5 Long Form Bloggers And Why It Works For Them
When I hear about people aspiring to blog, people usually mention Seth Godin. Seth Godin’s blog posts are often short and sweet (and if you don’t believe me or want to see first hand, here is a link to his blog).
Because people aspire to be Seth Godin, they aspire to be brief and profound.
For most people, being brief is harder to get right than it is to take a little longer to get to your point. It requires editing, drafts, and a lot of thought.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do things because they are hard. I’m just saying people should stop trying to be like someone else and do what works for them, and in most cases, it means writing a blog that is more than two paragraphs.
I wanted some examples pointing out that long blogs don’t mean readers have short attention spans. So we have the same working definition of long form, I’ll say long form is anything you have to scroll when on a typical computer screen to see the entire blog post.
Here is a short form Seth Godin blog post:
Here is a longer form Medium blog post (screen made 50% size to screenshot and this isn’t even 20% of the whole thing):
Here are our five bloggers in question:
Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You To Be Rich
These meaty blog posts give you scripts, workflows, and other specific ways to execute concepts. It would hard to be brief while also being so instructional. (Also this makes you think, if this is what he gives away for free, how awesome can his programs be?)
Takeaway: If you are instructional and interesting, the right people will stick around (ie those who want to learn)
Darren Rowse, Problogger
A blog about blogging seems so meta but these longer form posts are more helpful than the average ‘write and share on social media’ articles about how to get started on blogging. The guy literally wrote the book on blogging. (Honestly, it continues to blow my mind to this day.)
Takeaway: If you have specific, niche knowledge in a field, people will take the time to read what either you or authors you have vetted have to say.
Human Parts on Medium
Described as a group of storytellers who have since disbanded, many blogs on Medium are longer form pieces that get tons of readers. (Note: Nicole clicked through tons of Medium authors for this post and found most of them had written less than 5 total posts on the site – though most were long form. For this example, I wanted to give a Medium page with a deeper history but there are lots of Medium bloggers who seem quite successful at longer form writing.)
Takeaway: Medium writes at the top of every story how long they take to read, allowing people to either read now or save for later.
Brandon Gorell on Thought Catalog
Like Medium, Thought Catalog allows publishers/authors to have their own blog that lives on the Thought Catalog site. I am using this author as an example, though I know he uses more photos in his long form blogs than the typical Thought Catalog writer (if you’re writing about the internet, things like screenshots are helpful). Most Thought Catalog articles are long form but of the ones I looked at, most used things like pull quotes and formatting bullet points to break up the text.
Takeaway: Being thoughtful about formatting breaks can make long form writing more digestable.
Us at Breaking Even Communications
No one will ever accuse me (Nicole) of being brief. That said, I write this blog like I speak and try to use language and examples that are fun and easy to relate to. I will also say that, compared to the previous examples that have much larger audiences, Breaking Even also has readers and subscribers that seem to enjoy what we have to say. Who else is going to tell you that whitepapers online are like man purses in France?
Takeaway: Having funny/memorable examples that take time to explain will get you a small but dedicated following.
So be brief if you want to but if you’re a chatterbox, don’t let that stop you from blogging long form. There are plenty of websites and individual bloggers who encourage this style and plenty of readers who appreciate it too.
This week, we’re discussing blogging! More specifically, we’ll discuss the “where”- that is, blogging on your own site or someone else’s. There are pros and cons to each option. Tune in to learn more, and as always, feel free to send us suggestions for future videos!
Hi and welcome! If you are just hitting this post, have you seen Blogging 101: The Basics? If not, go there first. You can follow just what’s in basics for at least a couple months. During this time, you are going to figure out your writing style, which is honestly what will hold your audience.
It took me probably six months to find my voice. Was I funny? Was I informal? How long should my posts generally be? Writing online is different than writing a newspaper article, an essay… anything really. And the best way to get good is to practice.
Let’s say you’ve done that. You get what your blog is and isn’t, contentwise. You have a voice. You have three blog posts in your head (or drafted in your blog software itself) ready to go. Now it’ time to get into the more technical issues you’ve probably noticed, especially reading other blogs.
What ways do you want to make money?
There are some different ways to make money blogging and what you want to figure out at this point is what does and doesn’t feel sleazy to you.
I was confronted with this month 4 of blogging. I got an email from a potential advertiser. How much would I charge? What kinds of ads did I have available?
It was an excellent question, one I hadn’t even asked myself yet. After looking around at blogs, I realized I would feel comfortable with ads in the sidebar of my blog only. I didn’t like written ads in content (made it hard to read) and I wanted to have control over what ads appeared there. (Once this blog became a business itself, I yanked ads entirely.)
Now that was my answer. Yours may be different and that’s ok. You want to balance the making money part with the not being a sleaze part. Looking at what other bloggers are doing, you’ll see some things you like and some things you don’t.
Other things people will approach you with:
1) Sponsored posts. (Here’s a pretty comprehensive look at the concept.)
2) Getting sent products to ‘review’. (IE the sponsored post’s friendlier seeming cousin.)
3) Can someone write a blog post that gets published on your blog about X? (Sometimes people want this free, sometimes they seem willing to pay.)
4) Affiliate programs (where you get link(s) to share to a product online and, if someone buys, you get a cut. More here.)
5) Other things I can’t anticipate.
By deciding what you will and won’t do for money, you’re setting a precedence for your blog. And remember, saying no to something you don’t want means that when something you do want comes along, you can be ready.
(We’ve written in depth about some of these: Affiliate programs, Display Advertising, PPC Advertising, Ad Networks. Since I’ve never done sponsored posts, I linked above to someone who had looked into them more deeply. )
How big do you want to get?
Contrary to popular belief, seeing comments is not the only way to know your blog community is getting bigger. For example, on ours, we get maybe 1 comment for every thousand or so people who look at something something. Really! Below a screenshot of views from Google Analytics versus comments:
I will also say in our case, interaction is taking place more on social media for us so having comments on the blog itself is less important to me. To make this an anaology, I’ve built the internet equivalent of a small coffee shop in a small town.
But some people want to build the internet equivalent of a shopping center: a website with contributing members, product upsells, advertising revenue, etc. To become the go-to resource and community about X or Y. If you want to build the online headquarters for all base jumpers or the next HuffPost, you are looking at building an online community. (Yes, I like to feel Breaking Even has a small specific online community but we are intentionally small.)
If you want to create the large shopping center of a website, you’re going to need a few things.
1) Actively write in such a way that encourages people to leave the comments on your posts. This may include writing posts whose topics may be a bit controversial or even just opinionated. (Sometimes the term ‘click bait’ is used to describe sensational headlines that drive clicks.)
2) You need a robust commenting system. (My only opinion on this? Don’t make someone create an account on your site to leave a comment. Everyone hates one more password to manage. Let your commenters log in with Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. to leave their comment. I use Disqus because it lets people use whatever login or create one just for my site, among other features.)
3) You need to respond to comments. If you want people in your community interacting, you have to lead by example. If you have any commenting standards, make sure they are enforced.
4) You need some way for these people to contribute in addition to leaving comments. (IE they need to be able to not wait for you to start a discussion.) It could be as simple as a hashtag people use to contribute photos to a curated page or as complicated as members having their own subsites on your site.
Will your community evolve? Absolutely. But will a bit of planning and intentionality on your part of the ‘mall developer’ make the evolution and growth go much smoother? Yes.
How do you want people to get your information?
You probably have die hard fans now that want to get ALL your posts. You may want to add the ability for people to subscribe, via RSS or email, to your blog.
Your blogging system will have a way to do this but I just wanted to put it on your radar. Now that you have a following, make sure those people can see posts easily. Here’s a lovely example:
Do you like your software?
Do you like the way at the bottom of all our posts we have five related posts? Do you wish you too could have an online store to sell your t-shirts? You are going to start having ideas (now that you’ve gotten used to the writing part) about how your blog should work technically.
You’re going to want more than you ever thought you would. Make a list of what you want, put it in order of importance even. Maybe the software you’ve been using is not up to snuff. Or maybe it is and you just need to learn how to do what you need to do.
Now I’m sure some bloggers will argue with me that it’s best to start where you’re going to end up. But who still lives in the first house they’ve ever lived in or has the first job they ever had? Very few of us. We grow, we change, and as we know more of what we want, we can move towards it.
Once you have the writing part down for your blog and you start thinking of the technical stuff, that’s the good time to make the software decision. And you don’t need to worry about moving your posts. A simple Google search of ‘moving from X software to Y software’ will tell you exactly how to do it. And if you hate the idea, you can pay some nerd to do it for you in a few hours of their time. In other words, no endless copying and pasting, I promise.
So to me, those are the big second level questions of having a blog. I have my answers to them, and you’ll have yours. But just a reminder, just start writing and think of this other stuff once your blog’s content has a clear voice. Also, please comment with your blog URL so we can see it.
I’m just going to say it: I think people get way too caught up on perfection and don’t just start things.
How many people do you know who are waiting on redoing their logo, designing a website, reprinting their business cards, whatever before they start blogging? I know a few.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Blogging is just writing with a few more technical things built in.
I got into blogging precisely for this reason. I wanted to be a writer. There seemed to be a lot of gatekeepers to me becoming that. Rather than jump the fence or wait around at gates, I built my own place. Over time, I fixed it up. I still feel like it needs fixing up! But nothing worth it is ever static.
I wanted to write this blog post about what you need to start blogging. No it’s not a domain name or branding guides or ‘SEO’. It’s easier than that.
1) You need a topic.
Of course your Mom will read your blog… but unless you’re Oprah, no one is going to care about you just living your life. You need to weave your life into a topic. Ex: maybe you’re really into cooking paleo. Maybe you really like Italy. Maybe you want to make yourself learn more about running. Give yourself a general topic with enough room to move around that the topic can weave throughout your blog while being interesting and personal.
This blog’s original topic? Personal finance. Sure, I tried to tell fun stories and include photos in but I also tried to have some knowledge to impart (I use that term loosely) so I wasn’t limiting my audience.
Let’s test some topics:
Water- Ok this could work. How to drink more, how to test it, how to conserve it, bottled water taste testing. Yup, I could write 50 blog posts on this and just be getting started. “Water Girl” or “Hydration Situation” maybe?
Art Supply Review- If I am keen on buying new stuff all the time, this could work. But review only? I may be pigeon holing myself. (The reason I never became a fashion blogger? Too much clothes to buy to have writing topics!)
Books- Who is my audience? If I’m going to be reviewing ‘Fault in Our Stars’ one week and ‘War and Peace’ the next week, that may be too much jumping around. This may be too broad to appeal to a specific audience.
You get what I’m saying. Don’t give yourself something so specific (four leaf clovers) that you’ll run out of material in a year and don’t give yourself too broad a topic that your audience won’t know whether they like it or not… though I will argue so long as you yourself are clear about what your blog is and isn’t, the ‘too broad’ will be less of a problem than too narrow. For example, I had a hard time coming up with another ‘too broad’ example besides books.
2) You need a name.
This is like your topic but you are going to be referring to this name all the time so don’t pick something you hate. In your chosen topic, a quick Google search will reveal what other blogs in your niche are called. How can yours be different? What ideas do you like from some of them?
OK so some in the personal finance niche at the time I started were:
Sense to Save
Budgets are Sexy
Get Rich Slowly
Daily Worth (ok that wasn’t a blog but a newsletter at the time)
Looking at these names, I knew what wasn’t me. I didn’t want to be frugal necessarily. I also didn’t want money in the title, in case I wanted to change topic later (which I did). Daily Worth was a sort of direction I liked best for myself. When Breaking Even got put on the list, it just felt right to me. But seeing other ideas made me realize what could work… and not work.
Make a whole list of names and sleep on it. Pick your favorite and go with it. Don’t worry if the .com domain is available. Just pick something you like and you can always make it work.
3) You need a place to blog.
Don’t stress out about software choice. You can always move it later. Really, I’ve moved this blog three times. (It’s getting cheaper and cheaper to hire someone to do this for you as more and more people blog.)
I like Wordpress.com as a free option. But if you like Blogger.com, Typepad, whatever better, I am not here to tell you there is only one answer. There isn’t. Just find something you like to use. Because you’ll be playing around a lot the first couple of months. (How do I add pictures? How do I make the font bigger?)
Just grab a template (all software comes with some choices) and start blogging. And if you don’t believe me when I say people don’t care what your site looks like, think of 2 or 3 of your favorite bloggers and try to sketch out what their website looks like. Can’t remember? Yeah, thought so.
Someday, if this goes well and you like it, you’ll want a custom design and you’ll start caring about things you NEVER thought you’d care about (How can I get more comments? What if I want to ad advertising?) But for now, just start writing.
4) Have a day/deadline for when you will blog (at least once a week).
Start out with once a week. Maybe Wednesdays are a good day because you get a long lunch break. Wednesdays is your deadline. Now every week, you have to write a post that goes online on Wednesday.
Your entries don’t have to be long or super deep, just get in the habit of it. Every Wednesday, write something.
Now you’ll see your blog traffic spike every Wednesday. This will either be rewarding to you or you won’t care. If it’s rewarding that someone is reading your work, you’re a blogger. 🙂
That’s it, you are blogging now! Next post I’ll get into more specifics but it this is the only post you read about blogging for the next six months, that’s ok. Just start. And leave the link here so I can start reading it.
Once you’ve been writing several months, you can move onto Blogging 201. 🙂