Tag Archives: Blogging for Creatives

The Craft of Blogging #11 Titles

Titles do important work on any writing, and especially on a blogpost. For a blog the title has to work very quickly because, as any blog surfer will know, there are always lots of other blogposts to read. Apparently out of 10 people hunting for interesting pieces on the internet 8 will read the title and only 2 out of 10 will read the content. The question is how to choose titles that entice more of those missing 6 title-readers to read on.

Leopard by Peter Thomas, July 2013 via WikiCommons

Leopard by Peter Thomas, July 2013 via WikiCommons

The work of the blogpost title/headline

All titles need to do these things:

  • Catch the readers’ attention among all the possibilities
  • Announce the topic/content
  • Direct readers attention to the writer’s purposes
  • Invite the reader to read on

In the world of blogging first impressions are the only impression. Words need to do a great deal of work. The title of a post is often the only thing that a potential reader sees, not those enticing visuals you have imported, not that amazing first line. I chose what to read are from my twitter feed, full of competing posts, and email alerts from blogs I subscribe to. And like most social media users I make the decision in a second or two. What makes the potential reader open the link?

The title needs to stand out without being too cute (Robin Houghton’s phrase). And certainly without being tricksy. Nothing is more annoying than being misled into finding the post doesn’t follow through.

Title: How I found a WW2 spitfire in my garden. First line: Haha got your attention. Now read my post about the lambs outside my window.

Shreeja Jamdar suggest that some professional bloggers spend up to 50% of their time on a post contemplating the title. That’s over the top, but indicates how important they consider it. I don’t expect you have the time to do this. I certainly don’t.

Finding a few powerful words that work for you can also bring in readers. I found one recently, which I’ll share later.

What the gurus recommend

Guidance for bloggers abounds. Here’s a list I have compiled from various sources, including those mentioned below.

94 hook

Saying what it is

Being descriptive can work well. Here are two examples. How to write a click-worthy blog title from the blog Molly Greene: Writer, and 10 Blog title Formulae that actually work by Shreeja Jamdar on Crowdfire. Both got my attention. The titles did their job. This approach show how a descriptive approach links to the form of the post announced: a list, a how to …, my take on …, interview, review, round-up, prediction.

For book reviews the title and author seems to be adequate, Whispering Gums said in the comments on the general post on titles: On the tricky topic of titles. I agree.

The number

A very popular approach to titles relies on the attraction of numbers. It needs to have more of course: 10 ways to do something; 5 things I’ve learned about something; 4 good reads. Women’s magazines use this hook a lot. They always have numbers on their covers. According to Molly Greene, the number 10 gets the most hits. I noticed that Shreeja Jamdar’s post on 10 blog formulae misses the 8th formula.

The Question

Inviting a response is an obvious way to hook a reader. Has this happened to you? Would you do this to your best friend?

The How To [solve a problem]

This title says it’s just what the reader needs or may not have known they needed: How to deal with pesky spam on your blog; How to write a click-worthy blog title; How to find great images for your blog. We all need a little guidance now and again.

The How To avoid [a problem]

As above, you may not know that this is your problem, but read on and you will find out it is and how to fix it! How to avoid losing readers; How to avoid six of the most common blogging errors.

The Secrets

The approach appeals to curiosity, although secrets often means ‘How to…’. The secret of my writing success; The secret of good reviews. A little disingenuous really, this word secret, as nothing is secret on social media for long.

The Never titles

Not an approach I use because it is both negative and often at the expense of someone else, who did. But you can see the hook here. 5 things you should never do on your blog. Never run out of ideas for Christmas presents; Never give a dog a bad name.

The directed titles

Reference a group of people to appeal to them: For bloggers who want good titles for their posts; Ten best Victorian mysteries for readers of crime fiction; For fans of Elena Ferrante who want to know the truth.

Using power words.

You can use strong eye-catching words: awesome, mind-numbing, perfect, maximise, incredible, proven. The one that has worked for me is ‘a little rant about …’

And you could, especially if you are commercially minded, investigate SEO. After all, if titles play a major part in getting readers to your blog posts, then those search engines will pick up on the higher hit rate and push your keywords up their list. Success breeds success.

So, over to you …

Be creative, spend a little time and care on the titles and see what works for you. And please share any recommendations for blog titles. And any great examples of the skill

77 Blogging-coverRecommended and related

A recent post on Bookword: On the tricky topic of titles in November 2015

And the two previous posts in the Craft of Blogging series:

#10 Reuse Recycle Reduce

#9 Problems and more problems

Blogging for Creatives by Robin Houghton, published in 2012 by ILEX: Lewes Sussex. 192pp

 

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The Craft of Blogging #8 Blogging for Writers by Robin Houghton

If you are a writer who blogs you might want to consider looking at this book. Robin Houghton published Blogging for Creatives in 2012. I referred to it a few times in earlier posts about blogging. Now we have a version specially for writers: Blogging for Writers: how authors and writers build successful blogs.

154 BFW

What’s it about?

It covers some of the same ground as the earlier edition, including retaining some of the important considerations about blogging. For example, Robin Houghton asks writers why they might want to blog. What’s in it for the writer? She notes that before the internet most writers found it hard to get any kind of readership. They had to get through the almost impermeable barriers created by the complications and demands of publishers. Today it is different, Robin Houghton observes.

On your blog, you are the publisher – you are in total control of what you put on it and how you present it. You could use your blog to try out new ideas for writing projects, asking for comments, or calling for contributors. Or perhaps you will post sample chapters, or work-in-progress, or write about the writing process, or about what you are reading and what is influencing your writing. Blogging gives you the potential to reach out to a worldwide audience. (8)

She may exaggerate the group function of a blog when she suggests that yours could become a kind of online writers’ group, ‘a place where you can draw support and inspiration throughout the ups and downs of what can essentially be quite a lonely occupation’. It’s an ideal, and I expect there are places where this happens. But it is not guaranteed.

What are the qualities of this book?

Blogging for Writers shares many of the qualities of its predecessor. It is updated and is more specifically aimed at writers and their blogging needs.

145 old handsIt is very good on the step-by-step processes of setting up a blog, especially for people who don’t warm to technical stuff. It’s not that technical in Robin Houghton’s account, and it’s well illustrated so you can see what should be happening and what other writers have done on their blogs. It is as attractive as many handicraft books, good colour photos and no assumption that you know what is meant by a widget or a plug-in.

It’s also good on the craft of blogging – what makes a brilliant post (headline, topic, photo, length, readability, etc); types of post (lists, interviews, reviews, stories, polemics, etc). And it is realistic about how to manage the practicalities of planning and maintaining a blog. On frequency and length of posts, for example, she has some useful things to say, but is not prescriptive. Instead she suggests the advantages and disadvantages of different pratices.

She’s helpful about how to get your blog noticed, and to keep things going. One of the traps for bloggers is addiction to statistics. She suggests thinking of them ‘as indicators rather than absolute measures’, helpful in setting goals – if you like that sort of thing. And she suggests the tools that can help.

I make no money out of my blog, but I expect that the advice on this is good too.

Throughout the book there are screen grabs of lots of writers’ blogs, and also short quotations about some aspect of their blog.

Do you need copies of both Blogging for Writers and Blogging for Creatives?

154 BFCWriters starting from here would not need the earlier volume. Blogging for Writers is both more up-to-date and more targeted. The examples are especially helpful. I responded to the sidebar that featured Molly Wizenberg and her food and writing blog orangette.

What my blog does is force me to show up. That’s huge. A lot of writers and creative people have said things along the lines of “showing up is 90% of the work,” and that’s certainly true for me. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write. Blogs help us show up, and that’s priceless.

I want my blog to keep me excited about writing. I want it to be a place that forces me to keep writing and practicing, and to be a cattle-prod to me to keep cooking and working. I want my site to reflect what I’m excited about. (161)

I understand this as turning up and writing interesting posts has contributed to my learning as a writer and as a blogger.

Some previous posts in the Craft of Blogging series

#3 My checklist for blogposts

#5 How I write my blog slowly

#7 Finding readers

Blogging for Writers: How authors and writers build successful blogs, by Robin Houghton (2014) published by ilex press. 176 pp

Do you have any ‘how to blog’ books you recommend?

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The Craft of Blogging (3) … my checklist for blogposts

OK! You’ve thought about what it means to write on-line, and you’ve sorted out what kind of post you are planning (this one’s another list). And if you haven’t thought about those things see my previous posts on the subjects. Now, here’s a checklist of 9 things I’ve learned to look out for in every blogpost, having now posted 94 of them. Please add your recommendation to bring it up to a big fat 10.

94 hook1. The hook

Entice the reader in, after all they have access to so many blogs. Often your hook is a question, sometimes an intriguingly presented idea. It should entice the reader and not lead to disappointment. The topic may hook readers in by itself – like this one?

2. The title

Your title may be the hook, but either way it should give the reader a clue to the content. Readers have so much choice that they may not spend time on a page, and they don’t want their surfing to be wasted by a misleading title.

3. The first paragraph

Your first paragraph is all important! It tells your reader or confirms the main theme. You can’t expect a reader to wait to the end of the post to find the rabbit in the hat. They just wont. This is true of most writing.

94.links4. Links

Hyperlinks are easy to apply and offer the reader the possibility of going somewhere they never imagined, connected to your theme. Some bloggers manage audio links as well, or links to Youtube, but I haven’t yet, and not found it necessary. I like blogs that do. ‘Links between sites are the fuel of the web*.’

 

94 Blog on tablet5. Visuals

I did my first writing in a world limited to typewriters and pens. Even biros were newfangled before I reached my teens. Much later I graduated to a word processor. I know almost nothing about the technology that allows such easy inclusion of images into blogs, but you’d be a fool not to take advantage of this added dimension. Watch those copyright issues however; copyright exists to protect the creative.

6. Length

I’ve seen it argued that the shorter the post the better. As Bookword focuses on books, reading and writing I think I can stretch my readers to about 1500 on occasion. Anyway I often find I have that many words to write. It depends on the content – more images may mean fewer words. I always edit to remove surplus words. The post you are reading is just short of 900 words.

94 tape

7. Lightness of touch

For a writer who spent 20 years in academic writing and publishing it comes as a great pleasure to be able to use humour and lightness of touch in blogposts. Of course, not every post lends itself to hilarity, or even a wry smile, but many do. I think that a blog is much more like conversations with friends than addressing an audience of students.

Lightness of touch means thinking about your readership. They are reading on a screen, want to quickly get a sense of what you are saying, absorb it in short paragraphs, without dumbing down, and with headings to guide them.

Here’s a list of points for making the text easy to scan on screen:

  • Be concise and to the point
  • Halve the word count of conventional writing
  • Keep your sentences short, and read aloud.
  • Make one point per sentence.
  • Use bulleted lists for quick reading
  • Emphasise keywords with bold (avoid CAPITALS, because they LOOK LIKE SHOUTING)

This list is from the University of York Writing for the Web pages which you can find here.

Wittiness needs to be without being too clever. (Most of my editing is to remove those over-worked, over-blown ideas I thought would include to show how clever I am. I am currently working on not including them in the first place!) These all help with readability. And you have probably developed your own style (that’s house-style Eileen).

8. Call to arms

Some bloggers recommend a call to arms, usually a question. I can see the point for campaigning posts (like mine on books for prisoners, which asked people to take some action about the restrictions on books for prisoners. Come to think of it, it’s as good a time as any to mention the campaign on Books for Prisoners that you can find at the Howard League for Penal Reform. At the very least you can ask your readers to subscribe to your blog. (See the couple of lines at the end of this and every recent post!)

9. A little bit of passion

A blogpost is better for a bit of passion, not necessarily splurging over the page, but readers like to know that you are enthusiastic about your topic. Enthusiasm and expertise are very attractive. The best blogs inspire one to more: links, reading, ideas, action, enthusiasm …

If you want perfection you could check out this infographic of THE PERFECT BLOG POST. Thank you Social Triggers.

69 ten_logo10 …

And here’s the cta: please add a 10th item to my checklist.

* according to Robin Houghton (2012) Blogging for Creatives, published by ILEX: Lewes Sussex. Her book is highly recommended for novices.

 

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The Craft of Blogging (2) … types of posts

I have written over 80 posts and read many other blogs, so I have come across many types of posts. Which form to use? Lists are very common. Have you come across titles like these?

  • 5 ways of selling yourself on-line
  • 10 things every writer needs to know
  • The 12 best book blogs
  • 6 good books about rabbit breeding
  • My 100 most successful world record attempts

This post is an example of the format: a list of types – so I shouldn’t mock. Anyway lists, in particular, have the advantage of inviting the reader in – a hook! What will be on it? Will the reader share the choice, the order?

69 ten moreLists appeal to me (I once made a list of all the lists I had on the go at that moment!) and to many bloggers and readers. But they don’t suit every theme. Form needs to match purpose! A complicated argument does not lend itself to a list. A story is best told as a story.

The form or type also needs to take account of the on-line platform: ie be immediate and accessible, interactive and connective (as discussed in the first post on the craft of blogging).

Here is my list of some possible types of posts, with mainly literary examples of how it might be used.

  1. List

Ten things you never knew about blogging

5 recommended books on blogging.

  1. Story

What happened after I read this book …

A case study81 JA Carpe d

  1. How to …

Practical advice on a writing technique eg before and after editing.

Analysis of some aspect of writing.

  1. Photo or other illustration

The star of the post is an image, as in the Write One Picture exercise, or a daily image such as the Persephone Post, or occasional and interesting images, like Desktop Retreat.

Comparison between images; such as book covers.

81 platform 9

  1. Opinion or Point of View

Your individual ‘take’ on a topic, such as an author.

A topic on which you are passionate, eg libraries.

  1. Controversy

An addition to a debate on a topic – easy if you are a feminist.

Being provocative about a contentious topic. Ditto

  1. Review/Preview

Your response to a specific topic; eg an author, fiction from one country, words as therapy.

  1. Giveaway or Competition

I have no experience of giveaways or comps. Sometimes it’s a lucky dip: we’ll pick one lucky person to receive a copy of my brilliant novel – just leave a comment. It might be something that the blogger will judge: nominate your favourite book by X and we’ll send you Y. Hmmm?

81 boots

  1. Interview or profile or guest post

The subject could be another writer, or reader, or publisher. I have co-written several posts with Eileen on the subject of writing collaboratively.

  1. Prediction

An obvious form in January but also useful to announce or raise interest in forthcoming events, such as prizes, publications.

  1. Round-up

A cross between a review and a list: a collation of articles you’ve read, people you met at an event, talks, etc on a theme.

81 woman reding

  1. Something different

A variation on your most frequently used format: eg including video if you mostly produce static posts; a very short post; a conversation with a colleague; a comment on previous content …

 

(This list is adapted from Robin Houghton’s (2012) Blogging for Creatives, published by ILEX: Lewes Sussex.)

 

And did that work? Was a list the best way to present the information in this post? My own response to my list will be to try some different forms over the next few months.

 

Next post in the series The Craft of Blogging will be in April and will look at a checklist for a post – another list!

 

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The craft of blogging (1) … the medium

Do something 77 times and you expect to gain some insights in the practice. It is true of practicing the scale of C# minor (contrary motion) on the piano; of hill starts in a car; of attaching photos to tweets; how to spell imeadiately immediately; and waking up on New Year’s Day (not that I’ve actually done that 77 times, but you get the idea). I hope I have learned something about how write blog posts. I plan to write a series of posts about the craft of writing for a blog. This is my 77th blogpost!

77 laptop

Writing to be read on-line

Understanding the medium is the place to start. The writer has to pay attention to being on-line, on pcs, laptops, tablets, smartphones and probably some other things I haven’t heard of yet. Writing on-line means you have to catch the readers’ attention, and keep it. As a writer you can take advantage of the connectivity. And while a post has a short life it can be archived and amended. This makes it different to writing for printed formats.

Catching the attention of readers is a matter of a hook and appearance. The hook can be an outlandish statement, provocative or questioning. For example: How to get readers to look at your blog in 5 steps. Or Preparing to meet our editor. It can also be very straightforward. As I write a blog about things literary, especially books, the title and author are often enough. The title/hook should give just enough information for a reader to know the topic of the post, but entice them to read further.

77 iphoneThe appearance is important too. Your text will acquire an edge from being back-lit  on the screen and enhanced by the addition of relevant images. I use frequently use book covers (which led to a post on book covers and how much I like them). Additionally the page will be scrolled so the screen must not be too crowded. I like clear uncluttered page format, which includes lots of white space. In fact the 30-30-30 principle works well: 30% text, 30% image, 30% white space. Luckily there are some great ready-to-go formats. I use Word Press.

While appearance will bring in readers and keep them there, the content has to be good. To keep readers returning it needs to be reliably good. It pays to work on content (see future blogposts). Some bloggers suggest that 600 words is the maximum length for keeping readers. I find it hard to say what I want to write in less than 1000 usually. I have no idea whether readers give up before they get to the end. You could tell me in the comments box.

Being on-line means you can connect your post to other websites. The roots of blogging were in making connections, the original blogs were simply reports of other sites visited by the blogger. Links to other sites relevant to the content have become an important feature of my posts. I link to other reviews and to relevant on-line material, such as speeches, newspaper articles. Here are a couple of blogs about blogging that have lots to say, set out to be helpful, by including tips, tutorials, or plain advice. ProBlogger has been going since 2004. Successful Blog focuses on building community through blogging. While both sites include stuff about earning money through the blog, they are nevertheless relevant to a not-for-profit blog like mine. And here’s Annie Daylon’s advice to novice bloggers.

Connecting works in the other direction too. You can also get readers from other sites, from their links and blogrolls, which list the blogs they favour. Search engines help with this, key words being the means to do this. One could go for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) if visitor numbers were the key thing (eg for a site selling stuff, or pushing a political message). I’ve done without so far. And then there is twitter, facebook and other social media to promote your blog.

Communication with your readers through the comments facility also sets this writing apart from conventional publishing. I used to write articles for publication in academic journals. The Director of the Institute where I worked said that only 5 people read articles in academic journals. (NB for people who work in HE in the UK: this was pre-RAE and REF.) I loved reading articles and wondered where the other four people were. I never knew what the three people thought who read my article about using photography in educational research. But I do get feedback on my blog posts. People make suggestions, take issue, tell me off, thank me for suggesting a good read, comment on what has been said … A term I have come across for inviting these comments is the call to arms. I think questions do the job very well. How about you?

They can also be edited after publication. You can correct errors, update information and add newly discovered links.

77 ipadI have learned that blog posts have a short life. I have also learned that some posts have shorter lives than others. The two longest running and most popular posts of mine are the review of The Stone Angel by Marguerite Laurence and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor. These two reviews don’t attract much comment, but they have been in the top ten most read posts since I set up the analytical programme (Google Analytics). Blogposts about writing (like this one) often attract a good readership in the first two weeks of posting but then fall away. They may have short lives, but a blog has its own archive and a search function.

Your blog will be made up of regular readers (often subscribers) and flitters. (Mine is about 30/70 and I have no idea whether this is healthy or not.)

But blogging is no different from other kinds of non-fiction writing – purpose is key. Every blogpost has to have a point, a reason to be written and posted. On this blog I share tips for writers, or survey of a writer’s work, indulge in quirky interest like how people organise their books, or make a political point about how writing and books help people.

A book that I highly recommend: 77 Blogging-coverBlogging for Creatives, by Robin Houghton (Ilex Press).

Here’s the call to arms bit: Bloggers – what have I left out? Tell me what I’ve got wrong! Anyone – please tell me what you think about how well I’m doing. Add a comment in the box below.

The second post in this series will consider selecting the appropriate format.

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