“I’m building a snowball the size of continents. The catch: it sometimes moves at a glacial pace.”
This quote from Tim Ferriss, who has to be one of the most influential people I’ve read, really hit home with me and how I go about preparing for writing content.
His point is that he isn’t interested in collecting a bunch of one-and-done users. He wants a readership that sticks around and absorbs his content, who trust and value his opinion and will continue to do so.
He’s rolling snow balls, not sifting through sand. He’s setting up his content so that the people who latch onto to his product are here to stay. While that tribe may build slowly, once it does there are few things capable of stopping a ‘glacier’.
Key Elements of Writing a Blog Post
In this post I want to go over some of the key elements of writing a blog post. There’s no simple solution to pumping out great content on a consistent basis, but I’ll share some frameworks which should help.
Quality takes time and practice (not to mention quite a bit of patience), but with the right first steps, I believe people can create content which not only promotes their brand, but builds a lasting and trusting readership.
In this post I’ll be going over my techniques and strategies for:
How to Know Which Topics are Popular
How to Research Topics
How to Write a Post Framework
How to Submit the Framework for Approval
How to Give Feedback
Writing Blog Posts
Bulleted Lists (like this one!)
Call to Action
Other Blog Post Considerations
Pulling Ideas Out of a Hat… Hopefully Only an Idiom for Content Writers.
The first step towards creating content people want to read is finding out what they are looking for.
Contrary to popular belief, successful bloggers and marketing experts don’t pull ideas out of a hat (wouldn’t that make it easier?).
People look to content for answers.
Success in content creation comes from knowing your audience and answering questions they are asking, perhaps even before they know who you are.
Research isn’t always as glamorous as writing a killer post or making a stellar landing page, but it is just as important. Proper research will make your content relevant and desirable, after which you can make the content worth reading.
How to Know Which Topics are Popular
So how do you go about finding what people are looking for? The key is to look where your audience is and observe what they are saying. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
Develop Your Buyer Persona
Who is your audience? What do they do? What are their interests? Their lifestyles?
You want to be specific with this. It isn’t beneficial to say “male, middle-aged.” You need to delve into who these people are and what they think – and how they feel. This is where creating a buyer persona comes in.
There are plenty of great resources for identifying who your buyer is, just check out co-founder, Trent Dyrsmid’s video on building a quality template below.
Top Shared Posts On Popular Blogs
Find popular blogs that serve your audience, and see what the authors are writing about. Find out which posts are popular and where people are sharing them in large numbers. These people will be your Influencers and they will important throughout the process.
Influencers draw a large audience and command the attention of that audience. If an Influencer has an audience who may be potential leads for your content or product, learn about these people and what they are saying.
I write for marketing agencies and business professionals looking to produce quality content. My Influencer list includes Copyblogger Founder and CEO Brian Clark, Leadership Guru Michael Hyatt and top online marketer and multi-company founder Neil Patel. These are the big guns, game-changers in their fields. Find the heavy-weights and watch what they do. Chances are you’ll learn a thing or two.
Once you find your Influencers, take a look at their most shared posts. Don’t just read the posts themselves – check out the comments section and shares. Find the people who are talking about the post. See what they’re saying and what questions they’re asking.
Gather a list of ideas from multiple followers and generate a few ideas for post topics. You can even just write down the questions and answer those questions in your posts.
Once you have an idea of what questions your audience is asking, start forming some search terms they might be using.
For instance, if you are selling ad space and are looking for people who need online promotions, try starting with “best online ad buyers.” Look at the other terms related to that search.
Keyword Analysis From SECockpit
You want to focus on words with high searches and low competition. Some of the top searches may yield more traffic, but the competition is normally higher and harder to rank for.
The analysis above is from SECockpit, my favorite keyword search tool (I go into more detail about SECockpit – and why I like it so much better than anything else I’ve tried – in this post). There are other decent free options for keyword research as well, including Google Keyword Planner and WordStream’s Keyword Tool.
Try using longer terms in your search as well. These are called Long-Tail keywords and are more specific and easier to rank for. Instead of “shoes” you can try “discount women’s summer shoes”. Longer keywords can mean the difference between being on page 3 and being on page 1.
How to Research a Topic
Let’s go back to the Influencers we talked about earlier.
In the same way you used your Influencers to get ideas on what topics to write about, you can utilize their knowledge when researching the topic itself. Look at their previous posts and find relevant content. Chances are these people have addressed similar ideas before.
Specify the points you want to make by going back to the comments sections. A great post idea is simply taking a question from the comments and answering it in detail.
Be sure and answer a few of the comments that have gone unresponded to. If you have a point to make, give those questioning the information they’re looking for – they’ll begin to identify you as a resource for the future. This allows you to help the Influencer’s page as well as your own.
When including facts and ideas, link to everything. Not only will this give you more credibility, but it is a way to get backlinks to higher traffic blogs, which is a win for everyone.
What Kind of Framework Should I Use?
The first thing I do after picking a topic is to look at the idea and ask “why should I care?” Put yourself in the reader’s shoes: would they care about the rest of the article based on the material?
My Infamous Sticky Note
To keep myself on point, I actually have a sticky note plastered to my monitor to remind me what I need a post to do.
Using a quality framework, I can begin writing in a way that makes sense. You don’t have to use my exact framework or phrases, but you likely will want to include most of these concepts:
What is it I’m talking about?
Why is it important?
How should the reader get started?
What are common mistakes people run into?
What are the key take-aways from this post?
List of Resources
Use this guideline or create your own, just make sure you have a goal before you begin.
After a topic has been researched and links provided, write up an outline with brief talking points to include in the post. The format is usually:
Heading>Sub Heading(s)>Resources and Ideas.
Here’s an example:
Research>How To Find Popular Topics>Keyword Analysis, Influencer Posts, etc.
As you develop the framework, you’ll break the article up into sections. Each section will have questions, and each question will have solutions. The examples are short but descriptive. The framework should be straight-forward and give a clear picture of what material will be in the post.
How To Submit A Framework For Approval
When you have multiple writers submitting content, you’ll want to be sure their general outlines are reviewed before they spend a lot of time creating detailed content. I suggest an initial review of the framework.
Even if you are the only one writing content, it can be a good idea to get another pair of eyes on it when possible. If the structure makes sense to an outside reader, it will make sense to an audience.
Next, the framework is reviewed and adjustments are made depending on feedback.
How to Give Feedback
The ability to give good feedback not only makes the person receiving it less offended, but can resolve issues and let work get done faster and more efficiently. This can help yourself as much as it can help the person receiving the feedback.
This article from Forbes lists 5 steps to take when giving quality feedback:
Ask For Permission – Just asking the person ahead of time allows them to be mentally prepared and open, rather than startled and defensive.
Tell Them Exactly What You Saw – Give them your full viewpoint and why you felt that way. This allows them to understand your concerns better while addressing the specific areas you felt needed to be discussed.
Tell Them The Impact – Explain what happened as a result of their actions, be specific. Try using your observations like “I noticed” and “I felt that”. It lessens the chance for an open debate and gets the point across.
Let Them Make Comments – Stop. Let the explanation sink in and and give them a chance to understand the information. You had time to formulate your responses, they should be given ample time as well.
Give Specific Next Steps – After you notice an area of concern, it helps the recipient if you give them about one or two specific next steps to take to improve. No one likes to be told it isn’t working and then given no ways to fix the problem.
Writing a Blog Post
The Importance of Great Blog Post Titles
How important are titles? Imagine a great post with tons of great content, but no one compelled to read it. Well, without a good title you have no click-thru, which means no readers and no exposure. You might as well be writing in your journal, because a lousy title means no eyeballs on your post and no new business generated from it.
Got your attention yet? Titles creates interest. Reading the subtitle above makes you think “how does this save my business?”, which may have compelled you to read further.
So how do you write good titles? Here are some ideas that will help.
Before we get into writing a title, I want to point out another crucial step in writing a blog post that will get reader’s attention.
Did you see how this section was opened? It made you interested and gave you encouragement to read further right? This is one technique to writing an opening and getting people to read your work.
Tim Soulo, writing as a guest blogger on ProBlogger, shares ideas on an how to begin your blog post. He explains using the well known formula AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.
Attention – The first line in the section gets your attention. It asks a question to which you want an answer.
Interest – The next line explains why it is so important and why it can affect you.
Desire – After reading the first two lines you have a desire to write good titles. You know what it can do if they aren’t written well and you are looking for a way to make it better.
Action – The final line is me telling the reader to continue reading if they want solutions. This is the action I want them to take and the reason they will continue to read the post.
All right, after all that I should keep to my word and give you some advice on writing titles. Here are four techniques I want to share with you:
1. Create a Working Title
Get something in place and keep it as a placeholder. Titles don’t always come to people instantly. Sometimes I even like to write my title last, after all the content is delivered and I have time to let my subconscious work on it. A placeholder as simple as “How To Write a Blog Post” is one way to keep your focus and gives you something to come back to.
Speaking of focus…
2. Keep The Title Focused
The content should not surprise the reader after they see the title. While it’s great to make a catchy title, if it doesn’t make sense with the content the reader will be turned off. Remember to always come back to the content.
3. Make it Flashy
This probably comes as no surprise. You want it to stand out and get people’s attention. Don’t be afraid to step-outside-the-box a little with your ideas. Here are some starting points to consider:
Alliteration, Amazingly, Attracts Awesome Attention – Even if it’s just a few words, “Content Creation”, it is eye-catching and can be subtly enjoyed.
A Good Pun is its Own Reword – Corny? Absolutely. Gets your attention? Of course it does. Don’t be afraid of throwing in a little humor, especially if that’s part of your style or brand.
Use Strong Language Damnit – Use need instead of want. Hate instead of dislike. Keep it interesting – but be careful not to use overly strong words every time, as it tends to get repetitive.
Value Proposition – Make it obvious what the reader will get from your post. Give them a strong reason to commit.
4. Keep it Short
Readers should be able to get the idea in as few words as possible. Make sure your title is as short as possible, while also long enough to give all the necessary description.
Want more title ideas? Check out these from Corey Eridon over at Hubspot.
Earlier I talked about how the AIDA format does well for an opening. AIDA as your standard opening is a great starting point. For some more tips on opening formats, Brian Clark of CopyBlogger has 5 ideas to get you going:
Ask a Question
Share a Story or Quote
Draw a Picture (with your words)
Use Creative Writing (Metaphors, Similes, or Analogies)
Use an Interesting Statistic
Typically it works to write a single sentence and get the reader thinking, followed with a short paragraph for context, and then into the main content. The point of the first line is to get them to read the second, the second prompts them to read the third, and so on.
All About Blog Post Images
Images are to blog posts what icing is to cake. In fact, images are the coconut-pecan frosting of German-Chocolate cakes, essential to the character. Use images to give readers a unique experience reading your blog.
Images look good when someone is scanning a post, and remember – you’re writing for scanners. Like headlines, images break up the content and give readers focal points to help hold their attention. So, what size to make your images? Here’s a great post from Dan Norris at WP Curve on image sizes.
Since we’re on topic
These images highlight the main points in your article. You should have one at the beginning of the post (we refer to these as the ‘top image’) and a few in the article if need be. They should be the full width of the blog writing space.
People are naturally drawn to images and they will be a key component in retaining readers throughout the post. These will the most viewed portions of your article. We use images that are 580 wide.
Can’t Stop Now
Normally 250 x 250 (size is more flexible)
These images should be used throughout the post and should highlight points made in the content. Use them to explain specific points or actions.
Avoid using cheap or generic looking images. They are easy to spot and make you seem lazy.
One great way to generate original images is to take screen shots and place them in the post. These are all unique and really illustrate your point.
Where are Images Placed?
As a general rule, don’t use left-aligned images. English speakers read left-to-right and when an image is placed first it disrupts the reading process. It also looks terrible next to lists. Just avoid it.
As for full-sized images, you can use them at main headlines to separate content. This is a good way for users to see how the content is structured and gives them a sort of “resting point” to prepare them for a new line of thinking. They can also be good for pointing out an important piece of information.
How to Write a Post Outline
Before I go about filling my posts with information, I like to make outlines of the material I want to cover and the questions I want to answer. Using this with the framework I made earlier, I can create content which is specific, because I know where I am going with my ideas.
Here are a couple great post outline guides to help you get started.
I have shared the above diagram from Social Triggers before, but it really is a great representation of how a blog should look and engage the audience.
Here is another great post from ProBlogger Founder and Editor Darren Rowes. His basic rules are:
Titles are important
Short, punchy paragraphs
Use images frequently
Break up posts with Headings and Sub Headings
Lists are reader friendly
Format important sections to stand out
Use a Call to Action (which we will go over later)
Nearly all of these “rules” follow the same idea: the reader will scan.
It’s just the way we read things on the internet. We gloss over the material and take in the information we need. When you provide your content in a format which allows readers to scan, you get better responses from your readership.
How Many Headings Should I Use? What Typeface?
This kind of depends on the content you are writing. Are you creating a list of “5 Best Resources for Online Marketing”? Obviously five headlines would make sense in this case. No matter how many headlines you use, you want to break up the content into relevant and independent points.
The number of headings generally depends on the length of the blog post. Make the headings break up natural talking points, like chapters in a book. Unlike book chapters, make the sections between headings relatively brief.
The typeface (font) depends a lot on the type of content you’re writing.
Typically, the body should be legible and straight-forward, as people get tired of reading embellished script for long periods of time. Consider using something more flashy for the headlines, depending on the message you want to send with your content.
Ginny Soskey at HubSpot Blog has created a nice list of possible typefaces that help make your content pop.
Sentences per Paragraph
Two to Three
Remember, your audience is scanning your content. Paragraphs should normally sit around 2-3 lines, and no more than 3-4.
Look for natural breaks in the sentences and if necessary, break up longer paragraphs. You won’t lost points (or readers) for too many short paragraphs, but you will for too many long ones.
Number of Words in the Post
This is a little tricky for blog writers, and there seem to be as many experts who prefer short posts as those who prefer longer posts.
On the one hand, most readers like to consume information quickly, and many of the third party posts I’ve cited earlier are short and sweet.
These contain great content and are written for quick access to information. They work well for their intended purpose.
For an argument on the side of longer posts, look no further than master blogger Neil Patel. Curious about how his front page would convert if shortened, he ran an A/B Test with his original 1700 word page, compared to a new 500 word page. Turned out, his original page converted 7.6% better and with better quality leads.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but other studies show similar results.
Average Word Count For Top Keywords
The graph on the right from serpIQ shows an analysis run on the top 20,000 keywords.
The graph tells us that the average content length for a web page that ranks in the top 10 results for any keyword on Google has at least 2,000 words.
At first you might think this is because Google values higher word-count content in its searches, but the fact is, people tend to like longer content – SEOmoz found a positive correlation between the length of the post, and the amount of links to that post.
So what does this mean?
Truth is there is no “best” way to do it. Find out what your audience likes and write for them.
While shorter content tends to be easy to read and easy to digest, longer content tends to link better and rank higher in searches. It is probably a safe bet to stay in the ~2500 word range for your posts.
If that seems like a lot, write a long post every 2 weeks or so while submitting shorter ones once or twice a week. Make sure the content is consistent and high quality and you should see positive results from both worlds.
How Many Influencers Should I Mention?
That Megaphone Comes In Handy When It Talks About You
You want your content to be read, and you know Influencers can help get the word out.
This is one of the best ways to promote your content and make solid business connections. However, you don’t want to milk your resources dry.
We normally mention one or two influencers in our posts.
Longer posts (such as this one) tend to have more, but it shouldn’t feel excessive and should give the Influencers you do mention some really good praise – if you have 15 people you link to in bullet point form at the end of your post, chances are you won’t turn a lot of heads.
Keep the sources credible, relevant, and highlighted. Give your Influencers a good shout-out next to your links, and chances are some of them may help promote your post.
For ideas on how to get started on an Influencer strategy, read this post by Joe Pulizzi. Joe gives great ideas on how to get noticed with Influencers, and steps to take to stay on their radar.
What’s With Bulleted Lists?
With the amount of information people consume on the internet each day, they need a way to organize the data. They will look for ways to quickly absorb the most important information.
Bullet points are a great way for people to scan and access information. They act as sort of mini-headlines, focusing on relevant information and giving the reader an idea of what they are about to read.
Numbered lists and bullet points are great ways to compartmentalize information for readers and highlight key points of interest. Here is a great post on CopyBlogger on why bullet points are important and how to use them effectively.
Why Use Quotes?
Quotes can be one of the greatest forms of flattery on the internet.
Quoting others (Influencers!) will help gain their appreciation, and if they are an authority in their field, their quotes tend to have a much greater impact on your readers.
You can also quote yourself, especially if you have (or would like to) establish yourself as an authority. Either way, use quotes to highlight important points.
What Kind of Links Should I Include in My Content?
When it comes to linking to other sites on the internet, there are a few personal rules I like to follow:
Is it relevant?
Is this the original source? Is it a reliable source?
Is the information I’m citing easy to find from my link?
Am I using information from an Influencer? (if possible)
Don’t just use links for the sake of seeming credible, make sure the information is relevant and makes sense with the content. When citing statistics, go to the original source of the information instead of linking to other articles that cite the stats.
Obviously, you’ll want to link to a post versus the main page of a blog. If you’re referencing something that is tucked away halfway through an article, consider whether it’s really a necessary link.
And lastly, use those Influencers. Link to their sites to help them get more backlinks and get more page authority. It’s possible they’ll return the kind favor with a link or shout-out.
Always Use a Call To Action
Every. Single. Post.
What good is spending the time to develop useful content to drive traffic if you don’t do anything with that traffic? You got the attention of your audience and kept them engaged so they continued reading, now they want to know the next step. That’s what a good call to action (CTA) does, it gives a definitive next step.
Make the language actionable and the prompt timely. People should feel compelled to do it now. Give people a value proposition as well, to let the reader know your product or service can solve their needs.
If you need some more ideas on writing convincing CTAs, take a look at Ginny Soskey’s CTA Checklist on HubSpot’s blog; it’s quite comprehensive and will be helpful.
What About SEO?
Search Engine Optimization is the practice of constructing your content to become more visible to search engines on the web, and therefore to your audience.I’m not going to get into too much detail in this post, but SEO should be considered an important part of your online strategy.
Use this for keyword optimization (WPSEO)
I use WordPress SEO from Yoast to optimize my title and meta description. This, along with the initial keyword research, gives me a pretty good idea of how likely my keyword is to compete against similar sites against organic (search engine) traffic. SEO is an important consideration if you want your content to be seen.
How To Get More Comments
Nothing is better confirmation for me than seeing someone take the time to comment on my posts. It’s reaffirming.
Comments also serve to validate my content; they’re one way others can tell that the content is worth the read. There’s strength in numbers.
Here are some things I use to encourage people to comment on my content:
Pre-Publish For Linked Sources
When I include Influencers or previous guests in my posts, I like to give them an early sneak-peek into what I’m writing. This gives them a chance to review the work as well as a chance to comment on things they like or think should be changed.
Great! Not only do I get feedback but I get an initial round of comments from some of the industry leaders. They may link to their own sites in their comments, which gives them recognition from those who end up reading the article. A win-win.
On some blogs we have managed in the past we ran contests at the bottom of each post where we gave away a copy of a paid information product for the best comments. I like to encourage engagement, and a great way to do that is to incentivize the process.
You can offer similar offerings, discounts, or at a minimum, a response to each comment.
It seems so obvious, but you’d be surprised the number of sites who seem to skip this step. If you talk with your audience and simply ask them to contribute, you’ll get a much better response than if you don’t interact with them.
What have you found to be beneficial in your writing process? What strategies do you use? I look forward to your comments.