Thursday, April 24, 2008

12 Ways to Improve Your Blog by Serving Your Readers: What I Didn’t Say at Band of Bloggers (by Abraham Piper)

(The following is a guest post by Abraham Piper of 22 Words and the Desiring God Blog.)

I love blogging.

I know that sounds odd, but I feel about blogging the same way some of you feel about preaching. I get excited about it. I think it matters. I think the Lord uses it. I even think it’s some people’s calling.

So I was honored to sit on the panel at the Band of Bloggers gathering last week. However, the discussion was only an hour, so naturally I had more I wished I could have said.

If there had been more time, I would have mentioned these suggestions for how to blog better by putting readers ahead of yourself.

1. Blog uniquely.

Even though the gospel is the focus and flavor of a lot of blogs, it’s still important for each one of these blogs to be unique. If people can get pretty much the same thing I offer at a hundred other sites, then what am I really offering them?

Everyone has a unique perspective. I want to capitalize on mine for the glory of God. And when I read your blog, I want to hear yours.

Serve your readers by offering something they aren’t getting anywhere else.

2. Don’t let the importance of truth minimize the importance of presentation.

Truth needs to be proclaimed, but trueness alone doesn’t make what I have to say worth saying. I need to say true things well.

It motivates me to concentrate on presentation when I realize that badly written truth is almost as bad as being just flat wrong.

Falsehood well said, doesn’t serve readers. It won’t lead people toward what is worthwhile because it’s, well, false. Truth poorly said is similarly unhelpful. It won’t lead people toward what is worthwhile, because it’s unclear or boring.

In order for our message to spread—in order to transfer value from us to an audience—each blog post should be a purposeful marriage of quality content and engaging presentation.

3. Be familiar with the blog genre and write for it.

It will serve our readers if we write for the way they read, rather than the way we think they should read. More important than changing people’s reading habits is getting them to read our content at all. That’s how our message will spread—and that’s the main point, right?

If your experience is anything like mine, every minute you spend educating yourself about how to blog well is worth it.

4. Use interesting and informative titles.

Titles are our first and sometimes only chance to grab our audience’s attention.

Many readers decide whether to read a post based solely on the title. Let’s serve them by making our titles as useful as possible.

5. Write to process your thoughts, but don't post to process.

Every post should offer value to our readers—this is what it means to serve people with a blog. To be valuable, content will generally be the result of processing thoughts, not the processing itself.

6. Set yourself some kind of limit as you write.

Limits force us to think about each specific word we write in a way we’d never have to if we always accepted the first thing we came up with. A good limit can be as basic as a word count you won’t go over or as difficult (and absurd) as not using the letter m.

How you choose to constrain yourself doesn't have to be the theme of your blog or even public knowledge. The point is to be creative and come up with your own constraint that serves your readers best by improving your content most.

Then, of course, you need to abide by whatever limit you’ve chosen, so that you are continually requiring yourself to write as if each word matters (because each word does matter).

7. Think nugget-sized posts.

Short, punchy content is less time-consuming to read than full essays (obviously). Most people only give a blog a few brief moments a day (not as obvious, but true). It’s my goal (and I commend it for your consideration) to serve my readers by offering content that can be delivered in their timeframe, not mine (regardless of whether I wish they would spend more time on my site).

8. Syndicate your whole feed.

If your entire post isn’t in your audience’s feedreaders, many of them will read the first few lines and be done, because they won’t click through.

The whole point of a feedreader is to aggregate many posts so that readers don’t have to go to each individual website. It doesn’t serve them (and can actually come across as self-serving) when a blogger counteracts this.

9. Keep in mind that the blogosphere is not a boys club.

More preachers' blogs should be appealing to women. The demographic of T4G attendees should only be the niche of a few blogs. The rest of us may be a part of that niche, but we should blog outward.

If your goal in blogging is to be at all pastoral, then your readership should be roughly similar to the people you pastor.

10. Let the general flavor of your blog be positive, not contentious.

(Warning: In order to become all things to all men, I’m going to be harsh when I make this point.)

If the majority of your content is made up of disagreeing with people, you should question your motives for blogging.

If you actually derive pleasure from bashing others, you should just quit.

If your blog regularly makes you enemies, that doesn't necessarily mean you're being persecuted for Jesus. It may just mean you're a jerk.

(OK, I’ll go back to being nice now.)

11. Be both confident and reasonably open-minded.

Bloggers tend to be a confident breed. We write what we write because we think what we think, and we think what we think because we’re right, right?

This can be good, especially when we’re confident about true and wonderful things. But it’s unfair to readers and sometimes even hypocritical when a blogger writes in order to change other people’s minds but seems completely unwilling to have his own mind changed.

It’s good to not be wishy-washy. It’s good to say what you mean clearly with unassailable assertions. It’s good to take a stand. But it’s also good, even as we stand confidently, to show a willingness to take steps toward better ideas.

12. Recognize that it’s OK to take blogging seriously and to try to succeed.

If a blogger does everything to the glory of God, then he will blog for the sake of the Gospel, whether he’s writing about theology or fishing in Alaska. And if we’re blogging for God, we have only one choice: pursue excellence.

The servant who buried his talent, thought he was doing the wise thing. He wasn’t. As a Christian blogger, I don’t want to be that servant. If I’m going to blog the gospel, I want to do whatever I can to blog it excellently so that what I have offered to my readers is also worth offering to God.

We’ve been given a great platform for the gospel in blogging—how could we not take it seriously?