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How to Use a Magazine to Improve Your Blog [Day 24: 31DBBB]

Posted By Darren Rowse 29th of April 2009 Other Income Streams 0 Comments

Are you looking for some fresh design, marketing and even story or headline ideas for your blog? Today’s task in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge that might just help with this.

This is an off line activity – all you need to complete it is a pack of sticky notes, a notebook, pen, a magazine (or a newspaper) and an hour of time.


Your Task for Today

It’s simple really – take some time out to analyze/review a magazine with the view of learning something about how you might improve your own blog.

Which magazine do you need? Really almost any one would do – however if there’s a magazine covering the topic that your blog is on then it’s probably worth choosing it.

hint: many public libraries have back copies of magazines so you can do this for free and with lots of magazines at once there.

I do this process on a regular basis and find that it helps me in a number of ways:

  • Marketing ideas – the way the magazine markets and pitches itself to readers can teach a lot – particularly what they do on the front cover which is all about convincing people to buy the magazine.
  • Design ideas – some magazines do layout better than others and the web is definitely a different medium than print – but you can still learn a lot about design from reading a good magazine. Good magazines will give you an indication of what types of design/colors/layout are in vogue at the moment.
  • Post Ideas – whether I choose a magazine on my blog’s topic or not – I almost always come away from this with a story for a new post. Sometimes the inspiration comes from a completely unrelated topic but an article that has a headline/title that could be applied to my niche.
  • Learning about my Niche – if you choose a magazine on your topic it’ll keep you across the latest news and developments in it.
  • Writing Tips – a good article on almost any topic can teach you a lot about effective communication.
  • Monetization Lessons – mainstream media have been monetizing content for a long time – while the web is different some principles still apply.
  • Reader Engagement – while a very different medium magazines are increasingly trying to get more interactive with readers by running competitions, setting up online areas, using reader contributions etc – I often find myself with sparks of inspiration from watching how magazines reach out to readers.

Why Analyze ‘Old Media’

I can hear a few blogging evangelists asking what the point of this exercise is. Isn’t blogging ‘new’ media and why would we look to ‘old’ media like magazines to learn how to do it?

While I agree that blogging is a very different medium to magazine publishing – I don’t think that we need to throw everything that’s been learned by mainstream media out – to me that’s arrogant.

Sure we should be innovating and working with the strengths of the medium of blogging – but there are also lessons to be learned by looking at what others are doing in different mediums also. A lot has been learned over decades of magazine publishing that we as bloggers could take on board and build upon.

The Process that I Use

When I conduct this magazine review exercise I generally do it like this:

Set aside at least an hour and head to a place where you won’t be disturbed (I tend to go to a cafe)

Take with you the magazine (or more than one), a notebook, pen and a pack of sticky notes

Starting with the front cover – quickly skim through the magazine – put a sticky note on any page that catches your attention. Don’t pause to read anything yet – just take a quick flick through it to see what leaps out at you.

Once you’ve had a quick look through the magazine – make a note at what grabbed you on this first pass through. Was it a headline, picture, color, opening line of an article or something else? Attention grabbers are so important in creating an engaging blog so it’s worth noting what got your attention.

Now take a second slower read of the magazine. Start at the front cover and work your way through. As you read – ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Who is the target audience of this publication?
  • What techniques are used on the front page to draw people into the magazine?
  • What makes you pause to read an article? Why do you skip over other articles?
  • What type of headlines are they using? How effective are they?
  • How are pictures used?
  • What colors are in at the moment?
  • How are articles formatted (use of sub headings, bold, lists etc)?
  • How does the magazine sell itself (looking forward to future issues, subscription pages etc)
  • What can you learn from ad placement and design in the magazine?
  • What level is this magazine pitched at? (beginners, advanced etc)
  • What is the magazine doing well at – what are they not doing well at? How would you improve it?
  • What are the limitations of the medium of magazines that you don’t have with a blog and how could you sell your blog on these things?

As you read through the magazine also make note of story ideas, design techniques, headline structures and other techniques that you might want to try on your blog.

I’m not saying you should copy everything you see happening in the magazine – but rather that you use it as an opportunity to learn and think about your own blog. Some of what you see will naturally lend itself to your blog – other things will not.

The value of this is in stepping away from your own blog for a little while and getting some fresh ideas and perspectives.

I’m keen to hear how you go with this exercise – feel free to share your experiences of it in comments below.

One more Tip

If you choose a magazine on a similar topic to your blog – it can sometimes be worth keeping an eye out for opportunities to directly improve your blog from it.

Pitch yourself as a contributor to the magazine – I’ve done this a number of times with mixed success – but if the magazine strongly relates to your blog – why not contact the editor to suggest that you do something together? For example you might offer to write an article or even a regular column. I’ve seen a number of bloggers do this with some success. Alternatively you might want to pitch yourself or your blog as a potential subject for an interview or article in their magazine.

Enjoy this exercise? – this is just one of thirty one exercises in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog project. Sign up for it here today.

Discuss this article in our Forum here.

Want More?

This task is a sample of one of the tasks in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook – a downloadable resource designed to reinvigorate and revitalize blogs.

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About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. I used to work as a journalist in magazines so this is what writers do — look at other publications for inspirations and ways to improve on what is already out there. I agree with you Darren, that it is arrogant to think new media is only progressive if you use what is “new”. I think drawing ideas on others’ work is an excellent way to keep your own content fresh. Magazine layouts are definitely something to observe because quite a bit of effort is spent thinking on how to capture the readers’ attention and there is a lot to be learned there.

  2. I agree with you Darren. It would be arrogant to throw everything that’s been learned by mainstream media. There’s so much we can learn from them. We just have to be more innovative and creative in implementing them on our blog.

    First read of the day. Thanks for the nice read.

  3. You can also browse to http://www.magazines.com and study what the pros do to make people by the magazines.

    I do this on a regular basis to when I make promotional campaigns for others on Google AdWords.

    On this website you see many different magazines where you can learn from.

  4. This is another great article. For all the times I have looked at magazine covers, I have never visualized it as a site before. Great spin.

    @ezFreeSamples – Twitter

  5. Hi Darren,

    Thank you very much for ProBlogger blog. It is an amazing source of ideas for building good blog.
    I’m regular reader of this blog, but have barely seen many posts with promotion tips for beginner bloggers. I would really like to read more, and probably many other ProBlogger readers would like as well.
    I hope my comment will give you some new ideas for new posts :)

    Keep up the good work!

    O. from http://RuleYourMoney.com

  6. Great post as usual. Keep in mind that some magazines publish some of their articles on its online version, too. And ,even, they show the cover of the current edition, so, maybe you also can save extra time.

  7. I often read books to skim for ideas and that seems to work. But ya know, just looking at the image you uploaded shows me how clever/resourceful this could be in developing future content ideas, writing headlines and a little more. So though I read “some” magazines, maybe I should make this a part of the daily/weekly routine :-)

  8. Excellent idea, Darren.

    As part of a publication design class I took in college we had to compare two different magazines that were targeted to the same audience. It’s pretty amazing how subtle, yet important, the differences can be.

    I look forward to trying this assignment and applying what I notice to my current blog, as well as a new one I’ll have up in the next few days.

    Thanks, once again, for the 31DBBB series. (Wait…it can’t be day 24/31 already! I have a few lessons I still have to catch up on in the series!)

  9. Great suggestion. I have built my blog on magazine theme only. however as suggested I would definately incorporate more learning from series of magazine. While some things are easy to incorporate, there are others which needs a look of technical input. There I believe many feel helpless.

  10. This is a great idea! Whenever I go to a magazine stand, the design and the headline(a) are what grab my attention and get me to physically handle a magazine. It will be interesting how we can incorporate that same mentally to blogging.

  11. Great ideas and I think the benefits are twofold.

    1. You get a good sense of what’s going on in your field
    2. You REALLY read the articles and hopefully learn more about your own field.

    As you suggest, I’m currently building up the courage to ask about contributing to a couple of magazines too.

  12. Most magazines have an interesting websites section. I would email the editor with details of your site.

    The letter should be brief, two paragraphs at the most.

    However after the signature put a section further details and then put what is effectively a short article on your site. So it can be easily cut and pasted into a short article.

  13. Oh my! This is such a great idea, never thought of that. I certainly love the giveaway idea~ But my problem would be the shipment cost. Oh well :)


  14. I did use a bit of that technique as inspiration in the past but never to the extend you did, it’s definitely worth a try!

    Sometimes it helps me also to get inspired for content to write about.

  15. Nice idea. I also use magazines that are written in another lnguage. I translate what they say into English. As I translated from foreign language to English, it kind of becomes a unique article.

  16. I love this idea, Darren. I’ve got a giant pack-rat sized stash of magazines, and this is a wonderful use for them. I have a feeling I’m going to add to my editorial calendar as I go through them and get a lot of other great ideas. Thanks!

  17. what a great post! i love this idea. so easy to do and use, but never thought of it!

  18. This is a great assignment for me, since I am planning to design both of my blogs this weekend. I am switching over to Thesis. I hope I can come up with 2 simple, yet appealing designs.

  19. I do keep magazines out with me of topics I write to have a clue about how they write and thus not really copy them but try to do it better.

  20. This article is a fantastic idea for me. I was just trying to think of ways to attract readers.

    My site is about weight loss and my personal journey with it, however, there is sooooo much competition its hard to make a site like mine more interesting reading.

    Thanks for this really great idea!

  21. Great article, great ideas. I’ve started reading through a few magazines and have gotten fantastic ideas for posts. I like taking that a step further and looking at the marketing aspect for some new, fresh ideas.

  22. I cannot believe I am managing to keep up with 31-DBBB, the tasks are just enough to challenge my thinking but not so much as to be overwhelming! This is by far my favorite task!!! and I am planning to spend the afternoon deep in magazines… why read one when there are so many more! Here is my latest project update: http://www.se7en.org.za/2009/05/01/se7en-and-probloggers-31-dbbb-part-4

  23. I am pretty much in agreement with the others here. I was inspired to do my blog because I was such a reader of Dog Fancy in the past. Dogs are one of the topics I never get tired of. I have to tell you the detail and research you put into these posts is fantastic. Keep up the great work.

  24. I was always fascinated by way magazine covers always stand out by the dull, gray paperstands at store. Usually, I am attracted to a magazine because of its cover model and the features that the cover bears. Once I bought it, I always marvel at the way their editors have put it together starting from the table of contents until the last page. Sometimes one title will fail to attract me or would sound boring to me but over all, magazines were like creative portfolios waiting to be opened.

    Formatting your site or blog like a magazine will indeed challenge you, however, I think it will bring out the best ideas from you and will become more appealing to readers as well especially when it comes down to how different authors write various articles with including fun yet not losing the main concept.

  25. I am always reading magazines here at my home. But I haven’t think of learning from them before. But it’s still the best time to start reviewing magazines just like the other bloggers who joined the 30 days lessons in blogging.

  26. Great ideas. I had never thought about using magazines and blogging together. Great fresh ideas.

  27. Excellent concept!
    I read lots of magazines and it was great to read them from an new perspective. I have been incredibly busy and somewhat out of the loop lately… I have enjoyed the process and plan to continue beyond the 31 Days. Thank you Darren!

  28. I am always reading magazines. I cut out anything that I might be able to use for my blog, put the pages in plastics sleeves in a binder for later reference.

    I have started looking a bit further a field, as in looking magazines from other countries for recipes and tips. You never know what you many find.

    Great assignment.

  29. This is an interesting exercise- when I picture my ideal blog, I picture it as a mix of two of my favorite magazines. So I’ll be looking for more ways to integrate what I love about those mags into my blog.

  30. This is a good idea, I hadn’t thought about doing this but it is a wonderful way to get your readers involved. I will definitly try this out on my own blog. Thanks

  31. Slightly off topic. But we went back to Australia recently (after spending several years living in Hong Kong) and it was interesting to see how much the type of magazines in Newsagent stands has changed. We we astonished by the amount of fitness and tattoo/body piercing magazines – rows of them. Image is now very important in “she will be right, mate” Australia.

    By contrast in Hong Kong most of the magazines are games/gadgets/photography for the boys and gossip/fashion magazines for the girls.

    Nevertheless, whatever the culture the same benefit laden short headline format still works – as well as beautiful smiling happy models on front covers.

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