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How I Sprint to Write Faster Blog Posts

(Hey there! This post is Part 3 in a series on writing faster blog posts. Read the other posts here.)

The other day, I had a blog post to write for another brand. I timed myself; from the moment I sat down, without a single idea, to the moment I hit publish on a polished 700 word post with several rich examples included, exactly 60 mins had passed.

During this hour, I brainstormed potential topics, picked one, researched it, wrote an outline, drafted the post, edited the draft, and added example images and links.

There is no way I could have stuck to this time frame a year ago. One year ago, it would have taken me nearly an hour just to write the draft; researching, editing, and finding examples would have meant adding another hour or two, at least, depending on the subject. Or I would have kept the post much shorter in order to have extra time for the other parts of the process.

What changed?

Last summer, I began to study the world of fiction to see what bloggers could learn from the way prolific authors write. After all, what’s a few blog post per month compared to writing a 90,000 word novel every year – or even more than once a year? And yet, that’s exactly what many authors do.

As I did my research, a few things stood out to me:

First, these authors took time to get their thoughts in order before they sat down to write. (Outlining is a hotly debated approach in the world of fiction, but from my reading, many prolific authors use some form of outlining to prepare for writing.)

And second, they did whatever they could to maintain momentum and write quickly, recognizing that the speed at which they could get words on the page was directly tied to how quickly they could get a new book – their product – into the market.

Well, that begs the question, why don’t more bloggers worry about their writing speed? For years, I personally never gave it a single thought!

If your brand’s blog publishes a new post every week, at 1,000 words per post, that’s 4,000 words per month – plus perhaps another 1,000 worth of social media content and email blasts. When you’re running a business, even that much feels impossibly overwhelming, doesn’t it? But many authors today write several times that much each month (1,000 to 3,000 words each day is a typical goal), not even including the blog posts and marketing they do to promote their brand.

And yet, despite the clear parallels between author work and content marketing work, not many people were making the connection and learning from these authors.

I set out to write this series and put these authors’ tips into practice. Two books – 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron and 5,000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox – gave me a ton of insight, and I recommend them to anyone, not just authors.

But in this series, I’m sharing specifically how I’ve used advice for authors to become a faster and better blogger.

In Part 1, I talked about the importance of extending the research phase and making sure you know how your post fits into the wider ecosystem of content in your niche; in Part 2, I shared how outlining can help increase your speed, as well as the exact outline I use for nearly every blog post.

Finally, in this post, I’m tackling the ultimate bottleneck: physical writing speed. Because no matter how good your research and how detailed your outline, you will never be able to write faster than the physical constraints on your writing ability.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • How to cut out all distractions when you write (and why you need to)
  • The power of sprinting
  • The single [FREE] tool that has made the biggest difference in my writing productivity this past year
  • How to track your writing speed (and download a free spreadsheet I made to help you track it)
  • The beauty of an ugly first draft
  • And editing best practices for blog posts

Go ahead and get that blog writing speed tracking spreadsheet now.

Before we jump in, can I just tell you something? I am not a full time blogger. In fact, I’m a full time toddler wrangler. (I just realized that makes me sound like I’m good at it. Nope. I’m winging it!) The point is, I like to bake cookies for friends in the middle of the day and go for stroller walks to the park each afternoon; sometimes, my daughter and I just cozy up by the fire, snuggle, and watch cartoons together. But as an entrepreneur and corporate content ghostwriter working on multiple online brands, I can’t snuggle the day away without letting a lot of people (including my future self) down. I have to be very strategic about how I structure my time.

Here’s how a typical day looks for me:

  • 5am to 8:30am – Work
  • Morning – hang with baby girl, see friends, run errands, sometimes do responsible adult things (maybe)
  • 12pm to 2pm (naptime) – Work
  • Afternoon – more hanging out; park if it’s not too rainy (we’re in the PNW so that’s sometimes tough)
  • 7pm to 9pm – Work

I cram a lot of work into small chunks when I know I will have uninterrupted time; that way, when I’m not working, I can spend time with my family and friends without feeling distracted or guilty.

That means efficiency isn’t just a buzzword for me. Solving this writing speed bottleneck – creating great content efficiently in short bursts of time – is not a nice-to-have. It’s, well, everything to me, because it enables me to live the full life I want to live and help provide for my family. Efficiency helps you do more with fewer resources; that means it’s a major factor in determining how you spend the moments of your life, and therefore, how you spend your life.

So, nope, not just a buzzword! And I can’t believe I didn’t know sooner about the tricks I’m going to share with you in this post. If I’d known, let’s just say it would have made the last few years of entrepreneurship a lot more fun and a lot less stressful.

Here’s how I sprint to write faster blog posts:

Are you ready? This is where all your mental preparation and your detailed outline come into play, and the rubber really meets the road. Also, I’m guessing that in the past, this is where you’ve spent the majority of your time working on a blog post. Using the techniques I’m sharing from now on, this should actually become the SHORTEST, easiest part of each blog post! Crazy, right?!

Eliminate distractions

When your outline is ready and you’ve done your research, you’re ready to start putting real words on the page. But before you begin, consider this: Writing is very different than researching and outlining. You can do research on a phone for a few mins while waiting in line; you can jot down a few notes in your outline while you’ve got dinner on the stove. But the actual writing is the real creating part, and this is much harder to do. To begin writing your post, make sure you have at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time. Get some water, sit somewhere comfortable, turn off the TV (or put your back to it, with headphones on, if someone else is watching it), and put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb. In fact, go even further – put your computer on airplane mode or turn off its wifi. You can draft your post in a Word doc, and you’ve already done your research so now is not the time to be Googling things. (Got you, huh?)

Start now: Schedule a time later today or tomorrow when you will be able to shut off everything else for at least half an hour to write. No matter what comes up, during that time, you are not available to do anything other than write. Stay strong!

Sprint

To write your first draft, do a series of writing sprints, no longer than 20 to 30 mins at a time, with a break to stretch your legs, check social media, get coffee, etc. after each sprint. If you’re a lot more disciplined than I am and you don’t share your working space with a toddler, you can probably do a longer stretch; but the point is, set a start and end time. This will create the sense of urgency your mind needs to stop daydreaming, pick some words, put them on the screen, and get to the point.

Start now: Open a document and make yourself type for 5 minutes straight, without stopping – if you get stuck, just write “….” and switch to a new paragraph and jump ahead to the next section of the outline, or write “[insert something about XYZ here]”. Later, you can search for the brackets and ellipses and replace them with what you want to say.

Track your pace and compete with yourself

Each time I sprint, I record the start time, end time, and total number of words written during that sprint. This practice does a couple of things: 1) It gives me that sense of urgency I mentioned earlier, since I am “on the clock” and I don’t want to record a terrible number because I couldn’t stop daydreaming or Pinteresting; 2) It gives me a way to evaluate that session compared to past sessions (Was I faster or slower than usual? If so, what did I do differently that might have caused the change?); and 3) It gives me a very clear picture of how much time I’m spending on each project. I use the same approach when I’m editing content, too.

This might sound like overkill, but if you are an entrepreneur trying to build your blog with content marketing, content creation is one of the biggest parts of your creative work. You wouldn’t launch a sale or ad campaign without tracking the results, right? You wouldn’t try to manage your family budget without tracking what you spend, or workout without tracking your progress, would you? Why should content creation be any different?

Start now: Download this blog post tracking spreadsheet I put together to help you track your word count and pace. Use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+; to insert your start and end time quickly.

Boost your writing speed by using speech-to-text technology

This is probably the nerdiest part of this whole post; and that’s saying something, I know. But the truth is, you will never, ever be able to type as fast as you can speak. Yes, speech-to-text is weird because you have to have to speak your punctuation, and you may feel like the world’s biggest nerd if someone walks into the room while you’re in the middle of dictating one of your blog posts (cough…not that I’ve ever experienced that), but the simple truth is IT. WORKS.

I use Google Docs speech-to-text for almost all content creation and it works like a charm. (Note: I’ve found it works better on my iPhone than my laptop, so that’s what I do for my writing sprints.) I have Google Drive on my laptop and my iPhone, so I can easily access blog post drafts in each place. For some reason, the dictation feature works better in a Google Docs format document (rather than docx) so I usually have a Google Docs dictation file for all my dictation, and then, when I’m done with a sprint, I copy it out of that file and paste it into the real blog post Word doc. But that’s just what works for me; you may be able to use dictation on your fancy, faster-than-mine laptop just fine. 😉

Google Docs on iPhone
Google Docs on iPhone

 

Google Docs dictation - press microphone to start
Google Docs dictation – press microphone to start

Here are a few of my learned-the-hard-way tips:

  • Enunciate with extreme clarity: You cannot talk like you normally do and expect to end up with a clean draft. Enunciate each word very clearly and slow down a bit. It’s work but it’s still faster than typing.
  • Speak your punctuation: “period” “comma” “question mark” “quote” “end quote” and “new paragraph” are the commands I use most frequently.
  • Break it up: Start a new paragraph frequently; when you’re done, it will be much easier to edit a series of short paragraphs than a dense, mistake-filled wall of text.

Start now: Open a test document in Google Docs, enable speech to text (Tools – Voice Typing), look around to make sure no one is there to judge you, and dictate a paragraph of stream of consciousness thoughts. See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Make it ugly

This is the most important part of writing a quick first draft: DO NOT edit, reread, or reformat until all the words are on the paper / screen. Otherwise you’ll begin to second guess yourself and start to obsess over grammar and fact-checking, and the next thing you know you’ve been reading some random blog for an hour instead of writing your post! Yes, this happens to all of us! The important thing is to do the actual creating work, and get the initial words out there; if you’ve done your research and outlining well, it won’t be too much work to clean it up later. But if you get stuck trying to make each sentence perfect and checking the thesaurus every other word, you’ll never end up with a draft. Trust me. Let it get ugly; you can make it pretty when you’re done.

Start now: If you’re tempted to reread and fix typos as you go, switch your font color to white.

Fix typos and break it into short paragraphs

When you’re done with your draft, it’s time to edit. Start at the beginning and clean and polish as you go, fixing anything weird, rewriting, and breaking your wall o’ text into short, easy-to-parse paragraphs. This is important for legibility and dwell time (people will stick with a page that is easy to read), which is an important factor in Search Engine Optimization.

Start now: Break up your test paragraph from your dictation attempt into a few short paragraphs with 1-3 sentences each. Isn’t it easier to deal with now?

Add headings and lists

Once it’s polished, it’s time to do the formatting. Another important factor in SEO is the use of descriptive, organized headings. Don’t just make headings bold; use the actual built-in Heading 2, Heading 3, etc. formats for your blog post editor. These headings tell search engines what your post is about, and they also help with legibility and dwell time.

Now is also a good time to turn some paragraphs into bullet point or numbered lists, which makes them easier to read for someone who is giving your post a quick scan before they decide whether or not to read the whole thing.

Start now: Make sure you know where to find your built-in headings and bullets formatting in your blog post editor. In WordPress, it’s in the toolbar at the top of the text editor.

Add your examples and links

If you’ve stuck to the order of research, outline, write, and edit, you should have a solid, well-polished blog post by now. That means it’s time to add in the examples, images, and links you decided to include in the research and outline phases. I don’t add any of these things until all of the text is done, for two reasons: 1) Compared to the writing, this is the easy part, and I’d rather save my energy for quality writing; and 2) These can be a time suck and you might find yourself spending several minutes trying to hunt down “that one post”. If you do this in the middle of writing or editing your draft, you’ll kill your productivity, so I save it until the end and only add in as many links and examples as I can within my target time frame. If I have to publish before all the links are there, that’s fine; as long as the most important ones are in, I can always add more examples later.

Start now: Make sure you’ve got a good list of relevant links (both internal links on your site and authoritative external links) to share as examples, sources, and further reading as part of your post. Bonus points if you save your list in my blog post research tracker spreadsheet.

That’s all for this series, folks! Be sure to read Part 1 – Research Like a Procrastinator and Part 2 – Make an OCD Outline too.

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How I Use an OCD Outline to Write Faster Blog Posts

Am I the only blogger out there who suffers from writer’s block?

(Please say no…)

I have spent countless minutes – and hours – staring into a bright, blank WordPress Post editor, racking my brain for the ideas that seemed so amazing and blog-worthy earlier that week.

I’ve bounced from my draft post to my depressingly ambitious publishing schedule to Pinterest to Facebook to the kitchen (need more coffee) in an endless loop of stalled writing, anxiety, and procrastination.

And I’ve forced my way through writer’s block with sheer mental muscle and stubbornness, dragging a mediocre post out by the teeth, only to get stumped at the end when I realize the post has no cohesive theme or argument.

And then, in the last year, I have managed to almost completely kick writer’s block to the curb. (I say “almost” because trust me, there are still days when my brain is just too fried to do any blogging!)

I’ve written countless blog posts for clients as a corporate blog ghostwriter, not to mention blog posts and other writing for my own projects – including writing one novel and half of its sequel. All of this writing adds up to well over 50,000 words per month.

And I’ve done it without becoming a full-time blogger or writer. In fact, actual writing is probably the work activity I spend the least amount of time on in my average day. I spend most of my time toddler wrangling, to be honest, and get my work done in the early morning and late at night while she is asleep.

In this new series on writing faster blog posts, I’m sharing all the things I’ve learned to help make huge productivity boost happen.

In fact, if you haven’t read the first post, go back and read it now – there you’ll get the whole story of how I got started on this crazy journey of increasing my writing speed.

In Part 2, I’m going to share my secrets for the second step to increasing your writing speed and becoming a more efficient, productive, and BETTER blogger: outlining.

You’ll learn:

  • How to create a winning outline that works with nearly every type of blog post
  • How to create an engaging post that pulls the reader forward – thereby increasing your dwell time, a crucial factor for SEO
  • How to wield your outline as a tool to prevent writer’s block from attacking in the future
  • And you’ll get a five pack of blog post templates in Word format, including outlines and writing prompts to help you get unstuck

In fact, go ahead and download that now.

Before we proceed, let’s answer a real question you might have: Why is it important to beat writer’s block? Or, more specifically, why should bloggers care about writing speed?

Surely if you take your time to write a good blog post – even if it takes a while – that’s better than throwing together some sloppy garbage blog post…isn’t it?

And yes, I do think there is an important benefit to taking your time, especially in the research phase – read more about that in Part 1.

But here’s the thing: The more time you spend writing a blog post, the less time you have available to edit the post and promote it.

It’s simple math.

If you have two hours to spend on a post, you can spend 118 minutes writing and 2 minutes giving it a quick share on Facebook or Twitter.

Or you can break down your two hours this way: spend 30 minutes outlining, 30 minutes writing, 30 minutes revising and polishing, and 30 minutes promoting it with networking emails, blasts to your email list, scheduling it to go out on multiple social networks, etc.

Which approach is going to generate more engagement, traffic, and backlinks? The second, of course!

But the second approach depends on you solving one crucial bottleneck: writing speed.

If you can write the same high-quality blog post in 30 minutes instead of 118 minutes, you’ll be freed up to edit and promote it well. But if it always takes you nearly two hours to put together a decent post, you’ll never be able to do it justice when it comes to promotion. You’ll always be forced to choose: either spend less time writing and try to promote a poorer quality post, or spend more time writing and do a good job with the post, but never see any real traffic from it.

In Part 1, I showed that extending the research phase to last weeks or even months helps to increase writing speed because by the time you sit down to write, you already have your argument and big picture context well-organized in your mind. DO NOT underestimate the power of thinking deeply about a subject before you start writing. This is the key to unique, insightful content that will stand out in the sea of noise and clickbait that surrounds you.

In Part 2, we’re going to take the same concept to its inevitable conclusion: outlining.

It’s a simple fact, and as soon as you try it, I bet you’ll realize I’m right: If you create an outline – even a very rough one – before you start writing, you’ll write faster.

But if you really want to achieve a 5x improvement in your writing speed (like I have this year), you’ll need to go far beyond creating a rough outline. I call it the “OCD outline” – taking it to the next level in terms of detail, points, sub-points, and more.

And in my experience so far this year, there is a very significant quantifiable difference between a rough outline and an OCD outline.

Here’s something I learned the hard way:

My first novel’s rough draft was about 70,000 words long, and I wrote it in September at an average pace of 4,795 words per hour based on an extremely detailed scene outline that was itself 14,000 words long.

But hey – it was a LOT of work to put together that long, detailed scene outline. So for the sequel, which is still a work in progress at 50,000 words, I decided not to make such a thorough outline. I knew where I wanted the story to go, and each time I sat down to write, I wrote down a few notes on what I wanted to happen in the scene. The writing pace for the sequel? An average of 3,451 words per hour. That’s a decrease of 28%! It’s still better than my original pace of around 1,000 words per hour (more on that in Part 3 so stay tuned), but it’s still a significantly slower pace.

But isn’t writing an outline just as much work as writing? Why not spend more time writing and not waste time on an outline?

Here’s where I’m going to say something that might surprise you: writing an outline is completely different than actual blog writing (or fiction writing). In fact, it’s way easier, faster, and less mentally exhausting.

That’s because when you’re writing an outline, you’re writing for yourself. You can get sloppy and lack clarity and you still know what you meant. You can say silly things and know you’ll never publish it for the world to see. You can write things like “Put a good argument on why outlines are easier than writing” without having to come up with the actual argument. You can pick it up and put it down fairly easily, making progress in short bursts here and there without having to get into a “writing flow”.

By contrast, real writing is utterly exhausting. It demands perfect focus, no interruptions, and at least 30 straight minutes to make any real progress.

Investing your time in outlining upfront will help you organize your thoughts and arguments without worrying about prose, creativity, or grammar.

Then, only once you know exactly what you need to write (and where and when), you can sit down to do the real creating and have it actually proceed quickly and [relatively] painlessly. (Again, more on that part in Part 3!)

Here’s how I use a detailed outline to increase my blog writing speed

When you’re done with the research phase, you should have the following:

  • A specific blog post topic
  • A few target keywords
  • A list of the blog posts that currently rank well for those keywords
  • Notes on the gaps or areas for improvement on each of those existing blog posts
  • Ideas on how you can make your post unique, powerful, and valuable to set it apart from what your peers are saying about the topic

Now you’re ready to make an outline!

Step 1: Start with a basic template

If you’re reading this post, you are probably interested in seriously improving your blog post writing speed. Which means you’ve likely read some similar posts, haven’t you? And let me guess…they all told you to increase your speed by writing from a template.

They’re right. Do it. Writing from a template is the way to go.

I know, this sounds boring and formulaic. How can true creativity and quality work come from essentially copying what’s already been done?

But here’s the thing: using a template does not mean you can’t be creative. It just gives you a way to channel your creativity for the greatest possible impact.

I follow the same basic three-part structure for nearly every blog post I write. Here’s a rough outline:

  • Opening – establish common ground and present a problem
  • Solution – detailed list of arguments, advice, or explanation around the solution
  • Closing – wrap up, call to action on how to engage further

If you don’t have an idea of what you would say in each of these parts for your blog post, it might be a good idea to stop here and go back to the research phase.

Here’s what I mean:

Without a statement of the problem your post will address, why would anyone read your post?

Without a clear solution of some kind, what real value do you add? Is your post just a glorified social media status update?

Without a call to engage further, what has your post accomplished for your brand? You may bring in traffic, but once they leave, how will you get them to return?

Start now: Grab a notebook or sheet of paper and draft a sentence for each of the three parts of your blog post. If you don’t think each part is compelling, go back to the research phase for a day or two and see if you can identify more ways to set your post apart from what’s already out there.

Step 2: Build out a detailed, OCD outline

Once you’re sure your basic opening, solution, and closing are compelling, you’re ready for the real outline.

Once again, I’m going to suggest using a template. Why re-invent the wheel each time when you can make your life easier – and make your blog post easier for your audience to parse and understand?

Remember, the average visitor to your website isn’t devoting 100% of their focus to your blog post. They’ve got kids running around, dinner on the stove, the TV in the background, and their phone buzzing every couple of seconds. The more you structure and organize your post, and the clearer you make it, the more likely your visitor will be able to get through the whole thing and actually get something out of it.

It’s also important to use various hooks to build rapport with your reader and pull the reader forward so that they actually want to keep reading and find out what you have to say. This will help increase your dwell time, which in turn will help your SEO (in addition to the obvious benefit of getting people to actually listen to what you have to say!). I do this by sprinkling in anecdotes, empathy, back story, and previews of what the rest of the post will contain.

Here is the detailed template I suggest:

Part 1 – Opening

  1. Opening anecdote
    • Share an experience that you most likely have in common with your target audience; get personal, make them smile or say “I have totally done that!”
    • Present The Problem – what problem does your blog post solve? Usually the anecdote leads into this
  2. Key takeaways:
    • “In this post, I’m going to share” or “In this post, you’re going to learn” – and list out a few sentences or bullet points
      • This is important because a busy person needs to know as soon as possible why they should stick with your post!!
  1. Back story / context
    • “But first, …” back story – stop and explain where you’re coming from and why they should listen to you, or address common myths/misunderstandings about this topic
      • This is where your research on the other posts that rank for these keywords will come in handy. Show how what you’re proposing is different than what’s already out there.

Part 2 – Solution

  1. Introduce your solution
  2. Each step or part of your solution (3 to infinity sections)
    1. For each part of your solution, provide a mix of explanation, examples, and practical takeaways or action steps

Part 3 – Closing

  1. Final thoughts on the problem and solution you’ve addressed
  2. Call-to-action on how they can engage with you further (email list, other related blog posts, content upgrade)

Sometimes, especially if the call-to-action is a content upgrade that I think they’ll find super helpful, I repeat it a few times throughout the post to make sure that no one misses it.

Start now: The next time you have a few free minutes, copy this outline into a new document or blog post draft and fill out as much of it as you can. Keep your writing simple, casual, and basic at first – the most important thing is to just get words on the page. Once you’ve filled out the basics and you’re feeling inspired, add a few more details. The important thing with the outline is that you make it easy on yourself, since you’re saving your energy for the real work – writing and editing. You can also download this five pack of blog post outlines with ready-made writing prompts. These are especially helpful if you feel stuck in the research phase and need a bit of prompting to make your way out.

Step 3: Plan your content upgrade (optional)

What is a content upgrade?

The content upgrade is an important tool for creating a compelling call-to-action at the end (or midway through) your blog post.

Rather than simply saying “Like this post? Sign up for my email list!”, a content upgrade is an incentive you can offer in exchange for signing up that allows an interested reader to go deeper with the content on your particular blog post.

For example, in this post, I’m sharing a five pack of blog post outlines with topic-specific writing prompts in exchange for signing up for my email list. Since I figure anyone reading this post is interested in learning how to write outlines for their blog posts, I am offering a tool to make their lives easier – ready-made blog post outlines – as a way to “upgrade” their experience with this blog post.

In Part 1 of this series, for a content upgrade I offered a blog post research tracker spreadsheet to help readers organize their notes on keywords and competition in search results.

The content upgrade doesn’t have to be a huge ebook or project that takes you hours to create. I often find it most effective to just offer things that I’ve already created for my own use, knowing that if I found it helpful, chances are other people will too.

If you can think of a good content upgrade to go along with your blog post, go ahead and plan it now while you outline. Sometimes content upgrades take extra time and work to create so it’s a good idea to get a head start.

Start now: brainstorm a list of potential content upgrades for your blog post. If you’re stumped, go revisit some of the “competing” posts that come up in search results and see what kinds of things those bloggers are offering.

(The content upgrade isn’t really related to solving your writing speed bottleneck, but I’m adding info on it here because I know from [painful] first-hand experience that if you don’t get a jump start on creating it, the content upgrade can end up being a bottleneck of its own.)

Whew! That’s it! Stay tuned for Part 3 – How to write like a sprinter.

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How I Research Like a Procrastinator to Write Faster Blog Posts

Have you ever spent hours crafting a beautiful blog post, and then hit publish with bated breath only to hear crickets in response?

Or have you thrown together a short, haphazard post just to meet your blog publishing schedule, and then gotten zero engagement from it?

Me too. In fact, I’ve experienced both scenarios, more times than I care to count.

Then I realized something:

As long as I continued to spend a majority of my time writing blog posts, I would never be able to spend the necessary time I needed to do good research or to promote those posts.

I would continue to swing back and forth between long, multi-hour blog posts and short, semi-worthless posts, generating very little traffic for either, until I solved the most problematic bottleneck in my workday:

WRITING SPEED.

But first, let me back up and give you a bit of context on what has been going on lately:

In 2016, I expanded my consulting business significantly, including adding several great blog ghostwriting clients and growing my email list by almost 1800%.

I also launched a new business with a friend called The Six Box, a service which provides “reverse” care packages to military spouses holding down the fort at home while their service member is deployed.

And…drumroll please…I also finished the first draft of my first novel – and half of my second novel!

It’s safe to say that my workload has gone through the roof this year, on top of being a stay-at-home mom with a very high maintenance active toddler.

And I survived this year with one simple change: by solving that old writing speed bottleneck that has been plaguing me for years.

How did I do it?

It all started this summer, when I began to think about writing fiction and decided to investigate how the world’s most prolific writers do their thing, and then did my best to replicate their success.

In September and October, I wrote over 50,000 words each month; as of November 17th, I’ve already written 33,000 words in November and am still going strong every day.

I’ve increased my writing speed by around 5x from before, which means I’m able to significantly increase my output without increasing the amount of time I spend working.

(By the way, 50k words per month not sound like much compared to many prolific full time bloggers out there. But remember – I don’t blog full time! I mainly work early in the morning, late at night, and during nap time. And actual blog writing is only a small part of my overall work load each week.)

All of the things I learned from authors like Chris Fox in his book 5,000 Words per Hour and Rachel Aaron in her book 2k to 10k were geared toward fiction writers (BTW, I highly recommend both books!). But as a blog ghostwriter, I saw an immediate connection between their advice for fiction authors and the blog writing I was doing for work, so I adapted their advice for writing blog posts. And it has been EPIC.

I’m sharing everything I’ve done to make that happen with you in this new series.

I knew I had to put together this series because this experience has been too amazing to keep to myself.

Many of you are already running killer blogs and social media accounts, or you have launched your own business and are trying to figure out how to get the word out while still trying to run your day to day operations – and often while wrangling kiddos at home too.

I think these techniques will help take some of the stress off your plate – and let you focus on the things that truly matter to you.

No, you don’t have to work anywhere near full time, or even 5 to 6 hours a day like I do, to use the techniques I’m going to share in this series.

In fact, using them could potentially decrease the amount of time you spend blogging, freeing you up to work less and do other things instead.

After all, the less time you spend writing a blog post, the more time you can spend promoting it on social media, or unplugging and hanging out with your family, or simply going out and doing things worth blogging about!

So I’m kicking off this series with “Part 1: Research Like a Procrastinator”. (Yes, you read that right – just go with me…)

In this post, you’re going to learn:

  • How to think like a procrastinator in the best possible way
  • How to use the critical research phase to create a blog post to rule all blog posts
  • How to use social media sites as search engines
  • Oh, AND you can download the spreadsheet I personally use to track all my blog research. Get it here.

Let’s do this!

How I Research Like a Procrastinator to Write Faster Blog Posts

Step 1: Start by putting it off

In the past, I typically began to work on a post the same day that I finished it. I would pick a topic, write down some ideas, and draft a post.

But these days, before I sit down to write, it’s not uncommon for me to have spent days, weeks, or even months mentally composing a blog post.

Procrastination has been linked with greater creativity, and if you think about it – as long as you don’t let procrastination rule your life – it makes perfect sense: when you give yourself more time to reflect on a topic, argument, or problem, you’re more likely to come up with solid reasoning or a creative solution.

I start by writing down an idea, then doing a quick search to see what comes up for that topic.

Over the next few weeks, when I have some free time, I’ll read a few articles on the topic and reflect on them as I read. I don’t take many notes in this phase. I just use the time to read and think.

You would be amazed at how beneficial this step can be – and how easily we dismiss it or skip over it. After all, you can’t write “thinking” down as a task on your day planner or snap a photo of it for Instagram.

To anyone else, it will just look like you’re lost in thought – at best – or engaging in some irresponsible daydreaming. Shouldn’t you be working?

But unique, helpful, creative, problem-solving insights don’t come from regurgitating trendy industry content or throwing together a few things off the top of your head.

Quality content takes deep thinking, and deep thinking is becoming a lost art. Sad for all of us!

The first step to increasing your writing speed and solving this bottleneck is to think first before you write.

Get your argument – and counter-arguments – settled in your mind.

Imagine examples of where you’ve seen this argument play out in the real world.

Have a mental conversation with someone where you persuade them of the truth in your blog post.

Only then can you sit down to write with both speed and quality.

Start now: Grab a notebook and write down a list of blog post topics you’d like to work on in the next month or two. Leave space by each topic for additional notes to add as they come to you. The next time you’re working out, washing dishes, putting away laundry, or zoning out after a long day, instead of letting your mind wander, think about one of those blog post ideas instead. Trust me, this WORKS!

Step 2: Use search engines to identify gaps

Writing quickly won’t get you anywhere unless the blog posts you produce help you accomplish your goals.

So the next step in fixing your writing speed bottleneck is to point your speed in the right direction by doing research – the smart way.

Here’s what I mean:

If you’re going to write a blog post with the specific purpose of driving traffic to your site or increasing engagement, keep this simple [and slightly painful] truth in mind:

To beat out competing posts for your keywords, your post needs to ultimately be BETTER than the competition.

You don’t have to create the Mona Lisa of blog posts, but it does need to be pretty awesome.

So during your research phase, whenever you have a free second – you could do this while waiting in the doctor’s office or nursing your baby! – google your target keywords on your phone and scan through the existing blog posts to find out what other people are saying.

Then figure out what they’re not saying, and how you can improve their posts.

For example, if they tend to water down a complex subject, you can show its complexity and shades of grey.

Or if they all seem to be targeting one certain type of person, you can focus on a different, neglected yet high-need segment.

A quick caveat: this does NOT mean copying other bloggers’ work, and it doesn’t mean there’s no room for your own unique, eccentric blog post ideas. It just means you write with an awareness of where your post fits in to the bigger picture.

If you have a creative idea that turns out to be just like all the other creative ideas out here, it won’t be very easy to promote your post.

But what if you take your creative idea and combine it with data-driven support or analytical muscle? To beat the competition, you need an unfair advantage – so take the time to come up with something that your peers haven’t even attempted yet.

This might mean that not all your blog post ideas will pan out, because you don’t have any unique and valuable way to set them apart from what’s already out there. That’s fine – just take a deep breath and try again. It’s worth the work, as well as the extra time it takes.

Here’s an example of how I took this approach when researching before starting this series:

First, I started by making a list of my topic keywords:

  • How to write faster blog posts
  • Fast blog posts
  • Write fast blog posts
  • etc

Then I searched for those phrases and evaluated the content that came up on the first page of search results.

I took notes on the posts that came up and what I felt they were missing. The big takeaway was that lots of people talked about the basics like following a template or formula, outlining first, and writing sloppy first drafts.

But very few people touched on research at all (which is one of the biggest time sucks for me) and almost no one mentioned my #1 biggest writing speed hack. This single hack is responsible for a good portion of my writing speed improvements, and yet only ONE of the first page posts made even a passing reference to it. I’ll be revealing this hack in Part 3 of this series, and oh man, it is a game changer…

This research step was critical in the formation of this blog post series because I realized that a subject fiction authors are basically obsessed with – writing speed – is barely on the radar for a lot of entrepreneurs and bloggers.

This was a huge gap that – as a blog ghostwriter, marketing consultant, AND a newbie fiction writer – I was uniquely well-placed to fix.

I have no doubt that YOU are perfectly placed to fix some of the gaps in your niche too.

Start now: Download the Excel spreadsheet I use to track this part of my research and use it to evaluate your competition.

If you’re short on time, just look for a free moment today and spend 5 minutes googling your target keywords to see what comes up. Later on you can use my spreadsheet to write down a few ideas on how you can improve on the content already out there.

Step 3: Use social media sites as search engines

This is crucial, especially if your search results from the previous step are turning up a lot of posts written in 2014 or earlier.

They may be great posts, but our world changes so quickly! You need to know what up and coming bloggers are saying about your topic right now, so that you can see how your post fits in to the bigger picture TODAY, not a few years ago.

I start by searching Pinterest for my target keywords to see what blog posts come up. If I find a blogger I like who writes about my topic, I’ll then go through their most recent posts to see what else they are currently saying on the issue.

This is an important step because when you promote your post on social media or by networking with other bloggers and entrepreneurs, you’ll need to know how what you’re saying fits into the larger world of what other influencers in your niche are saying.

For example, if you find a wonderful blogger in your niche who has written about X, don’t write your post solely about X. Write about X + Y, tackling the topic in a new way that adds new value. They’ll be more likely to share your post with their followers if your post complements their insights AND adds new value, rather than replicating them or competing with them.

If Pinterest isn’t turning up anything fresh, I also use Instagram hashtags to search for bloggers in my niche.

You can also use Facebook and Twitter like search engines. The goal is to find out what posts are being shared and engaged with today, and then figure out how you can write something new and valuable that complements them.

Start now: Create a Pinterest board for collecting blog posts related to your topic, and save the first few posts you find in a Pinterest search for your target keywords.

That’s all for Part 1! Click here to read Part 2 – Make an OCD Outline. Subscribe to my email list to make sure you don’t miss any future posts!

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Tricks to Creating Unique (and Beautiful) Imagery for Your Business

The other night, I was in dinner hostess disaster mode.

It was the end of the day, and I was tired and hungry. We had almost no food in the house, I hadn’t had time to go to the grocery store, and on top of everything we had a friend coming over for dinner that night. This dear friend had just returned from an extended trip overseas and I really wanted to make something special and comforting that we could all enjoy together as a welcome home dinner.

And then, in the midst of the chaos, I accidentally discovered a new cooking hack and saved the day. Get ready for this…

I got some sausages cooking in a frying pan and made a bunch of pasta, then pulled out a jar of pasta sauce I had bought a while back. Pasta, sauce, meat; it would be a bit boring but still good. But then as I was heating up the sauce, I thought, “What if I add some cream cheese?” Before I could stop myself or overthink it, I pulled out the cream cheese and added a big dollop to the sauce, then stirred it around while it melted.

Whoa.

Just. Whoa.

The combo of creamy / tangy cream cheese with tomato sauce and pasta was out of this world. It made our sauce look rich (because it was) and a little more pink than red, and it made it taste like really good restaurant food. Even my toddler ate it, and she normally turns up her nose at marinara sauce (she prefers her pasta as butter with a side of pasta).

Come to find out, cream cheese in pasta sauce was already a thing. Some people even call it “Spaghetti a la Philly” (*winces*).

While I’m not crazy about the cheesy name (get it), I am now CRAZY about the flavor combo. Who knew something so simple could be so good?

I steamed some frozen vegetables we had in the freezer to go with the pasta and we ended up having a great meal that night. It was delicious; it was comforting; it was fun; and it was so easy for me to cook. No one had to make a last minute run to Safeway (or Domino’s).

So what does that have to do with content marketing and branding?

Well, what I just described to you – add cream cheese to pasta sauce from a jar to take it from so-so to amazing in 2 seconds – is the perfect example of a “hack” – “a clever solution to a tricky problem” (thanks, Urban Dictionary).

If you Google “content marketing hacks” or “branding hacks” you’re bound to find a lot of Really Good Advice. “Here are 34 amazing content marketing hacks!” or “52 social media hacks that will supercharge your business!” etc etc.

But the thing is, do any of these fit the definition of the term of hack?

I don’t think so. IMHO, and I know I’m adding on to the definition I mentioned above, but go with me, a hack is supposed to be something that actually makes your life easier. It should be something that not many people know about, that’s easy to do IF you know the right trick/technique, that is relatively simple, and that is maybe a little bit weird but will actually work.

If you just get a lot of [admittedly really smart and helpful] advice that is going to take hours upon hours every week to execute, I don’t think that counts as a hack. It’s just more Good Advice. There’s a place for that, for sure, and I’m the first to admit I have a lot to learn from a lot of smart people out there on the Internet. But when you’re a solopreneur trying to make things happen in the margins of your busy day, you need something a little bit sneakier than advice would require you to dedicate all of your time to branding.

So here’s what I want to share with you today: My 6 best hacks for creating beautiful and unique imagery for your business for your brand.

These are hacks because they are easy. Easy to execute, cheap, and won’t take much of your time. And they are hacks because they might be a little bit weird and a little bit counter-intuitive at first.

At the very least, they may not be what you would’ve expected me to say when it comes to building a beautiful brand.

Wait – let me back up a little bit for a minute.

Why am I qualified to tell you about branding hacks?

After all, I’m a content marketer and a blog ghostwriter. What does that have to do with branding and creating beautiful imagery?

Well, above all I am an entrepreneur. Like many of you, my business has gone through many twists and turns as I built it from the ground up beginning almost exactly 4 years ago as of September 2016.

I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way and I’ve had to do a lot myself, including things that I never thought I would have to learn how to do.

And isn’t that just life as an entrepreneur? We wear a lot of hats; but more than that, we’re constantly being pushed out of our comfort zone and learning new things, doing things we probably wouldn’t choose to do if it weren’t necessary as entrepreneurs. In other words, we do things that we don’t like for our own business in order to avoid doing other things we don’t like for someone else’s business. The reality is being able to control my own brand and make the best decisions I can for my business is, for me, one of the most important parts of career freedom.

Maybe we don’t always make perfect choices, but we have the freedom to try to learn from our mistakes and to do better the next time.

And that to me is worth all of the trials and tribulations that come along with entrepreneurship.

I tell you all of this so that you know why I have thought so much about branding and imagery and come to these conclusions that I am about to share with you. Because there have been many times in different seasons as an entrepreneur when I have had to do all of the design myself. And as a self-taught graphic designer, I know how to use Adobe Creative Suite products pretty well now, but that doesn’t mean that I always create things that look good.

And that doesn’t mean that when I create things that look good they actually make my business look good.

And that brings us to our first takeaway – it’s not a hack, but it’s a HUGE lesson: Just because something looks good does not mean it’s going to ultimately contribute to building a beautiful brand for your business.

In fact, you could spend (and I have spent) hours slaving away on a beautiful image for your blog or social media post and ultimately still not contribute anything to your brand. That’s tragic. That’s like me spending all afternoon slaving away on a fancy dish for dinner with my friend, and then when she arrives and takes a bite, it’s dried out and flavorless, or it’s some weird fancy dish that she doesn’t really like and wasn’t expecting to eat at my comfortable house with my family.

In the same way, it’s possible to slip away and spent a lot of time and money on gorgeous designs that ultimately don’t accomplish what we really want.

As a business owner, the first thing that you want with any imagery for your business is to build a beautiful, strong brand. If your imagery and your graphic design don’t work in that direction, they are not accomplishing their purpose.

If you’re ready to cry right now, I’m with you. I look back on the many hours I’ve spent in Photoshop and various apps trying to make things for my business and it just breaks my heart.

I wasted so much time trying to come up with blog post images and social media images that were clever and creative and pretty and unique, but in the end they didn’t really build my brand.

Don’t get me wrong, each image, page, and post might look good on its own.

But they didn’t contribute to building a beautiful brand for Alana Le, the marketing consultant.

So let me share with you some of the hacks that I have learned the hard way in the last 4 years as a solopreneur. These branding hacks are great ways to make sure that your brand imagery is actually beautiful AND that it’s building a brand for you.

My Best 6 Tricks to Creating Unique and Beautiful Imagery for Your Business

Visual branding hack #1: Relentless consistency

Is visual consistency a hack? I’d argue that it is. It’s easy to do, but most people shy away from it for fear of being boring. In fact, the more consistent you are with your brand imagery, the easier it’s going to be to create images for your brand. You don’t have to make any big decisions for each new image. You simply use your template or look at the images you created before and make something that matches those.

This means using the same filter again and again; choosing the same colors over and over; always going with the same fonts, the same font sizes, and the same types of images.

A lot of people are going to think that sounds boring. And yeah, it might feel boring – to create. But it won’t look boring. It will look professional, attractive, and it will look like you know what you’re doing. Here’s how I use consistency and templates to easily create blog post and social media images that go together:

Relentless consistency in branding for Pinterest and Instagram example | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter

Consistency – relentless consistency – is the key to beautiful brand imagery that all fits together in an attractive, seamless way.

Visual branding hack #2: Color overlays

So, consistency is great. But what does that mean practically? What are the actual things that you make consistent? That’s a great question, and consistency includes colors, fonts, font sizes, types of imagery (for example, all images of people or all images of fresh flowers), and image size/dimensions. But I’m going to give you my favorite hack for accomplishing consistency with minimal work: color overlays.

Color overlays are one of the most embarrassingly easiest ways to make your brand consistent. You can take a bunch of different photo with pretty much any content and any brightness level, and use color overlays to make them look like they all belong together.

(You should be able to create a cover color overlay in most photo editing apps but definitely in Photoshop and I recommend learning to use Photoshop if you’re going to be creating a lot of images for your business.)

Color overlays are way to put a transparent colored “screen” over any image.

This does two things really well:

1) It makes different images look like they go well together, so that if someone sees a bunch of your posts together in one place (say, on Pinterest), they will send a consistent, attractive, professional message.

2) It makes it easier to read any text that you put on top of the image. And that’s a big issue. Legibility is huge when it comes to good branding.

A note on the importance of legibility:

If you have a lot of beautiful images but then you clutter them up with unattractive text, too much text, or simply illegible text, it will look busy and will be hard to read the text. So basically you took a great image and then messed it up with too much text and it’s not legible anyway! Ouch.

So here’s what you do instead:

You look at your brand and come up with a set of colors to use for your imagery.

This is especially important when it comes to blog post featured images and social media images.

For example, my logo is plain black. But the accent color on my website is coral. So I use a coral overlay on most of my images.

It’s nothing fancy, and you might feel like “wow, that’s a lot of pink!” But if you know me, you would know that it definitely represents my personality and brand well. And the important thing is not that you find a lot of color everyone will love. All that matters is that you choose a color that people will begin to consistently associate with your brand.

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what color you choose, as long as it’s not hideously ugly and as long as it’s a color that eventually becomes associated with your brand.

Let’s say you have a website that uses lot of light blues and greens. Choose an even lighter blue or light green shade for your overlay, and every time you make a blog post or social media image, add that color overlay to the image.

How do you do a color overlay?

In Photoshop open up the photo or copy it into your template and select the layer that the photo is on. In the example below, I’ve added the photo to a new layer in my template. As you can see, it’s a gorgeous photo but the template text – the blog post title, my website URL – are pretty much impossible to read.

Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 1 | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 1

Then go to Layer Style, Color Overlay and then you’ll see a little color box.

Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 2 | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 2

Select the little color box in order to choose the color you want. I usually paste in the hex number that’s that #down at the bottom with a six character code. You can copy the that text number from another of your brand related images – anything that has the colors that are typically used on your brands like for example your logo or you can even take a screenshot of your website and then copy the color from one of those.

Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 3 | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 3

Then look at the opacity % and adjust it to something that looks good. You want it to be see-through enough that you can clearly see the photo behind the overlay, but opaque enough that you can see text easily when it’s overlaid on the photo. By the way, you can change that anytime so pick up number – for example, 60-something % – as a starting point and then press Okay.

Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 4 | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 4

And we’re done! The text is visible and clearly legible, and the beautiful image shows up too – without overpowering the text.

Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 5 | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 5

Visual branding hack #3: Styled stock photography

We’ve talked about consistency and we’ve talked about ways of color overlays to achieve it.

But what are you actually trying to be consistent with? What do you actually use those cover color overlays on?

It comes down to imagery, of course. That’s the title of the blog post. But where do you get all these images? And how do you know which ones to choose?

First things first: Try Unsplash. It is an amazing source of beautiful free images, and I don’t know what we all did without Unsplash. There are also other great free sites like Pixabay and others, and you can also pay for stock photography if you have a budget for it at sites like iStockPhoto.

But how do you take it to the next level?

Styled stock photography.

Write it down. Memorize it. Google it. This phrase will change your life.

“Styled stock photography” simply means that a photographer put together a bunch of different objects or maybe just one or two specifically to create photographs with a certain feel that you can use for your business.

If you run a business that has physical products, you probably already have styled photos for your products.

For example, if you make a lavender body scrub you might’ve hired a photographer to take pictures of your body scrub with little bits of fresh lavender on a nice white background to use in your shop images.

But if you don’t run a business with physical products, you probably don’t have images like that already. And if you’re like a lot of people, you probably assumed that service businesses don’t have any need for style photography. You couldn’t be more wrong.

Styled stock photography is simply about creating a super attractive, high-quality picture of your brand.

Let’s be real – if you buy that lavender body scrub, you’re probably not going to find sprigs of fresh lavender in your packaging. It’s not about a literal interpretation of the products and what you’re getting. That really would be boring, and people would scroll right past.

It’s about the feel of the product, of the brand. And that is certainly something that you can do even with the least visual business on the planet.

That said, doing custom styled photography shoots can be really expensive. If you’re trying to do everything yourself, you probably don’t have enough money to pay for your own custom photo shoot yet. After all, if you had that kind of money, you wouldn’t be doing all this yourself, would you?

And that’s where sites like Creative Market will be your best friend. Go to Creative Market, search for styled stock photography, and prepare to be amazed:

Creative Market Styled Stock Photography | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Creative Market Styled Stock Photography, click image to visit site

Here are a few of my favorite styled stock photography shops on Creative Market:

White Hart Design Co | Best Styled Stock Photography Shops | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
White Hart Design Co Shop on Creative Market, click image to visit shop
Miss Ollie | Best Styled Stock Photography Shops | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Miss Ollie Shop on Creative Market, click image to visit shop
Kristina and Co | Best Styled Stock Photography Shops | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Kristina and Co Shop on Creative Market, click image to visit shop

There are so many beautiful photographs out there that you can buy to use for your brand, often in bundles that cost between $10 and $20 for a bunch of gorgeous photos along a consistent theme.

There’s also Shay Chochrane’s stock shop, which runs a little pricier but is always amazing:

Shay Chochrane Shop | Best Styled Stock Photography Shops | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Shay Chochrane Shop, click image to visit shop

And finally, Wonderfelle recently launched her Styled Stock Society, which I am pretty excited about because it also offers some really beautiful options and gives members 30 new styled stock photos per month (!!):

Styled Stock Society | Best Styled Stock Photography Shops | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Styled Stock Society, click image to visit shop

You can use them for blog post images, as the main image on your home page, or to share on social media. Of course, this requires you spending a little bit of money but it could be worth it, especially if you have more money than time right now.

But what if you have more time than money? (Been there!)

If you take a look at a lot of the stock style stock photography out there, and if you’re decent with a camera, you might be able to get some of the way there yourself.

Here’s what you do to make your own styled stock photography:

Go to the dollar store and buy a piece of plain white poster board. Go to the grocery store or Target and get a mix of small items that are connected to your brand feel – snacks, flowers, plants, stationary – or just “shop” around your house. Come home and set it all up in an area that receives a lot of natural light but not direct sunlight, to minimize shadows. Preferably set it somewhere out of the way that a toddler or pet won’t be able to reach (good luck with that).

Then play around with the placement of the objects on the poster board and take a bunch of pictures from an overhead angle. Take WAY more pictures than you need, because sometimes you might not realize something looks off until you are editing it in Photoshop or a photo editing app like VSCO.

(If you’d like a more in-depth tutorial, check out this one at PinkPot.)

The DIY method is a great way to get styled photos that are unique to your brand and look really good, but without spending a ton of money. But if you are not artistically inclined AT ALL, and/or if you are pressed for time, you might want to just go the ready-made route. Consider yourself warned. 😉

The moral the story: you need styled photography, whether for your social media or for your blog or website.

The question is just where are you going to get it.

Hire a pro to do a custom styled shoot for your brand, get pre-made photos from a source like Creative Market, or do it yourself. The choice is yours. And have fun with it!

Visual branding hack #4: Lots of white space

We’ve covered images; we’ve covered how to make them consistent; and my primary trick for doing that, which is using the same color overlay or filter every time.

But another trick to making sure your brand imagery always looks good is definitely just that – a trick.

A hack.

It’s ridiculously easy, it’s very counter-intuitive (if you’re not a visual person), and not many people will think to do it on their own; but it will make a massive difference in the visuals on your site and social media.

What’s the trick? White space.

This has got to be the most underutilized design tactic on the Internet.

This is a great way to make sure that the images and colors that you do have pop and look amazing, while making sure that your text is easy to read and clear as well.

Worried that it might feel boring?

That’s the last thing you should be worried about!

If your images look good and they’re consistent, and your copy is both high quality and easily legible, no one’s going to worry that there’s not enough content on the screen. They will be too busy focusing on the content itself, which is what you want.

But on the other hand, if the opposite is true – if your images look bad and there’s too much text and content on the screen at once – it will definitely be noticeable and distracting.

So this “hack” simply means to always err on the side of minimalism and make sure there’s plenty of white space around / in all of your content.

Oh, and if you’re not using a white background, that’s okay; you just need blank space of any muted color. That’s what matters.

Visual branding hack #5: short paragraphs

We’ve talked images; now let’s talk copy.

How can we apply the same principles to make sure that your copy looks good?

Because visual branding isn’t all about imagery.

After all, in today’s content-heavy Internet universe, a lot of what we see on the web is not just images but the text that accompanies them.

You might have to one to three images in a blog post, but 2000 words or more for the actual post.

That means the text itself – the way you present it – will have a huge impact on the visual experience of your content.

Here’s a simple hack that I’m shocked more people don’t use: Short paragraphs and short sentences.

This is the same idea of the “lots of white space” approach. Make your text appear simple, minimalist, and easy to read. Your audience can scan from short paragraph to short paragraph much more easily than they can navigate a solid block of text, and you better believe that will affect your dwell time.

Visual branding hack #6: Pull out quotes

Another great way to break up the copy and to make it more visually appealing and easier to comprehend is to pull out quotes and make them bold or italic, or even a larger size using the quote format that comes with your theme. My personal preference is to make them bold, since it’s easy to read and doesn’t require repeating a sentence.

Sprinkling a few important bold quotes throughout the text will draw that the eye and can make it easier to comprehend the content; but not only that, it will also make the page appear more visually balanced.

This is most important for blog posts. You can’t do this with most social media updates (using all caps for important sentences will come across as tacky most of the time), but you can do this with the images that you share on social media if you’re including text overlayed on the image – just use a different font, size, or weight for the most important word(s) on the image.

I hope these simple (but effective) tips for DIY branding and imagery are helpful to you. They are each concepts I have learned the hard way and wish I had known sooner. I wanted to pass on these lessons because I don’t want anyone else like me spending ages on visual branding only to find that the time was wasted!!

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Why Running Might Be The Key To Content Marketing

I recently wrote that doing content marketing for a small business is like moving a massive mountain one spoonful at a time.

It’s like this:

You start out ranking ridiculously low for the keywords that matter to you.

You’re competing against huge competitors – often time mega brands with significantly more resources, more content, and years of experience dominating search results.

You know you need content your audience loves and quality backlinks to that content in order to improve your search rankings and drive more traffic (and more conversions) on your site.

But how do you get there from zero, especially as a solo entrepreneur with no dedicated marketing team?

As countless successful small businesses will tell you, it IS possible. After all, the Internet is a great equalizer when it comes to enabling small businesses with small budgets to compete with massive corporations.

But while successful content marketing isn’t rocket science, it will take a massive amount of time, energy, creativity, and perseverance to work your way to the top (and stay there).

And when you have a business to run, a family to care for, and oh, I don’t know, a LIFE to live, it can sometimes feel like doing the intense work of content marketing is just too much on top of everything else.

But if you really want lasting small business success, website traffic and conversions are pretty much crucial no matter what type of business you’re in.

So you’re going to need to do content marketing to generate that traffic and do something profitable with it.

Where do you even start?

Well, you can’t learn to swim without getting in the water.

That’s why I liken successful small business content marketing to moving a mountain with a spoon.

You might not want to move that mountain, but it has to be moved eventually if you want to generate business online. If you don’t have access to a bulldozer and some dynamite (like a six figure marketing budget), you’re going to have to tackle it one spoonful at a time.

In this post I’m going to share some of my favorite tips and hacks for making progress moving that content marketing mountain, learned the hard way with some serious blood/sweat/tears.

But first, a story about a girl who hated running:

For most of my life, I have been a mediocre terrible runner.

I love lifting weights, taking cardio classes, going for walks and hikes, and – let’s be honest – doing pretty much any form of physical activity except running.

But when I had a baby, running began to look a lot more interesting, for one simple reason: there are very few activities you can really do while your baby is awake. That includes most of what I used to do for exercise, and since I’d rather not pay for childcare just to get a workout in, I had to start getting creative.

And as I’ve done the research, talked to friends who actually do like running (gasp), and invested the last several months into learning to run myself, I’ve realized something: Becoming a better runner has actually made me a better content marketer.

And isn’t running the perfect analogy for small business content marketing?!

You’ve got slow and gradual increase in mileage, the gritty perseverance required for success, the painfully awkward humble beginnings slowly evolving into a beautiful, enjoyable, and effective stride.

Here are several ways in which learning to run has made me a better content marketer:

Commit to move daily

I’ve learned that the key to making progress in running is not to let inertia build up. If I’ve gone 3 days without running, I’m more likely to go a week; and if I’ve gone a week without running, I’m more likely to go three weeks. So most days I commit to hauling out that big old jogging stroller, loading up my baby and her personal stash of cheerios, and heading out the door. I try to do this even if it looks like it might rain, or we only have time for a 10 minute run, or I’m so tired it’s all I can do to walk a mile or two and then come home.

And it’s actually this breakthrough that inspired my last blog post about 30 minute content marketing projects that you can tackle whenever you have 30 minutes of free time.

I’ve realized that every day doesn’t have to be a blogging marathon in order to make progress, and that it’s more important to make steady progress – even if it’s painfully slow – so that I don’t give up completely and suddenly realize weeks have gone by.

If I commit to doing something – one small thing – every day, I am bound to make progress and avoid the dreaded blogging slump.

Trick yourself into getting started

Along the same lines, I’ve learned a pretty awesome and effective strategy for making progress even when I feel like that is the last thing I want to do.

If I commit to doing something small even when I’m overwhelmed or don’t have time/energy, I find myself getting excited once I get started and often able to do more than I thought. The key is to start in the first place.

I tell myself I’m going for a short walk and I’m not going to run, and then find myself wanting to keep walking longer or start running. And with content marketing, at the end of a very long day I tell myself that all I have to do is write a short outline before going to bed, and before I know it I’ve made serious progress on the first draft of a post.

It’s that first step that’s the hardest, but if you can trick yourself into taking it, the next one is a lot easier.

It’s okay to take walking breaks if helps you improve

I often thought that taking a walking break during a “run” was a sign of weakness. “This is supposed to be a run, not a walk! If I were really mentally and physically tough, I would run the whole time.” (Don’t worry, this mentality did not stop me from taking many guilt-ridden walking breaks anyway.)

But I’ve since realized that it’s okay to take walking breaks if it increases my total steps, allows me to cover a greater distance, or work on improving my speed during a run.

Taking a walking break in the middle of the run might hurt my pride, but if it means I can run an extra mile or train at a higher speed for the rest of the run, isn’t it worth sacrificing pride?

Here’s how I’ve seen this play out in my content marketing: I’ve realized that it’s okay – really – to do things that make your life easier if it means you can ultimately accomplish more.

No more guilt or apologies, please! You can post less frequently, but with greater quality. You can hire a writer for some of your blog content if that means you can increase your quality. You can create all your blog images in batches rather than as you go.

Whatever you need to do to get a bit of help and renewed energy, do it – there’s not going to be a badge for being able to say “I did it all the hard way”!!

What you get out is based on what you put in

Ouch. This one is painful and was hard for me to learn.

Since for most of my life, I’ve hated running, I have only gone on the occasional run. And then when I didn’t see any progress on the next run (a month later), I would shake my head and say, “This is why I don’t like running!”

Well, if all I do is an easy 30 min jog “every once in a while”, I clearly am not going to get much better at running and each time will feel about the same every time.

And unfortunately, it’s the same with content marketing.

If you’re just throwing up the occasional short blog post and social media post without a larger strategy or focusing your efforts strategically, you’re probably not going to move the needle much at all and you won’t see significant, sustainable gains in search engine rankings.

But if you work strategically and consistently, even putting in a small amount of time but doing it regularly and on the right things, you will make real progress over time.

Pace yourself

It’s better to finish faster than to run out of steam halfway through – we all seem to know this instinctively when we’re running, don’t we?

We would much rather run a strong race start to finish than sprint the first half and jog/walk/hobble the rest of the way to the end because we ran out of steam and over-estimated our abilities. That’s somewhat embarrassing and it doesn’t make for a very enjoyable run either.

And as I wrote in the beginning, content marketing for a small business in this crazy, competitive Internet world is like moving a huge mountain with only a spoon.

If you start at a sprint, you’re definitely not going to be able to finish moving the mountain. But if you take it one teeny tiny step at a time, at a pace you can sustainably manage for the next couple of years (years!!) – now that is the route to true success.

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Easy 30 Minute Content Marketing Projects

Is there anything more humbling that searching for your target keywords and discovering that your beautiful website ranks on the 10th page of search results?

How and where do you even begin to tackle this obstacle, especially in a crowded, noisy online world?

How do you claw your way up the rankings when you’re beginning so low, and there is so competition from the start?

What if I told you there is a way to tackle this problem without getting overwhelmed or discouraged, in just 30 minutes a day?

In this post I’m going to share a series of 30 minute content marketing projects you can tackle whenever you have a free half hour.

These projects are quick, NOT stressful, and will slowly and steadily help you to improve your site’s traffic as you tackle them one day at a time.

But first, a peek behind the curtain into something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:

Control – or rather, the fact that I just don’t have it

There are a lot of things in life that I can’t control.

I can’t control the actions and opinions of others, my own past mistakes, the likelihood of future mistakes and regrets, sickness and suffering and obstacles that come along with everyday life.

But what can I control? I can control what I do right now, in the moment.

Or, more specifically, I can control what I do in the next 30 minutes.

I can’t change the fact that I have insomnia, but I can control what I think about for the next 30 minutes lying awake in bed. 

I can’t go back and undo that mistake, but I can spend the next 30 minutes writing down a list of lessons learned from it. 

I can’t control what other people think of me, but I can spend the next 30 minute working toward my goals and proving them wrong (even if I’m the only one who knows it). 

Sounds like a great self-help book, right? Why am I writing about this on a content marketing blog?!

Because I’ve realized that this concept is so applicable to content marketing.

And it all comes down to this:

The painful, overwhelming feeling that you are so far down in search results and your competitors are so much better equipped/funded that you may as well not even try.

It is so discouraging to know that you have a great business, and incredible value to offer customers, but to be utterly lost in the sea of noise online, even losing business to companies that you know aren’t offering as much value as you offer.

Now time for some tough love. Here’s the truth:

You can’t control what your competitors do, or technical issues that come up with your website, or the many problems and tasks that take time away from your content marketing every day, week, and month.

But that’s just part of the story, because…

You can control what you do right now, in the present.

You can control what you do in the next 30 minutes.

And when you’re facing the seemingly insurmountable challenge of content marketing in a noisy world, just taking it 30 minutes at a time might be the best – and only – way to move forward.

Think about it:

What is going to result in more progress as you tackle a mountain of content marketing that may very well take years to move?

Should you go down the rabbit hole, neglect your business as you blog and promote late into the night until your eyes bleed?

Or should you focus on running your business well, making money and making your customers happy, and breaking off pieces of content marketing one manageable, tasty bite at a time?

Let’s see. The first one is definitely my innate leaning, but it tends to result in burnout, bad decisions, frustration, and no near term sales growth. (Oh, and poor sleep, poor health, poor mood, and grumpiness – fun!)

But the second one, while counter-intuitive (aren’t entrepreneurs supposed to work all the time?) allows me to stay fresh, motivated, relaxed, and removes a ton of pressure from my day to day work.

Oh, and it actually gets results in the long term.

Why’s that?

Because effective, sustainable content marketing depends on two major things:

  1. Creating super high quality, engaging content
  2. Getting backlinks to said content

And the plain truth is, valuable content and valuable relationships simply can’t be wished into being.

You won’t manufacture them with a few all nighters in front of your laptop.

You can’t buckle down and become an authority online within 6 months of starting your business blog.

Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint; so pace yourself and you’ll have a much better chance of finishing well.

So if all you have is 30 minutes today or this week (or this month), what can you do to advance your content marketing?

Create more content

Brainstorm blog post titles and topics

Sit down in a comfortable chair, open up a notebook or grab a piece of paper and pen, and brainstorm blog post titles. Throw in a blank _____ anytime you are stuck on a specific word or title.

Outline a blog post

You most likely can’t write a full blog post in 30 mins, but if you spend 30 straight minutes writing a killer, thorough outline, you’ll be able to actually write the blog post pretty quickly the next time you sit down to write. So spend 30 mins outlining a single blog post, beginning with your target audience and the ultimate value you want to offer that audience through your blog post. Or you can cheat by downloading some of my pre-made blog post outlines. 🙂

Search for and save links to blog posts other people have written in your niche that you can do better

What are some keywords you want to rank for? (Long tail is always better – for example, go for “affordable event planner in Seattle” instead of “event planner”.) Spend 30 minutes searching for those keywords and saving links to blog posts, articles, and pages other people have written that rank well for those keywords. Later on, when you’re thinking of blog post topics, you can revisit these articles and think of ways you can write a better version. Not copying their content but creating new content that does what their content fails to do – make a hard topic more accessible, or a watered-down topic more meaty, or an outdated topic more current.

Draft a blog post

Again, 30 mins isn’t really enough time to write a full length blog post, BUT you can write a solid draft in 30 mins if you put your mind to it. Here’s my approach: open up Word, turn your font color white so you won’t be tempted to stop and reread your draft, and then write down everything that pops into your head. Do it as quickly as possible without stopping to correct typos or fix weird phrasing. If you get stuck mid-sentence or mid-paragraph and can’t figure out what to say next, just write “…” or hit enter and start a completely new sentence. You’d be amazed at how quickly you can churn out a 1000+ word draft that way. You can always edit later!

Do something else while thinking about a blog post

This might be a little counter-intuitive, but science actually backs this up: sometimes the best way to make progress on your content marketing is to spend 30 minutes NOT doing it. Step back and do something relaxing and physical, like yoga or running. Think about your content, but let your mind wander, and don’t write down anything at all. Procrastination, when wielded properly, can actually be the key to greater creativity and higher quality content.

Promote your existing content

Make a list of blogs to contact

Spend 30 minutes making a list of links in Excel. Search for and save links to blogs that fall in one of these two categories: bloggers that have linked to posts similar to one of your posts, who might be interested in the better/newer/more thorough post you just created (do this by searching for the URL of a similar post in SEMrush); or bloggers who write about related topics and might want to share your post with their audience. If you have time/energy for guest blogging (and some real value to offer!) you can also make a list of blogs to contact to offer to write a guest post.

Send outreach / networking emails

If you have a list of blogs to contact, you can spend 30 minutes sending as many emails as you can to reach out to those bloggers. Use a CRM like Hubspot Sales to keep track of everything, or just use Excel.

Subscribe to / comment on / share content from the bloggers on your lists

Take that list of blogs and spend 30 minutes engaging with them. Subscribe to email lists, reply to a recent newsletter email you’ve gotten, comment on a recent blog post, share their content on your social media pages. If you’re like me (and many non-full time bloggers), you don’t have time to do things like this every day, but even spending 30 minutes on this every once in a while will show these bloggers that you are serious about supporting them and you care enough about their work to share it with other people.

Improve your existing content

Set up + explore Google Analytics

If you haven’t already done this, do it the next time you have a few minutes. It won’t take a full 30 minutes but depending on what website platform and theme you’re using, it might take a bit of time to figure out. If you already have Google Analytics set up and have a few weeks or months worth of data, simply spend 30 minutes poking around and exploring your site’s analytics. What pages do most visitors land on? Where does most of your traffic come from? How long do visitors stay? Where do they tend to go after landing on one of your pages? Take notes on anything that stands out to you.

Set up + explore Google Webmaster Tools

Same deal with this one. Google Analytics tells you a lot, but it doesn’t tell you much about how you’re doing in search results. The important thing to note in Google Webmaster Tools is what position you rank in for different keywords and what your click through rate (CTR) is for that keyword. You may be surprised by how well you rank for one keyword or phrase, and conversely, how poorly you rank for another one. But you can use this to your advantage by creating more and better content for the keywords where you rank poorly, and enhancing content for the keywords where you’re doing well, including creating content upgrades for that content to take better advantage of the traffic you’re already getting. For now, just spend 30 minutes either setting up your Webmaster Tools or exploring the data and taking notes on what stands out.

Add internal links

Spend 30 minutes going back to older posts and adding relevant internal links to new posts you have written or relevant resources you have created.

Refine an older post

Pick a post you have already written and spend 30 minutes making as many improvements as possible. Correct grammar, improve the writing, break up overly long sentences and paragraphs, make it more easily skim-able by pulling out quotes and adding better headlines, etc. If you’re overwhelmed and not sure where to start, look at your analytics and pick one of your posts that receives the most traffic.

Enhance an older post with a new content upgrade

Spend 30 minutes creating a quick PDF download (checklists and worksheets are easy to make quickly) and add it as an opt-in lead magnet to one of your existing posts. Again, pick a post that is already getting more traffic if you aren’t sure where to start. Click here for some tips on how to create printables without design software.

Take it one step at a time

Listen – this is not a checklist.

You don’t have to do all of this (or any of this) to be successful.

If there are aspects of your content marketing that keep you up at night or make you cringe with embarrassment, please stop, take a deep breath, and relax. Content marketing is simply a tool to help you get more and happier customers. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be effective.

You can’t control where you are in your business right now, and you can’t control what your customers think and do or the resources your competitors have to invest in content marketing.

But you can control what you do in the next 30 minutes, so why not start with something on this list?

Content marketing – and successful entrepreneurship in general – is an epic long term play, with no true shortcuts. So consider the next 30 minutes a single step in a long journey with plenty of twists and turns. It doesn’t really matter how many steps you take this week or month, as long as you keep on moving – one single step at a time. 

Get all these 30 minute content marketing projects in a printable list

Keep it by your workspace and look to it whenever you have 30 minutes to spend.

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What Stands In The Way Becomes The Way

The other day I stumbled across a reference to Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle Is The Way, which is a bestseller based on this famous quote from Marcus Aurelius:

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

I’m working with a friend on a big project that we are hoping to launch this summer, and a few days after reading that Marcus Aurelius quote, I was telling her how much easier our lives would be if we had started working on it before we both had babies (our daughters were born around the same time).

Then I realized something: while we might have had more free time and more energy for the project before we became moms, we have better insights into this project now that we are moms.

Because our project requires us to have a lot of insight into the lives of women going through hard life seasons, the fact that we’re each in the trenches right now too is not just an obstacle – it’s an asset. We are also more decisive and efficient now that we have so little extra time in the margins to waste on unnecessary or low priority work. That means we’ve made far more progress on our project than we would have expected had we started a few years ago. So yes, it’s harder now that we’re moms – but also better because we’re moms.

The very thing that makes it hard for us to do what we want to do also makes us better at what we want to do. 

I have found myself thinking about this concept constantly over the past several weeks.

What else have I missed?

Where else do I have secret assets hidden in the obstacles that abound in my life and work?

Where else have I been stumped when I could have used the very thing that stumped me to become stronger, cleverer, more competitive?

Here are a few of the things I’ve come up with since that conversation with my friend:

  • Challenging work projects have forced me to learn more and be more humble than if everything had gone smoothly
  • Being constantly pressed for time has given me insight into the need for more marketing resources out there that remove extra work instead of adding it
  • Not living in a major metropolitan area the way I used to has given me an outsider perspective that helps me see clearly into short term trends vs long term market changes

As Holiday puts it in his book, this isn’t a glass-half-full mentality – it’s a complete flip, from seeing only the obstacle to seeing only the benefit within the obstacle.

This is a simple concept, but it’s a game changer for entrepreneurs. We are constantly feeling like we fall short, don’t measure up, don’t meet our own standards. But at the same time we are searching for competitive advantages that help us stand out in the crowd. What if we could kill two birds with one stone? What if the very things that we think hold us back actually make us more unique, push us to work harder, or give us opportunities and insights that those who have it easy will miss?

Just for fun, I made a typography print with this quote for my workspace. Click the image to download it and use it for yourself. Hope it brings you inspiration and encouragement when you need it most!

What stands in the way becomes the way | Quote typography download | Alana Le

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Infographic – Steps To A Great Blog Post

Blogging whimsically feels natural. It feels genuine. It feels easy, creative, and fun.

But after you’ve spent a few days, weeks, or months churning out amazing, whimsical blog posts that don’t get any traffic, you might start to feel a little (a lot) discouraged.

Here’s the thing – you need your unique insights and creative spirit to come up with solid blog post ideas; that’s what will set your blog apart from the rest of the noise out there. But there’s no reason you can’t also learn from successful bloggers to ensure you are making the most of all the content you work so hard to create.

The next time you sit down to write a blog post, plan to take a little more time and follow these steps to make it a truly great one. For example, if you usually spend a few hours on a single blog post, this time plan to spend a few hours every day for a week on a single post and complete every one of these steps. You are very likely to see a difference when you follow these techniques – I know I have!

Blogging Infographic – Steps To A Great Blog Post

Content Marketing Infographic - Steps To A Great Blog Post | Alana Le | Content Marketing For The Rest Of Us

 

Follow These 11 Steps To A Great Blog Post

Tired of creating amazing blog posts that don’t seem to go anywhere after you hit “Publish”? Follow these 11 steps that the pros use to create great blog posts that get real engagement and build your brand. Read on for more detail into each step.

I’ve also added some really great resources for each of these crucial steps. You don’t have to read all of the links – there’s plenty of overlap – but if there is a step where your knowledge is a little shaky or it’s outside your comfort zone, definitely take a look at some of the links I’ve added. I’m a researcher (is that a personality type? It should be!) and these are the resources that have taught me a lot about blogging and I wanted to share them with anyone else who wants to learn.

1 – Find Great Topic Ideas

Search for your target keywords, see what posts are out there already and identify what they’re missing. Or, think of a strong stance that you need to take about what’s happening in your field. This is where you need to apply your own unique crazy creative insights and combine them with a realistic look at the content that is already available.

Think about it not as mimicking other content or restricting your creativity to the mainstream, but more as leveraging your creativity by focusing on sharing insights that will have the greatest possible impact. The important thing is to remember that a great blog post is usually not created in a vacuum – it’s aware of its larger context, but brings something new and better to the table. Do your research, see what kind of content already ranks well for your keywords or is being shared by influencers, and build on that.

More tips on doing keyword research:

Help for coming up with blog post topics:

2 – Define Your Ideal Target Audience

Before you even start writing, it’s a good idea to have a single reader in mind – that way your tone will be more natural and your content more useful than if you wrote for the thousands of people you’d love to attract to your blog. So get in detail if you can.

I sometimes like to fill out a profile for my target as though I were creating a fictional character, imagining things like their personality type, hobbies, etc. But not everyone loves getting into all the imaginary details like I do. 🙂 The important thing is to just be as specific as you can. For example, instead of targeting “anyone who needs help with office organization”, you could target “working moms in their 30s who need help getting organized”, or even better – “bloggers who write about home organization for working moms in their 30s”. With the last group, you would be targeting influencers looking for content to share with their followers, rather than a general audience (who may not share your blog post no matter how good it is).

Also, try to be very clear from the get-go on what value your target reader will get from your post. What are you going to offer in this post that they can’t find elsewhere? How will you improve their lives with this post or make things easier for them?

Here are some of my favorite guides on creating a target audience profile for your blog:

3 – Write A Solid Outline

Posts that are more emotionally meaningful tend to get more engagement on social media, while posts that go deep into a single subject tend to rank better in search engines. Either way, your post should be well-organized and broken into clear, logical sections, with several practical examples.

The best way to make sure this happens is to start with a logical outline and then fill it in later. Check out these resources for outlining a great blog post:

4 – Write + Rewrite Your Post

Flesh out your outline, then edit, rewrite, and edit some more. It’s better to take more time and write an excellent post than to churn out a substandard post every day or week. You’re not looking for perfection by any means, but there’s really no way to fake or substitute the kind of polish and quality that shows in a post that has received a ton of TLC. The Elements of Style is the classic handbook on good writing, but my favorite resource right now is this amazing compilation of writing tips from famous writers: Tips From The Masters (Gotham Writers).

5 – Add Relevant Links

Now go through your post and add in relevant links, being sure to make the anchor text (the underlined text for the link) long and descriptive. Your post should include some of the following types of links: outbound links to quality, authoritative sites for reference and examples; internal links to related content on your own site; and links to other relevant blogs/sites that might be good promotional partners for you. (You can contact these sites later to let them know they were featured in your post.)

More info on how a good relevant link strategy can improve your post:

6 – Create Accompanying Media & Call to Action (CTA)

Create a Pinterest-friendly featured image (longer than it is wide), plus any other images you’ll want for social media like quotes or images for Facebook etc. It’s also a really good idea to take a little extra time (okay, a LOT of extra time) and create a content upgrade like a downloadable worksheet, checklist, or ebook to go with your post. You can offer this in exchange for subscribing to your email list and allow readers to go deeper with your subject. Click here to get my tips on creating a good content upgrade without any special design software. Drawing a blank when it comes to making up a content upgrade and how to offer it? Here are some really good ideas for content upgrades plus tips on how to implement them:

7 – Run Through A Quick SEO Checklist

Here’s a quick SEO checklist I try to use before each post I publish:

  • Length – Your post length should be at least 1800 words. I know, that’s a lot. It’s okay if it’s not that long when you initially publish it, but take time to come back later on when you have time and add more content. And not just content for the sake of content – add better examples, more explanation, anecdotes, more helpful tips or links, etc.
  • Organization – Organization is crucial because if someone is in a hurry, they may only glance at your post for a few seconds to decide whether or not to read it. So to make it easier for a reader to know what your post contains in a single glance, be sure to include subheadings and lists to break up the content and organize it well; make the subheadings logical and descriptive; and make the paragraphs short and easy to skim.
  • Keywords – It’s also important that you incorporate your target keywords and variations on those keywords early in your post, in some of your link anchor text, in your post title and URL, in your meta description, and in the featured image title & alt tag.

Here are some other blog post SEO checklists that will take a little longer, but really help your post:

8 – Publish + Share

Publish! Nice job! Now share your new post on social media and/or with your email list. If applicable, include a special download to go with your post that is only available to your email list. In case you don’t normally send things to an email list, here are two good articles to check out:

9 – Find Promotional Opportunities (aka Link Building)

Find influencers who might share your post on their blog: people who have linked to similar posts, written about something tangentially related to yours, or whose readers might be very interested in your post. Backlinko has the most helpful post I’ve read on promotion (for steps 9 and 10) so be sure to read it here: Link Building Case Study: How I Increased My Search Traffic by 110% in 14 Days. If you have more time/interest, I also recommend his post on link building: Link Building: The Definitive Guide, which has a bunch of additional resources to check out.

10 – Promote Your Post

Send outreach emails to influencers and share the link to your post; explain why you thought they’d be interested and ask what they think of your post. Offer to write a guest post on the same topic for their blog. Again, check out the Backlinko post for more tips on this: Link Building Case Study: How I Increased My Search Traffic by 110% in 14 Days.

11 – Continually Improve

A truly great blog post is never complete, because the more feedback you get from readers & analytics, the better you can make it. One strategy I often use is to see what kinds of keywords are generating the most traffic for one of my existing pages, and then add more content around those keywords when I have time. I have seen this strategy significantly improve my search engine traffic for specific pages. And as you think more about your topic or learn from other sources, you can go back to add better examples, new stats & reference links, relevant new internal links, new content upgrades, and more. You can also submit your post to Google to be indexed again if you’ve changed it significantly, rather than waiting for Google to get around to crawling your site again.

Need Writing Prompts & Blog Post Outlines? Click Here To Download A Bundle of 5 Free Blog Post Templates

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Shareable Blog Post Ideas That Really Work

Lately it seems like all I hear about is the importance of high quality content that will naturally be shared and generate backlinks if it’s “good enough”. But as anyone who has tried content marketing knows, just writing great content and hoping for the best doesn’t always get real results. That’s because there’s a missing step that is probably equally important to writing good content: promoting it.

Ick. Promoting. No one likes that word! I’m sure we can all think of bad experiences from friends or pushy salespeople trying to promote things to you when you really weren’t interested.

But promoting your content – if it really is good content – doesn’t have to feel icky.

It can just be as simple as sending a message to someone who might be in a position to share your content and saying “Hey, I wrote this and thought you might find it interesting. What do you think?”.

If you’re willing to put in the work to promote your content on social media and in other ways, there’s another step you can take to make things a bit easier: focus on creating content that is highly shareable in the first place.

Here are three very effective ideas for creating highly shareable blog posts:

Improve the most popular posts already out there for your target keywords

This is so basic, but easy to overlook. Instead of just blogging about what is currently on your mind, search for your target keywords and see what blog posts rank the highest.

Evaluate those posts. How could they be better? Prettier graphics? More up-to-date? More statistics to bring the point home? Longer, more ideas, more options, more visuals? You get the idea.

Start by making what’s already out there even better, and that way you’ll know you are creating something that is more likely to be popular. Plus you can search for anyone who has linked to those popular posts using a tool like SEMrush and send them the link to your updated post. Brian Dean from Backlinko calls this the skyscraper technique and provides a ton of detail here.

Compile a list of statistics that convey current trends

Again, instead of focusing on what you want to write about today, start by looking at what other people are writing about in your industry. Do you see any trends that seem to be getting a lot of coverage by the most popular bloggers in your industry? Do your own research and write a post that compiles statistics and sources that support those trends. That way you’ve created a resource that other influencers will want to share (because it gives more support to what they’ve already been saying), rather than another competing trend piece. It’s also really helpful for readers to see all the latest statistics in one place.

Significantly improve and update your most popular old blog content

Take a look at your blog analytics. What blog posts are getting the most traffic (or have been in the past few months)?

Rather than write a new post, throw your energy into improving those posts that are already getting good traffic. Update your information, improve and expand your explanations, add length (if it’s helpful), and create a new downloadable resource to go along with your post so readers can get even more out of it.

Good content marketing takes time, so be patient!

If you start to attempt one of those ideas, you’ll probably realize very quickly that they will take a LOT of time to implement.

It’s true. Writing content that is going to really be worth sharing isn’t easy and it takes a ton of time. But rather than trying to churn out a new blog post every day or week, what if you spent 2-3 weeks just focused on making one really amazing blog post and promoting it well? That might actually do more for your marketing than keeping up your frequency at the expense of creating shareable content…

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Blog Post Template: The “Personal Lesson” Post

Need to write a great blog post, but today creating the actual content feels like pulling teeth? Let me help! Here is a blog post template for writing blog posts about a personal lesson learned. This is great for entrepreneurs who want to tie their personal experience in with their industry niche. Click here to download it now.

Blogging is hard. It’s okay to admit it!

And if you’re not a full time blogger and you’re just writing “in your free time” (lol) in order to build your business’s brand and improve your search engine rankings, it’s a whole lot harder.

That’s because business blogging is both a science and an art; it’s kind of like creative writing, but research and fact based, and must include technical tactics and strategies for SEO that creative writers never have to think about.

And when you’re approaching a new blog post at the end of a long day or week running your business, it is simply really hard to make the magic work just like that.

At the same time, writing meaningless posts that just regurgitate the latest content in your industry won’t do much for your brand or a sustainable SEO strategy either. So how exactly are we non-full-time-bloggers supposed to build a solid blog strategy without losing our minds?!

Don’t re-invent the wheel – use a template

Templates are a great place to start. Starting with a writing prompt or an outline already on the page means your brain has to work a little less hard, which means you will have more brainpower (so to speak) to focus on creating great content. Hubspot offers 5 free blog post templates and Smart Passive Income (love that blog!) has a great list of blog post topics to pick from. And this infographic from Social Triggers is super helpful as well.

You should definitely take a look a all of these to get ideas for incorporating a call-to-action, advice on writing post titles, topic ideas, and more.

But if you are looking for a little more guidance on creating the actual content, these templates will leave you hanging.

The “Personal Lesson” Blog Post Template

That’s why I am working on a series of blog post templates in Word format that you can download and adapt to your heart’s content. These templates that focus on the actual content you need to write, in addition to the organization. Each template in this series will center on a different type of post and include an outline and writing prompts for each section.

This template – the “Personal Lesson” blog post – is a great way for any business blogger to make a surprising pairing between something personal you’ve experienced and something in your industry niche. The topic should intrigue your readers and make them want to hear what you think. It’s also a chance to share how something a little more personal has changed you and set you apart from your peers. Click here to download it now.

Curious? Here’s an example of this type of post from my blog: 5 Things My Husband’s Deployment Taught Me About Entrepreneurship.

Also, be sure to check out The “Surprising Advice” Blog Post Template I released earlier and click here to view the original template that started it all! More templates coming soon. 🙂