I’m having a rule-following problem. As in, don’t want to follow them.
Which rules? These ones:
- Use snappy titles containing a question, the words “How To” and jarring adjectives. Do not be cute, arty, or poetic. Copy-write. Read the titles on the cover of The Enquirer or Cosmo and do what they do. Your title is more important than the post, itself.
- Give advice. Provide value. Solve problems. Don’t talk about your cat or your sex life.
- Make it scannable. Break up text with headers.
- Make is scannable. Use lists.
- Make it scannable. Use boldface and italics to emphasize your point.
- Be brief, simple and stick to one topic. Your readers are only scanning it, anyways.
The Blogging Rules, Flouting Them, and the Faux-Rebellion.
Here is my confession: I’m a lit-on-fire blogger (who hates the word blog, cringes when I’m called a blogger, and resists the word “post”) but I don’t want to play by these rules.
I want to write wild, long, passionate, raw and real. I want to create art. I want to write words that land and burrow and inhabit my people. (I should just admit that I’m a wannabe poet and call it a day. Then no one would EVER read/scan my stuff. And so I blog.)
Here is my second confession: I adhere to the Gospel of Doowhatchalike. My titles are posts in and of themselves. I often write loooooooooooong pieces – sometimes 2,000 words or more. I insert my opinions and streams of consciousness and wackadoo digressions all over the place and they’re usually more interesting than the ostensible topic. And then I post pictures of my cleavage.
But just between you, me and the double D, I’m not a rebel.
I may have a vivid imagination and torrid/insane romantic life (thanks, vivid imagination!), but otherwise am so screamingly normal that it makes your normal tawdry. This is me: 9-5, kids, stability, friends, family, education, achievements, regular oil changes, a yard that doesn’t raise the wrath of strata, blah blah blah.
Why then, in my blog – my baby, my heart, my love, my creative offering to the world, my own thing – do I have to follow the rules? Why do you?
The Revolution Will Be Blogged
Recently, at my own site, I asked: Why do you blog?
The answers were many, varied, and invariably wonderful:
I blog because I love to write; blogging is just another form of expression for me. – Amanda Farough, Violet Minded
Though I may never become a writer who makes millions through my craft, blogging has given me the opportunity to affect the lives of others with my words. – Maven, A Fabulously Good Life
I blog because I’m the savior of the world and if everyone would just listen to me, we would all be better off, but then, I can’t even save myself sometimes so I guess that’s not true either.
I blog because I love run-on sentences.
I blog because the Infinite source of the cosmos calls me to it, that or is constantly warning me to stay away from it. Either way, I’m pretty bad at listening. – Steve, Life Change For You
I started blogging initially because it I was bored, dateless and cold on one January Friday night in Chicago. True story – Laura Cococcia, The Journal of Cultural Conversation
I am a glutton for personal development. whut.
I blog about it because I do my best thinking when I’m talking. I learn things as I explain them to others. I realize truth about myself, ugly ones and damaged ones and foreign ones, when I’m not stuck in my own head.
I blog because blogging is gangsta, and I got a gangsta lean. – Carlos Velez, Conscious Me (coming January 2010)
I needed a space where I could support my own interests, where I’m the Queen Of My Own Domain! It was also a challenge to push myself to try something completely new…to get unstuck and out of a rut. – Eileen, Blue Bird Luxe
I also consider it a creative act and a political act – any woman blogging now is raising a voice for all those womens’ voices which were silenced throughout history. And as the famous quote by Adrienne Rich states: When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her. – Lianne Raymond
…I blog because I want a revolution, I’m adverse to guns, and toddlers aren’t great at protest marches (unless they’re protesting the lack of third bowls of ice cream or fourth green bananas). – Arwyn, Raising My Boychick
To recap: we’re blogging for creative expression; to affect the lives of others; because the-cosmos-made-me or we’re bored and dateless and got a gangsta lean; for challenge; as a creative and political act (be the revolution), and lions-and-tigers-and-bears, OH MY.
Nobody said this:
- To follow the rules
- To do what everyone else is doing
- To turn my blog into a cliché
- To make money (whaaaaaa????? NOBODY? – okay, a few)
My point: blogging can be transformational.
You know why?
Because it is writing – and we might say, oh you don’t have to be a good writer to be a popular blogger, but for the most part that is a big wiggly lie – and we’re doing it daily.
Those two things, together, mean we’re thinking about THINGS and working through them. A-ha moments are practically guaranteed.
And then there are the people. Wow, the people. Blogging lets us find our people and that is a revelation. It is like coming home to a love-in, only everyone keeps their clothes on (usually) and talks pretty about thinky things. It is beautiful. It is soul food that doesn’t make you fat.
Transformation, community, freedom, creative expression.
That’s why some (most?) of us are blogging. We’re not looking for another set of rules to obey.
Nope. Not even one person jumped on the couch to scream “I LOVE THE RULES. Katie Holmes, Schmatie Holmes, I WANNA MARRY THE RULES!”
So WHY all the Blogging Rules?
So what’s up with the rules? Who made these rules anyway? Why do we need them?
Even more importantly – let me put my social science hat on here and run a really good query – where do they come from?
Dearest Reader, I knew you’d ask, so I did the research. And this is the answer:
That’s not a code and I’m not alluding to a bad word. That’s really the answer. That’s how people read online.
F for fast. That’s how users read your precious content. In a few seconds, their eyes move at amazing speeds across your website’s words in a pattern that’s very different from what you learned in school.
In our new eyetracking study, we recorded how 232 users looked at thousands of Web pages. We found that users’ main reading behavior was fairly consistent across many different sites and tasks. This dominant reading pattern looks somewhat like an F and has the following three components:
- Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F’s top bar.
- Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower bar.
- Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eyetracking heatmap. Other times users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F’s stem.
That’s not reading. That’s scanning – that’s a person who ended up on your site thanks to Google, and who is searching for an answer to a question. A solution. Maybe even something to buy. And that’s where The Blogging Rules come from.
Readers read the headline, maybe the first line or two, and then scan the body of the piece. Hence: great titles, strong leads, headers and lists.
Blogging Rules: Your New Best Friend. Alas.
The rules aren’t random. They’re a guide to crafting effective online content that gets read (errr…scanned).
Larry Brooks, the writing guru behind the rampant writing usefulness that is storyfix (and he’s so much more than that, too – he’s in love with me although he doesn’t know it nor does his wife. Vivid imagination, say hey!) writes in his blog about the importance of following the rules.
As in: if you’re a writer, and you want to get published, you better learn the storytelling conventions and rock them out. To the letter. Or resign yourself to being an undiscovered ungenius.
The same is probably true with blogging. The rules are about how people read online. And you want them to read your stuff, right? I mean that’s why we’re blogging, yes?
My inner imaginary rebel just nodded, sighed and said F it.
PS – Want more on the rules? Here’s a quick, top ten list of good stuff you can find here at ProBlogger. (Ah-choo!)
- Striking Findings from an Eye Tracking Study
- Behaviors of the Blogosphere Study Results
- What is a Blog?
- 18 Lessons I’ve Learnt as a Blogger
- Writing Good Content
- Post Length – How Long should a Blog Post Be?
- Granular One Topic Blog Posts
- Using Titles Effectively on Blogs
- Scannable Content
- Writing Blog Content – Make it Scannable
Kelly Diels is a wildly hireable freelance writer and the creator of Cleavage, a blog about three things we all want more of: sex, money and meaning.
I must admit, I spend time on the title making it as good as possible…
I think most people follow rules for SEO reasons (as per my title), or, at least, what they think will “rank” well on various search engines.
I personally follow a few rules as that’s part of the site – good title, searchable on various search engines (hopefully!), with a concise post body. I try not to make massive posts – and if I feel I am doing, I break it up into multiple posts. But they’re “brand” rules, which I think are OK? :)
Great article and great advice. We all blog for different reasons but if we want to take it as far as we can and want to optimize the results, there is some advice, there are some “rules” that we should try to incorporate into our blogging.
I understand that there are always rules in media; before kicking off a blog I’d had several hundred articles and a dozen books published. Basically, that doesn’t happen if you play fast and loose with the rules that matter.
And I think that that is the issue – the rules that matter. I recently commented on this topic:
To me a blog is a personal thing – I’m not blogging to sell anything, don’t carry adverts, and to be blunt if I get a few regular readers who enjoy what I do I’m happy.
I think the relation ship is more important among all of those rules, you are successful by others’ help.
Wow. What a touching post! Thanks for your time.
This just gave me a few ideas and reminded me to be myself and let my crazy side shine through, although it is already shining through. I’ve noticed that the more I write, the more I am able to find my own voice and be myself.
Since as the time changes, the rules set previously should be modified so as to compete with others. And above all i follow seo rules
I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a second blog for a while now, and this post really reinforces that idea. My personal blog is WAY too off-color and inappropriate to EVER use as a professional tool — starting a second, more professional blog seems to be the best option for me to create a body of work that I can point potentional employers or clients to as an example of what I can do. Audience or not, I don’t want my personal blog to follow any stinkin’ rules, anyway.
Now I’ve just got to find the time… Ugh.
Hello Kelly, I think this is the first post I have read from you and I really enjoyed it. I am extremely new to blogging and have read loads and loads of material alot of it giving rules on how to blog effectively so its nice to read an different view on the rules of blogging.
Best post I have read all year – I know the year isn’t very long!!! So that doesn’t sound very flattering… But seriously consider yourself flattered it is brilliant!!! A keeper!!! Thanks for the great mix of light relief and thought provoking… I love it!!!
Great post Kelly. Hate to admit it, but most of our posts are glorified sound bites…catchy titles with bulleted lists. God forbid you include a four sentence paragraph…a death sentence for viewer retention.
I believe the trend towards creating scannable posts will continue to increase. People are now reading your takes on cellphones. Can you imagine reading a 2000 word post on a 2-3 inch screen?
Pretty good job explaining the “F” thing, it can´t get more clear than that.
Do you realize that you followed all the rules on this post? Right? ;-)
Bet that the first list is not going to make Brian Clark happy, LOL.
Weel done Kelly.
That was very thought provoking and well written!
I think the fun of blogging is learning the rules, applying them, and finding a way to make it completely your own. But it is AWESOME to break them once in a while to break monotony, and to add flavour and a bit of our personality into the mix too.
This post is very memorable, I can see myself coming back to it regularly to let it really sink in.
I have to agree with se7en. Best post I’ve read all year and definitely in my top 10 from last year had it been a few days earlier. Thanks for the post, read the whole thing. You’e earned a new reader here.
I found your blog at the right time Kelly (before I started publishing). Voice matters and mine has been croaky with disuse over the past few years.
Your voice sounded like it was saying “be yourself” and it wasn’t a monstrous cliché.
ps. I promise to never scan your posts…whoops…prose? poetry.
pps. thanks for recognizing my gangsta lean.
I dislike blogging rules. There is no reason to think that using titles you want to use, and writing as you want to write will not get you readers…you just might have to work harder for them.
And anyway, it’s the long term, commenting, fun readers that give the blogger more joy anyway, in my opinion.
I do think there are guidelines, and I don’t doubt the power of the F, but I think that being a good blogger goes beyond being able to write in a certain way to get your point across faster/better/etc.
Well, I didn’t “F it” this post, I read it all from the first to the last letter, and I can say that I have very mixed feelings about it. Most of the things in my life I do in a kind of a middle way, not entirely by the rules, legal, allowed, by the book, but not entirely without limits and boundaries too.
I sound like Budha now lol.
I think you hit it right on the nose. I am new to blogging and I think the rules have to be followed…when I am on my computer looking for stuff I dont want to spend all day reading something thats not worth my time…just ealier today I spent 40 min reading over things that I’ve read already. Damn tittles got me again…lol thank kelly for your good content I’m gonna f…it
I agree with the commenters, this is great. I have 2 blogs: 1 that follows the rules and gives advice and encouragement to moms and 2 – my personal blog that doesn’t follow any rules and it is mine to do what ever the heck I want to do with it. I think at all depends on your intention for blogging.
Each one has and should have their own reason for blogging and I do not believe in rules for success. If short post give results to some , does not mean that the same rule should show success to other.
After all that is what makes one different from other.
A snappy title really draws attention, I agree.
Inspiring post Kelly!
This is a great post. Something made sure I read through all of it–not just the F. ;)
Anyway, I really appreciate the “F it” pun. Adds so much more curiosity. Wish that’s how we were taught the rule in communication skils class too!
As a new blogger, my head is spinning with trying to put out good content that is unique, yet follows the “F-ing” rules.
I tend to write in a more or less organized way, so I don’t mind the bulleted list thing, but I find some of the other conventions of personal finance blogging annoying and I sometimes feel like I’m standing outside a big clique.
I think I’ll just write what I love and love what I write for a while and see what happens. Thanks for the great info!
I always enjoy your posts here. As far as rules go, I think that’s one of the most useful things I’ve learned from you. I stopped writing for SEO a while back and I’ve learned that when I write whatever comes to me, things flow much more and I produce some of my best work.
You got me at the double D. Of course.
I could go on and on about the rise of recycled pap as the blogging “currency of the day.”
Google turns a knob on their search engine. 1 million bloggers all rush to post – essentially – the same article. Then another million scrape, spin and steal from the first million.
Then the rest of us obligingly scan and comment. Again. What a life!
Back to the salt mine.
yes, I agree with you, I am working on it.
Depends on the blog I think. For instance…my main blog is built for entrepreneurs and your style wouldn’t work well there.
However, someone like the Blogess, who’s all over the place in her writing, does well with something resembling your style because that’s her brand.
Develop a brand based on what vibes with you, and then try to find a way to make it work. There are other ways of blog monetization than ads and affiliate sales. Like you said, book deals are one.
There are also TV deals, syndication deals, paid writing gigs, etc.
I will say this…the rules exist because they are the quickest way to freedom, but they aren’t the only way.
I’ve always been a rule follower. Sigh. But blogging – its immediacy, intimacy, and relative anonymity – has given me a tremendous sense of freedom to follow the rules that suit me and flout the ones that don’t.
Like anything, whether or not you follow the rules depends on your goals; my goals at the moment are to write and to find a few, maybe more, people to listen, to hear, and to challenge. So right now I’m working with a set of rules that makes sense to me and to them.
I love Kelly’s blog and am thrilled to see her voice featured here.
@Nathan Did you just compare me to The Bloggess? I die happy.
“Develop a brand based on what vibes with you” – yes. YES. That’s perfect, Nathan.
PS if you look closely, you’ll see that I followed all the rules in this piece (except for possibly being way too long).
PPS my style wouldn’t work on your blog? Oh the gloves are off. I will guest post for you if it kills me. Or you. Preferably you.
@Dave Doolin. Sing it, sister. I know this song. I OWN THIS SONG.
@Pedro yep. and ssssssh. you’re giving away all my secrets.
@Hear Mum Roar you’re right. The first step in any new field/project/art is to learn the rules. When you start moving from student to master is when you realize the ‘why’ of the rules and start saying…why not?
Blogging is, at heart, personal expression. You have to do what works for you.
And let’s be honest: the people who stand out have talent and a unique voice and work long, passionate, sweaty hours to hone that voice.
That’s why they’re always telling us to develop great content: because that is the only rule that counts.
I’ve always been one to not follow the blogging rules. Every time I try, I sound like a robot to me. I will probably never have a huge following, but-like someone else said-if I get a few constant readers I am quite pleased.
I guess this works for me because I am not in blogging to make money, though it would be nice. I started blogging to get all my fears, worries, and other thoughts out of my head so I could make sense of them. And it help…a LOT!!
Great read, and definitely food for thought if I ever decide to start a second or third or fourth or….blog LOL
Kelly, I haven’t commented on a blog post in almost 10 months (I’ve been out of the game after life got mighty busy).
However, I just had to comment on this post. What a wonderful piece of writing genius it is! Bravo!
I think you just rekindled my passion for writing… Maybe, just maybe, your post will have inspired me to start blogging again. Only time will tell, but I’ll thank you in advance just in case… thank you!
I do like a good fight :D
I like this post because I believe in it.
People usually scan through the articles. No one has time or the patience to read articles. So making lists, boldface and italics to emphasize point really help. I read recently that you have to read word for word but I find that too time-demanding.
I liked this post as it seems so normal!
Many people follow these rules because other people (especially so-called gurus) tell them to. But it is WRONG!!! Well, not wrong.. but if everybody is sticking to the rules then surely the best thing to do is the opposite… be unique!
I think that blogging is a particular piece of writing, such as essays, novels, poems. You can have your personal voice and yet keep some rules in mind.
I don’t think that a 100% self expression writing can be called “blog”. Using a blog platform (WordPress, Blogger, whatever) doesn’t guarantee that you are writing blog posts.
I think once you are a problogger and well-known and making enough money, you do not really need to follow rules and you are more at ease.
Everyone has a style but what dictates a successful blog?
Yes!!! great post!
Here is my two cents. I think every blog is different and depending on what you want to do with your blog will depend on how you format and write it. Which then will decide what rules you want to follow and which ones you ignore. The beauty of blogging is that it is your blog and you can do whatever you want with it.
I personally appreciate the tips, suggestions, “rules” that I find on this site and others. I use what I think will help me and if it doesn’t pertain to me then I don’t.
Also I think the anwsers you got from the question you asked on your blog may have been different if asked on another blog say…problogger. Every blog is different and every audience is different.
And I also think everyone has different opinions when it comes to what makes a successful blog. If a blogger is happy just talking about their day and is happy with only family reading it then that is fine. If they want 1000 followers in 6 months then that is fine. It is up to the blogger to define what success means to them and then develop a plan to get there.
Thanks for the thought provoking post. Off to read your blog now! Because it sounds awesome!
I just about jumped out of my chair when I saw my comment :-)
For me, a blog has to be relateable and have personality. I don’t just want the facts, I want the person behind the facts – all the better if that person is irreverent or funny.
Goofy pictures also don’t hurt ;)
I knew that the upper-left corner of the heat map is where all the action is.
I had not heard about the “F” theory before though.
I like it!
I hear you! I want to learn and follow the rules! I can write about anything I want, just follow the rules. I’m new to blogging and I’m really enjoying the process. But, ahhh Kelly…no cat?
Fantastic article. It’s refreshing to hear that others suffer from the same boredom with the rules! I ended up starting a whole separate blog just for my personal writing as I got sick of always trying to conform to the “standards” when writing technical articles.
its 5.30 a.m. already i have just to save this and print at my office… so i ca still read
Great article. I spend a lot of time to follow a few rules for SEO, writing good title, and writing quality articles.
However, I think once you are a well-known blogger, you do not need more to follow certain rules.
When you can blaze across the screen like this, I think you’re entitled to not just break the rules but make the rules.
I wonder if that survey included people who like to read long, thoughtful articles. I say the rules are made for how SOME people (maybe most people) read. So I say if you only want to write for those who appreciate the way you write (long or whatever) and not for MOST people, then following the rules doesn’t matter.
I’ll bet there are people who’ve published novels on the Internet, even.
Personally, I love a nice long post, as long as it doesn’t drag.
I find the “F” explanation very helpful. There are people who ignore the rules and succeed anyways. Chailles.com is one that comes immediately to mind. But they usually deliver in some other remarkable and unique way that hooks an audience. I would love to hear some stats or strategies around balancing text, video and audio. I am wanting to move into more video and audio. Would love to know the “rules” for video and audio other than “keep it brief.”
The rules are useful. Sort of. But I still hate them. I tried writing for SEO when I started violetminded and then I decided that it was boring. I still have no idea what violetminded is about. All I know is that it’s my little slice of the internet to do with as I please.
Embrace the rules. Throw ’em away. Crash into a mountain and climb all the way up anyway. Let’s just have a ball.
Interesting post. I’m generally not a rule-follower, and my blog is a bit challenging because I’m attempting a “blogoir” format, but I must admit that I’m intrigued by the potential benefits of being more rule-bound. If I’m going to bother baring my soul for all the world to see, it would be nice to have more readers!