When I started out in private practice 2 years ago, my wife, who is something of a computer expert, said I should write blog articles. She then started telling me about things like SEO, and other computery things I hadn't heard of.
Seeing as I had already written reams to become a counsellor in the first place, I thought why not have a go at writing blog articles?
Here's a collection of “how to's,” I have gleaned over that 2 year writing journey.
1. Why write articles If your model is like mine, then you have an entry on a directory website. Your client searches on the internet, finds the directory, types in their location, and is then presented with a sea of 50+ faces to choose from.
They decide they like your face and the 25 words you wrote, click on your picture and start reading your entry. They then look at several more, before eventually deciding to give you a try. You then get the email or the phone call.
It's all a bit hit and miss, and you've probably, like me experienced the feast and famine, that entails. Writing articles is like fishing, the more bait you dangle, the more likely you are to get a bite.
The reason blog articles work is because people usually sit with a problem for a long time before they pluck up the courage to see someone. They will have already tried the self-help route, which will include searching and reading around, much of it on the internet.
If you have good articles out there, by the time your prospective client starts searching for a counsellor, they may well have read something you wrote. So when they are presented with that sea of 50+ faces, there is a familiar name on the list. A few might even come just on the strength of an article.
When prospective clients do come to your website, many of them will browse your other pages, and while you might say you are specialised in anger management, how do they know if that's really true? By demonstrating your professionalism in your articles.
They will want someone who can understand them, and how do they know this is likely to be you? Because something you wrote resonated with their experience.
Clients are looking for someone easy to talk to, and how can they get a feel for this? By reading your words you have already begun forming a relationship with your reader.
And lastly, when you write blog articles you really do not have to worry about knowing anything too technical, such as what SEO stands for.
What Google is trying to work out is how trustworthy and authoritative your website is, because what it wants to do is to match its users' queries with good websites.
Now there are lots of technical bits and bobs you can do to try to convince Google that your website is trustworthy, but if you write articles you don't really have to bother with any of that, because you are automatically providing Google with what it is looking for – well written content.
'When I started, I realised I knew how to write so I could get good marks, but I didn't know how to write internet articles to get readers'
2. What to write about Themes your clients can relate to.
Although this seems obvious, it can be very easy to get distracted and find you are writing about something else, such as issues about justice, or perhaps issues around ethics. One or two of these will be OK, but your prospective clients aren't going to be much interested in reading them.
Now I do write more technical articles, however they are still client focussed, because I also counsel students, and so some of my articles have ended up being referenced in essays.
So what you write about very much depends on who your ideal client is, because this is the person you are going to write for.
Now for that sometimes thorny problem, inspiration. Where does this come from?
I get mine from 2 main sources.
Things I have read - Books, online articles, magazines, the occasional journal article. I like to spend time contemplating, understanding, and critiquing what I have read. Now, although most of this goes on in my head, sometimes I will get a spark of an idea.
Clients - yes clients. The people I see often ask me questions, sometimes I will explain something if I think it's useful. And some of these explanations have turned into articles. I might also offer a technique, such as breathing, which can be turned into a piece of writing. And you can also write generically about client experience of a particular problem, and how you work with it, along with the kind of things which can help.
And for me this next bit is absolutely key...
Whenever I get an idea, I write it down.
I use an online tool to keep a record of my ideas, however a notebook, a Word document on your laptop, spreadsheet, a note app on your phone, can all be used to keep hold of them.
So when you have an article to write you will have a list of ideas to choose from.
3. How to write
When I started, I realised I knew how to write so I could get good marks, but I didn't know how to write internet articles to get readers, and the style needed is quite different.
The skill of commercial writing is known as 'copy', and there are people whose job is to write good 'copy'. So what's 'copy'?
It's way of presenting text so that it a) engages the attention of the reader, b) delivers a message, and c) elicits a desired response.
People when they read articles on the internet, read differently than if they pick up a magazine or a book. They're looking for something which draws them in, is easily read, and can be scanned or skipped.
Some pointers, Write conversationally - Direct your writing at the reader. Use, “you”, “me”, and “I”. Do use emotional language; you really do want your reader to have a reaction to your writing.
Write simply - This doesn't mean that you can't write about complex ideas, however you should always aim to use natural language. Don't say Unconditional Positive Regard, say “acceptance”, or “being received.”
Paint a picture - While, images do work well in articles, you can also “paint” with words. Do illustrate by providing examples of what you are talking about.
Lead your reader by the hand - Your article should flow naturally from one point to the next. Think of your article as a journey, and you the writer as the tour guide pointing out the sites of interest on the way.
Create structure - Do use subtitles and bullet points to create blocks of information which can be skipped or skimmed over, allowing the reader to reach the next section.
Negative space - Create white space in your article, and this one is pretty important. Don't write long paragraphs, because only the more determined readers will get to the end of them. Also use left-justified text, so the right hand side has a jagged edge, because this is easier for the eye to follow.
'Advertisers know that reasons don't make us buy, emotions do!'
4. Pulling it together So you've got your idea, and you want to finalise it for publishing on your website. The first and foremost most important item is,
i. The title
The title matters more than anything else. It's your invitation for someone to spend time reading your article, and you have 5 to 10 words to convince them.
Now for a secret.
Do you remember the John Lewis Christmas advert, the one with the dog and the trampoline? This advert works because we can relate to the feelings of the dog – the frustration of being thwarted, followed by the exuberant joy of indulging in something you're not really supposed to. Now think how these emotions relate to the ones John Lewis would like us to have when we go Christmas shopping in their stores...
Advertisers know that reasons don't make us buy, emotions do!
The same goes for your title - effective titles generate an emotional response in the reader.
One of the most common is mystery, such as this title from a BBC article, “The untranslatable emotions you never knew you had.” Here what you are creating is the feeling of “missing out,” and this is a very powerful allure. “Ooh, there's something I don't know, what is it?”
Another common theme is, “You have a problem, here's the solution” - Such as “5 ways to beat interview nerves” Numbers work really well in titles, and odd numbers work better than even numbers.
An effective title is,
Catchy - Do use word play, metaphor, and emotional language.
Accurate - However clever your title may be, it must accurately convey the content of the article.
Well thought out - Start with a working title to keep your article on track, and when you are finished play with different variations. If you can, test them out to see which works best.
ii. Making it pretty
The next thing your article needs is a picture. Good pictures should tell some of your story. When your articles are grouped together, good pictures will convey or follow an overall theme.
With increasing internet speeds, you can afford to put in a large full-width one right at the top. The days of a small image parked to one side with text wrapped around it is long gone.
Make sure when you use images you are allowed to use them. Don't use Google image search to find pictures, because you may be inadvertently using images which require you to purchase a licence.
There are several websites which host good quality images under a commercial commons licence, which you can use for free, although you may need to attribute the author. And even if you don't have to, I always feel it's important to acknowledge another's work.
iii. The business end
Your article, like essays need 3 things: a beginning, middle, and an end.
The beginning sets the scene, and delivers the hook – it tells you why you are going to keep reading.
You could go for an emotional appeal, such as “All who know mental health know people who didn't make it” and you know this is going to be a hard hitting article. It's setting the tone for what is to follow.
Or perhaps a challenge like this one, “People have enormous respect for ancient wisdom. They just don’t read it.” before the author goes on to offer an easy read explanation of philosophy.
The middle is your argument, story, list of tips, and so on. I use two maxims for this part,
More is better – Internet search engines like longer articles, however most people's concentration lasts around 300 words. So should you write short articles? Well, if you are looking for engagement. People who will pick up the phone and make an appointment, more is generally, but not always better.
Less is more – While this may seem contradictory, this is about editing. Be ruthless. Cut out all unnecessary words, repeated ideas, and double explanations. Simpler and shorter is better than complex and longer.
For me this part is a cycle of writing, editing, writing, editing, and then deciding I am more or less finished, at which point I write the ending. Endings are important too, your article needs to feel finished for the reader.
I like endings which have some kind of flourish. Like this one from omni media.
At this point in your article, ask yourself a question. Have you promoted yourself?
Because let's face it, that's why you are writing. And you don't have to be pushy, or go for the hard sell. A paragraph on how you would work with this, presenting your professional opinion on an issue, or a little vignette of your clinical experience, are all valid ways of promoting yourself.
5. Growing your readership So you have published your article, and all you have to do is wait for it to be found, right?
Sadly no, if you just publish and do nothing else, then the reality is that the one and only avid reader of your article will be you!
You do have to promote the articles you write, and while I wouldn't say I find this tedious, it is more workmanlike, and for me at least, less enjoyable than the writing.
There are lots of internet articles out there on how to promote your blog, and they are definitely worth a read. I use social media as my main promotion tool.
When my article is published, I share it onto all my social media feeds, and what happens is this,
It will get a few likes, a few shares, a few clicks. This is pretty normal, but it's how Google and other search engines see this, which is the important bit.
When you publish an article, a 'bot' which is a piece of automated code, will scan it, and decide what your article is about, so it can be found when somebody does a search. Other 'bots' will be looking to see what other websites link to your article, and how much traffic this generates.
This enables the search engine to decide how important your article is, and how high to rank it. Those few likes, and shares is the initial push which sets things going. Once your article is listed high enough, then you will begin to get people coming directly from internet searches.
And this is what has happened to several of my articles. They did OK, but nothing special on social media, however they tapped into something that people were generally searching for, and so some of my articles are each getting around 40 to 50 views a month, and have been doing so regularly for the last 18 months or so.
For me this is pretty good. I am writing in a niche, from a single website, and presenting a view which differs from what I would consider to be mainstream.
Now for the not so good news...
This all takes time, article writing is a long term strategy. It took me around 30 articles before I noticed a significant uptick in website traffic and client referrals.
Building a decent Facebook and Twitter following will take around a year. It's a bit trickier to build a following on Linkedin, however out of the 3 it is a richer medium, because you can use your articles as starting points for discussion in the various groups, which I find the most interesting.
And now for the second bit of not so good news...
Articles work best as a regular dripfeed, so you will need to manage your workload.
I tend to write 600 to 1500 word articles, which takes around 4 to 6 hours just to get to the final editing/tidying stage. Research takes around 2 to 3 hours. Editing and launching onto social media, another 1-2 hours, which includes responding to any comments.
This means that in practice I can write 1 article a fortnight. More might be better, but regular is much better than sporadic.
So what if you write in bursts?
All my articles are scheduled on the server of my website to be released at pre-determined intervals. That way I can manage the amount of time I have for writing, and I always have some breathing space if I have to focus on something else for a time.
6. The hidden benefits I count article writing as CPD, and why not. I am usually doing some research. The process of writing means that I am getting to grips with a piece of knowledge, even if this is a bit of 'revision'.
And there are some other benefits. So far I have been invited to go on a radio show, done a book review, and been asked if I would share my articles, which I have to admit is affirming. I've also used my articles to help construct a seminar, which cut down my work load considerably.
I really like writing, and I am reminded of how surprised my form tutor was when I said I wanted to be a scientist, and she said to me at the time, “Your English teacher really thought you'd become a writer.”
And that for me is the joy of writing. How the act of writing changes the idea I had in the first place.
They always come out different than I anticipated, even this one! I discover things I didn't know were there, until they spring to life within the paragraph right in front of me,
That's why I write.
If you're interested in driving traffic to your website, get in touch and write for The Counsellors Café
We have a small team of editors, with an avid readership and we are more than happy to support you to create the article you want. This magazine offers you the platform to reach new readers and supports you to up your search ranking position, by driving traffic straight to you. It makes marketing sense to get blogging and get involved.
Mark Redwood has an Honours Degree in Counselling, and is a Humanistic Counsellor running a busy private practice in the Southampton area. Mark has worked in a Local Authority helping learning disabled and autistic adults, as a school counsellor, and is Chair of Client Services for a bereavement charity.
Mark believes we are all born with the potential for growth and a capacity to embrace change.