Over the last fortnight or so, I’ve had some thrilling success on social bookmarking sites such as Digg and delicious, in articles that I’ve written for a few different blogs (including last week’s 7 Ways to Crank Out Articles). Now, these posts weren’t written specifically to get Dugg, but I have learned a thing or two about writing a popular post, and why it matters to freelance blog writers.
Let’s take a little look today at why a freelance blog writer should care about writing popular posts:
It makes you valuable. If you are writing freelance for a blog, you want to give them your very best content, and give their readers great value with your writing. But if you also write a post that does hugely well on Digg (for example), you’ve just given your employer something that’s not easily achievable. Sure, the big sites can make the front page of Digg nearly any day of the week, but trust me, they still care about it. And to medium and smaller blogs, those types of successful posts are pure gold.
Looks good on your resume. Well, you probably won’t literally list your popular posts on your resume, but if you contact any potential employers to do some freelance writing, you can mention that you’ve had 12 popular posts on Digg in two months. They’ll hire you in a flash.
It’s a bit of a thrill. To know that thousands of people like your article is like a validation that you’re a good writer. But if you are looking for validation, don’t read the comments on Digg. They’re pretty vicious.
Now, you should know that it’s not easy to get on the front-page of Digg, and it can take a bit of luck. Often you might write an article that you think will do well, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Other times you don’t expect an article to do anything, and it just takes off. It helps if another popular blog links to the article to get the ball rolling.
But given all of that, there are some things you can do to write an article with powerful potential to become popular:
- Write catchy headlines. This is the most important step of all. Headlines, more than anything else, will catch the eye of a potential Digger or deliciouser. Make them want to know more, want to read your article, and you’re halfway to getting a digg. The other half, of course, is the content, but they won’t read the content if the headline doesn’t grab their attention. Read some popular posts on Digg and delicious to find out the kind of headlines that do well. Most important: the headline should have some kind of benefit for the reader, should catch their attention, and should make them curious and want to know more. Don’t be afraid to be flashy when it comes to headlines — understated headlines don’t do well. And don’t be afraid to revise your headline several times — the original idea is rarely the best.
- Deliver the content. OK, you’ve got their attention with the headline. But if your content doesn’t give them exactly what the headline advertised, your readers will feel tricked. And then they will be angry. And anger is not usually the reader reaction you should go for if you’re looking for popularity. Your content should deliver exactly what you said you would give them, and be as well-written as possible.
- Be useful. Be extremely useful. Some of the most popular posts are the ones that teach the reader to do something they’ve always wanted to do, or that offer them a resource they can use often as a reference (that’s why they’ll bookmark it on delicious). Write a resource that is so useful that the reader will have no choice but to bookmark it. Lists of useful resources and links are always a good choice.
- Write about a hot topic. OK, this is pandering, but who among us hasn’t sold our souls yet. Just me? OK, then skip this step. But if you want to grab a reader’s attention, writing about Twitter a few weeks ago, or Tim Ferriss last week, or Ron Paul this week, or MySpace or You Tube or Google or Ubuntu or Macs in any given week, would be likely to catch some attention. Especially if you write something original or extremely useful about that topic.
- Write a great lead. The opening paragraph (or two), after the headline, is the most important part of the post. Write a lead that summarizes what you’re going to talk about in the article, and why the reader should care, and grabs their attention and pulls them into the rest of the article. That’s a lot to ask of one paragraph, but the best leads will accomplish this.
- Use lists. Sure, people get tired of seeing Top 10 lists, but if it’s a Top 10 list about something they’re interested in, they’ll read it anyway. And the great thing about lists is that they are well organized, and eminently scannable. A busy Digger or deliciouser can easily catch your main points without having to spend much time reading the whole post. Who has time to read every word?
- Be original. You can do all of the above and be exactly the same as a dozen other dugg posts. No one wants to read a duplicate of something they’ve read over and over before. Do something different, think of a way to give a new perspective or refreshing angle to an old post, add humor throughout the post. Make them leave the article saying, “Wow, this was pretty good. I should thank that awesome free-lance blog writer with a Digg!” (Again, if you want to believe that people are thinking this stuff about your article, don’t read the comments on Digg.)