I started writing this blog (aka column) in February of 2007. It was originally hosted on BNET, then CBSNews (as "Sales Machine") and since 2011 on Inc.com (as Sales Source). I've twice built this blog's pageviews from zero to an average of a million pageviews per month, a readership that I've maintained now for several years.
Given the average frequency (between four and ten posts per week), that's a bit over 3,000 columns, which very makes my blog one of the (if not the) longest-running business blogs ever. It's also about 1.5 million words, the equivalent of 30 average-sized business books. Whew!
Over the years, I've watched content marketing go from a vague idea into a must-have strategy, so with that in mind, I thought it might be of value to share what I've learned from creating that much content that people (evidently) enjoy reading. Here are my thoughts:
1. It's not about you.
With the exception of celebrities (whose product is themselves), bloggers should avoid writing overly much about themselves. An occasional anecdote to illustrate a point, maybe, but (again, unless you're a celebrity) nobody really cares much about your daily life. The only time I've written anything substantive about myself was when I had open heart surgery, and that was because I was learning things about life and motivation that I believed would be valuable to you readers.
2. Always have a takeaway.
I credit my editors with driving this point into my skull multiple times, a repetition that shouldn't have been necessary, seeing that it's obvious from viewership numbers that readers want to feel that they've acquired something valuable by reading your column. Sometimes this might be a new perspective, but ideally the takeaway is a specific action that can be taken immediately.
3. Make the takeaway simple.
When I started blogging, the big thing was "listicles" which are shortened version of books like "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." Over time, however, readers seem to have become a bit bored with listicles and would rather just know the "one thing to do today." It's not that readers are lazy; it's that they're so overworked that they need help prioritizing.
4. Craft your headline first.
In newspapers and magazines, headlines are generally written after the content, which they are intended to summarize. The exceptions are the front-page (or front-cover) headlines, which are carefully crafted to attract readers' attention and drive sales. With online writing, every headline functions like a front-page headline: it must be catchy and "clickable."
5. Good headlines are harder to write than good content.
While short sentences and paragraphs are considered preferable in business writing, long sentences and paragraphs can often do the job just as well. So long as there's a reasonable flow to what you write, it's OK if there's some padding. Not so with headlines. You've got to capture the essence of the content in as briefly as possible and in such a way that piques the reader's interest. That's tough.
6. Take a stand and defend it.
Journalism school graduates are taught to write stories that cover both sides of an issue. That's a mistake when there isn't another side to the issue. For example, there is NO credible, scientific argument in favor of open plan offices so I'm not going to add an "on the other hand" paragraph that treats the support of OPOs as a credible viewpoint. Yes, a strong stand might annoy a few readers but writing that doesn't offend at least a few people usually isn't worth reading. Bland is boring.
7. Don't promote your own products.
Nothing is more boring than blogs that continually flog a corporate strategy or product line. People won't read that garbage because they immediately know that it's just an advertisement, typically without even a modest attempt to make the subject matter interesting. Leave that hokey, self-promoting stuff for press releases.
8. Be a professional (or hire one).
The ability to write something that people actually want to read is rare--far rarer than the ability to start a company and certainly far, far, far rarer than the ability to get a degree in marketing. As Samuel Johnson said: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." If a person can't make a living writing, they're simply not capable of writing something that people want to read.
9. Broaden your interests.
In my experience, just about everybody has between five and eight blog posts in them. After that, nothing. If you're going to write dozens, hundreds, or thousands of blog posts, you'd better have a fairly broad range of subjects that interest you and about which you have definite ideas or opinions.
10. Engage with your readers.
I do most of my engaging on Twitter (@Sales_Source) because I don't really like Facebook all that much. When I notice that somebody has been retweeting or commenting on my posts, I look through their Twitter feed for their own tweets and often find quite brilliant and insightful stuff, which I then retweet. Sometimes it's from a user with only a few followers. Doesn't matter. Smart is smart.
11. Keep an ear cocked for ideas.
Obviously, if you're going to write about business, you should have a rough idea of the business news that's floating around each day. However, I find that the most interesting topics come from outside the business world and (especially) from the observations and life experiences of my friends and family.
12. Don't worry about the future.
After I'd been blogging for about two years, I started getting a bit paranoid about "what if the ideas run out?!?" Eventually, I stopped worrying about running dry; stuff just comes up and I write about it. That being said, it's a huge help when you've got an editor who feeds you good ideas, as mine do frequent do.