Shelley Widhalm

Archive for July, 2017|Monthly archive page

Is Blogging Fun or Just Like Homework?

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Writing, Writing Advice on July 30, 2017 at 11:00 am

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Blogging has some comparisons to homework, but it can also be fun and entertaining.

Blogging is like homework.

It’s good for you, and if you’re a writer, business owner, nonprofit leader or have something to say, it’s what you should do.

Blogging is the large-sized business card with ever-changing content. Blogging makes you the expert on whatever topic you choose—and you should stick to something specific; otherwise, readers lose interest or get confused about your point. I blog about writing and editing tips, and this month I’ve been blogging about blogging.

Blogging and Homework

Here’s how blogging is like homework—even for me when I love writing and could write all day long. I have to make time for it every week or double up and do a couple at a time, and I have to make sure I have something interesting to say. Plus, I have to sit down and do the work.

  • Blogs should follow a schedule. Weekly is best, but monthly is okay. Inconsistent blogging causes you to lose readers and get lower rankings from the search engines.
  • Blogs should be a certain length. Just like those five-paragraph essays, blogs should be 300 to 500 words if they’re short, 500 to 700 words if they’re medium or optimal length, and up to 1,000 words for the longer ones. Unlike essays, the paragraphs are short—usually one to three sentences—and there are lots of bullet points and subheads within the content.
  • Blogs, just like essays, need to be written to a specific audience. The content, for optimal appeal, should be authentic, fresh original, updated and useful.
  • Blogs and essays both have a theme, or a main topic or idea that is supported by the details of the rest of the content.
  • Blogs also can be like fiction class and tell a story with some plot, setting and character elements, or they can be like a news article and bring in quotes from outside sources.
  • Blogs can be a thesis statement, year-end school project or portfolio, demonstrating competence in a topic and the building up of content. There’s something tangible to show for your work.

Blogging to Get Attention

In my English classes, I found that essays, creative pieces and other types of writing stood out when I wrote as myself and showed my personality, when I did my research and when I knew my subject matter. The easiest essays to write were the ones about topics I already liked, or even learned to like.

Blogging and doing it on a regular basis whether I wanted to or not made me a better writer. After six years of it, I find blogging to be something I enjoy and can do quickly, especially when I’ve written about the topic before. If I do research, it takes more time, but then I learn something new.

And when I write about familiar topics, I see old things in new ways, putting together concepts and ideas in a way I hadn’t thought about before.

For instance, when I started this blog, I very much felt like it was homework, but then the idea of comparing it to writing essays—a big part of my homework as an English major—I saw blogs from a slightly different, English-major vantage point.

And that, dear reader, was quite fun.

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Content Mill vs. Quality Blogs

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Gaining Blog Readership, Why Blog? on July 23, 2017 at 11:00 am

StressFree

Shelley WIdhalm holds up a very tiny house. It’s not true if you build it, they will come when it comes to blogging.

It’s not true if you build it they will come, or if you post it, they’ll read it.

That’s because there’s science and a bit of magic that comes with blogging.

First, to make blogs authentic and real with meaningful content avoid the content mill.

The Term “Content Mill”

The term “content mill” is slang for a website, company or organization that provides cheap website content and pays low rates to writers—the writers have to write quickly to make their time investment worthwhile with the result of less craft and polish.

Websites and organizations hire content mill writers to generate massive amounts of SEO-driven content with the aim to boost their rankings on Google and other search engines. They’re not trying to cater to the needs or desires of their readers.

Today, blogs with quality content generate the desired SEO, because Google continually changes its algorithm to give lower rankings to sites with junk and low-grade content.

Blogging with high quality in mind takes a little more time and effort, but the end result is a higher ranking with more traffic and leads.

Search engines give greater exposure to original content that’s not a copy or duplicate. The content is relevant, timely and fresh and meets a specific audience need, while providing marketing and brand building for the company or organization or for a writer’s platform.

Here are a few tips to creating quality blogs:                         

  • Start with a strong headline that summarizes the blog content while sparking interest from the readers.
  • Begin with a story, anecdote or example instead of facts and ideas to give readers a sense of time and place and a reason to care. Or use a story later on to expand on or to clarify a point.
  • Offer an answer to a question that can be keyed into search queries, but make sure the information that is provided is readily apparent and easily explained.
  • Use bullet points and subheads to make the information easy to scan and find.
  • Write something that’s engaging and provokes thought, reflection and further questioning.
  • End with some kind of action, encouraging readers to apply the information, follow through with a tip, do more research or check out a link or website.
  • Edit what you’ve written for grammar, mechanics and organization and fact check for accuracy.
  • Make sure to include pictures, images or videos to add visual appeal and to break up paragraphs of text.
  • Respond to comments and like other blog posts to generate a conversation.
  • Vary the type of posts from short to long and include things like summaries, lists, how-to explanations, reference guides and article-type posts with quotes and multiple sources.

Write Clearly and Concisely

Lastly, my favorite piece of advice is to write clearly and concisely, an adage used by journalists and writers alike. Make the post short and to the point, packed full of information and do not wander into directionless, non-topic blah and fluff.

Most importantly, keep blogging. Don’t blog and stop. That’s boring. Plus, the search engines will bypass the blog and your website—SEO becomes So Easily Overlooked.

The Ins and Outs and Benefits of Journaling

In Freewriting, Journaling, Writing, Writing Advice on July 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Journals can be used for multiple purposes beyond recording daily life.

Journaling is like pre-writing, or it can be a form of record-keeping.

It can be private or public, as in the case of blogs, which technically are considered digital diaries.

And it can be practice toward fine-tuned quality writing.

A Dozen Journals

I have a dozen journals, each with its purpose and different sized cover and pattern. I’ve journaled since second grade, a process that’s essential to my day and to my growth as a writer. I record what happens, the things I do and my interactions with others.

I find comfort in the result: my days are tracked, and I have a reference to recall events, conversations and even when I last gave the dog a bath. I can look back and see what I’ve learned, laugh over the drama that, now, isn’t a big deal, and, hopefully, figure out where to fix things.

I have another journal that’s my play journal. The half-dozen colored sections are designated for freewriting, book starts, book and story ideas and notes about the writing process.

Another of my journals is solely for freewriting because it already has prompts I can use when I’m blocked.

I also have a journal for the books I’ve read and one for notes on the books I borrow.

And I use one for sketching out poems I later type up.

Journaling is a form of writing that isn’t as official as sitting in front of the blank page. It’s like an artist’s sketchpad used to practice drawing skills; it’s a place to play around with language, descriptions and ideas.

The key to journaling is to write without expecting anything. Don’t worry about quality, grammar or style. Just worry about wanting to write, and by doing it regularly, the writing will be easier and the ideas will start showing up.

A Journal’s Uses

You can use journal for many things, such as:

  • Writing exercises you want to try.
  • Taking notes from what you’re reading or the things you want to look up later, such as words, phrases and ideas.
  • Capturing snippets of conversation and recording details you observe in your environment.
  • Drafting short stories and novels.
  • Playing around with language for a poem or beautiful description in a story.
  • Listing ideas for poems, short stories, novels, essays and blogs.
  • Compiling character sketches with magazine cutouts, found objects and written descriptions.
  • Pasting photos or describing settings and the buildings and places in your story or poem.

I forgot to mention that I even have a mini-journal, it’s a miniature composition book, to take notes on anything and everything I encounter in a day, and then those notes go into the proper big journal.

I’ve journaled since second grade and probably have written a million words, most of them pretty boring about the routine, mundane aspects of life. But there’s gossip and intrigue, plus the whole figuring-out-life thing. And collecting those cool ideas for later …

 

The Big Blog Date

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Gaining Blog Readership, SEO, Why Blog? on July 9, 2017 at 5:00 pm

Jen'sHouse 1989

Shelley Widhalm puts on makeup to prepare for a 1990s outing when big hair and big T-shirts were the thing!

When I was younger, I thought if I had the cute external content, I could drive the boys to my phone number.

It wasn’t that simple and took a whole set of skills that I didn’t have at the time (and probably still don’t).

The idea of trying to get a date applies to trying to get people to read your blog. You dress up your blog and give it personality to get that reading traffic to drive customers, clients, viewer and readers to your product, service, art or writing.

Understand SEO

The first step is understanding SEO—in high school, if I heard the term, I would have called it Super Exciting Outside. All “bad humor” aside, SEO is Search Engine Optimization, a marketing method to get online traffic from search results on the major search engines, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo.

The search engines rank websites, videos and other content based on what’s most relevant to the user in that search. Using the right keywords and phrases that show what the web page or post is about helps boost the rankings, as can links to other sites.

Be sure to choose words based on popularity (this notion harkens me back to high school and those unfilled dates) or frequency of use and profitability. Use them in titles, descriptions, tags, categories and other content to attract SEO attention. Choose keywords that are precise and slightly longer, not generic and nondescript.

Here are some more ways to get that attention and increase traffic to your blog (i.e, to get the phone numbers, or here, clicks, likes, fans and followers).

Boost Your Blog Readership

  • Write content that is original and usable to readers, such as posts that are informative, entertaining and engaging, generating comments or calls to action.
  • Make sure the content follows a theme and is geared toward a specific audience—don’t write everything to everybody, hence to nobody. Identify the messages you want to convey to that audience.
  • Post on a consistent basis, preferably at least once a week to give updates and provide new material. Search engines give higher rankings to websites with fresh content.
  • Write titles that inspire curiosity and a need to know more, generating those clicks.
  • Use subheads, bullet points and numbered lists to break up the content and make it easier to read.
  • Use keywords, choosing one key phrase that identifies your post, incorporating it into the title, headlines and content (at least two to three times). The keywords demonstrate to the search engines what the page is about.
  • Include photos to break up the text and add a visual appeal.
  • Promote the post on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

When Blogging, Be a Neighbor

  • Write guest posts or add guest posts to your site, exposing the writing to larger audiences through cross promoting. This may bring in new readers to your site or introduce you to the readers of other sites.
  • Incorporate links to please Google, which likes to see outbound links, and readers who may want to find more resources.
  • Invite readers to leave comments and be sure to say something back.

Lastly, realize that finding those readers takes time, and building a following doesn’t happen overnight. Keep promoting the blog, because those dates, or readers, won’t know about the great internal content unless you tell them about it.

Comparing Blogging to Diary Writing

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Writing, Writing Advice on July 2, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Blogging is like keeping a personal diary but with the http://www.com involved.

Blogs at the most basic level are digital diaries.

The word diary implies, “This is personal,” but with 150 million blogs out there, the recent communication phenomena has become quite the opposite.

Unlike the red-bound diary with a little golden key to keep everyone out, blogs are designed to create a following, build an audience and invite the public to read, link to and share text, photos and videos. The content goes beyond the ripped-out diary page with the use of SEO, headlines and bullet points.

Blogs Defined

Blogs are a megaphone about a product, project, event, company, service or topic of interest and a way to spread thoughts, ideas, opinions, knowledge and expertise. They are a sales, advertising, marketing and promotional tool to find clients, customers and prospects. They are a tool to build brand awareness. And they are a way get a writer’s voice out there, instead of keeping it under lock and key.

In other words, they are an oxymoron. Digital diary, maybe not so much. Digital and powerful communication tool, yes and yes!

The power comes in the building of the blog, i.e. the appeal of the sibling wanting to read the little red diary.

To get that appeal, bloggers need to create original content targeted to a specific audience. They need to maintain their blog, providing new, updated and engaging content on a regular basis—preferably weekly, but monthly is okay, too, as long as it’s consistent. And they need to promote their blog to social media and other outlets to keep building that audience.

First, Ask a Few Questions About Your Blog:

  • Who’s the audience for this topic? Other writers? Your customers? Or hobbyists who also love to do what you do?
  • How will you reach the audience to let them know about your blog?
  • Is your topic something that can be written about in different angles? Will it be relevant in six months or a year?
  • What is your competition, including other blogs, newsletters, podcasts and media and social media outlets?

Here are a Few Ideas for Blog Topics:

  • Product and service comparisons and testimonials.
  • How-to instruction.
  • Book reviews.
  • Commentaries and other reviews.
  • Trends locally or in the news.
  • Hobbies and special interests.
  • Business and financial news.
  • Interviews with clients or key resources.
  • Stories about what happens behind the scenes.
  • Personal experiences.

Blogs Also Can …

Cover a wide variety of topics from a certain vantage point, such as humor, insecurity or trying to understand the world. They can serve as a portfolio, as in the case of artists who want to post their artwork and writing to promote what they do and generate sales, but also to get those followers.

And they can be a way to track your life, your interests and what you want to share with the world. Open up your diary and begin the story …