Looking over spirituality blogs to see how it’s done, I find that many of the blogs with the best content have the worst organization. Since I understand well how to organize a blog, I’m writing this post for the benefit of the online spiritual community.
You might think that good organization comes second to good content, but ask: What good is great content if people can’t find it?
Spiritual blogs have three types of problems. They are problems in the writing, problems in the organization of the articles, and problems in the layouts. The content is great. Spiritual bloggers are spiritual people.
The writing problems I’m seeing are not problems in writing — they are problems in not writing.
Think about how you read things on the internet. You skim. Everyone skims on the internet. You skim because you are not certain that the information is what you’re looking for, and you want to weed through what is irrelevant to get to what is relevant.
An ideal blog is written to accomodate this. It is designed to meet the reader where he is and channel him quickly and painlessly to the information he wants. Do not over-write, expressing finely nuanced ideas. Certainly avoid a wall of text. Most people won’t read it.
So write like a newspaper reporter, to be read quick. Get the basic information out, starting with the broadest information and moving into the detail. See to it that every new sentence provides new information. Move the reader along. Quickly.
The article organization problems are, again, that the articles are not organized. No thought has been put into it. These are miscellaneous collections of various topics, presented in whatever order the author felt inspired to write them. Think of what this means–
You write a brilliant post about How To Achieve Happiness In One Simple Step. The method is, give your soul to God, like a lover gives his heart to his beloved. You argue the soul is God’s anyway. You tell atheists who don’t believe they have souls and don’t believe in God, that’s no excuse — just pretend you’re giving your imaginary soul to an imaginary God. That will work.
Great blog post. By this simple method you bypass a lot of stupid and useless theology and trick atheists into immortal bliss. Then a month later it has been bumped down to your second page, and new readers no longer see it.
You need an index.
Tags won’t do. Readers rarely use them. Search engines use them, but readers do not. It’s difficult to tag posts efficiently anyway, and there’s something messy about going through them.
You need a super-brief index that organizes your posts by topic, quickly. HAPPINESS: How To Achieve Happiness In One Simple Step — Why Spiritual People Are Happier — Cosmic Bliss. Each one a link. The reader can cast his eye down this index post and pick what he’s most interested in, if your headlines are good.
That’s not enough. In that same post, after the super-brief index, you have a longer index that expands the information with blurbs that tell the gist of the articles. Check out my Overview post, which I keep stuck to my front page, for an example. Notice that I put the blurbs after the cut tag. Wordpress will tell me when people click on a link from that post, and also when people click on MORE, which means they want to read the blurbs first. So I can tell how important the blurbs are to people’s decisions, and it keeps the front page uncluttered with blurbs.
With these techniques, or techniques like them, you present your content in a well organized way. The descriptions accordion to the reader’s level of interest. Notice that writing your posts to be skimmable sort-of makes accordioning content too, because the reader can skim what he knows and understands, and linger over what he wants to learn. In some operating systems, you’ll find a folder tree that allows you to expand or collapse the levels. You’re doing that, not with interactive technology, but by presenting information strategically.
Writing posts in series helps. You’ll generally return to a subject again and again, so if a reader learns something valuable from one post, they will know they can learn more and they will know where to find it: in the first post introducing the topic — the index — or in the last post concluding it.
Series are naturally well organized explorations of topics. Each post becomes a finger of information, that a reader might find through a search engine. Interested readers can trace the link back to the index, and follow leads through to other related posts.
Having a central organizing principle focuses your blog. Readers know what to expect and you know what to write. The central organizing principle I have for TiltedCandle is, “teaching spiritual technique.” When I’m thinking about a post — even when I’m thinking about a paragraph — I ask myself if it passes this basic test. I leave other stuff — theory, stories, cartoons — out, unless they are strongly related to something readers can do.
Spiritual blog layouts are usually too cluttered. The purpose of having a layout is to allow the reader’s eye to trace a path around your page such that the reader will naturally find clear answers to his questions.
Once I was with a group that had a potluck dinner during its meetings. The food would be kept in the kitchen, and people with free time would take food from the kitchen and put it on the table. The food a person selected to bring out would seem like a good idea to them at the time. The thinking was, “Someone might want to eat that.” But there was much more food than table space.
The overall effect of “someone might want to eat that” as a selection strategy was chaos. No one who came to the table for food could easily see and understand what was on offer. Besides, it was all jumbled together, with things squeezed in every which way, so that it didn’t look appealing. It was only when someone took charge that things got better, and in part that meant there were items people had to find in the kitchen if they wanted to eat them.
Look at your home page as if you were a first-time reader. How easily would you be able to find the good stuff this blog has to offer? How easily would you understand that there is good stuff to be found?
Throw stuff out. Your twitter feed — does a first-time reader find it that compelling? I have a facebook page that you mostly won’t hear about on here, because it’s not about teaching spiritual technique. I can’t do that in a short facebook blurb.
— I *can* post my blog entries on facebook, and use social media to funnel interested people to this blog, and I do do that. But I don’t see the purpose in doing it the other way. People who come to my blog can subscribe if they want to, by wordpress or by email. I see no benefit in having them subscribe to twitter or facebook.
You might want to read some library books on layout and advertising. There are useful guidelines out there:
- The ideal headline is 10-12 words long. People first look at an article’s picture, then the headline, then the text, and maybe read the picture’s caption as an afterthought.
- A picture and some font changes break up the “wall of text” effect. They make the page more relaxed, less rigid and formal, and make it easier for your reader to read it.
- But too many fonts, pictures, and layout elements will confuse the eye and cause your reader to become fatigued.
The front page and the sidebar are for the most useful, relevant, top-level-informative elements. The sidebar is a great place for an index element, with short blurbs telling the main ideas of the different series you’ve written. Hey, I might do that myself!
Writing tighter, more focused articles, providing index and overview information, and serving it up in a nice, simple layout that is both relaxed and well ordered will all work to making your blog the best possible presentation of your content. And as I say, there is great content out there.
We’re all in it to serve mankind by teaching what we know, while continuing to improve ourselves by learning from each other. Please use these techniques of presentation to teach your readers and students well.
If you’re glad you read this post, you might also like Tilted Candle’s article What Are You Saying? — Writing The Best Spirituality Blog Content.
- www.Problogger.Net – You might not be looking to make money, but you can still learn from articles on business blogging.
- reader question : blog content generation. – A blogger tells her own experiences thinking up new ideas.
- 8 Ideas for Feeding Your Content Beast – A marketing site.