4 essential blogging secrets to help you write seductively readable SL blog posts
Why are some blog posts more readable than others? How can some blog posts hold your attention till the end, while others are a struggle to finish without getting distracted? Well, guess what: It’s not a magic trick. Successful bloggers use proven techniques that are a mystery to most SL bloggers. Until now. In this post, I’m going to pull back the curtain to show four secrets great writers use when writing seductively readable copy that will make your visitors click and keep reading.
1. Focus on your target audience’s specific needs and wants
When researching this post, I asked my target audience (members of SL Blogger Support) to tell me about their Second Life blogs’ target audiences, which I’ll share a little further down. Let me begin though by stating without reservation:
“Everyone” is not your target audience.
Choosing is painful. I have trouble choosing a good bottle of wine to go with dinner, let alone a target audience or target community. If you want to seduce your readers though – you can’t choose “everyone”, or even “all women”, or even “all women who like fashion”. You’ll need to do better than that if you want to grow your blog. Why? Because, by definition, talking to everyone is talking to no one.
To find your target audience ask yourself: When visitors read my blog
- What are they looking for?
- What do they struggle with?
Your audience is visiting your blog to either get something they specifically want or to fix something they specifically don’t like.
Attention spans are short, time is precious, and the options are immense. Your visitors are trading their valuable time and attention reading your blog post, hoping to either get what they want or to fix a problem they have.
What your blog visitors want from your blog posts
Your blog visitors want to:
- Discover new things (e.g. new fashions, new furniture, new cool places to visit, new things to do, new things to see, new information, new perspectives – in Second Life. Seeing a pattern? New sells.)
- Satisfy an emotional need (e.g. to have a laugh, to look at pretty/cool/sexy things, to commiserate, to get inspired)
- Learn how to do something new or do something better (e.g. to take better pictures, to learn how to script, to put on an event, to use a mesh avatar, to improve their viewer speed)
- Get stuff done (e.g. to get more traffic to their blog, to sort an overflowing inventory, to fix a technical glitch, to be up to date with the latest news, to find content to share or reply to, to find just the right prop or pair of shoes or dress or sim).
If you want to grow your blog’s traffic, it’s your job to find out what your readers want. Then, give it to them.
Do you need to discover your visitor’s age, sex, religious orientation, education level and income? Do you need to know what browser they use, what sites they came from, how long they stay on your site, or where they go after they visit you? That’s all very interesting information – if you can get it – but for your Second Life blog, you might need to think differently. Here’s another way:
Choose an angle for your blog posts to feed your visitors exactly what they’re looking for
Open your statistics and follow these steps:
- Find your most viewed posts. Look at your last 3-6 months of posts and review your most popular posts by views (ask yourself – “Why were these popular?”) Is it because they’ve been on your site forever? Is it a highly accessible page? Did they get a lot of views because they contain highly searched keyword phrases? Or are there other reasons? Typically, your latest posts with the most views are what your regular visitors most want to look at.
- Learn from those posts, and write future posts like them, only better.
- When starting a post, ask yourself – What’s the question I’m answering with this post? For this post, the question I am answering is: “How do I grow traffic to my SL blog?”
- When you have your question, ask yourself: How do I answer that question (or part of that question)? For this post, my answer is: “Write more engaging, compelling and seductive copy.”
- Finally, ask yourself: How am I going to structure my response? For long answers like these, I write an outline. You’ll find the outline for this post here.
If you look at my outline and scan this post, you’ll see I follow it closely, with a few tweaks here and there that arose as I wrote and edited the post. Doing this saves me time and energy when writing 4000+ word blog posts. Here’s my timeline, I spent a total of 7 hours on this post:
- 30 minutes researching and writing the outline (searching the web for ideas, organising an approach, asking for help from SL bloggers for examples)
- 4 hours writing the post (not continuously, I like to walk away and come back repeatedly).
- 2 hours editing it (structure, argument, sourcing evidence, grammar, spell checking)
- 15 minutes writing the headline and the lead paragraph (this is much easier after I write my outline).
- 15 minutes optimising it for search.
- 30 minutes getting the image captured and edited
Do you need to spend this kind of time and energy in writing every blog post? No. For long-form posts like these, I do, and here’s why:
- I love to write – so spending 7 hours writing something I enjoy is like heaven for me.
- If I don’t prepare an outline, I will ramble, lose my plot, and take longer to find my way back than it would take to just follow the approach I’ve outlined above.
If you don’t want to go to the trouble, or if you write short posts (e.g. 300 words), keep reading and you’ll find a simple outline you can use for short-form posts.
2. Write seductive headlines that tempt visitors to click
Stop titling your blog posts, instead: Headline them.
Post titles are like ponies – they’re cute, but they can’t get much work done. Headlines, however, are your muscular workhorses pulling your visitors along, tempting them to click and keep reading your blog posts through to the end.
Don’t let your headlines get lazy. Instead, whip them into shape. Writer Jeff Goins suggests 5 easy tricks to help you write catchy headlines (by the way, if you can use the title of your blog post as completely understandable link text, that is one sign of a good headline). In his post, he suggests
- Use numbers (when listing or calling out facts like percentages)
- Use interesting adjectives
- Use a unique rationale
- Start with what, why, how or when
- Make an audacious promise
These are good principles and are worthy of a blog post of their own.
I asked SL Blogger Support Members to tell me about their blog’s target audiences, what their target audiences want, and to suggest a post that they feel best serves their target audiences’ wants. I visited every submission and read them in the context of what they told me. Here is a sample of the first 10 headlines I saw:
- Nimue Style look 39
- No376 *Group Gift* @ Fameshed
- Virtual Diva “Frida Vintage B&W”
- Bubblegum Latex
- Why do I keep coming back? I’m just a fool in love…
- Lay Me Down
- Against the Wall
- Dying Light
Which of the above headlines compels you to click through? To me, number 7 gets my attention, because the blogger is asking a question – and questions make one pause and think. I don’t know who the blogger is, so I’m not very interested in why she is coming back (and to what), so I probably wouldn’t bother. Still, I’d say – on a clickable scale – number 7 is the best of the bunch. The other headlines aren’t telling me anything about what I might find on the other end of the click. Why should I click?
Unfortunately, these headlines fail nearly every one of Goins’ suggestions.
The problem with the saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover” is that most people do just that.
If you want to grow traffic beyond your circle of friends, you’ll need to get people to click-through. People who don’t already know who you are. These headlines aren’t working hard enough to get scanners (on social media, on readers, in search engines, in email) to click-through. Later in the post, I’ll show you very easy ways to whip your headlines into shape so they start working for you.
From the submissions, I chose four posts that were at least 250 words long (excluding credits). I then rewrote their headlines. There are two reasons I chose these posts.
First, I found it difficult to know what a post was about when I only saw pictures, a few sentences, and credits – so I found it next to impossible to write a good headline (that’s not a good sign). Second, remember what I said about word count in my Guide to SEO? If you’re not writing at least 250 words, then it’s unlikely you’ll show up very often in search anyway, so even the very best headline won’t help you that much in growing your traffic.
Here are the four posts that fit my criteria and how I’d rewrite their headlines:
Davie Frequency writes a blog called Egos Like Hairdos, for “roleplayers broadly, and male roleplayers (and those who roleplay male characters!) more specifically.” That’s a specific niche. He told me that his target most wants to “learn about new roleplay items, new roleplay communities, and enjoys both the visual aspect of blogs and actual written reviews and commentary.” Ok, these specific roleplayers are looking for suggestions about cool things to use and great places to visit. The post he feels best serves what his target audience most wants is “Samnium, Duende, and Excellent Libraries“. It’s a good read. Even though I’m not in his target audience, I felt like I wanted to visit the sim. The problem is, I had no idea what to expect from reading the title alone, so I might not have clicked through to his post. After reading it, and getting the sense that he was truly stunned by what he saw, I suggest he rewrites his headline to read “Samnium: A surprisingly stunning roleplay sim that left me speechless”.
Lici Li writes a blog called Time and Lace, for “female avatar users that like fantasy fashion” who want “the newest fantasy fashion presented in an original way that will give them an idea of what can be done with outfits.” She believes “they also want to see items from the current fantasy events”. Sounds like a decent niche. The post she feels best serves her target audience’s wants is “Keeper of the Gate – We ❤ Rp contest entry“. If you’re an RPer, I’m guessing you know about that event. Still, is that enough to make me click through to her post? She’s got some great pictures in there, which again, I probably would have missed because the headline doesn’t tell me what I can expect. In the post, she seemed most excited how her eyes looked in the pictures. With that said, I think a more compelling headline would be: “These come-hither eye depth prims might be the best L$ you’ve ever spent”.
Kai Mannequin writes a blog called Model on a Budget, for “anyone who wants to look good without spending much” and wants “well-styled looks, great photography and information on as many things as they can get.” Now that’s a niche I can get into, although I’m not someone who wants information “as many things” as I can get, but rather the best things. Still, who doesn’t want great style on a bargain, right? Her most representative post is “#58 – はなみ“. I don’t read Japanese, so I have no idea what that means. She explains what it means in the post, which I probably wouldn’t have ever learned because I would not have clicked through. I don’t have time to interpret a foreign language word just to read a blog post. I turns out it has something to do with a cherry blossom’s impermanence in Spring, a lovely tie-in with the product she was featuring, which led me to suggest her headline to read: “Capture the beauty of Spring with this affordable Japanese Kimono” (I have no idea if that kimono is affordable or not, but I took my cue from the title of her blog and what she said her audience wants).
Catalina Staheli writes a blog called Chasing Catalina, for “fashion industry and consumers” that want “information on new releases and how to keep up with looking fabulous in Second Life, presented in creative and inspiring ways.” Personally, I think she needs to narrow that niche a bit, because there are over 1000 SL blogs trying to do the same thing. Catalina’s pictures are beautiful, and her prose is readable and interesting. I probably wouldn’t have read it though, because the headline, “Lost Empress” doesn’t offer me any reason to click-through. I’d change it to read “This gorgeously majestic headpiece and jewellery set will make you feel like the Empress of China”.
Here are the before and after headlines in a table. I only read the posts once and would expect that my first attempts are not perfect.
Which headlines would you click on, before or after? If you said neither, then, then these topics are probably not that interesting to you, but they’re probably very interesting to the target audience members of these blogs.
Here is Goins’ formula, which I used to improve these headlines:
Number or Trigger word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise
Here is another example of this headline formula, for this post:
4 essential blogging secrets to help you write seductively readable blog posts
4 (the number) essential (adjective) blogging secrets (the trigger) to help you write seductively readable blog posts (is the keyword phrase and the promise).
If you wrote the above posts, use my headlines if you like them. Better still, write your future posts with Goins’ formula in mind.
Compelling headlines are important because they are proven to increase click-through to your blog posts from email, feeds, and social media. Don’t let your superbly written blog post wither with a lazy headline. Make your headline work for you.
One last thing: A seductively killer headline, followed by boring copy, or copy that fails to deliver on the promise you made in your headline, will end up backfiring in the long run and erode visitor trust.
3. Hook your visitors from the first paragraphs to entice them to read more
Your blog visitors will look at your headline and featured image first, then fixate on the lead paragraph (also known as the lede), and then your next heading. Then, they’ll make a split-second decision to read your blog post, or not. The sad truth is that most people won’t keep reading.
People don’t read, they skim
Look at that: About 5% of visitors do not scroll at all and might bounce instantly (Internet marketer Quicksprout suggests the average bounce rate for blog posts to be 70-98%). Farhad Manhoo, who originally shared this chart on Slate, says this chart “only includes people who spent any time engaging with the page at all—users who “bounced” from the page immediately after landing on it are not represented. The X axis goes beyond 100 percent to include stuff, like the comments section, that falls below the 2,000-pixel mark. Finally, the spike near the end is an anomaly caused by pages containing photos and videos—on those pages, people scroll through the whole page.”
If your blog post is 300 words long with a big picture on top, how much do you think the typical visitor reads? 300 words? 250? 200 words? Not even close. Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen has done the research that shows
Visitors read at most 28% during an average visit to the average web page; 20% is more likely.
Wow! On average, people most likely read
- 20 words of a 100 word post (like most SL blog posts I see)
- 60 words of a 300 word blog post
- 200 words of a 1000 word blog post
- 1000 words of a 4000 word blog post (like this one)
Do these statistics depress you? It makes me a little sad. We bloggers might spend hours on a blog post – poring over every word and clever twist of phrase – and the average reader only reads 1/5 of it? On most of the posts I see from Second Life bloggers – that might amount to a couple of sentences. It’s enough to make one give up blogging and just post snapshots on Flickr.
This data might really annoy you. After all the work you put in – doesn’t your blog post deserve more than this? Like most things we get angry about, however, there isn’t much point.
Before you decide to write much shorter blog posts (which won’t help) or give up blogging all together, pay attention to the word average. The good news, dear reader, is that you won’t be average, if you follow my advice.
People read web pages in a reliable F pattern
So if the average visitor only read 20% of the average blog post, what parts are they most likely to read? Well, Nielsen has done that research as well, and it’s been reproduced in nearly every eye-tracking study of web copy that I’ve seen:
“If you squint on the red (most-viewed) areas,” says Nielsen, “all three heatmaps show the expected F pattern. Of course, there are some differences. The F viewing pattern is a rough, general shape rather than a uniform, pixel-perfect behavior.”
We live in the age of skimming.
The implications of these eye studies are profound:
- Most visitors will not read your text thoroughly
- The first two paragraphs must state the most important information
- Start subheadings, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words
While most of your visitors will not read your whole post, those that you do draw down the page will engage a lot more (i.e. spend more time).
Write your posts in inverted pyramid style to give your visitors the most important information before they bounce off your post
The inverted-pyramid writing style is the most persistently applied approach to writing news copy, in part because trained journalists have known what I am now preaching for over a century: Readers don’t read through to the end of your article, unless your content is very, very engaging.
Your post is fighting a war against everything else competing for your visitor’s attention span: the rest of the web, other blogs, their email, IMs, real life distractions, their rumbling tummies – everything.
Let’s face it, it’s a minor miracle you’re even reading these words – which are about 3000 words into my post.
Here are the facts: If you’re going to write long posts, make them really engaging, because most people are not patient enough, and do not have the time to read to the end, unless you are using all of my techniques or you’re fixing their really difficult problems. If you’re going to write short posts, you’d still be better off putting your most important information at the top.
This trick, if you adopt it, will rock your blogging world. This is the classic inverted pyramid that journalists have used since the telegraph was invented:
I can almost hear the anarchists among you shifting uncomfortably in your seats while thinking: “Isn’t this all a bit formulaic? If I write my posts this way, won’t they just be like everyone else’s that follows this advice?”
Let me ask you: Is every news story exactly the same? Is every magazine editorial exactly alike? Of course not, yet most use the inverted pyramid structure. It’s the worldwide standard used by The Associated Press, Reuters, and just about every other national and local news service on the internet and in print.
But if we’re not professional journalists, why should we follow these guidelines? Well, you don’t have to. And if you’re writing short fiction or poetry, then of course the inverted pyramid does not apply. If you’re blogging, however, remember that professional journalists don’t follow these guidelines because they are professional journalists, they do so because they work.
Write your lead paragraph to draw your visitors in
For most of time I’ve spent writing professionally, I’ve written articles in the style used by mystery writers when they write whodunnits – I’ve done it wrong.
The rules of storytelling tell us to start at the beginning by setting the stage and then finish with the big punchline or reveal (isn’t this where you often put your cleverest line? Isn’t this where you tend to ‘end with a bang’?) That structure works for fiction, but it doesn’t work as well for non-fiction.
The inverted pyramid feels unnatural at first, because it turns traditional storytelling on its head. If I don’t outline my post along this structure first, I reliably find myself burying my lead paragraph somewhere in the middle or even the end of the post I write, forcing myself to later exhume it, restoring it to its rightful place up top. When I do, my article always reads better – and they get more clicks.
Here’s another rule of thumb that will help you write more engaging posts:
First, tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then tell them. Then tell them what you’ve told them.
Simple, isn’t it?
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t see the use of the inverted pyramid in most of the blog posts I looked at. I hardly see it in most hobbyist (e.g. SL) blogs for that matter. I want my posts read. I want to grow my blog. So – with rare exceptions of form – I’ll use the structure that works to do that.
Using this post as an example, here is my lead again:
Why is it that some blog posts are so much more readable than others? How can some blog posts hold your attention, while others are a struggle to finish without getting distracted? Well, guess what: It’s not a magic trick. Successful bloggers use proven techniques that are a mystery to most SL bloggers. Until now. In this post, I’m going to pull back the curtain to show four secrets good writers use when writing seductively readable copy that will make your visitors click and keep reading.
Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? I try to answer them all. A lead should be about 30 words and between 1-2 short paragraphs which includes a hook (like a provocative quote or question). I wrote a longer lead than that – including my nut graph – because I like to live dangerously close to the edge, can’t you tell?
If you notice, I’ve organised the advice I give on this post in order of most important to least important:
- Target your audience
- Use compelling headlines
- Hook your readers from the first paragraphs
- Follow proven blog post formulas to keep your visitors engaged
Before I move on the 4th point (which will save you loads of time), I’d like to add some important tips on how you can use formatting to improve readership (i.e. scannability) of your blog posts, in order of importance.
Becky’s top 10 text formatting tips
- Use a lot of sentence case subheads and leave out the full points (periods) – they help draw your visitor’s eyes down the page
- Left align your copy – visitors read from left to right and centering copy slows readers down
- Use easy to read typefaces and typeface colours that contrast with backgrounds
- Err on the side of larger typefaces as opposed to smaller (especially for white on black)
- Use a lot of line breaks – walls of text say “effort” and put visitors off. White space gives them room to breathe. Single line breaks overdone, however, fail to give your post structure
- Use pull quotes – if you’re blog gives you that option – write your nuggets of wisdom or top recommendations in those pull quotes
- Use bullet points when you are listing unordered lists of things
- Use numbered lists when you are listing ordered things
- Using bolding and italics
- Use points 5-9 above in moderation
Bonus tip: I also like to tease visitors by telling them what I’m going to tell them later in the post (but not where) just to keep them going.
4. Follow proven formulas to keep your visitors engaged
In addition to much of what I already write in this post, Danny Iny at Copyblogger suggests bloggers follow this fool-proof formula for easily creating compelling content.
- The Problem — Where you explain the problem that causes the symptoms you’ve described in the hook (or lead).
- The Underlying Cause of the Problem — A little more detail about why this problem keeps on happening.
- The Solution — Your brilliant insight into how the problem can be solved.
- Implementing the Solution — How the reader can turn ideas into actions, and what they should do next in order to apply what you’re teaching them.
I have used this formula for the last month and it’s working wonderfully. My posts are more coherent, more viewed, and more engaged with than ever before. I have adopted this formula for my posts on SL Blogger Support and my own blog too.
Here is an example from my post on optimising your blog for search recently published on SL Blogger Support (which was also my lead for that article too) that shows this formula in action:
“You’ve worked damn hard on your blog posts. You’ve spent hours and hours setting up the pictures, editing them in Photoshop, writing them, completing your credits, and then sharing them on social media. Wouldn’t it be nice for people searching for what you write about to also find your stuff? Sure it would, but I know you don’t want to make a career of this, so I’m going to give the bare-bones on this SEO stuff. And, I’m going to give it to you in levels – so that you can decide what you do, and what you don’t.”
Are there other formats you can follow? Of course, most bloggers write their posts using one of these five formulas:
- Just the facts (“I just wanted to show you this really cute pair of shoes I bought yesterday at Collabor88…” or often, just a picture and credits)
- The Personal story narrative (“I was born at a very young age…”)
- The List (“5 Misconceptions about Mesh Heads” or “10 Reasons Why Sansar would be a good name for the successor to Second Life”)
- The Ramble – these are aimless thoughts usually delivered in a stream of consciousness and run on sentences – great for self-expression but tough for visitors to follow
- The Story or Poem – these are narrative (fictional or non-fictional) short stories or poetry – which often serve as self-expression or to entertain
One of the coolest things about writing a personal or Second Life blog is that you can write it anyway you please. No one is the boss of you, no one is marking your work, and it’s 100% up to you to follow whatever you think works for you. If you want more traffic to your blog, however, remember that proven formulas don’t shut down creativity, they enable your inherent creativity shine through to more people more often.
Blogging is about expressing new ideas, not creating new rules. Don’t waste your time reinventing the wheel when you could be happily riding down the road.
In summary, if you take away only four major points from this blog post – make it these:
- Target your audience
- Use compelling headlines
- Hook your readers from the first paragraphs
- Follow proven blog post formulas to keep your visitors engaged
Good luck with your writing. Writing like this is hard work, but here’s the thing: Very few visitors will actually read this whole post, and even fewer will carry out my advice. Even fewer than that, will do so consistently. These are the bloggers that will reap the good seeds they sow.
That’s terrific news for you, because if you do, your blog is going to stand out even more.
Thank you to all the bloggers who replied to my research request and allowed me to use their blogs as examples in this post. I look forward to hearing about your experiences using these suggestions. Please share your views in the comments. If you have any tips and tricks that you think I’ve missed, please add them in the comments too.