Writing Blog Posts

Content Marketing 101: Selling with Storytelling

When I was in high school, our neighbors decided to get out of their stinky pig-raising business. Over the course of the next year, they converted their pens of squealing hogs to rows of grapevines. It wasn’t easy, but today, they own one of the most successful, upscale businesses in our local area: a thriving vineyard and winery.

Not really want you’d expect from rural pig farmers, right?

They make a great product, which I believe is always key, but they also have a great Cinderella story that intrigues people. If you were told that the best bottle of wine you can buy in the entire state is produced by former pig farmers who clawed their way to success when no one thought they could do it, wouldn’t you want to stop by for a tour and wine tasting? Everyone loves a good underdog.

Actually, everyone loves a good story, underdog or not. If you have one to tell, you can use it to build deeper relationships with your fans and convert them to customers.

Finding Your Story

I’m a strong believer that everyone has a story to tell. The one thing your business has that none of your competitors have is you. You just need to find what makes you unique and how you can share your story with potential customers.

If you’re drawing a blank, here are a few prompts that can help you find your story:

  • What’s your origin story? In other words, how did you get started and why?
  • Do you have a unique charitable mission that pulls on people’s heartstrings?
  • Did you make a mistake along the way that your potential customers might also be making?
  • Do you live a lifestyle that most people want?
  • Did you face a common fear to get where you are today?
  • What happened along the way to make you successful?

When looking for your story, it is important to always be authentic. People can sniff out a liar pretty easily, and online, they aren’t afraid to call someone out for being phony. So, make sure that story you tell is the unembellished truth. For example, don’t try to tell a rags-to-riches story if you never experienced true rags. Selling with storytelling isn’t about lying to make sales.

Structuring Your Story

Your story will fall flat if not structured properly. Start with the basics, then build on the framework you’ve created to connect with your readers.

The basics, as the name implies, are simple: a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Your story should start in the same way you would start a blog post: by hooking the reader in some way, so they want to read more. This is the most important part of your story. The rest doesn’t matter if no one reads past your first paragraph. Here are some of the best ways to hook your readers:

  • Share something surprising, like the fact that you used to be a pig farmer, but now run an upscale winery. Whatever you share should make your reader think, “Wow, I want to know how that happened.”
  • Make the reader feel some sort of connect to you. You want them to feel like they are in the same situation you were in at the start of your story, so you can lead them on a journey of realizing they can follow you to learn how to be successful.
  • Hold back a vital piece of information that makes a reader need to keep reading to learn more. Just make sure you can deliver; don’t mislead the reader, because it will only make them roll their eyes and click the back button.
  • Write to your readers. Do you know your target audience? If not, now’s the time to figure that out, so you can write a story that will connect with them. You’ll have a hard time selling with storytelling if you don’t know who the buyer is.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your story lead. Write a few different versions and have some trusted friends evaluate. If you’re feeling stuck, skip the first paragraph and start writing the middle section, the meat of the story. Sometimes, the lead will emerge only after you tell the rest of the story.

The middle of your story should focus on one thing: emotion.

Emotion is how you’ll actually make sales. If you can make a reader laugh or cry, they are your new biggest fan, because it is not easy to evoke such strong emotions from someone – especially someone you don’t know.

No matter what kind of lead you use, during the meat of your story, you need to make the reader feel some kind of connection to you. In our example, the reader might have no idea what it is like to turn a pig farm into a winery, but who among us, at some point in life, hasn’t felt the soul-dragging pain of hating their job? Who among us hasn’t dreamed of starting a business they feel passionate about? Who among us hasn’t been afraid to go for our goals?

Keep in mind, however, that your story might not be relevant to everyone. And that’s okay. You want to touch on the pain points of your target market, but if your story doesn’t resonate with every Joe Schmoe who lands on your website, that’s okay. When you make your message so bland that you try to reach everyone, you end up not being able to instill a sense of excitement in anyone. Again, selling with storytelling is about knowing your target market.

Keep the middle as short as possible, because you want to take readers by the hand and lead them to the end, where you have some kind of call to action (CTA). This is where we are asking someone to do something specific. Sign up for my mailing list. Buy my product. Download this free report. Tweet a message to your friends. Your CTA can change based on where you are using your story.

From One Story to Multiple Stories: Branching Out to Make Sales

Thus far, I’ve been writing about the concept of “your story” as you might use for your About page, but selling with storytelling goes so much farther. Once you’ve told your story (and I do recommend this becoming your About page), you can then go on to tell stories that all connect to the same points.

For example, on Boost Blog Traffic, Jon Morrow’s About page tells his story of being a successful professional blogger and living in paradise, despite having muscular dystrophy. But he also wrote about his mother learning about this disease in a post for Copyblogger about fighting for your ideas and he also wrote in a post for Problogger about using your blog to live the life you want and change the world. These are all expansions of his core story, told on his own blog.

Another great example is Paula Pant, who runs the financial blog Afford Anything. Her About page tells her story, but almost every post she writes builds on her themes of living financially independently with stories. One of her most popular posts tells the story of attending the wedding of some friends, who met because they both were traveling, rather than working conventional jobs and settling for an ordinary life.

Not every story you tell has to be an epic. Sometimes, adding in the story element simply means that you’re including some personal details into your content. If you’re teaching someone on your home improvement blog how to fix a broken toilet, tell the short but hilarious story about a pipe bursting in your home – and how you fixed it. When they go to your About page and read about your mission to learn how to do it yourself instead of hiring yet another unreliable handyman, the first story will serve to strengthen your brand.

Do you tell your story through content? What are your biggest struggles with storytelling? For more advanced information about digital storytelling, check out this post.

Get More Long-Term Readers with the Soap Bubble Approach to Blogging

This post was originally published on the NMX blog. It is reposted here with permission.

Traffic spikes can be exciting. It’s fun to watch a post go viral, especially if those new readers are also leaving comments. But when those people leave your blog, they often don’t come back. Getting more long-term readers is a lot harder than getting more traffic.

Ten long-term readers who will become a part of you blog community are better than 100 readers who read one post and never come back, though. It’s hard to grow your blog if you don’t build a solid foundation of readers who are addicted to your posts. One of the techniques I use to convert first-time readers into long-term readers is what I call the soap bubble approach to blogging.

Blog Structure for More Long-Term Readers

The net time you work up a lather in the bathtub or splash some suds on your dirty car, take a close look at structure of the soap bubbles. You’ll notice that it typically isn’t a collection of air pockets that are all the same size. Instead, you’ll see mostly small bubbles that make up the foam with occasional mid-sized and larger bubbles. The small soap bubbles are what creates the sudsy power. Without them, your larger bubbles aren’t very effective.

I find that a lot of bloggers are obsessed with creating epic content. I’m a firm believer that every single post you write should be your best work. However, not every post your write has to be a “big bubble.”

Big bubble content is typically long, evergreen content that is highly sharable and often a comprehensive list or guide to a certain topic. An example of big bubble content is this post: Link Earning: The Ultimate Guide to Link Building in 2014.

But “small bubble” content is just as important. This kind of content is still high quality, but aims to teach a single tip or skill or cover a single topic. An example of small bubble content is this post: Let It Go.

Whenever you write a big bubble type of post, you should be able to link back to at least five other supporting posts on your blog. Think of your big bubble content as a hub for the small bubble content you’ve written in the past.

Why This Leads to More Long-Tem Readers

In general, I’ve found that if someone reads three posts from me, they are likely to come back and read my posts again and again. In many cases, people who read at least three posts are so hooked that they read several posts on your blog. They’ve discovered your content, and they can’t get enough.

Internal linking encourages them to read more content, but this isn’t just about making sure you link to previous posts in every blog post you write. It’s about making sure that you have related posts to support the epic content that is going to get the most attention. Super relevant posts that first-time readers can visit to learn more is going to be extremely enticing.

So, the next time you sit down to write a list post or an ultimate guide or another type of post that you know is going to bring in lots of traffic, ask yourself this question: Do I have enough small bubble content planned on my editorial calendar to support the post?

If not, plan some content before you publish so any post that goes viral encourages people to read more instead of bouncing on to the next website.

This post is part of my personal Year of Blogging challenge. Read about it here!

3 Ways to Create Better Images for Your Blog Posts

A version of this post was originally published on the NMX blog. It is reposted here with permission.

Without a doubt, creating images for blog posts ranks pretty low on my list of favorite tasks. Yet, I’ve found that having compelling images, not just stock photography, is important for getting social shares and keeping my readers interested, especially with longer posts. Pinterest shares (pins) are especially dependent on having a good image. (Check out other Pinterest miskakes here.)

I’m not a very good photographer, though. It certainly isn’t a passion of mine, and I don’t own a DSLR (yet!). However, I’ve still come up with a few ways to add compelling images to my blog posts. Here are my three best methods:

1. The Title Image

One of my favorite types of images to create is what I call the “title image.” I like this type of image for my blog posts because they look professional and are readily shared on Facebook and Pinterest. They’re also easy to make using stock photography. Here’s how to make a title image:

  • STEP ONE: Find some stock photography with licensing that allows you to edit it.

The image should be related to your post, but since you’re going to be adding text, the relationship can be looser than if you were only going to use the image. It’s very important that you look not just for Creative Commons images, but also images where the owner stated that it’s okay to alter, because you will be adding text to it. For this example, I’m going to use a picture my sister took during a visit to Disney World:

disney example pic

It’s great if you can find an image, like this one, that has a big blank spot. If you can’t, however, not to worry! Focus on finding a nice shot that fits your post topic rather than an image that is so-so image with a blank spot. I’ll show you in the next step what to do if there’s not a big blank spot.

  • STEP TWO: In your favorite photo-editing program, add your title.

I’m going to show you using PicMonkey, which is free and easy to use (I’m an affiliate, but would recommend them even if I wasn’t). You don’t even have to download anything; it’s an online editing program and the basic version is free. You could also use Photoshop or whatever other program you have that allows you to add text.

Select a font you like and add the text. It usually works to either center the text, adding breaks so it fits nicely, or to justify the text left or right depending where it is located on the image. Let’s go with centering the text for now:

Disney Example 4

 

This is a nice font for our silly made-up title, but the clouds in the background are a little distracting. So, a bolder font would probably work better. I’m also going to add a shadow in a contrasting white color to make the words really pop:

Disney Example 3

That looks pretty nice, and it only took me a few minutes. You can also play around with using different fonts and sizes to make certain words stand out. Remember to create something that represents your brand and your niche well. Here’s an example of a more playful look:

Disney example 5

This one took a little longer, but gives you a completely different look. There’s no formula for choosing the right font, size, and colors; you just have to play around with it until you get a look that you like.

But let’s say that your image didn’t have a nice open spot like this picture of Cinderella’s Castle. Let’s say instead you have this picture of the Tree of Life:

Disney Example 7

In this case, any place you add the text, the busy background will distract you and make it hard to read. So, I suggestion added a faded block of color behind the text. I usually use either black or white and fade to between 30% and 50% depending on how distracting the background is. Here’s how that looks:

Disney Example 6

This technique works best if your text fits on one line. If you’re using a more advanced program, like Photoshop, you can also use type layers to add a more pronounced drop shadow, highlights, or stroke (outline) to make the words stand out even if the background is busy.

2. The Collage

Another option you have if you want to make a highly-sharable image is to do a collage. I most commonly add the title of my post to these as well, but how you use a college is really up to you. This method is great for list posts or when you’re talking about several tips/products/etc. throughout the course of your post. It allows you to highly several images at once this way.

  • STEP ONE: Find images to illustrate all of your points.

In this case, I’m going to create a collage of my boyfriend wearing silly hats on vacation (this is my life…). As always, remember to use images under the Creative Commons license where the owner allows you to alter if you don’t have your own pictures.

  • STEP TWO: Open PicMonkey in collage mode.

Again, you can definitely use other image editing programs as well, but PicMonkey is hands down my favorite tool in this case because it has a mode specifically for collages.

  • STEP THREE: Choose a layout that will allow you to highlight your text (if you want) and add images.

There’s no one right way to do this. You could, for example, choose to have a large box for the text (to add later) or you could create a college where you’ll later add the text over top of the images, like with the title slide.

Here’s the image without text:

jeffrey silly hats

Here’s a version with the text in a larger box:

silly hats example 1

Here’s a version with the text layered over the images:

silly hats example 2

3. The Quote Image

Lastly, a really easy type of image that is usually shared a lot is what I call the quote image. I’m taking a page from print design for this one! When you’re reading a story, especially in a magazine, there are often pull quotes – quotes from the actual text that have been pulled out and made into larger images because they are interesting or important.

This is so easy I’m not even going to break it down into steps for you. All you do is paste a line from your post into a photo editing program. You can use an image or texture for a background or use a simple colored background that coordinates with your blog’s theme.

Here’s an example of a quote I used for an image in a post featuring Walk Disney, to go with the theme of the other samples I used:

Walt Disney quote

Even better, you can connect an image like that to Click to Tweet and tell your readers via the caption to click on the quote to share it. A good quote is irresistible to share!

So there you have it, my three favorite ways to create images for my blog posts even though I’m not a photographer and don’t know much about editing images. How do you add images to your blog posts? If you have a great method to share or have tried any of the above methods, leave a comment!