For my first post on the Well Optimised site, what better topic than how to write a great blog article! I originally wrote this piece for the Real Time Minds website (of which I’m a founding partner) but it’s even more applicable here given that we regularly recommend our clients get into business blogging as a key part of their content marketing strategy.
Let’s get started!
Blogging can be an integral part of a successful online marketing strategy – your blog can demonstrate to your customers that you’re active, knowledgeable, up to date and in touch with their needs and concerns – and most importantly, have the solutions to their problems. Studies show that businesses that blog get significantly more leads than those that don’t.
It can also be a key element of your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) strategy – over time the blog content will result in your website ranking highly in search engine results for people searching for what you have to offer – more on that later.
This article looks at the anatomy of a blog post – what makes it:
Get found by as many people as possible – through search engine optimisation and links from other sites.
Get read by as many people as possible – through compelling writing and best-practice design & layout.
Get shared as much as possible by appreciative readers, fellow bloggers and other sites through social media, email and links.
Get the result we want – be it new customers, newsletter subscribers, training course bookings, qualified leads etc.
This article covers:
- What to write about
- A great headline
- Valuable content
- Make it readable
- Make it search-friendly
- Make it easy!
- Further reading
1) What to write about
The natural place to start when thinking of blog topics is your own business experience. What are the most pressing or topical issues in your industry right now? What questions are foremost in your clients’ minds? For a blog post to really cut through it needs to answer those or raise new ones that will potentially impact how your readers go about their business.
Here’s a fantastic list of 50 ways of finding inspiring blog topics, a quick browse through this will get your ideas cup running over. Some choice cuts from this list include:
- Set up Google Alerts related to a niche specialty area of yours
- See what people in your industry are talking about on Twitter, try a hashtag search like #ProjectManagement
- Interview an industry luminary (this also gets the benefit of having them link to your blog post from their own blog or social media, there’s nothing like well-fed ego!)
You can also consider adopting one of the ever-popular blog post formats that appeal to time-poor readers (and help time-poor writers too!) such as:
- List posts: “The Top 5….”; “7 Time-Saving Tips For…”; “10 Sure-Fire Techniques For…” etc. This style of post is easy to write and easy to digest.
- How-to posts: Share your expertise by stepping readers through solving specific problems – just Google ‘How to…’ and the auto-suggest options will give you an idea of how many people are searching for answers this way
- Review posts: Review a product, software, anything that’s related to your area of expertise and people are looking for reviews on (TIP: ‘review’ is a popular search suffix for any product or software – if you have a Google account you can try Google’s Keyword Planner tool to see how many people are looking for reviews on the item in question)
- Curated content: Create a complete reference to a particular topic by using your knowledge, existing reference sites and research skills to compile ‘The Ultimate Guide to….” your particular topic.
- Current News or Events: Get in early with coverage of relevant news, events, product releases or industry happenings and you’ll often find your blog post ranking very highly for searches relating to that event or news item, especially if it’s in a niche area.
2) A great headline
The headline is the single most important element of your blog post. 80% of people will read the headline, but on average only 20% will read the article under it (that’s why legendary adman David Ogilvy said “When you write the headline you’ve spent 80% of your client’s advertising budget.”
In a blog post, as in an ad, the headline has but one job to do – to get you to keep reading. A great headline does that through a number of ways, often in combination.
Some of the techniques employed in effective headlines include:
- Arousing curiosity
- Promising something of value
- Presenting something surprising
- Upsetting the status quo
- Promising a quick benefit
Some writers start with the headline and go from there. Others save it for last, and create it once the article has fully expressed the ideas of the author. My personal preference is to start with the headline, as it creates a promise that I’m then committed to fulfilling in the article, but you may find it easier to write the headline last.
Including keywords in the headline is helpful for SEO, but getting your article read is more important so leave the keywords out if they will not help engage your readers.
3) Valuable Content
Of course, the actual content of your article is what it’s all about – assuming you’ve chosen a topic that your target audience will respond to, it then needs to be genuinely useful and usable and ideally it will make people want to share it with their networks (through Likes, Tweets, links from their own sites etc). One of the main reasons for blogging is extending your reach to a larger audience and this sort of sharing does exactly that.
As a subject matter expert, you know your stuff, but there are some tips that can help you create the sort of content that web surfers are looking for.
One is to spend a little time researching what your intended audience is really looking for. This research can include your own clients and networks, but these online resources are a great way of finding out what your audience is looking for:
- Google Keyword Planner and auto complete (you’ll need a Google account for the Keyword Planner)
- Google Trends
- KWFinder, an easy to use and affordable keyword research tool
- Other Q&A sites like Quora.com
- Forums related to your industry – e.g. Flying Solo
You’ll likely start to notice a few recurring themes related to your subject area. These could involve terms relating to topical matters like tax, elections or upcoming events, general terms like ‘xyz reviews’, ‘best xyz’, ‘xyz tips’ etc. These can all help give you insight into what your target audience really wants to know.
4) Make it readable
Online, people read differently to how they read print. They tend to skim rather than read, unless they are fully engaged with the content. Nothing puts off an online reader more than big blocks of dense, heavy text.
The key to making a blog post appealing to online readers is to structure it using:
- Shorter paragraphs than you’d find in printed text
- Sub-headings that structure the content and arrange it by ideas
- Bullet points to break up the text
- Bold text to highlight important phrases
- Well-chosen images that add value or interest without creating unnecessary distraction. (Tip: Image captions are among the most-read content on any web page)
The image you use is particularly important because not only can it set the tone for the whole article it will likely be the first thing people see when the post is shared on social media as it will automatically become the thumbnail image shown in the social news feed.
5) Make it search-friendly
We expect that around half of all our website traffic will come from search engine enquiries. A key reason for this is the blog posts will tend to naturally align to what our target market are searching for online.
While the home page and main ‘Domain’ pages will rank well for more general terms like ‘business advice’ or ‘time management training’, blog articles are great for ranking well for more specific searches, like ‘SME business coaching’ or ‘best time management software’.
Following a few basic guidelines will help ensure your articles stand the best chance of ranking well in search engine results. We’ll use WordPress for our blogging platform, with some plug-ins that help make search optimisation easy.
In a nutshell, here are the things to consider to help make your article search friendly:
- Keywords – Start out by researching what the relevant keywords are for your audience – are they searching for ‘project management software’, ‘project management tools’, ‘project management systems’ or something else? Google’s Keyword Tool, Google Trends and even just the auto-suggest function of Google will help here.
- These keywords should be used in the article, although not in an un-natural or repetitive way. Search engines and readers can smell a ’keyword-stuffed’ article a mile off. Your article would normally use relevant keywords naturally, however being aware of the ones that attract the most search traffic can help you lean towards those variants.
- The article heading – the most important thing is to make the heading want people to read the article, as per section 2 above. However, if you’re able to use a relevant keyword or two, it helps search engines decide how relevant your article is for web searchers.
- Subheadings are also important and can be used to include secondary keywords. When adding the article to WordPress, make sure you select one of the heading formats (such as Heading 2 or Heading 3) in the text editor which displays the heading in the right format and flags it as important to search engines.
- Images should ideally have relevant keywords in the file name (e.g. project-management-checklist.jpg) and as the image Alt Tag (added when you upload the file).
- Metadata is the text that appears in relation to the article but not within the article itself. The most important metadata elements are the Title Tag and Description Tag.
- The Title Tag appears in the browser tab, as the first line in Google search results and as the title when a post is shared on Facebook, LinkedIn etc.
- The Description Tag appears as the description in Google search results and as the description when a post is shared socially. It’s important in getting searchers to click on the link in search results so should be engaging and compelling.
- Don’t worry about meta keywords. Search engines don’t consider them any more as they are too easily abused.
If you’re on WordPress there are numerous plugins such as Yoast SEO and All-In-One-SEO that let you add these easily, directly below the post itself. Other blogging platforms generally have similar processes for adding metadata, although sometimes the terms used can differ.
6) Make it easy!
Creating inspiring, valuable blog articles doesn’t have to be hard work! If you have a system, it can become a regular, enjoyable part of your monthly routine. Here are some ideas for making the whole process simple, repeatable and enjoyable:
- Create a blog calendar – Map out what you plan to write about over a 6- or 12-month period, with key dates for writing, editing and publishing. You then have a clear view of what’s needed when, and you’ll be able to start collecting ideas, links and other resources for upcoming articles over that time.
- Start each article with a plan – sketch it out roughly with the main areas you want to cover, supporting resources (e.g. links, images, graphics etc) and any call-to-action you want people to take. The standard article structure of IntroductionàBodyà Conclusion is a good starting point. The conclusion can include a call-to-action like a link to our subscription page or an upcoming training seminar when relevant.
- If you’re really stuck for ideas or time, a quick formula for putting together a valuable article is to go for a list-based approach e.g. ‘The 5 Best Free Project Management Tools’, or collate a selection of worthwhile links to external articles e.g. ‘The Ultimate Guide to Small Business SEO’.
7) Further reading
Even though this article is 5 pages and 2000 words, it really only scratches the surface of business blogging. Here are some great resources if you want to develop your blogging skills:
- Hubspot – Business blogging kit with 2 downloadable e-books and a webinar (email required but they are responsible marketers and don’t spam!)
- Copyblogger – Great quality writing and excellent tutorials on all aspects of blogging
- Social Media Examiner – A good article on the business case for blogging and content marketing (and a half-hour podcast for the drive home!)
(Typewriter image used under Creative Commons licence: ‘Let’s Type’ by V Valdzen)