Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Short Of It

I've got an article online here:


The article is all about Amazon Shorts, and whether they are a viable market for writers. But that's not the topic of today's blog.

Today we're going to talk about the immortality, in the virtual sense.

Every blog post lasts forever, or at least until there's a server crash or you manually remove it.

I've used the analogy before that a blog post is like a lobster trap. An unmoored lobster pot will kill for decades, because lobsters keep crawling in, getting trapped, dying, and becoming bait to lure more lobsters to their doom. Google and the other search engines, other blogs, websites, message boards, and newsgroups, all link to your blog, treating each entry as a seperate page. A post can keep killing for years after it was written.

Unless, of course, there's no reason for anyone to visit it.

Last week, I mentioned that information and entertainment are what people are looking for. When there are billions of things to see and do on the World Wide Web, having a specific focus can help surfers find you.

Now I want you to think about the last blog entry you either read or wrote. Go on. Think about it. And try to think of the search terms that surfers would need to enter into Google in order to find that post. Then try to think of a one sentence summary that another blogger would use when linking to that post.

If you're writing blog entries that can't be summerized, or can't be Googled using obvious terms, then maybe your blogging time isn't as effective as it could be.

How are people finding your blog? Are they people who are looking for you, or looking for something else and finding you instead?

You can guess which will recruit more readers.

So what is the secret to a blog post that will be relevant a year from now?

1. Define the topic. The more specific, the better. If you blog about baseball, you're competing for search engine rankings with eight million other baseball blogs. If you blog about left-handed pinch hitters named Raul, you'll be ranked higher, and get more hits.

2. Stay focused. Think essay. The Amazon Shorts article above was basically an entry from this blog. I try to make each of my blogs a self-contained article.

3. Offer something. People who read blogs are looking for expertise, advise, and opinion.

4. Encourage user-generated content. Ask questions, allow feedback, and foster repsonses. Debate is what separates the good blogs from the great ones.

5. Be consistent. Post regularly, and stick to the point.

Did I miss anything?


steve in maine said...

Interesting article there - I was the first to review "They" on Amazon, so it was good to see it mentioned.

About the secret to blog posts, what's kept me coming back here is 1) you write clearly and entertainingly, 2) you post only when you have something worth saying, 3) you shoot from the hip and keep it all real, and 4) the sense we get that you're down here in the trenches with us, trying to make sense of it all.

The short of it is, you tell it straight, whatever situation has us all befuddled (or you at least give us new ones to befuddle over), and just when you've spelled it out so clearly that it all seems hopeless, you give us a carefully considered course of action, or simply a way of looking at it that keeps one sane.

And finally, you invite reinforcement, rebuttals, and questions from your astute and experienced readers (hey all), which you actually answer, which leads to a general sense of community without having to go down to the local coffee shop.

Rob in Denver said...

Steve hit the nail on the head, although it's buried in the last graf:

Participate in your own blog's comments.

These things are supposed to be conversations between people. And that means our obligation as bloggers doesn't end when we hit the Publish button.

Maria said...

Me, I keep coming back in the hopes there will be a NEW short story to access somewhere...

steve in maine said...

I agree with Rob agreeing with me. There's a couple writer's blogs I read where, even when asked a direct question, they never post a reply. It makes them look as if they think they're above you, that you're lucky just to read their thoughts.

And by the way, about #1 on your list, defining the topic works great. When a friend of mine was doing one of his first library readings, I sent him a link to your post on how best to go about them. He said it was like a customized guidebook that gave him everything he needed (except for the scotch).

Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Brilliant tips as usual, Joe!

What I need next are some key techniques to get reader interaction happening. I've often struggled to get insightful and interactive comments. I invite them and occasionally a reader pulls a rabbit out of their hat but much of the time comments simply reaffirm what I've covered.

I'd love to develop the blog comments on my blog so that readers are interacting WITH EACH OTHER and not just with me or the post I wrote.

Oh, and I also agree with Steve's praises. ;-) I love that you only post when you've got something brilliant to add. Having you in my reader means I can always keep up with your posts and not fall behind like I do with MANY other blogs.

I also ALWAYS enjoy reading whatever you write. I love hearing about your personal successes, your progress, and the tips you share that have helped you become the writer you are today.

Thank you for all you give back to the writing community and beyond. :-)

Rebecca Laffar-Smith
The Writer's Round-About

Mark Terry said...

Usually I just write shit, ya know?

That said, I recently wrote a 9-part series on "Freelance Writing For A Living" and watched my hit count double.

On the other hand, when I mentioned my 9-part series on John Scalzi's blogpost about "the writer and money" my hit count tripled.

So maybe the key is to announce something really useful with a link on somebody else's really popular blog.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Another post with fascinating content, Joe.

And I agree with Steve, Rob and Rebecca--participate in the comments, get a conversation going, if possible.

I have a question for everyone, every blogger: How do you find time and energy for all this? Joe, you're amazing in your productivity with the books and promo, and well all of it. But I struggle with getting my writing done, doing my day job, and be effective with my blog.

How to balance it? Be productive? Effective?

Kim Smith said...

Thanks for this advice. I am trying to keep all the balls going in the air at once (i have two blogs and one group one with others) and it gets nutty sometimes. Good to hear from you on the subject.

Mike MacLean said...

Thanks for the article Joe.

What’s your take on blogs that feature author interviews?

I have done a few in the past, mainly because they gave me an opportunity to converse with an author whose work I enjoyed.

But I noticed that interviews don’t spark as much conversation in the “comments” area.

JA Konrath said...

I think author interviews are both good and okay.

They can bring new visitors to your blog, which is good. Some folks will poke around, read other entries, and perhaps become longtime readers.

But being a good interviewer isn't easy. You can either disappear altogether, or make it too much about you, which looks bad. it's a fine line to walk.

If your interviews are focused on something that ties in with your platform, I say do it.

If you're randomly interviewing authors just because you know them, to give them a chance to pimp their work, you're probably not doing either of you any favors.

Stephe said...

I have a "Talking Dirty" group of posts that cover topics like my search for male erotica writers, to the fiasco about a dog's scrotum in a children's book, to the funny mating customs of ancient civilizations, those sorts of things. Which is why (I now see) I am getting a humongous amount of hits from porn and hardcore sex searches. LOL

Defining the topic (rather than trying to be clever) would probably help me in that regard...? Ha. Thanks for giving me a clue. :)

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