A Contrarian’s Guide to Blogging

17 April, 2019

Once upon a time, I used to blog a lot. No, make that a lot. During those days, I ran into a lot of the information and advice about blogging out that’s floating around out there. Not just for beginners, but for more experienced bloggers as well.

A lot of that information and advice is good. Some of it sits on that line between being useful and being dubious. The rest is rubbish.

While all of that information and advice is interesting, and sometimes useful, it’s not gospel. It’s not written in stone. Some people seem to think it is, though.

I’m going to spend the next few hundred words offering you some advice that goes against the grain of the so-called conventional wisdom for bloggers. That information worked for me and fit with my goals when I was a blogger. It might also work for you.

Forget Keywords

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: keywords. Keywords have become tightly linked with SEO, and my thoughts about SEO are fairly well known in some circles.

Keywords can be either a precision tool or a bludgeon. Far too often, they’re a bludgeon. A big, heavy, nasty bludgeon.

Keywords and keyword density don’t matter. Keywords might draw traffic to your blog (though I’m not entirely convinced of that), but it won’t keep people on your blog. It won’t keep readers coming back. Remember that readers aren’t looking for keywords. They’re looking for information they can use. They’re looking for stories they can relate to.

If you feel the need to use keywords in your blog posts, don’t pack them in. It makes your writing sound unnatural. Writing like that doesn’t flow and reads badly. It sounds stilted. It sounds contrived. It reads like it was written for an algorithm rather than for human eyes and brains.

Someone suggested that you use one to two keywords in each paragraph. I’d go so far to say use them in every second paragraph. If that.

When in doubt about the number of keywords you’ve added to a blog post, read it out loud. If the post doesn’t sound natural or doesn’t flow, rewrite it.

WordPress Isn’t the Only Game on the Web

Many bloggers choose WordPress as their blogging platform. With good reason. But don’t think that WordPress is the only option you have.

While people pooh-pooh Blogger, Write.as, Ghost, Bear, and other similar platforms for their supposed deficiencies, not everyone needs what WordPress has to offer. They can more than get by with simpler blogging platforms.

Choose your blogging platform based on your needs, not on what all the cool kids are using. If you want to go with WordPress, fine. If not, that’s fine too.

Remember that readers don’t care what blogging platform you use. They probably don’t know that platform you use. They won’t run away in fear or disgust if you’re not using WordPress. They probably won’t know the difference, anyway.

There’s No Ideal Length for a Blog Post

A question people often ask me is How long should a blog post be? You might as well as me how long a piece of string should be.

I’ve hear people talk about the optimal or ideal length of a blog post being between 1,200 and 1,500 words. It isn’t

A blog post should be as long as it needs to be. No more, no less. That could be 400 words or it could be 2,000.

Not every idea, not every topic will fit into that 1,200 to 1,500 word container. What’s the point of stretching and padding a post to reach that length? All those extra words aren’t adding anything, except unneeded bulk, to the post. So why add them in the first place?

You Don’t Need to be a Great Writer to be a Good Blogger

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone say that you need to be a great writer to be an effective blogger.

You don’t.

You need to be what I call an effective writer. By that, I mean someone who knows the basic rules of writing. Someone who’s willing to occasionally break those rules. Someone who can organize a piece of writing. Someone who can come up with interesting ideas, and who can tell an interesting story (when needed).

It’s not just about writing quickly. As the late William Zinsser (a legendary journalist, author, and writing teacher) said:

Just because you’re writing fluently doesn’t mean you’re writing well.

Strive to be great. But become a good writer first. There are too many hacks posting horrible writing on the web as it is. Why not set yourself apart from them? To become a good writer, you need to practice, practice, practice. Then repeat the process. Again, and again, and again. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

It’s Not About Numbers

It would be nice to have tens or hundreds of thousands of people reading your blog each week, wouldn’t it? Getting a bit (or more) income from all those readers would be nice, too.

Sadly, for many bloggers that’s not going to happen. Even if it did, how many of those visitors:

  1. Will come back?
  2. Are truly engaged with what you’ve written?

Probably only a fraction of them.

What you should be aiming for is a core of enthusiastic, engaged readers. I’d rather have 100 engaged readers than 1,000 casual ones. People who keep coming back because what I’ve written is helpful, is interesting, and speaks to them.

Not Everything Needs to Tell a Story

About eight or 10 years ago, people started nattering on about how everything that you wrote needed to tell a story. Whether it as marketing material, website copy, articles, books, or blog posts, the story (we were told) was the key to engaging readers. That’s nothing new — newspapers have been doing that for centuries.

To be honest, I got storied about pretty quickly. While stories can humanize writing and can help people relate to what you’re writing, not everything fits into the framework of a story.

But a story isn’t suitable for everything. Trying to shoehorn something you’re writing into the framework of a story can make it look like you’re trying to shoehorn it into the framework of a story. The writing becomes awkward, forced, unconvincing.

Don’t try to tell a story with everything you write. In some cases, you’ll use a scenario to frame a problem you’re trying to solve or to introduce what you’re writing about. Then, get to the heart of the matter. Jump into a procedure, a how-to, your idea or opinion. Don’t waste words going into detail or adding background. Offer your key insights or the solution immediately.

Final Thoughts

What’s important when blogging? It’s all about what you have to say. And you need to say it effectively.

Focusing on keywords, link building, audience numbers, and the like doesn’t get the job done. Instead, focus on crafting good blog posts. Focus on creating blog posts that will help your readers, that will entertain them, that will keep them coming back.

If there’s any secret to good blogging, that’s it.

Scott Nesbitt