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

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.

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 Responses to “31DBBB Day 24: How To Use a Magazine To Improve Your Blog”

  1. 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.

  2. DAN! I should have come here first. Such great magazine rec's. Well, as it went, I learned how to improve my blog from Vanity Fair. ;-)
    http://greeninventionscentral.blogspot.com/2010/0

    • 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

  3. 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…

  4. 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.
    ;)

  5. 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?

  6. 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

  7. I love magazines! I keep several (Time, Entertainment Weekly, Backpacker) in the bathroom for those special times of reading.

    I wrote an article last night based on the pitcher who lost a perfect game due to a blown call by the umpire: http://captainestes.blogspot.com/2010/06/when-oth

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

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

      • LOL! When would I have time to read magazines if I didn't take advantage of that opportunity?

        • 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?

  8. 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.

  9. This blog looks pretty good, very rich also, will often came to see.

  10. I've learned a lot from looking at a magazine things like changing font sizes, adding pictures, and page layout to the pages giving me ideas on what to blog on.

    For me I used a magazine that talked about children and missions. I used a Gospel For Asia "Send" Magazine but for this project could have used anything. Using something that fits your niche is probably best.

    For the rest of what I learned from this project check out "Applying Advertising to Blogging" http://tijuanabecky.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/appl
    You can also get good ideas from what people are or aren't telling you, from their "hidden messages" – http://tijuanabecky.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/hidd

  11. I've got a different opinion on the magazine thing. I see the points that Darren makes and Dan you gave some good ideas. But sometimes magazines turn me off because they are so flashy and noisy. My favorite magazine for a long time has been Reader's Digest. I tell why in my post today: http://junctionforjesus.blogspot.com/2010/06/outr

    • You are totally right Richard! And that was a great post on the subject. I think that this discovery means mission accomplished for this task.

      Regarding the shift that you saw in RD…
      RD seems to be getting caught in all the hype about the formats that they are supposed to follow, and are trying to imitate them… (1) because they are loosing readership with the old format, or (2) because they fail to recognize that the niche that they once filled still has some juice.

      Either way, with your blog, you can continue to fill that niche, and learn from RD's failures to maintain what you liked so much about them. If you liked it, then I'm sure there are other who also do…

      Great thoughts!

    • I also like simple. Have you noticed that some of the biggest names have the simplest designs such as Apple & Google. I have a hard time knowing where to draw the line at maximizing space and overcrowding.

  12. I guess if I were thinking of my blog like a magazine, I would resemble "O", Oprah's magazine, because it goes by her name and reflects her interests, just as my blog goes by my name, Ann Kroeker, and reflects my interests.

    To update my blog to match Oprah's magazine, I could rename my blog "A" or "A.K." Could open up some curious marketing opportunities to have a blog that, when said out loud, sounds like "ack!"

    I do think about my content sometimes as if I were posting for a magazine, looking for something encouraging, thoughtful, helpful, or entertaining to write about, often pointing to other good resources … like magazines often do ("O" shares great finds with its readers all the time … really expensive good finds).

    Your post reminds me to work on attention-grabbing headlines and more appealing layout. I'm currently using free WordPress, so my design options are limited, but it's something to consider in the future. Also, I can easily go in and put a "more" tag in so that only excerpts are showing on the home page, making more posts visible. I like that idea.

    Thanks for your input, Dan. Once more, you help me be more purposeful, focused and thoughtful in my approach to blogging!

    • Thanks for coming by Ann! And I just responded to another comment with the 'more' tag idea to create a more manageable homepage! Great minds…

      I appreciate your self-evaluation, and the feedback!

    • Ann, I read your post last night on Praying like a Child–loved it and followed it over to the other site. I think you are already posting like a magazine (hee, hee).
      Janis

    • I'm using free wordpress too and agree that can hinder some ideas. But definely can implement others. You're doing great!

  13. Writing for magazines has definately influence my blog, but the front page idea mentioned by Paul and others definately bears some consideration. It could really expand or at least modifiy my post timing, etc.

    Use of sidebars in magazines might also be effective for blogging though clearly it comes in competition with other content we already but there. An alternative might be inserting a block of sidebar information within the main blog text. I have done that in the past.

    Changing fonts, pictures, etc. are things I already use but could learn some tips for effectiveness from more careful perusing of the magazines.

  14. The number one thing I learned from Non-news magazines is that you can't go around re-hashing the same stuff over and over again with a new pretty face and a new cover page. My wife subscribed to Cosmopolitan for a while and it was a fun/guilty kind of pleasure for her for about three months when she realized that she had read the same fifteen articles three months in a row with different names, and punctuation.
    post today has nothing to do with the topic since I'm still looking at other magazines and redesigning my cover [home] page. http://justapen.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/i-look-a

    • Great points Seiji! The Cosmo experience is a great lesson in keeping fresh content coming! I've been thinking about this very thing as I work on my 'editorial calendar' (a la Day 12), and I've found myself mapping out repetitive content. I'm starting to feel like a magazine editor with just trying to plan and map out content…

    • I like the new look on your blog.

  15. I believe there is a lot we can learn from magazines, but they also point out the limitations of some of the more simple blogging sites. Varying text size, font, color, pictures, etc. are all effective if you are skilled at laying out such things. Although these are helpful at attracting attention, in my experience it is the content that keeps one coming back to a magazine, or a blog. Unless it is a matter of examining it solely for the images, if the content of the articles is not captivating, readership will decline. That being said, you don't have readers if you can't attract attention.

    • You are absolutely right! And that's one of the things that we can learn from magazines too… what types of content is working, and what is not. But I definitely agree that there is a fine balance in content vs. image. Great point!

  16. The reason I stopped subscribing to and buying magazines years ago was because there were so many ads and so little content for my $$$. I want to make some money from my blog through Google and affiliate ads but it is not the main objective. The main objective is to inspire people with true life stories and original poems. The second objective is to guide people to my gift web site. Last is income from ads.
    As far as magazines go, when I am in a supermarket, it is subject matter and brand name that attracts me to browse through their pages. It is the headlines that will get me to read an article.
    Under those circumstances, it seems that with a blog we are also attracting people through subject matter and trying to create a brand name by being found and seen. Hopefully our post headlines will get people to read and comment.
    I wish I had time to browse through online magazines but for the most part, I don't. I rarely browse at actual magazines when in stores. I suppose I should do both more often.

  17. Dan, you raised some good points in this post. And thank you for your encouraging comment about sticking with this blog design project.
    Well, this is an assignment I am really looking forward to doing. Time away from the computer and constantly tweaking my new format. Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks, a stack of magazines, more post ideas, and best of all–contact the editor to sell an article. Something I have put on the back burner with learning to blog better.
    Be back later with my report!

    In Him,
    Janis

    • Thanks Janis! Order me a Venti, non-fat, no-water chai latte, and I'll meet you there! LOL! I'm glad that you are looking forward to this task! I'd love to hear more about how it goes for you!

      • Well, I'm back here at the computer. Never made it to Starbucks! Bummer! So I couldn't get your no-water chai latte. But I did get through some magazines. And here are my observations–or opinions.
        1)Harmonious color and clean artistic design drew me in the most. One of the magazines I reviewed had obnoxious incompatible colors and overused color. I read it only because of the content.
        2)Other design elements that impressed me were the appropriate use of background color for a one-page article or a whole-page photo that served as the lead in to the article.
        3) I liked 1 theme on a page. If the article ran long, I liked the bold headings so that I could scan to the part that interested me.
        4) I also noticed that Arizona High Roads (AAA) carried articles of current interest. My sons enjoy watching one of the food/travel channels which highlights the "Best Places to Eat" all over the country. Arizona High Roads did a similar piece on Best Places to Eat through Arizona. I'm trying to figure out a way to incorporate that in my blog. "Restaurants that Inspire?"
        5) I also liked the content page listed in the front, which is making me reconsider making a separate page for my archives.
        Lots of good ideas came out of today's assignment.
        My new post is: http://openmyearslord.blogspot.com/when-unexpecte
        Blessings,
        Janis

        • Those ARE some great design observations and ideas! It sounds like it was a fruitful time, and that you've got some more great direction from this exercise! Thanks for sharing your findings, it helps me too…

  18. Oh, yes! One more thing that ties into the magazine format. I stuck a flashy CAUTION sign on my blog a couple of days ago. I got more clicks and views than ever before! I guess the image you put on your front page really does make a difference.

    Janis

  19. I learned from looking at a magazine and having just read through some of your all's posts and comments I've learned some more things. Just learned that you can be cool and crazy by adding sexy pictures to your blogs, my thought is to add food, and some other really fun crazy things.

    Taking a magazine and going crazy with what you learned in your post, is an idea.

    • Cool! I'm glad that you're picking up some good ideas! I know that the food thing would probably make me click… big picture of a steak with a 'more' tag immediately after so that I can see how it was prepared… mmmmm! Sorry, it's about dinner time… I got a little carried away!

      Seriously though… you are right. There are lots of crazy cool ideas flying around this post today!

  20. Some very good ideas here. It would be interesting to read some follow-up on customizing the homepage. I know that I am drawn in by unique designs and interesting headers. And mine is rather blah and blog cookie-cutter. Maybe I should do something about that.

    • I'm totally with you Laura! I'm really interested to see how some of these great design ideas make it into folks blogs! It could be really cool lookin'!

      And regarding your blog, your AMAZING content more than makes up for blah design. And it's not all that blah anyway! I love how you use images in your posts…

    • I like your page, Laura, but I was wondering what happened to the water theme? And if anybody knows how to change formats and headers so we could add color or do a large photo at times, please let me know. Just leave out the HTML!
      Janis

  21. Interesting idea comparing blogging to print magazines. I have used templates that have a magazine feel to them. However, they never seemed to be advantageous.

    I am going to do some more research on magazines and how they relate to blogging. Looking forward to reading some magazines just to see the comparisons. Thanks for the post Dan.

    • Thanks! I'd love to hear more about what your research turns up, and why you didn't see advantages to using magazine-style templates. I know that this task doesn't necessarily suggest that this is what we do, but I'd love to hear your thoughts related to your experience.

      Thanks! I appreciate the feedback!

      • Hey Dan,

        A major disadvantage I find in using a magazine-style template is the need to fill all the slots. I find that my time is limited so I like to be able to focus on the primary rather than the secondary objectives. Another disadvantage is too much information tends to overwhelm me. I tend to I shy away from blogs or websites whose layout looks too busy. A blog or website I will return to is one that I am able to easily search and find information.

        I write for the Starfish Files (Canada's House Church Magazine). My particular articles are simple action plans for those involved in small groups generally and house churches specifically. I often find it difficult to take the time to read most magazines online or offline because I have to wade through too much information that does not relate to my interests.

        I very much enjoyed your post. There are a number of advantages, as well, to using some of the elements of magazines on a blog or website. However, you will notice that I tend to comment near the end of the day. Time constraints are a major issue for me. Blessings, Rob

  22. You have exposed a truth which many have not considered. The magazines use well chosen captions and write in such a way that their readers are always filled with suspense looking for more. A lot could equally be leanrt from their designs. Keep it up.

  23. Dan King you are right. Magazines are very careful and skillful in their choice of titles. They take their time to put their designs in perfect order. Everything is perfectly arranged to entice and arouse the curiosity of the reader. Job well done

  24. Still playing catchup.

    I hadn't ever considered magazines as being similar to a blog but you're right. However I'm still a little slow in that department as I like my paper based products to be real paper and not an ebook or similar. Though I must add that some of my fav mags are available at approx a third the price of the paper ones electronically.

    I will eventually move entirely to the e-format I guess, but for now I still like real products.

    And thanks for the links – will enjoy following through on some of those,

  25. Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

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  2. Building a Better Blog, Part 2 - Jun 18, 2010

    [...] I shared a few lessons learned at the mid-point of the project, and I even had the chance to be the project’s guest blogger a couple of times (Day 15: Find a Blog Buddy and Day 24: How to Use a Magazine to Improve Your Blog). [...]