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31DBBB Day 24: How To Use a Magazine To Improve Your Blog

Written by Dan King

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This is Day 24 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, a group project 60+ of us bloggers are doing together in an effort to help each other become better bloggers. You can read an overview here.

One of my favorite parts of going to the grocery store (aside from sampling anything that I’m allowed to try) is checking out. There’s something about the display of magazines and tabloids that I just have a hard time pulling my attention away from. Those magazine folks must be doing something right if I struggle to tear myself away from the headlines that captivate me!

As we have through other parts of this project, it’s important for us to look at other ‘experts’ in marketing and see what we can learn from them. This time it’s print media that gets put under the microscope.

The cool thing about this one is that I believe that magazines are more similar to blogs than any other offline example that we could be looking at. We both run regular ‘articles’. We both strive to get more subscribers. And in some cases, we may both try to monetize our work based of our [impressive] numbers.

By looking at magazines, we learn some cool things that we can apply to our own blogs:

  • Marketing Ideas
  • Design Ideas
  • Post Ideas
  • Monetization Ideas
  • Reader Engagement Ideas

While there are certainly many differences between magazines (offline media) and blogs (online media), it won’t take long evaluating a magazine to walk away with long list of things that you’ll want to try right away.

In addition to looking at the print versions of magazines, you may also find it helpful to look at websites for magazines. A good magazine website will take the print version and apply online concepts that may translate into more ideas for your blog. But if you decide to also look at what magazines are doing online, I would recommend having the print version in hand at the same time. This will allow you to see how the print ideas manifest themselves into online formats.

A couple of good Christian magazines (our primary niche) that I would suggest are:

Finally, there’s also some wisdom in looking at non-faith based magazines. There’s a lot of great work being done out there that we can glean from, and it would be a shame to not learn from others who are doing great work in media.

Discussion

  1. What general lessons have you already learned from observing how magazines do things?
  2. What magazines do you think would provide the most value for you as a blogger trying to learn from them?
  3. What magazine websites do you think are particularly impressive, and what techniques are you able to identify that might be valuable to you?

The Extra Mile

A few other things you can do to take your blog, other bloggers, and this project even further today…

  • Reply & give other bloggers feedback on the little things they do.
  • When other bloggers include a link to a new article they’ve posted today, click, read, and comment on it.
  • Tweet, share, & bookmark this post.

Dan King is… Christ-follower. husband. father. corporate training development guru. bible college instructor. blogger at bibledude.net. social media editor for highcallingblogs.com. occasional contributor for the 8-BIT network.

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    About the author

    Dan King

    Christ-follower. husband. father. corporate training development guru. school of ministry and missions instructor. social media editor for thehighcalling.org. blogger at bibledude.net. co-founder and media director for the activistfaith.org movement. social media director for help end local poverty.

    74 Comments

    • 1) I have learned from magazines that the title of an article is important. The title itself can bring you to open the magazine or set it back down.

      2) I have gotten some good ideas from the "Penticostal Evangel" that the Assembly of God puts out weekly. I also like "Leadership".

      3) I occasionally look at "Charisma" online, but prefer hard copies of magazines and rarely visit their sites.

      So my homework is to look at magazine websites and see how they do things online and see if there is anything that I can learn from them.

      Today's post is a personal one – "Saying goodbye to my next door Mom".
      http://ronniespoon.blogspot.com/2010/06/saying-go

      • I'm with you on the preference to paper! I love online media too, but books and magazines just have a feel that online can't replace. And the title thing is one of the biggest things that I am getting out of this task as well.

      • Thanks LL! And I love your list of ideas from Vanity Fair! I think that you're on to something with the barcode thing…

      • You've done it again. If using a shopvac to pick up rose petals arrested you, you can imagine the shock I had seeing Vanity Fair magazine on your post. Love it and your sense of humor! Sorry I can not participate in your poetry feature at High Calling. You would never let me participate in anything again–sort of like me singing in public.
        Have fun with National Enquirer, although that may be too tame.
        In Him,
        Janis

    • I have not up till now recognised the parralels but since reviewing bibledude's site, have started preparing to reposition my site in a magazine format. I have to agree that the parallel's are relevant, although there are some real differences. Generally a site should not be too pagey and most of what matters must be accessed on the first click, with subsidiary clicks onto to items of interest. As for looking at magazines for ideas – yup, agree with that, but the same applies to just observing life, reading the news, talking to others, etc.

      • I like the magazine format, but will be the first to admit that it's not for everyone. There are several blogs that I really like that use a traditional template. I run lots of series (which get featured in the rotating images at top/center of the homepage, and the template allows me to use categories to highlight different types of content in different places.

        I think that some other ideas that I'm picking up from this project and other magazines (and their websites) are helping me improve that ever important click-thru rate.

        Let me know if you switch templates. I'd love to check out the makeover…

    • Based on when I remember from the last time I went through the check-out isle at the grocery store, I think I need to add the following to my blog…

      1) Big picture of a sexy, young model in a swimsuit.

      2) Picture of an overweight celebrity without make-up and headline sensationalizing their mental breakdown and/or eating/drinking/drug binge.

      3) New article about the best diet ever… every week.

      4) Story about a woman in Idaho having the baby of Obama's Martian half-brother.

      😉

    • OK, ok, seriously now… Dan thanks for writing this post. I haven't done the assignment yet, but already one big thing jumps out at me.

      Magazine's don't put any articles on the cover – not even an excerpt. It's all images and headlines. Now, we shouldn't just blindly copy every tactic we see magazine's use. There are obvious differences between magazines (even online magazines) and blogs. But radically changing the layout to reduce the amount of text on the homepage and make the headlines to more posts visible without having to scroll down is something I think is worth serious consideration.

      What do you all think about that?

      • I think that's a good idea. I may have to do some browsing through the themes available to me….

        And then, just like with a magazine, a reader could choose the posts they are most interested in or think are most relevant to them and read those, skipping the "less interesting" ones!

        ~Jennifer

      • Definitely agree that there are some important points to consider here. I notice the same thing as I look at what magazines teach us. In fact, everything about the cover (homepage) is designed to get them to open it (click-thru). Even advertising is not posted on the cover, because they rely on the fact that you are going to open and look inside.

        While I agree that we don't need to blindly copy everything that they are doing, but it makes me think about whether my homepage creates that strong desire to click-thru. Based on the bounce rate of my homepage (not out of control, but not as good as I'd like), I think that I might have a little work to do. Related to other parts of this project, I think that I will continue to see some progress in this area…

        Great points Paul! Thanks for taking the conversation deeper…

        • Actually, while I agree that magazine covers are designed to get people to open them, even more than that they're designed to get people to buy the magazine. In that respect magazines and blogs differ. Unless somebody has figured out how to get people to send them $4 to read blog content not shown on the homepage. 😉

          But I totally agree that it's a great idea to think about whether our blog homepages create a strong desire to click through.

          Now that I think about it, one of the trends we've noticed in web design is that more and more organizations are asking us to design two templates for their site, one for the homepage and one for the rest of the site. The homepage templates we're designing actually have a lot in common with magazine covers – they're short (see everything without scrolling), there's very little text, and they're designed to help people find the information on other pages as quickly and easily as possible.

      • So now the question becomes how do we customize the homepage? It seems like everything I try, every theme I pick up from wordpress looks exactly the same with full articles on the homepage and not images or excerpts. any theme recommendations or ideas how to customize existing themes?

        • Great question. You're right, I don't think I've seen a WordPress theme that allows you to customize the homepage. That might require some modifications to the theme.

          I'm surprised you're having trouble finding a theme that shows excerpts on the homepage instead of the full article, though. I thought that was standard. I was thinking that's probably the easiest way to address this – shorten the excerpts on the homepage by putting the more tag after the first paragraph and writing the first paragraph so it can stand by itself on the homepage and entice readers to read the full article.

          • It's funny thoughthat a poll I did a while back showed my (active) readers were almost 50-50 split on whether they'd click the more tag or not.

            SO it sortof implies that 50% of my readers are happy to scroll and the others aren't! What to do? Build a second website for the 50% that don't scroll !!!!

        • WordPress.com is much more limited than the self-hosted WordPress. I use a self-hosted (through godaddy.com) WordPress, and with that there are TONS of (free and premium) options for 'magazine' style themes.

          However, I don't see the same availability in WordPress.com. But to Paul's point, I think that using the 'More' tag (which is standard in the toolbar in all of WordPress) should easily allow you to do excerpts on the homepage (similar to what you see on highcallingblogs.com). That will keep it from showing full posts, and make it more scannable. Make sense?

    • I think I've got to pile up some magazines to take outside today while the kids play and see what I can pick up as ideas for my blog. Honestly, I'd never thought about the parallels.

      I'll also visit some online magazines and see what else I can learn.

      Thanks for a great post, Dan!

      Today I'm linking up with other homeschooling mamas to form an online community! http://jenniferjanes.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/hom

      ~Jennifer

      • Oh Chad… dude… you HAD to take it there, huh?! LOL!

        Seriously though, those are some good magazines to look at for this exercise!

          • Sounds like a few of the guys in our household!! Will have to read your post about that pitcher. Heard all about from my Sports Center home reporting crew. I know more about sports than I ever wanted to. Hey, maybe I should switch my niche?

    • Great Post!

      I think 'trash' magazines (like the ones in the checkout aisle..not the ones BEHIND the counter of course..ha) have a great way of having one liners that grab peoples attention and make people want to pick it up and read it.

      Whether we like it or not we live in a 'microwave generation' people lose interest quickly… especially if you aren't breathing new life into your site or posts.
      A blog title that might be a little risqué at first glance might land those few additional eyes on your pages.

      I'm not saying we should all go TMZ…but every once and awhile through a little controversy into the mix to spice things up.
      http://ragamuffinray.blogspot.com/2010/06/youre-b

      • ..and when all else fails…misspell a word for attention (throw instead of through!!) 🙂 I saw a great cartoon recently about this…wish I could find it again.

      • You make a great point Ray! They sell because they are good at what they do, and there is something that we can learn from it. I also appreciate when you said that we should breathe life into our posts… When I read that I totally got 'Life' (intentionally with the capital 'L').

        Jesus was controversial, yet He breathed Life. Dude… that's awesome.