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The Blah Blah Blah Blogging Rules. F It.

Posted By kellydiels 4th of January 2010 General 0 Comments

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:

F it.

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!)

  1. Striking Findings from an Eye Tracking Study
  2. Behaviors of the Blogosphere Study Results
  3. What is a Blog?
  4. 18 Lessons I’ve Learnt as a Blogger
  5. Writing Good Content
  6. Post Length – How Long should a Blog Post Be?
  7. Granular One Topic Blog Posts
  8. Using Titles Effectively on Blogs
  9. Scannable Content
  10. 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.

  1. What? Simple brilliance is not sufficient?? If I build it, they *won’t* come, I have to follow rules too???

    Well, dang. That doesn’t sound like any fun at all. At least, no fun until those rule-following readers start showing up to read my F – ing posts. hehe.

  2. AWESOME… i am serious… AWESOME post!

    Following rules makes blogging boring… be passionate.. be real and you will get traffic. Ya its OK to keyword target and all that good stuff but blog like you are have a discussion with someone… make it enjoyable!

    Great post Darren!

  3. I have found some helpful information on some of your posts on how to improve my ideas for using a blog to get traffic and interact with visitors.

    There are so many options for themes, plug ins etc it is sometimes hard to know the best way forward. I will try some new ideas based on what I found on your blog.

  4. F it I hate the rules…
    Yeah that joke was horrible.

    But I do hate those rules at times, but I can’t deny their truth.

    I know I scan pages like that, and I’ve seen many pages I’ve left before I read any content just because they aren’t set up for scanning quickly.

    When I want to know, say, what the zoom on a new camera is, if I don’t see it in a bullet point or at the very beginning of a paragraph, I check a new page.

    After reading this I’m actually going to go edit the post I just made, cause I’m sure I could improve on it.

    Thanks for the great post also!

  5. I too have this complex relationship with blogging rules. It’s the same kind of relationship I have with my GPS. A love/hate thing.

    When I first started blogging I only used 2 words for all my blog headings. It was a creative challenge I set myself and it worked pretty well (even getting a decent technorati ranking, not that it really mattered to me) until about a year in, when I found it too difficult to find my own posts ;p

    I do like tha blogging rules. For the reasons you mention. And because it’s part of my job. I hate tha blogging rules. Only because I find they can sometimes get in the way of personal creative expression. And sometimes I break away from them – momentarily – so that I can find my inner creative voice again :)

    Fab post, nice to meet you Kelly.

  6. I do get tired of seeing the same formula used on everyone’s blog. Thanks for breaking the rules.

  7. Yes, it’s important to have fun in the process. If blogging (or whatever we do) is a bunch of rules that we hate, then it will become just another job. It’s better to have fun in the process.

  8. Well, These are wonderful list of rules and it seems to be quite useful for me.I definitely follow these rules in my blogging…

  9. I love the rebel… my inner one is screaming!……. but don’t we just know it…there is always rules in life….

    Every now and then a rebel changes the face of the game (and then their process becomes the new rules !) Now how to figure out how to be that rebel……

  10. I have been following your advice since I started my blog, and I just wanted to say thanks for the help.
    Also, I wanted to mention that while I was at the book store today, thumbing through a book about blogging, I found a page dedicated to you and your Problogger site. Your page made the rest of the book seem useless, and for that I just had to laugh.

  11. The rules are useful.You breaking the rules. I spend a lot of time to follow a few rules for SEO, writing good title, and writing quality articles . But after i read this posting on your blog 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.

  12. Since you quoted me, Kelly, I feel compelled to leave a comment. Guess what – I’ve got some opinions ;)

    I think your writing works and this post works precisely because you are not following the rules. I think the rules are bunk, Brian Clark and his ilk could not be more boring and they are ignorant of a whole pile of people making really nice livings from the web (mostly women -The Bloggess mentioned above is a good example and I can give you many, many more) who don’t give an F about these rules. Because these rules are the masculine (not male, masculine, we all have both M and F qualities) approach – lists and brevity and bold headlines and solving problems are designed for people who are hunting. The feminine approach is the the gathering, the bringing together, the fostering of relationship.

    Darren is actually the only guy I’ve bought something from on the internet – compare his 31 Days to Build a Better Blog to Leo Babuata’s How I got 100,00 subscribers in 2 years – you don’t even have to read them – just read the titles and you can see what I’m saying. Darren has a nice blend of feminine and masculine in his approach – focusing on relationship and community. That’s why he invited you here, I’m sure (perhaps subconciously, though he’s a smart guy). Leo talks a lot about Digg making him big. And Digg is like the most male place on the net. I think I’ve read Zen Habits twice and it bored me to tears.

    So women and men who want to embrace their feminine side, let’s take a look at our own rules – let’s stop buying into this paradigm. People are dying for something juicy and real to read – lists are so last decade. Kelly your readership is growing for a reason, and it ain’t because you are following some rules. It’s because of this: “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.”

    I could write a whole thesis on this, but what I mostly want to say is – please, please, please don’t stop doing what you do. I beg of you, no lists.

  13. Really, really nice. Loved the whole thing from the title to the end.

    But I think this sort of freedom in blogging works well only for personal or creative blogs. For someone like me, though, who blogs on Indian Television, it’s the best to stick to the rules.

    One thing is for sure, whenever I do start a creative blog….I’ll just F the rules ;-)

  14. Will make sure to follow similar rules.

  15. We need to know the rules to not follow the rules. (I mean, You can decide to follow or not follow the rules)

  16. thanks for sharing

  17. I think of them less as rules and more like patterns that work and patterns that don’t.

    When starting out, I think it’s good to master the basics before you spread your wings and flex your stuff.

    That way you can be a rebel with a clue.

    It all goes back to the question, which is the key, “why do you blog?” … That’s the perfect lens to know which patterns to use, which to throw out, and which to bend backwards in unthinkable, improbable, and unstoppable ways.

  18. What a nice and informative blog. Really awesome. I have gained a lot from your article, at least a clear view on why and how to blog and this well help me a lot in my blogging of aidandtrade.

  19. Good advice. As with writing generally, I guess the bottom line is that you should know what the rules are before you start breaking them.

  20. You’re so right. We blog because we want people to read our ideas, thoughts, etc. Like anything else, in order to get readers, there are rules that should be followed. People are busy, and if your post is not inviting and eye-appealing to begin with, or if it’s laid out where it appears to be a ton of text, they will move on to another site with a better laid out blog. It doesn’t mean your content it bad, but if you can’t get them to start reading, then it doesn’t matter what the content is.

  21. I appreciate the points you have ‘posted’. If you are a writer who is not bound by anything else but your urge to write, then the rules don’t apply.

    But many use blogs as a tool to make money. For them, the rules become important.

  22. May be I should spend more on your blog, you teach me many things in your writing. Love your works, Darren!

  23. Darren Rowse! You are brilliant having Kelly guest post once a week. Brilliant!

  24. You should abide by the rules if you have to only. If you can blog without any then even better.

  25. Wow, that heatmap is very, very cool! Definitely food for thought on how to structure a post. Loved the F it =)

  26. GREAT post title!

  27. Kelly – you do it again. Actually, I think I may go against the rules in 2010. Thanks for including my comment – I got a few date proposals from it. :)

  28. Yep, fast and quick.
    Fast through the main points, and quick through the content. That said, if an article is too long (which this one almost is), I ain’t sticking around to read it.
    Admittedly, I am quite the culprit on long posts, but I do agree with you: Bolding, italicising and occasional photographs help break up the monotony of most articles. I hope.
    Again, great article, yet almost too long. ;)

  29. Brian Clark and his ilk huh? Interesting…

  30. In addition to using lists, use bullets. I find bullets to be more scannable than simple lists. I like the little arrow bullets on your list. Great example.

  31. Sherry Zander says: 01/05/2010 at 1:45 am

    Okay … WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH DARREN?! Had to get that off my chest. Loved the schpeel. It doesn’t quite sound like you, Darren, but, hey, everyone has a right to a stellar rant now and then. And, what I say to that is … F it!

  32. Honestly, I kinda like the rules. They’re not for everyone but they’re a guide to follow, especially for those who are new to writing.

    That said, I also believe in individuality and the importance of brand identity. There just has to be some balance.

  33. I join the blogosphere is because of interest. I love to share with others.

  34. Great article with a great twist…

    As a newbie you get into traditional blog thinking, and never really think outside the box. If you are working inside the box you focus a lot to find the all the puzzle pieces for the big picture. And you want succeed before you find them all.

    This great article tells me to start think outside the traditional blog box in 2010..

    Cheers.. Are

  35. Ha ha…I knew that was you guest posting here, Kelly, the minute I read the title. The very reason you stand out as a stellar blogger is that you don’t follow the rules.

    Other side of the coin? The reason I do not stand out is because I don’t follow the rules either. So I am looking for the middle ground, but it has to be my own ground, not someone elses.

    Great write!

  36. Great post – maybe I should stop staring at your Cleavage all the time and read more of your stuff here on ProBlogger?– ah, who am I kidding? – I am obviously going to do both…

    I blog because the voices in my head tell me I have to, and because they don’t laugh at my jokes when I tell them to myself. When I share my unfettered genius and hilarious sense of humor with the world (and by world, I mean the one or two people who accidentally read my blog) through blogging, then I feel like the voices in my head aren’t my only friends (or enemies).

    People shouldn’t feel obligated to follow the blogging rules – unless, of course, people want to understand what the F blogging is all about and how to do it well, in which case, people should read Darren and Kelly on a regular basis – the voices in your head command it – and you know, you don’t want to piss them off (the voices, not Darren and Kelly)…

  37. Nice post. You will be pleased to know that although I am a classic “F” reader, scanning TONS of stuff daily, everytime I read one of your posts I am actually READING by about one third of the way through.

    You are a great writer – entertaining AND informative. So yes, write for the “F” to draw us in, but don’t worry about length. Your style is like a magnet for the eyes.

  38. Another wonderful article, Kelly! When I saw your name on this post I was so excited! I’d been scanning my reader and was getting a little bleary-eyed, until I started reading your post (sorry, I meant poem!)

    Seriously – you gave great information and actionable ideas in an extremely engaging and downright fun article. That’s the key isn’t it? We can follow all the rules but unless we put our spirit in the mix, then they are just formatted words on the page.

    So if this post had been titled, “Six Blogging Rules You Must Follow” I may have read it (maybe) but it wouldn’t have “stuck” in my brain. Which means it would have been a waste of time because I didn’t learn anything.

    Instead – You reinforced important points about writing for my blog and I really enjoyed reading it!

    Thank you, Kelly for putting “you” into your writing – I really like you!

  39. Sorry, perhaps it’s just me, but I found this post incredibly hard to read. It seems that then this post is written contrary to the content it speaks about. “F it?”

    For sure, I read like that (I scan), but I completely missed the point because the key reason (or the so what?) for any of us to create a blog post to “F it” was hidden right inside the post!

    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.

    I had to go back and search the body text for the whole point of this article!

    Darren, you post stuff here on pro-blogger to shake things up, and I appreciate that a lot, but I hope that if a post is about structuring content to reflect how people “F it” then perhaps it makes sense that the post practices what it preaches?

  40. “Brian Clark and his ilk huh? Interesting…”

    Hi Nathan – if you are still reading. I was posting my comment in a real hurry last night and it does come off as a bit harsh. Let’s see if I can articulate this a bit better. I really am bored by Brain Clark and ZenHabits but I know many people are not, obviously. And that’s great – we aren’t going to all like the same stuff. Which is why pretending there is *one* set of rules for blogging seems misguided.

    I don’t like shopping at Wal-Mart but they are super successful, too, and clearly know what they are doing to make big money. But the techniques they use would be a flop at Holt-Renfrew (what’s the US equivalent of that – Neiman Marcus, maybe?), who also make big money. I believe blogs have those same nuances and pretending there is one set of rules that applies to all blogs is limiting the idea of the art and craft and scope of blogging.

    ps – I am sure Brian Clark and the zenhabits dude are very nice and engaging in person :)

  41. That’s right, most people read articles at amazing speed since there are so many to read on the net unless you cover very interesting topic

  42. One of these days I will write a post with no title header.

  43. Hi Kelly,

    This is an awesome post. Yes I scanned it :lol:

    I really like you writing style and your honesty. I am off to check out your blog now.

    Kind Regards

    Jacinta :D

  44. I’m new to blogging, so I’ll follow the rules. I’ll see where those rules take me.

    There’s always a choice.

  45. I try to follow the “rules” as best as I can. I always do my best to come up with a snappy title and an attention grabbing opening paragraph.

  46. what i can say about it except saying bla bla bla bla abercrombieandfitch

  47. Maybe a few thousands later, my descendants will read my blog, and wonder why they got me, such a stupid ancestor! That will be a grand reward of blogging

  48. I’m a blog newbie and since I started, I’ve been trying to digest as much as I can on a daily basis how to increase traffic to my blog – so that I can do a decent job. Much of the materials out there (to my dismay) is about how to increase traffic to make money. I have nothing against that but it is a little overwhelming for me. I didn’t start my blog to make money. I did it because I want to and because I love to write. Self expression, a space to share experiences, thoughts and contribute to others (if people read what I write that is).

    You can imagine my relief when I read your article. I could breathe again! Thank you so much. I have included a link of your blog on mine (so I know where to find you again). I suspect I will become one of your fans too :)

    Thank you!

  49. Thank Darren for a great Post…I mean article…I learn so much from your stuff…Thanx so much for everthing you do…Kenney

  50. The “rules” you stated are simply the oldest guidelines for writing commercial copy. I’m a published novelist and ex-marketing communications manager. I know the difference between creative writing and commercial writer.

    These rules are one more drip-down of business methods pervading many aspects of daily life. And of course it is trying the same with the internet.

    There’s a whole industry trying to turn parts of the internet into purely commercial attention grabbing information pumping networking, with hopes of money at the end of the road.

    Some of the internet is about making it up as one goes along. Rule-makers are about making it like everything else.

    The only thing that is different about all of us is our individual voice. Put rules on it, and we are all the same.

    This is going around now, and it is boiling, and I was about to “Post” a blog on this tomorrow, my attitude, partly expressed here. Then shutting up and writing whatever comes into my head without checking the rules to see whether I am genuine and efficient.

    Smile on.

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