199 posts categorized "Blogging"

Writing Every Day of November - the NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo Challenges

NaNoWriMo NaBloPoMo 2016

Today is the day! Every year on November 1 some number of writers across the world challenge themselves to write EVERY SINGLE DAY in November.

Some amazingly choose to focus on writing a novel. They go the "NaNoWriMo" route, a.k.a. "National Novel Writing Month"... where "national" is really any nation in the world. Best place to learn more is the simple address: nanowrimo.org

Given that the target of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000+ words, that's a serious commitment!

Others of us, and I'll add myself this year, choose to focus instead on writing at least one blog post every day as part of "NaBloPoMo", a.k.a. "National Blog Posting Month".

NaBloPoMo started back in 2006 and since 2011 has been championed by the BlogHer community. BlogHer is supporting NaBloPoMo again in 2016, but it wasn't clear for a while if they were going to do so. Meanwhile, another group at the "Cheerpeppers" site started a "blog once a day" challenge under the name "Nano Poblano".

Regardless, the point is to challenge yourself to write every day.

And of course being in our social world, you can follow along at the hashtags #NaNoWriMo and #NaBloPoMo - and also now #Nanopoblano (the hashtags all link to Twitter here but you can find them used on other social networks as well).

For myself, I am going to give it a try. Writing (and publishing) every day. As I recently wrote, I'm struggling to write consistently... so this provides a goal for me to strive for.

Now, I won't be writing here on Disruptive Conversations every day. My personal goal is publish some article across all my various blogs each day of November. That includes the blogs at the Internet Society, my employer.

You - and I - will be able to track how I am doing at my danyork.me site where I aggregate all my posts across all my sites.

We'll see how I do!

And best wishes to everyone else who are pushing themselves to do one of these challenges this year. Let's see the writing happen!

P.S. I haven't signed up for either the BlogHer or Cheerpeppers challenges. I'm just doing this for me right now.


Ello Introduces a "Buy Button", allowing creators to sell their work

Ello buy button 660

Remember Ello? The social network whose beta version happened to launch in September 2014 when everyone was upset with Facebook? With a commitment to not selling your data and not having advertising, it was a breath of fresh air coming out of Vermont and Colorado.

For a few months, many people jumped on board and tried it out.

And then the "directory dilemma" took over ... people found that the people they regularly communicate weren't on Ello... and so many people drifted back to Facebook, despite the advertising and other concerns.

However, a strong community of people did stay (and continue to join) and Ello evolved over time to position itself as "the creator's network" with a strong emphasis on art, graphic design, photography and more. (In full disclosure, I do occasionally post to my account on Ello, although not as often as I once did.)

To help support that creative community - and ultimately to hopefully help support Ello as a platform - the Ello team introduced the "Ello Buy Button" that anyone can use to sell their products through Ello. As noted in their introduction post, usage is a few easy steps:

  • Upload an image of your product
  • Click the $ icon
  • Add a link to the product in your store
  • Publish

Once you do that your image will have a green "$" icon that, when clicked/tapped, will take the viewer over to your site where they can purchase the product.

In scrolling through my feed on Ello, I do see a few of these buttons starting to appear from a few users.

In conjunction with that news, Ello also announced a "Shop" category of the Discover section of the site where you can now see and search the products for sale. (If you are logged in to Ello it is at the easy URL of https://ello.co/discover/shop.)

I am intrigued by this move, particularly because there seem to be no restrictions on the URLs you use. You seem to be able to point to any site from the image.

Now, I think this will only really work for the artists / designers / photographers who have built up a following on Ello. I've seen some beautiful artwork displayed on Ello, and this now gives people the option to obtain that artwork for themselves.

We'll have to see... the question will really be to check back in after a number of months and find out how many purchases were actually made. (Although that might be hard to gather...) Meanwhile, kudos to the Ello team for introducing this option as a way to potentially help support those who create art.


Trying a New Rule - No Social Media Usage Until I Have Created Something New

Being a writer not being distractedI'm trying something new as part of my day:
No social network usage until I have created something online.

No Facebook. No Twitter. No Instagram... Ello... Google+... or anything else.

Nothing on any of those each day until I have done something such as:

The issue is that I've noticed lately that I've been doing more consuming of content versus creating content.

And as I looked at why, I've noticed that I've been spending a longer time inside of social networks. Before I start my work day I'll fire up Facebook... and 30 or 40 minutes later I emerge. Or on a break I'll scan Twitter or Instagram... and... again time goes by.

Which isn't to say that Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / etc. aren't useful... they definitely are.

But I find I am letting them distract me into consumption of news, updates, etc., instead of creating my own.

So my little experiment is NOT to check any of those until after I've created some content in some form.

Now, I've given myself permission to "cheat" a little in that I might schedule several posts to go out in advance... but the point is to be publishing more than I am doing now.

We'll see how this goes...


Image credit: A few years ago Donna Papacosta posted a photo of this button on her Facebook page. I liked it so much that I printed it out and taped it up on the cross-bar of my office window so that every time I look up from my computer I see that image! The photo is of that image between the blinds that I have covering the window on sunny days.


UPDATE #1 - So on the second day I already failed... I was just getting going and had my phone open checking something else... and bam... I fired up Facebook and started surfing through my Newsfeed. Almost an unconscious action at this point! Will take some re-training to break this habit.


An audio version of this post is now available:


Do Facebook Instant Articles Support The Open Web... or Facebook's Walled Garden?

Facebook instant articles

Will Facebook's impending opening up of its "Instant Articles" on April 12 to ALL publishers of content help the "open web"? Or will it just keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny walled garden?

As Facebook's launch announcement says in part:

We built Instant Articles to solve a specific problem—slow loading times on the mobile web created a problematic experience for people reading news on their phones. This is a problem that impacts publishers of all sizes, especially those with audiences where low connectivity is an issue.

...

Facebook’s goal is to connect people to the stories, posts, videos or photos that matter most to them. Opening up Instant Articles will allow any publisher to tell great stories, that load quickly, to people all over the world. With Instant Articles, they can do this while retaining control over the experience, their ads and their data.

It sounds great on many levels and blogging pioneer Dave Winer has written passionately about "How Instant Articles helps the open web" (also published on Medium). He went on to document his Instant Articles (IA) feed and to talk about how his blog posts now automagically stream out to Facebook Instant Articles along with other services: Oh the places this post will go!

The beautiful part about Instant Articles is that it is based on good old RSS feeds ... and so with a few additions to the markup of your RSS feed you could be ready to go technically to start publishing Instant Articles. (There are a number of other steps you need to do, though.) Even better, and a point Dave definitely makes, Facebook Instant Articles will update when you make changes to your original text - something that doesn't happen with services (such as Medium) where you can syndicate your articles after you write them... but they don't update.

As Dave notes in "How IA happened from my point of view" by quoting me (in my comment left on Medium), I think this a great step in allowing publishers to easily get their content into Facebook's Instant Articles. My quote said:

"I have expected that Facebook would be focused on keeping everyone inside their shiny walled garden and thought I understood that Instant Articles involved putting your content on FB’s servers… which I now understand it *does*, but via caching of an RSS feed. Which is VERY cool!"

In my previous quick reading about Instant Articles, I had understood that it involved publishers loading their content onto Facebook's servers - and so I thought that we who publish would be forced to load our content onto FB's servers separate from our own websites.

In other words, I thought we would need to publish twice.

This, to me, would NOT support the "open web" that exists outside the big walled gardens of content that we are seeing now evolving.

I thank Dave for helping me understand that Facebook very nicely chose to base IA on the consumption of RSS feeds. This allows us as publishers to create our content once and syndicate it out to Facebook Instant Articles.

This is good and very much in line with the IndieWeb thinking around "POSSE - Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere" that I very much believe in. I applaud Facebook for making it so easy for content publishers to make our content available as Instant Articles.

BUT...

Is the existence of Instant Articles good for the open web?

Right now, when I post a link in Facebook to an article on one of my sites:

when people follow that link they view the article on MY site.

On MY web server, running somewhere out on the distributed, de-centralized and "open" web.

(Which, yes, is increasingly getting centralized in terms of content hosting providers, but let's leave that for a separate article. The point is that I currently do have multiple choices for where I host that content.)

People can interact with my site, see my content there, potentially leave comments there on the site, etc.

My site, and the content on that site, is not dependent on Facebook.

The key point about viewing Instant Articles is:

Reading "Instant Articles" keeps you ENTIRELY within Facebook's walled garden.

You read the Instant Articles inside of your Facbook mobile app. You comment and interact with the article inside of Facebook's app.

All the interaction happens within Facebook's mobile app.

Yes, as a publisher I can get analytics about my content, including via other services such as Google Analytics.

And yes, all the Instant Articles content is pulled in from my website out on the "open web". But while that content is pulled in using "open protocols",

the content is cached (stored) on Facebook's servers and made available through Facebook's own networks.

Over time publishers might start to ask:

Why not simply publish everything DIRECTLY inside of Facebook?

With Instant Articles, Facebook is already serving out my content from their servers... why don't I simplify my workflow even more by just publishing all my content natively inside of Facebook?

And if I were Facebook that would be what I would ultimately want. Even more content exclusively inside MY walled garden that would keep people staying inside those shiny walls.

Yes, User Experience Matters

Having said all of this, I do understand WHY Facebook is doing this beyond the obvious desire to keep people in their walled garden:

The mobile user experience of reading/viewing content has a HUGE need for improvement!

Even with the push by Google and many others to make the web "mobile-friendly" there is still a huge amount of room for improvement.

We need to speed up the "mobile web" and to improve the user experience.

Facebook is trying to do this with Instant Articles. Google is trying to do this with "Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)", which I'll be soon writing an article about. Apple would like to do this with Apple News.

All of those efforts, though, do speed up the mobile web ... but only for users of specific apps / browsers / etc.. Each of the efforts creates a better mobile user experience, but within their own walled gardens.

And I do understand that from Facebook's point of view the mobile user experience isn't as seamless as it could be when people are in the Facebook app and then follow a link out to a completely different look-and-feel and a completely different user experience.

It can be jarring. And it may not work all that well.

Instant Articles will bring a significantly better user experience to users of the Facebook mobile apps.

As a user of those Facebook apps, I can see that being a good thing. Admittedly I sometimes do not follow links I see in my NewsFeed because I know from experience that the site linked to loads slowly and I don't have time at that moment to wait to view that article. I want to see it NOW.

But is the price of a better user experience worth the continued centralization of content within large walled gardens?

And will anyone really care... as long as they can read their article as fast as possible?

Will I Publish Through Facebook Instant Articles?

Of course!

I'm not stupid! The reality is that right now a huge amount of the audience I want to reach is within Facebook's shiny walled garden - and uses Facebook's NewsFeed as a primary way of getting much of their content. I am there myself and do get a large number of links that I visit on a daily basis through what I see in my Facebook NewsFeed.

Like Dave Winer already does, I'm working to see what I can do to make at least a few of my sites accessible via Instant Articles by the April 12 launch. (For instance, I see WordPress plugins for IA already emerging and FB themselves provides some guidance for content management systems.)

I'll do it because my end goal is to get my content seen by the people who I want to reach.

And right now, Facebook is the way that so many people consume content.

I have to go where the conversation is happening.

Do I worry, though, about the long-term effects this may have on the "open web"?

Absolutely.

And I think you should, too.

We Need An Open Internet

We need an "open web" ... and a far larger "open Internet" ... where we don't have to ask permission to communicate, connect, collaborate and create (what many of us call "permissionless innovation").

The centralization of content, both in terms of publishing of content and consumption of content, is a very worrisome trend.

Huge, centralized walled gardens such as Facebook today can make Instant Articles "open to everyone" ... but tomorrow they could start to play much more of the "gatekeeper" role, determining:

  • precisely "who" gets to publish content to the Facebook audience (which they are already doing in a way through the process of applying for Instant Article access);
  • whether that content gets to be seen by all Facebook users (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm and could do even more now that Facebook Reactions are out);
  • whether that content gets to be seen for free - or for a price (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm for displaying Pages content and letting you "boost" content).

Yes, I'll publish through Facebook Instant Articles (assuming my feeds get approved) because it will help Facebook users more easily view my content.

And I'm glad that Facebook chose to use RSS as the base to allow us to easily publish our content as Instant Articles without having to create a separate mechanism for publishing to Facebook.

I just worry that in then end this will only help keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny and pretty walled garden ... versus interacting with the many other sites and services that make up the larger open Internet.

What do you think?

Will you start publishing your content as Facebook Instant Articles? Do you think that we as content providers have much of a choice if we want to reach people on Facebook? What do you think this will do long-term?


An audio podcast about Facebook Instant Articles is also available:


UPDATE #1 - In a bit of synchronicity, Dave Winer published a new post - Who should support IA and how - at about the same time as I posted mine. He suggests that IA should be used as essentially the improved plumbing to make the mobile user experience better across different platforms and walled gardens. I don't disagree.. but I wonder how many of the other walled gardens (ex. Twitter, Medium) would actually support Facebook's protocol. (Sounds like a topic for another blog post...)


The First Step To Successful Writing/Blogging Is To Put Words On The Screen

Typewriter

The first step to successful writing or blogging is very simple...

write something!

Put words on the page or on the screen.

End the tyranny of the "blank page" or "blank screen".

Start... somewhere.

Write... something.

And then, in the case of blogging, hit the almighty "Publish" button and send your words out into the ether for others to find and consume.

Danyork feb2016 bloggingI've been struggling with this a good bit myself lately. If you look at my danyork.me site and see the calendar on the right side for this month (Feb 2016), the dates in blue are when I have published blog posts or articles across any of the 12+ sites where I write. This includes the Internet Society main blog and Deploy360 site, where writing on those sites is part of my job.

It's pretty sparse for someone who claims to be a "writer".

There are a zillion excuses and explanations I can give, of course. I've been "too busy". I've been caught up in "planning" for future events and activities. I've been sucked into "research". I've been writing words for articles and posts that are published under other people's names. I've been very tired with some other activities going on. I just haven't had the time.

All of which are true. But all of which are irrelevant.

The truth is that we prioritize what is important to us... and there's always time in there for dashing off even a small post such as this one.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a recent post from Greg Ferro titled "Blogging Success Is Simply About Doing" where he writes this:

You can be guaranteed that nothing will happen if you publish nothing. I can guarantee that something will happen if you publish something.

Exactly.

The first step is to ... write something.

Today, this post is that "something" for me.

What will yours be?


An audio commentary on this topic can be found in TDYR 289:


WordPress Now Powers 25% of Top 10 Million Websites

W3techs wordpress 25percent

Fascinating news out of W3Techs earlier this month that WordPress now powers over 25% of the Alexa top 10 million websites. The next closest content management systems (CMS) are Joomla at 2.8% and Drupal at 2.1%.

The full stats are found here:

http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management/all

And a quick view of the top of the chart shows more data:

W3techs cms nov2015

Note the very top line - and this one is extremely important:

57.2% of the top 10 million sites do NOT use an identifiable CMS.

Either those sites use custom software or somehow strip off identification so that the tools W3Techs uses cannot detect the type of CMS that is being used by that site.

This leaves 42.8% of the top 10 million websites that DO use a CMS.

If you look at the chart:

  • the grey bars indicate the CMS' percentage across all Alexa 10 million sites
  • the green bars indicate the CMS' percentage within sites that use a CMS

So the net is:

  • 25.1% of the top 10 million sites use WordPress
  • Of the 42.8% of sites that use a CMS, 58.7% of those use WordPress

And of course all of this data is only on the Alexa Top 10 million sites. There are then millions more sites using various CMS' - and some % of those will be using WordPress.

Still, the Alexa Top 10 million is one set to use - and W3Techs has now been doing these measurements for years.

One interesting note out of the W3CTechs blog post about this milestone is what happens when you move from looking at the Top 10 million to the Top 1000:

When we split up all websites by traffic level, we see that WordPress is leading at all levels, but the market share among the top 1000 sites is significantly lower at 30.3%. Drupal (19.7%) and Adobe Experience Manager (11.8%) are the other dominant systems in that section. Note, however, that using a standard CMS is not very common among the top 1000 sites, more than 90% of them are custom developments.

The article also has some interesting stats on usage by language. It also has this note:

WordPress is not only the most popular CMS, it is also the fastest growing system: every 74 seconds a site within the top 10 million starts using WordPress. Compare this with Shopify, the second-fastest growing CMS, which is gaining a new site every 22 minutes.

WordPress' Matt Mullenweg chimed in with a post "Seventy-Five to Go" noting that the goal now was much of that remaining 75%, particularly the 57% who do not use any CMS right now.

He may be on to something there. If you look over at W3Techs historical yearly trends in CMS usage, you can see the rise of WordPress, but also the decline of "None" from 76.4% in 2011 to 57.2% most recently:

W3techs trends

So does all this mean that you should ditch your other CMS' and move to WordPress? Or that you should use WordPress for your next project?

Not necessarily.

I'm a firm believer that you need to use the right tool for the right job and the choice of CMS can depend upon many factors related to your individual site and needs. And while I use WordPress as the CMS for almost all of my newer sites, I also use other platforms for other sites.

And... from a security point of view, I do like a diversity of different systems out there - and I like the fact that there is competition and choice among open source CMS'.

However, the report certainly shows the robust and continued growth in the WordPress platform and the strength of the overall WordPress ecosystem. And it bodes well for the future of WordPress.

Congratulations to the team at Automattic and all the MANY people contributing as part of the much broader WordPress ecosystem!

P.S. I first heard about this statistic on the WordPress Weekly podcast epidode 212. If you are interested in WordPress, I find this podcast useful.

P.P.S. There's an irony, of course, that I'm writing this on a blog hosted on TypePad... I keep thinking that some year I'll move it to WordPress, but the effort involved is huge...


Is There A WordPress Plugin That Adds Easy "Sign A Petition" Support?

Petition

Has anyone found a great plugin for WordPress that adds the easy ability for visitors to a site to "sign" a statement or position and have their name appear? If so, could you please share the info?

Here's what's going for me - I operate a site, www.openwsis2015.org, where there are multiple public statements published relating to Internet governance. We are actively seeking more signers/endorsements for both... and my process of adding people to the list of signatories is cumbersome and inefficient.

My Current Inefficient Process

Here's the process I go through when someone signs the recent Joint Statement on WSIS+10:

  1. The person submits the signing form with their info.
  2. I receive an email with the person's information.
  3. I open up the WordPress admin interface and navigate to the TablePress page.
  4. I open up the appropriate table (organizations or individuals) for editing.
  5. I manually copy and paste the info from the email into the TablePress table.
  6. I save the table.
  7. The name now appears on the list of signatories.
The whole copy/paste thing is what kills me.

The Process I Would Like To Have

Here's how I'd like it to go:

  1. The person submits the signing form with their info.
  2. I receive an email telling me there is a new signatory to moderate.
  3. I open up the WordPress admin interface and navigate to the TablePress page.
  4. I click a link in the email that brings me to the appropriate tab in the WordPress admin interface.
  5. I click on an "Approve" link in that admin window.
  6. The name now appears on the list of signatories.

Essentially what I'm looking for is something like the regular moderate Comments interface... only when I approve the submission it shows up in a table instead of as a comment to the page or post.

And I want it to be customizable in terms of what fields I use. These particular statements have the fields they do, but for the next time I do this I may want different fields.

My Search So Far

I searched through the WordPress plugin directory using the keyword "petition" but most of the plugins I found use external services.

I don't want that. I want a petition/statement page running on my own site without any dependencies on external services.

The YAWPP (Yet Another WordPress Petition) plugin looks interesting... but I'm concerned that it hasn't been updated in 2 years. That's a long time in the world of WordPress... and support requests don't seem to be being answered.

I've tried other search terms and I've done some brief searching of commercial plugins, too, and haven't yet found anything. I also thought that perhaps I need to look at something where people are signing up for an "event"... that then shows the list of people who have signed up. Perhaps some kind of event/meeting plugin could be repurposed this way.

And yes, I could probably kludge this together in some way by hacking away on a customized WordPress theme or something like that... but I don't have the time or interest in doing that.

So let me throw it out here... HAVE ANY OF YOU USED ANYTHING THAT WOULD DO WHAT I WANT?

Either free/open source or commercial... I'm interested in either.

Any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated!

Thanks!


A Bonus Question - Logos?

You'll see at the bottom of the submission form that I say that organizations should send their logo to me via email. What I ideally want to do is have a third column on the Organizations table where I can display a standard size thumbnail of the logos of the various organizations.

Ideally I'd love it if the form interface could allow someone to upload a logo which, again, could just be approved as part of the moderation process.

But that's the ideal world... right now I'd take just getting the names in there so that I can avoid the whole copy/paste in email thing. :-)

Speaking of that, a bunch of signatories came in overnight... time to go do some copy/pasting...


Hashtag Support In Ello Helps Find Great Content

Octothorpes hashtags 660About three weeks ago, Ello added hashtag support and made it possible for people to find great content that is being posted on Ello. Paul Budnitz wrote about the launch (on Ello, of course) and included some examples (to which I've then added a few more):

Obviously hashtags have been around on other social networks for quite some time. When Ello launched last year some people almost immediately asked where the hashtag support was.

Now it's here... and if you search on Ello (using simply https://ello.co/search ) you can now use hashtags as a great way to find new content - and to find new people to follow.

I'm still writing on Ello now and then - https://ello.co/danyork - partly out of just interest in trying a different service and partly because I like the _principles_ upon which Ello is founded. Now, hashtags are helping me find other people of interest who are posting new and different things.

If you're on Ello, or gave it a try back in the beginning and then haven't gone back, do check out the hashtag support and see what you may find...


Ello Releases iOS App And Drops Invitation-only Status To Let Everyone In

Ello ios appToday the team at Ello released an iOS app so that iPhone/iPad users can now very easily add posts and photos into Ello, read Ello posts and interact with people throughout the Ello community.

Co-founder Paul Budnitz wrote about the iOS app and also said that Android and Windows apps will be coming later this year.

You can download the Ello app in Apple's AppStore.

Along with the release of the iOS app is also the news that you no longer need to have an invitation to join Ello. As Budnitz writes:

There was suddenly a ton of press about Ello, but we chose to keep Ello invitation-only, to keep our community from growing too fast. We knew that the best way to create a strong & positive community is to start from friend to friend — and to create features for the artists & creative people that form our core today.

Today, though, the team is ready for growth and is letting anyone in. All you have to do is sign up through the main Ello page ... or though the iOS app.

Anyone can now join Ello.

The challenge Ello has is the same one of all online communities...

how do you become a place that people CHOOSE to spend their time in?

We all have a zillion choices today of different communities and websites in which we can spend our time. How does Ello become one of those for more people?

It's a variation of the "directory dilemma" that I wrote about for messaging apps. As I said there:

People will only use a communication application if the people they want to talk to are using the application.

Ello faces a similar challenge:

People will only use a social network if the people they want to talk to are using the social network.

Be that friends, family, work colleagues, celebrities, services, etc., etc.

If there is interesting content and conversations, people may join in. If not, people will wander off to the next community or site that interests them.

For me... perhaps it's the quirkiness of the monospace font... or the connection to Vermont... or just the fact that I have found a few people who I enjoy following and interacting with... but I'm there on Ello (as "danyork") and will continue to post and interact.

I'm looking forward to using the iOS app to see if that helps make the experience of using Ello that much easier. So far it seems quite nice!

If you gave Ello a try back in the fall when there was all the buzz... why not try it again now? And if you've never tried it, why not do so now?

I'm off to try the app some more...

Related Posts:


The 3 Critical Elements To Getting Your Blog Post Noticed

PJ with bullhorn

What do you need to do to get your blog post noticed? When we are drowning in a sea of content, how can you make your post stand out? How can you maximize the chances that people will actually find your blog post, read it and then hopefully share it?

In the 15 years I've been blogging, I've seen that there are three critical elements that help in getting your post noticed. There are, of course, many other things you can do to improve your posts... but I want to start with three elements that can help get people to follow the link and VIEW your post.

First, though, let's agree that almost everyone today finds your blog post through either of three mechanisms:

  • Search results
  • Social media sharing
  • News aggregators - sites like Reddit, Hacker News, Digg, etc.

Given that, your goal is make your post accessible in a way that supports these three mechanisms and makes people want to choose YOUR link to follow versus all the other ones they see in search results or in social media streams.

Three caveats before I begin:

  • There's a separate discussion we could have about the SEO work you might do to make your post appear in search results... but let's park that discussion and just assume for the moment that your post is visible in search results.
  • Think of what I say below in terms of someone finding your post and then sharing it on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, whatever... or on news aggregation sites like Reddit or Hacker News... all they do is drop the URL in. Typically the title "automagically" appears. You want to make it easy for this to "just work" for them.
  • There is no magic silver bullet. These are just suggestions. There are many other factors that can come into play, including just random accidents of timing. But these are tips that can certainly help.

And for the "Too Long; Didn't Read" crowd, here's the quick summary:

  • You need a strong title that someone would click if that was all they saw on a site like Twitter or Reddit.
  • You need a first few sentences that when seen in a "preview" on, say, Facebook, would make someone go "Huh?" and want to learn more.
  • You need a visually compelling image that will draw viewers' eyes to your link versus the other ones.

With that, let's dive into more detail...

1. If You Saw Only Your Title, Would You Click The Link?

The first thing I tell people is simply this:

If you saw this title in your Twitter feed, would YOU click the link to find out more?

If yes, great.

If no, think of a title that WOULD make you click the link. (And in place of "Twitter", it could be any other social network...)

The companion to this question is:

If someone in your target audience saw this title in his/her Twitter feed, would he/she click the link to find out more?

Be harsh on yourself when you are asking this question. A Twitter feed is a FIREHOSE of information being sprayed out at you... in the midst of all of this, would your title cause someone to click the link?

And yes, this is exactly why Upworthy comes up with such cringe-worthy headlines as (and these are all real):

  • She took off her bra and put it over Paul Krugman's face because science.
  • Her Olympic dreams were nearly crushed, until an unlikely coach saved the day.
  • The 4 most ridiculous arguments people use to defend Bill Cosby, presented by Amy Schumer.
and Buzzfeed uses headlines like these:
  • 21 Things That Happen To Everyone Who Wears Makeup
  • This Gay Teen Is Taking The Internet By Storm With Her Feminist Yearbook Quote
  • Can We Talk About How Hot Drake Is In This Instagram Photo?

Mind you... I DON'T RECOMMEND YOU FOLLOW THIS PATTERN! (And in fact, social networks are fighting back against this kind of "click-baiting"!)

But it works.

Ask yourself... didn't you want to click on at least one of those headlines to learn more?

Upworthy, Buzzfeed and all these similar sites understand that the title is what makes people want to click. (And yes, they do A/B testing to try out many different titles for a post before they converge on the one that will work the best... but they have zillions of visitors and can easily do this.)

Now, you also have to have a title that fits in with the kind of style you want to have on your blog. And, going back to "discovery", you want to have a title that has some meaning related to your content.

Similarly, you want a title this relevant to your content! You don't want people to feel betrayed if they followed a link because of a title - only to find out the text is something completely different.

With those thoughts in mind, the question goes back to - if you saw this title in a social network, would you click the link?

A strong title is critical.

2. Do Your First Sentences Make People Want To Know More?

This is one that people often miss... they come up with a great title but the first sentence is insanely boring.

Remember this...

most social networks and search results SHOW A PREVIEW of your text!

Twitter doesn't... it just shows the title. But Facebook... Google+... LinkedIn... others... all show a preview of the first sentence or two of your text. Search results from Google and other search engines typically show a preview, too.

Yes, there are ways to influence what search engines or social networks show as the preview... but the simplest way is just to write compelling sentences that will intrigue people!

Here's an example from my own Facebook feed that I think works well:

Blog post example

First, the title:

Yet another reason to love Netflix: It's helping to kill reality TV

Yes, okay, so maybe it's a bit inflated, but it got me to pay attention.

But notice the text:

15 years ago, the reality TV craze took off in America and many people assumed that quality television programming was doomed to extinction. The reasons for this were...

Wait.. wait... What are those reasons? How is Netflix killing reality TV?

I WANT TO KNOW!

See how it is sucking me in? (FYI, here's that post if you want to read it.)

Now, there's many ways to do create this introductory text... and yes, there's really an art to it. One simple way is:

Ask questions!

I do this a lot. Perhaps too much... but I've found it works. Here's a recent post of mine:

Danyork questions

Ignoring the fact that I royally screwed up on the title and entered "March" instead of "May" (subsequently fixed, but not before it went out in social media), look at how I began:

Would you like to learn more about what the WSIS+10 Review process is all about? How can you participate in the process if you are not with a government? What is "WSIS" all about anyway — and why should you care? Those questions

Why yes... I would like to know the answers to those questions... let me click on the link and see what the answers are!

Scroll back up and notice the questions I used at the beginning of this post. Did you see them in a preview? Did they perhaps pull you into reading this post?

Questions work.

Think of questions you are answering in your article... put them up in that first paragraph.

Sometimes questions don't work with your text, of course. Here's another example of a recent post I wrote:

Danyork scourge of cancer

Again... a title designed to intrigue people: who was struck by cancer? Was it anyone you knew? What effect will it have on him? (i.e. me)

And then the introductory paragraph:

I haven't written about our journey with cancer for a while because my wife's own journey has been one of the ongoing tedium of Tamoxifen ... another day, another pill... and more fatigue, joint pain and so many more issues. It is, though, unfortunately

What journey with cancer? (for those who don't know about it) What is going on?

The goal is again to get people to FOLLOW THE LINK.

3. Do You Have An Image That Draws Attention To Your Post?

Look back at the three examples I gave you above... all three of them have an image that shows up in the preview. This draws people attention to your post when it shows up in a newsfeed. (There was a study that I can't seem to find right now that showed how much higher of a click-through rate a shared post had if an image was included. But think of your own usage - which links do you click through?)

If the first one about Netflix, there is an image of smiling young actress. I actually have no clue who she is, even after reading the article... but the photo is something visual that will draw people in.

My second example from CircleID isn't the best in my opinion. I mean, it's my standard headshot, so perhaps it helps in the "Gee, he looks serious so maybe I should read this because it's a serious matter" kind of way.

But it's better than NO image.

The third example with the cemetery is again a visually interesting image. It pulls you in.

Now - how do you get an image to use?

I generally get my own images from three sources:

  • Photos I have taken ... or photos that someone else I know has taken and then sent to me with the permission to use the image. This is the easiest and simplest. If it is your photo there's no need to worry about attribution. You can modify it in any way you want. Generally these are the photos I try to get, either myself - or from a colleague or friend who is at an event or something like that.
  • Flickr's Creative Commons-licensed photos - Flickr provides a wonderful service to bloggers by letting people upload photos with a Creative Commons license that allows other people to use the photos under certain conditions. Generally this means that you need to include a link to the photo as a source of attribution. In some cases there might be restrictions on commercial usage, but it varies. Flickr supports a range of CC licenses that you can search on:

    Flickr creative commons

    I used Flickr to find the image I used in this post.

    A companion point is that if you upload photos to Flickr, please do consider putting them under a CC license so that other people can use them like this.

  • Screenshots. I'm a heavy user of Skitch on my Mac and use it pretty much every day for images that I put into blog posts. Sometimes it might be the logo of a website I am writing about... or the logo of an event... or it might be an image from a website ... ... or, as in a case today, I might take a screenshot of a PowerPoint slide where I very quickly created an image to use in a post. :-) There are many other similar tools for Mac and Windows - the key point is that you can rapidly take and then modify/resize an image.

    BE REALLY, REALLY CAREFUL HERE! Just because "it's on the Internet" does NOT mean you can just freely capture an image and use it. There's a whole other post that could be written about image licenses... and many good articles can be found out there. When in doubt, do NOT use an image you capture if you do not know that the person who made the image available would not want you to. For example, I often use event logos freely because typically the event organizers WANT all the publicity they can get... and by using their logo when I write about the event I'm reinforcing their branding and helping spread the word. But some events are very sensitive about what logo gets used and so you need to always check and see if they provide guidance or restrictions.

I know some folks like the image collection at the Internet Archive and there's many other sites. I generally avoid "stock photography" purely because so many other people are often using the same images... but I have sometimes used photos from such sources.

The key point is that you need an image of some type to help draw people to your post.

You do, of course, want to be sure that the image has some relation to the content of your article. The best images are ones that reinforce the message and ideas in the article.

As I Said At The Beginning...

There are many more things you can do to draw attention to your post, but these are three of the critical elements I have found help in getting attention to posts.

But don't trust me...

... think about these three things when you are next scanning down your Facebook feed... or your LinkedIn feed... or Google+ ... or Twitter...

What draws you in?

What makes you click/tap on one link versus another one?

What makes you reshare/retweet a link?

If you think about it, odds are that it will come down to some combination of:

  • the title grabbed your attention; and/or
  • the image grabbed your attention; and
  • the preview text reinforced that following the link would be worthwhile.

And in the end you clicked/tapped the link...

Learn from what drives your behavior!

Comments are definitely welcome... please feel free to leave them below or on social networks where this gets posted.

I look forward to being attracted to your posts! :-)


An audio commentary on this topic is available:


Image credit: Paul Schreiber on Flickr