How to Write Blogs Like a Pro : A Complete Guide
In this post you’ll learn how to write blog posts like a pro. It covers pretty much everything – choosing a topic, creating the perfect headline, formatting, conversational writing tips and professional editing techniques.
OK, let’s get the bad news out of the way. Since the arrival of Google RankBrain you can’t post just any old rubbish. You can’t even post OKish content. It has to be excellent.
To prevent your website sinking into obscurity, the content has to engage most readers for at least 3 minutes and 10 seconds.
Yes I know. That’s ages in the internet world.
Here’s how to do it:
Choose the right blog topic
When they’re thinking about blog topics, most people ask themselves this: What should I write about?
Fair question. But actually, there’s a better one:
Who am I writing for?
When you’re writing a business blog, the ideal reader is your ideal customer. Are there any exceptions to this?
Blogs should always be about the reader, never the writer. It may sound harsh but the most boring blog subject, regardless of your industry or customer profile, is… you.
Seriously, nobody is interested.
The most popular blogs answer a question, solve a problem and provide information.
Think about it. Are you interested in my latest industry award? My shiny new high-end client or that SEO conference I attended last week?
No, you are not.
You’re here because I’ve promised useful information… so I’ll get on with it. Here are 3 things that will help you choose the right topic:
1. Which questions have your customers asked you lately? While`How much do you charge?’ won’t make a great blog topic, there will be certain questions that your clients keep asking.
2. What are your competitors writing about? Now don’t get me wrong. You should never nick their content. Use their blogs as inspiration and give subjects your own take.
3. What does your current audience want to know? When your posts attract comments, join in the conversation and ask them for ideas.
Use blog idea generator tools
There are lots out there, but I usually stick to these three:
This one is really easy to use. You just type in 3 terms (preferably nouns) for the subject you’re thinking about.
Hit the `Give me Blog Topics’ button and you’ll get a list of ideas. Handily, it also gives you some great titles, but feel free to tweak them to perfection.
Also known (by me) as the Magic Wheel of Wonder. Type in a basic keyword term – SEO, for instance – and you’ll get hundreds of results based on what real people are asking.
Take a look at this picture. You’ll see that they’re arranged around a central hub of what-, how-, why- where-type questions.
I love Quora. Basically, it meets the 2 most important marketing objectives:
- Find out what people want.
- Provide it.
You just sign up and fill in the `Knows about’ section on your profile.
After that, you’ll get updates on relevant questions that people are asking. Check out which questions have the most views and followers and… bingo! Instant access to what people want.
Create a catchy headline
Great headlines should be 3 things: searchable, catchy and clickable.
Here are 2 guaranteed winners:
- How to… is a great way to start a title. It answers questions, solves problems, and it’s massive in terms of search traffic. In short, it ticks every box.
- List titles – It’s no accident that titles with numbers are popular. They promise substance – the audience will get at least one usable take-away – and they appeal to the screen reader’s notoriously short attention span.
With list titles try and stick to odd numbers, particularly 3, 5 and 7. They get more clicks than any other numbers. Why is this?
I haven’t the foggiest. People are just weird.
Here’s another good tip:
Put your best information under the first and last numbers. Everyone scans online content. When they spot high quality at the beginning and end, they’ll stick around to read the middle.
Magic title words include `quick‘, `easy’, `tips’ and `secrets’. Also include benefit-led words like `improve’, `save’, `gain’ and `win’.
Right, you have your subject and title. It’s time to start writing.
Oh heck. There’s a problem:
That blank screen is troublesome, and the cursor isn’t helping. The bloody thing is winking at you from the top left hand corner. How do you get over writer’s block?
Don’t sweat the first sentence.
Copywriters rarely start at the beginning. We begin the writing process wherever we feel most comfortable, usually with the section we know most about.
Start at the end if you like. It doesn’t matter.
Try sketching out the sub-headings. It gives you a structure – something my dear old English teacher used to call an Essay Plan.
If you’re really struggling, try using a timer. I set mine for 10 minutes, then write without stopping or self-editing. Those first 10 minutes may produce hogwash, but it’s a great warm-up.
The importance of formatting
Never over-estimate the patience of your reader. Think of a gnat. You’re dealing with pretty much the same attention span.
Have you noticed something about this blog post? I’ve given you `pit stops’ as breathing space – images, headings, bullet points, that sort of thing – every 200 words or so.
If you do this, the post will look instantly engaging and the reader will stick around.
Here’s another good tip:
Use the F-shape.
Huh? OK, fair enough. It’s probably easier to show you a picture.
It comes from a fascinating study by a Danish web usability expert, Jakob Nielsen. He carried out eye-scanning on a couple of hundred people reading thousands of websites.
Squint a bit. You’ll notice that readers skim content in the shape of a capital F. They read the 1st sentence to the end, then skip down to the 2nd paragraph but give it less attention. After that, readers scan down the LH side of the screen.
Once you know this, you can catch their attention where it’s likely to wander.
Conversational writing tips
The most engaging and conversational word in the English language is `you’. It needs to be all over your website content, not just your blogs.
Speak directly to your reader. Seriously, they’ll like it. Your blog will be all about them, the most interesting subject on the planet.
Here are some more conversational writing tips:
• Use short sentences – A maximum of 20 words to stop the reader running out of breath.
• Vary the rhythm – Sometimes, sentences of more than 20 words are impossible to avoid – but if you use a long sentence, like this one for instance, snap back the reader’s attention with a short one. Like this.
• Ask questions – You do this in conversation, so why not do it in your blog posts?
• ALWAYS use plain English (no excuses) – I won’t go on about it, but please don’t use long words. They’re not clever, they’re unreadable.
• And finally… Use Bucket Brigades.
Now, I know what you’re thinking:
What the heck are Bucket Brigades?
Bucket Brigades are an old-fashioned copywriting technique. Back in the Mad Men day, they would draw people through to the end of sales letters. Bucket Brigades are powerful. Look, here are some…
Here’s the thing:
You may be wondering:
But wait, there’s more:
I know what you’re thinking:
See what I mean? You’re still reading. Woo! You’re welcome.
Professional editing techniques
Before you start editing… wait a while.
Leave it to marinade – preferably overnight but for at least 2-3 hours. Don’t be tempted to peek at it in the meantime.
Print it out…
Then read it aloud.
Yes, of course you’ll feel like a plonker, but it’s the only way to check whether you’ve been conversational. If you stumble over a word, your reader will do the same thing.
If you run out of breath, shorten the sentence. If in doubt, cut it in half.
Here are a few more things to watch out for:
• Punctuation ~Too many hyphens, commas, semi-colons and parentheses disrupt the flow. Anything in brackets should be brief, preferably pithy. Otherwise, readers get lost in the bracket and forget what went before it.
• Adverbs ~ Every `-ly’ word weakens your copy. Most adverbs are
completely unnecessary. Each time you spot an adverb, replace it with a stronger verb. Want some examples?
The girl runs quickly = The girl sprints
The door shut noisily = The door slams
• Replace negatives with positives ~Watch out for words like `don’t, `shouldn’t’, `can’t’ and find a way to re-write them in the positive. You’ll find that you automatically use more powerful verbs.
• Spot your `habits’ ~ Read your past blogs to identify over-used words and phrases, adverb addiction, repetition or any other writing habits. It’s fine, we all have them. When you’ve spotted your habits, it’s easier to find more powerful alternatives.
• Make every word count ~ Cut out all unnecessary details. Use only the interesting details.
• Be brutal ~ It’s easy to fall in love with particular sentences. If you can’t bear to lose them completely, cut and paste them to a blank page. You can always use them in another post.
Don’t forget the call to action (CTA)
Now don’t get me wrong. A blog is not a sales pitch. Audiences will spot any Buy me signals at 1,000 paces and will be off quicker than a gazelle at a lion party. Your blog reader is looking for information and isn’t ready to buy.
Nonetheless, don’t forget to include a CTA – preferably at the end. By then, you’ll have established yourself as a creditable source of knowledge.
CTAs are particularly successful with `How to…’ and list title blogs. Your reader will appreciate the useful tips but let’s be honest, most people lack the time to carry them out. Some lack the ability. Always give them an easy way to get in touch for help, or for more information.
Good luck! In the meantime, feel free to give me some blog topics. And if you need my blog-writing services, get in touch here.