Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

Is Blogging Fun or Just Like Homework?

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

Notebook2

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 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

Journals4

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 …

Creating an Attention-Grabbing Blogging Voice

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Voice, Writing, Writing Advice on June 4, 2017 at 11:00 am

DinneratHouse3 12-15

My dog Zoey employs multiple ways to get my attention and the attention of everyone else!

To get noticed in the crowded blogosphere, how can bloggers get attention and keep that attention?

One way is through their voice, or how they use language and display their written personality. Readers become fans of a particular blog when they know what to expect—the voice is consistent and recognizable and the content has a clear purpose, such as providing information, entertainment or motivation.

Bloggers set themselves apart by having something original to say and a unique way of saying it. They’re not just blogging to grow their audiences, get clicks and drive traffic to their websites. Instead, their content is authentic and real and doesn’t read like a mishmash of sentences saturated in SEO-heavy language.

The Sound and Appearance of Writing

Voice, at the simplest level, is how bloggers or writers sound and appear on the page. It’s their style, or the way they use words to describe things. It’s how they handle language, the words they choose and their techniques for putting together sentences and paragraphs. It’s a matter of their word choice, syntax and phrasing and options for structuring sentences and paragraphs.

Alternatively, the way the writing sounds can be thought of in physical speaking styles. Is the writing conversational or formal, or is it humorous or academic? Is it fun and trendy? Or cute and quirky? Is it snarky, condescending or longwinded? Or is it accessible and helpful?

Another way to look at it is does the writer sound like a computer manual, a thesaurus or a grammar book? Or does the writer offer up jargon or slang? Does the writer sound like an instrument, harsh or melodious?

Voice goes beyond sound to the appearance on the page. Is there a lot of white space or dense paragraphs with few breaks? Are caps or ellipses used to show casualness, or is there a heavy use of long words and scientific terms? Is there variation of sentence length and structure, such as subject, verb and noun interspersed with questions and partial thoughts?

Other Components of Voice

Voice also can be about story. Do the writers start in the middle and get sidetracked, or are they clear and concise, getting to the main point with just the right amount of detail not to bore the listener or induce interruption?

Voice can be about worldviews. It’s the way writers see the world and interpret events. It involves the feeling and tone or mood of what they write.

Overall, voice is:

  • The writer’s attitude toward the subject.
  • The writer’s way of telling a story.
  • The writer’s use of language.
  • The words and phrases the writer uses frequently.
  • The writer’s ways of engaging with the audience.

From the reader’s side, it’s:

  • The adjectives used to describe the voice.
  • The incentive to read in the first place.
  • The reason to continue to read down the page.
  • The connection with the writer.

Voice is the writer on the page. It is the reason they write. It’s what they choose to write about, revealing what they notice, what they care about, what matters in the world they’ve created.

And it’s what makes readers care and want to read more.

Why Blogging is Important for Writers

In Blogging, Why Blog?, Writing, Writing Tips on May 21, 2017 at 11:00 am

Are blogs like legwarmers that are trendy and fashionable, popular in the ’80s and back in style again?

Or are they like the necessary boots and thick socks that are the staple of any wardrobe in a climate with seasons?

With more than 150 million blogs in existence, it seems like everyone should be blogging from writers to business owners to anyone who wants to get their writing to readers, customers and clients.

But are blogs here to stay, necessary for your marketing wardrobe?

Google certainly likes blogs and other written content for Search Engine Optimization to give individuals and businesses higher online rankings, especially for recent content.

Beyond SEO

But blogging goes beyond simple SEO. It’s part of branding. It’s an aspect of creating a platform. And it’s a form of marketing.

Consistent, quality blogging creates an image. It demonstrates expertise and authority in a niche. And it gets readers to turn to you, because, over time, they begin to value your knowledge and how you relay that knowledge, your values and what you see as important.

“Writing creates a perceived leadership position and is a value positioning statement at the same time. It also allows those who agree with your ideas or philosophy to connect with you,” said Jeffrey Gitomer in “Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness.”

Blogs should educate and entertain and not be space fillers vying for that SEO. Content-mill produced blogs are written only to get clicks—what’s created is SEO-stuffed with little meaning and value. They only are about quantity.

Quality Blogs

Alternatively, quality blogs create relationships, build audiences and convert readers to customers. They result in engagement and a following.

Research shows that blogs should be posted once a week on the same day of the week, and not randomly, especially with big gaps of time and a mishmash of topics. To create quality blogs, think about your target market. Who are you writing to? What is it you want to say?

Blogs are a way to talk about your latest book or project. It’s a way to show your process of creation. It’s a way to show what attracts readers specifically to your writing style and voice. And it shows why you are the best to offer what you offer.

Blogging Advantages

Here are some advantages of blogging. Blogs can:

  • Put you in front of your readers, serving a similar purpose as an ad or marketing materials.
  • Bring traffic to your website.
  • Nurture and build a relationship with readers through regular connection.

Blogs also can be used to tell your story and to make your writing look personal and inviting. They’re not just about what’s on the bookshelf.

Blogging to be Personable

In Blogging, The Writing Life, Writing, Writing Advice on May 21, 2017 at 11:00 am

NewXmasBear

I like to blog about my dog, Zoey, who is an inspiration for my writing. That’s because she’s so cute!

Blogging is a form of storytelling that, like a book, brings in readers who want to find out what happens next.

Readers look to your blog to find out the latest news about your books and projects in progress, publications and readings. What you write can topical, showing what’s going on, trending and new. Or it can be about your processes, specifically how you write, edit and revise, or what strikes you about the writing, marketing and publishing worlds.

The blog posts don’t need to be long—a few hundred words will do—but research shows 500 to 700 words to be ideal. A blog that is 300 to 400 words is considered short, while a blog reaching 1,000 words is on the long side.

Blogs help writers become personal and inviting. The writers demonstrate they care enough to connect with their audiences. They want to share bits of knowledge and their expertise about what they have to offer.

To make blogs more personable:

  • First, narrow down to your target audience, avoiding writing to everybody, therefore to nobody.
  • Communicate your expertise on a subject related to your writing or the topics you cover in your books.
  • Write about your writing processes to give readers a glimpse of what you do to create the finished book or short story.
  • Write about the elements of writing, like dialog, character and setting, to show your personal take on the processes, while also providing readers and writers with valuable information.
  • Be yourself and show your personality as you talk about the topics you enjoy or that are important to your writing

Make sure to update your blogs often, preferably once a week, and post them on the same day. Sporadic blogging, especially every few months, shows a lack of commitment or a loss of interest in the blog.

My Blogging Experiences:

From my own experience blogging, I found several benefits to routine, consistent blogging. I blogged for years about writing and editing, and by regularly writing about the two subjects, I deepened my knowledge and detailed understanding of the elements of the craft. I increased my “expert” status though regular research and study.

I blogged once a week on a variety of topics, including character and plot development, storytelling, story structure, story and character arc, dialog and setting, as well as approaches to the craft that included writing prompts, writing spaces and habits, and inspiration and motivation.

To be able to write about the craft in an informed manner, I had to look up information online, review my notes and article clippings, and organize everything into my own take on the information.

This made me a stronger writer by thinking about writing, writing about writing and analyzing the process of writing. I methodically covered every element I could think of, gaining a better understanding of the material and how to apply it to my own work.

Basically, I taught myself to be a better writer by teaching through the form of writing. I improved my ability to tell a story.

Comparing Blogging with Poetry Readings

In Blogging, National Poetry Month, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Poetry on April 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

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I am reading some of my poems during a previous poetry reading at the Loveland Museum/Gallery.

Listening to and writing poetry doesn’t seem to fit into the fast-paced business world of SEO, key words and tracking analytics.

A poem has rhythm, pacing and structure, while blogs and business writing aim for a certain voice, objective and spin, all to capture attention. A poem exists on the page, the lines and spacing giving it shape, while blogs use optimized headlines, bullet points and short written content to provide the structure.

Another way to put it is a poem is quiet, existing in a book or chapbook or even on a piece of paper. A blog is loud and out there trying to get clicks.

Capturing the Audience

Both capture audiences, but in different ways.

A poem wants readers and to give expression to the internal, to memory and to observation.

A blog wants followers and to increase numbers to build toward marketing a business or attracting advertising to further promote the blog.

Like blogs, poems can become loud when they are given physical voice, such as in a poetry reading or poetry slam.

I’ll be reading two of my poems this week in two separate readings, both a part of National Poetry Month in April. National Poetry Month is an annual celebration of poetry started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 as a literary celebration of poetry and its place in society.

Two Poetry Readings

The first reading is “For Spacious Skies, celebrating early American poetry,” on Thursday, April 20, at the Loveland Museum/Gallery. I will read a poem in the style of Edward Taylor, colonial America’s foremost poet and a minister and physician. I wrote two poems after studying Taylor’s biography, a few of his poems and his approach to writing, including his tone, voice and word usage.

I’m trying to decide which of the two poems to pick for the invited poetry reading, where local poets selected an American colonist and wrote a response, such as in the same style or using similar subjects. One of my poems is more fun in tone and takes place in the kitchen, while the other is serious and reflective.

The second reading I plan to attend is Poudre River Public Library District’s Fifth Annual Battle of the Bards on Friday, April 21. The 10 finalists of the poetry contest will be reading their poems at the Harmony Library, and the first- to third-place winners will be announced. My poem that was selected, “Flower Centers,” compares various emotional states to different types of flowers.

A Final Thought

To further compare poems with blogs, I wanted to add a couple of notes:

Poems have titles on top (sometimes) and lines of text that aren’t necessarily aligned with the right margin.

Blogs have headlines scattered throughout and lots of the previously mentioned bullet points.

I’ve yet to see a poem with a bullet point:

Roses are red

  • Violets are blue.
  • Sugar is sweet …

I hope to see you at the readings.

Finding Subject Matter for Weekly Blogging

In Blogging, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on March 12, 2017 at 11:00 am

SHELLEYWIDHALMpicI have the honor of being a guest blogger this week on the Loveland Business Development Center’s website. To see the blog, visit https://lovelandbusiness.com/finding-subject-matter-for-weekly-blogging/.

Or check it out here:

Blogging about the same subject for years is reaching into a bottomless well.

That’s because content is continuously being generated with different approaches. But how do you, as a blogger and writer, create content that is interesting for you to write and compelling enough to get followers and clicks?

I began blogging on a weekly basis in 2012 at WordPress as Shell’s Ink about the writing and editing process and the writer’s life. When I first started, I methodically explained the elements of a fiction manuscript, such as plot, character, setting, dialog and storytelling. I blogged about finding ideas to write about, the inspiration and motivation to do the work and the habits of successful writers from setting aside time each week to write to making sure to revise the work—a rough draft is not a final, readable draft.

To generate ideas for the blogs:

  • I keep a running list of ideas by browsing through articles clipped from writing magazines and thumbing through my books on writing.
  • I ask other writers what they want to learn about writing and editing and respond with a blog.
  • I pay attention to the topics brought up in my writers group and book club, such as how to combine different point of views in the same scene.
  • I consider what I need to learn about writing and editing to improve my own work and write about it.
  • I look on bookseller websites to see what’s trending in literature and write about the topic—such as why young adult fiction is gaining ground in the publishing industry.
  • I review old blogs and recycle some of the content to come up with another blog from a different angle.
  • I guest blog on my friends’ and co-writers’ blogs and post those blogs on my site.

Here’s how else to find subject matter:

  • Read other blogs about the same topics you’re writing about and put your own spin on the material.
  • Carry a notebook with you and write down ideas as they come to you, because they will once you state that you want to write.
  • Read a snippet of a news article or a dictionary definition and apply it to your blog topic.
  • Eavesdrop and use the bits of conversation for a blog, first doing a little more research (this is very entertaining, but be sure to pretend you’re busy and into your own stuff, head down, fingers on the laptop).
  • Take another blogging topic and use that angle to write about your topic.

Also realize:

  • Blogging is best done once a week with content at 500 to 700 words about the same subject matter, but veering off topic every few blogs can bring in other readers, too.
  • Breaks from blogging are acceptable; feel confident your followers won’t give up on you.

For example, I blogged regularly over the past five years, but took a break during a surgery to my hand in early 2016 and again in early 2017. I didn’t lose any followers but seemed to get more clicks in February and March when I came back on line.

I took the break this year to launch my writing and editing business, Shell’s Ink Services, and also have a blog on that website. That blog is more business-oriented with advice on writing and editing for those who may not love writing but want to give it a try and to explain what I do as a professional.

I started with my top 10 tips for writing and then for editing. To continue generating the content, I’ll keep digging into that well of ideas to make sure I have content that is fresh, engaging and interesting.

Happy New (Writing) Year

In Blogging, Reflections on Writing, Writing on January 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

2017planner

I still keep a paper planner!

What I love about a new year first and foremost is getting a new (paper) planner. Yep, I’m old-fashioned. I still use paper to keep track of my life.

A new year presents a time to make resolutions and set goals and a time to review the past year’s accomplishments and not-quite-there-yets.

To review my writing life, I’d like to point to a few highlights:

  • I’ve written a couple of novels, a few short stories and dozens of poems, and I’m in the process of looking for a literary agent.
  • I’m launching a freelance writing and editing business, Shell’s Ink Services, on a more serious level, going after work instead of doing my day job and putting it on the back burner.
  • I blogged nearly every week through the year and have been blogging since 2011. My focus is on dispensing advice on all aspects of writing from structure to the elements of fiction, like plot, character, setting and dialog, and the editing and revision process. I also write about my life as a writer and what inspires and motivates me to write, along with some of my disappointments and frustrations.

I love my blog, but I feel like I may need to change direction. I’m not getting very many Likes—blogging is very competitive, and I don’t market my blog. I simply write to see what happens, but that’s not a very good business plan.

The result: I don’t win any popularity contests.

Despite this, there is a ROI: I learn about writing on a deeper level by explaining the elements from several vantage points. “Teach to learn” is the motto, and that definitely works in the case of keeping a regular blog. I also love the discipline of feeling obligated to write about writing every week. It keeps writing on my mind.

I want to continue my blog but will take it in a new direction in 2017. What that direction is I still haven’t decided, though I’m a big planner and like to be disciplined and organized. That’s why I have to have my paper planner with me wherever I go.

I may take a month off—January—as I figure this out.

In the meantime, I would love feedback from my readers! What would you like to see? What should stay? What should go?

Happy New 2017!