Kim Kardashian’s Tomatoes: 5 Thoughts on Blogging

Here’s something you might not know about blogging.

If I write headlines like these:

  • What Kim Kardashian Can Teach You About Tomatoes
  • 20 Ways to Grow 1,000 Pounds of Vegetables In 10 Minutes A Day
  • Why Overpaying For Seeds Is Costing You More Than Just Money 

…there is a huge chance you will click on the headline to see what the post is all about.

And who could blame you – I mean we’d all assume Kim Kardashian prefers Sweet Millions but maybe she’s a Stupice girl. It would fit, right?

Kim Kardashian loves her ripe tomatoes

Now, if I write Kardashian-free headlines like these:

  • Breezes Blow On
  • Garden Walks In Spring
  • Time And Again The Seasons Change

…then it probably doesn’t matter how fantastic the post is because the vast majority of you will not read it. You’ll be too busy wondering if Kim’s Lemon Boy recommendation was for a tomato or a trendy LA cocktail.

What, Me Formula?

People sometimes ask me how to be a good gardener, and the answer is always some variation of “pay attention to your plants and garden a lot.”

Recently, for reasons I find flatteringly inexplicable, a few people have asked me for tips on blogging. It turns out my advice is basically the same: “pay attention to what resonates with your readers, and write a lot.”

When I first learned there was a formula to creating headlines that grabbed people’s attention and made them want to read on, the writer purist in me was very offended. “But if my content is solid, why should I need a car-saleman-style headline?!” I huffed, indignantly.

Then I started paying attention to the headlines that made me want to read posts on other blogs. How enlightening! How humbling!

If I thought for a moment that because I was in the blogger club or knew the headline formula trick I would be immune to the call of Kim Kardashian and her ripe tomatoes, a few days honestly examining my own reading tendencies proved me wrong.

Five Thoughts on Blogging

At this point I imagine the majority of the people still reading are themselves bloggers, and that’s ok. Non-bloggers have likely clicked away, and who could blame them? They’ll come back when I publish that Kardashian-Tomato post I’ve been working on.

If you’re still with me, blogger or not, you might enjoy a peak into the working-side philosophy of this blog. If you are newer to blogging than I am (and I am very new myself), perhaps these lessons I’ve learned will help as you craft your own writing.

1. If I am a good blogger, it is because I actively seek out people who know more about blogging than I do, learn from them aggressively and then work my ass off to implement what I’ve learned.

I have learned – and continue to learn – obscene amounts from Copyblogger. The e-book Simple Blogging from has helped me spend less time to run a better blog (though I will admit it still takes more hours every day than I really have). I recommend both these resources.

2. A reader is very busy; respect that. What you write has to be of value to them it you want them to spend their time reading. It is not enough to talk about the minutia of your life; readers have their own minutia to preoccupy them. Some value must be added to that minutia in order to justify the readers time. (See #3 for what constitutes added value.)

3. A post should be crafted to either educate, entertain, inspire or comfort your audience, and should ideally do more than one of these things. My audience (that’s you!) responds to humor regarding the everyday struggles we all encounter in the garden and in life and how-to posts from which they can learn. You particularly like posts that show you how to do things faster or better, or in a cleaver way that saves money. And most of you like it when I swear, a little.

When a blogger adds information, entertainment, inspiration or comfort (“There are more freaks like me! Yay!”) to their daily minutia, they create a post which is both valuable to the reader and unique to the blogger’s experience. That’s what I try to do with every post.

4. Readers come to a blog expecting a certain type of content. The day I showed up at a career-advice blog and saw a photo of the blogger’s bare ass was the day I unsubscribed.

A blogger should stick to content that makes sense for their blog. I write about gardening and urban homesteading with a splash of cooking, motherhood and food politics. No one comes to my blog expecting software reviews or tips on buying a new car.

That said, I suspect a blogger can successfully write about almost anything as long as they can connect it back to the main theme of their blog. (For example, I am hoping to slide this post on blogging philosophy under the gardening radar by sprinkling in lots of tomato references – is it working?)

5. Always write with your own authentic voice. (This one is really, really important!) There is no topic you can possibly write about that hasn’t already been covered. Gardening, cooking, preserving, etc.: it’s all been done before. But, almost every topic can be discussed in a new and fresh way if you bring your unique voice and perspective to it.

Update: I liked that e-book Simple Blogging so much I became an affiliate. So if you end up buying it through the link above I make a few bucks. More info here.

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Comments

  1. Please forgive me if this has been answered before, but why do we have to click on your posts to read the whole thing? Why isn’t the whole (newest) post on the front page? I don’t want to sound snippy, but I wanted to ask because I have noticed it and it fits with what you are talking about. I don’t want to insult your writing at all, because you are very good at it, but in the vein of honest feedback I have to admit that I read less of your entries now than before. I can only see the headline and a tiny bit of the entry now and if it doesn’t immediately grab me (as you stated above) I don’t bother clicking and waiting on another page. Before, I’d at least skim the post because you never know when a word or term would jump out at you or it might end up being about a topic that I love instead of the one I assumed it was about based on the headline.

    I’m guessing that maybe you are trying to track how many people read each post by clicks, but I wanted to alert you that you might be losing reads per post, as well.

    Hopefully this makes sense and doesn’t come across as insulting or complaining, because I don’t mean it that way.

    • Hi Tina,

      Thanks for the feedback, you don’t sound insulting or complaining at all! There are a few reasons why the main site appears in magazine format, with post excerpts instead of full length posts.
      -Google penalizes websites with a lot of duplicate content. To Google, when I have a bunch of full-length posts on the front page (nwedible.com URL) and those same posts are available at their dedicated permalink (nwedible.com/blahblahblahpost URL), my site looks like it has a lot of that duplicate content even though, in reality, it doesn’t.
      -I want newer readers to be able to skim, at a glance, and see what kind of variety of posts I write. Because I tend to write too much in my posts (I usually hug 700-900 words, “experts” tell you 300 words tops, which is just too short for my writing style) new readers are unlikely to scroll through gobs of text to see what kind of variety is on the site.
      -The archives (“Chickens” “Editorial” “Gardening” etc. on the nav bar) work much better in post-excerpt format, and the same setting on WordPress controls both the archives and the main page. Truthfully, I’d looked for a way to have the most recent post on the main site at full length and everything below it and on the archives in excerpt format, but implementing that requires a level of code modification that I’d really have to work into. If I get feedback like yours from readers, telling me the main page excerpts bug them, I’ll try to bump research into a good solution up the priority list, though.

      If you like to skim posts to see what catches your eye (and who doesn’t!) I highly recommend subscribing in a feedreader like reader.google.com (there are tons others, all free). I use Google’s reader and it’s the only way I manage to keep sort-of on top of the hundreds of blogs I follow. You can also subscribe to have every post emailed to you automatically as it’s published. The posts appear full length and with photos, and you don’t have to remember to visit the site to see what’s up. My subscription feed doesn’t contain ads or cost anything and you can unsubscribe whenever you want. In other words, there isn’t a “catch” it’s just a convenient way to get the information to come to you instead of having to come to the information. So that might be something to consider. You can subscribe at http://feeds.feedburner.com/NorthwestEdibleLife if you are interested.

      Thanks again for your feedback!

  2. Thank you for the insight. Of course the headline got me!

  3. Thanks for posting the links on blogging, I’ll be checking them out. I like #5 the best, as being an authentic writer is what many of us in the blogging sphere strive to do best. Cheers, Jenni

    • Of course! That ebook was like wise advice from an older, wiser blogger friend. I got a lot from it. Authentic is key, thanks Jenni.

  4. Erica – you rock! Totally needed this post this morning, as I hurriedly cobbled together a post I had an idea for, but no time to write while my steel cut oats boiled away on the stove. When I worry I am half assing it, these items are apart of my internal turmoil. Good reminders.

    And blogging totally takes more hours a day than I actually possess, especially if I want to be able to do the things I blog about.

    • Thanks DorD – I find that people who are very worried about half-assing a piece of work that is entirely voluntary to do and for which they will not be paid, graded or otherwise evaluated are generally high achievers with perfectionistic tendencies, for good and for bad. If you ever need to commiserate about that you know where to find me. ;)

  5. Thanks for your insight regarding blogging. I’ve been blogging off and on for a few years, but have recently become more dedicated with the goal of reaching more readers. It’s indeed a struggle when I’d rather be out gardening, cooking, or doing gardening research. I used to incorrectly think that catchy titles and short posts with lots of fluffy photos were for less sophisticated audiences. I’ve since learned, just like you, from my own behavior and friends who are much savvier at creating great content that it truly is all about the sizzle. It’s been a hard lesson for me and one that I chose to ignore to my own detriment. Interestingly enough, I’ve since found that I’m making more meaningful connections by switching up my blogging style. Thanks again and for the record, it was a refreshing post to throw in the mix.

    • Thanks Chandra. I’d respectfully disagree that it’s *all* about the sizzle, because – as every crappy HubPage proves – a good title means nothing without solid content behind it. But good content that no one reads is a diary, and most bloggers don’t want to be diarists. So I think excellent content has to be appropriately packaged, meaning we have to make it easy for the reader to *want* to read the post and easy for them once they decide to do so.

      Glad veering a little off-topic worked for you, I appreciate it!

  6. Claudette says:

    You crack me up, Erica! “I mean we’d all assume Kim Kardashian prefers Sweet Millions but maybe she’s a Stupice girl.” I’m not really a blogger, but I read the whole post nonetheless!

  7. ironically, based on this headline, I would never have read this post if I wasn’t generally devoted to you. because can you believe– i. do not. know. who this woman is. apparently i am supposed to.
    anyway this is all right on. good blogger info. i do think, for me personally, too much emphasis (in general, not in your post!) is put on getting numbers of hits, rather than quality of reader. for example, i personally wish your posts were longer, not shorter. shorter how-to posts mean less thorough and therefore less useful, and shorter opinion post just mean less Ericawesomeness. if i’m reading something i’m not that interested in then yes, i wish it were shorter. and oddly enough, i do read plenty of things online that i’m not all that interested in, so i can see where those numbers come from.
    although your length might put some readers off (according to google) i think it might attract smaller numbers of higher quality readers. people who care more about and more appreciate what you write.

    • I think we all know that we are supposed to know Kim Kardashain but don’t really know her or why we are supposed to know her. Or care. Or something.

      You’ll be pleased to know that tomorrow’s post is obscenely long, at over 1500 words. Many stretch out, I get wordy. But sometimes I find myself skimming my own post and then I think, “God, if I can’t pay attention to the whole thing I better edit this sucker.”

      Can I trademark “Ericawesomeness”?

      You have a good point, I think your readers are fiercely loyal to you.

  8. I subscribe in google reader and I read every single post you write regardless of the headline – I rarely go to the actual site unless I want to comment. But I am definitely guilty of succumbing to link-bait headlines. Especially on Slate.

    • Thank you so much for your readership Nikki! Slate is the master of the link-bait…so much so that sometimes they bug me for the blatentness of it. But of course I still read. :)

  9. Ein Middlebrooks says:

    A usual I love the post. I’ve read everything you’ve ever blogged. I really appreciate the tips. It is generous to share your trade ‘secrets’. I like what you said about writing useful information. I am a new gardener…about a year now…and I’ve not really thought of myself as having information to share. I am super enthusiastic and excited every day I’m in the garden, so I tend to just journal and share pictures of the day. And actually give you credit on a few posts as you’ve taught me what I am blogging about. Example: I thinned out my tomatoes yesterday, and rather than pulling out the plants to be culled, I cut them with scissors, so as to not mangle the roots. I wouldn’t have even thought of that. You are the master my friend…the master. Thank you for doing what you do. You’re a ninja!

    • Thank you! I’m really not the master, and I’m pretty sure ninja’s don’t let their tomatoes get frost damage when they forget to take them in overnight like I did a week ago (ahem… ;) ) I’m glad I’m enough along on the path to be able to give useful tips! But I also know there are people decades and decades ahead of me…thank you for your kind words, and for reading.

  10. If you learn from other bloggers aggressively, then I will learn everything about blogging from you :)

  11. I have the scoop on Kim’s upcoming birthday bash

  12. LOL, found your blog through Mr. Money Mustache, and am flipping through posts. Glad to hear your insights about blogging, as I’m just getting going with mine. I agree, Copyblogger is awesomesauce.

  13. I’m left wondering… what’s the “formula” for writing a great title?

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