Skip to content

Category: Writing for the Internet

5 Ways You Can Write Better Articles by Studying Fiction

Yes, it’s true — you should study your specific craft. If you want to write great informative and shareable articles for the Internet, then that’s what you should study. But do you know what the people who write those articles are studying? It may come as a surprise to you, but many of them study the principles of fiction writing.

Proof That Stories Propel Content

The people over at Buffer (a social media app company that specializes in effective communication) suspected that storytelling could be a useful tool and used their own audience as a test. They did an A/B test where some of their readers were sent to a version of an article with no story at the beginning. The rest of the readers were sent to a second version that opened with a story.

And according to Buffer: “The post with the narrative intro had nearly 300% more people scroll all the way to the bottom, and average time on page was more than five times higher!” So that’s just one real-world example of the same information being presented with and without a story — and the difference in audience engagement that resulted. Imagine if every one of your blog posts or articles had 300% more people scrolling all the way through.

And if you have that many more engaged readers, imagine then how that can snowball into more social media shares, more mailing list sign-ups, and more members of your personal tribe. If people enjoy reading your pieces, they become part of your audience.

5 Ways You Can Incorporate Storytelling

  1. Open with a story: What story can you tell that relates to the lesson you’re teaching? Is there a personal experience from your life you can share to create empathy with the reader?
  2. Paint a scene: How can you put your lesson into a real-life and dramatic scenario?
  3. Rely on the senses: What does it feel like to do what you’re telling us to do? Or to make the mistake you are helping us solve?
  4. Re-tell a story your audience already knows: Maybe a folk story or anecdote exists that illustrates your point and that many people will be familiar with and therefore relate to?
  5. Persuade with a story: Is there a testimonial that will speak to the power of what you are teaching, sharing, or selling?

To learn more about each of these techniques, sign up for my How to Write Meaningful Content for the Internet online class. Classes begin in July and September and you can work through the course materials at your own pace.

P.S. Read My Micro-Fiction

Writing fiction doesn’t mean you have to commit a year of your life to writing a novel. You can write flash fiction in one night! Flash fiction is generally defined as anything 1000 words or less. Check out my most recently published piece of flash: The Downed. It’s only a couple hundred words long — it won’t take you much time at all!

Sign up for the next session of my class:
How to Write Meaningful Content for the Internet

Why Successful Guest Posting Is Just Like Speed Dating

I remember when speed dating first became a “thing.” People decried it as yet another sign we were going the way of the Romans, or television was ruining our society, or human connection wasn’t valued anymore. After trying a few rounds of speed-dating in my younger years, I think it’s not actually a bad thing and its usefulness all comes down to your execution.

In fact, successful guest posting is a lot like speed dating. Pitching guest posts can leave you frustrated, feeling like your dream girl won’t give you the time of day or there’s too many fish in the sea to even figure out which one you’re after. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just like in dating, successful guest posting is all about your strategy. If you come prepared, you’ll go home with a bunch of “numbers” – whether we’re talking phone numbers or traffic numbers to your website.

Here are the three essential steps to successfully pitch yourself and/or your guest post:

1. Know What You Want

Many of us fall into the dating trap of trying to please the other person and not remembering our own goals and needs. This happens in guest posting, too. We’re so eager to get a “yes” that we forget our own strategy. What audience are you trying to reach? What metrics define what a successful guest post is for you? What sort of referral traffic, newsletter sign-ups, or sales are you looking for? Know what you want – don’t just fall for the next pretty website you see.

2. Know What Questions to Ask

If you’re a speed-dating pro, you have a list of questions to ask quickly before your time is up. You use these questions to determine if the person opposite you is in the ballpark of being a match. In guest posting, this looks like doing your research on traffic, reader engagement, post frequency, demographics, and keywords. Find out if your potential suitor has what you’re looking for.

3. Know Who Is Worth the Pursuit

Value yourself and what you have to say. Don’t say yes to just anyone. Your time and content are worth something. Make sure you’re entering into a relationship with an equal partner – one who appreciates you for everything you have to offer. And if this is an ongoing relationship, but you’re not seeing the benefits roll in, remember you can call this thing off at any time.

The Key to Successful Guest Posting

It’s easy in guest posting to fall into the trap of wanting to be liked. We all want to get a “yes” and we’re often so eager to get our name out there that we forget to do our homework and find our perfect match. Like in dating, though, when you do find that right match, it’s mutually beneficial – not to mention fun and enjoyable.

Would you like to become the Don Juan of guest posting?

Take my online class:

The 3 Essential Steps to Landing a Guest Post

 

How Your Article Introduction Is Just Like “Fight Club”

The first rule of Fight Club is – nobody talks about Fight Club.

The first rule of intros is – nobody wants to feel like they’re reading an intro.

So, what does it mean for something to “feel like it’s an intro”?

Well, basically, said another way, you don’t want to start out with the obvious (all that on-the-nose stuff).

The Fight Club Rules of Intros

Think about it – how many items have you clicked on an article because the title was intriguing, but then you never finished reading the whole piece (or maybe didn’t even make it through the first paragraph) because the opening sentence made you think, “Well, duh?”

Starting out with the obvious isn’t exciting. It doesn’t provoke thought or shares. It doesn’t make anyone say, “OMG, you have to read this!” Instead, it makes you say, “I knew that already,” and click away.

Rather than fall victim to the “duh” factor, you need to kick off your article or blog entry in a way that piques the reader’s interest. That makes her think, “Dang, I’ve got to read this,” or, “This is something I don’t know.”

How to Grab Your Readers From the Top

  • Tell your reader something she doesn’t know.
  • Share something she does know, but in a whole new way.
  • Share a statistic that will shock her.
  • Share something funny.
  • Make her laugh.
  • Make her say, “Wow.”

The theme that runs through all those ideas for how to start your article is something called the curiosity gap. This is the gap between what your readers know and what they don’t know. If you can trigger that gap, then your readers are more likely to get pulled into your article.

They think, “Wait, I didn’t know that. I need to read more.” Or, “Wait, what’s the answer to that question? I better find out.”

Especially if it means your reader winds up knowing something more than her friends. And I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but rather, in the way that Malcolm Gladwell talks about “mavens.” Mavens are people who love to share new knowledge with the rest of us. We see them as authorities and count on them to keep us in the know. They help us fill that curiosity gap. So, conversely, they seek out that gap.

Think about that. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have those people who are most highly regarded as authorities being the people who spread your article?

That said, sometimes the curiosity gap gets a real bad rap since it’s used to create a lot of click-baity headlines and slick sales materials. But the powers of the gap don’t have to be used for evil. The gap can simply be a way to show your readers that you’re an expert on a topic and you have something new to share with them.

Let’s Go Over Those Rules Again

So, what’s the first rule? Nobody wants to feel like they’re reading an intro?

No, what’s the first rule of Fight Club? Oh yeah, nobody talks about Fight Club.

But why? Is there something I should know about Fight Club?

Yeah, there is – and that’s the curiosity gap right there.

Photo by Matthew Walsh (This file was derived from: MMAstandup.png) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons.

If You Build It, They Probably Won’t Come

There’s a myth about the Internet that if you put up a website people will just magically visit it. There’s another myth about guest posting. That if you write an article for another website, people will just magically gravitate to yours.

Neither of these is reality, and there are a lot of reasons that guest posting fails. But today I’m going to focus on what I believe to be one of the main reasons: you’re stingy with your Internet loving.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Just because you are published on a website as a guest author, doesn’t mean that site’s readers will come to your site. And depending on how you behave, that site may never ask you to guest post again either.

I love the Internet because I believe it is, at its heart, an egalitarian place. All sorts of people can offer each other all sorts of opportunities, and there is space for the “little guy” to build his way up to being a “big shot.” There really is no cap on traffic, audience, readers, or whatever you want to call it. And by helping each other out, we can all contribute to the success of each other. Everyone actually can win on the Internet.

True, some people try to make it otherwise. They want the Internet to work just like Walmart. But most of us can spot those sleaze balls miles away. We know that the stuff we love best is the stuff that’s about giving. It’s about free information and free cross-promotion based on genuinely good people and genuinely good products and/or services.

And when I run into an authentic and generous person or entity on the Internet, the irony is that I’m more willing to pay him/her/them than the person who’s overtly trying to sell me, anyway. You know how it goes: “Wow, I’ve read twenty articles on this site that are awesome, so I’m totally going to buy her eBook when it comes out.”

If You Build It, They May or May Not Care

So what does this have to do with your guest post and why it failed and why no one wants you to guest post again?

If you build something, you’ve got to tell people about it.

The “everyone wins” ability of the Internet is based on generosity. And generosity on the Internet looks like sharing. So if you want your guest post to amount for anything in terms of your own success, it’s got to be a successful experience for the website hosting you, as well.

Spelled out – it means you need to do the following:

  • Post on all your social media about the site you’re guest posting for, even if it’s not the day your guest post goes up.
  • Follow that site on all your social media accounts.
  • Share some of their other posts by other authors (Hey, maybe they’ll follow you back and share your stuff! Wouldn’t that be cool?)
  • Share your own post when it goes up. Do this promptly, frequently, and on all your social media outlets. You’d be shocked at how few people do this. It actually hurts my mind to think about how commonly overlooked this step is.
  • Make the experience of working with you an overall net positive for the hosting website.

Remember, everyone can win, but you have to be interested in others winning and trust that the Internet is not a zero-sum game.

If you approach every guest post with the question, “How can I make this experience awesome for the website hosting me?” then you’re on the right track and they’ll show up to the table with the same question in mind. The result? We all do win, every time.

Breakfast time (7560191024)” by Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK – Breakfast time. Uploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

What’s in Hemingway’s Wastebasket

I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”
– Ernest Hemingway
 It’s normal for your first draft to have a lot of words. But sometimes it can be challenging to decide which words are the extra words. It makes me think of Amadeus, when the Emporer tells Mozart there are too many notes, and Mozart asks which notes he should remove.

But the truth is – we’re not Mozart. We have a lot of extra notes that can be excised. Especially for those of us writing for the Internet. Extra words can drive people away from your writing, and therefore, your website.

Thankfully, there’s a simple and free online tool you can use to help you figure this out. (And I make no money off this – I just find it a useful app, so I like to share it with my writers and students, particularly when I see them fall victim to repeated words and excessive adverbs.)

For analysis of where your writing might be too complicated and what words you can likely cut, cut and paste your writing into the Hemingway App. I used it the other day on an article and it became apparent right away that certain words were both repeated and unnecessary.

You don’t have to use this tool and it may not be a tool that’s appropriate for you. But for some of you, it may offer some enlightenment.
There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”
– Ernest Hemingway

Essential Elements of Every Successful Internet Post

The Introduction – must do all of the following:
  • Identify who the ideal reader is
  • Make clear what is going to be taught
  • Make clear what the benefits are to be gained or the dangers that will be avoided
  • Make clear the purpose/thesis of this article
  • Do all of this in an original, catchy, and interesting manner
The Lesson – could include one or more of the following:
  • The elements that support your argument
  • The x-number of exercises you’re going to teach
  • The science behind why something is or isn’t
  • Actionable takeaways for the reader to go apply in life – right now
Each element of The Lesson section should reflect back on what you promised in the introduction and directly relate to the purpose/thesis.

The Conclusion – ideally does all of the following:
  • Reminds the reader what they just learned
  • Reminds the reader of the benefit gained if they do the takeaways
  • Sends the reader off with new hope or poses a question to ponder
Copyright 2015 Hunt Gather Brew