Avoid the Blog Drivel

I degraded myself as a content publisher twice last week. In both cases, after reviewing my Google Alerts and picking the day’s hot news item, I wrote a blog entry that included a quote, a few inane comments about the topic and a link back to the original post.

It’s a technique commonly used by bloggers to drive traffic to their sites through backlinks. Indeed, some bloggers use this pseudo-journalistic technique to play follow-the-leader every day, while others re-post scraped blog content exclusively – without added commentary.

Goodness knows that it would take a partial lobotomy to make me descend to that level, but how much further could I go? Would my compulsion to beat the competition to the punch with a you-heard-it-here second post turn me into yet another crap contributor? Could I sell my soul for a few blessed backlinks? Would I go so far as to risk my reputation in exchange for traffic?

Bar the notion! However, a quick check of my traffic and subscriber stats revealed that I was already sliding down that slippery slope. Although the backlink had produced some modest traffic, a few readers had taken exception to my “Blah, blah, BLAAAAAAH!” and unsubscribed from my feed.

Who could blame them? Just as I do my best to avoid those whose constant chatter gives me nothing but a headache, my now ex-readers clearly expressed what they thought of my drivel. I was grateful to them, actually. The experience reminded me that my success as a publisher depends not on getting eyeballs to the page, but on my ability to reach the hearts and minds of my visitors.

If I kept this up, those “Your conversion rates were through the roof on that latest promo, and you always convert five to 10 times better than our second-best-producing affiliate” notes from affiliate managers would disappear as surely as my commissions.

No longer would I be able to respond “Yes, the site does have a nice following,” and “Nice following” is an understatement. It doesn’t tell of long-term readers who eagerly await each blog post or check in personally when the newsletter doesn’t arrive on schedule. It also avoids speaking to the commitment professed by loyal readers who have “cancelled all but your newsletter” in a particular niche or those who wait to buy a new-to-market product until they’ve read your review.

As a shy person, I sweat great drops of blood while agonizing over every word to connect with those readers – until I realized that all they wanted was help from a real person who understood their problems. Now I was letting them down and ruining my business in the process. Aaargh!

So to help you to turn your visitors into faithful fans (and as a reminder to myself to avoid drivel), keep the following suggestions in mind when you write your blog posts and articles.

Give generously. Create good will by sharing your expertise freely. Give solutions to specific problems or offer a free e-book for download without expecting anything in return. That means posting information that doesn’t contain an affiliate link, a link to a product endorsement elsewhere on your site or requiring an email address in exchange. The only incentive you should have in mind is building loyalty that follows generous advice.

Affiliates who monetize their blogs only with AdSense or other navbar advertising thrive on this model. However, those that promote a variety of products will need to strike a balance between posting information versus promotional messages that keep their readers happy and away from the Unsubscribe button.

Be empathetic. People generally arrive at our sites with questions. When we immediately bowl them over with a laundry list of answers, they may find a solution to their problem, but it’s doubtful that the reader will feel connected to us.

Because we tend to bristle at those who “know it all” and tell us what we should do, it’s important to approach readers in a way that shows you understand and identify with their situation, feelings and motives. To show you clearly understand what it feels like to be in your readers’ shoes and foster a deeper connection, use words that evoke vivid mental images and strong emotions.

For example, “It was me, the cat and Dick Clark AGAIN”” is a better preface to an article about being single at New Year’s than “Here are 10 things you can do to feel less lonely.”

Be yourself. Don’t fake your persona or try to portray yourself as Mr. or Ms. Perfect, because readers won’t be fooled. If you’re Condoleezza Rice and you try to come across like Ellen DeGeneres, you’ll sound phony. Readers follow certain blogs not only because they enjoy the topic, but the blogger’s personality.

Let your readers know that you’re a real person with a family, friends, interests and hobbies off-line. Weave your life experience into your articles where relevant and don’t be afraid to share your joys and frustrations.

For example, after a tractor trailer rammed into a rental car that I was driving last summer, I used the experience to post to my business and travel blogs about bad customer service, a surprisingly great credit card company and an ergonomic chair that helped me cope with my injuries and speed my recovery. What hastened my recovery more however was the care and concern expressed by my wonderful readers.

Post your real photo. Sure, it might be tempting to paste your head shot on a Victoria’s Secret or GQ model’s body, or create a completely different (more favorable) public image of yourself. But do resist the urge, because when you become a famous blogger and get invited to speak at BlogWorld, it might be just a tad embarrassing to explain that the 24-year-old blond bombshell they expected is in fact a pleasantly plump 46-year old matronly mama.

Give hope. To get past the intimidation most people feel around highly successful people, share stories about your failures as well as your success. Exposing your shortcomings makes you “real” and therefore much more approachable. Moreover, talking about how you overcame certain obstacles gives people hope that they too can attain success, and makes them more likely to seek your advice.

Respect your readers’ time. Just because you can write a 3,000-word essay on a topic, doesn’t mean you should. Get to the point and then quit while you’re ahead. Some readers don’t have time or the patience to read lengthy entries, and splitting up a post gives you more fodder for the engines.

Invite reader participation. Allowing users to provide comments at the end of blog entries encourages discussion and helps build site content. If you are worried about inappropriate comments, be sure to moderate for relevancy and spam. But don’t cut out some comments just because they are critical. When you rise respectfully to a debate, or show that you’ve gained a broader perspective on an issue, your readers will respect you even more.

Return the love. Your regular readers will support you through thick and thin, so acknowledge and show your appreciation for their patronage. Where relevant, quote their comments in your posts and link back to articles on their sites. Your gesture might give someone a confidence boost and make their day, or tip the scales just enough to make their business fly ” and what could be more gratifying?

Here’s the bottom line: Treat your readers as you would your friends – with kindness, caring and respect, and they’ll show their appreciation in kind. And, the most important point to remember – no drivel, ever.

Rosalind Gardner is a super-affiliate who’s been in the business since 1998. She’s also the author of The Super Affiliate Handbook: How I Made $436,797 in One Year Selling Other People’s Stuff Online. Her best-selling book is available on Amazon and www.SuperAffiliate-Handbook.com.