posted by Matt Ward on Jan 2, 2011.
Another year has come and gone, and as we stand at the beginning of 2011, I’ve prepared this article to provide readers who run their own design blogs (or who are thinking about doing so) with some thoughts and ideas that I think could help really amp up their sites (and content) over the next year.
Well here we are, standing at beginning of a new year called 2011. This is the time of the year when we always start looking towards to future, planning for the new year, with all the excitement and potential that it has to offer us. For me, this is an exceptionally exciting year, both personally and professionally. My wife and I are expecting our second (and we’re thinking last) child to be born in early April, which we are obviously super excited about. Then there’s Survd, the new survey product that I launched just before Christmas.
Between those two things, 2011 already looks to be a busy and exciting year!
I am also looking forward to lots of awesomeness happening here on the Echo Enduring Blog over the next twelve months, and I hope that you will join me in making it an even better year than 2010 (which was pretty darned good).
So, for the first official post of this new year of awesomeness, I would like to draw upon the spirit of hope, excitement and possibility that seems to permeate this time of the year and offer what are, in my way of thinking, a number of things that can be done to really amp up and improve the overall quality of your design blog! These are just some general thoughts and suggestions, and not targeted at any specific sites, but hopefully that will be interesting, challenging or useful to you!
Can the Mindless & Filler Lists
Yes, I’ve said it before. Yes, others have said it before too. And, yes, I’m bringing it up again, the subject of the infamous list post. I have nothing against lists, showcases and roundups. In fact, I peruse these types of lists quite often and have found many of them useful. But there does come a point where enough is enough.
Wondering where that point is? I would suggest that it’s when the lists start to become mindless or, perhaps even worse, just plain old content filler.
Lists should be useful, interesting, inspiring or challenging in some way. If you find yourself including designs, tools, resources or anything else because you deem that it’s “good enough” that would be one warning sign that maybe the list is just mindless filler. If you’re throwing together a list because you just need to publish something, that would be another.
Also, be wary of straying too far from your niche. I love photography as much as the next guy, but I have to say that in the vast majority of cases, roundups of cute baby photographs or stunning landscapes really have nothing to do with design. If you want to roundup photos, why not start a photography blog?
Lastly, use yourself as a measuring stick. Before I ever write any kind of list post (which I do from time to time), I ask myself whether I would be interested or benefit from it. If it’s not something that I would be interested in or glad to have found, then for me it’s not worth writing.
Stop Trying to be Someone Else
There are a lot really awesome and successful design blogs out there. Some of the big ones that everybody would probably recognize would be Smashing Magazine, Six Revisions, Webdesigner Depot, and the entire Tuts+ network of sites. As important as it is to learn from these sites, it’s equally important to stop (or at least avoid) trying to be exactly like them.
These sites are all successful because they fulfill their individual roles admirably. Each has its own purpose, and each does its own thing well. As such, is there really any need to emulate them? Chances are that you won’t be able to do what they are doing any better than they are already doing it.
Instead, work at finding your own voice. This doesn’t necessarily mean that should abandon the magazine style blog or that you need to come up with something so completely unique that the web has never seen anything like it before. It just means that you should allow yourself the freedom to infuse your blog with your own voice and personality.
More often than not, the more you try to emulate someone or something else, the more flat and generic your efforts will seem. Just focus on doing what you do best, and that’s being you.
Learn How to Write (Better)
I will be the first to admit that I can be a little bit of a snob when it comes to language. I apologize. Five years studying English will do that to you. Regardless, if there’s one thing that turns me off of an article, and sometimes and entire site, it is poorly written content. And I’m not talking about the odd typo or misplaced comma, which you will probably find around here. I’m talking about the garbled, broken language that I find on so many sites, and which makes the content so entirely inaccessible that I normally just bail and hit the back button.
In my view, there are a few major issues that tend to cause most of the problems. The first is sentence structure. Languages differ from each other by more than just their words and their letters. There are structural differences too, in the way that words are strung together and sentences are formed.
Given this, one of the biggest issues that I see is authors who misuse the language through improper sentence structure. If I had to guess, I would probably say that it’s usually a matter of using the familiar structure of their native tongue and unintentionally forcing English words into that structure. I know I’ve been guilty of doing that with French from time to time.
But then, you’ll notice that I don’t write in French.
Another, lesser but related issue can stem from improper word choice. Sometimes its just a matter of using one word where another would have been more appropriate. Other times, it can be an issue of homonyms (and other, related linguistic relationships). Loosely defined for our purposes here, these are words that sound alike but are not spelled the same and have different meanings (though true homonyms are actaully spelled the same and sound the same but mean different things, which puts the responsibility for deriving meaning back in the hands of the reader and is thus not relevant here).
Unfortunately, when this kind of homonym-based mix up occurs, it can often render an entire sentence nonsensical and difficult (or even impossible) to understand. Similarly, word use issues can also arise when phrases or sayings that are common in one language simply do not translate properly to another.
And speaking of translation, never ever use an automated translation tool such as Google Translate and leave it at that! These tools are certainly impressive and may be able to move text from on language to another in a form that can be understood, but rarely are they eloquent enough to be published as is. They are strictly mathematical. They have no heart, no soul, and while they might provide a good starting point, their output will invariably need to be heavily massaged and polished before it can actually be published.
I know it may sound harsh, but if you’re writing content in English, one of the best ways to really improve the quality of your blog in 2011 is to take the initiative to make sure that your writing is the very best that it can possibly be.
Offer Up Something New
One thing that can potentially drag a blog down is just posting the same old type of content over and over and over again. Of course, this is not always the case. Sites like Clients from Hell and the ever-popular Fail Blog do tend to publish the same type of content, but they are also primarily driven by user submitted content.
For those of us who run our own blogs and write all of our own content (or even for a small team of writers), sometimes it can be worth mixing things up. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.
Stretch your authorial boundaries. Try writing on somewhat different topics, or try finding a unique perspective on your subject. One great technique is to mix your interests. For instance, if you love to fish when you’re not rocking out designs (which I do not), why not try coming up with an article or two that touch on some of the parallels between fishing and design? If you love them both, chances are they share some commonalities that draw you to them.
These kinds of unique articles are a great way to keep things fresh, and will often help to truly engage your readers. And they’re fun to write too! On of my favorite articles on this blog is still “If Photoshop Was Batman, Then Illustrator Would Be…” which certainly presented a different take on the subject of two of Adobe’s Juggernaut applications (no Marvel/DC crossover pun interned… really).
Of course, as you come up with new ideas, don’t stray too far from your primary subject. Make sure you find a way to tie it back to design!
Stop Playing it Safe
I think that there are a lot of design blogs out there that really try to play it safe, by publishing content that will appeal to a wide audience, and which won’t really stir the pot or elicit any negative responses. I can understand that. To some extent, I probably fall into the same boat. I’m certainly not a confrontational person, and like most people I dislike trolls and negative comments.
That being said, however, you can’t please everybody and when you try to, content has a nasty tendency to become flat, dull, emotionless editorializing that people may scan but then just as quickly forget.
On the other hand, a passionately written article with a clear perspective and point of view has a tendency to actually elicit a response from readers – generally either as an affirmation or a rejection of what you’ve written. This, in turn leads to comments, debate and discussion. It can trigger tweets, response articles and even offer inspiration for other posts that you can write later on.
One person who does this as well as anyone I’ve ever seen is Andy Rutledge. His articles are bold (but not brash), impassioned pieces that never sit on any fence, but rather make it extremely clear where the author stands. He makes no excuse, no apology and his writing certainly benefits from it.
Of course, be wary of the temptation of embracing controversy simply for controversy’s sake. Sometimes, it can be tempting to embrace a topic that we know will be hotly debated. That’s not such a bad idea. Just make sure that you have a solid position to present. I’ve seen a few articles that try to tap into some sort of controversy, only to fall flat when it becomes clear that its just trying to feed off the debate itself rather than present a particular position within it.
So there you go! Five simple (or maybe not so simple) things that I think you can do to really help amp up your design blog this year! Even if you just address one or two of them, you will be on your way towards improving the overall quality of your site content.
And I want to stress the word quality here, because that’s precisely what I’m talking about. If you’re looking for techniques to help crank as many people as possible through metaphorical doors of your website and into the proximity of your banner ads, then maybe these techniques aren’t for you. Many of them will require more time and an added commitment, and may even result in your producing fewer articles of higher quality which you initially hurt your traffic (though it should ultimately help over the long haul).
However, if you are dedicated to quality over quantity, then I hope that you will at least consider some of the things I’ve written. Here’s to providing the best content yet in 2011!
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