This guest interview with Susan Willett, Blogger and Moderator, is part of a series of interviews of the panelists appearing at the upcoming Cat Writer’s Association (CWA) Conference at Blogpaws ( June 23-25, 2016 in Chandler, AZ). With years of writing about dogs and cats on her award-winning website Life with Dogs and Cats as well as Catser and Dogster, she shares what she has learned about some of the subtle differences between the two audiences that enable her to consistently create engaging posts. Learn how to keep your blog’s engagement up from Susan at this year’s CWA 2016 Conference. Register here: (http://blogpaws.com/events/2016-conference/).
What was your inspiration behind creating your Life with Dogs and Cats website?
I live with three dogs, four cats and assorted humans. It’s like a reality TV show, only furrier. Every day I find inspiration hiding in a box, splashing through a mud puddle, or taking up an entire couch. It’s too much fun not to share.
How does writing for Catster and being a part of the CWA compare to writing for Dogster and being a part of the DWAA?
When I write, I keep my readers in mind: what will they find interesting or amusing? Over the six years I’ve been blogging, and since I’ve been writing for Catster.com and Dogster.com, I’ve learned subtle differences in what content works best for cat or dog audiences. It’s hard to describe, but it’s almost like cats are inherently funnier. Maybe it’s because they seem to take themselves so seriously, yet do ridiculous things, like getting stuck on top of a medicine cabinet, stalking a stink bug, or waterbowling their toys — all true stories of my own cats. So we laugh at their antics. Dogs, though, are in on the joke. We laugh with them as they roll in dead worms, chase squirrels they’ll never catch, and rejoice when we return from a 30-second trip to the mailbox at end of the driveway.
That said, there is much more both groups have in common: we all love our pets, and try to do the best we can for them. They are family, and our lives are enriched by them. I refuse to take sides in the dogs versus cats debate; I don’t believe it’s about choosing one or the other. That’s why I tell people that the most important word in the name of my blog, “Life with Dogs and Cats” is the word “and.” Dogs and Cats.
What advice would you give to a cat blogger on how to create content that keeps readers coming back for more?
For engaging posts, I believe in the three H’s: Help, Heart, and Humor.
The content that is probably the easiest to create, and will have readers come back long after you’ve written it, is something that is helpful. This might be how to make a cat shelf, or how to solve a litter box problem. Or, it could be information on new cat products or questions to ask your vet. That’s Help.
Heart is telling a story that touches our emotions. The kind that makes the audience go “aww,” or cry, or want to share. These stories are a little harder to write because heartwarming stories don’t happen every day; you have to go look for them. Unless you have kittens. Any photo of kittens comes prepackaged with an extra portion of “aww.” That works with puppies, too.
Then there’s Humor. Everyone loves to laugh. Funny is best when it features an experience that everyone can relate to, with a touch of exaggeration. So, for humorous posts, you really have to understand your audience and know what they know, what they’re experiencing. For example, a picture of a dog in a box isn’t funny. Dogs in boxes aren’t something all dog people experience. A cat in a box is amusing, because everyone who knows cats can relate to that. A cat in a box that’s inside another box, along with a caption that says, “Kitty Inception” is funny; it goes a step or two beyond that relatable experience.
What can attendees expect to take away from your presentation at the conference?
I’m moderating a panel, so I won’t have a lot of time to speak myself, but what I hope to do is help attendees find ways to improve their content, make it more engaging and attract and keep readers. The panel is about going from blogger to author, and I’m hoping to learn along with the audience about that process.
How do you feel adding pictures to a blog can help a blog’s engagement?
Studies show that when people first see online content, they make near-instantaneous decisions about whether to read more. So you need to make it easier for them to decide to stay and read; a good photo can be a powerful tool to accomplish this.
In addition, pictures are very easy to share using social media: on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter — all of which can drive visitors to your blog.
There seems to be much humor added to your page; what would you suggest to a blogger who is trying to transition humor into their blog?
Not all blogs should be humorous. If a blog is mostly informational, focusing on the Help category I mentioned earlier, humor might not always be the best choice. An article on kidney disease in cats or food aggression in dogs does not lend itself well to funny. So you need to consider your topic, the focus of your blog, and your audience: what do they want?
Most important, I would recommend that a blogger stay true to her voice. The best blogs reflect the personality of the blogger; you can see the person behind the words. If you’re a funny person, then the humor will come naturally. If you’re not, that’s okay too. You can be warm, caring, insightful, helpful; just be yourself.
How has your target audience changed or developed over the years?
At first my target audience consisted of my husband, two friends and my mom. Today I have fans who follow me on my blog and through different social tools, such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or Instagram. People tell me they follow me because my stories, photography, haiku and texts are an antidote to some of the negativity found on the internet. My blog is usually good for a smile, a snort or a chuckle, and sometimes even outright LOLs. That’s what my fans expect, and that’s what I try to deliver.
How have your pets influenced your career?
My dogs — Lilah, Jasper and Tucker — and my cats — Dawn, Athena, Calvin and Elsa Clair — are the inspiration for my blog, and for the book I’m working on. Dogs and cats appear frequently in my other writing as well: in my children’s picture books and essays.
They are also part of the reason that I started my own business as a corporate communications consultant. I get to work from home most of the time, and they make awesome assistants, serving as paper shredders, printer managers and seat warmers. My coworkers sometimes bark during important conference calls, or walk across my keyboard when I’m on deadline, but nothing de-stresses like a purring cat in my lap, or a walk in the woods with my dogs.
You’ve incorporated social on your site such as reviews of apps and games; how do you think this can benefit a reader and a blogger?
I’m very picky about what I choose to review on my blog. I rarely write about food or treats because I feed my pets brands I trust, and won’t test food products on them. Instead I write about products that make my life easier, improve my pet’s lives, or just plain interest me. I’m a bit of a techie geek so I tend to gravitate toward those types of products. Pet tech is a huge and fast-growing industry, and there are dozens of apps and tools to help keep track of your dog, ensure your cat eats his special food, or enable you to interact with your pets through a monitor and an app on your phone. My readers know I only write about products I love — ones that I would use with my dogs and cats. They trust my recommendations. Building that kind of trust with your audience means they’ll come back, they’ll ask questions, they’ll participate in conversations. That’s the kind of fans all bloggers — and writers — love.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Blogging about pets has helped me make friends that I would never have known otherwise — people who care as much as I do about their dogs, cats, guinea pigs, goats, hamsters, turtles, and other animals. I’ve learned so much from them as well. Because of that, and because I write so much about my dogs and cats, I’ve become a more careful observer of their behavior, and now understand so much more about dog language and cat language. I know that a certain glint in Elsa Clair’s eye means a pounce is the next item on her agenda. I know that Lilah’s yawn mean she’s nervous about the umbrella I’m holding. And I can tell that Athena’s slow blink when she looks at me means she loves me. And that’s life with dogs and cats: endless entertainment, infinite love.