Sunday, 17 May 2015

Nobody reads your blog!


Yes, nobody!

I mean: REALLY read it; going through all the words and sentences and paragraphs and get through to the end.

During the time that I was working for BBC World Service (2002-2012) one of the more important guidelines for online content producers was: "All you have to play with is the first page, and in fact, first paragraph of your piece. You have to grab your audience's attention there, and say whatever you want to say in the top part of the page, before the user needs to scroll down, because they rarely do!"

There has been plenty of evidence supporting this theory (see likes of which in here, here and here) and as far as I know, this is still what's being preached in BBC, and many prominent international media organizations.

So what should we do?

Your blog post is a product

Your post should be a matchbox:
simple, small, to the point

And considering the evidence (read their conclusion as: "global short attention-span syndrome") you need to come up with a product like a matchbox, rather than Swiss army knife. Simple, Small, to the point.

As a product you need to think about two main aspects:

a. Content (the idea itself, what is it that your "product" supposed to do)
b. Form (packaging, how can you make sure that the "product" is bought, and also used)

a. Content


You are a technical blogger (an assumed audience of this post) and have something to write about. I believe you need to answer these questions, before putting pen on paper (or fingertip on keyboard... whatever)

1. What is the purpose of your post? Are you trying to spread the knowledge? educating people? or just blowing off steam about some bug you've come across? Do you actually want your post to be read by as many people as possible? or you're happy as long as one or two like-minded people read it?

1.5. Consistency always raises your profile. Are you happy with being a part-time educator, part-time bug nagger? Or you actually prefer to be known by only one of them?

2. Have you thought about your audience? Who are they? Are they "Oracle Ace directors?" Are they supposed to be technically as able as you are? How you considered the fact that even among Oracle Ace Directors people have different abilities? Not everybody is an "Optimizer guru," "Recovery master," or "Replication genius", and they all might still be Oracle Ace Directors. Do you care if someone reads your post and doesn't understand it?

3. Are you true to yourself regarding your own -possible- attempt at a shot at fame? If you want to be known as THE educator, or THE expert in a subject, it needs a lot of effort, not only to be that person, but also to make people notice you (i.e. how to package/sell your "product"). It needs commitment to presentation/marketing fundamentals, and awareness of the market characteristics and trends.

I found Tim Hall's advice very insightful on many other matters concerning management of this creative process.

b. Form


You can find plenty of style-guides on the internet (here and here, for example). They seem to have a number of key elements in common:
A Bad blog post!
  1. Choose intriguing yet short titles.

    Most of the blog posts are advertised via Twitter. So more compact title provides you with more room for hashtags to advertise your Tweet (and therefore your blog post) properly.

    Do consider concepts such as "impact" and "controversy" when you come up with a title. Avoid questions in titles; that's generally frowned upon in the world of "proper" journalism.

  2. Start with an abstract/introduction.

    Don't waste your readers' time by not stating the aim of your post, because if you make them go through it and they find out that it's not what they were looking for, they will hesitate to come back to your blog.

    Also people usually don't scroll down! If you don't present your idea in an exciting manner in the first two or three sentences, they'll simply leave your post!

  3. ALWAYS write short sentences, and short paragraphs.

    BBC World Service's guideline was "one sentence is enough in a paragraph," and if you read news on BBC's website, you can see how it looks.

    Nobody likes going through tens of uninterrupted lines of writing; especially on technical blogs which are usually wider than normal to avoid line-wraps when including programming code (or "execution plans" among Oracle bloggers).

  4. Break your post into little pieces.

    I advise using sub-headers religiously. It can make the scanning eyes of your readers stop, and pay attention to what you want them to pay attention to.

    Also think about the flow of your post. If you can use "ordered lists" as your sub-headers, do it.

  5. Use any tool that's available at your disposal to make your post less boring: images, links, unordered lists, Alex Gorbatchev's SyntaxHighlighter.

    You might think that your audience are too sophisticated for such "marketing tricks," but unfortunately we all (at least the more fortunate ones) can only read with our eyes. If the eyes don't like something they see, they try not to see it!

  6. A "Conclusion" part is as important as the "abstract/introduction."

  7. Audience is ALWAYS thinking: "I don't care who you think you are; I decide who you are!"

    So don't think they'll keep reading your posts no matter how long it is. They simply won't. Keep it short! (Unlike what I've done here, in my post!)

  8. Remove distractions from your blog post, as much as possible.

    So you are an OCA and an OCP and an OCM and an Oracle Certified Expert on something and you get tons of traffic that tens of companies want to advertise through your website? Sure, but every time someone comes into your page and the content of your post isn't the first thing that their eyes meet, you've effectively lost a reader.

  9. Making your blog Mobile-Aware increases your exposure
    Make your post as accessible/visible as you can.

    Use meta tags or anything else that can help your post appear in search engines when looking for a related word/phrase.

    Also I need to echo Julian Dyke's advice (thanks to Martin Widlake for reminding me of it): For better exposure you need to make your blog mobile-aware. Google announced on 26th February, 2015  how they're changing their search engine's criteria to give higher rankings to Mobile-aware blogs and sites. Also guidelines to test, and the definition of "mobile-awareness" is included in the statement.

Conclusion


Technical bloggers seem to read blogs in two circumstances, generally:
  1. When they're looking for a solution to their own problem (i.e. when they read a blog post they keep saying in their head: "cut the bullshit!")
  2. At night, after they're finished with day to day stuff. (i.e. their eyes and brains are too tired to spend a lot of energy to go through your "jewel of a post" line by line, and word by word.)
If you don't engage with them as soon as they start reading the title of your post, and don't make the whole experience of reading your post as comforting (and informative) at the same time, You have effectively wasted your time!

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