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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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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. 🙂

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Blog Post Template Word Doc: The Surprising Advice Post

Blogging, especially for a business, can be incredibly hard.

We entrepreneurs could (and probably do) talk about our businesses for hours on end, but when it comes down to putting our thoughts in blog posts and publishing them, we freeze up.

It’s scary to have our original opinions and ideas out there on the Internet for all to see.

It’s hard to find the words to convey what we think in a way that is accessible to someone who doesn’t know nearly as much about the topic as we do.

And most of all, it’s exhausting to be creative.

We spend all day working on running our actual business and then when we finally come to writing a blog post, we’re just too tired and drained to think straight.

Blog post templates to the rescue!

Introducing The “Surprising Advice” blog post template

I created this series of blog post templates to help busy entrepreneurs jump start the creative process of writing a blog post. Here is my second blog post template in editable Word format for your convenience: The “Surprising Advice” Post.

(Click here to get the original blog post template – The Meaningful Opinion/Insight blog post. More templates coming soon so stay tuned!)

This detailed 4 page blog post template will walk you through the process of creating a helpful and thoughtful blog post that surprises and engages readers while demonstrating your expertise.

It’s perfect for a business blog but would work just fine for a personal or hobby blog too.

Use this form to download your Word template for The “Surprising Advice” Post:

If you use this template to write a blog post, please share the link in your comments! And share the love – spread the word about this template to your other blogging friends.

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21 Blog Post Writing Prompts Editable Word Doc

Earlier this year I launched my 21 Day Blogging Challenge, an email course where I emailed subscribers a new blog post writing prompt (and an example to go with it) every day for 3 straight weeks.

I took the challenge myself first and I loved it. It forced me to step outside my comfort zone, publish things that made me a little nervous, get more organized, get more creative, and just become a better blogger overall.

But not everyone has time to blog every day, including me. So I put all the writing prompts from my 21 Day Blogging Challenge and put them into an editable Word doc for you.

That way you can go through it and write down any topics that come to mind, draft some outlines, etc. and save it in the document for yourself. Whenever you have time to publish a post, your notes will be right there waiting for you.

Use this form to download your writing prompts:

Happy blogging!

PS. Curious about what kinds of prompts are included? Here are some of the posts I wrote during this challenge:

Why You Should Keep Blogging (Even If No One Is Reading)

Be A Better Writer With This Surprising Tip

5 Things My Husband’s Deployment Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

Why You Need To Be Ahead Of Schedule

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5 Minute Hacks For A Prettier Website

Do you sometimes find yourself wondering why everyone else’s website always seems prettier than yours?

That is a common refrain with my clients and entrepreneurs I know. I hear a lot of things like “my website just seems to lack…polish…” or “it doesn’t look right to me but I’m not sure why”.

First, can I just say something?

Pretty websites are great, but a little overrated.

Chances are the most beautiful websites you’ve seen belong to full time bloggers who are also designers. So it makes sense that they would have both the time and the talent to make something Internet-gorgeous.

But if you’re a small business owner, only two things really matter:

  1. Professional polish
  2. Great content

If your website contains compelling content displayed in a way that shows you are really professional and not messing around, you’re fine. 

Ok, pep talk over. 🙂

If you STILL want to find a way to attain the special polish that your favorite websites have, I’ve got some ideas for you.

Each of these “hacks” will only take you a few minutes but will improve – sometimes dramatically – the attractiveness of your website.

I came up with these tricks by reviewing all of my favorite blogs and websites, including those by full time designers, and realizing there was a certain pattern that they all had in common.

Here goes – 5 minutes hacks for a prettier website today:

Make your background white

This probably feels boring and bland. Plus I feel a little silly writing it because my website doesn’t have a white background (and personally I think it looks good as is, but I’m biased….).

But this is probably the number one easiest trick and the most commonly deployed by great websites out there.

Go to your theme’s settings and switch your background to white, and your site will instantly appear cleaner, less cluttered, and more professional.

Remember, the 90s are over and the days of consumers expecting a business to have a “fun” website are long gone.

Potential customers don’t want to (and won’t) be impressed with your quirky animations or your fake brick background. They just want to know who you are and why they should hire or buy from you. Or, as I have said a couple times in various blog posts, they want you to answer two questions: Can I trust you? and Do I respect you?

Forget about fancy and fun and quirky. Make your background simple and white and focus on creating great content that answers those two questions instead.

Increase blank space

Along those lines, having a website with more blank space, especially on the sides, will contribute to an overall cleaner, simpler, more attractive feeling.

Remember this: Clutter is bad. Simple is pretty. Clutter has actually been associated with higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels in women, so I’m not being too dramatic when I say that your potential customers really will not enjoy your clutter-happy, overly-informative-in-all-the-wrong-places website.

Besides, did you know that “negative space” (empty areas, also known as white space) is actually an important aspect of design?

Use a blog post image template

This is such an easy trick and it will make a huge difference in the polish and attractiveness of your website.

Uniformity in your blog post featured images will send the message that you are professional and together, and you will have confidence that every image looks great, without having to “design” something special for every post.

Create a simple, attractive blog post featured image template and use it for all of your future blog posts. Make sure that the template includes the same size and orientation for every image, the same font, font color, size, and location for overlayed text, and the same type of background, whether it’s a color block or image.

Related: Do These 6 Things Immediately After Setting Up Your WordPress Blog

Remove or condense menu buttons

So simple, so effective.

As the content on your website grows and you add more and more pages and blog categories, chances are your menu bar has gotten a little out of control.

Since the menu bar is pretty much the first thing someone sees upon opening your website, a sloppy, over-crowded menu bar will give your visitor a cluttered and unattractive first impression.

Fix this in five minutes (or more like two minutes) by removing any non-essential menu buttons.

“But they’re all essential!” I hear ya. Try this instead: group them into high level categories and collapse them into submenu buttons. For example, if you have “About Me” “My Story” “Contact Me” and “Testimonials”, why not group them all under a top level menu button called “About”? The content will still be easily accessible but the menu will look a lot cleaner to visitors.

Increase font size

I don’t know why small business websites always seem to use extra small font. I really don’t.

It’s like a big sign that says “DON’T READ THIS! IT’S NOT IMPORTANT!” covering up all of your blog posts and content.

Why?!

Simple, easy fix: Go to your theme settings and increase the body or paragraph font size. Just use trial and error until you find something that is easy to read and skim in a quick glance and doesn’t require your website visitor to squint, scowl, and get 3″ away from their monitor to read it.

While you’re at it, break up your long paragraphs into short, skimmable chunks. No more than 3-4 lines max per paragraph. It will make your website look much cleaner and easier to read, AND prettier too.

All of these hacks will only take a few minutes and can be done for free, without buying a new theme, hiring a developer, or any other fancy schmancy stuff.

But they will go a long way toward making your website attractive, polished, and easy to use. Win!

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How To Get Out Of A Blogging Slump

The dreaded blogging slump.

It’s like writer’s block, but more humiliating – everyone who ever visits your blog can see exactly how long since you’ve published a post.

For me, the longer I go without posting during a blogging slump, the harder it is to start again.

When I haven’t posted in a while, I find it harder to come up with ideas for blog posts, and the first few paragraphs I write feel like pulling teeth.

A blogging slump is more than just annoying or embarrassing. Many newbie bloggers have told me that they eventually gave up on their blog because they hit a blogging slump and just never got out of it.

Scary! I don’t want this to happen to you! (Or me!)

I did some thinking and realized that I use a few tricks to force myself out of blogging slumps, and I wanted to share them with you.

Here are 4 quick ways to get yourself out of a blogging slump and get back in that saddle (plus a bonus idea):

Brainstorm post titles

Set a timer and write down as many madlibs style post titles as you can think of in 5 or 10 minutes. I write down things like “How To _____ Without Losing _____” or “How To Become A Better _____” or “# Ways To Improve Your _____”. Sometimes I scan blogs with lots of articles for inspiration too. The point isn’t to come up with a blog post concept that has never been seen in the history of the world. The point is to get yourself writing again, even if it’s with big _____ blank spaces in the middle of your sentences. This trick has pulled me out of many a blogging slump.

Hit publish quickly

It’s like taking off a bandaid. There is pretty much no doubt that your first post after a blogging slump witll be a little rough around the edges – a little awkward – not the prettiest, slickest thing in the world. So go ahead and shake of those perfectionist tendencies. Instead of trying to create the perfect blog post to make up for your weeks (or months) of silence, just write something (anything!) and hit publish as soon as it’s reasonably complete. You can always go back and change it later on.

Go old school and put away your laptop

Get out a notebook and pen, or a blank sheet of paper, or a post-it, or the back of a receipt in your purse. I’ve used all of these items and more to draft blog posts. Staring blearily at a bright, blank computer screen when you have writer’s block is neither fun nor productive. Close that laptop and pull out some paper, then start writing down whatever comes to mind, even if it’s crazy. Physically writing is good for your brain.

Make a list of advice

If you are really drawing a blank when it comes to blog post topics, here’s what I do: Imagine your best friend is about to do something related to your field of expertise. You’re sending an email with everything you want them to know so they don’t make a huge mistake or get taken advantage of. What advice would you give them? What do you want to be absolutely sure they understand? This approach – friend to friend writing, instead of business to customer writing – helps me overcome the artificial limitations of “marketing writing” and come up with more creative (and helpful) blog post ideas.

If you want to really say goodbye to that blogging slump, take my 21 Day Blogging Challenge. I’ll send you a blog post writing prompt every day for 3 straight weeks. I took the challenge and it was amazing – you should try it too!