Note: you can listen to this episode above or load it up in iTunes.

We Answer Your Questions About How to Create Great Blog Content

Today’s episode is all about answering your questions about how to create great content for your blog. We’ve had so many questions on this topic that we’ve had to split the answers into two episodes. This is part 2. You can listen to part 1 here. Don’t be shy about asking us questions in the comments below! Your question could be featured next time.

In This Episode

You can listen to today’s episode above or in iTunes or Stitcher (where we’d also LOVE to get your reviews on those platforms if you have a moment). Today we answer these listener questions:

  • What are your 3 best blog posts ever and why did they work?
  • What type of content do you find most resonates with your audience? Is video or the written word more important and why?
  • When you first started taking on paid writers, how did you recruit them? How did you include them in your schedule?
  • What are the pros and cons of outsourcing blog content?
  • Is there an optimal length or word count for a blog?

Further Reading and Resources for Creating Great Blog Content

Our 3 most popular blog posts ever:

Full Transcript Expand to view full transcript Compress to smaller transcript view
Hi there and welcome to episode 43 of the ProBlogger Podcast. My name is Darren Rowse and today, I want to continue our question and answer on the topic of content creation that I started a couple of episodes ago in episode 41. I got so many questions on the creation of content, I couldn’t possibly fit them into a single episode. If you want to go back and listen to that when I do tackle about seven different questions there. Today, I’ve got another five for you that all center around content creation.

You can find today’s show notes at where I’ll include some further reading and you can also let us know what you think about today’s episode. I’d also love to get your feedback on the podcast in general with a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever other medium that you are listening to this on. Those reviews certainly help us to shape this show but also help us to find new listeners which I do appreciate. Let’s get into today’s questions. 

The first question I want to tackle today is a fun one, it’s from Samantha who asks, “Tell us about three of your best posts ever and why they worked.” This is actually something I’ve done before on ProBlogger and I’ll give you a link in the show notes to a post I wrote almost on the identical topic.

In it, I actually talked about five different posts that I wrote in the first year of Digital Photography School, that led to a combination of over six million visitors to those five posts. I’m going to actually three different posts today because I don’t want to replicate that. You can go and check out that post. That does give a whole heap of information, but I want to just talk about three and these all do come from Digital Photography School which is my main blog. 

The first one is probably a post that I almost didn’t publish at all. I thought it was too basic to really be published. It’s on the topic of How to Hold a Digital Camera and I will link to all of these posts in today’s show notes. As I said, this is a post that I almost didn’t publish because it is just so basic; how to hold a camera. I mean, everyone knows how to hold a camera, don’t they? Well, the reality is they don’t.

The reason that I did write this post and hit publish on it was I could tell that among my readers on Digital Photography School, there’s a certain number of them who were simply taking bad photos because they weren’t holding the camera right. Their photos had blur in them because the camera was not still when they hit the shutter, so I wrote the post. I was nervous about publishing it, but I decided to do it even though I thought it would probably get laughed down. 

The results of this post were not spectacular on some fronts because there was never a spark in traffic, it never got to the front page of Reddit, Digg, or got linked to on any other big blog, but it had a constant stream of readers to it ever since I published it back in 2007. I just actually looked up the statistics on it and this post just had over 730,000 visitors to it since 2007. 

The biggest I have traffic was a day that got 2500 visitors, which sounds like a lot for a single day, but in this game of our site, it’s actually not that successful in terms of a daily visit or its spike, but it just had this steady stream of visitors to it.

As I look at the statistics, I can say that the vast majority of those people have arrived on this page from Google and this means that people are basically searching for this information. The reason that this post works is because it has a tangible benefit, it’s a problem that people have, a real problem that real people have, and it’s the type of post that answers a question that people are probably too embarrassed to ask to their friends, so they do go to Google searching for that answer. 

The other reason I like this post is because it’s attractive to type the readers that we want to have on our site. Digital Photography School started out as a site for beginner photographers, people who didn’t know how to hold their cameras, people who were right at the beginning of their journey, so this has attracted the perfect type of reader for us. What I’ve seen in the statistics is that people go on to view a whole heap of other pages once they hit this page because it’s answering a question that they have and helping them to solve a real problem and it has other links in the page to other relevant content.

The other thing that we’ve noticed from this page is that people subscribe to our newsletter on this page at a higher rate than on other parts of the site. It’s got success in terms of being a sticky post, in terms of hooking people into our site. That’s partly because we called them to subscribe to the post itself but just by nature of it being a helpful post and talking to people as if they’ve got a real problem and not something that’s a silly problem, seems to have an impact upon people. That’s the first post.

The second one is another one that I published early on at Digital Photography School. It’s titled, 10 Ways to Take Stunning Portraits. This post has had a whole heap more traffic and it has had some days where it spiked in terms of number of visitors. It’s had over 2½ million people visited over that time and it’s had success in terms of traffic but also getting people deeper into the site.

If you look at this post, you’ll see it actually is a pretty simple post. It’s 10 simple tips that you can use to take better photos. It kind of scrapes the surface, it’s not the deepest post in the world. It’s useful but it’s also digestible and it doesn’t go into great, great depth. I find these types of posts often get shared quite a bit. It’s also on a core topic, so portrait photography is something that I know is quite popular, so it’s no surprise that there’d be a lot of people interested in it.

Those also make a big promise, 10 ways to take stunning portraits. Stunning portraits is an aspirational thing that works quite well. If you look at it, you’ll see in the opening line, it asks the question, “How do you take portraits and have the wow factor?” Again, this is tapping into more on aspirational feeling there, which is backed up with some great images in the post. It covers 10 points presented as a list post, but throughout those points, there’s also some great illustrative images. I find that that combination of digestible list posts with some great images works quite well.

It’s also what I’d consider to be a sneeze page of sorts. We tackled this topic of creating sneeze pages or sneeze posts in episode 18 of this podcast and that is probably the most effective way I know of getting people deep into your site. You’ll see throughout this post, there’s a gathering of links to other articles on relevant topics. People do click those links like crazy. This post has a great bounce rate. People don’t get to this page and then disappear, go straight back to where they came from. They actually go on to surf other pages on our site.

This post works really well. It’s got a lot of traffic, it got good engagement in terms of comments but it drove people deep into the site. It works so well that I did a follow-up part two to this post and you’ll again see that link. A lot of people click that link, too. That second post did very well as well, so these two posts drive traffic back and forth to each other. They actually became a part of my first ebook, an ebook on portrait photography.

It also became a couple of posts that I began to link to pretty much anytime I mention the word “portrait” for the first few years of my blog. It’s an evergreen post that I referred back to constantly. I would call this a cornerstone piece of content. It’s just something that, any time I’m mentioning portrait photography, I can link back to which again drives traffic back to it and I know will help to make a good impression upon readers. 

The third post I’ll quickly talk about is a post titled, Long Exposure Photography: 15 Stunning Examples. This is one of our earliest image collection posts. In fact, it may have been the first one that kind of really worked for us. If you look at the post, you’ll see it actually got very few words. It’s simply 15 great images, all on the same topic. They’re all images that have fairly long exposure so the shutter speed is quite long. 

This post works for a number of reasons. One, it’s aspirational. It’s great images and people do love great images and people like to share great images. This post did quite well on social media. It had some big spikes in traffic on the early days of it, but since then, I’ve also shared it again and again on Facebook and other social media sites. Again, every time I share it, it does well.

This actually was a follower post to a tutorial that we’d previously published on exactly the same topic and you’ll see I link to it in this post. That tutorial on Long Exposure Photography had done okay in the past, but it never really took off until I published this post. By following the informational tutorial up with this inspirational post, this aspirational post with lots of great images, people suddenly wanted to learn how to take this type of image. This is a really great example of where throwing in an inspirational content can drive people to your informational content.

This is a technique we use quite a bit on Digital Photography School. We write a tutorial on a topic and then we follow it up a few days later with a more aspirational post that showcases the type of images you can take if you read the tutorial. The tutorials don’t tend to get read as much until we post the inspirational post.

This has actually become a weekly thing for us. We publish the tutorial, we publish the inspiration post, and then at the end of the week, we also usually follow it up with a challenge to our readers to go away and take a photo of their own based upon the information and the inspiration from the previous posts.

The other reason that this post particularly worked well is that we added some further reading at the bottom of the page. This drives people back deeper into the site. This is a trend with pretty much all the successful posts on our site. We try to leverage those hot posts, those posts that do well, to get people deeper into our site. This is something that you should be thinking about every time you have a post that goes viral, does particularly well, or pretty much every time you write a post at all. You always need to be thinking about, how can I get people to view another page? It works best when it’s relevant reading that they can do.

These are three posts that have done well, I will link in today’s show notes to each of them so you can check them out. I’ll also link to the other post I wrote on ProBlogger where I talked about five different posts that did quite well on Digital Photography School. 

The next question is from Graham. Graham asks, “It’s been said that the key to success is creating excellent content. What type of content do you find most resonates with your audience? Is video or the written word more important and why?” This relates to what we’ve already talked about. You can definitely see some trends in some of the things that I’ve already talked about in this podcast about what kind of content works quite well. There’s also a bit of information in episode 41 on this as well.

In terms of video versus written word, I think a combination of both can work quite well. I tend to concentrate more on written word, although, more recently with podcasting, I guess I have gone beyond both written and video. I actually found that it really comes down to your personality, what you feel comfortable doing, that you have the resources to be able to produce in terms of the gear that you’ve got and also, what you’re confident in being able to present.

Personally, I find the written word seems to connect with the broadest amount of people but there are certain personality types, certain life stages, and certain situations where people do prefer video or they prefer audio. Experiment, mix it up. See what works with your particular audience, see what fits with your style. You will find that written content at this stage does tend to do better in search engines, although Google is increasingly incorporating video into the search results as well. I’m not sure that audio really is ranking as well in search engines unless you put a transcript or something in, you might want to play with that as well.

There are different benefits of video that I found over the years and podcasting would fit into this as well. Certainly, video appeals to a different type of person. Perhaps it’s their learning style or personality. When I started doing talking head videos on ProBlogger and certainly, since I started podcasting, I’ve had emails from people who say things like, “I feel like you’re talking to me. I feel like this is so much more personal than your previous writing.” It certainly does hit the mark with some people and it is more personal. It gives you a face and a voice, and certainly some reason to experiment with video, podcasting, and perhaps some of the live streaming type services that have emerged in the last few months. Mix it up, see what works best for you and there’s no right or wrong on this particular one. 

Rebecca asks, “When you first started taking on paid writers, how did you recruit them and how did you include them in your schedule?” This is a good question and this is one that I know a lot of bloggers say get it a few years into the blogging often and I sat thinking, should I actually add in new writers into the site? I actually got a second question from Sarah on a very similar question. She asks about outsourcing content and the pros and cons of adding other voices into your content as well. I’ll tackle these two together. 

There certainly are some pros and cons of involving other people on your blog, whether they are paid writers or whether they’re guest writers. Let’s tackle that first. On the pro side, on the good side of things, when you add new writers into your site, it does diversify the voices on your site. It can add expertise.

When I started Digital Photography School, I’m not a professional photographer. I was an intermediate-level photographer and I was writing for beginner photographers. But as my audience began to get better at their photography, I needed to find professionals, people who knew what they were talking about at a higher level of expertise. By adding in new writers on that site, I found that I was able to serve my readers better by adding that expertise. New voices, new people that can certainly help with changing the level of your content.

Another benefit of hiring people or bringing on guest writers is it certainly does cut down the work in the writing of the content. It does mean that you have to edit more though. It also helps you to stay fresher. If you’re not writing post after post after post, you only write perhaps half as much as you used to, that can bring a freshness back to you. It can also open the opportunity for you to spend more time doing other things. 

By hiring writers for Digital Photography School, it enabled me to spend time doing other things on that site and in other projects. Digital Photography School today, I don’t write any posts at all. My voice is not there at all. That’s something that took a little bit of time to transition, but it was never a personal site, it was never a personal blog. It was always written as more of a magazine-style blog and so it didn’t really matter as much. On ProBlogger, though, if I was to stop producing content on ProBlogger, my readers will push back. It’s a more personal brand. You do need to be a bit careful about that.

On the negative side of adding new authors to your blog, whether they’d be paid or guest, there are definitely some negatives. One of them means that you do lose your voice and lose control perhaps of the content. You still have editorial control, you don’t have to publish things that are submitted, but by having other voices there, I guess it does dilute your voice a little bit and it perceives that you are less engaged with the site. 

This can impact your brand, it can actually improve your brand in some ways because you might be doing something that’s more useful to people but it can also dilute your brand particularly if it’s a personal brand. As I mentioned before, it also does take more work to edit and manage your writers. If you are hiring people just simply because it’s going to mean less work for you, you might have another thing coming for you because managing writers, keeping them to deadlines, and editing their work can also be a lot of work. 

Edit, I actually do it for me. The first time I hired someone for Digital Photography School, it was actually someone who came from the guest post type aspect. The first people who started writing at Digital Photography School were not paid writers, they were guest writers. They are people who write guest posts for us and then I promoted one of them to be a paid writer. I like the style that they had, I like their voice, they seem to connect well with my readers. I ask them if they would be willing to write one post. I think it was every two or three weeks, the first time. They were able to commit to that. What they’re actually doing is guest writer so I was able to pay them in that way.

Gradually, that increased. Actually, I think from memory, became a weekly writer from there. These days, if I’m hiring someone for Digital Photography School, we actually advertise on the ProBlogger job board. There’s a bit of a plug there from my own product but if you got a—I think that’s the one anyway; I’ll link to it in the show notes—it’s where you can advertise to hire bloggers for your particular blog.

When we advertise there for Digital Photography School writers, we generally get at least 70 or so applicants. Then, it’s a bit of a whittling down process, to get people to the point of hiring them. We can’t, obviously, hire 70 people so we have a process. It involves us asking them to submit a post which we pay them for, I guess we look at the 70 and we look at the 30 or so that we think are the best and we say sorry to the others.

With the 30, we go to them and say, “Would you submit a paid post?” It’s just a one-off paid post and it’s to see how we like their writing, how we like working with them, and how their post goes down with our readers.

Of those 30 posts, most of them actually have a good enough quality that we can publish it. Sometimes, we go back and forth with them to improve the post or to shape it a little, to help them to choose a topic. It’s about working out, how did the post go, how is it working with them, and do we want to offer them a position. Usually, we start with our writers writing once or twice a month and sometimes, they increase from there.

That’s the process that I went through and like I say, I’ve taken different routes on Digital Photography School to ProBlogger. The other job that I’ve had for content creation on both of my sites is to have editors. This is partly to improve the quality of my writing, in particular on ProBlogger, and to help me to produce enough content there, but it was also to help manage the writers that we did have as guests and as paid writers as well.

Certainly, that took some time, though, and it didn’t happen overnight to get to that level. It was many years of writing before I even began to outsource any of it. I hope that gives you some insights on outsourcing and delegating content creation on your sites. 

The last question for today comes from Philip. This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions I get about content creation. I’m glad it was submitted because I know people will be asking in comments about this one. Philip asks, “Is there an optimal length or word count for a blog?” This is a frequently asked question and I have answered it before. I hope I’m not annoying those of you who’ve heard me talk about it before.

Generally, when I talk to the writers on my sites and they ask me about how long should a post be, I generally say to them, “Write as many words as you need to be useful and then stop.” I do not have anything in my mind that says, “You have to write a certain amount of words.”

If it is a paid post, I probably would react poorly to someone submitting a 50-word post all the time, but there are some topics which you can answer a question or that it can be useful in 50 words. I’ve certainly published posts on my blog over the years which have been very, very short. On the flip side, I’ve also published posts that are over 5000 words long, which are like chapters of books if not short ebooks. So, both amounts can work. Both in that spectrum can be useful to your readers. 

Some people would say, “Posts need to be at least 400 words for SEO consideration.” That may be true. I’m no SEO expert but I would think that Google is probably going to be looking at word counts as one of the factors that they used to rank contents. If you are wanting to factor that and you’re probably looking at 400–500 words, something that’s at least got some depth to it.

On the flip side, I have heard out the people say, “You want to keep your post short because today when people are reading the web, they have a very short attention span,” so short and sharp is actually going to serve your readers better. 

Like I say, for us, there’s no length that we aim for. I’d say probably most of the posts that we publish around the thousand-word mark or maybe at least 800–2000. That’s because our site is a teaching site and we want to take people through a process. We also add quite a few images into our sites, particularly on Digital Photography School. It’s not just about the words, it’s about how long it is visually as well and breaking up the words with images. 

Ultimately, you want to experiment to see what works with your type of reader. We’ve actually found over the last few years that while a lot of bloggers are getting shorter with their content that our longer-form content is doing even better than it has ever before. I can’t think of a couple of posts on ProBlogger in the last year which were 3000 or 4000 words long that did really well, that were shared a lot, that were commented on a lot, and that had a lot of traffic to them. So, try the different lengths, see what works for you, and mix it up. Your readers might actually appreciate you mixing it up for them and giving them some variety. 

Hope you found today’s episode helpful. This was episode 43 of the ProBlogger podcast. you can find today’s show notes and some further reading on the topics I’ve discussed today at Look forward to chatting with you in episode 44.

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