Want people to read your business blog? Better yet, want people to read your business blog, respond positively, and take action? Then don’t:
Write in the dead zone. Commenting on breaking news is smart since timely relevance attracts interest. But there’s a definite timeliness window; fall outside it and you always lose. Writing a “What Steve Jobs Means to Me” post a day or two after Jobs passed away is OK (even though we really don’t care what Steve meant to you unless your name is, say, Steve Wozniak or John Sculley.) Dip your toe in the tribute waters a week or two later and you come off looking like Tony Kornheiser’s Bandwagon, only without the irony and wit.
Either immediately post your thoughts on breaking news or wait months or years to let time and hindsight provide the spark for reimagining the topic.
Play the catchy headline game. Headlines need to spark interest, but misleading or over-selling is the blog kiss of death. Great examples abound in the Yahoo carousel headlines: “Amazing” is often unsurprising, “shocking” is never quite, and “hilarious” rarely prompts a chuckle. On the other hand, here’s an example of a solid headline from the ReCourses blog: You Might Need to Change the Name of Your Firm. Catchy, benefit-driven, a little intriguing, and the content of the post delivers on the promise made in the title.
Never write a post based solely on a catchy headline, and never tack on a click-generating headline unless those are the last clicks you actually want to generate. Be clear, straightforward, and whenever possible include the benefit to the reader.
Write because it’s on your calendar. Lots of experts say publishing on a schedule is necessary to establish predictability and build an audience. They’re probably right, but schedule or not, writing a throwaway post just to maintain a schedule is a waste of your reader’s time—and your time. If you plan to post twice a week, try to have next week’s subjects figured out this week. Readers will forgive occasional gaps in posting, but readers won’t forgive boring posts.
If you don’t have something to say, don’t say anything.
Try to be Bill Simmons. ESPN’s Bill Simmons’s Sports Guy columns are a cool blend of sports, movies, TV, and pop culture, written without pretense of neutrality or “professional detachment.” He’s arguably the most popular sports columnist in America—and one of the most imitated. But here’s the problem: If it works for Bill, it won’t work for you. (I write in other people’s voices for a living and there’s no way I could ever imitate Bill.)
Don’t try to be Faulkner or Hemingway or Perez Hilton. Be who you are. If you’re struggling to find your style, just write like you speak. You may not build a huge audience… but you will build a long-term audience.
Write “I Think” Posts. Qualifying words make sense if you’re a lawyer or working in compliance for a financial services firm and need to make sure you don’t make promises you have to keep. Otherwise, be bold and direct. Take a stand. Don’t share rambling, unfocused thoughts; provide solutions. Finding yourself constantly tempted to say, “I think this makes sense…” or, “This might be a good idea…” means you haven’t thought through the premise for your post.
If you don’t know, don’t write.
Preach to your choir. I already know what I think, and so do you. Readers want to learn new things and take new perspectives. They want to think. Agreeing is nice, but agreeing never makes them think.
While you should never be contrary just for the sake of contrariness, don’t be afraid to take an unpopular or unusual position. Readers won’t mind as long as your reasoning is solid. While they may not agree, that’s okay. Respond to comments and enjoy the back-and-forth. If you write and respond thoughtfully your readers will too, and they’ll gain respect for your opinions even when—sometimes especially when—they don’t agree.