If Content is the King then Planning is the Queen

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When i first started blogging, I spoke or emailed many  successful bloggers and tried desperately to get them to divulge their daily routines. I thought if I mimicked their routine I too would become a popular blogger.  There were two problems with that plan.  First, most successful writers rarely take time to publish that kind of list. Second, the ones that do publish those lists are now writing professionally and have much more time to dedicate to the blog than I do.

One of the questions I had was “how often should I post?” I worried that if I didn’t post every single day my audience would think I wasn’t serious about blogging and go somewhere else to get their fill of news, or funny, or whatever reason they were reading my blog. And I did post everyday for two months.

Unfortunately, babies don’t really care about your schedule, and life always seems to get in the way of any plans you might make. For me, posting every day quickly became a logistical impossibility, and that was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Now, I rarely post more than three times a week, and often only once or twice per week. I have more time to write better content and the results are showing. I consistently get more comments per article, and many more pageviews, overall. Basically, I’m getting better results with less work; the very definition of efficiency. But before I discuss that, let’s take a look at how I used to write.

A Bad Daily Routine

As a former engineer, I like to have everything in order before I start a project.  I outline every essential task that needs to be completed and combine them into processes that can be replicated until the overall goal is completed. It’s called creating a process map, and I did one that would let me blog each day. At the time, I thought the following process map was a good idea, but in just a moment I’ll explain why it actually hindered my writing.

Here’s how I worked:

  1. Check email from the blog, look at new comments
  2. Visit 5 or 10 direct competitors websites in my niche to see what they were writing about
  3. Read my RSS subscriptions in Google Reader and link over to comment on any articles I liked
  4. Read the local and world news headlines in my niche
  5. Read the local and world news headlines in closely related niches
  6. Visit forums and leave comments
  7. Update social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google plus)
  8. Brainstorm ideas for posts
  9. Draft a new blog post for my site
  10. Find and edit or create pictures for my post
  11. Insert any relevant links inside my post
  12. Take the post live
  13. Add the post to Social bookmarking sites and article directories

With this schedule, I was pressed for time, and forced to write short blog posts that weren’t very well researched.  As a result, they didn’t make a difference to anyone reading them, and never generated much discourse or traffic. It didn’t matter how much time I spent bookmarking them or adding to article directories. People just weren’t into the content. I needed to re-examine my process.

You can see I didn’t start working on new content until half way through, and only after I spent hours on tasks that were not essential to being creative. This list didn’t even include items from real life or my professional work.  Add in things like feed the baby, answer phone calls, meet with clients, go for a run, kiss the wife, and it’s easy to see how this process got derailed even before I started writing new content.

That, for me, was like day turning into night; the realization of what I’d been hearing for months from other bloggers much more seasoned than I – that content is king. Not more content, but better content.
I took a few days off from writing and put together a content plan. I tried to get back to the reason I started the blog, and remember the type of content that got me excited about writing in the first place. Basically, I had to go through a course on finding my niche all over again.

What is My Blog About, Anyway?

I came up with a list of 50 things I wanted to wanted to write about. I didn’t pay any attention to whether competitors may have written about those things recently, whether those items appeared in the news, or even if those items were taboo. I had only two goals. I wanted to write articles on topics that I found interesting (things that I would like to read if it showed up on someone else’s site), and things I felt I could write that would be funny and entertaining to my audience.

I sorted the list with items I wanted to write about most at the top, and articles I would tackle later closer to the bottom. Then I took a closer look at the top ten on the list and thought of different ways I could write those posts, rather than just a funny personal story, like I had been doing with all my articles up to that point.

For instance, one of the topics I really wanted to cover was my childhood.  It’s a broad topic, but rather than write a post about some of funny things that happened in my childhood, I decided to create a top ten list. I grew up in the 1980’s, so I wrote an article called Ten Ways to Know If You’re a Child of the 80’s.

It was the longest post I had written up to that point, and required several pictures that took me a few days to assemble. Since I had more time to write the article, I was able to do a few rewrites and improve the flow. I was also able to do more research on social media channels and found a few strategic links. I wouldn’t call it epic content by any stretch of the imagination, but it was thorough and it was fun. The article quickly became my most popular post and generated several comments and shares from new readers.  Still, it is one of my most trafficked articles every month.

Since then, I’ve experimented with many other post types including reviews, pictures, videos, podcasts, humor, serious stories, surveys and polls, guest posts, and giveaways.  I also altered my bad process and turned it into a much more efficient and simple writing machine. It involved changing the way I thought about writing, and required me to break the cycle of “needing” to finish every post I started in just one short sitting. I also put time limits on my actions, knowing I only had about 3 hours (180 minutes) a day to dedicate to my blogging efforts.

My New Daily Routine

10 minutes – Review my list of topics

  • reorder to reflect what I feel is the most important
  • add to it if I thought of new topics
  • Cross items off (never delete, just cross out)

20 minutes – Research Keywords for that topic

  • It must fit my writing style
  • It must be consistent with my niche
  • Never use keywords with mis-spellings or bad grammar

90 minutes – Writing

  • Start with the topic on the top of the list. Don’t worry about format, length, or keyword placement. Just write.
  • When I write something that might make an interesting visual or a great link, I insert an image placeholder like Placehold.it or text like (INSERT LINK HERE).
  • When I get to a point where I need to do some research or create something like a chart, movie, or graphic, I make a note there too, and a task for myself in Wunderlist – a free online task management program.
  • If I tire of a post before the 90 minutes is up, I start a new draft post on the next topic on the list, repeating the keyword research step before I start writing.
  • If I’m going back to a post I started previously, reread it in its entirely to make sure it still flows, and make changes if necessary.
  • When I finish an article, go back and read it through again, double check for spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Download pictures from a stock image house and insert them into the placeholder, making sure to add the proper citation.
  • Add relevant links, and make sure to notify the person of the link (if they can be identified). If it’s a friends’ blog I’ll send them a quick email.  If it’s someone I respect but with whom I don’t have a relationship, I might send that person a tweet or leave a comment on his blog. That’s what I did when I wrote about ZMOT, a book by Jim Lecinski, Google’s global director of marketing. I got a an email from the author himself, and he shared it with his contacts online.

10 Minutes – Comments

  • Moderate and reply  to comments on my previous blog posts
  • Follow up on relevant links in those comments

50 minutes – Linkbuilding

Once my post is done my feed shares it on Twitter automatically and a WordPress plugin shares it to Facebook. However, I still want to promote it on social media channels so I do some more research.

  • Search for my topic as a hashtag on Twitter Search. Try to join a quick conversation and work a link in a mention on someone’s timeline.
  • Do a search on Twellow to find influencers listed for that topic. If I am friends with them already, and if the article is finished, share it with them and ask them to share it with their friends online. If I am not friends with that person yet, try to make a connection by responding to something in his or her timeline that interests me, then point back to my article.
  • Find a group on Facebook to share the post with
  • Do a blog search for the topic and link over to other posts that might be current and relevant, leaving comments on those blogs with links back to my article, if possible.
  • Digg the link
  • Summarize the article in approximately 300 words and submit as a Hubpage and Squidoo Lens, or submit to other online article directories and social bookmarking sites which pass juice.

Knowing When to Change Up

When my time on any given task is up, I stop and move onto the next task. Of course if I think I only need a few minutes more to finish a task I’ll get it done while it’s fresh in my mind.  But I try not to let a few minutes turn into a half hour or longer.  Again, content is key. If I feel the article is subpar I will continue working on it. Only when it has been checked and rechecked do I hit that little blue publish button. One post might take me a few days to write.

However, I will cut a task short if need be. For example, let’s say I couldn’t finish an article I started yesterday, but today I finish that article to my satisfaction about 60 minutes into my 90 minute writing session. I don’t start on another topic and finish out the 30 minutes of writing. I go straight to the link building stage. If I finish that early too, I spend the extra time reading RSS feeds and community building with people from my niche.

If I have no finished posts by the end of my writing session I dont skip the social media section. I will still search for influencers for a current topic and try to make a connection with that person. I’ve gotten much more traffic to my site and many more loyal followers by getting re-tweets and recommendations from influencers, rather than trying to drum up that traffic on my own.

Develop Your Own Posting Schedule

Using this method, my overall traffic has increased an average of 63% per month. I know that trend won’t continue forever, but in just a few more months it’s likely I’ll hit my goal of 10,000 visitors per month.

I’m not saying this method is perfect, nor is it guaranteed to work for you. Ultimately, you’ll have to come up with something that fits your schedule and your experience level.

When in doubt, keep in mind the engineer’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Feel free to use my process, but remember to constantly experiment, test, and measure. If something is not working, change it up.

    Ex-Hollywood Talent agent who loves movies, writing about blogging, and blogging about being a dad. You can find him changing diapers at Daddy by Default , and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DaddybyDefault.