Welcome to Episode 166 of the ProBlogger podcast. My name is Darren Rowse and I’m the blogger behind problogger.com, a blog, podcast, event, job board, and series of ebooks all designed to help bloggers grow their audience and make money from their amazing blogs. You can learn more about ProBlogger over at problogger.com.
In today’s lesson, I want to share 11 factors to consider when thinking about your blog’s editorial strategy and coming up with your own unique blogging style. The success of your blog really does hinge on many factors as you’ll know from listening to previous episodes. There’s many things that do help to grow your blog but among the most important of them is obviously content. Putting thought into what content you want to focus upon creating is so important.
What I want to share with you today will I hope help you to create a framework for content that not only helps you to serve your current readers but also to help you to create a blog that stands out from the many other blogs in your niche. This is a question I get asked a lot is, “How do I make my blog stand out?” Whilst there are many factors, I think ultimately it will come down to your content as one of the most important factors.
This episode today is perfect for anyone just starting out with blogging who’s thinking about content for the first time. You may be starting a blog and thinking, “What should I be writing about?” This episode will help you. I think it’s also perfect for anyone who’s been blogging for a while where you want to review your content and to renew your editorial strategy. I do have a lot of further reading today and I encourage you to open these notes up as you listen if possible over at problogger.com/podcast/166. Let’s get on with today’s show.
It was recently asked a question on a podcast interview that I really struggled to answer. It stumped me even though the question was quite simple in some regards. The question was this, they asked, “In the early days of your blogging, how did you develop your blog’s editorial style and strategy?” Whilst on the surface this does seem like a very simple question to answer for someone who’s been blogging, I’ve really struggled to answer the question because I knew the interviewer was looking for some practical strategies to develop an editorial strategy. The reality was in the early days of my blogging, I wasn’t overly strategic about my own content. I wasn’t intentional about it in the early days of my blogging.
My first blog was a personal blog and I don’t ever remember sitting down to come up with an editorial strategy when I started that blog. The content on that blog just came out of me. I wrote about what I was thinking about on any given day, I followed my interests, my passions and as a result, the content flowed. It was a personal blog too because I was writing all kind of topics. It was okay to experiment with different voices and to experiment with different topics. I guess in time, my style of content did emerge as I began to focus upon creating content that gave me energy that I could see my audience seemed to respond to but there wasn’t really any strategy there, the style just sort of happened to me.
That was my first blog and it was a personal blog. I suspect many bloggers who start with personal blogs have similar experiences to that. In many ways, I guess the big picture advice I could give and that I did give in my answer was to do just that, create content based upon your passions, interests, and pay attention to what’s giving you energy and to what’s giving your audience energy.
That’s the answer I gave, but ever since that interview I’ve not felt completely satisfied with the answer I gave because I realized that while in the early days my blogging I don’t ever come up with a strategy, I didn’t really sit down and think about, “This is my strategy.” I did make a series of decisions in that blog and in my other more niche focused blogs that I guess did shape my style and strategy. Whilst it wasn’t intentional, I was making decisions along the way.
What I thought I’d do today in today’s episode is to kind of reverse engineer my experience and to go back through some of those decisions and to put them all together so that you can be a little bit more strategic about this type of stuff.
The 11 decisions that I want to run through today, I made them on the fly. I made them without actually even knowing I was making them in some cases. That doesn’t mean you have to be on the fly, you can actually take these 11 decisions and make them about your blog today. As I said at the top, these are 11 decisions that a new blogger, I recon, if you are making this quite intentionally and experimenting with these things, they could actually help you fast track your own blog’s growth. These 11 decision are also great for anyone who’s been blogging for a while, who wants a bit of a framework to think about what they’ve been doing on their blog.
You’ve probably already made these decisions without even knowing it but sometimes it’s worth just assessing how are we going with our editorial strategy and do I need to change directions in some of these areas. I hope that makes sense. Hopefully as I get into the 11 things, you’ll begin to see what I mean by having already made these decisions.
Let’s get into them. Probably the best way to really explain what I’m doing is to share it with you and I hope it makes some sense to you. The first decision that most bloggers make, and it often happens to you, is to think about your voice. What voice do you write in? What voice do you want to write in on your blog? I’ve talked about voice in previous episodes and I will give you some further reading on this. One of the most helpful frameworks for thinking about voice that I’ve ever seen is something that I saw Jeff Goins presenting in an event that we ran in Portland a couple of years ago, ProBlogger day that we run off the back of World Domination Summit. At that event, Jeff talked about five platforms or five positions that you can come at blogging from. He said that pretty much any nature, any topic, you can write a blog in this five different voices.
The first voice, the first platform is the voice of the professor. The professor is someone who researches a topic, who studies that topic and it comes up with a hypothesis and then teaches in a fairly authoritative type voice. The professor is often seen as an authority, as a thought leader in their particular industry because they’ve done a lot of research and they’re really developed their ideas.
When I first came across blogging, this was the type of blog I saw when I started out. I thought everyone was a professor. I thought everyone who had a blog was writing in this style. I started out trying to be the professor and very quickly discovered that that wasn’t the right voice for me. That’s one type of voice that you could really put into any type of niche, you could be the professor of photography, you could be the professor of blogging, you could be the professor of any topic really.
The second voice, the second platform that Jeff talked about at our conference was the artist. The artist isn’t a teacher, they’re someone who’s more interested in the beauty of a particular niche and a particular topic. They’re telling stories, they’re really trying to inspire people. They’re I guess tackling the topic more in a heartfelt way than a hid kind of way that the professor might. The artist is someone talking for more beauty in the topic.
The third type is the profit. The profit is someone who tells the cold, hard, ugly truth about a particular topic. They are busting myths, they’re telling it like it is, they’re calling people and ideas out. Sometimes they’re not the most popular blogger in the world because they sometimes do say things that are uncomfortable for other people in that particular niche but that’s the approach that they take. They can really be tackling the same topic as the artist or the professor but in a very different way.
The fourth type is the journalist. This is probably what I’m a little bit more like. The journalist is someone who gathers ideas, curates ideas together and then presents a story. I think I’m somewhere between the journalist and the professor, if I had to choose from these particular types. The journalist is someone whose gathering ideas, they’re writing a story, and they’re presenting ideas. A lot of the ideas may not be their own ideas but they’re gathering them together from different sources and from their own experience I guess, and then putting it out there.
The fifth type is the celebrity. The celebrity isn’t someone who’s famous, they’re someone who’s more charismatic. I guess people read their blog because people want to know what they think about the niche. Those types of blogs is more about the personality and how they intersect with the topic.
There’s five different voices that you can use in your blogging that Jeff puts out there. He says mort bloggers really fit into one or two, it might be a combinations of those things. They’re just five words that you can describe your voice. You may not be comfortable with some of those words. I know some people don’t like the word profit, some people don’t like the word celebrity, last time I talked about these. That’s totally fine but you can be intentional about your voice. You might be the companion, you might be the mentor, you might prefer to be known as the entertainer, or the reviewer, or the curator, or the storyteller, you might be the guide, the teacher, the tough leader. Any of these things might be your voice. On some level, sometimes the voice just comes out of this like I described earlier but sometimes you can be intentional about that.
As I think back to starting Digital Photography School, my main blog, I actually was intentional about it. I made a decision, I looked around the photography space and I saw that a lot of photography teaching type blogs were using the professor’s voice, that were authoritative and there are the feely high level. They were talking using words that a normal person perhaps couldn’t really relate to.
I decided I wanted to be a teacher, but I also wanted to be a companion. I wanted to be someone who was speaking in a more conversational voice, who was talking to someone who maybe was just behind me on the journey. This is what I’m learning about photography, I’ll try this out. And actually trying to use language that was a little bit more accessible to people. My voice was more the conversational voice, the companion teacher. If I had to describe it, it would be the companion teacher as opposed to the professor. That helped me to stand out because there weren’t many blogs writing in that voice.
Sometimes voice happens to you, it just comes out of you. You just start writing in a certain style but sometimes you can be a little bit intentional about your voice as well and make a decision based upon that.
The first area, the first factor to consider, the first decision to make if you like is what voice will your blog be in. Some of you already have a voice and you’re very comfortable with that but maybe you want to go through that list of professor, artist, profit, journalist, celebrity, companion, mentor, entertainer, reviewer, curator, storyteller, guide, teacher, thought leader or something else. I’ll include all of those in a little slide that I’ve got in today’s show notes. The first area is the voice.
Second area that you might want to make some decisions about is whether you want evergreen content or whether you want more time sensitive content. Again, this isn’t an either/or type decision, you may have a combination of them. I think most blogs probably do have a combination with that. Most bloggers I know tend to major on one or the other. On my blogs, I tend to create more evergreen content. I actually spoke about evergreen content just a few episodes ago, probably about 30 episodes ago now, in episode 136. I’ll link to that in today’s show notes. I talked about why I love evergreen content and the power of evergreen content.
On Digital Photography School, I’ll use that as an example again. Most of the content there is evergreen. I’d say 95% of it, the day it was written, whether that was 10 years ago when I started the blog. A lot of that content I wrote back in 2006 is still relevant today. In fact, it gets a lot of traffic today. One of the reasons it gets a lot of traffic today is because people still find it helpful and they’re still sharing it. They’re spending a lot of time on it and Google sees that and they rank it high. Evergreen content is great if you can write that but it’s not the only type of content that is a legitimate strategy for your blog. You can be more of a time sensitive content.
As I think about my wife’s blog, Vanessa, her blog is Style & Shenanigans, and I can link to that in the show notes as well. It is more time sensitive. She’s writing about style, fashion, books, movies, what’s on Netflix, those type of things. As a result, some of those things date, the books that are new and current. She occasionally writes about a book that’s been out for a few years but most of it tends to be the books that have come out in the last few months, what’s on Netflix now. Particularly, you have fashion posts, fashion dates so quickly and so she’s more focusing upon time sensitive content. From time to time, she throws in an evergreen post and they do quite well as well.
On both of our blogs, we have a combination of them. I occasionally will do a review of a camera or might write about a new camera that’s coming out that’s more time sensitive. But most of the content is evergreen, where most of her content is time sensitive. There’s no right or wrong answer here, it’s just a decision that I guess I made in the early days without really thinking about it in much depths.
Again, what kind of content do you focus on, do you want to have a combination of both, would you say a certain percentage of the content needs to be one or the other and you may actually be really intentional about that. You may actually say I want four posts a week that are evergreen, one post a week that’s time sensitive, or you might flip it around. That’s the second area, evergreen versus time sensitive.
The third one, I find it difficult to actually come up with a label for this. I’ve said it’s the intent of your content. Some of you have heard me talk about how every week on ProBlogger and Digital Photography School I try to create content that informs, inspires, and interacts. There’s three different intents in terms of the content that I’m trying to create, I’m trying to give information, I’m trying to give inspiration, I’m trying to give interaction. I’ll link to a post that I wrote a couple of years ago now on ProBlogger about how I do all three of those types of post.
Information, it’s more tutorials for us, it could be news, it could be a review. That’s more of an information type post. I guess it’s more aiming at the head. I’m trying teach people or give people the information to make a decision. Inspiration for us is more image based first. Here’s a beautiful photo, hopefully that inspires you to go and take better photos. It could be here’s a story of how I overcame a challenge and hopefully it inspires you to overcome that challenge. The interaction posts are more asking outrageous questions, or getting them to do a little bit of homework, or to show off something that they’re done to share their experiences.
Those three types of posts work quite well on Digital Photography School but we’ve decided to be very intentional about majoring upon information. Every week on Digital Photography School, we publish 14 posts, we’re very intentional, about two posts every single day. The only week that we don’t do that is between Christmas and New Years, we scale it back to one post a day.
Over the normal week, we would do 12 posts every week that are information posts. They’re either a tutorial, or a review, or occasionally a piece of news. It’s all information, those 12 posts. Once a week, we do an inspiration post and this is usually for us a collection of beautiful images that relates to one of our information posts. It might be here’s 12 images that illustrate this technique that we just talked about in a tutorial. The last post of the week is an interactional post and that’s where we do a challenge. We say, “Go and take a photo.” It usually relates to the inspiration post which relates to that tutorial. We create three posts a week that relate to each other but have different intents.
Your blog might be a different combination. You may say, “I want to be more of an inspiration blog, and occasionally sprinkle in some information, or some interactions, or your blog might be more about the conversation, it might be more focused upon the interaction and trying to get discussion going in and occasionally sprinkling in one of the others. Or you might choose just to do one of those things and not bring in the others.
These are decisions that you might make. Again, you might make these decisions without actually knowing you’re making a decision. You might just look at the content on your blog and realize that it’s all information. You never do an interaction post, you never do an inspiration post, and that might be totally fine. You might also decide to experiment with some of these different types of posts. You might even, like we have, work out what ratios you want to do.
We’ve talked about voice, we’ve talked about evergreen versus time sensitive, we talked about the intent of your post. Now I want to talk about the format of your post. This does relate a little bit, it flows from the decision you might have made about the intent of your post. The format of your post might be it’s more about are you writing reviews, or are you writing how to, or are you writing opinion posts, or are you writing resources and links post, or are you doing interviews, or are you doing case studies. There’s so many different types of post that you can write. These are more relate to the format.
Again, you can be very intentional about this, you may actually just come up with a weekly format for example. You might say every Monday is an opinion post, every Tuesday is a tutorial post, every Wednesday is a link up post, every Thursday is an interview. Some bloggers are very intentional about that, others let it flow a little bit more. These are decisions and you will find that most blogs tend to go with two or three different types of posts. Some blogs just choose one and that’s all they do. Again, this is something you can be intentional about. Maybe to add a little bit of spice to your blog and then freshen up your editorial style and strategy, maybe you need to try a new type of post. Again, in today’s show notes, I’ve got a link with 52 different types of blog posts that we’ve published on ProBlogger as well.
The fifth decision that you can make is about the authors, who is going to write the content on your blog. For most bloggers, it tends to be that they are the only author on their own blog. Most bloggers start out that way. When I had Digital Photography School started in 2006, I was the only author on the blog. In time, I began to get readers volunteer to create some content. I began to see that we had some really good photographers reading the site so I’ve reached out to some of those and said, “Hey, would you be interested in contributing an article for the site?” Gradually over time, we got more and more submissions from people wanting to write as guests on the site. We turned slowly over a couple of years into a multi-author blog but it was mainly guest contributions. Multi-author blogs can be guest contributions where you have lots of different authors on your site.
The other option is where you might have regular contributors. I guess really the three options that I would put forward to you today is that you might have a single author blog, or you might have a multi-author blog. If you have a multi-author blog, you might have guests, lots of random guests, or you might choose to have regular guests, so there are the three options.
Digital Photography School kind of evolved through all there. We started single author, then we started to do more guests. In more recent times, over the last five years really, we’ve developed a writing team. We have a team of about 20 authors who most of them contribute once a month, some of them do once a week.
The same thing has happened on ProBlogger. When I started ProBlogger, it was just me for the first few years. Then gradually, I approached other bloggers to do some writing for us and they came in as a guest posts. We went through a phase where pretty much everything on the site, apart from an occasional post from me was guest content. In more recent times, we’ve developed the team of subject matter experts. I have Jim Stewart who chimes in and does an SEO post every now and then. We have other experts who come in and they own the category, they’re the voice of that particular category.
There are advantage for each type of blog. There are certainly some advantages of being a single author blog, your readers begin to get to know you but having other voices on your blog does bring other areas of expertise and other perspectives as well. There’s no right or wrong answer here but these are decisions. Maybe that your blog evolves through a number of different options or maybe it’s a combination, maybe you are a multi-author blog who has guests and regular authors. That’s what we currently do on ProBlogger but we’re moving more and more to that regular author model.
The sixth one is making decisions about the frequency of your content. Again, this is something that probably with most blogs evolves over time. I’ll get some reading for you in the show notes on how many posts you should do on your blog. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer here. I talk about in one of them the pros and cons of daily posting. There certainly are some upsides of lots of content on your blog but there’s also some downsides of that and some warnings in that particular post as well.
You might have a blog that is daily, you might have weekly posts, or you might even have a monthly post, or you might go more frequently than daily. Like on Digital Photography School where we have two posts every single day, 14 posts a week. On ProBlogger, we tend to do five or six posts per week. That is a cross of both a podcast and a blog. We made that decision partly based upon our own capacity to create content but also came down to how much content our readers wanted to consume. Frequency of a post is another decision to make to factor into these matrix of decisions that we’re coming up with.
The seventh one is probably the most obvious, it’s the topics and categories of your blog. You will find over time if you have a niche focused blog that you tend to focus upon different subcategories within your overall niche, or maybe you have a multi-topic blog and you do have different categories within that. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer there but it’s a decision that you gradually make over time.
It’s one that most blogs will evolve as well. Most blogs, there’s an emerging category in your niche. In the photography space, one of the emerging niches over the last four or five years has been a new class of camera. People have gradually been moving away from digital SLRs and they’re moving to smaller format compact system cameras, little mirrorless cameras like the ones that Olympus and Sony make. Still interchangeable lenses but they’re smaller format, they’re not technically digital SLRs anymore because they don’t have mirrors in them. This has been a new emerging category.
The same has happened with smart phones. People aren’t using point and shoot cameras anymore, they’re now using smartphones. That’s a decision we’ve made over the last year. On Digital Photography School, we’re going to start a new category of smartphone photography.
These are things that you will be making decisions about over time on your blog. There will also be categories that die. You may actually find that there’s just a category that’s not relevant anymore. It might be that you yourself have a new interest in your particular topic so you want to add a category not because there’s an emerging trend going on, but it’s an emerging passion or interest for you. This is something to return to time and time again. When you’re starting out, you certainly will be looking at the top topics and categories but over time it’s something to make a decision about as well.
The decision to make about your content is the length of your content, this is number eight. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer here, there’s plenty of examples of blogs that do lots of short posts. I think a lot of the gadget blogs like Gizmodo and Engadget. Back in the day, particular Engadget was publishing 10 to 15 posts a day but most of them were 200 words and they were more just news posts like here’s a new camera, here’s a new tablet, here’s a new smartphone. They might list the features but they were short shot posts.
Whereas other blogs on the same niche might be doing long form content, that might be really digging in, doing a deeper review. I think of a photography blog deep review, it was doing posts at the same time as Engadget on the same topics on cameras and gadgets but they were doing 5,000 words reviews of a particular camera, it’s a very high end type reviews. The length really, there’s pros and cons of doing different lengths as well. Again, I’ve got some reading for you in the show notes about some of the pros and cons of long and short content.
Related to that is the ninth decision to make and that is whether you do content that is stand alone or a series of content. Sometimes when you have a long piece, you are confronted with a choice, “Do I want to break this up into a series of posts or do I want to just do one long post?” This is a decision that you’ll find different bloggers take different positions on. I know a number of blogs who just do one post a week and it’s just a mega long post.
Other bloggers say hey, for a whole week I’m going to explore a topic and they break their long post into a series of smaller pieces of content. Their editorial style is every week or every month we explore a new topic. We create content that builds upon what happened the day before. That can really ultimately end up is being exactly the same content as a blog that has long form content but it’s just a different way presenting that becomes part of your style and a part of your strategy.
No right or wrong there. It may be that you want to experiment with a bit of both on your site. This is something that we do on both of my sites at the moment. Most of our posts are probably seated around 800 to 1,000 word length which is sort of a medium length but occasionally we’re throwing in mega long posts. We just published one on Digital Photography School that I think was about 5,000 words long that we offered our PDF version of it behind an opt in as well. Mega post can really work very well. We find that they get shared around a lot but our short shot post gets consumed a little bit more as well. We’re doing combination but I know other blogs will take the decision to just focus on one type of content.
The tenth decision is around the medium that you use. Again, no wrong or right answer here. You might focus on written content, you might choose to do more video based content, you might want to do audio in more of a podcast, you might want in your video to do live video, or more of a recorded video, or you might want to do visual content, infographics, or a combination of all of those things. Again, this is something that we make decisions about on ProBlogger particularly. At the moment, we’re doing three or four written pieces of content per week and we’re doing two podcasts a week, and I’m trying to also do a live video once a week as well. Although I’m not doing a great job with that at the moment.
Again, you can be very intentional about these types of things. Really, the decision will come down to your skills and experience, ability, personality, so you. It also comes down to the topic, some topics relate better for video, or written, or visual. Also your audience, what type of content do they consume, what are they wanting, what are they responding to. I go into much more depth on how to make that decision in Episode 134 of the podcast as well.
The last area, the eleventh area that will relate to some blogs but not all is the level of your content. Are you trying to create content that is for beginners, intermediate, or more advanced readers? This is perhaps a little bit more relevant to people who have a teaching focused blog, or maybe even a news type blog, people who are just exploring the news of a certain level. It may not be as relevant for some niches as others but in my blogs, I started out both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School very much focused upon the beginner. As I said before in the photography space, there were a lot of very advanced photography teaching sites around but no one really catering for that beginner. The first post I wrote on Digital Photography School were very much focused upon things like how to hold on a camera, what is aperture, what is shutter speed, very beginner-y type posts. This has changed over the last few years though.
One of the things that I’ve noticed is that my audience was growing up. This might partly because in general culture, people perhaps are becoming more used to taking photos and some of the concepts that I’ve been talking about perhaps they were more commonly known. Also, I think my audience grew up because I was teaching them. This is what I’d want them to do. I think those long time readers, they should know by now how to hold a camera, what shutter speed is. This is something I decided to make a bit of a decision on a few years ago is to do more intermediate level content.
From time to time, we also throw in a more advanced piece as well. Again, this is something you’ve made a decision on probably three quarters of our posts still have that more beginner-y type content. Another 20% probably is more intermediate and then maybe once a week we’ll throw in something that’s more advanced.
There’s 11 things and you can probably think of some others and I’ll be interested in what you’ll add to these 11 decisions that you could make. As I said at the start, some of these decisions you make on the fly without even really thinking about it. I do think from time to time, it’s worth going back to these 11 things. Ask yourself, how are we going with them, do we want to change our approach in some way?
Let me revise them really quickly, the voice you write in. Whether your content is evergreen or time sensitive. The intent of your content, information, inspiration, interaction. Fourth one was the format, the type of post that you’re writing, opinion versus list, person’s resources versus interviews versus how to content. Number five was the authors, are you a single, multi-author blog. Number six was the frequency of your post. Number seven was the categories and topics that you might cover. Number eight was the length of your content. Number nine was whether you do stand alone posts or whether you do series of post that build upon each other. Number ten was the mediums, written versus video versus audio. Number eleven was the level of your content.
As I said along the way many times, there are no right or wrong answers in any of these areas. In fact, the thing I love about going through this is that when you put your answers together to those 11 different factors, the chances of you creating a blog that’s exactly like someone else in your niche are slim, this is how you can actually stand out in a very crowded niche as you begin to look at what other people are doing, how they’re answering that. Making some decisions not only based upon what you want to do but actually you can make some decisions to stand out from what everyone else is doing in each of these areas.
It maybe that you take a really different approach in voice, or evergreen versus time sensitive, or the intent, or the format, or how many authors you’ve got, or how frequent you are. You can make decisions in each of these areas that help to make you more unique. Also, that help to serve you readers better.
As you’re going through that list of 11 things, just monitor you, how you feel, how much time do you have, how much energy have, how much passion you have, what your skills and experience, your personality. Also monitor the content, the topic as well that you’ve got. Different niches will sometimes determine your answers, different topics will lend themselves to different mediums, and different styles of content, different frequencies of content even.
Of course, be monitoring your audience, particularly monitor your audience. How are they responding to the decisions you make? It might be that you decide to experiment with some long form content. Watch to see how your audience responds to that, do they share that content more, do they ignore that content, some other reaction happened there. You can monitor that in terms of all of these 11 decisions.
I hope that’s been helpful. I would love to hear what you would add to that. I’m sure as I’ve gone through those 11 things, that you are thinking, “There’s another one that you could have added.” Please leave a comment over on the show notes. Add in what you think you could add and I’d love to hear your decisions on these things. Which ones do you really focus upon? How has your blog changed over time? Have you evolved in you approach? I’d love to hear your reflections on that today.
Thanks for listening. There are plenty of things that you can read and listen to over on the show notes. Again, it’s problogger.com/podcast/166, for all of that further reading and listening. Thanks for reading today and listening today. I will chat with you in a few days’ time in episode 167.