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103 Ways to Create Sharp Blog Content

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At only 29 pages, this quick read will be a reliable blogging resource for years to come. You’ll get 103 bite-size tips from author Sara Lancaster and the 17 professional bloggers who shared their ...

At only 29 pages, this quick read will be a reliable blogging resource for years to come. You’ll get 103 bite-size tips from author Sara Lancaster and the 17 professional bloggers who shared their secrets for writing sharp blog content. Each tip is simple, yet packs a powerful punch.

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    103 Ways to Create Sharp Blog Content 103 Ways to Create Sharp Blog Content Presentation Transcript

    • 103 WAYS TO CREATESHARPBLOG CONTENT 17 pros tell businesses how to stand out on the web by Sara Lancaster, No. 2 Pen
    • Six common blog post formats that work. . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Table of Contents What’s happening in your business world . and in the world at large? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Read as if you’ve never read before. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Turn on the TV and consider it research. . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Hello. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Ask for ideas online. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Listen to the people around you. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Drink with a friend. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Who are your readers? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Try group brainstorming. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Profile your work and your clients. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Participate in blogging events. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 They like you. They really like you. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Blog for a cause. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Blog post ideas for the taking. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Contribute a guest blog post. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 End-of-year and beginning-of-year blog post glory. . . . . . . 8 Browse images. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Give your readers a gift . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Create a visual blog. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Perform a competitive analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Keep a swipe file. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Be a leader in your niche. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Browse websites by category at random. . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Say something—anything—shocking. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Keyword tools! Keyword tools! Keyword tools! . . . . . . . . 24 Listen to your brain; you’re wicked smart. . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Learn to write the best headline ever. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Figure out what you don’t know. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 BONUS: 17 1/2 ways to promote your blog . . . . . . . . . . 26 Think like a writer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 About Sara Lancaster and No. 2 Pen. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 Try a change of scenery. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Special thanks to ... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 Take time away and do an “S” activity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Books and websites mentioned. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 Make something unrelated relate. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 2
    • Hello Thank you for downloading 103 Ways to Create SHARP Blog Content from No. 2 Pen, a web marketing agency that specializes in writing sharp online content for businesses. Please share this free download with your colleagues and friends by printing it, e-mailing it, Tweeting it, posting it to your blog, or distributing it in whatever way you choose. But before you do that, let’s get three things straight: Don’t steal None of the ideas presented in these pages are meant to encourage you to copy someone else’s ideas or recreate the same old content over and over again. Use the tips as idea starters. If you find a piece of content that inspires a blog post, give credit where credit is due (and attribute with a link if possible). Invest If you only take one thing away from 103 Ways to Create SHARP Blog Content, let it be that investing in blog content will reap ben- efits. If you don’t have the time, ability, or patience to blog on your own, hire someone. It would be wonderful if you considered No. 2 Pen, but you have options, including a few of the folks listed on page 28. Oh, and don’t miss the bonus section on page 26 that gives you seventeen-and-a-half ways to promote your blog. Save it This handy booklet is filled with bite-size tips you can put into action quick. It is not a resource you’ll need to study to benefit from. Simply save this doc to your blogging files and access it the next time you get stuck trying to come up with blog post ideas. With that said, you’ve been warned to be a good blog citizen, and you’re relieved of spending hours and hours reading about how to blog. So, let’s get started with those blog post-idea generation tips. 103 Ways to Create SHARP Blog Content by Sara Lancaster of No. 2 Pen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Book design by Anna Schmöhe of Studio Schmo. Editing by Leigh Gannan.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 3
    • Listen to the people around you. Mirna Bard , a social media consultant, author, and speaker, says it best: “My blog readers and clients inspire my blog ideas. Many times I receive questions on my blog or from clients that I think would help many other people who may have the same question.” The feedback you get from your community (not only readers and customers, but also employees, competitors, networking contacts, etc.) is low-hanging fruit, and it’s a tasty place to pick blog post ideas. •  When you respond to blog comments ask yourself, “Would this make a good post?” •  Address common objections you face during the sales process. •  Create a list of frequently asked questions and expand on each FAQ in a blog post or blog post series. •  Write about the problems you solve for customers. Who are your readers? Tip 5 How do you know what to say to your readers if you don’t know who they are and what makes them tick? Writer and editor B.J. Smith takes this seriously in all of his blogging and freelance writing work. Smith offers the following advice:“ There are many more topics to write about if you recognize that your customers are more than consumers of your own prod- uct or service. They might buy dog food from your pet store, for example, or camping gear from your website, but they prob- ably don’t want to read many blog posts about your products. Consider what your customers’ or prospects’ decisions say about them and their lives on a broader scale; develop some ex- pertise in the issues that are important to them; and share useful or entertaining information. Look at life from your customer’s perspective—be involved in some of the same activities—and the ideas will come.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 4
    • Profile your work and your clients. Talk about your work. Of course you want to get the go-ahead from the client first, and you’d never want to reveal too much information, but talking about best business practices and revealing success stories makes for good reading. •  Talk about a special project you are currently working on. •  Announce a new partnership. •  Profile a client with an unusual or interesting business. •  Write a case study. They like you. They really like you. There should be a limit to the amount of Many of your blog readers come to you because they like you. Maybe you’re a funny person. Maybe your business provides a service your reader couldn’t live without. Whatever the reason, they like you, and personal information and that’s permission to share personal information about yourself and promotional information about your promotional information business. you share on your blog. A good rule to follow in It’s your blog. Toot your horn already. blogging (and all of social •  Add a periodic post about what’s happening in your personal life. marketing) is the three- •  Announce awards, media mentions, new hires, new products and services, upcoming events, etc. to-one rule. Every •  Discuss lessons learned from a mistake you made. time you pat yourself on •  Recap conferences, networking events, panel discussions, educational seminars, etc. that you the back make a point to have attended. publish three pieces of information that benefit Recapping an event is a must-do on your blog. In addition to summaries of what you learned or experi- enced, you could also publish photos from the event (photos are the hallmark of some successful blogs), your reader, not you. you could quote others who spoke at the event (talk about easy content), and you could link to the web- sites of people you met (who doesn’t love a link?).103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 5
    • Two more ways to make your content personal: highlight your interests and share emotional insights about business. Dan Blank , a consultant who helps writers and publishers grow their online communities, goes out of his way to be personal in his blog and other writing. His weekly newsletter even comes stocked with photos of his adorable two-year-old son, Owen! The personal approach works for Dan, and there’s no reason it can’t work for you. Take a few minutes and read this September 2011 blog post from Dan’s site, We Grow Media. His use of images and personal story ties together perfectly. Dan had this to say about the post:“ This blog post came out of my own obsession with family history and mapping. Somewhere in the process I realized that if I was so obsessed about this, I should find a way to share it, to pull lessons for others. So I did. SEO copywriter and head gal at Success Works, Heather Lloyd-Martin , also goes out of her way to write blog posts that her readers appreciate from an emotional perspective, including this post about surviving in business during dark times.“ Quite a few people e-mailed me privately and thanked me for writing the post. I don’t know how many times I read, “I thought I was the only one feeling that way.” Did the post help make me money? Doubt it. Did it help me get Google rankings for a main key phrase? No. But I know that it helped people and gave them a little bit of comfort during a scary time—and that made it all worthwhile.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 6
    • Blog post ideas for the taking. Many of the tips shared in 103 Ways to Create SHARP Blog Content will involve time and research on your part. But not these tips: “The first rule of any •  Repurpose newsletter articles, press releases, e-books, white papers, etc. that you’ve al- ready written. technology used in a business is that automation •  Recap a Twitter conversation. (Try QuoteURL.com.) applied to an efficient •  Browse PRWeb.com, MarketWire.com, PRNewswire.com, and other press release sites for announcements relevant to your niche. You’re free to use press release copy verbatim or operation will magnify the modify it (with facts still in place). efficiency. The second is •  Flip through quotation books. I often reference The Harper Book of Quotations, but there that automation applied to are thousands of books out there. People consume poetry and sound bites. Look at the an inefficient operation will Twitter feed @GreatestQuotes, which has more than 900,000 followers, to see what I mean. magnify the inefficiency.” •  Post a riddle one day and the answer the next day. •  Look at your calendar. Holidays, change of season, important deadlines (tax day, end-of- —Bill Gates quarter, etc.), moon phase, and other events are all timely topics to comment on. •  Scout the web for unique holidays. There’s a day, week, or month for everything. Did you know February is National Grapefruit Month?103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 7
    • End-of-year and beginning-of-year blog post glory. December and January are the perfect time for the following blog post ideas: •  List your most popular blog posts of the year (more about roundups later). •  Note gift ideas for the holidays. •  Post an online holiday card or holiday greetings. •  Craft predictions for the year to come. •  Comment on predictions you made last year. Give your readers a gift. Tip 28 Think about what your readers and clients want. Is that something you can give them through your blog? A graphic designer could post free images for downloading. A car dealership could post a coupon for a discounted oil change. A consultant could offer 20 minutes of free consulting to a random blog post commenter. Don’t give away the farm. Too much “free” cheapens your brand. However, you can show gratitude to your readers with an occa- sional gift.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 8
    • Perform a competitive analysis. Tip 29 Look at blogs in your industry to see what other businesses do well and what they could improve on. Many businesses mimic the competition thinking, “Hey, if it works for them, then it will work for us.” And maybe it will, but where’s the fun in that? Choose to blog differently than your competition. Stand out in style. Other tips for a successful business blog: •  Post regularly. •  Avoid cheesy stock photos. •  Don’t use Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, or another free blog platform. Instead, invest in a professionally designed, self- hosted blog. •  Get rid of the industry jargon. Seriously, delete it. Be a leader in your niche. Benjamin Hunting , a writer-for-hire who specializes in business, automotive, and music writing, recommends businesses stop blogging reactively and start blogging proactively. Find the news and trends yourself. He says:“ Understanding current trends and projecting where those trends will lead can go a long way. This strategy will help you de- velop a reputation as an expert or thought-leader, which will give posts more weight and help to draw attention and links. Moving away from reporting on a niche and instead working toward leading the development of that niche puts you ahead of the game. Benjamin did just this through his own blog. Check out “Five Thoughts About the Auto Industry for March 28, 2011” to see how he speaks with authority on a topic in his niche.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 9
    • Say somethinganythingshocking. Writing about a controversial topic not only gives you a chance to vent, but it also lets you ruffle your readers’ feathers, which means more links, more comments, and more buzz. A controversial blog post can be spotted by the bold language and the shocking claim. Call it high-quality link bait. You’ll receive both praise and criticism for getting real. The risk is that you might lose readers, but remember that you might gain like-minded readers as well. •  Talk about another blogger’s popular post and add your commentary. •  Demystify beliefs and opinions you think are incorrect. •  Rant. See something in the news that really pissed you off? Have an experience with a vendor that changed your mind about their services? Speak your mind, but don’t be libelous. •  Be optimistic when no one else sees the silver lining. Take horrible news and look at the bright side. •  Tell a secret or reveal a personality flaw. Blogger, career counselor, and Brazen Careerist co-founder Penelope Trunk is, in fact, very brazen. She gets dozens (sometimes hun- dreds) of comments on single blog posts and has 127,000 Twitter followers—Penelope is a successful blogger by any measure. Yet she also has critics. All of this can be credited to her controversial slant. On the Penelope Trunk Blog you’ll get sound career advice one day and a detailed account of an argument the next day. And yet other days you’ll get a combination of both. Read “How to Stave off Loneliness” to see what I mean. “Watch a news show you hate. When you are filled with indignant rage, the creative dam will break.” —Matt Meadow, Internet marketer103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 10
    • Listen to your brain; you’re wicked smart. Tip 36 Your brain is a source of great inspiration. The trick is to note your brilliant ideas so you don’t forget them later when it’s time to write. Anytime an idea strikes, write it down in a notebook, e-mail yourself, or use a web-based tool or app such as Evernote to record your thoughts. Figure out what you don’t know. Use your blog as an excuse to research and discover new aspects of business and of life in general. Want to read every Steinbeck novel in the next 12 months? Write about it. Want to become a better public speaker? Practice it, and blog about it. Want to know more about the history of computers? Research like you are back in college. Professional blogger Penelope Trunk (who you met on page 10) uses her blog to not only inspire job seekers but also as a way for her to write about what she is learning at the time. She says:“ If you write about what you’re learning, then people will learn right along- side you, and they’ll enjoy it. If you write what you already know, you’ll be preachy, and you will bore people. The bonus to writing as you learn is that there’s no way to avoid writing about yourself, in a personal way, when what you’re learning is the topic of your post.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 11
    • Think like a writer. If you blog, you’re a writer. Start thinking like one. What would a novelist do? Spend hours writing creatively without interruption or editing. Use writing prompts and free writing to jot down every thought that passes through your mind within a given period of time—it’s similar to journaling, but at a faster pace. What would a comedian do? Get a laugh! Write about a funny coincidence or mishap. Avoid insults, sarcasm, or abrupt humor. Only the most talented comics can make it work. What would a poet or creative writer do? Write a haiku or poem or short story or song lyrics or… whatever you want. What would a journalist do? Uncover something jaw-dropping. Write a series of blog posts about a topic that few people know about. Another option: Write about meaty topics that your readers may be familiar with but don’t have a thorough understanding of. Educate your readers by giv- ing an old topic an in-depth and up-to-date spin.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 12
    • Try a change of scenery. Tip 42 Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to unblock your writing ideas. Step away from your desk and write in a different part of your office or home. Consider going out in public and writing there. It works for novelist Chuck Palahniuk, the man behind Fight Club. According to an interview with Palahniuk published on WritersDigest.com, he often writes in public. He said:“ Typically, by the time I’m sitting down to write a story draft, I have an idea of the dynamics I’m holding in my head, and I’ll know the purpose of the scene. For instance, I often need physical gesture to balance dialogue. If I write in public, every time I need to know what a character is doing with his hand or foot, I can look up and study people and find compelling gestures that I can harvest. Writing in public gives you that access to a junkyard of details all around you.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 13
    • Take time away and do an “S” activity. In the book The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron tells us that certain activities are “artist-brain activities.” Repetitive and routine activities trigger images and ideas that we as artists (yes, as a blogger you can consider yourself an artist) can put to good use in our work. Coincidentally, many artist-brain activities start with the letter “S.” •  Steer (drive) •  Shower •  Shave •  Scrub •  Swim Next time you’re stuck, take a break and do S-work, which brings me to the next tip… sleep! Keep a journal close to your bedside. When you first awaken and are in that sleepy haze, ideas and images creep into your mind without any effort. Don’t let those ideas escape; write them down before you get out of bed. And while you’re at it, write down your dreams. The crazier the dreams the better. You never know when a humorous or bizarre dream could play into your writing. Drew McLellan , CEO and “Top Dog” of McLellan Marketing Group, makes it his business to generate sharp blog post ideas for his business blog and for his clients’ blogs. He turns to sleep when all else fails.“ I think the best way to get unstuck is to avoid being stuck in the first place. I do several things to try to avoid [a dry spell] at all costs, [but] … if none of those help dislodge me from my writer’s block—I go to bed. Literally. If I’m that stuck, I’m either exhausted or so distracted that no matter what I do, I’m not going to write something of value. Stretching out on my bed with a good book and then getting some extra sleep is the best cure. Tip 48103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 14
    • Make something unrelated relate. Tip 49 Find an unrelated object, concept, or person and compare it to an aspect of business; e.g., a rap song, political event, book character, dead artist, trendy clothing, cupcake, etc. It could be anything. Drew McLellan uses this strategy. He says, “We use a lot of analogies and stories to educate clients—they are always blog gold.” Check out the blog post “What Josh Groban can teach us about marketing” on Drew’s blog, “Drew’s Marketing Minute,” and see how it’s done.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 15
    • Six common blog post formats that work. If you plan to blog often, experiment with some tried-and-true blog post formats: 1. Interviews 2. How-tos 3. Reviews (product review, service review, etc.) 4. Commentary on relevant news 5. Roundups 6. Lists A note on roundups: Roundups summarize information from different websites. Of course, you could create a roundup post that summarizes and links to posts on your own blog, too. Some call roundups “content curation” or “aggregation.” Whatever you call it, the format works. “Interview other business owners and share the wealth of their Heather Lloyd-Martin , who you met on page six, publishes a SEO and content marketing roundup wisdom with your readers.” every Friday. Those she mentions appreciate the link, and her readers appreciate the roundup because they have one place to go for relevant SEO and content-writing news. —Lynn Baldwin-Rhoades, A note on lists: A list with a headline that includes a number (check out the title of this section Power Chicks International and this book) makes for popular blog fodder. According to Ann Smarty of SEO Smarty fame, she continues to find success with the list format. She goes as far to say this in one of her recent blog posts:“ One of those tactics that keep working for me is creating viral pieces (like long lists full of cool images) that attract thousands of visitors and dozens of links. People seem to never grow tired of “20+ Weird Something” (I myself am guilty of regularly sharing these types of content with friends via IM and social media). So why not try them if they work and entertain people (looks like a win-win to me)?103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 16
    • What’s happening in your business world and in the world at large? Industry, local, national, and global news matters to your readers. Find blog post ideas in every type of news source. •  Scan the headlines of mainstream newspapers, magazines, and news websites. •  Browse your Twitter stream (or other social media stream) for news that catches your eye. •  Look at trending topics on Twitter (Trendistic and TweetMeme will help). •  Visit Reddit.com and Digg.com and study the most popular stories. •  Set up a Google Alerts account to be notified any time particular industry terms are men- tioned in the news or in the blogosphere. “Some of my best blog •  Use RSS feeds to collect online information effortlessly. ideas come from reading the 29 Stories, a content strategy and content (inbound) marketing company, relies on RSS feeds to stay print version of The Wall Street on top of content ideas. Journal and extrapolating“ trends from their articles.” We develop large-scale content strategies for our clients, which means we need to bring a large number of blog post, web page, and article ideas to our clients on a regular basis. In —Scott De Baets, many cases, a regularly monitored RSS helps do the trick.   business consultant and —Damie Berkey , 29 Stories’ e-Publishing Manager   blogger at Debatable Opinions Damie goes on to say that by tracking particular keywords they’re able to identify industry news and trends worth noting right away: “Like with so many types of publishing, it’s all about timeliness.”103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 17
    • Read as if you’ve never read before. Start consuming content. The news is a remarkable place to start, but don’t stop there. •  Read blogs of all niches. •  Read books from all genres. •  Read trade magazines from other industries. •  Read poetry and other creative writing you don’t read often. •  Subscribe to newsletters of all varieties.“ I am a voracious reader and many of my posts are sparked by inspirations from my reading material. I find that reading as wide a variety of books, sites, magazines, and newspapers as possible is most helpful to me. I read everything from books on biomimicry to the Access Hollywood website. —Christa Avampato , writer, yogini, consultant, and blogger at Christa in New York Turn on the TV and consider it research. Tip 67 Blog post ideas can be found everywhere in the media, even on the boob tube.“ One of the most successful blog posts I wrote last year was inspired by a quick interview with Rebecca Black that I saw on Good Morning America while eating my oatmeal. I had no idea who she was, but I saw the resilience in how she was handling Internet comments and thought that would resonate with my readers who were struggling with courage. —Tracy Brisson , founder and CEO of The Opportunities Project, a company dedicated to career coaching and consulting for young adults103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 18
    • Ask for ideas online. The quotes you saw from Matt Meadow and Scott De Baets a couple of sections back are both results of a question I posted on Face- book and Twitter about this topic: “How do you come up with creative blog post ideas?” The responses are proof that posing a question to social media followers can be helpful in coming up with content. Don’t limit yourself to Twitter and Facebook; LinkedIn Answers, Quora, and other question sites are excellent tools for crowd sourcing. Drink with a friend. Tip 69 Join an accountability group, hire a mentor, or enlist a friend to help you brainstorm. Invite someone out for a drink and ask what they’d like to know about you and your business. Try Group brainstorming. In most cases writing by committee is difficult. Too many cooks in kitchen the old saying goes. However, when it comes to brainstorm- ing blog post ideas it can be beneficial to brainstorm as part of a group. Try these strategies: •  Mind mapping exercises (look at MindMeister.com). •  Mad Libs and other word games. •  Cube it. A cube has six sides and so does your brainstorming discussion (1. describe, 2. compare, 3. associate, 4. analyze, 5. apply, 6. argue for and against it).103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 19
    • Participate in blogging events. According to Technorati, there were 1,286,233 blogs on the web as of November 2011. A blogger does not blog alone. Take advan- tage of blogging events that will tie you into the giant blogging community: •  Contests – Host your own blog contest or participate in a contest hosted by another blogger. A Google search will turn up endless tips and resources for blog contests, which usually require you to write about a specific topic and link to a specific site. •  Carnivals – One topic, lots of bloggers. The idea here is for one host blog to link out to all the participating blogs. BlogAc- tionDay.org is a carnival growing at incredible speed, but you can find smaller events on BlogCarnival.com. •  Marathons – November is BlogHer’s National Blog Posting Month, and May is Michelle Rafter’s WordCount Blogathon. Blog marathons require you to blog every day for one month (maybe more or maybe less) alongside other participating bloggers. A blog marathon is work, but the content you produce and the links generated from the event will benefit you from an SEO perspective, and the new contacts will benefit you from a networking and branding perspective. Blog for a cause. Tip 76 What really gets your goat? World hunger? Illiteracy? Motorcycle helmet laws? Don’t sit and steam. Use your blog to bring awareness to a cause you care about. It’s good marketing sense to align your business with a charity anyway. Once you’ve decided on the cause, plan to blog about the topic periodically. Consider fundraising for the cause through your blog. FirstGiving.com is a fantastic online fundraising tool.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 20
    • Contribute a guest blog post. Tip 77 When you write for someone else’s blog you have a chance to look at your area of expertise through a different lens. How does your business translate in different verticals? How guest blog posting helps your blog: •  Guest blog posting generates links back to your website, and that’s great for SEO. (Always agree before writing the post that you’ll get at least one link back to your site.) •  Guest blog posts expose you and your business to a new audience. •  Write a summary of your guest post and publish it on your own blog for fresh content. You can (and should) accept guest posts for your own blog. Create an account with MyBlogGuest.com for a guest blog posting dat- ing site of sorts, and you should add a page to your blog explaining your willingness to accept guest posts. Browse images. Scanning news headlines sparks an idea or two, but scanning images can be equally as effective. Try it here: •  Google and Bing image searches •  Pinterest •  vi.sualize.us •  Feedwatching •  Creative Commons images on Flickr103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 21
    • Create a visual blog. Content doesn’t have to be in the form of words. Images and videos can also serve as a quality blog post topic. How one graphic designer finds •  Publish your own photo with a caption. inspiration. •  Take a visual tour of your office, factory, or anyplace specific to your business. Kregg Kish, president of Front Porch Solutions, •  Ask your readers to answer a poll or take a survey. a design and web development company, shared •  What’s popular (and relevant) on YouTube and Vimeo? Embed a video his strategy for coming up with graphic content for and share your thoughts. his clients. For him, it’s a process. •  Make your own video. (Flip Cams cost $150 or less and open-source video editing software is free.) Step 1. Look through sites like cssremix.com and •  Post an infographic. awwwards.com to find creative trends and ideas. An infographic is a visual way to explain data. Many times a business or website owner will create an infographic as a way to generate links to their site. Rely on Step 2. Step away from digital and print media Visual.ly and other infographic libraries to find relevant infographics for your and think alone while looking at an outside blog. If you find one you want to use, give proper credit and add your own intro landscape.   paragraph or summary of the data. You need unique content in every blog post; search engines look for that. Step 3. Get together as a team and work through initial sketches.   “I have found that when the initial process starts in a team setting it often does not bring the best results or ideas. People are often set to find ideas ‘outside the box,’ while sometimes lots of good ideas are left inside the box.”103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 22
    • Keep a swipe file. Tip 89 A swipe file is a collection of materials that you like enough to keep and use to inspire you later. Your swipe file could be a manila folder full of brochures and direct-mail pieces. It could be an Excel spreadsheet or Word document filled with links to websites and blog posts you enjoy. Your swipe file could also be a social bookmarking account (e.g., Delicious.com). Whatever shape your swipe file takes, browsing through your favorites when you’re stuck will get you going.“ When my brain turns to mush, I can dive into my samples to get a mental jolt. I look at how others have injected energy into their copy. I pay attention to the directness of the language and how the copy begins and ends. I note techniques, tone, and copy flow. I may find an example that I can adapt to my project, but even if I don’t, the process wakes up my brain and often sparks ideas. The creative brain thrives on energy and movement. When it gets stuck, sometimes all it takes is a push to get it going again.  –Dean Rieck , direct-response copywriter at Direct Creative and blogger at Pro Copy Tips Browse websites by category at random. These websites will bring you to web content you’ve probably not seen before, and they will bring you there without much effort. Simply create an account, designate the categories of content you have an interest in, and browse at random. •  StumbleUpon •  Tumblr If you’d rather not set up an account, try: •  Wikipedia (random article link) •  Squidoo (explore topics)103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 23
    • Keyword tools! Keyword tools! Keyword tools! Use keyword tools to find blog post ideas. It bears repeating: use keyword tools to find blog post ideas! Not only is this blog post idea gold, these tools will help bring more website traffic to your blog. •  Google Analytics – Adding Google Analytics code to your blog is a must do. For starters, Jason Lancaster of see what posts bring you the most traffic and write more on that topic. Next, pay attention Spork Marketing, a Denver to the posts your visitors spend the most time on. Those are topics you should expand on Internet marketing agency, goes as well. beyond Google keyword tools •  Google AdWords Keyword Tool – An incredible opportunity to discover what people search and relies on Soovle.com and for on the web. Enter terms specific to your business and see what interesting long-tail Übersuggest.org, which is called terms pop up. Use those long-tail keyword phrases in your blog headlines. “suggest on steroids.” •  Google Trends – See when users search for particular terms and time your blog posts accordingly. “These sites are fantastic because they auto- In addition to these tools, don’t forget to think simple and search. populate popular search phrases “Searching has been the most efficient way for me to come up with ideas,” says Ann Smarty , SEO from various search engines. consultant and professional blogger (see page 16 for more from Ann). This is the way to generate interesting (and search-engine Ann has written extensively about how to find ideas and research posts using Google search. She says you should simply start typing into the Google search bar to see what Google generates. You friendly) blog post ideas.” can also try including an asterisk anywhere in a search phrase for a “wildcard” search. Read this post and this post to learn more about searching for ideas from Ann.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 24
    • Learn to write the best headline ever. Headline writing is one of the most important aspects of a successful blog post, and the hardest. Next time you’re stuck, start with the headline. Study commonly followed headline formulas, including these referenced on Copyblogger and these from Chris Garrett. And for when you’re really stuck, an automated slogan generator will unblock the brain. But be warned, the slogans/headlines gener- ated can be hokey. Don’t take them word for word. Add your own spin. •  Linkbait Generator •  Slogan 4 U •  The Advertising Slogan Generator The End. Kind of . . .103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 25
    • Bonus 17 1/2 ways to promote your blog 1. Post regularly and frequently. 11. Hold a blog contest. 2. Write quality posts your visitors will want to read 12. Get the hang of social bookmarking (e.g., Stum- and share with their friends. bling, Digging, etc.). 3. Make it easy for readers to share your content with 13. Do keyword research and incorporate terms you social share buttons. know people search for into your blog posts. 4. Be active on social media. 14. Encourage blog visitors to subscribe by e-mail or RSS. 5. Participate in forums. 15. Create a newsletter to complement your blog. A 6. Write an occasional press release, article, or guest blog post. list of e-mail addresses from people who like your work can help with future blog promotion efforts. 7. Leave comments on other blogs. 16. Submit your blog to blog directories. 8. Respond to those who comment on your blog. 17. Attend conferences and events where you will meet other bloggers. Face-to-face networking still 9. Interviews and links scratch other website owners’ does the job... and it gets you off the computer for backs, so to speak. The more scratching you do, awhile. the more scratching you’ll get back. 1/2. Add your blog URL to your business cards. 10. Create an infographic, a YouTube video, a presen- tation for Slideshare, or another piece of offsite media that links back to your blog.103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 26
    • About Sara Lancaster and No. 2 Pen Sara Lancaster is the founder and chief communicator for No. 2 Pen, a Denver- based web marketing agency. No. 2 Pen writes sharp web content and memo- rable blog posts for businesses. As part of No. 2 Pen’s online marketing services, Sara also helps businesses create a defined online marketing strategy. With a degree in journalism from the University of Colorado in Boulder, Sara’s career has included work as an online marketing consultant, copywriter, market- ing manager, book marketer, paralegal, and journalist. Her diverse background means she brings a unique set of communication skills to each No. 2 Pen writing project. When Sara is not writing for clients, she is busy blogging for one of her own blogs. And when her fingertips are sore from all that typing, she enjoys walking her beagle, Moe; traveling with her husband, Jason; and swinging in a hammock with a new book. Follow Sara on Twitter Join No. 2 Pen on Facebook Circle up on Google+ Connect on LinkedIn Read the No. 2 Pen Blog Subscribe to the No. 2 Pen Quarterly Photo by Kern Photography103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 27
    • For more from these blogging experts, follow the Twitter list: Special thanks to… @SaraLancaster/sharp-bloggers …everyone who took the time to share a tip for 103 Ways to Create SHARP Blog Content. Mirna Bard Ann Smarty Social media consultant, SEO Smarty and author, and speaker My Blog Guest B.J. Smith Damie Berkey Smith Words 29 Stories Dan Blank Scott De Baets We Grow Media Debatable Opinions Heather Lloyd-Martin Christa Avampato Success Works Christa in New York Benjamin Hunting Tracy Brisson Freelance writer The Opportunities Project Penelope Trunk Kregg Kish Blogger, career counselor, and Front Porch Solutions Brazen Careerist co-founder Dean Rieck Matt Meadow Pro Copy Tips and Internet marketer Direct Creative Drew McLellan Jason Lancaster McLellan Marketing Group Spork Marketing Lynn Baldwin-Rhoades Power Chicks International103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 28
    • Books and websites mentioned @GreatestQuotes Evernote Michelle Rafter’s WordCount Tumblr Blogathon Awwwards Feedwatching TweetMeme MindMeister Bing image search First Giving Übersuggest My Blog Guest Blog Action Day Fitzhenry, Robert I. The Harper vi.sualize.us Book of Quotations, 3rd ed. New Pinterest Blog Carnival Vimeo York: HarperCollinsPublisher, PR Newswire Inc., 1993. BlogHer.com’s National Blog Visual.ly Posting Month PR Web Google AdWords Keyword Tool Wikipedia (random article link) Cameron, Julia. The Artist’s Way. Quora Google Alerts Writer’s Digest – The WD Inter- New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/ Quote URL view: Chuck Palahniuk: Shock Putnam, 2002. Google Analytics and Awe Reddit Chris Garret - 102 Proven Social Google image search YouTube Media Headline Formulas Slogan 4 U Google Reader Copyblogger - 10 Sure-Fire Soovle Google search Headline Formulas That Work Squidoo (explore topics) Google Trends Creative Commons Images on Flickr StumbleUpon Linkbait Generator CSS Remix Technorati LinkedIn Answers Delicious The Advertising Slog Generator Market Wire Digg Trendistic103 WAYS TO CREATE SHARP BLOG CONTENT ©2012 Sara Lancaster | www.no2pen.com | 720.280.2670 29