Blogging Lessons from Psychology
Psychology has a lot to teach about the world of blogging in general and business blogging in particular. How do you maintain motivation to write blogs in the face of the slow awakening of reward? How do you keep your blog content from vanishing in the crowd? How do you make sure your blog is readable? How do you present the information so readers actually get it? Does your personality actually come through in the blogs you write and does it make a difference?
Lesson 1. To be successful blogging, write short blogs and be very persistent even without immediate reward.
According to one source there are more than 164 million blogs. Most of the blogs get fewer than 1,000 visitors per month. The rate at which the audience of a blog will grow can be painfully slow. Yet successful blogging requires sustained posting. The audience grows very slowly. If the blog is well-written and interesting, word of the blog spreads as the search engines find it. The truth is most of new startup blogs fail and vanish before they even get started.
Behavioral psychology has a lot to say about persistence when it comes to things like writing blogs. The first law of behavior is that people will stop doing something if there is no reward. Measurement of what they call “behavioral extinction” shows that each individual will have a particular limit as to the number of times they will perform a task without reward before the behavior stops. Most people who start blogs quit within the first three months. The truth is that tangible reward for blog writing may take longer than that. It may take a year of more before hit rates rise to the point where the blog is useful to your business.
The persistence of the blog-writing behavior may also depend on the effort involved. Most people who write blogs make them too long and detailed. The more long and detailed the blog is, the harder it is to write, the more quickly the behavior of writing the blog will be extinguished.
Experts advise to make blogs short and easy to read when you add content. Then spend time on promoting the blogs you have already written. The best kind of promotion for a blog involves getting more popular blogs to send readers your way.
Lesson 2. Make your blog as original as possible by making the subjects narrowly defined and specific.
Most blogs that get written can not stand out because they say the same things as every other blog. Even if a prospective reader happens to land on the blog there is not enough in it that goes beyond what they’ve already seen. Many blogs disappear in the eyes of web readers because readers develop an adaptation level and can no longer even see things that are too similar to what they are used to seeing.
The key to standing out is being specific. Narrow down your subject matter so that the chance of others writing on the same subject gets smaller. Don’t write about “fitness.” Write about fitness for people over 45 who want to do cross-fit. Keep the information in the blog right on subject and use references to support what you say.
Lesson 3. Keep the readability of your text to grade 12 level and keep the text direct and clear.
The people who run business can get pretty wrapped up in the technology of their businesses, using the word “technology” broadly of course. The real issue is that writing as a sophisticated person may leave a lot of readers behind. Readability is a vital quality of blogs if you are looking for a broad audience and want to capture the interest of people who are not familiar with your business.
Psychologically speaking, blog writing is an information transfer process.The first rule of readable writing on a blog is do not indulge yourself when you write.
Richard Lanham, the world renown scholar, and author of The Electronic Word describes six steps to more readable blog writing.
1. Highlight the prepositions.
2. Highlight the “is” verbs.
3. Find the action (who is kicking whom?)
4. Change the action into a simple active verb.
5. Start fast–no slow windups.
6. Read the passage out loud with emphasis and feeling.
Using this method, you can change a wordy sentence of 21 words to a sentence of 7 words which is much easier to read without the “lard factor.” Lanham says that many wordy passages are not only hard to read but that they sometimes say nothing at all. The cost of confusing an audience is high, but sometimes it also results in confusing yourself.
You can use a readability score to estimate the level of education your audience will need to read your writing. These indices use factors like sentence length, syllable count, and percent of multi-syllable words to measure writing complexity. For most blogs, you will want to keep your readability score in the 12 years of school range.
Lesson 4. Make key information easy to find with quick scans, keeping the blog reading patterns of readers in mind.
Studies of the way people read internet content indicates that internet readers are browsers. They have to be drawn into detailed reads. Most readers will land on a page and leave before completing the entire content. Understanding the psychology of how people read the web and search for information can directly influence the way you write your blog. Jakob Neilsen, one of the most influential researchers into web reading sums up his finding like this:
“How do users read the web? They don’t”
Neilsen found that in 10,163 page views, 17 percent of readers spent less than 4 seconds on the page. These users “bounced right off the page without truly “using” the page. Only 4 percent of page views lasted more than 10 minutes.
Page reading for longer items (longer than 1200 words) was very erratic. People tend to ignore them. Generally, people only read about 10 percent of the text on web pages. Only about 20 percent of readers can read fast enough to be able to actually read 1200 words before leaving the page. Only 30 percent of readers can read fast enough to cover 250 words before leaving.
In his research using eye-tracking, Nielsen found that most readers read web content with an F-shaped pattern, scanning the top of the page horizontally, then skipping down the page for a second horizontal scan, then scanning down the left side of the page. Readers will not read your blog text thoroughly, in a word-by-word manner. The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. You must put useful information in your subheads and bullet points that start on the left hand margin of the page.
People read blogs in a search pattern rather than a narrative reading pattern. To be successful, blogs should have lots of links that take readers to the information they want.
Lesson 5. Make your blog personal and warm.
Research by Jamy Li and Mark Chignell (University of Toronto) in the Journal of Human-Computer Studies (2010) found that the personality of the blogger will be reflected in their blogs. They found that blogs will attract readers with personality traits similar to the authors’ as reflected in the blog. The study concludes that the blog is another example of the general psychological principle that similar people attract each other.
Readers were in remarkable agreement about the personalities of the authors of blogs. In spite of everything, blogs are very personal documents. Evidence clearly suggests that the blog contains a lot of subtle information about the people who write them. That personal information in the blog contributes to the choice of people attracted to them.
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