All this week, we’re taking an in-depth look at the process of content creation in the form of blog posts, which most budding Internet entrepreneurs will utilize in some fashion in content marketing. Today’s topic: how ramp your writing up to 11 and knock it over the fence (way to mix the metaphor there, Annie).
But never fear, I’ve got over thirty tips here to help you write truly epic blog posts.
What Makes a Kick-Ass Blog Post?
What makes one blog post so much better than another one? What brings massive amounts of traffic?
Well, to be honest that last question wasn’t entirely fair, ’cause oftentimes what brings the big numbers is simply a history of big numbers. (It’s called social proof, and it’s important, but when you’re just starting out, you won’t have that yet.)
But even the most heavily-trafficked blogs will eventually fail if the content sucks. What they need to keep doing, and what you can start doing now to increase your blog’s visibility, is offer great blog posts.
Great blogging includes four basic components:
- A conversational tone to the writing
- Something that triggers an emotional connection in the reader
- An attention-grabbing headline
- Content that delivers on the headline’s promise
Mastering the Conversational Tone
Nobody likes to be talked at, or lectured to. It’s the same with blogging.
Generally, you want to aim for a conversational tone because that’s what content marketing is at heart — a conversation with the reader.
But that can be a little difficult to get right for most business types. We’re used to staid memos and boring briefs. Hey, look, I went to law school, and if I can do it …
Here’s how to get it right:
- Use direct language. Simple words. Be plain-“spoken” and don’t use 10 words when 3 will do.
- Write like you talk. That’s what conversational means, right? If you’re having trouble with that concept, Stanford over at Pushing Social had a great idea in his blogging email course: after you nail down a few points you want to make on paper, turn on a tape recorder and talk through those points as if you were telling a good friend this story, or giving her instructions on how to do something, or whatever your blog post is about.
- Another great way to tap into a conversation tone is timed stream-of-consciousness free writing. Just grab a pen and paper and start writing. Start anywhere and just write whatever comes to mind about the topic for 15 or 30 minutes. Then stop. Reading over what you’ve written, you’ll find at least a few good nuggets you can pull out.
- Once you’ve written the post, read it out loud. Ask yourself, “how does this sound to my ear?” Pay attention to where you have to take a breath, where you naturally pause, your word choice, how it all flows.
- Be personable. Relate to your reader with a story, showing them how you’ve been where they are — establishing rapport.
Make an Emotional Connection With Your Reader
Like I said, nobody likes to be talked at. We respond (i.e., CONVERT) only after our emotional selves have been touched or somehow brought into play.
Fear, compassion, and desire motivate us to do something.
Here’s an example we can all (sadly) relate to:
After a huge natural disaster come the requests for donations. So. When do you pick up the phone? When you read about 46000-85000 people being killed in the Haiti earthquake?
Or when you read about the 15 day old baby pulled out from underneath the collapsed house?
That’s because we are hard-wired to respond to the power of story. So, tell a story when you can. It won’t be appropriate in every post, of course, but don’t be afraid to get a little personal.
Showing yourself in a less-than-awesome-and-perfect mask might be a little scary to you, but it has a serious power to it, because who better to help the reader get to where she wants to go? Someone who’s always gotten everything he ever wanted? Or someone who’s been down that low and climbed back out?
One warning, though: make sure it’s relevant and not TMI. ‘Cause that crap will turn people off in a New York minute.
If you’re afraid your writing is a little dry, start with a memory from your own life that’s close to what you’re talking about in the post, and free write for 30 minutes without editing or stopping. Just keep writing “I remember …” until more memories come. No judging. You’ll edit it later, if you choose to use it.
Craft an Attention-Grabbing Headline
More bad news:
You have about 2 nanoseconds to grab your reader’s attention and make them wanna read your stuff.
Since many of them will be coming to your website from a link (whether on Twitter, Facebook, other blogs, or some other site), and many of those links will use the headline as anchor text.
All of which is to say: your headline? Tres importante.
Some random, and in-no-specific-order:
- Start with the headline first. Since you start with a topic anyway, and the headline is much closer to the topic than any other part of the post, this should be easier. But also …
- The headline makes a promise which (we hope) will be fulfilled in the content. Make sure your headline is something you can deliver on.
- After you write the post, come back to it and tweak as necessary.
- Play with the words in your headline, substituting synonyms(use a thesaurus), changing the order, trying different analogies … see if you can do even better than that first, compelling idea.
There’s a fairly exhaustive series on headline-writing over at Copyblogger called “Magnetic Headlines” if you want to learn more.
Make the Content Sing
Time to deliver on that promise in the headline!
The first paragraph is the next most important part of the post, because after the headline convinces the reader to click, the first paragraph entices her to KEEP reading.
Here’s one way to do it (aka “the way Annie does it”):
- I start with 3 to 5 “soundbites” — general ideas, thoughts, subtopics or subpoints I’d like to make. (I usually do this part on paper, even though it would be more efficient to use pen and paper, because my brain is wired towards the analog when it comes to writing. Something about the act of handling the pen and moving it across blank paper fires up my neurons in a way that typing on a computer simply doesn’t. That? May be just me. Do what works for you.)
- I doodle and draw arrows, scribble down further points, circle important ideas, and generally make a mess of the once-clean paper.
- Then I move to my blogging Notebook, and transfer the final, ordered list of points onto the weekly page. This becomes my template, when I start to write. (But I do my outlining for all that week’s posts first.)
My Very Best Blog-Writing Tips (Many of Which I’ve Shamelessly Stolen From Other Smarter People)
- Don’t be afraid to get organized with your writing, but …
- Do leave room for inspiration, always, but …
- Don’t be afraid to edit – most of great writers will tell you the genius is in the revision. Anne Lamott swears by “shitty first drafts.“
- BUT don’t edit or revise until you’ve written the whole thing. Get the first draft down.
- If writing overwhelms you, try breaking out the week’s worth of topics into soundbites first, THEN move on to writing. Two completely different creative processes are at work there. You can take advantage of chunking to keep yourself in the flow of each of those processes.
- On the other hand, if you already do that chunking thing, consider shaking it up a bit and outline then write each post individually. Sometimes, spending the time to really get into one topic at a time triggers deeper thinking, especially with those foundational pieces of content.
- The point is “shake it up” if you’re having trouble accessing better, more epic writing.
- Make sure your sentences flow together. Shaky transitions can take even a committed reader out of the flow of your thoughts.
- Don’t talk down to your audience. Liz Strauss recommends assuming they know more than you do.
- Organize your writing in a way that makes sense to the topic, whether that’s chronological, alphabetical, geographical, logical — whatever it might be.
- Don’t try to emulate someone else’s voice. You will find your own if you keep at it, especially using morning pages (which really help with this). Mimicking someone else’s does a disservice to your readers. They want — and NEED — to know YOU.
- Take some risks. Share your opinion. No need to be ugly or insulting about it, but be brave enough to put yourself out there. If it’s an unpopular opinion, as long as you back it up, you’ll gain respect from the people who matter, even if they don’t agree.
- Forget meaningless words like “nice” and “good” and “bad.” Be specific. Be analytical. Be compelling. Be precise.
- wherever possible, use the active voice. Passive — the book was read by me — even if it doesn’t sound awkward, sounds weak.
- Avoid relying too heavily on adverbs, though, to tell a story. She looked at me sadly — she looked at me with a slight tremble in her lower lip. Which is more interesting?
- Don’t be afraid to use fragments (sparingly) for emphasis when the occasion calls for it. Like I do. (Sparingly.) (HA!)
Go forth and write epic stuff. And send me a link, ’cause I love to read good, epic stuff.
Did I miss anything? Got another great tip to share? Let me know in the comments!