The Renegade Writer

Why Most Blogging Advice Is BS

Since I blog, I read a lot of blogs about…well, blogging. And coming at it from a magazine writer and journalist perspective, I can see that much of the advice offered is BS. Blogging “experts” are spewing pronouncements, but (1) they don’t understand that different tactics work for different bloggers, and (2) most of them are so concerned with monetizing their blogs that it affects their content.

Here’s some of the bogus advice I’ve run across, and why you may want to break it — Renegade style.

1. Break This Rule: Blog posts should be very short — under 300 words.

This reminds me of the now-debunked advice that query letters must be under one page, which Diana and I addressed in The Renegade Writer. I had been following this advice to try to break into the women’s magazines with no success, and an editor at Woman’s Day took pity on me and let me know she liked to see more research in writers’ queries. I wrote up a 3-page query — and landed my first women’s mag assignment — my highest-paying assignment at the time. Three-page queries quickly scored assignments with Family Circle and Redbook.

I think the same thing will happen with the “short post” advice — people will start to realize that the bloggers endorsing it don’t necessarily know any more about it than they do. I have to say, I hate it when I’m drawn in by a great post headline and then the post is nothing more than a 250-word shortie — equivalent to a magazine FOB. I want information! I want substance!

Most of my blog posts are at least 800 words long, and Steve Pavlina, who has a hugely popular blog, regularly writes posts in excess of 3,000 words. So if you have a lot to say about a topic, don’t be afraid to say it. Just make sure that every word counts.

2. Break This Rule: The headline is all-important.

Sure, headlines are important. But you know what’s even more important? Good content. People don’t read blogs for the headlines…they read them to be enlightened, to be entertained, to learn something new. Headlines draw people in, but if you want them to come back, you need to deliver on the promises of those headlines. See Break This Rule #1 above.

3. Break This Rule: Find free images for your posts online.

I can always tell when a blogger has trolled the Internet looking for free photos because they end up posting images that look unprofessional and have only a tangential relationship to the content of the post. For example, a post on how to get more clients will have a candid photo of a middle-aged woman opening a birthday present. I guess getting clients is like getting gifts, but c’mon.

I understand that not everyone needs professional photography — for example if you’re running a personal blog — but if you’re one of the sixty bazillion bloggers looking to monetize your blog, would it hurt to drop a few dollars to make your posts look attractive and professional? I use iStockphoto to find images, and it costs me about $3.00 for each image — hardly breaking the bank, and I think you can see the difference.

Since I’ve been writing for magazines so long (14 years full-time at this point), I tend to view The Renegade Writer blog through the lens of a magazine professional. Print publications are not in the best situation right now, but one thing they do right is accompany their articles with professional, eye-catching photos.

4. Break This Rule: Establish your expertise on your About Me page by describing yourself as a social media rockstar, black belt writer, cooking guru, etc.

Well, yes — you want to establish your expertise. But what I’ve found is that many bloggers make inflated claims about how great they are. Here’s a hint: Most bloggers are not rockstars, ninjas, mavens, gurus, or black belts in anything other than martial arts.

This is a case of “show, don’t tell.” Instead of telling readers that you’re a black belt writer, how about listing some previous publications? Rather than saying you’re a social media rockstar, how about describing some of the results you’ve gotten for your clients? Results are what matter — not self-appointed titles. [lf]

Jun 9, 2011 Advice, Blogging, Rants

30 Responses

  1. Kelley says:

    Indeed! An entire industry has been built on people telling other people how to write for their blog. In reality all it does it boost page views for the writer. Their info rarely conveys anything with heart or of groundbreaking, must-blog nature.

    Hope you’re well!

    • Thanks for the comment, Kelley! Yes, sometimes I feel like blogging is so (relatively) new that people are still feeling their way, and making up pronouncements on the fly.

      See you real soon!

  2. Linda. Great post. I have been fighting the 300 word thing since I started blogging. I just can’t stop until my idea is complete or I think I have helped the reader with information. I have over 50 blogs now and not one of them is near 500 words. I have a problem with the images also. That would be a great research blog.

    James Moushon, ‘The eBook Author’s Corner’

  3. I break these rules pretty often, especially the length one. My posts are LONG.

  4. As a new blogger, I loved hearing this great advice. Thanks for being the voice of reason.

  5. LOVE seeing this advice…thank you!

    My posts are always long; perhaps because I am the offspring of a Catholic, I find myself feeling quietly guilty for keeping my readers engaged for so long (or at least, hoping they’re engaged for so long). But I also break the cardinal rule of frequency, only blogging about once a week.

    My traffic is great, comments are high — so I figure something must be working…

    :)

    Thank you for disspelling the myths, Linda!

    Mikalee

  6. I’ve posted blogs nearly 2,000 words – and have received good reviews. Also on the headlines – I like to have catchy headlines, but it’s the content that truly matters, as you said. I sometimes start to read a blog post (on other pages), yawn after the first paragraph, and move on. I have had pretty good luck on the photo thing. I have a HIRE ME page with testimonials – that’s good, right? About me – very brief. People who blog and self-promote again and again – another turn off.
    Great post, Linda!

  7. Good post Linda. I was already tired I’ve trying to follow these blogging rules and I just started. Do you ever take your own pictures? And is having photography skills beneficial to your freelance work? Thanks.

  8. [...] Most blogging advice is BS → 9 June 2011 | Permalink [...]

  9. I love breaking these rules. The whole ninja/guru/black belt thing has also been beaten to death!

  10. Leo Dimilo says:

    Love it. I especially love the first rule. I think that when you write longer articles, you are specifically tailoring an audience that isn’t in it for the sound bytes.

    I do think, however, that when you do write longer articles there is an art to defining white space that will keep the readers attention and let them not get lost in the text.

  11. Thanks for all your comments! It’s funny how the comment on length is what resonates with people most. I wonder who started the rule that blog posts need to be under 300 words? Is the ever-shortening attention span of the average person a myth?

  12. Star says:

    Dreamstime is cheaper for pix–under a buck–and less generic. In my opinion.

  13. Sarah says:

    Oh, gosh, that 300 word thing! If I read one more blog post that reads like a 4th grader’s homework assignment, I’m going to tear my hair out.

    I hate the fakey-fake anecdotes, too, and the chirpy, hey-I’m-your-new-best-friend style of writing.

  14. Great post, Linda, and perfect timing as I’ve been debating adding more “visuals” to my blog. So far, I’ve only used book covers and a photo I own the rights to and am learning about stock photos, etc.

    I think the biggest thing about blogging, if you’re doing it for any professional reason (i.e. more than to update your family on how darling your children are–oh wait, that’s what I use Facebook for!), you must be able to answer two questions:

    1. Who is my intended audience?
    2. What is the purpose of my blog?

    Then each post should support your purpose, and be aimed at your intended audience. Keeping a focus is challenging but what helps sets a blog apart from its competitors. Agree? :)

  15. Thanks for the comments! Kelly, I agree. :)

  16. KSmithGeek says:

    So true… need to break these silly rules. I write a personal blog about observations and rants, if I followed these rules … well I would never be posting much of anything.

  17. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the refreshing post. I’m just starting a new blog, and I’ve been tearing my hair out at all that obnoxious advice. I never worry about it with my personal blog – and maybe I won’t worry so much with this one either. I KNOW my posts will be a lot longer than 300 words, and sometimes those snappy headlines just won’t come.

  18. ArcticLlama says:

    That 300 word thing was never advice as something good for your readers, it was for search engines. The idea was that Google only indexed the first 300 words or so of a page, so anything you said after that was “wasted”. Google’s indexing improved beyond that limit years ago, but old “truths” die hard.

    You hit the nail on the head, though. This advice, and much other advice, is based on making money on your blog, versus building a readership or writing something useful.

    Ironically, Google’s recent updates have slaughtered the websites and blogs that followed the 300 word rule by grading the amount of ads relative to the amount of content on a page. It’s a lot easier to not have too high of an ad percentage when you have 1,000 words of content than when you have 300.

    • Wow, that’s interesting to know about the origins of the 300-word rule. I’ll bet it also has to do with the fact that experts are saying our attention spans are getting shorter. Even magazine articles are getting shorter!

  19. Karen says:

    Loved this post. would like to say I learned a lot from it but actually I’m already breaking all these rules, so I guess reassurance was the main benefit! The “blog short” advice is so often teamed with “blog often”, but I just can’t do it. I’d rather write a 1000 word post once a week than a 200 word one every day. And I hate words like guru or rockstar. If you’re applying these to yourself (on your about page) stop it! If you’re applying them to someone else, be aware that they may not like/be comfortable with the term either!

  20. Felicia says:

    Sound advice. My general rule is write until you’re done. Therefore, I have some posts that are very short (and I mean really short…like 50 words) and others that are just shy of 1,000 words.

    I use as many words as necessary for the reader to understand the purpose of the post. Sometimes I can get it done in 50 words while other times it takes much more. It’s all about finding the flow and keeping the reader engaged.

  21. I particularly like point 5. Maybe in the circles that ‘superstars’ and ‘gurus’circulate these things are important, but then if they’re all ‘gurus’ what constitutes a ‘guru’?

    The word length thing is interesting. I am put off by longer posts but if it is well structured with clear sub-headings, etc, I’m more likely to read. But I do tend to skim read online stuff, unless something really catches my eye. Basically due to too much I want to read and not enough time.

  22. A couple of thoughts about this.

    First, thanks for taking some of the hype out of all the ‘shoulds’ we encounter about blogging or doing business online. So much of it feels a bit strident and unattainable. I appreciate your voice of reason.

    I agree about the headlines. Some of them are gratuitous – meaning they are intentionally sensational so the reader is inclined to click.

    I have to say, I think the headline for this article falls in that category. You’re saying these four bits of advice are BS. The headline claims ‘most’ advice is BS. That’s probably not true, but it sure made me click to read.

    I can’t agree more about the importance of good images. I like how you compare the professionalism of your blog to that of a print publication – hold high standards.

    I can’t stand stock images. Especially of people – when I see the purposefully multi-cultural gathering of people to represent someone’s business, I think, “Who the heck are those people? Why not show the real people?”

    Based on this disinclination for generic images, I’ve committed to no stock images on my site. This has challenged me to become a better photographer. My audience loves seeing images of places and things I’ve encountered. These personalized photos are part of my brand.

    You’re so right that no matter what the length, every word must count. I sense myself beginning to natter on, so I’ll stop here.

    Thanks again for this breath of fresh air about the ‘rules’ of blogging.

  23. Kyrsten Bean says:

    Great article.

    I am so glad you said it, because I feel the same way. When I kept reading, “keep your posts to 300 words or less,” I was a little skeptical. I tried it once or twice and felt like I was a corporate advertisement and wrote nothing of substance.

    I actually stopped reading those blogs that were telling me how to blog after that, because I was getting annoyed.

    Now, with posts up to 1,000 words most times, I receive quality comments and gain a couple of people per month. I’m really just trying to find like-minded people and experiment with writing what *I* would want to read, not monetize, and I think that helps me.

    • Kyrsten Bean says:

      Oh, and thanks for the advice about photographs! I was feeling at an impasse there and definitely don’t mind paying for a quality picture. I was thinking about starting to take my own, too.

  24. [...] Why most blogging advice is BS. [...]

  25. [...] couldn’t agree more with this post over at The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli. I like this bit, especially: Well, yes — you want to establish your [...]

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