Performancing’s very own Ryan Caldwell has been proving lately that large, well-researched and well-written “resource” articles are worth the effort and cost. Of course, how you define “resource” is up to you to determine (and prove). I’m actually using “resource” as an umbrella term instead of “linkbait”, which has so many negative connotations. But “resource”, in this case, includes articles that are either informative or entertaining, or both. (For example, Ridelust has a new Corvettes section, which includes a history of the Corvette, a list of popular forums, a rental directory, and more. I know it took the writer a whole week to put this together, but a corvette gallery with pics of every model ever produced would be nice.)
These sorts of solid resources offer great value informationally. They can also provide entertainment to the reader. Long-term, they can pull a lot of weight in terms of social and search traffic and backlinks. (Provided you do the right thing and promote them on your favorite social media sites.)
Downside to Writing Resource Articles
The problem is, the best resource articles often need to be injected with pop culture, to have wide appeal. That’s something you’ll have to learn on your own. It can’t be taught, as far as I’m concerned. (Disagree? Feel free to comment.) They also take a great deal of research and editing time, which might conflict with the mindset of daily blogging. The kind I’m currently writing each take at least one full week (on top of daily blogging).
An Approach: 11 Tips
My own work schedule for the past 1.5 years has been a mix of daily blogging and weekly resource articles, and it isn’t always easy to balance. Here are some techniques I’ve used, both online and for print magazine articles.
- Get a headstart.
Don’t chase your tail on this. Spend a couple of weeks in advance prepping for several resource articles. (Consider: title ideas, pop culture angle, Google search, bookmarking reference URLs, what social media sites to promote on.) This ensures you don’t feel like you’re just barely in step with your schedule. It also allows time for revisions and even inspiration. Don’t force yourself into a publishing schedule right away. It’s okay to work on several at once, then focus on completing one at a time when you have sufficient research notes.
- Feed your mind.
The other reason to prep several lists a few weeks in advance is that it allows your subconscious to collect information and figure out an angle. (Anyone can come up with a list. How do you make it into a linkbait, traffic bait, or evergreen resource?)
- Track your topics.
Depending on my topic, I often use Techmeme, Megite, Popurls, and Popurls clones that I’ve created for specific niches. There are also niche versions of Techmeme. I’ve unintentionally given up using feed readers simply because these tools work best for my research needs right now.
- Scan and save the headlines.
However you do it – whether with niche tracking tools or with a feed reader – scan the headlines each morning (or night) and bookmark relevant articles. I prefer using Firefox because the bookmark pane is to one side, to which I can drag and drop URLs. Alternately, you could use Del.icio.us for bookmarking – ideal if you work on more than one computer with Internet access. But this takes more time and effort.
- Research your own articles.
If you’re going to create a great resource article, don’t forget to deep-link to your own archived articles, if they’re relevant. Save a shortlist of your own URLs.
- Brainstorm titles.
If you have a bunch of article ideas but no titles, brainstorm a list of strong titles. Apply the rules of producing great headlines that Copyblogger offers.
- Find the best work schedule.
Despite working exclusively at home these days, I still seem to think in a weekday/ weekend mindset. I find that I’m at my most creative between Friday evening and Sunday night. So instead of fighting this, what I try to do is get all the prep work done during weekdays and write mostly on weekends.
- Balance writing with research.
I actually do some resource writing on weekdays, thought I don’t force it. Writing is a creative process, and sometimes we just don’t feel creative. (Unlike computer programming, which I found I could do at almost any time.) So if I feel like writing fluff, I do a bit of it. I might also use “fluff” time to scan YouTube for some future article ideas. Or I watch TV (on my computer, thanks to a TV tuner card) for my daily injection of pop culture, and simultaneously search Google for previous articles on an idea. I bookmark anything that catches my eye. Afterwards, if I’m still feeling “fluffy”, I’ll visit the bookmarks and filter out anything irrelevant. This method lets me feel relaxed but is actually productive since research takes up most of my time.
- Plan ahead but don’t ignore inspiration.
Planning and schedules are fine, but sometimes I’ll get an idea in the middle of a weekday. Instead of jotting it down and returning to it, my intuition tells me to run with it. I’m rarely disappointed. Had I left it for later, I very likely will have lost the flow, possibly even the concept.
- Leverage your research.
This is something freelance writers have been doing long before the Internet. If you research for one resource article, save the bookmarks. You might be able to come up with additional article ideas for the same topic.
- Be flexible.
Just because you decided to write “25 Ways to do X” doesn’t mean that you can’t do 32, if that’s what you come up with, and if it “works”. On the flipside, just because you want to do 50 or 100 items does not mean you should. (Keep in mind that coming up with additional ideas for your list doesn’t mean you should include them if you have nothing to say. Whittle your list down and get the article done.)
Getting it Done
The big danger with working simultaneously on multiple articles is that it’s very easy to end up with a huge list of unfinished articles. I do struggle with this from time to time, but forcing deadlines for each article helps me to focus and get them done. If you’re writing for a client, you probably have deadlines. If you’re writing for yourself, impose your own deadlines.
If you take the approach I’ve described above, you can probably find the time and balance to write four resource articles each month, even if you’re working a full-time job and blogging evenings and weekends.