Four years ago—four years ago?—I got an email from a total stranger. He’d read my blog, and wanted to know if I was interested in an internship at a hedge fund company in New York. I didn’t get the internship, but I did decide to move to New York.
I got my first serious job from someone who liked my blog. And the internship that turned into my current position also got started when I submitted a writing sample, which I took straight from the blog.
So I know a thing or two about getting hired based on having a blog. I also know why writing a blog made me waste time, alienate customers, and feel the whole time like I was accomplishing something.
1. Bloggers are used to an audience that knows them: if I had to guess, I’d guess that a majority of bloggers are read by people they know personally, a majority of the time. This means that except for exceptionally good or exceptionally bad writers, they haven’t been exposed to the honest feedback of strangers.
If I’d known this, I would have known how little people like pointless digressions.
2. Bloggers don’t need to tame the reader: when I write copy for a website, I’m writing for a hostile reader. I have between one and three seconds to convince the average visitor that they should stick around, so I can’t waste time on ambiguity.
If I’d known this, I would have used fewer intimidating blocks of text, bigger fonts, more bullet points, fewer images, and fewer adjectives.
3. Self-indulgent writing is a sin: if writing for strangers teaches you anything, it’s that nobody cares about you. Introspection is fascinating if you’re doing it, but dead boring to bystanders.
If I’d known this, I would never have told anyone what I was thinking, unless it was an attempt to convince them that they were thinking the same thing. There’s a reason infomercials open with “Has this ever happened to you?” and not “I hate when this happens to me.”
4. Repetition is okay: a blog post needs to be original to satisfy readers, who are mostly either a) the same people, or b) people who read lots of other blogs. But what works in copywriting is mostly unoriginal—new text, maybe, but composed while following established rules.
If I’d known this, I would have made more boring websites, faster.
5. It takes time: it’s difficult to transition from writing for a small audience that already likes you to writing for a big audience that doesn’t care for you. I started getting much better at it when I read a little Ogilvy and a little of everyone else.
If I’d known this, it wouldn’t have made a big difference. I was lucky: the easiest way to promote the first big client I worked with was a blog, and I happened to write a few posts that really took off. So I had a little while to learn what I was doing.
Don’t let these rules scare you off from hiring bloggers. We’re worth it, once we get over ourselves. After all, we mostly know HTML, and we can type pretty fast, too.
(There will probably not be a blog entry tomorrow morning. I’m going to see Tosca, which has gotten an enthusiastic reception.)