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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. Excellent idea. Just want to add 2 tips:

    1) Always observe the titles of different articles in the magazine, they give an excellent idea about what really attracts people.
    2) Next, also observe how the authors start an article, what kind of words they use and how they format them in order to keep the readers reading.

  2. Hmmmmmm… This is an extremely interesting concept that I haven’t really thought about.

    I know my bank has stacks of the popular personal finance magazines in the waiting rooms. I have to go by there anyway today. I’m going to schedule like a half hour just to browse and do this activity on them.

    Every now and then, one of these tips really surprises me! This is definitely one of those tips. Thanks so much for doing this 31DBBB challenge. I’ve met several new friends through the process!

  3. Great task. I actually subscribe to a number of magazines in my niche for this exact reason. I would love to eventually have a column in some of my favourite ones but I’m saving my ‘pitch’ for when my blog has become more popular for now. :)

    Do you have any further tips/links on how to successfully pitch to a magazine for example?


  4. Hey ,
    Such an fantastic idea , actually after reading the post , i am going through magzines in my niche and yes too be frank , i know i have found atleast 4 to 5 topics that i can cover and catch my readers attention . Thanks Dareen


  5. I regularly buy magazines in my niche and use them for ideas for articles for my site.

    In addition I also pick up links to other sites/blogs which may be of interest to me – I subscribe to therir RSS feeds to receive updates on their new content.

  6. Thanks for the great article. I had just posted my thoughts on Dan Heath’s book on making ideas stick and it complements this piece very well.

  7. Nice idea. Thanks for the wonderful tips :)

  8. Hmmmm, I like this idea. Kind of physically taking yourself out of the ‘box’ and so getting your thinking out of the box as well.

    Great suggestion Darren, will definately plan time for this in the next few days!

  9. I do read few tech magazines in local laguages of mine which give ideas for blog posts.I already asked local tech magazine editor ,I wnat to wirte arrticles for his magazine he agreed for that but the wants me to write articles in local language not in english.That’s y I missed the oppurtunity.

  10. Nice idea Darren. I’m slowly but surely starting to get involved in this series. I think it might be time to go back over the past 23 days a bit more carefully.

  11. I never would have thought of this idea myself–Thanks Darren! Now I know what to do if I’m struggling to find something to write about!

  12. Hadn’t thought about that alot..Though I did a post a few weeks ago on a story that I picked up from a magazine. I referred back to the magazine but couldn’t find the link, so using a prior lesson from you I need to go back and put in the link.

    I just got a new mag; still in it’s plastic so I’ll carve out some time and follow your suggestion. Great idea

  13. oh this is a great idea. I’ll look forward to this one tomorrow.

  14. Also, if you find some magazines you really like, have a look for affiliate programs. You could get paid for referring people to them!

  15. This is one of my favourite activities and I use it if I’m suffering from lack of creativity or inspiration.

    I find that titles such as “4 tips to ….. ” or “how to xxxxx in 20 seconds” are the headline grabbers and people like those bite sized pieces of information.

    in fact, following a feature article on Aloe Vera in a magazine I wrote today’s blog post “7 ways to use aloe vera on your skin” http://littlegreenblog.com/family-and-food/green-parenting/7-ways-to-use-aloe-vera-on-your-skin/

    I’d never thought of looking at colour or style though; I’m going to do that next time I’m browsing – thank you Darren for another inspirational day!

  16. I love this idea- finally a use for all the magazines I have laying around!

  17. Great idea.
    I often find the challenge is in coming up with new ideas for posts and ways to improve my blog but this will certainly help.
    Thanks for the inspiration

  18. Great Idea,
    I do subscribe to some parenting magazines on line and occassionally browse through them at the news stands.

  19. Another excellent post.

    I find New Yorker and The Economist are great models of modern writing for magazine formats, although they are less commercial than most.

    Or is that right? Really, both of them sell a LOT, but the promotion fits the style of the magazine itself. Hmmm!

    The Economist is the best model I know – for economical headline and sub-head writing.

  20. What a great idea. I have a list of a few items to look in to already. Thanks.

  21. That’s a great article. I like magazines and I often look through them to find some ideas for my posts and most of the time these posts become really popular. Though I never looked at the design or ad placement of magazines but now I am sure that I will do it the next time I read the magazine.

  22. As an editor at a major magazine, I heartily approve of this idea! I get lots of ideas from reading magazines.

  23. Nice idea! Never think about this. Thanks =D

  24. A very well written tips.. looks like we have another good idea to try on. Thanks for the tips Darren.

  25. Great idea! It sometimes can be helpful also to look at the way the same story is packaged in different magazines, and to analyze what makes you choose one over the other. Thanks again.

  26. I admit that for some of these 31 Day tasks I just scanned through depending on your headline. But this one is the most interesting and unique idea yet!

    I’m going to read it again now. Thanks!

  27. Thanks for this idea. I also happen to have a new magazine but have put off reading it because of time constraints. Now I can justify taking an hour for “research.” I’m already excited to think about what I’ll learn.

  28. Boom. Brilliant! You inspire and see the obvious. Thanks so much!

  29. Hi Darren,
    Great post. I am really enjoying the 31DBB so far and feel like I’ve gained a lot from it. I always feel inspired by magazines, and always find lots of article ideas to build upon that way, especially in my local magazine.

    One of the things I’ve done since joining the class was to begin featuring weekly giveaways on my blog. The first one will start this Friday and I’ll be awarding at least one prize per week: http://www.triciachaves.blogspot.com


  30. Hi Darren,

    Excellent post!

    I have been looking at magazines regularly, but only for getting inspiration for new blog posts. But you suggest some wonderful ways to benefit from the experience that magazines have gathered over the years!

    I particularly liked the idea of pitching to the editor for a guest writing / column writing. I think if you are a good author, its a win-win proposition for the editor and your blog!

    Taking design cues and looking at article titles is also a great idea.


  31. This exercise will be really great for my fitness blog Fat Loss Tips I’ll have think about what type of magazine will fit for my social media/real estate/internet marketing blog…

  32. This 31DBBB magazine task will be fun to complete and I am glad that there are a few magazines in my niche that I purchase throughout each year and have two different issues of those magazines right here with me today.

    Both magazines cover the same topic but in a different manner and I noticed one way that they differ from each other online. While both magazines have websites to go with their print editions and both websites use forums, one is much more active than the other.

    Off-hand, I already know that these magazines also use “exclusive” interviews and feature articles that are online at their websites and not in the print editions. Readers can sign up to a newsletter or remember to visit the websites often to read those exclusive features. So, there is an online newsletter way of marketing in addition to their print subscription offers.

    Since I read these magazines on a regular basis, I am aware of some things that they do to promote content and market their brand or products.

    I am a few days behind on the 31DBBB Challenge and am catching up as quickly as I can but am looking forward to doing this task, as it will be enjoyable to use magazines that I already read in my niche to improve my blogging.

    I have also inquired about writing guidelines for contributing writers at both magazines but have not had the courage to actually submit anything out of fear that it might be rejected. I still have the information so maybe I’ll get around to that once the 31DBBB Challenge has been completed.

  33. Thanks for the inspiration. I always find reading outside my area of expertise most helpful because I’m thinking less about content and more about strategies I can apply.

    As a new blogger, I find reading a variety of blogs pretty helpful and I do keep the ones that capture my attention. I notice many are yours!

  34. Hi Darren,
    I must say, this is really a good tip for anyone looking for ideas to improve his/her blog.
    I have personally been doing it for over 3 years and I must admit, this has really helped me getting a lot of ideas and pointers for my posts when sometimes I ran out of.
    This practise also gives you an idea what’s latest news and what your target audience should be, how you can articulate your ideas and all these things.
    I will personally recommend subscribing to at least one good magazine in your niche, if you wanna improve your writing style or get some fresh ideas. (Go, spend some money…you will never repent.)

    Anurag Bansal

  35. When I was a kid, the ONLY reason I would buy magazines would be if they had a good quiz on the front: ‘What do your accessories say about you?’ ‘Does he really like you?’ and ‘Do you think these quizzes actually hold the answers to all your teenage angst?’

  36. Great idea! Sometimes, the online versions of the magazines can also spark some ideas for posts.

  37. this is a fabulous idea. i’ve torn out some magazine articles as inspiration for posts in the past but i never thought about gleaning design and advertising inspiration from them before.

  38. It’s also nice for those of us who spend a large chunk of our time working online/in front of a computer to go “offline” and do something like this.

    Gives you a fresh perspective from something that some of us are not necessarily used to spending time with (print media).

  39. Great idea, and you don’t even have to buy the magazine-just take notes.

    Your post brings up an interesting point about how to overcome writer’s block.

    Usually the best way is to step away from the computer, and go to a new environment.

  40. I’m still having a problem finding a niche to stick to, but I will try this assignment with what focus I do have.

  41. Great idea . . . wonderful to take advice from an industry that has been perfecting itself for a lot longer than blogging. Thanks!

  42. Thanks for another great post Darren.

    These are fantastic ideas. I actually did something similar for a recent advertising campaign in my Message Development class. I looked at several different magazines and analyzed which parts of which ads caused me to want to read more. Very helpful for someone who is still learning the tricks of the trade.


  43. One other tip is that you can use magazines for your BLOG and WEBSITE COLOUR SCHEMES.

    A male fashion designer took a workshop I attended a few years ago that illustrated this perfectly.

    He suggested making an approx 5cm x 5cm garment stencil (ie a dress or a top etc) in (grey) card and using that to look at magazine pages through. Simply lay the stencil on a page and move it around to see what there is to see.

    The idea being that the magazines have already gone to all the trouble of figuring the colour schemes out for you, so you don’t have to.

    Don’t limit yourself to fashion magazines though – nature, wildlife, and photography ones are perhaps the most inspirational.

  44. I am always looking at print magazines, and have tried to gleen some hints from them. Some things I like, don’t translate well to the web without being able to readily customize on a per page basis (and blogs are mostly not built like that). Many of the promos and catchy writing techniques can easily translate to our medium though. I’ve been thinking about doing a small sweeps for awhile now. I better get on the stick.

  45. Another idea to consider about what magazine covers do is that the words that are bolded and enlarged are for a reason, they help you to retain what that current issue is about, but also as a way to get you to buy stuff..like NLP

  46. Great Idea… I will be using the magazines at home right away to get some more insights into selling my blog. Thanks for this great content.

  47. Fantastic idea!
    It is so logical why didn’t we all think of that?
    Thanks so much for this entire series.

  48. Thanks for the reminder! I’ve done this in the past, and not just for blogs. If I’m writing an article or even a sales letter, I’ll pick up my wife’s copy of “O” and scan the headlines for good ideas. I always come up with a fresh approach to a headline and lead that hadn’t occurred to me in the midst of my myopic quest to complete a project.

  49. Great idea. I guess just be sure that you’re not rocking a rubbish magazine of fail. Go for a proven mag with a long track record and a wide circulation.

  50. I use the magazine-approach every time. I sometimes even make covers for my posts (click here) to bring some WOW-effect to my readers.

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