Jul 21, 2008
Blogging 101: How to Write a Great Blog Post... a Reader's Perspective
This is a guide I wrote a few months back. I have it posted on my homepage and at Squidoo but my homepage is going away in favor of a much simpler system so I wanted to move this. It’s also a bit more visible here, where I’m getting hits, rather than on the homepage, where I’m getting no hits!
If you’re considering whether or not you want to start a blog, ponder this:
By posting a great piece of advice or a guide for someone or your professional insight, you contribute to the incredible equalizing power of the internet. By making once-obscure and restricted information public, you engender a sense of community, a virtual, digital community that pulls people together across geographic and cultural barriers.
Want to be a part of something great? Put yourself out there! But how?
There are many different guides out there offering the best way to write or the easiest way to start or the quickest way to 10K subscribers. You might find some excellent information out there (I have, no doubt) but none of them really tell you how to find and connect with your readers in the most organic, benevolent way possible.
In this post, I offer 6 steps to write a great blog entry for any type of blog you could imagine. These will help you appear more often when real people search, garner more attention from those that matter, and, generally, be more successful as an RSS author. I’m writing these not from the position of a famous blogger (I’m not one of those) but from a chair in front of a monitor that has seen countless posts pass by.
I’m your audience. You better listen up!
- Understand the format and write to it
While it’s really your blog’s content that determines whether or not I will return, the reach of your blog (meaning the amount of people that see it) makes a big difference in whether I find you in the first place or not. Want me to find you in the seemingly endless ocean of information out there? Then understand and practice the format that makes you findable. Keep these concepts in the forefront of your mind as you write so they start to become second nature. Thinking in terms of a blog post will cut down on the editing time and make it easier in the future to efficiently put out quality material for me to read. The following are a few things to keep in mind.
Your Title Speaks Volumes
The title of your blog post is a very crucial piece of the blog puzzle. With so many aggregators, search engines, and browsers, it’s the only thing that I’ll see and the big decider as to whether I’m going to click it or not. Keep it short, state your purpose, and tell me why I should go there. Great titles reel me in, just don’t disappoint me with a lame post!
It’s All About the First Impression
A great blog post starts with a great introduction. You want me to finish the article and spend as much time on the page as possible, right. Hook me with a great anecdote or a reason why this post will benefit me right now. Help me along to each section and you’ll make a real audience member out of me.
You’re Nothing without your Head
You’ll notice in this article that there is a title at the top, 6 sub-headings, and sub-sub-headings beneath those; this was not an accident. All three of these headers are critical to being seen by the search engines out there (what you want to happen if you want me to find you). Before you write, plan out your main title, your introduction, and all of your sub-headers. This will help you keep on task and make your article as useful as possible. At the end, make sure all of your headers match the information underneath and incorporate the key words you want to be associated with.
- Consistency: Keep Me Coming Back for More
Think of your blog as your own personal publication, like a magazine or a newspaper. When I subscribe to Time or Newsweek or The Economist I’m not giving them money to send me an issue when they feel like it or when they get around to it. I receive one issue every month/week of a certain size and on a certain set of subjects.
Just like the New York Times can’t skip a few days here or there, your blog must be consistent in how often the posts are being made. This doesn’t mean you need to post twice a day but if you want to post twice a day, make sure you can keep that pace up ad infinitum. I’m more likely to return if you find a schedule that works for you and keep to it; it’s nice knowing that I have something to read on specific days, regardless of what those days are.
Before you start, come to an agreement with yourself and your co-authors (if there are any) on a frequency and stick to it. If you can write six days a week then go for it. If, however, you think you will only have the time or where-with-all or content for twice a week, then pick two days of the week and make sure those days get a post. You will be more successful by posting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday than you will by writing 7 times one week and once the next.
- Make Your Content Unique
The internet is a very descriptive name that gives you a good idea of what is going on behind the scenes. It’s a giant network of interconnected information and benefits greatly from layered information on many different topics. For every topic there exists countless different descriptions, opinions, definitions, and alternatives. How can anything be unique when everything already has a website?
It’s certainly daunting to face a blank page and wonder if your thoughts are already out there so don’t. Unless you wrote them, your thoughts haven’t been published so write away.
Unique content comes from the heart and it comes from experience. Maybe one or two (or ten) people already wrote an article about marriage or family relations or earning trust. Maybe there is a whole network of people who write about it all the time but that doesn’t make me more likely to read theirs and less likely to read yours. You might only write a page or two about your topic but it came from YOUR mind and YOUR experience and, as such, is far more important to your audience.
Where people fall into a trap is when they look to other bodies of work to create their own. Referencing other blogs, articles, and web pages is fine but don’t make other people’s work your own (even if you give credit). With so many ways of receiving and filtering information, I certainly don’t need another middle man feeding me other people’s information. Bloggers who fall into the habit of parroting others fall quickly into irrelevancy.
If you write about a book, news article, or blog post that you read, tell me what you think about it. If you agree, tell me why and vice versa. Quote a small piece of the work and tell me what was right or wrong about that passage. Also: always give credit where credit is due.
- What’s the Point? Ask Often
Most of us like to keep up with family and friends and colleagues to make sure everything is going well. If my mom wrote a blog about her day-to-day activities, I would probably check it out every now and then in between phone calls. But would my friends? Would my co-workers? Would anyone else?
Ask yourself over and over: why am I writing this? If you can’t come up with one or two reasons why, maybe you should re-think the topic. Every post doesn’t have to be a home run and change my life but each post should speak to me and what I want. You are writing for me, not for yourself.
In that vein, it’s important to understand what is important to you and what is important to me. Your experience and your knowledge is why you have the subscribers you do but unless that knowledge is consistently helping me in my life, chances are that I won’t be around for the long haul.
Problogger.com speaks to this point::
Stop writing about yourself. Start solving problems – Surfers become readers when a blog provides something that is wanted. A casual visitor may read your blog because they find training, answers to problems, entertainment, or something else they want. This more than likely will mean that they won’t want to read about you, your girlfriend, your cats, your kids, or your catastrophes (unless you have a personal blog that your friends read). Discontinuing the off-topic posts will help you to develop more repeat traffic and takes exactly 0 minutes to implement.
- Simple and To-The-Point Language
Ok, here’s the tricky part, picking a font that works. Here are the basic rules:
This particular point is important for those with an extensive vocabulary or those who write about a particular topic with which they are very knowledgeable. It is important to keep jargon and unnecessarily arcane or obscure words from damaging the accessibility of your blog. If you want to appeal to me and all the other me’s out there, it is important that you don’t make me feel uneducated or uninformed. I’m not an idiot but when I fire up Google Reader on my phone and catch a few blog posts on the trolley, I don’t want to have to hunt for a dictionary (that’s what Infinite Jest is for).
Additionally, by using commonplace words (even if you sound a bit repetitive) you are increasing the likelihood that I’ll will find your post through a search engine. Once you’ve had just a bit of experience using a search engine, you realize that being specific is key to finding what you want efficiently.
When you are writing, don’t change what you want to say to fit into a set of words but keep your post direct and avoid unnecessary words. Use short, direct sentences and clear and concise language (this should start to resemble a Strunk & White flashback from your school days). Avoid long tangents that can lose me and make the difference between a returning customer and a bounce.
With a blog post, shorter is better. I have many different blogs I subscribe to and tying up my time with a long-winded post is inconsiderate to say the least. If a particular topic requires more analysis or additional information on your part, consider a multi-part post; you can be sure I’ll come back if I liked the first one. Make sure to plan the series out and tell me what I’m in for.
- Back It Up
At their best, blogs are charged with providing clear, concise, and CORRECT information. Getting your news from CNN.com is a viable option but I would rather read it from people who were there and saw it happen. Similarly, I would rather read about counseling from a 30 year veteran than just a simple definition on Wikipedia.
The problem with blogs, however, is that each blog has its own reputation to build and maintain. The blog community (called the blogosphere) has done a great job of raising the overall opinion of blogs as information disseminators over the last few years. Your blog will benefit from this but you also have your own work to do.
Make sure that your facts can be backed up and include links wherever possible. Your information is doubly powerful if it is corroborated by a quote from someone or even another blog post. Link out to other site when you can and include short quotes when appropriate.
There is one thing that you won’t be able to source: your own experience. Anecdotes are important in building trust and respect but they must be accurate. A simple exaggeration of a particular experience might seem minor when you write it but if you are ever called out it could be disastrous. Building my trust is paramount to being the most interesting blog writer ever. If the story needs modification to fit the post, you don’t need the story (or the post).
Bonus: Ask yourself these questions as you write
- What am I trying to say? What should the reader be getting out of this?
- Why should the reader care about what I’m writing?
- Am I validating what I’m saying? Are my facts straight?
- Am I including too much personal information?
- Could this be split into several different parts? Am I going on too long?
- Is my title strong enough? Does it accurately explain what I’ve written?
- Do my sub-headings make sense? Do they correctly label what follows?
- Am I considering Seth’s 3 U’s: unique, useful, up-to-date?
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