day the Instagram Story was posted
  6. Social Referral Traffic Overall = Cumulative # of blog post visits that came from social media platforms total
  7. Social/Total Traffic % (Day of Story) =% of total blog post visits that came from social media platforms on the day the Instagram Story was posted
  8. Socia/Total Traffic % Overall = Cumulative % of total blog post visits that came from social media platforms total
Key Takeaways:
  • Here’s another example of a high level of Instagram Story engagement. The blog post achieved a low number of views overall, but it’s meaningful that Instagram Story viewers clicked through to read the blog post and weren’t just absently scrolling.
  • The Story drove 65% of social traffic on the day of and contributed to the final social referral percentage — which is a higher than other posts in this experiment.

Going Forward: 3 Lessons Learned

We’ve already learned a lot from the experiment — here are the biggest lessons we’ll take into the next phase of turning blog content into videos.

1) High-performing Facebook videos didn’t necessarily result in a lot of blog traffic.

In a few cases, the Facebook video’s performance far outstripped the performance of the blog post — and didn’t drive a lot of traffic to the blog post, either. (Facebook doesn’t share data on the sources of video views, so the blog post embeds could have helped increase the number of views.)

A big part of the videos’ high view numbers on Facebook is undoubtedly thanks to the filming and editing skills of our team. But I think it’s also a reflection on how thorough and engaging the videos were — the viewer might not have needed to click the blog post to read more about a topic they’d already watched a video on.

Facebook videos might better serve as standalone pieces of content rather than traffic drivers to blog posts in our case, but in some cases, both the blog and Facebook worked symbiotically.

2) What goes “viral” can depend on the medium.

The best-performing blog post and YouTube video topic — as well as the second best-performing Facebook video — was the social media holiday calendar. In this case, the blog post views and the Facebook views increased rapidly alongside each other. I chose the topic based on keyword search volume and created a blog post and video that are useful and interesting to anyone on social media — which contributed to the high number of video views and a large amount of organic search traffic — 20% of the total traffic to the post.

Still, there was a relatively low amount of traffic to the blog post from the Facebook video — another reason to believe that Facebook posts might not be the biggest blog traffic driver.

The blog recap about the F8 conference achieved a smaller number of views, but the Facebook video was the best-performing in the entire experiment. Based on this experiment, news coverage and lifestyle content perform best on social media, while keyword-specific content performs better on the blog. For future video blog content experiments, we’ll try to create content that checks off both boxes to get another hit for both media.

3) Instagram Stories drove a high percentage of clickthroughs to the blog posts.

We found that the Instagram Stories we published resulted in a high percentage of clickthroughs to the blog post. In these examples, the blog posts didn’t achieve a high number of views overall, but a huge portion of social traffic the day of posting could be attributed to the Instagram Story. 

This means viewers weren’t just clicking through Instagram — they were watching stories and following the desired call-to-action to read the blog post. We’ll continue using this engaged audience to promote content on Instagram.

Next on the Blog

For the next installment of this experiment, we’re focusing on a keyword-based strategy. We’ll experiment with updating older, high-performing blog posts with new video content on YouTube and optimizing the post and the video for Google and YouTube search, respectively. We’ll publish more tactical, instructional videos for people conducting YouTube searches, and we’ll experiment with a greater variety of video creation and editing skills. And on our social media channels, we’ll cover more breaking news in the technology space and more lifestyle content we’ve seen do so well.

Next on the blog, we’ll cover more resources for how to create video content on your own, and coverage of more interesting experiments we’re doing here at HubSpot to learn more about our audience. In the meantime, download the 2017 State of Inbound Report to learn more about the latest data and insights from marketers around the world.

Have you started experimenting with video content on your blog? Share with us in the comments below.

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May

3

2017

20 Creative Writing Prompts That'll Help You Beat Writer's Block [Infographic]

Published by in category Blog, Content Marketing, Daily, IGSS | Comments are closed

Creative Writing Prompts.jpg

I’ve written a lot of blog posts over the past few years. (Read: I’ve stared at a lot of blinking cursors on blank screens over the past few years.) And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about business blogging, it’s that getting started is often the hardest part.

When you’re tasked with writing regularly and writing well, it’s natural to feel some pressure. My advice? Rather than letting that stress overcome you, consider what you can do to regain control of your time and output.

One technique I’ve found to be incredibly helpful in these situations is the act of freewriting, or writing continuously for a set period of time without worrying about accuracy, punctuation, or usability.

Trouble is, sometimes coming up with a topic to freewrite about can also leave you feeling stuck or stumped. That’s why we put together a handy list of creative writing prompts below to help you get started.

Creative-Writing-Prompts-Infographic



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Apr

26

2017

The Character Count Guide for Blog Posts, Videos, Tweets & More

Published by in category Blog, Canonical, Content Marketing, Daily, SEO, Social Media | Comments are closed

ContentLength-compressor.jpg

When it comes to writing text for your blog and social media posts, many marketers wonder, “But what’s the character limit?” It’s never a simple question — sometimes, it’s answered by parameters established by certain channels. And on other occasions, it’s more a question of what’s ideal.

For example, you probably know the character limit for a tweet is 140, but did you know that the ideal length is actually less than that? (Hold tight — we’ll explain why.) While we’ve written before about optimizing your actual content, we thought it would be helpful to gather the numbers of character limits — both enforced and ideal — for different online channels, all in one place. Manage and plan your social media content with the help of this free calendar  template.

Below, you’ll find a more detailed guide to character limits and ideal character counts for posts on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, and YouTube.

The Length & Character Count for Everything on the Internet

1) Blog Posts

1-6nX_PYNpn0Ajc0tardzIkg.pngSource: Medium

Quick reference:

  • Post length: 2100 words
  • Title: Under 60 characters
  • Meta Description: Under 155 characters

Post Body

When it comes to the length of blog posts, there are a few different items to consider. For example:

  • According to Medium, posts with an average read time of seven minutes captured the most attention.
  • The average reading speed of native English-speaking adults remains commonly cited as 300 words per minute, according to research conducted in 1990.
  • At that reading rate, the ideal post length is 2100 words.
  • That aligns with research previously conducted by serpIQ, which indicated that, on average, the top 10 results for most Google searches are between 2,032 and 2,416 words.

That means that this ideal word count can address goals around both readability and SEO. But that’s just the actual body of the post. Plus, when we looked at our own blog on organic traffic, we found that the sweet spot was 2,250–2,500 words.

word-count-vs-organic-traffic.png

But that’s just the post body — let’s have a look at the other areas of text that comprise a full blog post.

Title

The length of your title depends on your goals, and where it will appear.

Let’s start with SEO. Do you want this post to rank really well in search? It turns out, that often has to do with the dimensions of each entry on a search engine results page (SERP). For Google, titles of search results are usually contained at a length of 600 pixels — which Moz measures as being able to display the first 50-60 characters of a title tag. So, if you don’t want your title to get cut off in the search results, it might be best to keep it under 60 characters. But when in doubt, you can double-check the length of your meta description and title tags with this handy tool from SEOmofo, or you can use Moz’s title tag preview tool.

zZnBTOG2Fc-iloveimg-compressed.gif

Then, there’s optimizing your title for social sharing. On Twitter, for example, consider that each tweet has a limit of 140 characters — however, if you include an image, that doesn’t count toward the limit. But consider that even the average shortened URL takes up about 23 characters — that leaves you with about 116 characters left for the title and any accompanying text.

In our own analysis at HubSpot, we found that headlines between 8–12 words in length got the most Twitter shares on average, while headlines with either 12 or 14 words got the most Facebook Likes.

headline-length-vs-social-shares.png

Meta Description

A meta description refers to the HTML attribute that explains the contents of a given webpage. It’s the short description you see on a SERP to “preview” what the page is about.

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 12.22.10 PM.png

Moz notes that Google seems to cut off most meta descriptions — which are sometimes called snippets — after roughly two lines of text — though there’s some conjecture that, like title tags, it’s actually based on pixel count. In any case, it amounts to about 160 characters, though this particular outlet recommends keeping it at 155.

Again, you can double-check the length of your meta description and title tags with this handy tool from SEOmofo.

sejvREM3G7-iloveimg-compressed (1).gif

2) Facebook

Quick reference:

  • Status updates: 63,206-character maximum | Ideal length is 40 characters
  • Video: 120-minute maximum | Ideal length is two minutes

Status Updates

Facebook’s character limit on status updates is 63,206. However, that’s far from ideal, says HubSpot Social Media Marketing Manager Chelsea Hunersen. “The social gurus will throw around the number 40 characters. That data seems to be backed up by BuzzSumo’s ranking of HubSpot’s own Facebook Page.

But why 40, specifically? “Ideally,” Hunersen says, “you’ll want to use the copy in a status update to provide context for whatever you’re linking to.” That said, she notes, the copy of the status update itself isn’t as important as the copy in the meta title or meta description that gets pulled in when you insert a link into your post. That’s right — social media posts have their own meta data too.

“Often, people look at the image of the article and then directly down at the meta title and meta description for context clues,” she explains. “A lot of people don’t realize you can change those.”

Even on Facebook, it’s still best to keep your meta title to fewer than 60 characters, and to 155 for meta descriptions. There are some resources available to those familiar with coding that let you play around with social media metadata character counts, like these templates. But unless you’re a developer, we recommend keeping it short and sweet.

Video

While Facebook allows a maximum of 120 minutes for videos, we wouldn’t advise posting anything that long, unless you’re doing a special, social-media-only screening of a full-length film.

According to research conducted by Wistia, two minutes is the “sweet spot” — even a minute longer than that shows a significant drop in viewership. “Engagement is steady up to [two] minutes, meaning that a 90-second video will hold a viewer’s attention as much as a 30-second video, the research reads,” so “if you’re making short videos, you don’t need to stress about the difference of a few seconds. Just keep it under [two] minutes.”

b3c077ee5e1cad372628b599fceca8c7717cd4ba.jpgSource: Wistia

However, optimal length can vary depending on the topic. “If you produce something as catchy as BuzzFeed and Refinery29 are putting out there, it can be up to five minutes long,” says Hunersen.

Regardless of the length of your video, Hunersen reminds us that all Facebook videos start without sound, meaning users have to make a conscious decision to stop scrolling through their feeds and unmute the video. Facebook videos should be visually compelling from the get-to, make sense without sound, and be engaging enough to encourage the user to stop and watch.

3) Twitter

Quick reference:

  • Tweets: 140-character maximum
    • Does not include images, videos, polls, or quotes tweets
    • Ideal length is 120-130 characters
  • Hashtags: No more than two
  • Videos: Maximum length is two minutes and 20 seconds

Length of Tweets

Marketers everywhere rejoiced when Twitter finally eased up on its character count parameters, and such media as images, videos, and polls, as well as quoted tweets, ceased counting toward its 140-character limit.

Still, the “Quote Tweet” feature remains available, providing even greater character-saving measures. That happens when you press the rotating arrow icon to retweet a post, and then add a comment in the text box provided. You’ve still got 140 characters all to yourself to comment.

LeiQz3vJLI-iloveimg-compressed.gif 

Ideal Length Overall

Like so much of what we’ve covered, it seems that when it comes to the overall length of a tweet, aim for short and sweet. (See what we did there?) That’s resonated in research conducted by social media scientist Dan Zarrella, who found that tweets with 120-130 characters showed the highest click-through rate (CTR):

Screen-Shot-2013-08-16-at-10.51.12-AM.pngSource: Buffer

The same goes for hashtags. While they can technically be any length up to 140 characters, remember that people will want to accompany the hashtag with other copy. Short hashtags are always better. Ideally, your hashtags should be under 11 characters — shorter if you can.

Also, in a single tweet, stick to one or two hashtags, and definitely don’t go over three. Buddy Media found that all tweets with hashtags get double the engagement metrics than tweets without any. But tweets that kept the hashtags to a minimum — one or two — have a 21% higher engagement than tweets with three or more.

Screen-Shot-2014-04-06-at-6.45.50-AM.pngSource: Buffer

Videos

You can post a video on Twitter by importing a video or recording it using the Twitter app. In any case, the maximum video length is two minutes and 20 seconds.

4) LinkedIn

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 1.39.48 PM.png

Profiles

Here’s a handy list of some of LinkedIn’s most important profile character maximums, according to Andy Foote:

  • Professional headline: 120
  • Summary: 2,000
  • Position title: 100
  • Position description: 2,000 (200 character minimum)
  • Status Update: 600 characters — however, Foote also notes that, “if you select to also post on Twitter from LinkedIn, only the first 140 characters will show on your Twitter post.”

Original Content

With LinkedIn’s publishing platform, users can now compose and share original written content with their networks, or publicly. Of course, that comes with its own character counts, according to Foote:

  • Post headline: 100
  • Post body: 40,000

5) Instagram

Quick reference:

  • Bio: 150-character maximum
  • Hashtags: Maximum of 30
  • Captions: Ideal length is under 125 characters

Since Instagram is, first and foremost, a platform for sharing photos and videos, the primary focus is typically your visual content. However, it’s always helpful to provide some context, and let users know what they’re looking at.

Given that, here are some helpful character counts for the text you include with your visual content:

Captions

While Instagram doesn’t seem to specify a maximum total number of caption characters, it does note that, within users’ feeds, the caption is cut off after the first three lines. For that reason, it’s advised to limit captions to 125 characters. However, don’t leave out important information just for the sake of keeping your entire caption visible. Instead, frontload it with crucial details and calls-to-action, leaving any hashtags, @mentions, or extraneous information for the end.

As for Instagram Stories, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of detail on character limits there, either. However, because the text overlays the visual content — which is the focus — don’t obscure too much of the photo or video with a caption.

6) Snapchat

Quick reference:

  • Character limit: 80 per post

Speaking of not obscuring visual content — that brings us to Snapchat.

Instagram Stories was, many believe, an effort to emulate the features of Snapchat, to create an opportunity for users to share quickly-disappearing photos and videos. And again, because the focus here is on the visual, you’ll want to prevent distracting viewers from it with too much text.

According to Teen Vogue, Snapchat’s character limit is 80 per post, which is more than double its previous 31-character limit. And, if you’re looking for more guidance, just look to this particular app’s name, and remember the “snap” element of it — a word that implies brevity — and try not to ramble. Here’s a great example of how SXSW uses its captions efficiently:

7) YouTube

Here we have yet another network that’s focused on visual content, leading some to incorrectly assume that accompanying text — like titles and descriptions — don’t matter as much.

That’s not entirely false — as a video-hosting platform, YouTube should primarily be used to showcase a brand’s quality videos. However, like any other visual content, it needs context. People need to know what they’re watching, who it’s from, and why it matters.

Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t appear to provide any specific parameters over its character counts — except for your channel description, which according to the official help site is limited to 1,000 characters. But other than that, it seems that the only guideline available is the alert display that lets you know, “Your [title or description] is too long,” if you’ve entered too much text in either of those fields.

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 2.57.09 PM-1.png

In this case, we would advise taking the same approach as adding text to support your visuals on Instagram and Snapchat. Like the former, a video’s description is cut off after the first line or two, so frontload the most important descriptors and CTAs, leaving extra details for the end.

Show Your Character

As you set out to determine the length of your text, regardless of the platform, remember to do so with the user in mind. Many of these channel-mandated character limits are established for that reason — to keep audiences from getting bored or overwhelmed.

Like anything else in marketing, however, it’s never an exact science, despite the best data. We encourage you to follow these guidelines, but don’t be afraid to experiment if they don’t always work. Test different amounts of text within your various channels, and keep track of how each post performs. From there, you can make decisions about which types of content, as well as its accompanying titles and descriptions, are the most well-received from your audience.

How do you approach text with different online channels? Let us know in the comments.

This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Mar

30

2017

About the Author: How to Write a Quality Author Bio

Published by in category Blog, Daily, Professional Development | Comments are closed

How-to-write-a-bio

If contributing guest posts is part of your content distribution and promotion strategy, you’re probably familiar with the following scenario: You write a great article for a guest publication, and at the end, you’re compensated with a teeny, tiny paragraph about yourself.

Unless you wrote the article for purely altruistic reasons, this paragraph, though short, is quite critical. Not only does it connect you to the article on a level beyond your byline, but also, it provides space for links back to your website or social profiles. And who wouldn’t want even that little bit of glory?

But what are you supposed to write in that brief paragraph, anyway? How do you make your author bio compelling, powerful, and effective — without a whole lot of space?

Download our free guide to copywriting here to learn how to be a better  copywriter yourself. 

As it turns out, there are quite a few seemingly small ways to approach your author bio that can help it have a much bigger impact. But what do they look like, exactly? Read on — you’re about to find out.

How to Write an Author Bio

How to Write a Quality Author Bio

1) Write in the third person.

Different publications will have different standards — Forbes, for example, seems to encourage guest contributors to write in the first person, as per below:

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 8.42.08 AM.pngSource: Forbes

However, the general practice is to write your bio in the third person. If it feels a bit self-congratulatory, that’s okay — you can even turn it into a joke, like Mark John Hiemstra did in his bio for a post on the Unbounce blog

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 8.38.54 AM.pngSource: Unbounce

Once you’ve written the bio, be sure to re-read it to make sure you’re not overusing “he” or “she.” And if you are, try replacing some instances of these pronouns with your name to improve the flow.

2) Remember: It’s not really about you.

Even though this paragraph is allegedly about the author, it’s not actually about you. It’s about your reader, and what that person is looking to learn or gain from your article. It helps to think of this setup as a well-composed sentence — you’re the object, and the reader is the subject.

That concept can be a bit confusing without context, so have a look at how Matt Southern pulled that off below:

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 8.38.54 AM.pngSource: Search Engine Journal

Notice how Southern’s bio focuses on both himself and the reader. By explaining that his real passion is to help marketers, it serves as a nod to his readership — after all, your readers are the ones who ultimately decide if your piece is worth sticking around until the end, sharing, or discussing. Write for them.

3) Establish credibility — truthfully.

As the digital landscape only becomes increasingly crowded, it’s important to have a prepared, accurate way to answer the masses asking, “Why should I listen to you?”

Readers are right to ask that question, especially with many now questioning the accuracy and reliability of news. So, in your bio, establish your credibility, and be honest. Why are you qualified to write on this subject? Why should readers believe you?

If you write about conversion optimization, for example, explain what kind of experience you have with it. If you have academic degrees, list them — but only if they’re relevant to the publication or article. A bachelor’s degree might not be considered outstanding enough to warrant a mention in your bio, though there are exceptions to that rule. Let’s say you’re writing about women’s issues. If you attended a women’s college, it might be worth mentioning in that particular instance. 

Let’s have a look at how this concept looks “in the wild.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 9.36.03 AM.pngSource: Forbes

When Forbes contributor Ian Morris wrote the above article on a mobile device, he used his one-line bio to explain why he’s qualified to write on that subject. “I cover mobile,” he explains, as well as “internet services and the good and bad of tech.” And in his full bio, he expanded even further on that:

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 9.21.12 AM.png

4) And while you’re at it, explain what you do.

It’s the inevitable — and often dreaded — question of any social or networking gathering. “What do you do?”

Chances are, someone reading your work will have the same question — it goes along the same lines of explaining why you’re credible enough to be writing about a certain topic. So think of your bio as an opportunity to answer it — after all, it’s a meaningful fact about you, and it deserves a line.

Notice how Yvette Tan immediately addresses that question in the first sentence of both her author and Twitter bio, highlighting the importance of keeping information consistent across different channels: 

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 10.07.12 AM.pngSource: Forbes
YtanTwitter.png

And Kiel Berry does the same thing for his contribution to the Harvard Business Review:

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 10.13.33 AM.pngSource: Harvard Business Review

5) Be (appropriately) personal.

 

You’ve probably come across the occasional author bio that features a personal tidbit thrown in, like “cat lover” or “coffee addict.” But when is that okay or smart — or even more important, appropriate?

To answer that question, you need to think about where your article is appearing, and who’s likely reading it. Not every publication, for instance, is going to be the best fit for a quip about your affinity for craft beer. That said, it’s also good to remind readers that you’re human, especially among your professional credentials. Still, keep it to a minimum — readers are only marginally interested in your personal life, so your bio isn’t the place to divulge a lot of those details.

Buffer’s Alfred Lua uses his bio to share his hobbies like swimming. But by keeping it short, and sandwiching his personal interests between his job title and his personal one, he’s able to show personality, while maintaining his credibility: 

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 10.26.55 AM.pngSource: Buffer

6) Focus on value.

It can be tempting to turn your bio into a celebratory display of your interests and accomplishments — you’ve won awards, started a billion companies, and have been published in top journals. But readers, more often than not, might be responding with, “Who cares?”

That’s because they want to know what’s in it for them. By putting content out there, you’re essentially asking readers to borrow their time for what you’ve written. Sure, your status might be impressive, but they don’t really care unless they have something to gain from it. That’s where the idea of value comes in.

Use your bio to communicate that bio, and what you can do for your readers. Danny Wong does that well in his guest bio on ConversionXL’s blog: 

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 10.35.44 AM.pngSource: ConversionXL

Notice the key word in the second sentence: “Teach.” That’s the kind of value that might help Wong connect in a meaningful way — by telling them, “I teach people, and I can teach you, too.”

7) Don’t be afraid to brag.

Let’s have one more look at Wong’s bio:

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 10.35.44 AM.pngSource: ConversionXL

After he explains the value he can provide to readers, he uses the opportunity to mention a pretty big accomplishment: Founding what sounds like a highly profitable business.

When done correctly — like Wong did above, by combining it with a value proposition — bragging can be both effective and appropriate. But it might be easier to do so in the third person. “She co-founded a multi-million dollar company” sounds a bit more humble than, “I co-founded a multi-million dollar company.”

Don’t be afraid to toss out a few awards that make you the proudest — just make sure that they’re relevant to the subject matter and the publication.

8) Avoid writing something obnoxiously long.

Just as you want to avoid bragging too much, you should probably avoid saying too much in general. Writing a super long bio might make you seem less than humble — if all the other authors on the site have three lines and you have thirty, it only emphasizes your sense of self-importance, even if that’s not what you intended.

Author Richard Ridley recommends that authors “keep it brief.” Here’s how he explains it:

Brevity is the soul of wit. Even if you’re William Shakespeare, you don’t want to write an author bio that fills up the entire back cover. In an odd twist of logic, the more accomplished you are as an author, the shorter your author bio can be.”

It’s okay — we all have an ego. We just have to keep it in check sometimes. Here’s a great example of a short-and-sweet bio from Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina:

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 11.07.45 AM.pngSource: Orbit Media

9) Customize it.

If the publication allows you to occasionally update your bio according to the season, take advantage of the ability to customize it. A universal bio that you copy/paste everywhere is okay, but tailoring it to a specific scenario can help enhance it for a particular outlet.

Here’s how HubSpot’s Lindsay Kolowich does that with her bio:

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 11.16.53 AM.png

By fine-tuning it to resonate with the season, your bio stands out against some generic messaging you might be used to seeing.

10) Add a CTA.

Ah, the call to action, or CTA. It’s a powerful force in the marketing world, and it’s no different in your bio.

After your audience reads about you, they should take further action — but what action do you want them to take? Most often, it’s reading more of your material, or following you on social media.

In those cases, common CTAs would be to follow you on Twitter, or visit your blog. And while these options are effective, make sure the CTA is strategic within the given context.

For example, when Heather Hummel’s work is syndicated by Huffington Post, her author bio contains a CTA to check out her books, creating a source of possible sales:

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 11.21.19 AM.pngSource: Huffington Post

Of course, some outlets might not have the bandwidth or allow such a full-scale dedication to this kind of CTA within an author bio. But if the opportunity is available, use it to your advantage.

11) Steer clear of the word “freelance.”

Freelance writers are an exceptional group of people who are skillful, qualified, and expertly positioned to write great content. But there’s something about the word “freelance” that, for whatever reason, can chip away at credibility. It suggests that you might be more of a generalist, and less of an expert — which, while not necessarily true, has grown to connote that while you might be good at writing, you might not excel at a particular subject.

If you’re a freelance writer, we tip our hats to you. But in your bio, there are ways to replace the word “freelance,” for the reasons above. Here are some examples:

  • “Fred is a conversion optimization writer, specializing in split testing best practices and cognitive biases.”
  • “Angie, a Portland-based author, helps people unleash their inner interior designer.”
  • “As a marketing writer, Todd’s favorite place to publish uncensored marketing content is his own blog.”

Ready to Write?

The best way to create a meaningful bio is to write it with care and intention. Think about your readers, establish your credibility, and make it memorable. But go ahead and have some fun with it — you want to prove that you’re human, too.

At the end of the day, your little bio matters. People care. They’re going to read it. Make it count.

And please — don’t judge me by my bio.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Nov

29

2016

How to Validate Your Blog Post Topics: A 3-Step Process

validate-blog-post-ideas.jpg

Imagine you own a business that films and produces yoga routines for at-home practice. As search engine results pages become more crowded, your chances of ranking for a popular industry keyword — such as “yoga” — begin to diminish.

But as it turns out, that’s not the end of the world. These days people are actually conducting more specific, conversational queries — think: “how do I teach myself yoga?” — to get the information they’re looking for, faster.

Unsurprisingly, Google responded to this change in behavior by introducing RankBrain — a machine-learning artificial intelligence system — as well as Hummingbird — a search algorithm designed to focus on the meaning behind the search terms being used.

The result? An increased number of long-tail keyword variations that are regularly searched within a topic. Jackpot. Learn more about HubSpot's latest tools to power your growth here.

But with more topic opportunities on the table, how can you be sure that you’re going after the right ones? To help you avoid wasting time on topics and keyword plays that won’t generate a meaningful return for your business, we’ve put together a simple process for validating your ideas before you start writing. Check it out below. 

How to Validate Your Blog Post Topics: A 3-Step Process

1) Get to know your audience really well.

Ideally, you’re already conducting market research and thinking about your audience before you start writing a piece of content. But in case you’re not, or you need to refresh your memory, here are a few questions you should be asking when you’re brainstorming blog content ideas:

  • Who searches for information on this topic? What are their ages, job roles, and demographic traits?
  • What emotions do you want to evoke? What are their goals?
  • What do you want viewers to do with your blog posts once they read it?

When you have a clearer idea of the demographic and psychographic traits of your ideal audience, you can then use this information to substantiate your list of ideas. Chuck the ideas that don’t fit their mold, and keep the ones that do — it’s that simple.

2) Create a topic cluster based on your persona research.

Once you know who you’re writing for, figure out what questions they need answers to. To start, think about providing solutions to challenges your audience is facing.

For example, in the yoga example above, your audience’s problems might include: not having enough time to go to the gym, a lack of nearby gyms, an inability to afford a gym membership, or high levels of stress.

From there, marketers should ask questions to determine the specific angle of their content. What’s the best way to deliver this information — a blog post, an infographic, or a video? What content has already been published about the topic, and what angle can I pursue to differentiate mine?

One of the best ways to organize your thoughts and finding here is through a topic cluster a new way to strategize blog content geared toward how search has evolved.

Continuing with the yoga example, you’d want to create a topic cluster centered around “yoga” as the main topic. Then, you’d come up with subtopics that are related to yoga but based on long-tail keywords that are easier to rank for in search. These could include “at-home workouts,” “exercises for stress relief,” “yoga for beginners,” and “online yoga classes.”

Here’s an example cluster that HubSpot’s Head of Growth & SEO Matt Barby created. Notice that while the core content topic is “workout routines,” the cluster content — referred to as pillar content — spans a wider variety of related topics.

workout routines topic cluster-1.png

By clustering ideas around one core topic that is relevant to your audience, it become easier to generate content that you know will resonate.

“This is a very simplistic overview but can work as a light framework for prioritizing content ideation and production,” explains Barby in an article detailing the full process. “The role of the pillar content is to cover the core topic broadly and also perform well at converting visitors into leads (or whatever your conversion goal is). The cluster content that is built for each of the subtopics will focus on gaining greater topic visibility and funneling traffic through to the pillar content in order for them to convert.”

3) Use tools to gut check your topics.

Once you have topics in mind for blog posts, do some testing: Just because you think the topic is interesting and good for search engine optimization doesn’t always mean it will resonate with your audience.

Here on the HubSpot Blogging team, we propose blog topics and titles alongside a reason why we think they will perform well. Here are some of the tools we use to determine if an angle is worth writing up:

  • TitleTester: As the name of the tool suggests, TitleTester allows you to plug different title options into its tool to analyze which has the highest clickthrough rate. Use this tool to test different angles on a topic to see which generates the most interest.
  • Twitter Polls: Ask your followers to vote for topics they’re most interested in reading more about using Twitter Polls. Use that data to guide your topic choosing before starting to write.
  • Twitter Chats: Figure out which Twitter Chat most closely aligns with the topics you’re writing about, click on the hashtag, and see what types of questions people are asking about. That will give you an idea of a content gap that your blog post could fill with resources for your audience.
  • BuzzSumo: BuzzSumo analyzes how many times a URL has been shared via social media or linked to by another domain. Do some quick competitor analysis by dropping in links to content on the topic you’re writing about to see how different angles have performed in the past.
  • Blog Comments: Does your blog have commenting enabled? If not, it should, because feedback from your subscribers is the exact answer to the questions you’re asking — what content is my audience interested in? Take positive and constructive feedback from readers to inform your strategy.

Once you’ve aggregated responses to different tests and questions you’ve asked your audience, choose a topic and title with the greatest level of engagement and response, and start writing your blog post.

Quality > Quantity

The biggest takeaway for marketers is to emphasize blog post quality and relevance over quantity. Instead of writing multiple blog posts without a review of the strategy behind them, it will be difficult to rank in search and achieve lead generation goals.

For HubSpot customers, HubSpot Content Strategy will help guide you through the process of creating a topic cluster. Based on data from the HubSpot Keywords App, Content Strategy and the Blog Topic Generator will recommend topics that you should create content around, and advise against topics that will be hard to rank for or are unrelated to your central topic. It’s coming soon to the HubSpot software, and users can sign up for early access now.

How do you decide which topics to write blog posts about? Share with us in the comments below.

Product Launches INBOUND 2016

Nov

29

2016

How to Validate Your Blog Post Topics: A 3-Step Process

validate-blog-post-ideas.jpg

Imagine you own a business that films and produces yoga routines for at-home practice. As search engine results pages become more crowded, your chances of ranking for a popular industry keyword — such as “yoga” — begin to diminish.

But as it turns out, that’s not the end of the world. These days people are actually conducting more specific, conversational queries — think: “how do I teach myself yoga?” — to get the information they’re looking for, faster.

Unsurprisingly, Google responded to this change in behavior by introducing RankBrain — a machine-learning artificial intelligence system — as well as Hummingbird — a search algorithm designed to focus on the meaning behind the search terms being used.

The result? An increased number of long-tail keyword variations that are regularly searched within a topic. Jackpot. Learn more about HubSpot's latest tools to power your growth here.

But with more topic opportunities on the table, how can you be sure that you’re going after the right ones? To help you avoid wasting time on topics and keyword plays that won’t generate a meaningful return for your business, we’ve put together a simple process for validating your ideas before you start writing. Check it out below. 

How to Validate Your Blog Post Topics: A 3-Step Process

1) Get to know your audience really well.

Ideally, you’re already conducting market research and thinking about your audience before you start writing a piece of content. But in case you’re not, or you need to refresh your memory, here are a few questions you should be asking when you’re brainstorming blog content ideas:

  • Who searches for information on this topic? What are their ages, job roles, and demographic traits?
  • What emotions do you want to evoke? What are their goals?
  • What do you want viewers to do with your blog posts once they read it?

When you have a clearer idea of the demographic and psychographic traits of your ideal audience, you can then use this information to substantiate your list of ideas. Chuck the ideas that don’t fit their mold, and keep the ones that do — it’s that simple.

2) Create a topic cluster based on your persona research.

Once you know who you’re writing for, figure out what questions they need answers to. To start, think about providing solutions to challenges your audience is facing.

For example, in the yoga example above, your audience’s problems might include: not having enough time to go to the gym, a lack of nearby gyms, an inability to afford a gym membership, or high levels of stress.

From there, marketers should ask questions to determine the specific angle of their content. What’s the best way to deliver this information — a blog post, an infographic, or a video? What content has already been published about the topic, and what angle can I pursue to differentiate mine?

One of the best ways to organize your thoughts and finding here is through a topic cluster a new way to strategize blog content geared toward how search has evolved.

Continuing with the yoga example, you’d want to create a topic cluster centered around “yoga” as the main topic. Then, you’d come up with subtopics that are related to yoga but based on long-tail keywords that are easier to rank for in search. These could include “at-home workouts,” “exercises for stress relief,” “yoga for beginners,” and “online yoga classes.”

Here’s an example cluster that HubSpot’s Head of Growth & SEO Matt Barby created. Notice that while the core content topic is “workout routines,” the cluster content — referred to as pillar content — spans a wider variety of related topics.

workout routines topic cluster-1.png

By clustering ideas around one core topic that is relevant to your audience, it become easier to generate content that you know will resonate.

“This is a very simplistic overview but can work as a light framework for prioritizing content ideation and production,” explains Barby in an article detailing the full process. “The role of the pillar content is to cover the core topic broadly and also perform well at converting visitors into leads (or whatever your conversion goal is). The cluster content that is built for each of the subtopics will focus on gaining greater topic visibility and funneling traffic through to the pillar content in order for them to convert.”

3) Use tools to gut check your topics.

Once you have topics in mind for blog posts, do some testing: Just because you think the topic is interesting and good for search engine optimization doesn’t always mean it will resonate with your audience.

Here on the HubSpot Blogging team, we propose blog topics and titles alongside a reason why we think they will perform well. Here are some of the tools we use to determine if an angle is worth writing up:

  • TitleTester: As the name of the tool suggests, TitleTester allows you to plug different title options into its tool to analyze which has the highest clickthrough rate. Use this tool to test different angles on a topic to see which generates the most interest.
  • Twitter Polls: Ask your followers to vote for topics they’re most interested in reading more about using Twitter Polls. Use that data to guide your topic choosing before starting to write.
  • Twitter Chats: Figure out which Twitter Chat most closely aligns with the topics you’re writing about, click on the hashtag, and see what types of questions people are asking about. That will give you an idea of a content gap that your blog post could fill with resources for your audience.
  • BuzzSumo: BuzzSumo analyzes how many times a URL has been shared via social media or linked to by another domain. Do some quick competitor analysis by dropping in links to content on the topic you’re writing about to see how different angles have performed in the past.
  • Blog Comments: Does your blog have commenting enabled? If not, it should, because feedback from your subscribers is the exact answer to the questions you’re asking — what content is my audience interested in? Take positive and constructive feedback from readers to inform your strategy.

Once you’ve aggregated responses to different tests and questions you’ve asked your audience, choose a topic and title with the greatest level of engagement and response, and start writing your blog post.

Quality > Quantity

The biggest takeaway for marketers is to emphasize blog post quality and relevance over quantity. Instead of writing multiple blog posts without a review of the strategy behind them, it will be difficult to rank in search and achieve lead generation goals.

For HubSpot customers, HubSpot Content Strategy will help guide you through the process of creating a topic cluster. Based on data from the HubSpot Keywords App, Content Strategy and the Blog Topic Generator will recommend topics that you should create content around, and advise against topics that will be hard to rank for or are unrelated to your central topic. It’s coming soon to the HubSpot software, and users can sign up for early access now.

How do you decide which topics to write blog posts about? Share with us in the comments below.

Product Launches INBOUND 2016

Nov

28

2016

How to Write an Introduction: A Simplified Guide

writing intros struggle.png

Blink. Blink. Blink. It’s the dreaded cursor-on-a-blank-screen experience that all writers — amateur or professional, aspiring or experienced — know and dread. And of all times for it to occur, it seems to plague us the most when trying to write an introduction.

I mean, you already have a blog post you want to write. Can’t you just dive in and write it? Why all the pomp and circumstance with this dag-blasted introduction?

Here’s the thing — intros don’t have to be long. In fact, we prefer them to be quite quick. They also don’t have to be so difficult, but they do have to exist. They prepare the reader and provide context for the content he or she is about to read. Download our free guide here for tips to become a better writer. 

Let’s break down exactly how to write an introduction that’s short, effective, and relatively painless. And if you’re ever having trouble churning out those intros, come back here and re-read this formula to lift yourself out of that writing rut.

How to Write a Good Introduction: 3 Components to Consider

As a lover of all things meta, I will, of course, use this post’s introduction as an example of how to write an intro. But it contains different components that create an introduction “formula” — you can refer to that when you get stuck with your own.

1) Grab the reader’s attention.

There are a few ways to hook your reader from the start. You can be empathetic (“Don’t you hate it when…?”), or tell a story, so the reader immediately feels some emotional resonance with the piece. You could tell a joke (“Ha! This is fun. Let’s read more of this.”). You could shock the reader with a crazy fact or stat (“Whoa. That’s crazy. I must know more!”).

For this intro, I went the “empathetic” route.

Intro for intros

Writer’s block stinks. Blank screens and taunting cursors — the worst. Who’s with me?

2) Present the reason for the post’s existence.

Your post needs to have a purpose. The purpose of this post is to address a specific problem — the pain in the butt that is writing intros. But, we have to do it, and therein lies the approach to something important: making writing introductions easier.

Present the Reason for the Post's Existence.png

Just because you know the purpose of your post, doesn’t mean the reader does — not yet, anyway. It’s your job to validate your post’s importance, and give your audience a reason to keep reading.

3) Explain how the post will help address the problem.

Now that the reader is presented with a problem that he or she can relate to — and obviously wants a solution — it’s time to let the audience know what the post will provide, and quickly.

In other words, the introduction should set expectations. Take this post, for example. I don’t want the reader to dive in and expect to see a list of reasons why introductions are important. I want you to expect to read about what makes a good introduction. But if I hadn’t clarified that in the introduction, you might have expected the former. After all, be honest — did you skim over or forget the title of this post already? That’s okay. That’s why we tell the reader exactly what the post will provide, and why it’s valuable.

Explain How the Post Will Help Address the Problem.png

The underlined sentenced is a way of saying, “Keep reading.” We already established that there’s a problem — here’s how I’m going to make it easy for you to solve.

Of course, there are other valid ways to write introductions for your marketing content — don’t feel the need to follow this formula for every single piece of content, as some are more casual than others. But, this guide should help provide a solid framework to follow if you’re just getting started, or if it’s just one of those days when the words aren’t flowing.

But what are some examples of great introductions in the wild? We thought you might ask — which is why we picked out some of our favorites.

5 Introduction Paragraph Examples to Inspire You

1) “Confessions of a Google Spammer,” by Jeff Deutsch

Google Spammer Intro

There are a few reasons why we love this introduction. Immediately, it grabs our attention — how the heck did this guy make fifty grand every month? And just from 10 hours a week?

But unlike some spammy comments that might contain a similar sentiment, he almost immediately serves us something unexpected — he tells us not to do that.

Then, he states the true purpose of the blog — to explain why we should “never, never ever follow in [his] footsteps.” In just three sentences, this introduction has captivated us and validated the story’s existence with a looming life lesson. The takeaway? Keep it short, but powerful.

2) “Announcing the public preview of Azure Advisor,” by Shankar Sivadasan

Azure Advisor Intro

Here’s a great example of an introduction that presents a problem and a solution to it. Sure, it’s easy to build apps on Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform — but maybe you had some issues with its setup. Well, wouldn’t you know? Azure Advisor is here to address those challenges, and you can preview it for free.

But wait — there’s more. The introduction not only immediately presents a problem and a solution, but it concisely summarizes just how this product provides a fix. And, it explains why the text will be helpful, with the sentence, “In this blog post, we will do a quick tour of Azure Advisor and discuss how it can help optimize your Azure resources.”

That’s a best practice for brands that have made a mistake — even a small one. Technology is great, but it can come with bugs. That’s where an intro like this one can be so helpful. It acknowledges the problem, states what the brand has done to address it, and alerts the reader to continue to learn how that solution will work.

3) “Taste the Season at Sushi Sora,” by Chris Dwyer

Sushi Sora intro

Strong introductions aren’t just important for blogs — they’re essentially to quality editorial pieces, too. That’s why we love this introduction to an article from Destination MO, the Mandarin Oriental’s official online magazine.

Remember that thing we said about a captivating start? In addition to being empathetic or funny, visuals can be huge — not just an actual picture or video, but words that actually help the reader envision what you’re describing. This introduction does just that, with expressive phrases like, “the magical silhouette of Mount Fuji on the horizon.” Well, yeah. That does sound magical. But where can I go for such a view? None other than the “Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo,” the author tells me, especially “from the sushi counter at Sushi Sora.”

Here’s the thing about this intro — it gives the reader something to aspire to. We’ve briefly discussed aspirational marketing before, but this instance is one where it can be used in a brief introduction. After reading this first paragraph, I want to go to Tokyo. And when I’m there, I want to stay at the Mandarin Oriental. Then, I want to take in the views from its high-end sushi restaurant.

With just two sentences, I’ve gone from reading an article with my morning coffee, to fantasizing about a thousand-dollar vacation. So whenever possible, use your introduction to paint a picture, and to help your reader dream.

4) “The Secret Club of Admitting You Suck,” by Janessa Lantz

admitting you suck intro

Let’s read through this introduction from ReadThink together.

I know. I know! I once moved very far away to escape my own failure, too! But I couldn’t admit at the time that I sucked, either! Wow. Janessa Lantz really gets me.

See that? That, right there, is a resounding example of how empathy makes a profound introduction. But how did the story end? Did they buy the house? Did she admit that she sucked? Does she still suck? (Spoiler alert: I work with Janessa and can say, with great confidence, that she is far from sucking.)

The point is, I wanted to keep reading for two reasons — first, I related to the author. Second, it was just plain interesting, and it left me with a cliffhanger. It’s okay to tease your readers. Just make sure you ultimately give them what they’re seeking.

5) “Be a responsible tourist: a PSA from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” by Out of the Blue

responsible tourist intro

I’ll admit it — I’m a sucker for a good travel blog, which is why JetBlue’s official blog appeals to me. But at the same time, I also geek out for almost anything that promotes sustainability. In this piece, those worlds collide.

What makes this introduction work? Honestly, it’s scary. “Decline” and “extinction” are strong words, and absolutely present a problem. But research shows that we’re actually more inclined to keep reading bad news — in fact, a few years ago, our media consumption habits suggested that we prefer it.

But it’s not all bad — and JetBlue quickly turns around a potentially devastating situation with the language of this introduction. And, it includes the reader, by inviting travelers to be part of the solution, but joining the brand in its promotion of responsible tourism.

That’s another formula for presenting bad news to your audience, especially if you’re not the one causing it and you have a solution. Scary information + how you’re helping + how the reader can do his or her part = compelling intro.

Let’s Start

Feeling inspired? Good. Next time you find yourself face-to-face with the dreaded blinking cursor, use these resources and compelling examples to find motivation.

How do you write a good intro, and what are some of your favorite examples? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2013 and has been updated and for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

free guide to writing well

 
free guide to writing well

Nov

28

2016

How to Write an Introduction: A Simplified Guide

writing intros struggle.png

Blink. Blink. Blink. It’s the dreaded cursor-on-a-blank-screen experience that all writers — amateur or professional, aspiring or experienced — know and dread. And of all times for it to occur, it seems to plague us the most when trying to write an introduction.

I mean, you already have a blog post you want to write. Can’t you just dive in and write it? Why all the pomp and circumstance with this dag-blasted introduction?

Here’s the thing — intros don’t have to be long. In fact, we prefer them to be quite quick. They also don’t have to be so difficult, but they do have to exist. They prepare the reader and provide context for the content he or she is about to read. Download our free guide here for tips to become a better writer. 

Let’s break down exactly how to write an introduction that’s short, effective, and relatively painless. And if you’re ever having trouble churning out those intros, come back here and re-read this formula to lift yourself out of that writing rut.

How to Write a Good Introduction: 3 Components to Consider

As a lover of all things meta, I will, of course, use this post’s introduction as an example of how to write an intro. But it contains different components that create an introduction “formula” — you can refer to that when you get stuck with your own.

1) Grab the reader’s attention.

There are a few ways to hook your reader from the start. You can be empathetic (“Don’t you hate it when…?”), or tell a story, so the reader immediately feels some emotional resonance with the piece. You could tell a joke (“Ha! This is fun. Let’s read more of this.”). You could shock the reader with a crazy fact or stat (“Whoa. That’s crazy. I must know more!”).

For this intro, I went the “empathetic” route.

Intro for intros

Writer’s block stinks. Blank screens and taunting cursors — the worst. Who’s with me?

2) Present the reason for the post’s existence.

Your post needs to have a purpose. The purpose of this post is to address a specific problem — the pain in the butt that is writing intros. But, we have to do it, and therein lies the approach to something important: making writing introductions easier.

Present the Reason for the Post's Existence.png

Just because you know the purpose of your post, doesn’t mean the reader does — not yet, anyway. It’s your job to validate your post’s importance, and give your audience a reason to keep reading.

3) Explain how the post will help address the problem.

Now that the reader is presented with a problem that he or she can relate to — and obviously wants a solution — it’s time to let the audience know what the post will provide, and quickly.

In other words, the introduction should set expectations. Take this post, for example. I don’t want the reader to dive in and expect to see a list of reasons why introductions are important. I want you to expect to read about what makes a good introduction. But if I hadn’t clarified that in the introduction, you might have expected the former. After all, be honest — did you skim over or forget the title of this post already? That’s okay. That’s why we tell the reader exactly what the post will provide, and why it’s valuable.

Explain How the Post Will Help Address the Problem.png

The underlined sentenced is a way of saying, “Keep reading.” We already established that there’s a problem — here’s how I’m going to make it easy for you to solve.

Of course, there are other valid ways to write introductions for your marketing content — don’t feel the need to follow this formula for every single piece of content, as some are more casual than others. But, this guide should help provide a solid framework to follow if you’re just getting started, or if it’s just one of those days when the words aren’t flowing.

But what are some examples of great introductions in the wild? We thought you might ask — which is why we picked out some of our favorites.

5 Introduction Paragraph Examples to Inspire You

1) “Confessions of a Google Spammer,” by Jeff Deutsch

Google Spammer Intro

There are a few reasons why we love this introduction. Immediately, it grabs our attention — how the heck did this guy make fifty grand every month? And just from 10 hours a week?

But unlike some spammy comments that might contain a similar sentiment, he almost immediately serves us something unexpected — he tells us not to do that.

Then, he states the true purpose of the blog — to explain why we should “never, never ever follow in [his] footsteps.” In just three sentences, this introduction has captivated us and validated the story’s existence with a looming life lesson. The takeaway? Keep it short, but powerful.

2) “Announcing the public preview of Azure Advisor,” by Shankar Sivadasan

Azure Advisor Intro

Here’s a great example of an introduction that presents a problem and a solution to it. Sure, it’s easy to build apps on Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform — but maybe you had some issues with its setup. Well, wouldn’t you know? Azure Advisor is here to address those challenges, and you can preview it for free.

But wait — there’s more. The introduction not only immediately presents a problem and a solution, but it concisely summarizes just how this product provides a fix. And, it explains why the text will be helpful, with the sentence, “In this blog post, we will do a quick tour of Azure Advisor and discuss how it can help optimize your Azure resources.”

That’s a best practice for brands that have made a mistake — even a small one. Technology is great, but it can come with bugs. That’s where an intro like this one can be so helpful. It acknowledges the problem, states what the brand has done to address it, and alerts the reader to continue to learn how that solution will work.

3) “Taste the Season at Sushi Sora,” by Chris Dwyer

Sushi Sora intro

Strong introductions aren’t just important for blogs — they’re essentially to quality editorial pieces, too. That’s why we love this introduction to an article from Destination MO, the Mandarin Oriental’s official online magazine.

Remember that thing we said about a captivating start? In addition to being empathetic or funny, visuals can be huge — not just an actual picture or video, but words that actually help the reader envision what you’re describing. This introduction does just that, with expressive phrases like, “the magical silhouette of Mount Fuji on the horizon.” Well, yeah. That does sound magical. But where can I go for such a view? None other than the “Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo,” the author tells me, especially “from the sushi counter at Sushi Sora.”

Here’s the thing about this intro — it gives the reader something to aspire to. We’ve briefly discussed aspirational marketing before, but this instance is one where it can be used in a brief introduction. After reading this first paragraph, I want to go to Tokyo. And when I’m there, I want to stay at the Mandarin Oriental. Then, I want to take in the views from its high-end sushi restaurant.

With just two sentences, I’ve gone from reading an article with my morning coffee, to fantasizing about a thousand-dollar vacation. So whenever possible, use your introduction to paint a picture, and to help your reader dream.

4) “The Secret Club of Admitting You Suck,” by Janessa Lantz

admitting you suck intro

Let’s read through this introduction from ReadThink together.

I know. I know! I once moved very far away to escape my own failure, too! But I couldn’t admit at the time that I sucked, either! Wow. Janessa Lantz really gets me.

See that? That, right there, is a resounding example of how empathy makes a profound introduction. But how did the story end? Did they buy the house? Did she admit that she sucked? Does she still suck? (Spoiler alert: I work with Janessa and can say, with great confidence, that she is far from sucking.)

The point is, I wanted to keep reading for two reasons — first, I related to the author. Second, it was just plain interesting, and it left me with a cliffhanger. It’s okay to tease your readers. Just make sure you ultimately give them what they’re seeking.

5) “Be a responsible tourist: a PSA from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” by Out of the Blue

responsible tourist intro

I’ll admit it — I’m a sucker for a good travel blog, which is why JetBlue’s official blog appeals to me. But at the same time, I also geek out for almost anything that promotes sustainability. In this piece, those worlds collide.

What makes this introduction work? Honestly, it’s scary. “Decline” and “extinction” are strong words, and absolutely present a problem. But research shows that we’re actually more inclined to keep reading bad news — in fact, a few years ago, our media consumption habits suggested that we prefer it.

But it’s not all bad — and JetBlue quickly turns around a potentially devastating situation with the language of this introduction. And, it includes the reader, by inviting travelers to be part of the solution, but joining the brand in its promotion of responsible tourism.

That’s another formula for presenting bad news to your audience, especially if you’re not the one causing it and you have a solution. Scary information + how you’re helping + how the reader can do his or her part = compelling intro.

Let’s Start

Feeling inspired? Good. Next time you find yourself face-to-face with the dreaded blinking cursor, use these resources and compelling examples to find motivation.

How do you write a good intro, and what are some of your favorite examples? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2013 and has been updated and for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

free guide to writing well

 
free guide to writing well

Nov

23

2016

The 34 Best Tools for Improving Your Writing Skills

improve-writing-skills-1.jpg

Words are hard.

Whether you’re a published author or just getting started with blogging, it’s not always easy to string words together in a way that makes sense, sounds good, and makes the reader feel something.

But every marketer should be able to write — and, more importantly, every marketer can write. It’s just a matter of finding the writing environment that works best for you, expanding your vocabulary, asking for feedback (and listening to it), and practicing. Download our free guide here for tips to become a better writer. 

Luckily, there are a slew of great tools you can use to help improve your writing. Check out the list below, and feel free to add the most helpful ones you use in the comment section.

The 34 Best Tools for Improving Your Writing

1) Daily Page

“Writer’s block is a comforting lie we tell ourselves so we can stop writing and go do other, more pleasurable things,” said Beth Dunn, HubSpot’s UX writer and editor. “If your fingers still work, you can write. Sit down at the same time every day and start typing.”

Want to get into the habit of writing every day, but don’t know what to write about? Daily Page emails you a writing prompt every morning, and you have the rest of the day to write your response. Once you’ve written your response to the prompt, you can either share it or keep it private.

2) 750 Words 

Another way to practice your writing is to do a “brain dump” exercise using a tool like 750 Words. “Brain dumping” means getting all that stuff in your head down on paper — without having to worry about incomplete ideas, tangents, and private stuff.

It’s not blogging or status updating — it’s just you, writing whatever you want on a totally private account, without ever having to title your content or tag topics or share with your friends.

What it does do is track your word count so you’re sure to write 750 words (about three pages of writing). Plus, it’s gamified, which makes it kind of fun: You get a point for writing anything at all, two points for writing 750 words or more, and more points if you write consistently. And every time you write, it’ll give you some cool statistics on how much time you spent writing, the feelings and themes of your words, and so on.

Image Credit: 750 Words

3) Twords 

Publishing content on a consistent basis is crucial in the blogging world. Our own research concludes that companies that commit to regularly publishing quality content to their blogs tend get the most website traffic and leads — and those results continue to pay out over time. Tools like Twords can help bloggers commit to writing consistently.

Twords calls itself “the app that nudges you to write.” It notifies you when you haven’t written in a while so you can keep yourself accountable — and even gives you the option to connect with others who will help keep you accountable. It also tracks your writing so you can start to see patterns for the days you’re blogging more versus less, and so on. Finally, it includes some cool resources like a prompt library and articles about habit formation, writing resources, and so on.

Image Credit: Twords

4) Your Own “Swipe File” 

I read about a “Swipe File” on the “Kopywriting Kourse” blog and loved the idea. Basically, a swipe file is just a folder where you can curate cool stuff you come across, like advertisements, copy, emails, etc. “Save things that make you click, sign up, laugh, or go ‘whoa!'” says the post. The purpose? To flip through it for inspiration.

A swipe file can be physical or digital.

  • A physical swipe file would be something like a folder or envelope where you can keep print ads, pieces of copy, letters, and so on for inspiration.
  • A digital swipe file on desktop would be a digital folder, like one on your desktop. Whenever you see something interesting, screenshot it (by pressing Command + Shift + 4 on a Mac or Ctrl + Shift + 4 on a PC) and dragging that screenshot to your swipe folder.
  • A digital swipe on your mobile device is good for all the stuff you see when browsing the internet on your phone or tablet. The author of the post, for instance, created a specific folder in his iPhone and made a Phone Swipe File there. He stores screenshots when he sees something on mobile that grabs his attention.

Image Credit: KopywritingKourse.com

5) Help me Write 

What better way to make sure you’re writing about stuff your audience actually wants to read than by actually asking them? When you create a profile using Help me Write, you can post ideas of what you’re thinking about writing about. Then, you can share those ideas with your network via Twitter, Facebook, email, and so on — and ask your networks what they’d like to read most. They’ll be able to vote on their favorites, and you’ll be able to pick topics and better manage your time. 

Image Credit: HelpmeWrite

6) Blog Topic Generator

Do you have an overarching theme or keywords in mind for your next blog post, but you’re not sure at which angle to tackle it? HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator could come in handy. Simply type in three keywords, and the tool will auto-generate five potential topics for your post. If you’re not keen on the suggestions, you can always click “Try Again” and it’ll give you five more topics.

7) Trello

Writing efficiently and organizing well is a part of writing well. Use a tool like Trello to collect content ideas, assign them to different members of your team, attach due dates, collaborate with other team members, track their progress, and move them from conception to completion.

Here at HubSpot, we add all our blog post ideas to Trello, turning each idea into a card that we can expand on with notes and move from list to list with a simple drag-and-drop.

8) Google Docs

There are many ways you can use Google Docs to improve your writing. For example, you can use the research tool to do online research on the topic you’re writing about, find quotes or educational information, and so on (see #4 on this list). You can use it to request edits or comments from your peers. It even has a built-in dictionary.

One of my favorite ways to use Google Docs to improve my writing is by crowdsourcing ideas from my coworkers. Here at HubSpot, the blogging team uses this method all the time — and it shaves off a significant portion of research time that goes into curated posts. The result? Better examples and more comprehensive posts with less effort.

9) Quora & 10) inbound.org

Speaking of crowdsourcing, Quora is a great place to go for crowdsourced answers if you want to reach outside your network. Simply search for a keyword, follow topics related to the topics you’re interested in, and/or post your own questions.

If you’re looking for answers from inbound marketers specifically, inbound.org is a great place to source answers from professionals. Here’s an example of a post where the author asked about people’s productivity and time management habits.

11) Blog Post Templates & 12) Ebook Templates

If you’re all set on a topic but need help with organizing your writing so it’s interesting to read, you may want to check out our free, downloadable blog post templates or ebook templates, depending what you’re writing.

  • The blog post templates will give you an outline of five different types of blog posts: how-to posts, listicles, curated collections, SlideShare presentations, and newsjacks.
  • The ebook templates are available as both PowerPoint and InDesign files. All you have to do is paste in your text, drop in your images, add your company’s logo, and voila — a finished ebook.

13) HubSpot Composer

For HubSpot customers, Composer is a new distraction-free writing tool that helps writers easily turn their brainstorm ideas and research notes into a blog post. Composer handles the work of formatting drafts into blog posts — users can copy and paste text from Microsoft Word or Google Docs into Composer, and Composer will automatically reformat them for blog publication with the press of a button.

Other team members can collaborate and share comments on documents in Composer so bloggers can get team feedback prior to publishing content on their blogs. Check it out in action below:

composer.png

14) oTranscribe 

If you’re writing something that includes an interview with someone else, oTranscribe is a great tool that’ll make the transcription process much less painful — allowing more time for your own writing and analysis.

There are a lot of transcription tools out there, but this one is one of my favorites. It’s a web app for transcribing interviews created by Elliott Bentley, a graphics writer at Wall Street Journal. The audio player is integrated with the editor meaning you won’t have to click back and forth. You can pause, play, rewind, and fast-forward using keyboard shortcuts. Every second, it automatically saves the transcription to your browser’s storage. You can export it to plain text or Google Docs. Finally, it’s open source under the MIT license.

15) Coffitivity

Ready to start writing? Here’s a tool that’ll boost your productivity. A study out of the University of Chicago found that a moderate level of ambient noise, or “white noise,” helps people be more creative. While there are a lot of white noise generators out there, Cofftivity is my favorite. It offers non-stop café background sounds at varying intensities, from “Morning Murmur” and “University Undertones” to “Lunchtime Lounge” and “Brazil Bistro.”

16) E.ggtimer.com & 17) Tomato Timer

If you like to write with a little pressure (or you’re just on deadline), then tools like e.ggtimer.com and Tomato Timer are useful (and free). Both of these tools offer a “pomodoro” option, which refers to the Pomodoro technique: a time management technique created by Francesco Cirillo based on periods of distraction-free work followed by short breaks — which is supposed to be optimal for productivity.

18) ZenPen 

If you don’t do well with distractions while you’re writing on a computer, then use a tool like ZenPen to help block out all the distractions and focus on your writing. It’s a web app that gives you a “minimalist writing zone.” There are a few, minimalist features available to help you stylize the text, add hyperlinks, and block quotes. Once you’re done, simply copy the text and paste it in your blog editor or wherever you’d like it to go.

19) Power Thesaurus & 20) Thesaurus.com 

Power Thesaurus isn’t just any thesaurus: It’s a crowdsourced thesaurus that provides alternative word choices from a community of writers. The word suggestions are totally original, and are based on the editorial work of a team of writers and years’ worth of reviews visitors’ suggestions.

But hey, when you want a good ol’, regular Thesaurus, you can’t beat Thesaurus.com.

21) OneLook Thesaurus

In addition to its thesaurus functions, OneLook Thesaurus also has a “reverse dictionary”: users can type in a definition or group of words related to the word they’re searching for and find the right word for their piece. Users can also type in a category of items, and OneLook will serve up multiple words that fall under that umbrella.

For example, here’s what happens when you search for “study animals.” OneLook then ranks synonyms according to how related or distance they are from the original search query. This is a great tool for when you have that “what’s the word for this?” moment and can’t bug your deskmate.

onelook.png

Image Credit: OneLook Thesaurus

22) Twinword Writer 

Here’s another help that’ll help you if you get stuck on a word and don’t want to leave your browser or skim through synonyms. If you type using Twinword Writer, it’ll automatically sense if you pause because you’re stuck on a word. Then, it’ll analyze the context of your writing and open a box suggesting alternate words you can use. You can also click any word to get suggestions.

23) Prompts 

If you like typing out posts or ideas using your iPhone and tend to hit a wall in the middle of a thought or idea, this $2.99 iOS app may be worth the investment. It uses an algorithm to make suggestions for what you should write next. It also tracks stats about your writing habits, can remind you to write regularly if you allow it, and lets you schedule the best day and time to write based on your writing history.

Image Credit: Prompts

24) BrainyQuote 

You may also find you want to include a quote from a famous author, politician, celebrity, or other public figure to strengthen your writing or inspire your readers. BrainyQuote is a library filled with millions of interesting quips that you can search by speaker (from Aristotle to Dr. Seuss to Audrey Hepburn) or by topic (like peace, success, leadership, and more).

25) Hemingway App

Ernest Hemingway, admired for his succinct writing style, is the namesake for this handy editing app. Want to make your content more easily readable? Paste your text into this free web app and it’ll assess your writing and identify opportunities to make it simpler. First, it sums up how readable your writing is with a grade. Then, it suggests how to improve readability. (Read this blog post for more tips on simplifying your writing.)

26) AtomicWriter 

Here’s another tool that’ll assess your writing — but this time, it’ll assess it depending on your specific target audience’s reading level and which content they relate to the most. After all, writing for your target audience is an important part of content marketing.

How? Simply hook up your Google Analytics and social media accounts to AtomicWriter, and then paste your content into the app. It’ll analyze your historical data and engagement data from those accounts, and then tell you whether it’s suitable for your target audience. 

Image Credit: Jeff Bullas

27) ProWritingAid

Here’s another tool that evaluates your writing, but it boasts some unique features that differentiate it from the tools above. For example, ProWritingAid highlights overused words, redundancies, plagiarism, and sentence length, making it easy for writers to identify trouble areas and strengthen them. 

The free version of this tool only analyzes 3,000 words at a time, so the $40 investment per year for Premium may be worthwhile if users publish multiple pieces of content per month. 

Here’s an example of what ProWritingAid looks like in action:

grammarcheck.png

Image Credit: ProWritingAid

28) Grammarly & 29) Correctica

Once the actual writing part is done, it’s time to edit. While human editors will be able to catch most grammatical errors, editing tools like Grammarly and Correctica are great tools for triple-checking before you press “publish” or “send.” Both free tools check for grammatical errors — and Grammarly even checks for plagiarism.

30) Draft 

When you upload your document to draft (from cloud services like Dropbox, Evernote, Box, or Google Drive), there’s a lot you can do with it. You can edit your document, share it with colleagues or friends, and manage your friends’ suggestions — much in the same way you can with Google Docs.

One big differentiator, though? It calls itself the “Uber for copyediting”: Draft lets you call on a staff of reviewers to get suggested edits, for a price. (Learn about more features here.)

Draft Screenshot.png

Image Credit: Draft

31) Cliché Finder 

Unleashed too many clichés in your most recent piece of content? To help your writing be more specific, it’s generally best to avoid clichés. To ensure you leave no stone unturned, paste your text into Cliché Finder and it’ll highlight any you missed so you can replace them with more specific text.

32) Listly

When you’re creating list posts — like this one — it’s easy to hit a wall. Sure, you know there are other great examples out there, but you’ve already exhausted the ones you know of. With Listly, you can invite your audience to contribute to your list. The Listly community can then vote on list items to move them up the list. 

You can either embed the interactive list in your post or use it do conduct research before you publish to ensure that the examples, items, or tips you’re including are the best of the best.

33) Style Guide

The more content your business puts out, the more consistent that writing and messaging should be. This includes everything from what official names to call your products or services, down to whether to use an Oxford comma.

At some point, most companies accept that they’ll need to develop a writing style guide: a document that indicates the basic rules of writing we’ll all agree to follow (like whether I should’ve capitalized the “a” after the colon in this sentence).

Most businesses adopt either the AP Stylebook, or the Chicago Manual of Style. If you want to customize your style guide, you can download the writing style guide template we’ve created here.

34) WritePls

If you type “how to improve writing skills” into Google, you’ll notice that there are almost six million search results. WritePls has organized the best of the best articles about writing into specific categories for different writing types (fiction, nonfiction, and emails), as well as articles about general writing, growth hacking, and resources for ebooks and online education.

This is a great home base for new and experienced writers alike. Blogging and email writing are two very different crafts, and WritePls has collected a variety of great resources to help any writers working on any type of project to refer to in a one-stop shop.

Which tools for improving one’s writing would you add to the list? Share with us in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2015 and has been updated and for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

free guide: how to be a better copywriter

 
free guide to writing well

Nov

18

2016

Grammar Police: 30 of the Most Common Grammatical Errors We All Need to Stop Making

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Even after years of education, there are some things that some people still mess up. For me, it’s algebra. For others, it’s the laws of physics. And for many, it’s grammar.

It’s not easy. Words and phrases that sound fine in your head can look like gibberish when written down — that is, if you even realize you made a mistake in the first place. It’s easy for little grammar mistakes to slip by, especially when you’re self-editing.

But how do you prevent grammatical errors if you’re not even aware you’re making them? Download this free style guide to ensure you're publishing content that is  well written, persuasive, and trustworthy.

Well, you can start by reading through this post to see which common grammar mistakes resonate with you the most. (It’s okay — we’re all guilty of at least one.) Make a mental note to avoid that mistake in the future, or heck, just bookmark this page to remind yourself of them over and over (and over) again.

30 Common Grammar Mistakes to Check For in Your Writing

1) They’re vs. Their vs. There

One’s a contraction for “they are” (they’re), one refers to something owned by a group (their), and one refers to a place (there). You know the difference among the three — just make sure you triple check that you’re using the right ones in the right places at the right times. I find it’s helpful to search through my posts (try control + F on PC or command + F on Mac) for those words and check that they’re being used in the right context.

Correct Usage: They’re going to love going there — I heard their food is the best!

2) Your vs. You’re

The difference between these two is owning something versus actually being something:

You made it around the track in under a minute — you’re fast!

How’s your fast going? Are you hungry?

See the difference? “Your” is possessive and “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.” Again, if you’re having trouble keeping them straight, try doing another grammar check before you hit publish.

3) Its vs. It’s

This one tends to confuse even the best of writers. “Its” is possessive and “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.” Lots of people get tripped up because “it’s” has an ‘s after it, which normally means something is possessive. But in this case, it’s actually a contraction.

Do a control + F to find this mistake in your writing. It’s really hard to catch on your own, but it’s a mistake everyone can make.

4) Incomplete Comparisons

This one drives me up a wall when I see it in the wild. Can you see what’s wrong with this sentence?

Our car model is faster, better, stronger.

Faster, better, stronger … than what? What are you comparing your car to? A horse? A competitor’s car? An older model?

When you’re asserting that something should be compared to something else, make sure you always clarify what that something else is. Otherwise, it’s impossible for your readers to discern what the comparison actually means.

5) Passive Voice

If you have a sentence with an object in it — basically a noun that receives the action — passive voice can happen to you. Passive happens when the object of a sentence is put at the beginning of a sentence instead of at the end. With passive voice, your writing comes across as sounding weak and unclear.

Hold up. Re-read that last paragraph I just wrote — there’s waaaaaay too much passive voice. See how it seems kind of jumbled and not quite punchy? Let’s try that again.

Passive voice happens when you have an object (a noun that receives the action) as the subject of a sentence. Normally, the object of the sentence appears at the end, following a verb. Passive writing isn’t as clear as active writing — your readers will thank you for your attention to detail later.

Make sense? It’s kind of a complicated thing to describe, but active voice makes your writing seem more alive and clear. Want to get into the nitty-gritty of avoiding passive voice? Check out this tip from Grammar Girl.

6) Dangling Modifiers

I love the name of this mistake — it makes me think of a dramatic, life-or-death situation such as hanging precariously off a cliff. (Of course grammar mistakes are never that drastic, but it helps me remember to keep them out of my writing.)

This mistake happens when a descriptive phrase doesn’t apply to the noun that immediately follows it. It’s easier to see in an example taken from my colleague over on the HubSpot Sales Blog:

After declining for months, Jean tried a new tactic to increase ROI.

What exactly is declining for months? Jean? In reality, the sentence was trying to say that the ROI was declining — not Jean. To fix this problem, try flipping around the sentence structure (though beware of passive voice):

Jean tried a new tactic to increase ROI after it had been declining for months.

Better, right?

7) Referring to a Brand or an Entity as “They”

A business ethics professor made me aware of this mistake. “A business is not plural,” he told our class. “Therefore, the business is not ‘they.’ It’s ‘it.'”

So, what’s the problem with this sentence?

To keep up with their changing audience, Southwest Airlines rebranded in 2014.

The confusion is understandable. In English, we don’t identify a brand or an entity as “he” or “she” — so “they” seems to make more sense. But as the professor pointed out, it’s just not accurate. A brand or an entity is “it.”

To keep up with its changing audience, Southwest Airlines rebranded in 2014.

It might seem a little strange at first, but once you start correctly referring to a brand or entity as “it,” the phrasing will sound much more natural than “they.”

8) Possessive Nouns

Most possessive nouns will have an apostrophe — but where you put that apostrophe can be confusing. Here are a few general rules to follow:

  • If the noun is plural, add the apostrophe after the s. For example: the dogs’ bones.
  • If the noun is singular and ends in s, you should also put the apostrophe after the s. For example: the dress’ blue color.
  • On the other hand, if the noun is singular and doesn’t end in an s, you’ll add the apostrophe before the s. For example: the lizard’s tail.

Simple, right? If you want a deeper dive into the rules of possessive nouns, check out this website.

9) Affect vs. Effect

This one is another one of my pet peeves. Most people confuse them when they’re talking about something changing another thing.

When you’re talking about the change itself — the noun — you’ll use “effect.”

That movie had a great effect on me.

When you’re talking about the act of changing — the verb — you’ll use “affect.”

That movie affected me greatly.

10) Me vs. I

Most people understand the difference between the two of these, until it comes time for them to use one in a sentence. They’ll say something like:

When you get done with that lab report, can you send it to Bill and I?

But that’s wrong.

Try taking Bill out of that sentence — it sounds weird, right? You would never ask someone to send something to “I” when he or she is done. The reason it sounds weird is because “I” is the object of that sentence — and “I” should not be used in objects. In that situation, you’d use “me.”

When you get done with that lab report, can you send it to Bill and me?

Much better.

11) To vs. Too

We’ve all accidentally left the second “o” off of “too” when texting in a hurry. But in case the mistake goes beyond that, let’s review some usage rules.

“To” is typically used before a noun or verb, and describes a destination, recipient, or action. Take these examples:

My friend drove me to my doctor’s appointment. (Destination)

I sent the files to my boss. (Recipient)

I’m going to get a cup of coffee. (Action)

“Too,” on the other hand, is a word that’s used as an alternative to “also” or “as well.” It’s also used to describe an adjective in extremes. Have a look:

My colleague, Sophia Bernazzani, writes for the HubSpot marketing blog, too.

She, too, is vegan.

We both think it’s too cold outside.

You might have noticed that there’s some interesting comma usage where the word “too” is involved. We’ll cover commas a bit more later, but when you’re using the word “too” to replace “also” or “as well,” the general rule is to use a comma both before and after. The only exception occurs when “too” is the last word in the sentence — then, follow it with a period.

12) Do’s and Don’ts

I’m not talking about the do’s and don’ts of grammar here — I’m talking about the actual words: “do’s” and “don’ts.” They look weird, right? That’s because of two things:

  1. There’s an apostrophe in one to make it plural … which typically isn’t done, and
  2. The apostrophes aren’t put in the same place in both words.

Unfortunately, it’s AP Style, so we just have to live with it. It’s a hot angle for content formats, so I wouldn’t shy away from using it. But when you’re checking your writing for grammatical errors, just remember that the apostrophes should be in different places.

Note: There are different schools of thought about how to punctuate this one depending on what style guide/usage book you’re using. The Chicago Manual of Style, for instance, recommends “dos” and “don’ts.” The important thing is to be consistent and stick to one style guide, whether it’s AP Style, Chicago, or your own house style guide.

13) i.e. vs. e.g.

Confession: I never remember this rule, so I have to Google it every single time I want to use it in my writing. I’m hoping that by writing about it here, the trend will stop.

Many people use the terms interchangeably when trying to elaborate on a point, but each one means something different: “i.e.” roughly means “that is” or “in other words,” while “e.g.” means “example given” or “for example.” The former is used to clarify something you’ve said, while the latter adds color to a story through an example.

14) Peek vs. Peak vs. Pique

This mistake is another one I often see people make, even if they know what they mean.

  • Peek is taking a quick look at something — like a sneak peek of a new film.
  • Peak is a sharp point — like the peak of a mountain.
  • And pique means to provoke or instigate — you know, like your interest.

If you’re going to use one in your writing, stop and think for a second — is that the right “peek” you should be using?

15) Who vs. That

This one is tricky. These two words can be used when you’re describing someone or something through a phrase like, “Lindsay is a blogger who likes ice cream.” When you’re describing a person, be sure to use “who.”

When you’re describing an object, use “that.” For example, you should say, “Her computer is the one that overheats all the time.” It’s pretty simple, but definitely something that gets overlooked frequently.

16) Who vs. Whom vs. Whose vs. Who’s

Whoa. This one looks like a bit of a doozy. Let’s break it down, shall we?

“Who” is used to identify a living pronoun. If you asked, “Who ate all of the cookies?” the answer could be a person, like myself (“I did”), or another living being (“the dog did”).

Hey, both are realistic scenarios in my world.

“Whom” is a little trickier. It’s usually used to describe someone who’s receiving something, like a letter — “To whom will it be addressed?” But it can also be used to describe someone on the receiving end of an action, like in this sentence:

Whom did we hire to join the podcast team?

“Whose” is used to assign ownership to someone. See if you can spot the error in this question:

Who’s sweater is that?

Because the sweater belongs to someone, it should actually be written this way:

Whose sweater is that?

“Who’s,” on the other hand, is used to identify a living being. It’s a contraction for “who is” — here’s an example of how we might use it in a sentence here in Boston:

Who’s pitching for the Red Sox tonight?

See the difference? “Whose” is used to figure out who something belongs to, whereas “who’s” is used to identify someone who’s doing something.

17) “Alot” vs. A lot vs. Allot

I hate to break it to all of you “alot” fans out there, but “alot” is not a word. If you’re trying to say that someone has a vast number of things, you’d say they have “a lot” of things. And if you’re trying to say that you want to set aside a certain amount of money to buy something, you’d say you’ll “allot” $20 to spend on gas.

If you’re trying to remember to stay away from “alot,” check out this awesome cartoon by Hyperbole and a Half featuring the alot. That face will haunt you for the rest of your content marketing days.

18) Into vs. In to

Let’s clarify the “into” versus “in to” debate.

They’re often confused, but “into” indicates movement (Lindsay walked into the office) while “in to” is used in lots of situations because the individual words “to” and “in” are frequently used in other parts of a sentence. For example, “to” is often used with infinitive verbs (e.g. “to drive”). Or “in” can be used as part of a verb (e.g. “call in to a meeting”).

So if you’re trying to decide which to use, first figure out if the words “in” or “to” actually modify other words in the sentence. If they don’t, ask yourself if it’s indicating some sort of movement — if it does, you’re good to use “into.”

19) Lose vs. Loose

When people mix up “lose” and “loose,” it’s usually just because they’re spelled so similarly. They know their definitions are completely different.

According to Merriam-Webster, “lose” is a verb that means “to be unable to find (something or someone), to fail to win (a game, contest, etc.), or to fail to keep or hold (something wanted or valued).” It’s like losing your keys or losing a football match.

“Loose” is an adjective that means “not tightly fastened, attached, or held,” like loose clothing or a loose tooth.

A trick for remembering the difference is to think of the term “loosey-goosey” — both of those words are spelled with two o’s.

20) Then vs. Than

What’s wrong with this sentence?

My dinner was better then yours.

*Shudder.* In the sentence above, “then” should be “than.” Why? Because “than” is a conjunction used mainly to make comparisons — like saying one thing was better “than” another. “Then” is mainly an adverb used to situate actions in time:

We made dinner, and then we ate it.

21) Of vs. Have

I have a bad habit of overusing a phrase that goes like this: “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.” That basically means I regret not doing something, but it’s too late to dwell on it now. For example, “I shoulda done my laundry on Sunday.”

But “shoulda,” “coulda,” and “woulda” are all short for something else. What’s wrong with this statement?

I should of done my laundry on Sunday.

Since it’s so common for us to throw around fake worlds like “shoulda,” the above mistake is an easy one to make — “shoulda” sounds like a shortened version of “should of.” But really, “shoulda” is short for “should have.” See how it works in these sentences:

I should have done my laundry on Sunday.

I could have taken a shorter route.

I would have gone grocery shopping on Friday, if I had time.

So next time, instead of saying, “shoulda, woulda, coulda,” I should probably say, “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve.”

22) Use of Commas

There are entire courses on correct comma usage, but let’s go over some of the most common comma use cases here.

To separate elements in a series.

Each element in a series should be separated by a comma. For example: “I brought a jacket, a blanket, and an umbrella to the park.” That last comma is optional. It’s called an “Oxford comma,” and whether you use it depends on your company’s internal style guide.

To separate independent clauses.

You can use commas to separate independent clauses that are joined by “and,” “but,” “for,” “or,” “nor,” “so,” or “yet.” For example, this sentence is correctly written: “My brother is very smart, and I’ve learned a lot from him.”

An independent clause is a sentence that can stand on its own. Here’s how to test it: Would the second part of the sentence (following one of those coordinating conjunctions) make a full sentence on its own? If so, add a comma. If it doesn’t, leave it out.

To separate an introductory word or phrase.

At the beginning of a sentence, we often add an introductory word or phrase that requires a subsequent comma. For example:

In the beginning, I had no idea how to use a comma.

Or:

However, after reading an awesome blog post, I understand the difference.

Other common introductory words and phrases include “after,” “although,” “when,” and “while.”

To learn about more use cases for the comma, check out this blog post from Daily Writing Tips.

23) Assure vs. Insure vs. Ensure

All of these words have to do with “making an outcome sure,” which is why they’re so often mixed up. However, they aren’t interchangeable.

  • “To assure” means to promise or say with confidence. For example, “I assure you that he’s good at his job.”
  • “To ensure” means to make certain. For example, “Ensure you’re free when I visit next weekend.”
  • Finally, “to insure” means to protect against risk by regularly paying an insurance company. For example, “I insure my car because the law requires it.”

24) Less vs. Fewer

You know the checkout aisle in the grocery store that says “10 Items or Less”? That’s actually incorrect. It should be “10 Items or Fewer.”

Why? Because “items” are quantifiable — you can count out 10 items. Use “fewer” for things that are quantifiable, like “fewer M&Ms” or “fewer road trips.” Use “less” for things that aren’t quantifiable, like “less candy” and “less traveling.”

25) Semicolons

Semicolons are used to connect two independent clauses that, though they could stand on their own, are closely related. For example, you could use a semicolon in the sentence: “Call me tomorrow; I’ll have an answer for you by then.”

Notice that each clause could be its own sentence — but stylistically, it makes more sense for them to be joined. (If there’s a coordinating conjunction between the two clauses — like “and,” “but”, or “or” — use a comma instead.)

You can also use semicolons to separate items in a list when those items contain commas themselves:

There are two options for breakfast: eggs and bacon, which is high in protein and low in carbs; or oatmeal and fruit, which is high in carbs but has more fiber.

26) Compliment vs. Complement

These two words are pronounced exactly the same, making them easy to mix up. But they’re actually quite different.

If something “complements” something else, that means it completes it, enhances it, or makes it perfect. For example, a wine selection can complement a meal, and two colors can complement each other.

The word “compliment” though, refers to an expression of praise (as a noun), or to praise or express admiration for someone (as a verb). You can compliment your friend’s new haircut, or pay someone a compliment on his or her haircut.

27) Farther vs. Further

People often use “farther” and “further” interchangeably to mean “at a greater distance.”

However, in most countries, there are actually subtle differences in meaning between the two. “Farther” is used more to refer to physical distances, while “further” is used more to refer to figurative and nonphysical distances. So while Paris is “farther” away than Madrid, a marketing team falls “further” away from its leads goal. (Note: The word “further” is preferred for all senses of the word in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Nations.)

The word “further” can also be used as an adjective or as an adverb to mean “additionally.” For example, “I have no further questions.”

28) En Dash vs. Em Dash

Both “–” and “—” are versions of the dash: “–” is the en dash, and “—” or “–” are both versions of the em dash. You can use either the en dash or the em dash to signify a break in a sentence or set off parenthetical statements.

The en dash can also be used to represent time spans or differentiation, such as, “That will take 5–10 minutes.”

The em dash, on the other hand, can be used to set off quotation sources, such as, “‘To be, or not to be, that is the question.’ —Shakespeare.”

29) Title Capitalization

This one is tough, since so many different outlets apply different rules to how titles are capitalized. Luckily, I have a secret weapon — TitleCap.

The site outlines capitalization rules as follows:

  1. Capitalize the first and the last word.
  2. Capitalize nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions.
  3. Lowercase articles (“a,” “an,” “the”), coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions.
  4. Lowercase the ‘to’ in an infinitive (“I want to play guitar”).

Let’s use the title of this post as an example: “Grammar Police: 30 of the Most Common Grammatical Errors We All Need to Stop Making.” If left to my own devices — and remember, I write for a living — I would have left “We” lowercase. I always have to double-check, which is why guides like this one are so valuable.

30) Between vs. Among

Let’s clear this one up: The word “between” is used to refer to two (or sometimes more) things that are clearly separated, and the word “among” is used to refer to things that aren’t clearly separated because they’re part of a group or mass of objects.

So you choose between a red shirt and a black shirt, but you choose among all your shirts. You walk between Centre Street and Broad Street, but you walk among your friends.

Watch Your Language

English, like many other languages, has its own set of tricky rules and intricacies. But with a little bit of practice and help from guides like this one, you can become a grammar master.

These are just a few grammar mistakes we’ve picked up on. Which ones do you frequently catch? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2015 and has been updated and for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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fix grammatical errors with the free writing style guide

Oct

24

2016

How to Defeat Your Most Dangerous Writing Habit: 7 Ways to Lift ‘The Curse of Knowledge’

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When I was eight, I became stuck on a particularly tough Where’s Waldo scene. It was so difficult that I became convinced that Waldo — the character I needed to find — wasn’t in it at all. I began thinking the whole thing was a joke, full of red herrings.

And then I found him. And after that, I could never un-see him. And, strangely, whenever I saw a classmate struggling with that same difficult scene, I’d become frustrated, even angry.

“I can’t believe you’re not finding him,” I’d say. “It’s so easy!”

Little did I know, my unreasonable behavior was the product of a dangerous cognitive bias, one we’re all susceptible to: The Curse of Knowledge.

The Curse afflicts kids and teachers, content marketers and salespeople, corporate executives, cab drivers, and presidents.

Here’s how it could be hurting you …

What is “The Curse of Knowledge?”

If you’re “Cursed,” then you are unable to imagine what it’s like not to know or understand something — a topic, discipline, craft, what have you — which, in turn, makes it hard to communicate that knowledge to less-informed people.

In their book, Made to Stick, the Heath Brothers provide a typical example:

Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.”

That said, let’s set the anecdotal evidence aside and focus on the science:

The Stanford Tapping Experiment

In 1990, Elizabeth Newton, a Stanford graduate student in psychology, demonstrated the Curse of Knowledge using an exercise that asked one group of students to tap the rhythm of a popular song (e.g., Happy Birthday) on a table to another group of students who were listening. The listeners were then asked to guess the song.

Over the course of the experiment, more than 100 songs were tapped out. When the “tappers” we’re asked to predict how many of their “listeners” would guess the song correctly, they landed on 50%. The actual percentage of listeners who could figure out which song the rhythm belonged to a mere 2.5%.

This huge discrepancy occurred because the tappers couldn’t un-hear (or un-know) the song’s actual melody, which played in their head as they tapped. This caused them to overestimate their ability. The listeners, of course, didn’t hear a melody but, rather, a dull, monotonous knocking. This caused them to almost always misidentify the song.

In this experiment, the tappers’ knowledge grossly distorted the reality of the situation and, in effect, created a communication breakdown as well as a major expectations mismatch.

Can your writing be cursed?

The Curse of Knowledge is a documented cognitive bias. It affects us all, especially when we write. It’s particularly dangerous on paper because, unlike being face-to-face, readers (i.e., listeners) can’t ask questions and writers (i.e., tappers) can’t gauge reactions.

The Curse can sneak its way into an email, a landing page, a web page, or a blog post, which is why anyone who writes should be perking up right now …

Here’s everything you need to know to protect yourself:

7 Ways to Lift the Curse of Knowledge

Ironically, the more you know about the Curse of Knowledge, the less likely you are to fall victim to it.

Moving forward, try these best practices whenever you sit down to explain something in writing.

1) Know your audience’s base subject knowledge.

How well your audience understands your subject should shape the way you approach it.

So, do your research. If their base subject knowledge is high, feel free to skip the fundamentals. If their base knowledge is low, or nonexistent, start from the beginning — start at thirty thousand feet and parachute down, slowly, gradually.

To figure out your audience’s base knowledge, try creating a detailed target persona. It’s not that hard and it’ll give you the background you need to write in a way people understand and appreciate.

2) Tone down your vocabulary.

Peppering your writing with idioms, jargon, and big, fancy words is like saying: If you don’t understand this, maybe you shouldn’t be reading it. Stop while you’re ahead. Thanks for playing.

That’s a nasty vibe, if you ask me. Plus, if people can’t understand you, they’ll inevitably tune out and turn off. And then what will you do? For example, this is:

  • Bad: “Let’s open the Kimono, take a peek at the email CTR, and break down scalable successes.”
  • Better: “Let’s look at the data, evaluate the email clickthrough rate, and capitalize on what’s working.”
  • Best: “Let’s see how many people opened our emails and do more of what works.”

3) Tell a story.

Before writing existed, people used stories to keep history. For thousands of years, stories helped us spread information. Today, stories remain just as psychologically impactful as they did back then. As Jonathan Gottschall explains in his book, The Storytelling Animal, human beings are natural storytellers. Stories are a fundamental piece of our genome.

We love stories because they help us see the world through different lenses. We love stories so much, in fact, that we naturally inject ourselves into their narratives, hijacking characters’ circumstances, emotions, and learnings.

Of course, stories also maintain an order. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end, which makes it hard for the Curse to sneak its way in, leaving people out of context and confused.

4) Ditch the abstractions.

Leaders often speak in abstractions because their experience helps them visualize broad concepts. For example, we can all imagine a Chief Customer Officer saying something like:

Our mission is to provide callers with the best customer service they’ve ever experienced.”

That’s great and all, but what does it mean? And how does a statement like that differentiate you from the competition? It doesn’t. These days, differentiating yourself in a crowded space means getting specific, like this:

Our mission is to answer every phone call to the customer service department within three rings and to resolve non-emergency calls within 6 minutes.”

Be concrete. It’s comforting to people.

5) Provide examples.

Unlike abstractions, examples put concepts into perspective.

An example could take the form of a metaphor or a simile. As long as it paints a picture, it’s doing its job. In any case, examples make sense of things, using information we already understand to forge connections.

For instance, when my grandma Sofia didn’t understand what a blog was, I explained it to her in terms I knew she’d be familiar with: “It’s like a journal or a magazine,” I said, “but you can only read the articles on the internet.”

6) Use visuals.

About 65% of people are visual learners, meaning they absorb information better and faster when images are used to explain it.

Hence: PowerPoint presentations, infographics, and those quirky, mesmerizing whiteboard videos you’ve seen. These are all examples of compelling visual content being used to engage and educate people from the boardroom to the web page. Incorporating these and other visual components into your messaging is a potent way to appeal to nearly two-thirds of your audience.

7) Get an outside point-of-view.

You write. You edit. You reread, rearrange, reformat. You repeat.

That’s writing — and it can be an intense process, which, sometimes, leaves your message over-processed. In other words, it’s possible to overthink something, twisting it up until you’re the only person who gets it.

A good editor will alert you to this issue. Don’t know any editors? That’s okay. Ask a friend to give your writing a once over. They may not be your target audience but they can still serve as a barometer for comprehension.

You could also try this old copywriting trick.

Final thought.

The Curse of Knowledge is rooted in the fact that you were once in your reader’s shoes, void of the vast knowledge you now possess.

My advice: When you write about your area of expertise, try to channel that less-informed version of yourself. It will make you sympathetic to the challenges your readers are facing because, once upon a time, you were there, too.

Ultimately, if you want to be understood and help people grow, don’t tap your song, sing it! Sing it loudly, so that everyone can hear the notes. The above techniques will help you do that.

What tips do you have for overcoming The Curse of Knowledge? Share them in the comments.

free guide to writing well

Oct

24

2016

A Simple Guide to Creating an Expert Roundup Post

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Want to drive traffic to your blog and boost your social activity? 

Well, I’ve got a simple solution to help you achieve just that: An expert roundup.

And the best part is, you only need to write 20% of the content — the other 80% is written by experts in your niche.

Sounds easy, right?

It is, well, as long as you have the right process. Luckily, I’ve successfully applied this approach multiple times — and I’ve learned a thing or two about how to drive the most traffic, shares, and engagement in the process. Download the step-by-step guide on how to build valuable relationships with  experts & influencers here.

Have I piqued your interest yet? Good. Let’s walk through how to apply this strategy below.

What Is an Expert Roundup?

An expert roundup is a collection of quotes or interviews by influential people in your niche. Each participant should be someone with some authority in your field and that has something to contribute to your readers.

The most effective roundups pose a very specific question that the experts can easily respond to. It should be a question that people care about the answer to.

Here are a few great example roundups:

As you can see, a roundup can really be about any topic.

This is an excellent strategy to quickly establish yourself or your company within the blogging community for your niche. And since you will be linking, sharing, and promoting the responses of these influential people, many of them will be willing to help you down the line.

Do Expert Roundups Actually Generate Results?

Before I get into the results, let me give you a little background.

I am the CTO and Founder of Proven.com. We provide a job distribution and hiring solution for small businesses. I love it, but it’s not always the sexiest topic to create content for. After all, it’s tough to convince people to share a blog post about how to hire more efficiently with the same vigor that they share cat videos.

As a result, many of our early blog posts were members of the “Triple Zero Club” — zero shares, zero comments, and zero new subscribers. But this all changed when I started experimenting with expert roundups.

Over the past seven months, I’ve conducted three different expert roundups for the Proven blog that have consistently delivered shares, comments, views, and subscribers. Let’s walk through them …

Roundup Attempt #1:

My first roundup was the least successful and I definitely made some mistakes, which I will explain later.

Despite the mistakes, I managed to get 16 experts in the HR space to respond to my outreach, and the article I created about the Best HR Software, generated 286 views in the first month, 71 social shares, and five backlinks.

Relative to other blog posts we were producing at that time, this was actually pretty good. Most importantly, it helped me establish early relationships with blogging influencers in the HR space. That led to more successful blog posts in the future and guest blogging gigs with some of the best HR blogs available.

Not to mention, Proven is now ranked #1 on Google for search terms like “hr blogs”, “best hr blogs”, etc.

Roundup Attempt #2:

In my second attempt, I got significantly more ambitious.

I surveyed the founders of hundreds of different technology startups and asked them, “If you could only ask a person one question during an interview, what question would that be?”

Over 150 different founders responded, which was actually quite overwhelming. That article, generated 1,747 views in the first month, 193 social shares, and 45 backlinks.

1_backlink_example.png

Roundup Attempt #3:

In my third roundup, I contacted companies that have remote work teams and asked them about how to make remote work actually work, as well as the type of characteristics they look for when hiring a remote employee.

The resulting blog post has been live for less than two months, but has already generated over a thousand views, 492 social shares, and seven backlinks.

It also helped me build important relationships with several companies that I have since posted guest articles to their blogs.

How to Create an Effective Expert Roundup

So, if you’re still with me, hopefully I’ve convinced you that this is a very effective strategy.

But how can you pull this off for your domain?

That’s what I am going to show you now, step by step.

Step #1: Find the right question.

The first thing you need to figure out is what topic and question to focus on for your roundup. Questions that focus on solutions to specific problems, software tools to solve a problem, or tips and tactics are great directions to go when creating a roundup.

If you have a general topic in mind but you are not sure what would make a great question, then you can use tools like ahrefs’ Content Explorer or BuzzSumo to get ideas.

For example, below is the result of searching “remote work” on ahrefs:

2_ahrefs_search_example.png

As highlighted in red, three of the top four articles have great potential for crafting a roundup question.

For example, first article is about productivity while working remote. This idea could be converted into a roundup by asking experts “What is your number #1 productivity tip when working remotely?”

Pro Tip: Whatever topic you choose, you want to make it as easy as possible for your experts to answer the question. Make your question specific and limit the scope so that busy experts can provide shorter answers.

Step #2: Find the right experts.

Your experts are likely going to be comprised of bloggers, marketers, or perhaps company executives. If you’ve been working in your particular niche for a while, you should have a reasonably good idea about who the experts are.

The bigger the names that you can attract, the more successful your roundup is likely to be. This is because their participation adds legitimacy to your article — and as you’ll see in step #5, we will leverage our expert’s social reach to help promote the article.

Step #3: Collect expert contact details.

Start by creating a spreadsheet to keep track of names, emails, Twitter handles, and company or blog URLs.

The example spreadsheet below is a snapshot of the expert contacts I used for my roundup about remote work.

3_example_spreadsheet.png

Note: You can tailor the details of your spreadsheet based on the type of information you feel is important to keep track of.

Step #4: Contact the experts.

I highly recommend reaching out to your list of experts at least twice. My general recipe is to first contact experts on Tuesday, and then send a follow up email on Thursday.

To help you get started, check out my email templates below. The email formula is always establish rapport, be clear about your ask, demonstrate what they will receive in return, and thank them for their time.

I received a 53.8% positive response rate using a version of these templates on my latest roundup. (Of course, you will need to adjust the copy a bit to align with your offer or ask.)

Email Roundup Invitation #1

Subject: Quick question about remote work

Hi [First Name],

My name is Sean Falconer and I am CTO and Founder of Proven.com.

We recently transitioned our entire company to working remote and as I understand it, [Company Name] is also remote.

I am working on a blog post about companies that work remotely and I was hoping to be connected with someone at [Company Name] that would like to contribute.

To participate, all you or someone at [Company Name] has to do is reply to this email with the answer to these questions:

  1. What is your number #1 tip for being successful as a remote employee?
  1. What is the number #1 characteristic of a remote worker that you look for when hiring?

We’ll feature your answer on our blog (http://blog.proven.com/) and link back to [Company URL].

A very brief response is more than enough! If you are not the right person for this, could you please forward this email to the appropriate person? If you have any questions about this, please do not hesitate to ask.

Cheers,

Sean Falconer

CTO & Founder | Proven

Email Roundup Invitation #2

Subject: RE: Quick question about remote work

Hi again,

I just wanted to follow-up on the email I sent a few days ago. Did you get a chance to take a look and consider contributing? If not, no problem.

A number of your peers include [Company 1] and [Company 2] have already contributed but it would be even better if you were involved too!

Here are the questions again:

  1. What is your number #1 tip for being successful as a remote employee?
  1. What is the number #1 characteristic of a remote worker that you look for when hiring?

Thanks in advance, and naturally, I’ll include a link back to you.

All the best,

Sean

In the second email, notice that I name drop a couple of peer companies — this strategy is very effective. People may ignore your first email, but if they see a competitor or known expert has contributed to your article, then they’ll often feel compelled to do so as well.

Pro Tip: If you can’t find a particular expert’s email address, you can try sending your question directly on Twitter. I did this successfully in my first roundup to collect answers from four people that I otherwise would not have been able to reach.

4_kirsti_grant_answer.png

Step #5: Putting it all together.

If you followed these steps up to here, at this point you should have a great collection of awesome responses. Now, you need to put it together. Follow the suggestions below to get started.

Design your title:

Your title needs three components: number of experts that participated, who the experts are and the topic the experts covered.

For example:

  • 150+ Startups Share their Most Important Interview Question
  • 35 Companies Share Their Secrets to Remote Work Success

Introduction:

In your introduction, you will want to present the problem, why it is important, and then how you solved it by reaching out to experts in the field.

It’s important to emphasize how many experts participated and how amazing their responses are. Remember: You want to make the experts look good — it will help with the next step.

I also like to add a summary of the main takeaways so someone doesn’t have to read through every response to get a sense of the expert’s consensus.

In my roundup about startup interview questions, I added the top five most asked questions to the introduction.

5_example_summary.png

Navigation:

After the introduction, you’ll want to add a navigation that makes it easy to jump through the expert responses.

If possible, put a face to the name by grabbing the expert’s image from Twitter or LinkedIn. You can ask for a headshot, but I always try to reduce the amount of work the expert needs to do in order to increase participation.

6_navigation_example.png

Main Body:

This is the easy part. Your main body is going to be comprised of the expert responses.

I like to include the expert’s image, Twitter link, link to their blog or company, a share link for that specific section, and their response.

7_main_body_example.png

Conclusion:

Keep this part short and simple: Summarize how awesome the content is and give a CTA to share or ask for people to submit a comment with their own answer to the question you posed.

Step #6: Let the experts know when the post is live.

In this final step, you will go back to the spreadsheet that you created earlier and reach out to all the experts that contributed to your article to let them know that it has gone live.

Example Outreach Email:

Hi [First Name],

I wanted to you let and the rest of the folks over at [Company] that the article is now live: [insert URL here]

There are a lot of great ideas and I think people will find a ton of value in the responses. I‘d greatly appreciate it if you could help me share it out. If you require any edits, please let me know.

Cheers,

Sean

Pro Tip: You should also contact all the experts that ignored your original outreach and let them know that the article has gone live and they can still get their answers in if they like. You will be surprised by how many people jump on this.

*Bonus Step*

One successful amplification technique I started experimenting with is creating periodic tweets with @ mentions of the experts that contributed to my article.

For example, although the “Top Interview Questions” roundup was published months ago, I recently created the tweet below and that gave some new life to the post on social media.

The mentioned experts will usually retweet allowing you to piggyback on their social media presence.

8_tweet_bonus_example.png

Ready to Get Started?

This approach serves as a fantastic way to build an extremely rich and engaging piece of content without a ton of research on your part. And the best part is, it works regardless of how boring your niche is.

Get the experts on board talking about a key issue and you’ll have engagement like you’ve never seen before.

Remember: Don’t settle for the “Triple Zero Club.”

What tips do you have for putting together an expert roundup? Share them in the comments.

free guide to influencer marketing

Oct

7

2016

How to Detect, Repair & Profit From Underperforming Content

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As a marketer, you’re used to leveraging a variety of channels to promote your business, up to and including content marketing.

According to HubSpot’s annual State of Inbound report, 60% of marketers reported “blog content creation” as one of their top priorities — with interactive content creation (41%), long-form content creation (33%), and visual content creation (33%) not far behind.

Unfortunately, not every piece of content you create is going to be a winner. There are millions of blog posts being published every day, and many of those posts will never see a lick of traffic. Learn how to get 100% more traffic and leads with historical blog  optimization. 

Sure, it’s discouraging to see content underperform, but the real issue arises when you leave that underperforming content on the table. To prevent that, I’m going to walk you through how to identify, reposition, and optimize that lackluster content to help your business start generating more views and leads.

Is the Content Really Failing?

Before we dive in, it’s important to first make the distinction between the content that is actually underperforming and the content that hasn’t ramped up or gained traction yet.

HubSpot’s Principal Marketing Manager of Optimization, Pamela Vaughan, did some extensive research into HubSpot’s seemingly-underperforming content, and what she found was really interesting. (Download this ebook for an in-depth explanation of Vaughan’s research.)

Vaughan’s analysis was intended to determine which of their posts were the most influential in generating leads, and which posts weren’t pulling their weight. In doing so, she discovered that 76% of HubSpot’s monthly blog views came from old posts (anything published prior to that month), and that 92% of their blog-generated leads came from old posts.

The most important point you should take from her study is that it can take time — sometimes several months — for content to gain traction. Before you flag content as underperforming, you need to set realistic time scales as part of your strategy, KPIs, and measurement methodology for success.

If you already have a fair amount of content, you can use metrics over the life of those content pieces to create performance benchmarks for other current pieces and any new additions.

How to Identify Underperforming Content

Before you can flag any performance issues, you need to understand the components of 10X content that contribute to better performance and higher engagement. This type of content is generally:

  • High quality
  • Entertaining
  • Solutions based
  • Fresh
  • Non-promotional
  • Educational
  • Thought leading/innovative
  • Highly relevant

It might seem easy to hit a lot of those points — and you may feel like your content includes all of these components — but it’s actually not as easy as it might appear.

Roughly 60% of marketers still struggle with creating engaging content, even when including many of the components above — and the problem goes well beyond just the traffic a piece of content is getting.

B2B_Content_Challenges.png

Source: CMI

So how do you identify underperforming content? Look for the following:

  • Loss of organic traffic. Sometimes, a post will gain traction — even a substantial amount — and then suddenly lose its traffic. This can happen in the wake of social promotion, a loss of referral links on high traffic sites, or a shift in organic search rank.
  • No direct engagement. Even a well-trafficked post could have poor direct engagement. This could point back to an issue with a call-to-action, or perhaps concerns that the content doesn’t match the user’s search intent.
  • No organic traffic. It’s frustrating to publish a post and hear crickets. Organic search can be one of your greatest traffic sources, but not if your content is poorly optimized.
  • Little to no social engagement. Limited shares on social media are a sign that there’s an issue with the content, especially if you’re getting steady traffic to your article or post.
  • Poor post metrics. Another indicator of underperforming content is a low on-page time/session duration per page, with a high-exit or drop-off rate.Ideally you want people to linger, showing that they’re reading a long-form post in full. You also want the reader to visit other pages, as opposed to using that same landing page as an exit page or bouncing from the site without taking other actions.
  • No follow through to content despite social promotion. If you’re seeing a fair number of shares, but you’re not seeing follow through from an extended audience, you may want to consider why the conversion on shares is so low.

The Solution? Historical Optimization.

Every piece of underperforming content can be made into a center-stage star with a few tweaks and adjustments. In the above mentioned study from Pamela Vaughan around HubSpot’s content, historical optimization of underperforming content helped to double the number of monthly leads generated by old posts. (Again, you can read more on that in this ebook.)

Historical_Optimization_Results.png

Once you’ve identified a piece of underperforming content, here are some things you can do to give it a boost:

1) Improve long-tail keyword use.

If organic visibility is an issue, or if you’re seeing poor post engagement as a result of traffic, try improving the optimization. Find long-tail keywords that better match user intent against the context of the article. (New to keyword research? Start with this beginner’s guide.)

2) Optimize headlines to boost CTR.

Google uses over 200 ranking factors to rank results based on search query and its perception of user intent. Despite that, clickthrough behavior carries a significant weight in how Google ranks content.

Improve your headlines to make them more compelling in order to garner more clickthroughs in organic search. This will contribute to a gradual increase in your position within the search results. (Download this ebook for data-driven tips on writing catchy headlines.)

Need a second opinion on a headline? Check out Title Tester. This testing tool makes it easy to create headline polls that’ll help you decide on the most clickable option.

3) Create compelling meta content.

The SEO value of meta content has greatly diminished in recent years, but there’s still value to be had. As in the case of the headline or title of your content, it can have a profound impact on user engagement and clickthrough rate. Write it like your sales copy to boost engagement. (Or, steal tips from this article.)

HubSpot_Meta_Description_SEO.png

4) Adjust content to match user intent.

You may have hit on a fantastic topic but perhaps the way you addressed it missed some key points, creating a mismatch in content vs. search intent.

See if there’s something else the audience is looking for regarding your topic and find ways to adjust your existing content to include new or better targeted information. For example, a reader might not be interested in how to write Instagram captions, but they could be interested in how to earn more followers on Instagram.

5) Add internal links and cross link content.

Sometimes, a piece of content doesn’t garner a lot of engagement because it’s all “me, me, me.”

Without external links or reliable sources your audience might just feel like it is merely opinion and conjecture. External links can add credibility and authority to your content. (Check out this list of 33 white hat ways to build backlinks to get started.)

6) Consolidate content.

If you have multiple pieces of content seeing little traffic, try combining them into a more comprehensive piece that packs greater value. Then, redirect links from the most underperforming pieces to the new consolidated piece.

7) Cluster content.

HubSpot’s Matt Barby talks about cluster content in a piece for Search Engine Journal that I highly recommend checking out. The idea is that a topic cluster is a collection of semantically relevant content pieces that individually cover smaller themes within an overarching topic.

“Any big piece of content that I’m targeting against hyper-competitive search terms will be marked as pillar content. Then a range of content will be created covering subtopics related to the main pillar that internally link to it,” according to Barby.

Topic_Cluster_Content.png

Source: Search Engine Journal

8) Add visual elements to content.

When dealing with low engagement, make sure you’re leveraging visual assets within your content. According to research from Xerox, visuals can increase people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80%.

Whether it’s images or video, use it in every post and use it often. According to Buzzsumo, articles with an image once every 100 words or so get double the number of social shares than articles with fewer images. (Download 195+ visual design templates to get you started here.)

Visual_Content_Within_Blog_Post.png

9) Include the almighty call-to-action.

If you’re suffering from low engagement, look to your call-to-action. Make sure you’re telling your audience exactly what you want them to do (share, comment, opt in, etc.) once they finish reading your post. (You can start improving your conversions with these 50 customizable call-to-action templates.)

Getting Started

Ultimately, one of the best ways to deal with underperforming content is to have a strategy that prevents it in the first place. Make sure your content includes all the most important components and create a plan for promotion as part of your strategy.

Remember to consider the time it takes for content to gain traction among your audience — it varies for everyone.

Use your past analytics as a model to monitor future content, and be proactive about historical optimization in the future to consistently keep up the engagement and performance of all of your content.

How do you correct underperforming content? Share your tips in the comments below.

free guide to historical blog optimization

Sep

28

2016

7 Amazing Tips to Help Boost A Blog Post’s Organic Ranking

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If you are currently running a content marketing campaign, I’m sure that you have written and published a good amount of blogs. But are they bringing in traffic? You can publish a great piece of content, but if no one ever reads it your time and energy will have been for nothing. So what can you do about it? Get that post to rank well organically!

Before I get ahead of myself, not every post will have the potential to rank well. That’s why the first step to boosting a blog to the top of page 1, is to decide which blogs have the chance to succeed.

So which blog should do you boost?

First things first, Google the target keyword in your blog post title and assess the competition around that keyword/ topic. What kind of sites are ranking first? If the top position holders are high authority sites such as New York Times, Forbes, INC.com, or (generally speaking) websites with .edu or .gov urls, chances are your blog is not going to out rank them. Brian Dean at Backlinko explains it best: “All things being equal, a page on an authoritative domain will rank higher than a page on a domain with less authority.”

With this in mind, try to choose a blog that has less competition around its target keyword. A great tip is to try ranking for a keyword that your competitor is already ranking for! Chances are, if they can rank for it so can you. For a more in depth look at how to choose keywords your competitor ranks for, check out this blog.

It’s also worth noting that you want to know where your blog is currently ranking. Bottom of page 1? Page 2? Page 3? You will want to focus on a blog that has already been indexed by Google in the first 2-3 pages. If a blog already ranks well, it’s easier to push it higher than pushing a blog that is not on Google’s radar.

How to boost a blog’s ranking

Now that you have chosen a blog that has the power to rank well, how do you boost your current ranking? To help supercharge your blog’s ranking, follow these 7 tips:

1) Increase blog ranking with optimization

As a good inbound (or otherwise) marketer, I know this is the most obvious tip when it comes to helping your blog rank organically. At the risk of sounding repetitive I will just list the basics:

  • Keyword optimization – Focus on long-tail keywords, and use your keyword along with synonyms naturally throughout the blog. Do not stuff your blog with keywords!
  • Title optimization – Include your keyword (as far left as possible) in the title, and keep it under 60 characters.
  • Meta description optimization – Include your keyword, keep it under 160 characters and write a clear, engaging description of what your blog is about.
  • URL optimization – Findings show shorter, keyword rich URLs rank higher.
  • Image optimization – Don’t forget your images! Include alt text that includes keywords/ synonyms.
  • Link optimization – Link internally when appropriate and use external links to back up research and help increase the authority of the article.

For more information and best practices on how to optimize a blog post click here.

2) Increase blog ranking with external links

External linking is something I touched on in Tip #1, but I would like to go into a little more depth. Although Google has somewhat denied that linking externally is a ranking signal, a study done by Reboot shows a correlation between a page’s external (outgoing) links and its search rankings. Since the study positively correlates high authority sites helping a page’s SEO, it’s important to include these links in the blog post you’re trying to boost rankings for.

3) Increase blog ranking with backlinks from authoritative sites

Keep in mind, backlinks that come from aged domains hold more power than those that come from new domains. For this reason, link outreach to authoritative sites is a great way to boost a blog post’s ranking. There are many ways in which you can get backlinks, but here are a few to keep in mind:

  • Email outreach – Start an email outreach program that targets websites that relate to your blog topic and asks for a backlink.
  • Social sharing outreach – Don’t have the contact information you need for an email? You can reach out to authoritative sites through social & blog commenting or messaging.
  • Guest posting on authoritative industry sites – This may take some email outreach to inquire about guest posting, but is a great way to get a backlink.

4) Increase blog ranking with semantic keywords

Semantics is the study of meaning, and is how someone interprets a word. In today’s semantic search you need to have a database of keywords full of meaning that deciphers different contexts. So semantic keywords (aka LSI keywords), are keywords that relate to your main keyword.

For example imagine someone searched using the word “crash”. Do they mean an accident, a stock market drop, attend an event without an invitation, or a way to describe a sound?

As a part of Google’s algorithm, semantic search is used to allow Google to understand how to interpret a search based on the searcher’s intent. By using semantic keywords in your blog, you can help Google recognize what your content is about and if it relates to a search. These keywords may not have the highest search volume, like the keyword you chose to optimize your blog for, but they will help increase relevancy.

Example semantic keyword phrases to the search “avoid a car crash”:

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5) Increase blog ranking with syndication

Content syndication is where a blog (or other piece of content) is featured on a popular website that relates to your industry. By syndicating your blog, you are able to get it out to a larger audience, one in which you may have never reached without syndication. There are many content syndication networks you can use, but it is up to you to find the best industry related websites in your field.

For example, I’m a contributor on the site business2community.com where my content reaches a greater audience than the subscribers on our agency blog. Remember, the blog you choose to syndicate should include a link that directs back to your website so not only will you get a backlink, but the traffic that goes along with it!

6) Increase blog ranking with social signals

As with most aspects of Google’s algorithm, the search giant has never come out and admitted that social signals are a ranking factor. So this one has always been debatable, however
case studies
have shown correlations with increased social signals and a jump in ranking. Not only did these case studies show higher ranking, but they also show an increase in traffic! That being said, promoting your blog on social media and getting likes, comments, retweets, plus 1’s etc. should be added to the to do list.

7) Increase blog ranking by Increasing Click Through Rate

Click through rate (CTR) is a user interaction signal that helps tell Google this blog is worth reading. So how do you help increase the organic CTR of your blog? One of the easiest changes you can make is to improve the blog title. After all, when it comes to the internet you can judge a book by it’s cover…or at least an article by it’s title. Update your title to something that will attract readers and make them want to click, while keeping it under 60 characters.

Did you notice my title “7 Amazing Tips to Help Boost a Blog’s Organic Ranking”? I’m sure some of you read it and thought “what makes these tips so amazing?” and clicked through to find out. This is the power of a great title!

Boost your blog today

There you have it, 7 amazing tips to boost your blog’s organic ranking. So what are you waiting for? Put those blog posts to use and generate more traffic today! For more SEO strategies that will help boost your inbound marketing results, download this FREE eBook “How to Use SEO to Boost Inbound Marketing Results”:

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Sep

13

2016

A Brief Timeline of the History of Blogging

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Greetings, readers. Welcome to the HubSpot Marketing Blog.

We’re very happy to have you here. You might not realize it, but getting here was no easy task. Today, in 2016, I blog for a living, which is pretty great. But were it not for the long, twisty journey that got blogging to its current state, I might not be here. You might not be reading this.

We’ve found that there’s quite a history behind blogs. According to the documentation we uncovered — and will share with you below — they’ve been around since 1994. They looked a lot different back then, and had many different names and meanings. Download HubSpot's new State of Inbound report here. 

Merriam Webster currently defines a blog as “a web site on which someone writes about personal opinions, activities, and experiences.” Remember that — it’s going to come in handy later. But first, let’s talk about how we got here.

The Blogging Vernacular

The early vocabulary and semantics around blogging are more than a little muddy. As the practice developed, some of the more popular monikers were “weblog,” “personal web page,” and “online diary.” We’ll dive into each of these a bit as we explore the more primitive days of blogging.

Now, we simply say “blog” — that’s a pretty popular term in our vocabulary. But what it means continues to change. Bloggers have dozens of platforms and formats available (fun fact: HubSpot has a blogging platform, too), and there’s no longer a standard for what a blog is supposed to look like.

And their former look and feel was dictated by the language people used to use to describe the act of blogging. As you’ll see below, the word is primarily rooted in the idea of a log on the web. At one time, in fact, blogging was somewhat restrictive and limited to web-only subject matter.

Luckily, we’ve evolved and expanded how and why we blog since then. One day, someone figured out that we don’t have to stick to strictly technical topics when we put things on the Internet. (And thank goodness — remember that thing I said about blogging for a living?)

So, let’s see if we can better understand how that all took place. Grab some popcorn — you’re in for a 22-year-long tale.

The History of Blogging

1994-1997: The early stages

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There’s a bit of debate around the first stages of blogging, much like the rest of its history — in the first half of the nineties, for example, there wasn’t a ton of online record-keeping, and most primitive blogs are either now archived or nowhere to be found.

Many of these original bloggers — despite not having yet earned that title — were the same people who first understood the value of the World Wide Web in the 1980s. One of them was then-Swarthmore-College undergrad, Justin Hall, who created a site called links.net in January 1994. It was essentially a review of HTML examples he came across from various online links, but it was enough for the New York Times Magazine to dub him the “founding father of personal bloggers”.

In that article, Hall brought up the semantics of blogging, and how he was assigned many titles during his primary days online (some of which are hilariously documented here).

“When I first started [blogging], they called it a personal home page,” he said, “then they said I’m one of the first Web diarists, and now I’m one of the first Web bloggers.”

That same year, Claudio Pinhanez (who today is a Social Data Analytics Senior Manager at IBM) began to log short entries into what he called an “Open Diary.”

But it wasn’t until December 1997 that the term “weblog” came to be. It was first used by Jorn Barger, creator of the website Robot Wisdom. He pioneered the term to describe a “log” of his internet activity, much like Hall did in 1994, which largely amounted to a list of the links he visited.

That may have set the tone for the new era of blogging that would follow less than a year later, when blogging-specific platforms began to debut.

1998-2001: More resources for bloggers

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The later part of the nineties saw an uprising in resources created just for bloggers. One of them, Open Diary, launched in October 1998 and became one of the most pivotal blogging platforms — its name, was a nod to its open, community approach to blogging, as Open Diary was the first of its kind to have a membership model that allowed members of the community to comment on the work of others.

Open Diary circa 1999

Open Diary, c. 1999. Source: Wayback Machine

In 1999 — though no one is quite sure exactly when — then-programmer Peter Merholz (who later went on to head up design at Groupon, OpenTable, and Jawbone, among others) shortened the term “weblog” to “blog.”

It was part of a period that displayed an influx of blogging opportunities, with each platform attempting to boast its own unique set of features for a particular audience. In 1999 alone, Blogger, (which would go on to be acquired by Google), LiveJournal, and Xanga all launched.

Blogger circa 1999Blogger, c. 1999. Source: Wayback Machine

LiveJournal circa 1999

LiveJournal, c. 1999. Source: Wayback Machine

Xanga circa 2000

Xanga, c. 2000. Source: Wayback Machine

Xanga (for whom Twitter co-founder Biz Stone once served as creative director) actually began as a social networking site — sometimes compared to MySpace — and didn’t add blogging features until 2000.

This period of time also saw some of the first rumored video blogs. In January 2000, a man named Adam Kontras accompanied a written blog post with a video that updated friends and family on what he was doing. That November, professor Adrian Miles posted what some speculate to be one of the first video blogs, as well, calling it a “vog.”

 

 

“NO PETS ALLOWED. We smuggled him in. It was awesome. Felt all undercover.” Source: Adam Kontras

As the sun set on the nineties, blogging began to have quite an impact on many lives. People were starting to figure out how to monetize their blogs — which we’ll get into in a bit — and the stage was set for businesses and individuals alike to take bloggers seriously.

2002: A big year for blogging

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The early 2000s saw a few significant events within the blogging realm. Technorati, one of the first blog search engines (but is today a company of “advertising technology specialists”), launched in February 2002.

That month, blogger Heather B. Armstrong was fired for writing about her colleagues on her personal blog, Dooce.com. While it’s not clear if she was the first blogger to be terminated because of her personal website’s content, it sparked a conversation about the privacy and freedom of expression for bloggers.

The subject arose again in 2004, when Congressional aide and controversial blogger Jessica Cutler would experience the same fate as Armstrong. Cutler, however, blogged anonymously until her identity was revealed by the website Wonkette.

The year 2002 also saw the dawn of “Mommy Bloggers,” which largely consisted of mothers blogging about parenting, aiming to create a sense of support and learning for their readers. Melinda Roberts founded TheMommyBlog.com — “one of the original mom blogs,” she writes — that April, creating a category that would continue to take storm for over a decade.

The following month, Newsweek predicted that blogs will replace traditional media and, rather in December of that year, it partially came to fruition, when Talking Points Memo broke the written transcript of Trent Lott’s infamous call into “Larry King Live” — when Lott illustriously sang the praises of Strom Thurmond. Blog entries like these would serve as a precursor to live blogging, which took shape the following year.

In August, Blog Ads was launched by Pressflex LLC. Less than a year later, Google would debut AdSense, which paired blogs with relevant advertisements (at the discretion of the blogger). Being able to advertise on blogs was a major milestone for bloggers, as it created the opportunity to monetize their work. It set the stage for blogs to be sponsored by major brands that fit their respective credos, or receive free products in exchange for endorsements or reviews. Blogging was turning into a business — and soon, a small population of bloggers would be using what used to be a hobby as their primary source of income.

The tumultuous Gawker — which New York Magazine cited as the initiation of gossip blogs — also launched in December 2002, only to cease operations in August 2016 after a high-profile legal battle.

2003: The momentum continues

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TypePad and WordPress launched in 2003, continuing the trend of providing platform options to a growing number of bloggers. That’s the same year that live blogging is estimated to have started — the Guardian was one of the first outlets on record to make use of live blogging during the 2003 prime minister’s question time. The BBC refers to this blogging activity as “live text,” and has frequently used it for sporting events.

WordPress circa 2005WordPress, c. 2005. Source: Wayback Machine

TypePad circa 2003

TypePad, c. 2003. Source: Wayback Machine

February 2003 also marked Google’s acquisition of Pyra Labs — the makers of Blogger. That was a sign of the growing business of blogging, particularly in the wake of the monetization programs that launched the previous year.

The early 2000s showed the first signs of a rise in political blogs. In 2003, for example, several traditional media outlets were encouraging staff writers and columnists to double as “cyberjournalists,” as Matt Welch called them in a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review. It reflected a growing number of political bloggers, with many seasoned reporters looking to blogging for opinion and beat outlets.

That climate primed the blogosphere for what would follow in the latter half of the decade, when the perspectives and analyses of political bloggers began to be preferred sources of information on current events. The line between traditional media and the blogosphere would start to bend, as bloggers were fated to become members of the press.

2004 – 2005: Video and the press

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Despite the earliest video blogs being recorded in 2000, it wasn’t until the middle part of the decade that visual content really had the opportunity to take root. In February 2004, videographer Steve Garfield — who went on to be one of the Web’s first video bloggers declared it to be the “year of the video blog.”

As fate would have it, YouTube launched only a year later in February 2005, shortly thereafter inviting the public to upload their own videos. But it wasn’t always what people associate it with now — it actually began as a short-lived dating site, where singles could use videos to introduce themselves and state their romantic criteria.

YouTube circa 2005YouTube, c. 2005. Source: Wayback Machine

But once YouTube turned its focus to general video uploads (which seemed to take effect by June 2005), it was part of a series of developments that showed the growing credibility of the online user. With ample resources already built for writers, developers were starting to address other content creators.

And it wasn’t just developers who were lending credibility these online users. In March 2005, blogger Garrett Graff was the first to be granted White House press credentials.

That might have been when the line between news reporting and blogging began to diminish, which some attribute to the launch of the Huffington Post that May. It began as what one case study a “political forum” — and the Washington Post called it a “group blog” in a 2007 profile — but is today one of the highest-profile content aggregators.

Huffington Post is largely a mix of syndicated material and original content from staffers, columnists, and unpaid bloggers. Visit the website, though, and you’ll land on a page of global headlines, lending the visual impression that it’s a news outlet.

It comes as no surprise that one of Huffington Post‘s co-founders, Jonah Peretti, went on to co-found BuzzFeed. Though BuzzFeed wouldn’t refer to itself as a content aggregator — it instead identifies as “a cross-platform, global network for news and entertainment” — it contains a similar vast range of content and, despite having an editorial staff, anyone can post to the site.

These newer platforms raised the question: “Is it a newspaper, or is it a blog?” And as the 21st century progressed, the answer to that question wouldn’t become any clearer.

2006-2007: The rise of microblogging and rules

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The start of life in 140 characters (or less) began in March 2006, when Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey sent out the world’s first tweet.

It was the introduction of microblogging — sharing stories, news, and other types of content in the smallest format possible. (And these 140 characters will soon look different — check out Twitter’s looming changes.)

Microblogging continued to gain momentum in February 2007 with the launch of Tumblr — yet another blogging platform that encouraged users to be brief. It was built, wrote former CNET reporter Josh Lowensohn, for those “who feel they may not have enough content or time to write a full blog, yet still want to write and share links and media.”

But with the introduction of short-form, real-time information sharing also came increasingly visceral communication. There would be countless mean tweets, as well as harmful comments left on blogs. It got to a point where, in March 2007, new media mogul Tim O’Reilly proposed a Blogger’s Code of Conduct in response to threatening comments that a friend had received on her blog. The rules were as follows:

  1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
  2. Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
  3. Consider eliminating anonymous comments.
  4. Ignore the trolls.
  5. Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.
  6. If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.
  7. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person.

It showed that the blogosphere had come a long way since the 1998 introduction of Open Diary. Being able to comment on blogs was becoming less of a novelty, and more a point of contention. Several years later — in 2013 — the Huffington Post finally took a cue from rule #3 on the code of conduct, banning anonymous comments on its content and requiring commenters to link their feedback to a Facebook profile.

2008-2011: Blogging Dark Ages

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During this period of four years, there weren’t many major events that propelled how or why people blogged.

There were a few developments of note, however. In January 2009, the White House blog debuted.

Later that year, the film Julie & Julia premiered, which followed the success of one food blogger whose online work eventually became a book. It was one of the first pop cultural references to the professional success of bloggers, and stood to inspire others — by 2010, 11% of bloggers reported earning their primary income from blogging.

Google also made some changes that would impact bloggers in 2011 with its rollout of the “Panda” algorithm change. Its purpose was to lower the rank of sites with what Moz called “thin content,” which hurt bloggers producing content that Google deemed to be of lower quality. A lot of that had to do with bloggers having a lack of inbound links — a link to your website that comes from another one. (My colleague, Lindsay Kolowich, wrote more about that here.) Without many sites linking to these blogs, Google’s algorithm would begin to interpret them as less relevant.

2012: Medium is founded

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In August 2012, a co-founder of Pyra Labs — the creators of Blogger — Evan Williams, created Medium: One of the newest blogging platforms.

Today, Medium is more than that. People can use it to write and publish original content, like most other blogging platforms. But Medium is continuing to blur the line between news reporting and blogging. In fact, on its website, the company describes itself as serving up “daily news reimagined, straight from the people who are making and living it.”

It was a notable introduction of decentralized content: A concept that allows users to share their work that has been published elsewhere on a content creation platform. That’s different than sharing links on social media, for example, where limited content is displayed. Instead, the full text and images of the work are shared, with the original author and source credited, on a site different from its origin.

It might sound kind of confusing and pointless. But my colleague, Sam Mallikarjunan, explains the benefits of doing something like that in his article, “Why Medium Works.” In sum: Medium has roughly three million viewers, all sharing and reading content. Does your blog have that kind of reach? If it doesn’t, you can reach Medium’s vast audience by syndicating your own content on their platform, drawing more attention to your work.

The same year that Medium launched, LinkedIn introduced its Influencers program, which recruited notable business figures to guest blog on LinkedIn’s publishing platform. Eventually, that platform became open to all LinkedIn members in 2014 — HubSpot’s Ginny Mineo discussed that development here, and how it fit into the “self-publishing pie.”

Though LinkedIn’s platform worked a bit differently than Medium’s — users can’t re-post full bodies of work in the same seamless way on the former — it does provide another outlet for people to share original content with an audience much larger than they may have received on their own domains. HubSpot’s VP of Marketing, Meghan Anderson, writes more about the positive outcomes of that kind of strategy here.

Last month saw the latest development of the blogging realm — the creators of WordPress announced they would be rolling out the .blog domain. Until November 9, users have to apply for one of the highly-coveted domains. I tried applying for one, and found out that it’ll cost me $250 for a combined application and renewal fee. If for some reason I don’t get it, I’m told I’ll get my money back, or if other people apply for it, we’ll all have to bid for it in an auction.

But here’s the cool thing about .blog — even though it was made by the creators of WordPress, you don’t have to use the WordPress platform in order to build a blog on that domain.

“The domain registrations are open to anyone,” wrote Adario Strange of Mashable, “regardless of publishing platform.”

We’ll be watching this domain unfolds, and are eager to see how it contributes to the evolution of content.

What’s Next?

I don’t know about you, but after diving into the history of blogging, I’m pretty excited to see what its future looks like.

Of course, it probably helps that blogging is my line of work. But I’m certainly not alone. Here at HubSpot, our content team has at least three full-time bloggers, and there are an increasing number of job titles that either indicate or include a blogging as a major function.

It makes sense, when you look at the state of blogging now. It’s an integral part of marketing and content strategy, and has even shown to increase lead flow up to 700% for some businesses.

How blogging continues to change will determine what our careers look like, and I encourage all marketers — corporate or otherwise — to blog on behalf of their respective brands. It might seem like a lot of work, but if the evolution of blogging has indicated nothing else, it’s that the sphere will only continue to expand.

And that’s something marketers should continue to pay attention to — not just the growth of blogging, but how many different interpretations of it exist. Just look at Facebook Live, Facebook Instant Articles, and Snapchat Stories against the context of the dictionary definition of a blog from above: “a web site on which someone writes about personal opinions, activities, and experiences.” Replace “writes about” with “shares,” and you could make the case that most of today’s content platforms — including social media networks — are their very own versions of blogs.

Want to learn more about the future of blogging and marketing as a whole? Check out the latest edition of our State of Inbound report here

(Image Credit: 1998-2001, 2002, 2003, 2004-2005, 2006-2007, 2008-2011, 2012.)

How do you envision the future of blogging? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.  

get the free 2016 state of inbound report

Sep

8

2016

8 Necessities of a High-Converting Blog Design You Should Be Looking For

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So, apparently, there’s a show on Disney Channel called Dog With a Blog

Yes, you read right.

When I discovered this, two thoughts quickly entered my mind — one, “what the heck ever happened to good old shows like The Mickey Mouse Club?,” and two, “literally everyone has a blog now, don’t they?”

With so many people (and apparently pets) blogging today, general consumers are far more familiar with most blog conversion practices and, unfortunately for marketers, how to avoid them.

Despite this newfound hurdle, there are still several simple, data-backed features and tactics to help you attract more leads with a high-converting blog design.

Think your blog is missing something? To paraphrase another Disney classic, just look for these blog necessities; these simple blog necessities.

1) A Dedicated Blog Subscription Page

This is an old “hack” that many brands seem to forget these days — having a landing page dedicated specifically to subscribing to your blog.

Part of the reason many subscriber lists don’t grow is because people don’t understand why they should be subscribed in the first place.

Why should they volunteer to hear from you? Why should they grant you access to their personal inbox? What value does your blog offer?

A dedicated blog subscription landing page allows you make your case in more detail than most pop-ups or sidebar forms allow.

On your dedicated landing page, you can incorporate social proof, share examples, and fully sell the value of your blog to your audience, in turn, making it more inclined to convert.

Doing this also creates a page that you can directly link to from your blog and one that can be optimized and indexed by search engines to get your brand found. After all, the more new people finding your blog, the more opportunities to gain new subscribers.

Below is a great example from Social Media Examiner. Notice how they incorporate a lead magnet; this is something we’ll talk about in #7. 

 2) Crisp, Beautiful Visuals

If the rise of photo filters has taught me anything as a marketer, it’s that we live in a superficial world.

It’s not enough to tell people what they need to know anymore, you need to show them — and the view better be good.  

Studies show that on average, the #1 search result on Google has 9 images and if those images are high-quality, they are likely to get 121% more shares. Knowing this, make an effort enhance your written content with relevant graphics, photos, or charts.

A high-converting blog design is fully-optimized to showcase high-quality images like these and offer the best viewing experience possible.

Contently has done a commendable job with this; making striking, colorful imagery the focal point of its article right-off-the-bat.

contently-high-converting-blog-design.png

3) A Fast Load Time

Now, where there are beautiful images, unfortunately, there are also often speed and loading issues.

According to a study by Akamai, about half of web users expect a site to load in two seconds or less. That means if your blog design is image-heavy or not optimized to handle high-resolution files, you may be losing a large number of potential leads while these visuals load.

To avoid this, compress image files and optimize your blog design to load quickly while you still have your audience’s attention.

Not sure how quick it needs to be? Use Google Analytics to find your average user’s on-screen time. If the time is low (and your bounce rate is high), you may be losing people to a slow site speed. Find your blog’s exact site speed here then talk to your developer about ways to improve this number if need be.

Even a few seconds too many could lead to an uptick in your bounce rate and a huge drop in your number of conversions.

4) Mobile Responsive Design

If your business is anything like ours, your blog is one of the most popular pages amongst mobile users. Make sure that its browsing and reading experiences are the best possible by optimizing the page through responsive design.

Responsive design is arguably the most efficient approach to mobile optimization, as it automatically adjusts fonts, images, and layouts to the specifications of the device at hand, without the need for a separate, dedicated design.  

Offering a positive, consistent user experience both on desktop and mobile, makes it easier for people to convert on your blog when and where the mood strikes them.

5) Cross-Browser Optimization

Similar to mobile optimization, you want to make sure that your blog design is uniform and beautiful across different web browsers.

Cross-browser testing and optimization help ensure a consistent, high-quality experience to all of your users. The last thing you want is to lose a loyal reader because they’ve switched to a Mac and your blog design was only optimized for Android.

6) Prominent Social Share Links

Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool and it’s only getting stronger with the aid of social media and inbound marketing. One of the easiest ways to harness it to increase your conversion rates is by including prominent share links in your blog design, like we do at IMPACT (both on the main page and within articles):

impact-high-converting-blog-design.png

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As sad as it may be, Upworthy found that readers who only consume about 25% of an article are, more likely to share than those who actually complete a piece, so use this to your advantage. Place easy-to-identify and click social share buttons on each of your articles and your blog homepage.

Making it as easy as possible for people to share your content with their audience makes it that much more likely they will do so; and again, the more new eyes on your blog, the more chances of gaining new leads.                                                           

7) A Subscription Lead Magnet

As great as your blog may be on its own, sometimes people need a little extra push to commit with an email subscription. That’s where your lead magnet comes into play.

A lead magnet is a premium offer of irresistible value. It’s a piece of content that visitors can’t help but want to exchange their email address for, and in this context, it is an incentive to subscribe to your blog.

impact-high-converting-blog-design3.png

Adding a high-quality piece of content that people can only get by subscribing (i.e. a video or guide like IMPACT does above) is like adding a free gift to an in-store purchase. It “sweetens the deal.” It delivers a more immediate value (instant gratification, if you will) to the act of subscribing and creates a sense of exclusivity.

Highlighting this added value in your blog design can help entice new subscribers and boost conversions.

8) An Exit-Intent Popup

For those of you not familiar with them, exit-intent popups are framed messages that only display when you’re about to close the window or attempt to navigate away from the site.

As consumers, we all hate them, but as marketers, frankly, they work.

WP Beginner, for example, increased its subscriber numbers by about 600% by implementing an exit-intent popup on its blog and results like that are quite common.

Though a bit in-your-face (even Google is cracking down on them on mobile), exit-intent popups give users one last chance to convert before leaving your site.

Instead of simply bouncing away, these additions give you an opportunity to make your final case and possibly win back a lead that was ready to give up on you. So, test it out!

Consider integrating an exit-intent popup into your blog design that highlights its value or even promotes your subscription lead magnet.

Neil Patel took a bold approach with his here:

neilpatel-high-converting-blog-design.png

So, How Does Your Blog Stack Up?

Download our full 10-point blog design optimization checklist here to see what else your blog may be missing.

If you’d like some help implementing or even fine-tuning one or more of these tactics, talk to IMPACT. Our all-new blog optimization services will help you incorporate the 8 necessities mentioned above and many more, to start generating more leads from your business blog!
blog-optimization-checklist

Aug

10

2016

5 Smart Reasons to Create Content Outside Your Niche

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Blogging can be a powerful way for you to build your personal brand and increase the visibility of your company within your industry. Ideally, both at the same time.

Your end goal, of course, is to become a top leading expert on the topics that matter to your niche. And when you’re first starting out, committing to a niche is important. You must own and dominate it.

Yet, a day will eventually come when you’ve exhausted your niche. You’ll realize that you have finally worked “until you no longer have to introduce yourself,” as the great anonymous once put it so eloquently.

What do you do then, when the “law of diminishing blogging returns” kicks in?

If you’ve reached this point, you may want to start exploring topics that are outside of your core niche. After all, writing off-topic posts can have many benefits. To help you better understand this strategy, let’s walk through some of the reasoning, as well as a few tips for getting started.

5 Smart Reasons to Create Content Outside Your Niche

1) You can reach much bigger audiences.

Once upon a time I was a nobody, writing for an internet marketing company nobody had ever heard of. A smart content promotion strategy changed all that.

Suddenly, I was no longer writing about marketing topics just on the WordStream blog. I was writing for major industry publications like Search Engine Land, Moz, Search Engine Watch, and Search Engine Journal about PPC, display advertising, social media marketing and advertising, and SEO.

At this point, I was thrilled when a blog post would become a “unicorn” — getting tens of thousands of views, and absolutely thrilled whenever one would get a couple hundred thousand views.

Unicorn_Greatness_Meme.png

This was a great achievement. But I soon realized I was hitting my own point of diminishing returns by writing about advertising and marketing. So I started going off-topic a couple of years ago. I started writing for Inc.com, mainly about startups and entrepreneurship — which I’m ridiculously passionate about.

Now, suddenly, the unicorns were even more sparkly and amazing. When I’d hit a home run with a blog post, it might get a million views. And if I hit a grand slam with a blog post, it might get more than 10 million views.

Unicorns_Meme.png

And they weren’t all about marketing; they spanned across topics like boosting your intelligence and making a first impression.

Bottom line: What you lose in topical relevancy you’ll make up for in volume.

2) You can start biasing future customers.

When you’re creating content, there are a couple of types of people you need to think about:

  • People who know they need the product/solution you sell.
  • People who don’t yet realize they need the product/solution you sell.

Writing about off-topics is a brilliant way to reach and start biasing that second group of people toward you and your brand. And that’s why I started writing about entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs probably aren’t actively looking for articles about AdWords, but small business owners are definitely interested in marketing topics.

Writing about off-topics allows you to connect with people before they even need the types of services your company provides. By establishing a relationship through a shared interest now, you can increase the odds that later on those same people will come to you first and become your customers when the need arises.

3) You can increase your social media engagement.

If you’re fortunate enough to write for a large publication such as Inc.com, which has millions of fans on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll see your follower counts soar. All you have to do is write about interesting topics.

Every time Inc.com shares my content organically, I pick up more followers: When I started writing for the publication couple of years ago, I had less than 100,000 Twitter followers. Now, I have more than 300,000 followers.

Medium is another great platform to pick up new readers with your off-topic posts. Plus, publishing on Medium might help you get noticed by a publication with a large readership.

Just as one example, I published a post on Medium about multitasking that generated almost half a million views.

Medium_Multitasking_Post_Results.png

It was so successful that it ended up being syndicated on a couple major publications, and it was tweeted by the Arianna Huffington. Amazing, right?

At the end of the day, having more followers gives you an even larger promotional vehicle for your on-topic content, so why not give it a try?

4) You can truly express yourself.

Going off-topic gives you the opportunity to share more about yourself.

Simply publishing generic posts doesn’t cut it anymore. There’s way too much competition. You need to think about the tone and style of your content.

In case you couldn’t tell, I really like unicorns and memes. It’s kind of what I’m known for.

I want my posts to be useful by including data and actionable tips. But it’s equally important for me to write memorable posts, which is why I try to add some humor and use lots of visuals.

Remember: A little personality goes a long way and will make you more interesting. 

5) You’ll keep your sanity.

Once you’ve been writing for a few years, you’ll find that it will become increasingly hard to come up with new and interesting things to say about the same topics.

Take me, for example. If I were just writing about nothing but AdWords features and tips for years, I’d go nuts.

Diversify! For the sake of your own sanity.

How To Get Started With Off-Topic Content 

Now that we’ve covered why you need to write about a wider variety of topics, how do you get started?

  • Do your research. Before you expand, think about how the off-topic posts you want to write will help advance your career. What audience could you reach and how could that help you?
  • Find a way to set yourself apart from established influencers in the same space. How are you going to be memorable? Make sure you know what you want to accomplish and have a strategy to achieve your goals.

Once you sort through the initial research and planning, you’ll need to nail down where you want to publish. To get started, do a search for popular sites that feature posts on the topics you want to write about. Read the sites and figure out their style and what types of article perform well.

To do this quickly and easily, you’ll want to lean on BuzzSumo. With BuzzSumo, you can look into the top performing posts for any domain to generate a better understanding of what works well.

blog.hubspot.com_buzzsumo.png

It’s also helpful to take a look at a publication’s guest blogging guidelines, as these typically offer insights around what type of content they are looking for. (Check out this post to learn more about the content submission process for 11 popular sites — from The New York Times to Business Insider.)

When you send your email, don’t just pitch one idea. Pitch a few original ideas with a unique angle to choose from. Or build off an existing article they’ve published:

I saw your great article on [topic] and wanted to see if you’d have interest in publishing an article about [topic] that I could write exclusively for you.

Look for content gaps and offer to fill those. Editors will be more receptive when you show that you’ve done your research. And if you’re having trouble coming up with unique, interesting ideas outside of your niche, turn to these tips:

  • Use Twitter to audition topics. If you want to know whether you should invest your time writing about a certain topic, tweet about it on Twitter. If your tweet generates lots of engagement, then you can be confident that there’s an audience interested in that topic. If your Twitter audition bombs, forget about that topic for now. You can always revisit it in the future.
  • Use BuzzSumo to discover topics. Again, BuzzSumo is a powerful tool that helps you discover which topics are super hot in any industry, and which posts are the most popular on individual websites. Yes, it’s paid, but I’d consider it one of the wisest investments if you’re serious about your content strategy.

Proceed With Caution

I can’t leave without issuing one warning about off-topic posts: Don’t overdo it.

The worst thing you can do is to lose focus. To prevent this, I’d suggest following the 80-20 rule, where 80% of the content you create covers your money “bread and butter” topics, and the remaining 20% of your efforts go toward off-topic content to establish yourself in a new niche.

Stay focused. And best of luck as you embark on your new journey and begin growing your influence in new areas.

Have you experimented with off-topic blog posts? Did you see positive results? Share your thoughts and experiences below.

free guide to writing well

Jul

27

2016

How to Become a More Productive Writer: 7 Helpful Tips

Writing_a_Book.jpg

The simple dream of most writers is being able to write more. And it’s not only writing more, it’s writing effortlessly.

But it’s not just authors or professional writers who dream of this. These days, a lot of marketing roles will require you to dust of your writing skills at one point or another. And there’s nothing worse than simply not being able to write — especially when the pressure of a deadline is looming over your head.

Yes, we’ve all been there.

That’s why this past January I decided that I was done with crawling over the finish line with my work in hand. I was done with the pressure. I knew there was a better way to write.

So I set out to find some answers. Here’s what I learned in the process …

How to Become a More Productive Writer: 7 Helpful Tips

1) Find the right tools.

My immediate goal was to help shape my productivity and measure my writing. To do so, I started to treat my computer like a toolbox. Every application that I called on had the ability to influence my performance — both for better and for worse.

To measure my productivity, I started using a time management tool called RescueTime.

I do all of my writing in Google Docs and RescueTime gives me a weekly report of the amount of hours I’ve spent using Google Docs. Simply put, the more time spent in Google Docs, the more words I am likely to write.

The tool also makes it easy to set goals, track your progress, and understand your productivity patterns — which proved helpful during this process.

RescueTime.pngSimilar to RescueTime, Grammarly— a writing-enhancement platform — will give you a report detailing the number of words you’ve written in a given week. For this reason, I started using the tool to measure my progress.

Here’s a sample of the data I collected on my journey to improve my writing:

Writing_Data.png

When I was feeling like I couldn’t write another word, I pulled up this data to remind myself of how far I’d come. I could write another word. In fact, I could probably write a couple thousand more words if I pushed myself.

2) Find your biological prime time.

Brainpicking’s “writer’s timetable” clearly illustrates the correlation between writers’ wake-up times and their level of productivity. After checking this out, I decided that I wanted to capture something similar: a set time of the day to focus on writing.

To do this, I knew that I needed to first figure out when my optimum output would be — in terms of both quality and quantity. For instance, it’s no good waking up early to write something if your best work comes out a night — or vice versa.

So how do you figure out where you stand? Quite simply, you just run some productivity tests on yourself. To do so, I picked up some tips from productivity expert Chris Bailey. In this blog post, Bailey outlines a process for finding your “biological prime time” — a term coined by Sam Carpenter in his book Work the System.

He explains how he kept track of his energy, focus, and motivation levels for 21 days straight. Here’s a look at what he saw:

Energy_Levels_Biological_Prime_Time.png

Image Credit: A Life of Productivity

After about a month of duplicating this type of testing on myself, I found that my productivity arch would run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and my best work would normally come out between 10:00 a.m. – 12:00. p.m.

Now that I had this information, I could use this daily window to focus on my writing when it mattered most. Additionally, knowing this helped me stop feeling so guilty when I found myself unable to produce anything meaningful after 3 p.m. because I knew it just wasn’t the right time for me to get work done.

3) Experiment with journaling.

Tim Ferriss has an insightful post on his morning journal that got me thinking. Almost every morning Ferriss sits down with a cup of tea and takes time to write in The Artist’s Way: Morning Pages Journal, a book by Julia Cameron. He uses this as a daily practice of production.

Here’s an excerpt from one of his entries:

Tim_Ferriss_Journal.jpg

Image Credit: Tim Ferriss

This was the exact remedy I was looking for. I realized that writing perfectly wasn’t the goal … it was to just get writing.

So I began my way to a better morning routine.

This was an easy prescription: I bought a cheap notebook and I kept it in my bag. I’d write in it every weekday while on the train heading into the office.

When I was writing, I’d focus on two areas:

  • What’s worrying me in my personal life.
  • What’s worrying me in my working life.

To round off the journaling and get myself in a positive frame of mind, I’d write three things that I was grateful for that day — a trick stolen from The Five-Minute Journal.

(Check out this post for more on the power of morning freewriting.)

4) Work offline to avoid problems.

We’re in a world dominated by notifications, and that little red dot can be seductive to us at our weakest moments.

Avoiding the temptation to browse around online — whether it’s Slack channels, social media sites, or your inbox — can be really tough. For me, it was especially hard to avoid Slack, as the company I work for, Kayako, is spread across the globe with remote workers and two main offices in England and India.

So while I had to use Slack for internal communication purposes, it was serving as a big distraction. With people pulling me in numerous directions all day long, there was a lot of task switching going on. And all that task switching has a dramatic impact on the quality and quantity of work you produce.

In fact, research shows that multitaskers:

  • Experience a 40% drop in productivity
  • Take 50% longer to accomplish a single task
  • Make up to 50% more errors

Not to mention, task switching reduces our chances of finding our flow. And as writers, finding your flow is necessary: Did you know it takes around 23 minutes to return to a task after you’re interrupted?

So while you don’t have to go as far as Samuel Huelick — who wrote this “break up letter” to Slack — clearly stating to your team you’re going offline for a couple of hours can help you regain control and focus. Give it a try.

5) Set deadlines.

Almost everyone procrastinates — especially when it comes to things that have no deadline. You know, things you’ve always wanted to do, but never had to do — like traveling, or starting a business, or getting in shape, or writing a book.

Don’t believe in the power of deadlines? I’d encourage you to allow Tim Urban’s comical (yet drilling) TED Talk about procrastination sink in before you make that call …

During my journey to become a better writer, the importance of deadlines became even clearer to me. And while there is research out there that suggests self-imposed deadlines don’t cut it, this practice has helped me push through work and hit goals time and time again. After all, Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion.”

I put my deadline rule to the rest when I found out my company was hiring a content marketing manager — a role I knew I was interested in. To declare my interest in the job, I set up a couple of meetings and worked directly with our director of marketing to come up with a goal-oriented checklist of things to achieve to secure the role.

One task on that list? Producing an ebook on customer service team hiring … which I gave myself one week to draft.

And guess what? I got it done.

Would I have been able to write the ebook if I hadn’t publicly held myself accountable? Probably not — in fact, it could have easily taken me a month.

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, explains that publicly committing to a time frame for completion can be an incredibly powerful motivator. When you tell others that you’re going to do X by Y time, your reputation is on the line.

“It’s a good way to keep score,” he told The New York Times.

6) Structure your work accordingly.

One habit I’ve managed to overcome when writing blog posts is omitting structure. Before I used to wait for inspiration to kick in on a subject and charge full speed ahead into my writing until I’d hit the inevitable roadblock and couldn’t write any more.

Now I commit to creating a blog post structure before I even write my first word. I designate 20-30 minutes to plan, and focus my structure on capturing three essential parts:

  • The audience and their view/perspective.
  • Best practices powered by research and supporting material.
  • The actionable takeaway.

Of course, there are different ways to approach this type of structural outline — for example, Copyblogger recommends the MAP technique or the S.P.E.E.D. approach — but I’ll leave that up to you. The important thing is that you’re putting a plan in place before you get started, as this extra step can do wonders for your productivity.

7) Get feedback throughout the process.

As a writer, having someone else look over your blog can be one of the most helpful things when you’re starting to feel stuck. A fresh set of eyes can help you identify gaps in your post that you’d likely overlook, and getting this type of feedback early on could mean the difference between putting out something impressive and having to trash your post entirely.

At Kayako, we use a three-step editing process that works particularly well for putting out high quality content:

  • First round of edits: Structural.
  • Second round of edits: Core content and insight.
  • Third round of edits: Spelling and grammar.

But before we dive into that process, we review articles as a team in a weekly editor’s meeting to screen for quality, identify opportunities for improvement, and so on.

If it sounds like a lot … that’s because it is. But it’s that level of detail that makes it easier for our writer’s to complete a piece that they’re proud of — without spending a lifetime on it.

Remember: It’s easy to get lost in a post that you’ve been working on for a while. Rather than wasting time trying to determine what’s missing on your own, ask for that feedback upfront. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Ready to Get More Writing Done?

Getting better at writing doesn’t have to happen right at once. I’ve been optimizing my writing by experimenting with an array of different techniques over the past six months — it’s only now that I feel like I am near my best.

You can start with any of these techniques listed above and incorporate them into your day to make you more efficient as a writer. There is no set methodology. Just try a few strategies out until you find what works best for you.

free productivity tips

Jul

27

2016

How to Become a More Productive Writer: 7 Helpful Tips

Writing_a_Book.jpg

The simple dream of most writers is being able to write more. And it’s not only writing more, it’s writing effortlessly.

But it’s not just authors or professional writers who dream of this. These days, a lot of marketing roles will require you to dust of your writing skills at one point or another. And there’s nothing worse than simply not being able to write — especially when the pressure of a deadline is looming over your head.

Yes, we’ve all been there.

That’s why this past January I decided that I was done with crawling over the finish line with my work in hand. I was done with the pressure. I knew there was a better way to write.

So I set out to find some answers. Here’s what I learned in the process …

How to Become a More Productive Writer: 7 Helpful Tips

1) Find the right tools.

My immediate goal was to help shape my productivity and measure my writing. To do so, I started to treat my computer like a toolbox. Every application that I called on had the ability to influence my performance — both for better and for worse.

To measure my productivity, I started using a time management tool called RescueTime.

I do all of my writing in Google Docs and RescueTime gives me a weekly report of the amount of hours I’ve spent using Google Docs. Simply put, the more time spent in Google Docs, the more words I am likely to write.

The tool also makes it easy to set goals, track your progress, and understand your productivity patterns — which proved helpful during this process.

RescueTime.pngSimilar to RescueTime, Grammarly— a writing-enhancement platform — will give you a report detailing the number of words you’ve written in a given week. For this reason, I started using the tool to measure my progress.

Here’s a sample of the data I collected on my journey to improve my writing:

Writing_Data.png

When I was feeling like I couldn’t write another word, I pulled up this data to remind myself of how far I’d come. I could write another word. In fact, I could probably write a couple thousand more words if I pushed myself.

2) Find your biological prime time.

Brainpicking’s “writer’s timetable” clearly illustrates the correlation between writers’ wake-up times and their level of productivity. After checking this out, I decided that I wanted to capture something similar: a set time of the day to focus on writing.

To do this, I knew that I needed to first figure out when my optimum output would be — in terms of both quality and quantity. For instance, it’s no good waking up early to write something if your best work comes out a night — or vice versa.

So how do you figure out where you stand? Quite simply, you just run some productivity tests on yourself. To do so, I picked up some tips from productivity expert Chris Bailey. In this blog post, Bailey outlines a process for finding your “biological prime time” — a term coined by Sam Carpenter in his book Work the System.

He explains how he kept track of his energy, focus, and motivation levels for 21 days straight. Here’s a look at what he saw:

Energy_Levels_Biological_Prime_Time.png

Image Credit: A Life of Productivity

After about a month of duplicating this type of testing on myself, I found that my productivity arch would run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and my best work would normally come out between 10:00 a.m. – 12:00. p.m.

Now that I had this information, I could use this daily window to focus on my writing when it mattered most. Additionally, knowing this helped me stop feeling so guilty when I found myself unable to produce anything meaningful after 3 p.m. because I knew it just wasn’t the right time for me to get work done.

3) Experiment with journaling.

Tim Ferriss has an insightful post on his morning journal that got me thinking. Almost every morning Ferriss sits down with a cup of tea and takes time to write in The Artist’s Way: Morning Pages Journal, a book by Julia Cameron. He uses this as a daily practice of production.

Here’s an excerpt from one of his entries:

Tim_Ferriss_Journal.jpg

Image Credit: Tim Ferriss

This was the exact remedy I was looking for. I realized that writing perfectly wasn’t the goal … it was to just get writing.

So I began my way to a better morning routine.

This was an easy prescription: I bought a cheap notebook and I kept it in my bag. I’d write in it every weekday while on the train heading into the office.

When I was writing, I’d focus on two areas:

  • What’s worrying me in my personal life.
  • What’s worrying me in my working life.

To round off the journaling and get myself in a positive frame of mind, I’d write three things that I was grateful for that day — a trick stolen from The Five-Minute Journal.

(Check out this post for more on the power of morning freewriting.)

4) Work offline to avoid problems.

We’re in a world dominated by notifications, and that little red dot can be seductive to us at our weakest moments.

Avoiding the temptation to browse around online — whether it’s Slack channels, social media sites, or your inbox — can be really tough. For me, it was especially hard to avoid Slack, as the company I work for, Kayako, is spread across the globe with remote workers and two main offices in England and India.

So while I had to use Slack for internal communication purposes, it was serving as a big distraction. With people pulling me in numerous directions all day long, there was a lot of task switching going on. And all that task switching has a dramatic impact on the quality and quantity of work you produce.

In fact, research shows that multitaskers:

  • Experience a 40% drop in productivity
  • Take 50% longer to accomplish a single task
  • Make up to 50% more errors

Not to mention, task switching reduces our chances of finding our flow. And as writers, finding your flow is necessary: Did you know it takes around 23 minutes to return to a task after you’re interrupted?

So while you don’t have to go as far as Samuel Huelick — who wrote this “break up letter” to Slack — clearly stating to your team you’re going offline for a couple of hours can help you regain control and focus. Give it a try.

5) Set deadlines.

Almost everyone procrastinates — especially when it comes to things that have no deadline. You know, things you’ve always wanted to do, but never had to do — like traveling, or starting a business, or getting in shape, or writing a book.

Don’t believe in the power of deadlines? I’d encourage you to allow Tim Urban’s comical (yet drilling) TED Talk about procrastination sink in before you make that call …

During my journey to become a better writer, the importance of deadlines became even clearer to me. And while there is research out there that suggests self-imposed deadlines don’t cut it, this practice has helped me push through work and hit goals time and time again. After all, Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion.”

I put my deadline rule to the rest when I found out my company was hiring a content marketing manager — a role I knew I was interested in. To declare my interest in the job, I set up a couple of meetings and worked directly with our director of marketing to come up with a goal-oriented checklist of things to achieve to secure the role.

One task on that list? Producing an ebook on customer service team hiring … which I gave myself one week to draft.

And guess what? I got it done.

Would I have been able to write the ebook if I hadn’t publicly held myself accountable? Probably not — in fact, it could have easily taken me a month.

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, explains that publicly committing to a time frame for completion can be an incredibly powerful motivator. When you tell others that you’re going to do X by Y time, your reputation is on the line.

“It’s a good way to keep score,” he told The New York Times.

6) Structure your work accordingly.

One habit I’ve managed to overcome when writing blog posts is omitting structure. Before I used to wait for inspiration to kick in on a subject and charge full speed ahead into my writing until I’d hit the inevitable roadblock and couldn’t write any more.

Now I commit to creating a blog post structure before I even write my first word. I designate 20-30 minutes to plan, and focus my structure on capturing three essential parts:

  • The audience and their view/perspective.
  • Best practices powered by research and supporting material.
  • The actionable takeaway.

Of course, there are different ways to approach this type of structural outline — for example, Copyblogger recommends the MAP technique or the S.P.E.E.D. approach — but I’ll leave that up to you. The important thing is that you’re putting a plan in place before you get started, as this extra step can do wonders for your productivity.

7) Get feedback throughout the process.

As a writer, having someone else look over your blog can be one of the most helpful things when you’re starting to feel stuck. A fresh set of eyes can help you identify gaps in your post that you’d likely overlook, and getting this type of feedback early on could mean the difference between putting out something impressive and having to trash your post entirely.

At Kayako, we use a three-step editing process that works particularly well for putting out high quality content:

  • First round of edits: Structural.
  • Second round of edits: Core content and insight.
  • Third round of edits: Spelling and grammar.

But before we dive into that process, we review articles as a team in a weekly editor’s meeting to screen for quality, identify opportunities for improvement, and so on.

If it sounds like a lot … that’s because it is. But it’s that level of detail that makes it easier for our writer’s to complete a piece that they’re proud of — without spending a lifetime on it.

Remember: It’s easy to get lost in a post that you’ve been working on for a while. Rather than wasting time trying to determine what’s missing on your own, ask for that feedback upfront. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Ready to Get More Writing Done?

Getting better at writing doesn’t have to happen right at once. I’ve been optimizing my writing by experimenting with an array of different techniques over the past six months — it’s only now that I feel like I am near my best.

You can start with any of these techniques listed above and incorporate them into your day to make you more efficient as a writer. There is no set methodology. Just try a few strategies out until you find what works best for you.

free productivity tips


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