19/12/2014

7 Steps to Writing a Blog Post That Matters

Image credit: Alaskan Dude

 

When was the last time you have read a blog post that really got you hooked? I mean, you were so immersed in it you could not do anything but keep reading all the way through…
I’ll venture a guess that it was pretty long ago.

 

As we are flooded with information on a daily basis, on our phone, computer, TV and almost wherever we go, it’s really hard for us to give our attention to a single article and just to sit back and read it without being distracted. So yes, blogging is a very powerful medium but if you want your blog to stand out above the crowd, your posts have got to be engaging, enticing, fun to read, memorable, even life-changing.

And no, size does not matter that match (see if you can stick to the end of this article, it’s over 3000 words).

So here are 7 steps for writing posts that actually matter.

Step #1: Have a Clear and Powerful Vision

The first thing you have to do before typing the first letter of your article is to have a clear vision. There’s a specific reason why you’re creating this blog and a more specific reason why you’re about to write this very post. Being clear here will help you write a focused, engaging, useful piece.

Do you want to share your passion with the world?
To teach others?
To build  a community around something you love?
To travel the world and do speaking gigs?
And if there is no reason then why are you doing this blog anyway?

You see, if that part is unclear to you, you will soon lose steam like I did and stop blogging. You will start saying to yourself disempowering things like:
Well, there’s plenty of blogs on that topic. Why would anyone care about mine.
Blogging is a lot of hard work before you see any result, let me tell you!
And no, making money is probably not the reason. Unless you like playing with dots.

Action steps:

  • Write down your Why Statement if you haven’t already done so
  • Put together your blog’s goals. Once you know the Why, the goals will be pretty easy to figure out. Here’s an example:
    Within 1 year my blog will become the #2 for _____.
    Within 1 year I will have _____ subscribers.
    Within 1 year I will have my first speaking gig.
  • The goals have to be measurable and attainable, so saying My goal will be the best in the world won’t cut it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t attain all your goals. What matters is that they motivate you to take action and to be productive
  • Write down your business strategy. In other words, how you make the goals
    happen? What are the actual ateps you’re taking? For example:
    Write 3 posts per week on ______ and ______.
    Send a weekly newsletter on ______.
    Create my 1st product on ______ by Feb 2013.
  • Now when you map out your content you will have a clearer idea on the reason behind each and every post you write. It will all make sense
  • Be mindful that a single blog post can actually change lives if that is what you want it to do

Step #2: Don’t Over-think It

Ever heard of Analysis Paralysis?

Well basically it means that when you think and analyze too much you end up not taking any action. I’m an expert in that actually! It’s not my nature to spring into action like a squirrel on caffeine and work non-stop. I’ve had to train myself to stop over-thinking to achieve that. I still do.

If we take writing your next blog post for example, upon writing your mind will typically start driving you crazy (or is it only my mind?). Here’s an example:
Mmm… I don’t know. Not sure if anyone wants to read about this.
Oh, and what about SEO? I need to do some keyword research. Oh, I hate that. Shall I outsource it? But to whom?
And images? Where do I get the image now? And I need to give credits and all that…
And what if my article ends up being more than 1000 words? But everyone says that’s too long! Oh, screw it.
Mmm.. actually I’m hungry. Is there chocolate anywhere? Quick, Desperate Housewives is in 3 minutes!

You get the idea.

So what do you do?

Well, what works for me is simply to just do it. Think Nike…
Better done than perfect! And hey, I’m a perfectionist so you better take my word :)

In fact, articles which are not perfect are likely to get more comments, because there’s more to talk about. Yes, it is important to write about what your audience wants but you can do a survey and ask them later. And don’t worry if there are 1000 articles about the same topic. Yours is unique because you’ve written it, and that’s what your crowd wants to hear.

Action steps:

  • Put some music on, sit and write the first draft without worrying about SEO, images or what others think. You can worry about it later. You can always update your post down the road. Action creates clarity and removes worry and fear
  • Do a quick fact check and spelling check and hit publish or schedule your post for later. Do it now, before you start thinking to much and getting into perfectionism. What’s the worst that can happen? You’re not publishing a novel!
  • Now that your post is live you can worry about images, optimizing your title, adding links etc. Blogging is a dynamic thing and it’s natural for posts to be updated and to evolve over time

Step #3: Write for People, Not for Robots

Yes. SEO matters. A lot.

But consider this:
You can’t trust SEO as a long term strategy, simply because you will be at the mercy of Google and other search engines. You will work like crazy tailoring your site to get Google’s love. And guess what? In a few months they’ll come up with another animal update, and all your hard work will have been in vain.
Now, I’m not saying ignore SEO. Search engine traffic is important for blogs because people use them to find solutions and often your blog may have the exact answer so you’ll get their click.

What I’m saying is that you should focus your efforts on creating quality content that helps people and engages them.

StevePavlina.com is one of the most popular blogs on personal development. He gets millions of unique visitors every month. In fact, right now his blog comes up second on Google for the term Personal Development (!). Now, As Steve explains in his blog, he writes for human beings. He doesn’t optimize his website for search engines and yet he’s got so many backlinks from people who have heard about his blog through word of mouth.
So he’s hardly doing any promotional efforts now.

What is his secret then?

Well, he focuses most of his time on writing high quality content helping people.
I think the real power behind blogs is their community. And once you’ve built a strong community it will become your main source of traffic. And if your blog helps your community members they will tell their friends.

Action steps:

  • When you write your posts think quality. It takes time to create quality so allocate the time
  • A good place to start is by searching forums on your niche. Look for questions people ask and write posts answering these questions
  • Once you’ve got a few hundred subscribers, conduct a survey. You can use SurveyMonkey to conduct email surveys. It’s free for the basic plan, premium plans start at $20 per month
  • In the survey ask your readers what articles they would like you to write. You can give them multiple choices and leave an empty field where they can add their own ideas
  • You can also write a blog post where you ask your readers to comment about what they’d like to read in the future
  • If you want to increase response suggest an incentive to those who reply, like a free ebook or some other benefit
  • Now you know what to write about. So what are you waiting for?

Step #4: Open With a Story

There are many ways to start a post. But honestly, I don’t know a more engaging way than telling a story. It doesn’t have to be a true story. But it has to be intriguing, convincing, relevant to the rest of the article and to flow naturally into it. Here’s an example from the article titled: 4 Tips to Evangelize Your Brand on Facebook on Social Media Examiner:

Are you looking to stand out on Facebook?
Christiane Erwin, owner of Crestview Doors of Austin, TX, logged onto Facebook early one morning and was surprised.
She saw one of her company’s door designs in a photo post from home superstore Lowe’s.
Unfortunately it was as the winner of the Lowe’s Ugly Door Sweepstakes.

And then the articles flows naturally into the main topic which the title suggests.
Now in this case it’s a true story. the story is highly relevant because the article is about Christiane and her husband. But you could just as well make up a relevant story if you’re out of real ones. It can be a story about a fictitious character which you can employ throughout the rest of the article. Or even better, if you could tell a story about yourself that would be much more engaging as your readers will get to know you, identify with you and trust you more.

But hey, why open with a story? Why not get right into the subject matter?

I hear you! Well, if you start right with the subject matter without any introduction, people are less likely to read it. It’s like the difference between a plane diving right into the runway rather than landing softly. So the introduction lands you smoothly into the main story.

Now stories are great because as humans we love stories and we’re intrigued by them. Think about yourself as a child. You used to love bedtime stories, didn’t you? And there’s something in stories that fascinates us and makes us stick to the end. Who wants to miss the end of a story? or a movie?
Oh, and use powerful metaphors to drive your idea home. Metaphors are very effective and you can easily integrate them into your story.

Action steps:

  • Keep a pan and a pad with you all the time. Whenever something interesting happens to you, you have an idea or you read something inspiring online, write it down. Evernote is a nifty tool for collecting ideas from around the web. It’s free and its cross platform.
  • Once you’re done with writing the main part of your blog, think of a short story  to open with or use one of your ideas from the previous step and a starting point. Write the story down.
  • The most important is that the story be relevant to the article. You won’t lose any friends if you make up a story, as long as the story is intriguing and flows well into the article.
  • First person works really well but have the audience in mind. Second person also works great as it engages your reader. And if you add a bit of suspense element, all the better!
  • Here are a few potential story opening lines to inspire you:

You know those days when you come home, only to see…

55 percent of Americans – non-religious included – believe that a guardian angel has protected them during their life.

OK that’s more of a statement, but it also works the same way  (read the rest here)

When Casey Fenton booked a cheap weekend flight to Iceland, back in spring 1999, he had no place to stay there (read the rest here)

Another day at your cubicle has gone by, and as you work your way home through the busy highway, thoughts of a different future are crossing your mind (read the rest here)

Have you ever seen/been/heard/felt…? (very powerful)

Step #5: Talk to Your Best Friend

When people ask me how to write an article, here’s what I tell them: Write as if you’re talking to your best friend in the bar, in a cafe or wherever. The most engaging articles are written this way.

So instead of It’s well known that fitness can benefit people’s health you can say: Now put your trainers on and get moving. Your body will thank you!
Which phrase will make you keep reading?

We’re not talking magazine writing or academic articles. The rules here are different. People have zero attention span these days. Their minds are bombarded with information and every 2 seconds a better smartphone or tablet comes out so the information haunts them wherever they are. I mean, seriously, when was the last time you’ve had a conversation of longer than 5 minutes with someone without being distracted (by a phone they got, or maybe they were on Facebook while ‘listening’ to you)?

So you’re fighting for attention here, which means you have to engage your readers by talking directly to them. You can’t afford to be boring. Hey, I’m talking to you!

Action steps:

  • For your next article imagine you’re talking to your best friend. Use the language and the expressions you normally do. Let it flow
  • Starting sentences with And or with Now, or Here’s the thing.. is perfectly fine. In natural day to day speech your language is dynamic, lively, and so it shall be in your articles
  • If you don’t feel natural writing this way, record yourself talking about your subject matter.
    For Windows, Mac and Linux: Use Audacity (multi-platform) on your computer for that.
    For iPhone and iPad: Use the built-in Voice Memos app (supports iPod as well) or download Audio Memos ($1) for more functionality
    For Android phones with no built-in recording app: Check LifeHacker’s Android voice recording app of choice here
  • Now you’ll have to turn your recording into written words. A few ways to do that if you’re too busy to do it yourself:
    1. Use an app: Nuance offers its Dragon line of products for PC and for Mac. The software is not cheap (about $199) but it works really well and saves you a lot of time by turning your voice recording into automagically into text. Dragon also supports digital device recordings and there are demos on the website as well.
    2. Pay someone else: Use Speechpad. They are efficient and trusted by companies like Citrix and HubSpot. Their current rate is $1 per minute of audio, which means $20-$30 for an average article.
      Alternatively use Fiverr. There are plenty of guys offering transcription services for about 50 c per minute but do your due diligence and check buyer’s feedback, description etc. I’ve used TransExpert‘s service and I can’t recommend her enough.
      Allow a few days if you outsource the transcription.
      By the way, these solutions are even critical when doing interview.

Step #6: Get Your Own Unique Voice Across

Yes, you could be business-like. You could write in dry corporate style that is used too often in business websites. One thing is common to these websites:
Not many people read their content.
Why? Because it’s boring!

Consider this example:
Regardless of age, unexpected events, such as an accident or illness, can happen at any time, to anyone. While we can take measures that might reduce the risk of these events occurring, no one can prevent or foresee their occurrence.

It’s taken from a blog about insurance. Does it make you feel engaged? Well, here’s why it probably doesn’t:
The text is all written in third person. There’s nothing about me, nothing about you. Now I understand it’s a business website and they don’t want to give anyone’s personal voice here. But I say, that’s old school! No wonder that website hardly gets any engagement or search engine ranking.
Even if you’re a business you can have a unique voice. Your business’s unique voice.

By contrast, consider this example from another insurance blog:
Your Teenager Is Ready to Drive. Yikes. As scary as this scenario is, it’s puppies and lollipops compared to the car insurance rates you’re going to be paying soon. Hopefully your teen will qualify for a good student discount that will take the sting of out your new higher rates

Can you tell why it makes you want to read more?
Well, the writer talks in third and second person which engages the reader. He uses humor and his own writing style. It feels more like someone you know is talking to you, rather than a secretary or a company official. Right?

So, how do you get your own unique voice across?

Action steps:
My best advice is simply to be yourself. Again, write as if you speak. Let yourself flow
Humor is great and if you use it in your natural  speech then do the same in your blog. If you’re sarcastic by nature then be so in your blog. Sarcasm can create controversy and while some readers will steer away from you, you will attract the ones that are a better fit for you and for your business
If someone else does the writing for you, give them some freedom as well! You can always edit the article afterwards if it gets too intense.

Step #7: End with Questions and a Call to Action

OK, so you’ve put together a wonderful post. Kudos!

Now some bloggers would, at this point, pitch their product right away. After all, people who’ve read the article can see the value so why won’t they buy from you?

Well, while that may sometimes work, I’d suggest an alternative:

Ask them what they think.

You can sell to them later through emails. Much more effective.
Unless you have disabled comments for some reason (it better be a good one!), the best way to get relevant comments is to ask questions followed by a CTA (call to action). So if we get back to the Social Media Examiner article from step #6, here is how the article ends:

What do you think? Has your business experimented with more personal or informal posts on Facebook? What has your result been? Post your comments and questions in the box below.

So open-ended questions work best because they trigger more thoughtful comments.
It’s important to ask your audience for their opinion because it shows that you care. It also helps build a strong community as readers get to help each other and you get to help them as well. You will also see that you get suggestions through comments and the article grows more complete as comments add up.

Action steps:

  • After you’re done with the main part of the article and the introduction, write 2-3 open-ended questions which would create a discussion around the article
  • A few examples:
    So what do you think?
    What would you if you were _____?
    How do you keep your blog up to date?
    When was the last time you _____?
    You get the idea…
  • Remember the 5 W’s: What, where, when, who, which. The 5 W’s are your best friends from now on! Use them wisely…
  • Follow with a CTA encouraging readers to share their thoughts in the comments
  • Follow the comment thread and give thoughtful answers to comments

 

About Adam

Adam is a blogger, writer, marketer and a designer by day. By night he surfs the darkest corners of the Internets in search for quality independent content. He then shares that on twitter.
He also enjoys running, cooking and watching cats sleep.

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Comments

  1. These are great tips. They all apply to video. It’s sad how much people just start talking without much consideration. What could have been said in 2 minutes ends up taking 15 minutes.

    Focus plus a story can make any video or blog article shine. Soo good!
    Jalanda James recently posted..Moving VideoMy Profile

    • Adam says:

      Thanks a lot for your kind words Jalanda. I agree. There’s no reason to waste your readers’ or viewers’ time if you respect them. If you don’t have anything of value better keep it to your diary or at least say it’s off-topic or something. And yes, I also agree, it’s all about the story.

  2. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Asking the readers through a survey is really easy. It also lets you know that people are interested in your opinion.

  4. I second with you on writing for people. SEO is overrated and most people think its just throwing in (or I should say stuffing) keywords into a post! Result? The post becomes totally unreadable and unpleasant. I’d say that’s a fail. Coz the readers are not going to be benefited with such a post and even though initially one feels that their rankings improve for a keyword, consistent publishing of gibberish content will surely result in getting penalized!

    • Adam says:

      I totally agree Jane. SEO is indeed overrated and even Google is becoming more social than anything now..

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