Setting Your Blog on Fire

The dream of every blogger is to watch their blog catch viral fire.

I have enjoyed a week of the dream. Watching the hits climb was great fun.

I would love to say that the blog’s success was due to my brilliant writing. But I am no fool. The blog’s success was more due to the fact that the topic was interesting to those active in social media.

Great blogs cover topics that meet the needs of the reader, such as how to do something better or hot news. This blog’s purpose was to introduce readers to a technology article I had just published. The article is about F# a programming language that could benefit insurers in the United States as it has in Europe. (To see it, please click here.)

Sure, I promoted the blog to appropriate LinkedIn groups and periodically re-tweeted the blog post. But it was not until a handful of influential tweeters shared my tweet that the blog started catching fire. As they began to retweet, do did I, periodically, to keep the fire going. Since people are bombarded with constant tweets, you have to post periodically and hope someone will pick it up.

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The blog’s success was more due to the fact
that the topic was interesting to those active in social media.

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It’s been a great week! The post is by far the most popular one I have ever posted. The hits continue as others from all over the world continue to share my blog.

But I am a realist. It will be difficult to achieve these results regularly. My typical audience is made up of those in the insurance industry. This is an industry not exactly known for being technological progressive. Demographically, many of its decision makers are of an older generation that had not wholly adopted social media.

This of course will change as the older generation retires, so in the meantime I continue to build a strong base of followers. B2B blogging is an investment that some feel do not get strong enough returns to justify the effort. Of course I disagree because my blog has brought me customers. There are many more benefits to blogging, but that is the topic of another blog!

So I need to give due credit. I thank everyone who shared my blog with others but there are two people I want to thank in particular. Vijesh Shah got the tweeter ball rolling on my blog. He is from London and leads a modeling systems team in the pension, life insurance and the banking industry. You can follow him at https://twitter.com/vijesh.

Sergey Tihon is a software developer who has participated in international programming competitions. His blog, www.sergeytihon.wordpress.com, is responsible for more than 70 hits to my blog.

Like what you see? Then follow me!

The Latest Trends in B2B Content

More evidence that providing quality content is the name of the social media marketing game.

This is a great infographic available on a Hubspot blog, How Does Your Company Stack Up? The Latest Trends in B2B Content. To check it out, click here.

Here’s the beginning of the blog:

One of my favorite things in grade school was that whole “gold star” system. Remember it? You do something well in the classroom and you get a shiny gold star next to your name on a chart of your whole classmates. So, at any given time, you can look around and see how you’re stacking up against the rest of the class.

But once you get out of that grade-school classroom, the gold-star system often goes away. You can’t see how you stack up against your competitors and peers because you don’t have access to their data.

That’s why benchmark studies, like one recently released by Content Marketing Institute, Marketing Profs, and Brightcove about the current state of content marketing, are just so darn awesome.

Take a look at the latest trends to find out if your company deserves a gold star or not. Trust me — it’ll be just as exciting as the time you got a gold star in the fourth grade.

Blogging Quality Content: Do You Have What It Takes?

Blogs are an essential marketing tool, but simply having one on your company’s website is not enough.

To draw readers and build brand credibility, you need to consistently publish quality content that drives readers to come back for more.

After spending the past couple years blogging, along with 25 years of publishing experience, I can tell you that blogging content worth reading is a steady commitment of time and energy. It’s also not easy.

So before publishing a single online keystroke, ask yourself: Do you have what it takes to blog quality content?

Here is my list of the characteristics of effective bloggers. Effective bloggers are:

  • writers who enjoy writing and can express themselves clearly. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? If you don’t like to write, your product will show it. Therefore, for the sake of your sanity, do not blog.
  • experts. Any idiot can cut and paste material from other blogs and re-package it into blogs. You, however, confidently know your stuff and can offer original content. You are also an expert at knowing your audience (click here) and understanding their needs (click here).
  • critical and creative thinkers. Effective bloggers are constantly thinking. You think while sleeping in an unending quest for better solutions and approaches and/or understanding and perspective.
  • curious. You watch TV with you tablet to learn more about actors, plots and topics.
  • readers. And I don’t just mean Internet surfing. You read books about topics that have nothing to do with work because you want to learn.
  • ideas people. When you attend events, you unwittingly go from small talk to substantive issues within a two-sentence conversation. You thrive on applying concepts from other disciplines to introduce innovative solutions to another.
  • disciplined. Earning online traction requires consistently producing new content at least once a week.
  • thick skinned. You can handle constructive disagreement online for the world to see.
  • givers. You do not mind contributing useful information to help others and understand that sharing really means caring about your audience.
  • personalities. There’s no boresville because you take chances and engage in an interesting manner.

Of course, great bloggers have other characteristics as well. What characteristics would you add?

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Brainstorming Ideas for Blogs, Articles and Other Written Materials

With so many opportunities to showcase expertise online, sooner or later, you will probably need to write something. It could be a blog, a newsletter article or a thought piece. Perhaps the marketing department approaches you  for content or you want to build your reputation through Internet or print publishing.

Whatever the case, you need ideas but do not know where to find them. You’ve tried freethinking — the exercise of writing whatever comes to mind on screen or paper — but it goes nowhere. Your brainstorm becomes a drizzle.

It might surprise you to learn have more ideas than you realize. You just need to train yourself to see them.  You can become so good at it that you have my dilemma of more ideas than time!

From whence will inspiration come?

1)   Conversations. Many of my blog and article ideas come from conversations with colleagues or customers. It can be an unrelated remark, a question or a story.

2)   Reading. News, blogs, social media discussion groups and other sources mention issues that you can give more attention. Take time to discover your unique approach to it.

  • Did someone miss an important aspect of a problem or story?
  • Do you have a totally different perspective?
  • Is there another angle to cover?
  • Is there a different way to approach the subject?
  • Did you reach different conclusions?
  • Is there any new research or conditions that will affect your clients?
  • What questions are left unanswered?

3)   Just doing your job. So many potential topics arise when you are just doing your day-to-day job.

  • Did you find a creative way to solve a problem?
  • Did you hear about a new issue that calls for further exploration?
  • Can you address a customer pain point in a new way?
  • How did a new law, regulation or process change create new opportunities or headaches?

Generating ideas boil down to being curious. Think critically about everything you see and hear.

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Generating ideas boil down to being curious.
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Consider information as reporters do. Ask yourself if the information matters and if so, to whom? Consider its impact, usefulness and limitations. Practice these suggestions and the ideas will start flowing.

Make sure you do not forget all these great ideas. Keep a file, perhaps in your smart phone memo, to jot ideas down as you go.

As the ideas lead to others, develop a file and keep them. You will be surprised how quickly it will fit up. Categorize them by topic and you might just develop the key points of your written piece. You might even realize a new product or service for your company to boost its uniqueness in the marketplace.

This should get you started. If you have other great brainstorming ideas, please share below.

Ten Attributes of Quality Content

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 1.00.32 PMDo you find that too many bloggers publish more for their own edification than yours?

How about blogs and web content that are just trying to sell you something?

Readers like me are demanding better content — and rightly so. You are busy and do not want to waste precious time reading lousy blogs. If someone is reading your blog, you should feel honored.

If you want to build credibility for your business, everything published should be top quality. Put it another way, it should pass the news editor’s smell test. Editors have to be very picky about what they publish. Editors know publishing garbage is bad for business. This is applies to any organization.

I was also thinking about quality content when I recently worked tirelessly on a magazine feature article. I am paid by the article so I could have made more money by not putting in so many hours. However, I need to be proud of it, so I dig deeper to give my readers the value-added. My byline is my brand, so publishing good stuff is important for my professional reputation. (If you want to see some of my magazine articles, please visit the “Work Samples” page.)

Given this, my simple rule for quality content is: Don’t write anything you would not want to read.

Here are, in my opinion, the attributes of quality content:

1)     Value. If you cannot answer the reader’s “what is in it for me?” question, stop writing until you can.

2)     Uniqueness. I wrote a blog on tweeting quality content for live events because other blogs focused more on the technical aspects of tweeting than on the content. What good are technical skills with lousy content?

3)     Newness. Provide new information or offer a new perspective.

4)     Show, don’t just tell. Give readers a picture of what you are communicating. Explain how a concept or product works. Give examples.

5)     Cleanliness. Meaningful content obeys the rules of grammar. It is not wordy or redundant. Use a fog index to find sentences that are too long.

6)     Easy-to-understand. The old journalism rule of writing on an 8th grade level is still a good one. Microsoft Word offers a readability index. Use it.

7)     Use graphics to reinforce your point.

8)     Accuracy. Your readers should feel they can take what you said to the bank. If not, you are not building credibility and trust.

9)     Be real. Don’t blog like you are writing a term paper. Your genuine voice makes for much better reading.

10)  Conversation starter. Don’t just write into a vortex. We all benefit from the conversation social media offers and nobody knows everything.

Here’s the truth: quality blogs take time. Do not start blogging until you can make time to dedicate to it. I’ve been blogging for about 18 months. I’ve learned that writing quality blogs once a week and keeping up with comments takes about four hours a week. Blogging is a discipline and consistent posting is necessary to attract Google’s attention.

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Editors know publishing garbage is bad for business.
This applies to any organization.
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Here are the hallmarks of bad blogging:

1)     Poor writing.

2)     Blatant marketing pitches. Social media is about contributing to the Internet community. People are not stupid. They will see through your intentions pretty quickly.

3)     Sensationalism. Some bloggers in the insurance industry would be better fodder for “News of the Weird.” I’ve seen too many blogs relating to sex or bizarre circumstances. It’s unprofessional and insulting, so don’t do it.

4)     Blogs that do not deliver what headlines promise.

5)     Plagiarism. When I got behind on my blogging, a writer friend of mine suggested I lift the works of others and run that. That is called plagiarism and it is one of the deadly sins of writers. If others have covered the topic, do it better. If you can’t, refer your readers to the better blog.

Why is there so much crappy content out there? I blame it on communications and marketing professionals who emphasize blogging as a marketing tool. Consistent blogging with great content should attract customers by building credibility, but bad blogging does the opposite. For the sake of your credibility, do it right or don’t do it at all.

What do you think?

Are You Too Obsessed with Google Algorithm Changes?

Here’s a cute blog for the first day of summer on a Friday afternoon. It relates to my recent post on appropriate blog length.  –Annmarie

The Simple Cure for Google Algorithm Update Anxiety

by Chad Pollitt

Google Algorithm Update Anxiety (GAUA) is a serious disorder that afflicts many marketers around the world. The condition was first discovered by scientists in April of 2003 when Google released its Cassandra algorithm update. Since then, the GAUA disorder has become a pandemic.

Its most recent outbreak occurred on May 22nd after Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, announced the release of Penguin 2.0. Today, doctors have announced they’ve discovered the cure for this marketing plague.

Google Algorithm Update Anxiety Overview 

GAUA symptoms include: Headache, upset stomach, nausea, back pain, muscle pain, nasal stuffiness, shortness of breath, flushing, pain in arms or legs, dizziness, reduced organic search traffic, and angry clients.

Marketers have a greater chance of developing this disorder if they repeat the same keywords over and over, manually build inbound links, meticulously keyword-sculpt every aspect of every web page, calculate and track keyword saturation rates, participate in link farms, buy links, publish lots of on-site ads, duplicate content, publish infrequently, or generally just publish useless and boring content.

To read more, go to http://blog.hubspot.com/cure-for-google-algorithm-update-anxiety

Are Longer Blogs Better Than Shorter Ones?

If there is one thing you can count on when it comes to social media it is this: Nobody is really an expert.

It’s impossible. New opportunities to reach your audience are constantly coming online. And the rules change.Quality-Content is King!

The big chatter among social media professionals is that Google has changed its algorithms in an attempt to give quality content and context more traffic. As a result, some blogs and websites are offering longer posts to boost search engine optimization.

I rejoice that Google is constantly trying to give quality content its due. There is just too much garbage online. I think it is insulting to readers to publish material that is not insightful, informative or helpful.

Nevertheless, it happens all the time. There are still people out there playing old games such as obnoxiously using the same terms repeatedly to get Google’s attention. Thankfully, Google caught up with that silliness a long time ago.

The rule of thumb has been that the best size for blog posts is 300 to 500 words. This assumes that readers do not have a lot of time to read beyond that. It makes sense given the decline of attention spans. The experts are now advocating blogs that run 600 to 900 words.

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We get in trouble when we are writing more for Google algorithms
than the audience we intend to reach.
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Pithy writing is nothing new. Even when I was a public relations professional more than twenty years ago, the sage advice was to provide information in bite-sized pieces. Advice on web writing encourages information sharing based on a shorter version of the inverted pyramid, which remains the basis of news writing.

With some exceptions, I have tried to follow the blog below 500 words rule. I often write-up 1,200 words and cover my bases. Then, I divide my blog into a series. It is also more practical for me. Blogging can be a real time killer.

But now Google is rewarding longer blogs. This is based on the idea that quality content is longer because it means the author is getting into more details. This assumption is hilarious. Quality and quantity are not necessarily interrelated. Google’s approach runs the risk of rewarding posts that are longer than they should be. Many an editor can tell you that most pieces can be cut back by at least 25 percent without losing important content.

We get in trouble when we are writing more for Google algorithms than the audience we intend to reach. For business-to-business communication, the best content is written for real people who are seeking information.

What to do? Write your blog for what it is really worth. Make sure it is about answering the “what’s in it for the reader” question. If you are producing quality and meaningful content, length should not matter and followers will come. Readers who really want to read your stuff will do so. If they are busy, they might bookmark or print it.

Avoid long content for the sake of search engine optimization. Frankly, few people are good at writing long content that keep readers interested. It’s hard work. My ability to write feature articles for national magazines is the direct result of years of practice. Longer pieces require different skill sets, especially for organizing content and offering transitions that encourage readers to continue. (To see some of my feature articles, please visit the work samples section.)

How do you know you have a quality blog? I’ll cover that soon.

Do you think of longer blogs encourage search engine optimization?

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LinkedIn’s Top 5 % Most Viewed LinkedIn Profile Complaints: What’s the Big Deal?

linkedin+can+help_1844_800715221_0_0_14009585_300I am not an apologist for LinkedIn, but really, people need to lighten up about LinkedIn’s recent “Top 5 (or 1) % Most Viewed LinkedIn Profile”  complaints.

So many bloggers are complaining about LinkedIn‘s obvious marketing campaign. But I think it’s kinda fun.

LinkedIn supports the marketing efforts of those looking to boost their careers and brand image, and for most of us, for free. Through it, I have expanded my network, boosted name recognition and attracted potential customers.

So what if the company wants to sell more premium services. Hello…LinkedIn is a business. Private enterprise is fueled by the profit motive. It is not unusual for businesses (or drug dealers for that matter) to provide free services or information to lure in potential customers.

In fact, providing quality content for free is the main strategy for attracting customers via social media.

Besides getting a grip, people also need to quit operating under the delusion that their social media contributions belong solely to them. I am not a copyright attorney, but  I remember from journalism school that anything you write (even a letter) is a form of publishing. If people got this they would be more careful with what they write.

They might also be more realistic about the give-and-take of a free service.

And while millions are on the list, there are likely to be a few in your industry. I am glad to see people I know who made the list. It’s another hint for determining my industry’s potential influencers.

Finally, I also appreciate the marketing genius behind the campaign. Whether this marketing campaign aggravates you or not, it accomplished a main goal of social media. It got us to engage!

21 Lessons Learned from My First Year of Blogging (Part 3)

This is the last installment of the 21 Lessons Learned from My First Year of Blogging. To read part 1, please click here. To read Part 2, please click here.

Here’s the rest of what I learned.

1)     Lighten up and have fun. The blog I posted in June about what Benjamin Franklin would tweet still generates hits. Another blog on social media by the numbers broadened my audience, especially on Twitter.

2)     Spare your readers the marketing hype. The idea of blogging is to contribute to a greater community. Market your expertise and you will generate leads.

3)     It’s all about content. It should be no surprise that the blogs that generate tips and advice are more successful. Stick to what you know well and your expertise will come through.

4)     Don’t give up. It took several months before I was seeing Google hits on a regular basis. At the beginning, I would get traffic when the blog was posted but then it would taper off to nothing. Now, my blog generates hits every day. This came from being consistent with blogging (which attracts Google and providing enough content to attract new readers who did not discover you the first time you covered a topic.

Blogging should be a labor of love. Remember that there are no social media experts. We are all learning as we go and new innovations in social media are dizzying. If your company does not blog, you are missing out on opportunities to build your business and network.

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by Annmarie Geddes Baribeau