I Suck at Writing Subject Lines (But It's Ok & Here's Why)

Writing emails for content marketing purposes is, hands down, one of the most difficult things I've ever learned how to do. This is coming from someone who cried in their sophomore geometry class because proofs were so difficult and complicated. Well, sophomore-year-in-high-school me, you're in for a shocker: a writing task (writing! your favorite!) is even more difficult. 

Thanks to all the content marketing resources out there, I've gotten better (perhaps even "good") at writing email marketing. I wouldn't call myself an expert, necessarily, but I get the job done.

Most writers will tell you that subject lines (or titles or headlines) are the most difficult part of writing: how can you sum up everything in an article, a book, or an email with one succinct phrase--and still inspire people to open the email, click the article, or buy the book? 

The short answer: you shouldn't. 

Subject lines are my writer Achilles's heel: they are my ultimate weakness. They are my greatest challenge when it comes to writing. 

I've read every article in existence on writing better subject lines, how to write subject lines to get clicks, to get opens, to change the game. Trust me, I've done the legwork. I've attended webinars and signed up for email newsletters on the subject. I've done A/B testing; I've completed worksheets; I'm written and rewritten and rewritten again. 

No matter what, I come to the same conclusion: I suck at writing subject lines. And that's ok. 

I can hem and haw over a subject line, or title, for hours potentially. I debate over how to perfectly sum up what I've written. Then, I have to take into account everything else: what will interest people? What will get the most clicks? Or opens? I can debate for hours. I can download all the ebooks and read all the articles. I can do as much as I can to avoid actually hitting send or publish. 

But the truth is: a subject line is just a subject line. You can do everything right and still not get as many opens as you wanted. There is no perfect formula to the perfect subject line or title.  Sometimes, something works and you have no idea why. Sometimes, something just clearly does not jive and you won't know why. 

That's ok. 

We want to believe that marketing can be brought down to pure math, that you can determine everything by numbers. But when you combine the power of words with the rigidity of math, it's never going to be perfect; add in the subjectivity of the average human and it's never going to make 100% sense. We can only know the basics of what works and even that is iffy sometimes. 

I'm always going to suck a little bit at writing subject lines and titles, mostly because I get overwhelmed at how important they are. And that's ok. It's ok to not be perfect at everything (as tough as it is to admit). It's also ok that sometimes subject lines flop, despite killer content; it's ok that sometimes you need to A/B test, tweak a title once it's published, or experiment. 

It doesn't have to be perfect from the get-go. Take the pressure off and allow yourself to experiment and find what works for you and your audience. But don't get too set on any one method or style: it will probably change tomorrow. 

Using Canva as a Content Marketing Tool

This post was originally posted on Medium. If you'd like to read my work-related blog on Medium, you can click here. If you'd like to read the Medium blog associated with my personal Twitter account, you can click here

Content marketing can be overwhelming for entry-level employees. I say this from experience: learning the tools of the trade when I first started in digital and content marketing made me feel like I was trapped inside a tornado. I was inundated with information about writing, blogging, social media, video, and visual elements—as well as all the strategy that surrounds everything.

As I got a foothold in the content marketing world, I realized I needed to step up my game when it came to visual elements, especially as I worked for a rapidly growing brand like Waitrainer+. As I learned, I realized that the visual component is often the most important when it comes to social media.

Not every business, however, has the resources to produce great visual content. Producing photography assets can be expensive and not every business has the resources to afford software like Adobe Photoshop. As well, an entry-level employee in charge of these resources might feel a little, well, lost when it comes to producing graphics, social media and blog posts, and email assets.

Enter Canva. I discovered Canva almost a year ago and from that moment, my anxiety about producing beautiful visual content for Waitrainer+ was assuaged. Using a variety of stock photo resources (like UnsplashPicjumbo, and Death to Stock Photo), I could finally produce the graphics for blog posts, social media, and emails that I wanted. We started getting better results from my efforts and I felt like a success story —rather than a content marketing newbie trapped inside a tornado!

A solid year of using Canva has taught me a few things about using Canva as a tool. Here are my favorites.

Webinars have never been easier.

We hold monthly webinars at Waitrainer+. Before I started using Canva, we used basic PowerPoint presentations. It didn’t look good and it made branding across a variety of platforms difficult.

Canva offers great templates for presentations with multiple export options. It also makes branding incredibly easy, because we can use the same materials, photos, and fonts across all platforms.

As well, the presentations feature allows in-built links —which makes sharing our webinar slides to SlideShare even easier.

Templates helped me learn the basics.

I’m not a trained graphic designer, although I’ve always had an interest in graphic design. All I have is a desire to do my best and to learn as much as I can about content marketing. But when it came to design, I was clueless. I knew what looked good, but I had no idea how to actually get there. Thanks to Canva’s templates and their incredible design center, I’ve learned the basics of design and I’ve expanded on them—which means I don’t have to rely on pre-built templates unless I want to.

Infographics make everything better.

We have an on-going debate about the effectiveness of infographics in our office. Personally, I’m on the side of infographics: they make incredibly effective social media and email tools; they help make statistics interesting; and they are a valuable resource for clients and customers. Plus, they just look cool. Canva offers great tools for building beautiful infographics, which means you can make as many as you want or need.

Everything is simple.

I love the way Canva works: from how you upload your own photos (and how those photos are stored) to the way you build graphics (drag and drop!), it’s so simple. I’m great with technology (a benefit to growing up with access to computers), but even those who don’t have a tech background can learn to use Canva and use it well. That’s why it wins as a tool for all content marketers: no matter your level, you can find a way to use Canva.

5 Must-Have Blogging Resources

I've been blogging since 2007, at the latest. You could say I was blogging before that, if we count Livejournal and Xanga. That's almost 10 years of solid blogging experience. Does that make me an expert? 

Who knows!

Over the years, I've tested and tried, loved and hated tons of blogging tools, from photo editing software to social media networks. Some tools (Lookbook and WIWT, anyone?) I've moved away from. But some, I just keep going back for more. 

Here are 5 things I think you'll love for blogging. 

1. Canva

Honestly, I could sing the praises of Canva all day, but I won't. (I wonder if they'll get annoyed with me on Twitter though!) What is Canva? It's an online resource you can use to make gorgeous graphic design content, from social media posts to hero images for blogs. I know, I know. A free online resource for that? It has to suck. But it doesn't! The fonts and free elements are amazing, and you can upload any image to use. It's the greatest tool available to marketers and bloggers on a budget. 

2. Free stock photos

I've written about free stock photos before. Stock photos are notoriously awful (seriously), but more and more excellent free resources are popping up. I know some bloggers had stock photos, and that's fine, but I think they can be a valuable resource for when you don't have time to do your own photography. (I know I never do anymore!) My favorite sites are Unsplash, Life of Pix, PicJumbo, and Gratisography. 

3. Hootsuite

This is one of the first things my blogger friends mention when they talk about must-have blogging tools: Hootsuite, that fancy-schmancy social media post scheduler. I've tried to use Hootsuite in my personal life--really! I have--and I have to confess: I just hate it. I just hate it, guys! It's so ugly! I hate the way it shortens links! But that being said: scheduling posts is an incredibly valuable tool that works for approximately 65% of bloggers. For the rest of us, we'd rather just set reminders and do it ourselves. There are other tools like Hootsuite out there, but Hootsuite is the most integrated with "big name" social media platforms. It's totally worth a try. 

4. Pinterest

I remember when Pinterest first started (back in December 2010, I believe--at least, that's when I signed up as a beta user!) and how strange it seemed. It took a while to figure out how to use it, but when I figured it out--it was magic. Pinterest is one of those platforms that emerges and fills a niche that we never even knew existed. The best part is that Pinterest is primarily a young, female platform: women between 16 and 40 make up most of the users. That's really cool because it makes marketing really easily. Are you a young woman running a lifestyle blog of any kind? Then you need Pinterest; you need to have options to pin your content to Pinterest; and you need to be optimizing Pinterest, like, yesterday. The returns on Pinterest are insane. Even with the limited amount of time I spend on Pinterest, approximately 40% of my traffic comes from Pinterest. 

5. iPhone

Ooh--I know when people see this one they're gonna wonder what in the world I'm talking about. Hear me out: the iPhone has completely changed the way we live our lives... which means it has completed changed blogging. I had a Blackberry Storm before I got my iPhone 4s in 2011. I never took pictures with it and I barely used it for Facebook. Texts and emails. That was it! But after I got my iPhone, everything changed. Suddenly, social media was more accessible than ever. Without iPhones, I don't think modern blogging would be what it is--and I would argue that a modern smartphone, like an iPhone or Android, is crucial for keeping up with social media, photography, and networking. 

What's your number one must-have when it comes to blogging? Share with me on Twitter

Should You Use an Editorial Calendar?

"Use an editorial calendar!" How many times have I read that phrase in an article about better blogging? 

Too many times, to be perfectly honest. 

An editorial calendar is, essentially, a schedule for your blog. It can be complicated (a detailed spreadsheet or calendar of posts, needed pictures, and other steps) or it can be simple (a list of blog topics, potentially arranged on a calendar). 

If you're running a big business or a marketing company, editorial calendars make sense: with two-tiered editing processes, you need to have materials written far in advance to ensure they are posted on time. The practice of editorial calendars has traveled down to blogs: it has long been suggested that all bloggers use an editorial calendar of some kind to help plan their posts and keep content posted regularly. 

However, for a vast majority of personal bloggers, editorial calendars just aren't realistic. 

The reason for this is really two-fold. Firstly, editorial calendars remove the spontaneity from blogging, so if you're blogging purely for hobby or enjoyment, you're going to remove a part of the fun from the process. Second, editorial calendars can often start to feel oppressive, even for the most seasoned of entrepreneurs and those who use their blogs as a source of income. I don't know for certain that those who use editorial calendars are more likely to experience burn out, but whenever I've tried to strictly plan a month of blogging, I've found myself resenting it.

That being said, having a plan for your blog--either week-to-week or month-to-month--can be helpful in staying organized and always have something to post. If you're like me (and super busy with a job, a newborn, or an active social life), if I don't have content planned, my blog can be silent for days. 

There are lots of ways to keep content on your blog. An editorial calendar is just one method. Here's what I'm doing to keep content posted--but avoiding an editorial calendar: 

1. I write posts a week in advance at most.

I try to schedule all my posts for the week on Sunday, which means I spend the week before writing and editing them. I don't like to write posts more than a week in advance because 1) I end up really confused about what time period I need to write about and 2) I think it removes my voice from my blog too much. 

2. I keep a constant list of topics. 

I keep this list in my Happy Planner, where I write my daily journal and plan blogs for the week. This is just the easiest way for me to store ideas for future posts. Instead of trying to plan for a month or two months at a time, I plan for the week ahead (and potentially for major holidays). 

3. I don't do weekly features. 

Weekly features are great--I used to love Things I Love Thursday and the like. However, after a few weeks, I find it's easy to use them as a crutch: I don't plan content because I know I'll have a pre-set post for Thursday or Friday. Also, weekly features tend to get a little boring after a while. A few times a year is fine, but who wants to read a list of things you love every single week? 

4. If I decide I don't like a topic, I don't write about it. 

Last week, I intended to have this post written and posted on Friday. But I couldn't figure out an angle: what did I want to write about when it came to editorial calendars? I don't use one and I generally don't think they work for individual blogs. Because I couldn't decide what I wanted to post about, I waited--I didn't just churn out a post to have one. If you can't think of anything to write, writing fluff isn't the way to go. It doesn't benefit anyone. 

Some bloggers thrive on using editorial calendars. It entirely depends on how you write and how you run your blog. Do you use an editorial calendar? How do you keep content organized? 

Improving Your Blog in 4 Steps

How can I make my blog better?

It's the question I've asked myself hundreds of times. From the minute I started my first blog back in 2005 (those heady LiveJournal days), I wanted whatever I created to be the absolute best it could be. I learned HTML to write LiveJournal and Myspace layouts; I taught myself rudimentary graphic design skills to create my own icons. My tastes (as well as my platform of choice) evolved with time: I moved on to Wordpress, then Blogger, then Squarespace. I kept finding new ways to make my blog better. 

I am, by no means, an expert in the blog world. I write as a hobby, as well as professionally, but there are still many things I don't know about when it comes to blogging. I wouldn't call myself a standout success story; I've never gone viral and I don't count myself in the group having thousands upon thousands of followers. I do, however, consider myself to have vastly improved my blog since 2005 and even 2008, when I started Locked Out (my first semi-successful blog).

Here are just a few things I've done to make it happen: 

1. Pick a Platform. 

Pick one that works for you. I hated Wordpress the entire time I used it (granted, I was using the free website and not hosting my own site); I hated it even more when a blog post of mine (that I'd written in about 5 minutes) was picked for their Freshly Picked feature, leading over 50,000 people to my blog in one morning. It was a nightmare and I was mad they hadn't asked me to be featured because I would have undoubtedly said no. I moved to Blogger and I stayed there for five years. 

I loved Blogger: it's integrated with Gmail and it's incredibly easy to use and customize. I loved being able to easily change my background or header without having to use complicated HTML. I also loved that I could create simple CSS customizations. I really enjoyed Blogger, but after a while, I outgrew the platform: something about it felt too simple after a while and too childish. I was also ready to move on from my blog at that point and my heavy fashion and lifestyle focus. 

Squarespace has been a really enjoyable site to use: I find the variety of templates easy to use and customize, but they also always look professional. Over the past year, I've tweaked my website into one that I find incredibly visually appealing, while still retaining aspects that are professional and still individual to me. 

Your platform of choice doesn't matter to anyone but you: if you find it easier to use than any other platform, then stick with it. 

2. Keep It Simple

It's really easy to go overboard with the wild designs. A frilly, girly, and highly colored layout was popular during the Myspace days, but currently, the easier it is to read a blog, the better. That means limited, easy-to-read colors and fonts, white backgrounds, and limited graphics. It can be tempting, especially on platforms like Blogger and Squarespace where you have hundreds of fonts to choose from, to go crazy or pick the cutest font you can find--but please resist that urge. Future readers thank you. 

3. Limit Pictures

Sometimes, I get really embarrassed about the number of outfit photos I used to post: each post included at least 10 photos. 10 photos! Of the same stupid outfit! I drive myself crazy. Not only are so many pictures absolutely unnecessary, it makes your entire blog load slower than it needs to. If you need to post photos, limit yourself to five or less. Really. I promise, this will change your blog for the better. 

4. Use Free Stock Photos

It can be tempting (very tempting!) to use websites like We Heart It or Tumblr to find beautiful photos for your blog. The problem with these two websites is that it's nearly impossible to find the original owner after a while--so you can't actually credit the person responsible for that piece of art. Instead, you contribute an Internet culture of posting and reposting the same images over and over so that the original owner is forgotten in a mass of links. Instead, try out some free stock photo sites or mailing lists (like Death to Stock Photo). I've written about my favorites before here

What are some steps you've taken to improve your blog in the past? Share with me in the comments or on Twitter

Can You Create Monetized Content Without Feeling Like a Sellout?

As most bloggers know, it's difficult to write sponsored posts without being accused of selling out or resorting to inauthentic content. If you read Get Off My Internets at all, you know this is one of the most common complaints about bloggers: they start great, they get popular, they start doing sponsored posts, and it's downhill from there. It feels like attempting to monetize--in whatever ways bloggers can--feels authentic, no matter what, to readers... especially if your audience consists of those who maybe don't understand what monetization means. 

Is it possible to monetize without feeling like a sell out? 

Including ads on your blog is one thing--but turning posts into ads themselves can feel, well, less than amazing. It's important to note here that some bloggers still struggle with identifying sponsored posts. I've seen a lot lately featuring c/o products or product placement that is not identified as such, as well as affiliate links that aren't properly identified. It's important to remember that everyone has to identify both sponsored posts and affiliate links. Not properly identifying is, actually, being kind of a sell out and is a marker of shadiness, so let's avoid it in the blogging world. 

How can you accept sponsored posts, which are lucrative and flattering opportunities, without feeling like your compromising your blog's content? 

Accept Sponsored Posts That Mean Something

Writing about a business you support, a product you love, or a charity you already support is easy. When it comes to sponsored posts, you should use the same criteria: is this a product, business, or cause that I already support? Does it fit into my blog's currently content? Would I have to do some really creative writing to make it fit? 

Ask yourself: If I bought this product on a whim or visited this business, would I write a post about it anyway? When it comes to sponsored posts, there's your answer. 

Remember those really weird few weeks last year where it felt like every fashion and lifestyle blogger was sponsored by Kotex? Man, did that bring out some weird posts! No offense to anyone who took the sponsorship, but it felt like Kotex was handing out free samples, in exchange for posts, like candy... and nearly everyone took it. I remember even a new age positivity guru blog that I follow had a sponsored Kotex post, as well as a hippie grunge fashion blogger. And you know what? It turned me off both all the bloggers who posted Kotex-sponsored content and Kotex itself. That's not a win for a company or a blog--so what's the point? 

Don't Take Offers Just for Free Stuff

We've all interacted with One Of Those Bloggers on Twitter: they just want free stuff. They just want products. They tweet major companies every chance they get, spend Twitter chats sending out their link (instead of actually interacting with other bloggers), and post product review after product review in the hopes that Benefit, Ulta, or any other brand will send them free merch. No one really likes this blogger and no one should aspire to be like this. 

Blogging isn't about "free stuff." It's great to get a free mascara to review, or a box of Cheerios, or something fun... but blogging should, first and foremost, be about providing great content to readers. It's a special subset of the population that reads and supports blogs (and Pinterest has definitely helped with this!) but they are very easily turned off. No one wants to read the same boring review over and over. No one wants to be sold too 100% of the time! 

If you started your blog to get free stuff, think again. It's never going to be authentic. 

If It Doesn't Feel Right, Don't Do It

It feels like a hundred years ago, but back when I wrote Locked Out, I accepted a sponsorship from Vedette Shapewear. At the time, I was excited: they sponsored tons of bloggers (in retrospect, this should have been a warning sign) and had tons of followers on social media. I picked out the products I wanted to try, got the rules for my posts, and excitedly started creating content. However, when I sent photo and post drafts to them, they responded that they weren't happy: they felt like my outfits weren't showing off the shapewear appropriately. A big part of their campaign was wearing shapewear as daywear, which is fine in theory... but I'm not a high fashion model. I can't exactly pull of wearing a sheer bra in the day time. Instead, I'd worn a sheer top over it, as well as an A-line skirt. They wanted the photos and outfit to be sexier. Had they not looked at my blog? 

In retrospect, I should have known it wasn't a good fit and, even at the time, I'd had my reservations. I should have said "No thanks!" at the start, but I was too excited at being offered a chance. 

Moral of the story: if a sponsored post opportunity doesn't feel right, don't do it. 

Stay True to You

Only you fully understand what you want from your blog and only you see what your audience loves most. When it comes to monetized content--from ebooks to sponsored posts--stay true to what you want to include... and remember what your audience wants. Taking the time to include monetized content is beneficial to you, but spending extra care to ensure that it remains authentic (and your blog stays amazing) is just as beneficial. 

Do you have tips for monetizing your blog without selling out? Share with me on Twitter!

Social Media Isn't Scary (I Promise)

Some people intuitively "get" social media.

And of course, some don't. 

Funny enough, I would actually consider myself in the second group. Inherently, I'm not a person who enjoys bragging (or does it well), nor am I inherently charismatic. 

The parts of social media that I "get" tend to be the nitty gritty: collecting statistics; basic scheduling tips and tricks; the importance of visual content; and analytics. And all that I've learned from years of using social media on my own and through working in social media for a year.  

The number one thing I've heard from friends who also work in the industry is this: "social media is intimidating!" or "I don't understand what I'm doing wrong on social media..."

I don't claim to have all the answers... but sometimes, I think the solution to the problems many people have with social media is incredibly simple. 

Social media isn't scary... and it isn't complicated either. 

Social media is incredibly easy. That isn't to say that it's "easy" to get followers or to make sales--that's actually quite complicated. But social media itself is easy and it doesn't have to be scary, time consuming, or intimidating. 

Good social media requires a few things: 

  • A routine, 
  • Dedication, 
  • And specific attention to analytics and results.

Social media isn't time consuming.

When I was training realtors on using social media, the number one argument and complaint I got was, "But I don't have time!"

Social media can seem daunting because it seems like you'd have to spend hours on social media: posting, reading, responding. That just isn't the case. It'd be great if we all have 5-6 hours a day to dedicate to social media (and how fun too!), but none of us do--even social media professionals. 

As I said, social media requires a routine and dedication to that routine. The advice I gave to realtors was this: take 10 minutes at the start and end of everyday to check your social media accounts (whether it is Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn). Use those 10 minutes to like anything, RT a few tweets, and Favorite any articles you want to post yourself. On a weekend morning, you can take an hour, tops, to repost articles, write content, or create a timeline of content you want to share. 

It sounds easy, right? It is. It just takes time management, dedication, and a strict routine--things that entrepreneurs are supposed to have anyway, right? 

Social media requires strategy. 

Whether you're running a lifestyle or fashion blog or starting your own business, having a social media strategy is important. As I've written in the past, this is something I struggle with personally (it's hard to draw the line between personal social media and public!). Adhering to a strategy--and not deviating, despite what you might want--is incredibly important. Knowing the times to post, how to interpret analytics, and what kind of content your audience favors is daunting, but by creating a strategy, you can keep an eye on all of those details--and succeed.

Need help creating a strategy for your social media? I can help.

All About My New Blogging & Social Media Plan

You may have noticed how regularly I've been posting lately.

This isn't just out of boredom (although bed rest is certainly giving me a lot of time to plan and write). I recently decided to dedicate myself more fully to my blog, to writing, and to gaining freelance writing opportunities, as well as alternate forms of income. The main readers of my blog have, until this point, been my friends & family, as well as long-time blog friends and acquaintances.

Ultimately, I want to grow my readership... without jeopardizing the parts of my blog that I love (basically, being able to write about my life). I also want to start focusing on one of my little known passions: digital marketing strategy and planning, as well as content creation. You might have noticed a few posts of that variety recently. 

This is a somewhat sudden shift in content and it can be kind of jarring. I'm trying to bridge the gap between my two, often very different blog topics. Ultimately, I want my digital marketing content to relate to all people--small business owners, other bloggers, and my friends & family (to help them understand just what, exactly, it is that I do)--and I'm hoping I can accomplish that. 

Alongside these new style of posts, I'm trying to "clean up my act" on social media. For a long time, I've dithered on social media: sometimes I'm more serious, sometimes I'm a jokester, sometimes I forget Twitter even exists for a few days. The time has come for me to buckle down and be serious. You'll see noticeable changes in my Instagram and Twitter feed. (I was hoping to make changes to Instagram this week, but after being in the hospital, it felt strange to bounce right back to posting my pre-planned content!) 

This all goes hand-in-hand with taking blogging seriously again. For a long time, I couldn't take blogging seriously because I wasn't ready again. For a long time, my blog was my life and I received too much validation through it. This time, I want to use this blog to expand my career--which means I have to be just a little bit more serious. 

Just because the direction of my blog, and social media, is changing doesn't mean I'll cut out any of the things that make people like my blog to begin with. I still want to write about lifestyle, fashion, beauty, and blogging--but alongside those posts, I want to share my expertise when it comes to writing, content creation, staying creative, and building great strategy.