This document offers an overview of my writing method for online content. Topics are listed here in alphabetical order. Recent revisions to this document are described at the bottom of the page and listed by date.
For writings that are posted online, we can learn a lot from the study of visitors or page loads for a particular webpage has. This is referred to as analytics. It’s possible to study how many people visited a page, what city their IP address indicates they are in, what they searched on to find a page, and other details. There’s no personally identifiable information, but the aggregate of this data is very helpful. It can guide a writer to know more about what their readers want, and what they are less interested in.
I believe it’s important not to be driven by analytics, but informed by it. Just because something is popular and produces ‘clicks’ doesn’t mean there should be more of it. As you’ll read further down on this page, I use analytics to be a better writer and better serve the interests of my audience.
I don’t let the numbers get me down. If a website I’ve developed has a slow year, it’s usually because of related trends that influenced the interest in that content. I’m not driven from one year to the next to increase website traffic over the previous quarter. I’m content to see interest in a particular article or website rise and fall organically based on genuine interest. This is actually extremely valuable. By having a pure natural authentic growth website, one learns what is really driving demand without any advertising or artificial promotions influencing website traffic. The information gained from pure data is incredibly valuable and can help a person refine the effectiveness of their natural content to the point that the quality becomes even more effective at driving growth than any advertising campaign ever would be.
Usually I’m writing to a broad audience of potential readers. This awareness usually helps me be more inclusive and balanced in what I write. Occasionally I’ll title an article to have greater appeal for a more narrow specific audience. For example, on social issues, rather than writing to my own circle of friends, I’ll often write to those who think differently than me. Given that an audience is global, I try to be mindful of cultural differences that may influence how an article is read by someone in another country.
It’s important to me to feel that I’m being balanced in what I write about. Either by sharing alternative viewpoints in my articles, or linking to other articles that offer an opposing argument. To me this is about staying honest. If I’m portraying something, I’ll try to include the views of others so the reader has a bigger picture of an issue. It helps me as a writer as well to really have a good understanding of what the full array of criticism might be in order to address those or explain my position proactively. This dramatically reduces the comments such as “… but you’re ignoring this…” or “… you didn’t take this into account…” and “not everyone thinks that way…” etc. Those are all valid comments and one might as well think through ahead of time what the criticism of a writing might be. It saves everyone time and makes for better writing.
I’ve found it’s sometimes more effective to use batch writing. This is where you take a longer writing covering various topics, and break it down into free-standing articles that are independently posted. Then have a hub piece that points to the others. Or, create an interconnected collection of writings that each refer to the other.
People tend to look for and be interested in specific topics and resources. Search engines seem to favor this format, and it makes sense that people may search on a specific topic and not want to wade through other material to get to it.
This isn’t necessarily an SEO focus to gain more readers via search engines. It’s simply to make sure that content is discoverable — often by myself trying to find an article and refer back to it.
Become Your Most Authoritative and Vocal Critic
In 2002, I helped launch the Small House Society. Over the years, rather than simply focusing on the advantages of small living and the arguments in support of it, I became the most informed and authoritative source on all arguments against small homes. In my public talks and writings, I’d include the strongest arguments against small living. It’s important not to minimize or ignore the pitfalls of any initiative or cause. By speaking up about them, it shows that one is informed, balanced, and not intimidated by an informed discussion. It also helps one maintain a genuine mindset of understanding and at some level accepting the positions of one’s opponents. That’s more inviting to anyone ‘on the fence’ about an issue. They’ll be more likely to gravitate toward someone who is open minded, informed, balanced, and respectful of even their detractors.
You’ll notice in this document and most of my other writings I try to provide headers to make the document easier to read, navigate, and refer back to. I think this helps avoid overwhelming the reader with a ‘sea of words that have no landmarks.’
When a writing is posted online, it’s possible to get data regarding how many people have read the article – or at least landed on the page.
I try not to let popularly drive what I write about, or influence too heavily what I’m spending time on. In other words, I’m not simply writing with a focus on clicks and my own popularity. I’d rather know that whoever reads my writing will find it helpful, even if that means writing to a smaller number of people. If among this small number of people, one article seems to rise in importance and value, I’ll go back and spend a little more time on it.
Something I think won’t be popular might end up having much more popularity than I imagined. While other work I do may have less popularity than I’d imagined. With creative work, whether writing, music, video, photography or something else, one never really knows as the outset the level of interest people may have.
I wrote on how to use Microsoft Word to print a DVD cover has had over 3,700 readers in the past few months. Other writings have just 30 readers in the same period of time. Similarly, I used my smartphone to make a short video about my clothes washer and that received over 47,000 views. Yet other videos I think will be very popular and useful for people don’t get many views.
So, this is why I wait before investing too much time and energy into an article.
Keeping a Writing Journal
Throughout the day, if an idea comes to mind as a possible topic for a writing, I’ll jot down a quick note. I might add to that note later in the day or later in the week. These topics might be inspired by a conversation with someone, a current issue in the news, or maybe a question people are frequently asking me.
A lot of time and energy can go into writing, so sometimes rather than spending many hours writing a piece, I’ll create a core framework of writing with the basic elements in place. I’ll post that story, then, based on reader interest and feedback, I’ll expand on the writing. If I feel there’s a greater interest in an article, I may revisit it later to make improvements and corrections. I’ll incorporate reader feedback, and maybe write other related or supporting articles.
In examining what countries my readers are from, I’m reminded of the importance to use Plain English and avoid idioms. This is helpful for people who have a primary language other than English. It also facilitates having more accurate automated translations.
Maintaining a Queue of Topics
When one is in a creative mindset, a lot of ideas for possible writing topics may percolate to the top – possibly more ideas than one could really dedicate sufficient time to. So, keeping a list of topics in order of priority helps. Writing on one or two topics per day, depending on how much time is available, helps one focus on just the higher priority writings at any one time. In this way, each writing gets more focus and time than if lots of content were being generated.
In choosing a topic to write about consider the following:
- Impact. Assuming the writing reaches the desired audience and they are receptive to its message, will the writing have a meaningful positive impact?
- Demand. What is the demand for the the topic of the writing?
- Value. Is this something people will find useful and of value?
If I get a lot of positive feedback about an article, I might spend more time promoting it by posting link to the article where there seems to be interest in that topic. For those writings that seem to be universally appreciated, serving the public interest, and not potentially controversial I may go ahead an advertise a piece. However, I’m always hesitant to do that because it then makes it difficult to know how much genuine organic interest is there for that topic. Occasionally there will be a message on Facebook indicating that a certain post has been very popular, and there is an offer to boost that post through paid advertising. I usually ignore these. If something is popular on its own, then it probably doesn’t need to be advertised. It may be an indication of public interest, but not necessarily a reason to advertise. Also, social media popularity from one post to another can be impacted by the number of people online when the post went live and other factors. So, that data isn’t always reliable.
Using Reader Feedback
Among my favorite courses in college were those that focused on writing, and specifically the writing workshop approach of critiquing and improving a piece of writing. Rather than just handing a paper into the instructor for correction, papers would be shared with the class. Peers would reach each others papers, then each paper would get discussed in class. It can be a difficult process for those who don’t like to receive criticism or suggestions about their work, but I welcomed the feedback. Workshops are common with creative writing or poetry, but can also be useful for other kinds of writing.
Today, with articles getting posted to the web, it’s common to have a sort of workshop that can be found in the comments section below an article, or on social media. These are very valuable for shaping and refining a writing.
Using the page visit data for online writings, it’s possible to get an idea of what someone searched for on Google (for example) to find the writing. There’ve been times where I examine that and consider if the article could better serve the reader’s interest. So, there are ways to use the aggregate visitor data to an article for determining how to improve the article.
I try to use at least one or two colorful attractive images that related to the content. This is helpful in social media for people to quickly get a sense of what the writing is about, or at least take a split second to read the title to see if they are interested.
Thanks for taking time to read what I write. I appreciate the feedback and support I get from everyone. It inspires me, motivates me, and shapes my future work.
Updates and additions to this document are listed below in chronological order with the most recent at the top.
- 28 Jan 2017 at 11:31 PM CT. The section “Analytics” was added and the entire list was reorganized into alphabetical order.
- 28 Jan 2017 at 4:20 PM CT. The section “Become Your Most Authoritative and Vocal Critic” was added.
- 28 Jan 2017 at 2:17 PM CT. Various sections of this document were updated and expanded. The section on ‘Maintaining a Queue of Topics’ was added.