I was privileged to finally have Chris Wilson on the podcast. You may remember he was the interviewer that had me on his YouTube channel a year and a half ago, and has been a tremendous encourager that I met a few years ago on Google Plus and we’ve been a sort of kindred spirit ever since.
And yes, Google Plus is still a thing.
We had a nearly two-hour discussion in this episode about writing and blogging
We get down to business around the 11:00 minute mark
We started off with having Chris justify his being on the podcast: he earned a degree in politics, and when he finished university he started blogging in 2008 after finding that jobs in Britain were scarce in his field of choice.
Something interesting that caught my attention is how Chris tells us he got into blogging because as a political major one of the easiest ways to find a job in his field would involve writing, such as journalism or being hired by a politician to work in their public relations. So, to get experience, Chris began writing a blog.
In 2010, after the British election Chris completed his training in teaching English as a foreign language, and wound up moving to the Ukraine where he lost touch with what was going on in British politics on a regular enough basis that he found less interest in blogging about it.
16:00 Blogger versus WordPress
Somehow after that part of his story we never really continued discussing Chris’s journey as we got into a discussion on which blogging platform is better for starting out: WordPress or Blogger? Chris tells us his first blog was on WordPress and he switched to Blogger. I was the opposite and started on Blogger and switched to WordPress.
It was around this time that Chris took John Saddington‘s advice at the time and started his own self-hosted WordPress blog, where we discuss just what’s the difference between using a free service like WordPress.com or the Google-owned Blogger.com, and hosting your own site with WordPress.org. It was at this time Chris split his sites into two, with one for life abroad and his experiences teaching English, and the other for blogging about his faith and keeping mostly his family up to date on his life abroad. Both served different purposes in his growth as a writer and as a Christian.
24:00 – Should bloggers focus on just one particular niche as some popular opinion insists OR focus on their writing voice and worldview? Or both?
How does one pronounce “niche” anyway?
At this point we discussed the pros and cons of having a blog that focuses on one specific target, versus whether a blogger should hone in on their writing voice and worldview. This viewpoint posits that no matter the topic, you’ll attract readers who enjoy reading things from your perspective — IF you write excellent sharable content.
Chris makes a good point that whether your blog is one that carries a unique writing style, voice or perspective, you do still want to have a focus (we begrudgingly use the word “niche”) that visitors to your site don’t have to spend very long on your blog in order to determine what exactly is your specialty or “main goal” with your site.
Whether you go for niche or specific worldview, you still need to be able to communicate in an elevator pitch just what your site or blog is about. “Anything and everything under the sun that I have an opinion about” just doesn’t communicate anything at all to potential readers.
33:06 Share your story and not just your thoughts that make you an authority in something!
You can share your opinion, but stories are powerful. It’s easier for your readers to remember stories as opposed to a series of facts. Chris tells me it’s for this reason he believes Jesus taught in parables that had characters in a story: they help make people relate more directly when you share a story.
I tend to agree.
40:01 Clickbait and how NOT to come up with good titles for your articles or blog posts
For the uninitiated, clickbait refers to coming up with misleading or unnecessarily dramatic titles so as to lure visitors to your site. However, if you use misleading titles, you’ll get diminished returns as people will get tired of finding out your posts don’t live up to the hype you assign them on social media.
“You’ll never believe what happened after blah blah blah.”
“Check out this list. I couldn’t believe number 78!”
Clickbait titles are something the serious blogger should never resort to! You’ll just waste all your online “relational capital” and find it hard to earn back. We also discuss other inappropriate social media behavior for those of us trying to build an online platform for our writing, with Chris sharing the ups and downs of moderating a Christian Bloggers community on Google Plus, and whether joining other writers groups is beneficial or detrimental to platform building.
Pssst, if you want to join our The Time Is Write group on Facebook, please do so as we encourage Christian writers with quotes and links.
52:42 – Spamming your social media followers — an innocent (but annoying!) newbie mistake
We discuss the ways you should NOT post your content to social media, especially if you’re doing this in many forums or Facebook groups. In this part of the conversation we also continued our thoughts about headline writing and how to make them stand out so as to answer the question “what’s in it for me if I read this?” that the reader will inevitably ask themselves when they see your title and picture (if you have one) when it shows up in their social media news feed.
Posts of ours we discussed in this section for how proud we are of the titles we came up with:
- How Not To Suck At Sharing Your Faith
- 10 Steps to Mediocre Book Promotion
- Why My Street Photography Sucks
57:25 — How long should a blog post be?
Some say three hundred words is the sweet spot, others 500, while others say the minimum ought to be 1000, while still others recommend and encourage long-form blog posts if you want Google to index you properly. There seems to be no clear-cut rule of thumb. We discuss the benefits and downsides of both short and long-form posts. We also discuss blue water vs red water strategy when it comes to writing, and Chris shares some tools for crafting headlines and doing SEO searches.
Tools You May Want To Use:
- The King Sumo Headlines plugin – this plugin allows you to conduct A/B split tests with your headlines, and then the headline that’s getting you the most clicks becomes the one that gets shown more on social media.
- CoSchedule – a great plugin you can use for scheduling not only your posts (which you can already do without using a plugin), but also schedule when and how many times you to post it to your various social media networks. Great for also re-posting older content from your site’s archives. You can test it out with a 14 day free trial run and then after that monthly plans starting at $9.90/month (Aug 11th/2017 Edit: It now starts at $30 with a crap ton more features than when I made this plug)
And if you’re serious about writing, read Stephen King’s Memoir on Writing! Click the photo for my lengthy review of the book.
63:23 – How to get Your First Thousand Site Visitors
This part underscores again the importance of effective titles. Chris asks how many times have you seen a title show up in your social media news feed and just knew you’d be re-sharing it before you even read the post. Early on in the game, this part of getting noticed and having your content shared is where effective titles and not being spammy is crucial to launching your blog and getting discovered.Every time you share something on social media, you are spending social capital - Chris WilsonClick To Tweet
If people like what you’re sharing, you gain your capital back with interest. If people don’t like it, you lose that capital and it becomes difficult to gain it back. There are tactics one can use that will get you a lot of clicks in the short-term, but can cost you and work against you in the long-run. You need to build trust and value, which admittedly are a high initial investment but when you put the effort in, you will reap-long term benefits when you keep at it.
If you aren’t making deposits with your social capital, you can’t expect to make withdrawals.
Along these lines we then get into discussing how one should share other people’s content using our social medial capital, and not just spend it on ourselves. What ratio of other people’s content to our own should we share. Is it 4 to 1, or 8? We couldn’t quite agree on it, but one thing we did agree on is that it should be higher than how much self-promotion you do.If you aren’t making deposits with your social capital, you can’t expect to make withdrawals.' quote='If you aren’t making deposits with your social capital, you can’t expect to make withdrawals.Click To Tweet
74:21 – What I have noticed has been working in the last few months to see increased traffic to my blog
First, your blog’s appearance and layout are CRUCIAL. Some people will tolerate a crappy layout if the content is good, but Google might not.
Also, the latest version of WordPress has “Press This” feature which I’m using as a Chrome extension is making me happier than a pig in its own mess.
Because it can be used to re-blog things or curate content you find on the internet. The way I’ve been using it is to redirect to the original article I’ve found, cite it or quote from it, and leave my own thoughts and opinions so it’s not a complete copy and paste of someone else’s material, all the while linking to the original source.
Another thing I do each time I post a “pressed” or re-blogged article is when I use CoSchedule to post it on Twitter, I make sure to tag the author of the original article, and every so often that author has re-tweeted it to their own followers as well, using their social media capital to send some fresh new eyeballs my way. I’ve notice some stick around and subscribe to the podcast or sign up for my newsletter list.
80:21 – Chris shares the sites he currently writes for.
- If you have a geeky/nerdy worldview (his words, not mine) and want to write a guest post for Churchm.ag, visit this link.
- His personal site is ChristopherJWilson.com, where he does link blogging similar to how I’ve been using Press This on my blog, but in an “older” style, and his personal reflections as well.
- August 11th, 2017 Edit: Chris has since incorporated his photography website into his personal site.
In this section we continued discussing how long posts should be, and reiterating the power of short posts, but yet neither of us feel there should be a hard fast rule as to the proper length of a post.
One rule of thumb is that if something is helpful, it doesn’t matter how long it is. But for SEO purposes, Google says you need a minimum of 300 words if you want your article or blog post to be indexed in their search engine.
89:37 – Our Writing Workflow
- iA Writer Pro — Apple version $19.95, click here for Android. Chris tells us he uses this tool in mark down on his iPhone to make outlines and then leaves it for later when he continues it on other devices (iPad, Mac) and then you can save it as an HTML and upload it to the internet directly.
- Evernote which is a free app which you can upgrade to different monthly paid versions with more features. The way I use it is when I’m reading Kindle books on my phone or tablet, I can quote/highlight something to Evernote, and copy and paste it into Scrivener or my blog editor if I’m wanting to quote from a book I’ve been reading. Chris shares that having syntax editing and other features helps him catch mistakes in his writing.
- Scrivener: Chris is the person who helped me take the plunge and give Scrivener a try. I share in this section how the free trial version was on my laptop for about a year before I saw a blog post he wrote for using it in Scripture memorization. In this section we share in detail the different ways we both use it for long-form writing. In the past I’ve written on my blog my preference for using it.
Every time I’ve ever encouraged someone to try Scrivener’s 30 day free trial (that’s 30 days of use, not 30 calendar days after you download it — BIG DIFFERENCE), I get the look of confusion that people don’t know how to make heads or tails of it.
Our friend Pastor David Lee Martin has prepared a course called Scrivener Unleashed where he offers some of the only teaching out there I’m aware of that focuses on the Windows version and not just the Mac version of Scrivener.
August 11th/2017 Edit: The cost of this training is no long $97 with the 50% discount and code I mentioned in the show. It’s now $79 for a lifetime membership, contains comprehensive over your shoulder videos and new updates being added regularly.
People to follow on social media if you’re serious about blogging and writing:
- Michael Hyatt
- Jeff Goins
- Dustin W. Stout
- Guy Kawasaki
- ProBlogger.Net I get morning emails from these guys
- Write To Done – I also mostly get these guys in my inbox and constantly learn from them.
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Blessings and fire on your head!