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.
It could definitely work, but would depend on how the blogger manages the account and the parameters and goals of the blog set by their employer.
If for example, the blogger is working as a ghost writer for someone that has a reputation of saying / writing things correct the first time, then it would likely appear inconsistent and generate the wrong type of buzz (although the buzz would likely work according to the model above).
If the client has a reputation for being ‘from the hip’ then it could actually compliment the clients style.
In general, I always coach probloggers these days to provide a blogging solution as opposed to an article or word count. The solution can include many things and should be identified up front as much as possible. Typically, clients that hire probloggers are looking not only for content, but traffic. They don’t just want say Digg traffic, to show up glance at the headline and leave. They want readers to pay attention, buy in to the conversation, they want readers to act or get involved or do something.
With the concept of getting readers to pay attention and buy in to the conversation, this would definitely fit into a problogger’s bag of tricks. Any time you can get an audience to help create the message through dialog, the audience will have a higher level of buy in and will be more likely to act, stay involved, or bring more people along for the ride.
PS I edited a word in my previous comment and for some reason it posted the comment as a new comment and so it now appears to me to be out of order. Not sure what is up with that . . .
Yeah, I do understand. I do not believe that my suggestion would fit your style, but I do believe it can work for many people that are a little more ‘from the hip’. Its not a criticism on your own style, but a good example that the blogosphere is filled with many different types of people and different formulas work in different ways depending on the style of the person involved.
I think if a blogger wanted, they could even set up the article in blockquotes and say something like. ..
My primary point is that bloggers are not journalist and we need not be bound by rules that do not fit nor apply. We do not answer to editors, and if we choose we can actually get our audience to help in the editing process, in the vetting process and much more. This freedom actually can be good for traffic, good for stickyness, good for building a sense of community, and even reader buy in to the article or to the blog itself (the linkbait reference).
On the dark side of things (and I wouldn’t recommend this for a personal brand building site, but there could definitely be occasions where this might fit elsewhere) purposefully making a mistake or letting something fly out raw is in a way like taking a contrarian position to trigger a linkbait strategy. Instead of being contrarian on topic, the article is contrarian on style. Used in the right circumstances that could generate a lot of traffic, a lot more conversation. Conceivably the entire thing could then later be washed away with a mea culpa, “We goofed” “We blew it” “We missed that” combined with a “but if it hadn’t been for the absolutely fantastic community of readers that we have, we might not have ever known that the emperor had no clothes.”
I’m not sure, but I have a theory that Matt Cutts actually uses this method from time to time. Not to increase traffic (he needs more traffic like I need a hole in the head) but to get a point across by leading his ‘class’ towards the answer by presenting something wrong up front. Students as they mature will (not referring to age) often become more engaged and work harder when they think they spot something wrong in the teachers theories or practices.
Hope that one made more sense. I’m writing this in between video rendering sessions.
Note to the Performancing Community – I’d always recommend Raj’s advice over my own. I do like to consider and test the road less traveled. That is not for everyone.
Ryan: Heaven forbid!! One draft only? Gasp!
Brett: Very good approach. Definitely not for obsessives like me. Question: Will your approach work for bloggers for hire, who have clients to satisfy?
hey raj. great post, something i really needed to hear. now please tell me that anon comments are working.
Raj, for a perfectionist like you, it could do some good to try things a little differently in order to increase throughput. For example, you could do single drafts like me;-)
Brett: I tend to err on the side of caution. If you are trying to build your own personal brand online, publishing something as is could have negative repercussions. I may not be a journalist but I am an experienced, published writer and author. What I’d prefer is to take my list of X + Y items (X = # finished items; Y = # unfinished items) and cut it down to X, then publish. Unfortunately, more often than not, Y > X for me, because I’m always coming up with ideas that I don’t have time to pursue.
That is by far the biggest issue I face with these types of articles.
I’d like to posit and example of how to fix this problem if you run into it.
When in doubt, when its not finished, when its not quite right . . .
If it sits for more than a week, publish the thing anyway as is right then and there!
The New York Times recently did this with a high profile article on John McCain. They sat on the article for about 10 weeks. The article did not get any better with time. Just Publish it.
The interesting thing is that with a blog, you have to remember . . . You are not a journalist! The same rules do not apply. In fact, odds are getting it wrong can actually generate some traffic and interest from your readers. If you are stuck and can’t figure out how to finish it, publish and see what type of reaction you get. The reaction might help you to then respond by writing an update or even a correction.
That’s not bad, that’s good. It shows your readers that you are human, and more importantly that you listen to them and that their input is important. Even in the news, there’s a saying for TV news, First by Six, Right by Eleven, referring to the local news tendency to spit out a report no matter how wrong it is just to have the scoop on the 6 o’clock news, then correct it by the evening news.
With a 24 hour news cycle, it is almost routine for one of the news topics to be how a news agency got it wrong or jumped the gun.
For Bloggers, this is just another type of linkbait!
Thanks, Ryan. I’m actually “running” with advice you’ve given in the past about writing regular resource articles.
wow, great article Raj. the person who implements these tips will have an authority blog in no time.
Another tip: It’s implicit above, but to make it clear… Finish an article 2-7 days before you intend to publish it. That leaves time for revisions or alternate approaches.