How to Blog like Shakespeare: Writing
for Three Audiences at the Same Time

image of shakespeare using a laptop

William Shakespeare is the shorthand we use when we want to describe a great writer. He stands for the pinnacle of writing ability.

One reason is that he mastered the art of writing for completely different audiences. He appealed to the ultra elite, to regular theater-goers who never missed a performance, and to the illiterate mobs in the cheap seats. And he managed to satisfy each audience magnificently.

I’ve written a blog series around the web about how to write for each of three different audiences: new readers, regular readers, and experts. Now it’s time for us to try the Shakespearean feat of pulling these three audiences together.

Before we move on, I want to be clear that writing for each of your audiences is not the same thing as trying to write for everybody. Writing for your different audiences isn’t the same thing as writing for Wikipedia.

Write different posts for the different groups

Not every post has to work for every reader. Sometimes, instead of trying to write one post that works for everybody, pick one of your audiences and write for them.

If your blog gives marketing tips, you might give tips for new readers on Monday, regular readers on Wednesday, and experts on Friday. To be clear about who each post is for, you could call them Marketing 101, Marketing 201, and Marketing 401.

This approach pleases all three audiences more than you’d think. New readers learn a lot all at once, regular readers get refreshers and expert knowledge, and experts appreciate the reminders and will probably send people your way, too.

Embrace the series

Series are a great way to tackle the Eternal September problem, which is one of the main challenges of blogging.

Because readers come in at different phases of the conversation, we tend to either have to constantly remind people where we are, or write each post so that someone just joining in can grasp what’s going on.

Not only that, but most blog readers are used to reading short posts, and sometimes it’s hard to complete a complex thought in 800 words. Eternal September combined with short attention spans tends to lead to posts that lack substance and offer little more than constant primers.

With a series, though, you can start everyone on the same page. Series also give you enough room to develop your thought in a little more depth.

Writing a series gives you another opportunity to please all three audiences. New readers get the advantage of being caught up all at once, and they get a great introduction to your blog and your voice. Regular readers can appreciate the longer coverage of an idea, especially since you can use the room to give detailed stories and explanations. Experts respect a good series because you can show your knowledge of the field and you have the chance to say and explain something novel.

For some concrete examples of how it’s done, take a look at the Resources section to the left of this post, with series like Copywriting 101, Content Marketing 101, or SEO Copywriting.

Don’t write a series just to write a series, as it’s easy to tell the difference between a post that’s just way too long and an idea that needed several posts to cover well. A series is not a substitute for good, concise writing.

Focus on new and regular readers

Given that they make up at least 95% of your blog readers, your writing should always deliver the maximum value to new and regular readers.

This is where we tend to go wrong, by trying to write too often for experts (for example, other bloggers in our topic). In writing for experts, we run the real risk of losing everybody else.

Think about your blog post in layers. One layer of your writing should help new readers. After you have them covered, the next layer should be for your regular readers. Lastly, if you can work it in, the final layer should be for the experts.

Write as an expert, not like one

Just because you’re an expert doesn’t mean you have to write in a way that’s hard to read and understand.

Good writers know that the real challenge is writing about difficult topics in a simple, clear, and approachable way. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

If you’re able to write about difficult topics in a way that non-experts understand, you’ll do what many experts can’t. There’s no better way to establish your authority with all three groups, experts included.

The wheel has come full circle

Blogging is a new medium, sure, but it’s a medium by which we express, educate, entertain, and engage people. And people haven’t changed that much. That’s why we can learn from the past; their challenges are our challenges.

As blogging evolves, what will discriminate the remarkable and memorable from the bland and forgotten?

It’s not how well you can create spikes of traffic, but how much art you bring to the craft of blogging. It’s great to have a killer blog, but even better to have one with a touch of poetry.

There were dozens of playwrights in Shakespeare’s day who knew how to fill seats, but there’s only one Shakespeare. Which do you want to be?

This is the fourth and final part of the How To Blog Like Shakespeare Series from Charlie Gilkey. Check out the other posts in the series:

  1. How to Write For New Readers
  2. How to Write For Regular Readers
  3. How to Write For Expert Readers

About the Author: Charlie Gilkey writes about meaningful action, creativity, and entrepreneurship at Productive Flourishing. Follow him on Twitter to see how he does at the whole brevity thing.

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  1. Hi Charlie,

    I’ve loved this series. You’ve done a tremendous job with it from first post to last, and I love how you spread it out.

    Smart.

    Love this: “Write as an expert, not like one.”

    You’re right on – Shakespeare has endured as long as he has because everyone in the Globe theater thought he was writing just for them.

    Thanks, Charlie.

  2. Very true. Whatever you try you will never be able to gauge the understanding level of all your readers. The one who knows good copywriting might not know about blog culture. One who knows that may be poor in SEO. Though all want to learn. So its rather advisable to write posts with varying experience and understanding level.

    And yes one last thing never ever forget to take a feedback and check results for your experiments. Else you just might be digging your grave ;)

  3. Charlie- you nailed it, and inspired me. I hadn’t considered the different layers, and the idea of new/regular/expert has given me a lot to think about in approaching my blog this year.

    Thank you, my friend.

  4. Hey Charlie,

    There’s that ol’ exercise of whether your writing is simple enough for even the newest readers:

    Can a 5 year old or a grandma understand it?

    If not, keep simplifying. Using shorter words. Shorter sentences. Like you mentioned with the Einstein quote: if you can’t clearly explain it to one of those 2, then you don’t understand the topic enough.

    It’s like great music, or a great film: it’s accessible. Most people can greatly enjoy it, but there’s a level of complexity for those that want to dig deeper. But it’s never at the expense of the enjoyability.

    The example I’m thinking of is Pixar’s WALL-E.

    Classic Pixar storytelling to where a 5 year old or a grandma can enjoy. But man, is that an artful film (a non-talkie for the entire 1st half). And the social commentary injected about what it means to really exist in a place (as well as our increasingly wasteful behavior) can really excite the nerdy intellect of the higher-brow viewers.

    Here’s to being a Pixar, a Beatles, or a Shakespeare in our writing,
    Oleg

  5. Hi Charlie,

    I have to agree with Mark about “nailing it” and inspiring at the same time. I loved the quotes and great links to other posts that definitely need reading over and over again.

    P.S. I would love to be Shakespeare in blogging/storytelling, but isn’t it really hard enough just trying to provide great value+market it well? Does uniqueness come right away or can it be obtained over time?

  6. Hey there, Charlie:

    I want to take this opportunity to thank your for this post.

    It is a great learning experience to learn about writing.

    Writing should be communicable to your target audience.
    Thus, writing for a peer-reviewed scholarly journal is very different from writing for the mainstream media. Again, that is different from writing ad copy. Insightful ideas.

    Kindly keep on writing such guest posts: you add value.

  7. @Sean: Thank you! I appreciate the feedback, and I’m wondering how many will notice that the series show everything that I’ve been recommending. It’s subtle, but there.

    I’d also like to write about why we did it this way, too. There’s a lot of “meta” stuff behind the scenes and I think a lot of people would like to see it. I’m not sure where it’ll publish, but I’d like to share it somewhere.

    @Chanda: Good point about checking feedback. The challenge, of course, is that you have to balance the feedback with the holistic view of your audience.

    @Mark: Thank you. There’ll be more to come on this, as this framework has really helped me, too.

    @Oleg: Funny that in part 1 of the series, a grandma commented about the assumptions that grandmas aren’t knowledgeable. And I love the Pixar example, too.

    @Pinar: It comes in time. If you check Part 1, you’ll see a link that goes back to a post on my blog that I think shows that pretty well. I would link here, but it’d get stuck in the queue.

  8. So often people give the advice to write to a broad audience. I love the idea of concentrating on just one “group” on certain days of the week.

    I also love writing series because I’m a writer by nature and find it hard to keep things short!

    Thanks.

  9. Hi Charlie… I like your post and I like the overall message of it. I don’t like the reference to Shakespeare. I think the reason Shakespeare was able to write to all audiences is because he didn’t write his work… I believe it was Sir Francis Bacon and his collective group of authors… Others will disagree, but I’m not here for a debate.

    One thing I’d like to add that @ Oleg commented on… Was about writing for a 5 year old. That may sound dramatic, but the average person in the U.S. reads and comprehends at an 8th grade level.

    So regardless if you are writing for new, regular or expert reader… That’s something to always keep in the back of your mind.

    The other thing I really like about your post is “Write as an expert, not like one.” That’s very well stated.

  10. I think communicating to your audience on their level and in a language they can understand is really important. Lots of sales pages have this problem where they use all this technical jargon and words that other people don’t understand.

    In blogging however, communicating in their language is just as crucial. It would suck to write and not have people ever read it, wouldn’t it?

  11. Charlie, I like how your post made me ponder more about the way I should write. While everyone is stressing about quality content, it’s easy to forget about the key factor of being reader-friendly. I adore my readers and it’s my last intention to ever want to burden them with complicated jargon or un-thorough how-to steps. :-) Very good reminder tip. Just wish to let you know you’ve inspired quite a lot of people today. Thanks so much.

    @wchingya
    Social/Blogging Tracker

  12. Personally, I’m still working on the “What if Shakespeare wrote Screenplays?” metaphor…. Thanks for allowing me to look at the same thing differently.

  13. I’ve found that my audiences overlap nicely. My blog audiences are other writers, business owners, and marketing professionals. See the overlap? A freelance writer is also a business owner (whether he wants to admit it or not). A business owner may also be a marketing professional, and so may a marketing copywriter.

    I figure that if I post an article that hits the bulls-eye with one of those groups, I’ll also catch at least an outer ring of the other groups — enough of them to come back and see if they’re the target next time.

  14. I think series are good but I tend to get bored of them when they’re posted consecutively. I guess I like variety and perhaps blogging lends itself to that.

    Leo Babauta had a good article a bit ago about how it’s smart not to have too narrow a niche, this way you can gather a larger audience to your blog.

  15. Charlie,

    This article was absolutely FANTASTIC! I love the way that you’ve succinctly described the way that different audiences can dovetail together.

  16. Charlie, by all means do a CB guest post on the meta.

    I like this article because it pulls double-duty as the first step and the last step of the Sesame Street Method of teaching, whereby you:

    1. Tell them what you’re going to teach them (Shakespeare Method)
    2. Teach them (new, regular, expert individual posts)
    3. Tell them what you taught them. (Shakespeare Method)

  17. Thanks Charlie for the great tips.

    I find it funny when some people say they can’t see what’s so special about Shakespeare, but there’s a lot, isn’t there?

    I’ve been blogging for six months now and can see that I’ve been writing for one type of audience so this is a great help, especially the bit about how to please all three audiences.

  18. Wow, just learned a new term… “eternal september” is a great way to put the endless re-start that is the internet. I really appreciate your use of including the whole series with each post so anyone can catch up.

    That has always been an issue with me, and I think I will take your advice the next time I create a 5-part series. If you link to it each time that’s a great way for the rest of the series not to get lost in the ether as well.

  19. @Archan: Thanks for your comment about me adding value; that was very nice and good to hear.

    @Marnie: If it helps, I often just write posts however they come during the drafting phase and then slice them when I edit. That way I can write my way but help readers read their way.

    @BrianJUY: Good point about Shakespeare, but we can also understand him as an archetype, too.

    And I’m glad you added the bit about the 8th grade average reading level.

    @Mike: That does suck – it happens from time to time. Some of the best advice I’ve heard on writing sales and landing pages is writing them in a way that you’d speak to people. Hat tip to Sonia on that one.

    @Ching: Thanks! Quality content = approachable content. I need to remind myself of that more often, too.

    @Matches: You’re welcome. Sometimes all we need is a perspective shift and things start to unlock.

    @William: I definitely see the overlap – I’m glad you do. What’s even better is if you can show them the overlap, as it broadens their awareness of different markets and problems they might serve.

    @Bamboo: That’s a great point, which is why I often run a part of a series every week while I’m running other content. The other thing I’ll do is run a series but not write it in the way that it’s apparent that it’s a series. That way folks who resist series will still read them. ;p

    @Carter: Thanks!

    @Shane: I’m glad you saw the teaching model; it’s a bit subtle. Whether or not I can write a good meta post is yet to be seen, but thanks for the encouragement.

    @David: One thing I’d like to talk about in the meta post is how using Shakespeare as an archetype slanted the series such that some people would think that it was being elitist. That, and my writing style can doesn’t help.

    When you’re brainstorming your upcoming posts, catalog your content to see where the biggest gap is. You might want to start slanting your posts there because it’d have the greatest effect on your readership growth as well as your own creative process. (Don’t forget everybody else, though.)

  20. @Charlie: I agree with Shane. I’d love to see the meta post and I’m positive you could write it!

  21. Great post! I always wondered how to write posts that will be relevant to my audience on different skill levels.

  22. Charlie – I just found your site and am in heaven. Thanks for putting all of this together – totally inspiring to a (slowly) developing blogger :)

  23. Dear Charlie:

    Thanks for the post. It helps me understand who to write too and how. I appreciate it. I look forward to more stuff.

  24. Wow! Amazing write up.

  25. Great post! I really like that tip “Write different posts for the different groups”.

  26. Thank you so much for the insight. I’ve just started to blog on a regular basis and this post gave me a lot to think about. I also really appreciated the link to the Eternal September post. I’d never really thought of it like that before. I’m doing something a bit experimental with my blog and am still unsure if it has ever been tried before. The entire thing is fictional, but deals with various ideological paradigms. So it offers a long series and several shorter ones. Have you heard of any blogs that have had success with running fiction?

  27. Bravo Charlie! You wrote this as an expert.

  28. Thank you. I read the post 2x. Thinking of going at it one more time and maybe, just maybe, I too can make some sense of my thoughts to pass on to potential readers.

  29. @Joshua: I like the In Series WordPress plugin for that – it makes it a lot easier. You might want to check it out.

    @Sean: In the queue, m’man. If nothing else, I’ll publish it on Productive Flourishing.

    @Nan: Thanks!

    @Katy: I’m glad you like my blog and that this post helped.

    @poch: Thank you – that’s especially nice to hear since one of my worries was that it’d come off that I was writing like an expert.

  30. It seems like so long ago. In 1966, I majored in journalism and mass communications. We learned how to relate to our readers by writing a letter to our Mom, describing a current event. It seemed so juvenile and silly at the time, but I was grade conscious and tackled it. As I’ve matured, my appreciation for those lessons has helped me focus on who’s reading my pages and WHY! No subject is rocket science if you can help make it interesting.

  31. When I saw Willie’s name at the top of the post, I thought we were in for a lesson on alliteration. Very nice segue into KISS. Thanks for the reminder. To borrow from Ella, “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing”.

  32. Hi,

    This is my first visit to your blogMany thanks for this wonderful post, I now know where I am going wrong I have always beeen trying to write to the broader audience, Now I can think about writing for groups instead.

    I look forward to visiting again

    Christine

  33. Write as an expert not like one. This stabbed me in the eye. Yes I have to do this. Thanks for the great posts.

  34. Great post ! “Focus on new and regular readers” I got great inspiration to write more better

  35. I just love how copyblogger’s articles are always so thought provoking. I have gone through a lot of changes in the way I write ever since I started blogging, but am never satisfied with my writing skills. I wonder when can I finnaly reach Copyblogger’s level of writing skill.

  36. This has a unique application to my vocabulary website; I need to use words for the utterly incoherent, the linguistically adept, and the truly erudite — realizing I can’t please all three in each post.

  37. I’m not much of a regular reader, but I couldn’t resist a Shakespeare reference. Shakespeare was also a successful business man- not just a successful dramatist. Future post?

  38. @Allena, great point, I can’t believe we missed that one. :) Brian made a point here that applies — Shakespeare wasn’t just a write-for-hire guy who knew how to write popular plays, he was filling seats in his own playhouse. There’s a definite parallel to be made with writing for Facebook vs. writing for your own blog.

  39. The quality of writing on this blog is something, well, I need to aspire to. And this was a particularly helpful post in that it addressed something that has challenged me since I began a criminal law blog a couple of months ago: How do I write the blog so that I can appeal to a readership with very different levels of understanding in my subject area? The idea of doing separate entries targeted at different audiences is a good one. I’ll try it.

  40. Funny, I never thought of targeting different audiences; I just write what I feel at the moment, hoping someone could make good use of it.

    Great article. Best regards.

    metalorn.

  41. Thanks Charlie. That’s something I need to learn. I have a tendency to write like a Wikipedia submitter rather than to any particular audience. Thanks for the reminder.

  42. Make a series of long copy, of course, makes interesting to readers, but ambitious to see the end of the story also makes the paper become more varied.

  43. The phrase “write as an expert, not like one” will resonate with me for a long time!
    Brilliant people must write and speak so that their brilliance can be fully appreciated by the masses- I like that!
    Your post ties in nicely with Brian’s post on clarity.
    I’m new to this site and I really appreciate the ‘continuing education.’
    Thanks!

  44. – As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” —

    Now, if someone could explain this to Wikipedia writers… (See: any Wikipedia article on computing/science concepts, even on common topics like RAM)

  45. Great stuff guys I’m right now thinking about applying this in my blog
    Thanks

  46. Hello all here…, I found you people interested in Shakespeare. Recently I read this line about Shakespeare “Shakespeare could not have written any plays, he was just a cover man for Francis Bacon, the true author” in Shakespeare’s Truth by Rex Richards with facts proving this line. This novel contains so many surprising truths about Shakespeare, Queen of England and murder mystery of Prince William.
    You can find the details about the book on the amazon link I have posted.

  47. This was a very helpful post, thanks.

  48. I am finished with the book “Shakespeare’s Truth” just now. I loved the book and won’t be able to put it down and completed that in a day. I appreciate the academic research by the author’s father for the secrets revealed in this book.

    Good work by the author and his father.

  49. Aged 12, at school I was introduced to Shakespeare via ‘The Tempest’, one of his more difficult plays, or so I am told. The experience effectively inoculated me against ever wanting to read his works again; as I was to discover at high school 4 years later, when ‘King Henry V, Part One’ was required reading for the UK School Certificate English Literature exam.

    Actually, I was the only kid in the class to prefer the other required reading: the Middle English of Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Pardoner’s Tale’ and ‘Nun’s Priest’s Tale’. I soon latched onto the language (e.g. ’stywe’ = ‘brothel’), and much preferred Chaucer’s earthy style of writing to Shakespeare’s seemingly grandiose style.

    Anyway, many thanks Dr Charlie; I shall take your excellent advice next time I put pen to paper (or rather knuckles to keyboard) for my readers old and new.

  50. Thats very interesting and unique post Dr Charlie.

    Replying to Volga’s Comment- Volga, I love to read about Shakespeare. I have read PDF of the book you have mentioned there and now I want to read it fully. But that book there is available only in UK and I can not get that from other place. Can you please suggest me the alternative for this.
    Looking to get your comment soon.

    Jesika

  51. Jesika- I am also not from UK, so I bought that book as an e-book from the link redirected by author’s site. For your reference I am giving link’s URL here too http://www.lulu.com/product/e-book/shakespeares-truth-ebook/5972416 .
    You can buy that book from here.

    Volga

  52. You have nailed it, but I am still confused when it comes to my audience and I know I’ve plateaued so I’ve got to do something.

    My blog is b2b, but because I write about trends, I will hit on something that the overall public has a voracious appetite for and I’ll get solid hits on those themes for a year…but they aren’t my target audience. They won’t buy my services, so do I really want to write for them or try to convert them to regular readers?

    I can use that info to inform my target audience and I’ll have written about those topices a year ago and they’ll just now be something the public is researching. My trends need to be in advance of the market. That is how I position myself.

    So I am not sure whether to just ignore that and keep going thinking only about how to build the audience who I also want to sell my services to, or write to convert that new reader also. That would take almost an entirely different tone on my blog; my series, if you will has only built on the topic and they get hits as well, but I don’t see my regular audience getting built up because of it….

    It would seem I want the reputation of being a blog that frequently has information in advance of the market and that that is why people come to the blog and if they need more, they’ll hire my services, right?

    Am I missing the point?