Here’s how to write a great blog post — and how to make sure it drives traffic, generates leads and raises your brand awareness.
This is the blog post I wish I’d read when I first started blogging. There’s a vast number of ‘how to start blogging’ articles out there, but many of them are little more than a generic tick list of things to include. Instead, I wanted to write clearly and helpfully about the blogging process from start to finish, with examples and illustrations of what actually works.
Great written content is a real investment in the future of your business. It has the power to bring people to your website. A well-written blog post can offer ways to solve problems, deliver results and initiate change. It showcases your products and establishes trust between you and your prospective clients.
1. Offer genuinely helpful solutions
Before choosing a topic to blog about, think very carefully about why someone’s going to want to read it. Prospective clients are problem-aware clients who need solutions. You know your business better than anyone. You know how to solve your clients’ problems. Blog because you want to share some of that with them. Starting with their search engines, they’ll click on links only because there’s something in it for them, whether it’s a solution to a problem or information they really can’t do without. Your job is to make them need to click.
2. Nail the title
Making people need to click starts with the title. There are lots of infographics that offer templates for effective blog post titles, but it pays to learn a little more about the psychology behind them. Many headlines offer solutions to problems. Some promise to take a potentially complicated or unwieldy topic and make it more digestible, like the blog post you’re reading now. Others offer intangible benefits such as the chance to feel savvy or sneaky. Some people advocate writing the title before anythings else as it focuses both you and your writing. There’s some truth in this, but equally, a great title is the end product of a lot of experimentation.
Writing a blog post for Dragonfly Tutoring as part of their content marketing strategy, I played around with several titles. ‘Why should I hire a tutor for my child?’ posed a good question, but it didn’t offer any good answers. I redrafted it: ‘Why hiring a tutor could be one of the best things you can do’. This one flagged up the benefit of hiring a tutor, but there was no emotional pull. The final draft added both a time frame and a sense of urgency: ‘Why hiring a tutor for your child this year is the best investment you can make in their future’. It also offered a simple solution to an emotive problem: how we can ensure we’re supporting our children.
When you’re crafting the title, choose a really strong verb that conveys the impact of the blog post on the reader’s problem. ‘How to transform your garden’ suggests dramatic and tangible change.
Use adjectives to position your blog post to your reader in a way that offers an intangible benefit. For example, ‘Three sneaky ways to keep those slugs away from your plants’ offers the reader a sense of victory, as well as a solution to their problem. ‘How to create a strategic sales plan’ makes the reader feel smarter. ‘Discover the secret ingredients for the perfect cassoulet’ insinuates both the promise of revelation and the chance to achieve perfection.
The ‘double whammy’ headline works well as it makes very clear what the tangible benefits are. When combined with an intangible benefit, the title can be really effective.
Another effective way to devise a blog post title is to anticipate a problem. This style of title can potentially feel more manipulative and should be used with caution but it can be effective as it plays on the reader’s fear. If you’re offering a good solution though, that’s a different story.
3. Write the standfirst
The standfirst summarises what the content is about and brings the reader in a little closer. In newspapers and magazines, it’s the summary paragraph that sits between the title and the body text and which is typographically distinct, an element which has become standard in the formatting of blog posts too.
Writing content for the web, the standfirst serves the same purpose as it does in journalism, but there’s another very important factor to be aware of: if you haven’t written a separate meta description for your post (the couple of lines the search engine puts underneath each page title in search results) then it’s more than likely the search engine will use the standfirst as the de facto meta description. This means you’ve got to craft them so people click them. They’re also a great place for keywords. To get started writing your standfirst, try playing around with the following suggestions:
Narrative summary (great for showing a solution to a problem). ‘For years, Nigel had very poor returns on his investments. That is, until…’
Agitate with a statement and a question. This can work well as a follow-up to headlines that play on fear: ‘Buy-to-let student housing can be a profitable long-term investment — but is it more trouble than it’s worth?’
Humour. ‘Everything I Wish I’d Known Before I Started As An Intern. Not that I’ve any regrets or anything! *rolls eyes*’
Statement and tease. ‘He has offices on three continents, very low staff turnover and profit margins to make most people weep. CEO Josh Webber explains his secret.’
Question and tease. ‘Is going freelance what you expect it’ll be like? Helen tells us about her journey as she answers the same questions one year apart.’
The quotation. ‘It was nothing like I’d ever expected.’
4. Introduce your blog post
Begin with a story. Storytelling is something we can all relate to and no one can resist being drawn in to a good one. Stories are memorable and they create an emotional hook. Of course, your story doesn’t need to be an all-out anecdote. The opening of the blog post you’re reading is in essence a short narrative: ‘This is the blog post I wish I’d read when I first started blogging.’
Borrow stories to illuminate the point you want to make. ‘Spoiler alert,’ I began one of my most-read blog posts. ‘In the excellent film Arrival (2016, Denis Villeneuve), Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, an interpreter who is called upon to make sense of the multimodal scrawlings of intergalactic visitors to Earth.’
The storytelling approach also lets you cast ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’. The positioning of these crucial narrative archetypes is a powerful technique. Steve Jobs did it when he launched the iPhone: ‘Here’s four smart phones…’ he said. ‘Motorola Q, the BlackBerry, Palm Treo, Nokia E62 – the usual suspects.’ This was a subtle but clever way to frame the iPhone as the hero and the rest as inadequate pretenders.
With storytelling, you can establish a problem and agitate it, such as in this opening paragraph from a post about the benefits of wrap-around childcare: ‘Julie Fowler had only just arrived at work when the call came. She feared the worst. “When your child’s school rings, it’s usually because they’ve had an accident or they’re feeling ill. So you can imagine what thoughts were racing through my head when I was told the school was on the phone…’
5. Structure your blog post
Structures serve a purpose. The structure of the human body is designed for flexibility and agility. A castle is structured for the purpose of defence. The supermarket is structured so you’ll spend more — that’s why essential items such as bread and milk are placed at the back, so you’ll buy other items on the way.
The structure of a great blog post keeps people reading and entices them to take action. But with so much content out there on the web, we make instant judgements about how useful the content’s going to be in a split second. We skim and scan and evaluate its usefulness. That’s why structure is key.
Use subheadings to break up the content of your writing. They’re visual and easily skimmable. They give the reader a sense of what the post is about at a glance. Format the subheadings as H2 tags. Google uses H2 tags when they crawl web content to understand the structure of the content.
The list post breaks actions down into a series of actions. It encourages the reader to read on with the promise that they’ll find what they’re looking for. Similarly, the ‘Steps To…’ approach spells out a pathway to an end point.
When you’ve experimented with these classic formats, try something more adventurous, such as an interview and profile of a thought-leader or influencer, a curated post or a long form feature article. Varying the format of your posts is important to sustain your audience’s interest, although it’s wise to remember that long form content rates highly in search engines. This means writing blog posts that clock in at around 1200 words.
6. Draft the content
As you draft your content, you’ll find that your brand voice will emerge. The brand voice should reflect your brand archetype, a persona with distinct values that represents your brand (this is worth learning more about if you haven’t already).
One of my favourite brands, BrewDog, is the archetypal rebel, a maverick who likes to disrupt the status quo and challenge what it sees as outdated attitudes so the world can be a better place. Its voice reflects this: it’s optimistic, bold and collaborative and it can be found consistently across all of its written content. ‘Buckle up, relax and enjoy the ride,’ urges the well-crafted copy on their website. ‘Beer will never be the same.’
The tone of that voice, however, can change, depending on the context. Compare these two sentences from BrewDog’s popular blog, both announcing the opening of new bars. The first is from December 2019, before Covid-19 had shut down the hospitality industry, when BrewDog opened a new bar in Swansea. The second is from June 2020, when many bars and pubs were still closed, but BrewDog opened a bar in Rotterdam.
‘It’s been five years since we opened up our first hideout for the people of Wales, and BrewDog Cardiff has been going great guns ever since.’
This sentence is without doubt optimistic, bold and collaborative, but the tone is irreverent and a little bit defiant.
The second sentence is also optimistic, bold and collaborative. The tone, however, is empathetic and reassuring:
‘During this enormously challenging time for the catering industry worldwide, it feels strange to open a new BrewDog bar. But we are optimistic about the future and super excited to finally open our great new brewpub.’
Establishing your own brand voice is important. You’ll find it emerges more strongly the more you write. Conversational style can be great, but it’s become ubiquitous in marketing content and copy. It can often feel at best a bit contrived, and at worst, inauthentic. A more authoritative style can be effective and still friendly.
Context is key when you’re deciding which tone of voice to choose. Serious or funny? Formal or casual? Respectful or irreverent? Matter of fact or enthusiastic?
7. Conclude it
Your conclusion should draw together everything you’ve said and leave the reader with an enduring image or thought. You might return to a motif or idea you began the blog post with, providing a pair of narrative bookends.
A good conclusion usually includes a strong call to action. This could be direct and specific in the form of something you want the reader to do in response to what they’ve read, such as clicking a button or completing a sign-up form, but it could be indirect, such as a change of opinion or motivation to change behaviour.
8. Edit it. Redraft it. Proofread it.
When you’re editing, cut down on unnecessary words and phrases. Look carefully at what is extraneous: clarity is everything. Avoid intensifiers such as ‘really’, ‘quite’, ‘fairly’ and ‘very’ and remember that the active voice is much more effective than the passive voice: ‘Take care when you remove the bread from the oven’ is much more effective than ‘Care should be taken when removing the bread from the oven’.
9. Optimise your blog post for search terms
Research relevant key words for search engine optimisation, but remember the importance of long-tail search terms. Imagine a graph for any given search topic, where the y axis is the number of monthly searches and the x axis is the number of keywords in the search. The most popular, single word search terms account for around 20% of searches. Slightly more specific searches with two or three words account for around 10%. The remaining 70% of searches are highly specific phrases. Think about the search term ‘shoes’, compared with ‘women’s shoes heels’ and ‘which shoes are best for driving?’. The chances of someone’s blog post ranking well with search engines for a single word search are very low. But the more specific the search term, the more likely it is it’ll rank well. These so-called ‘long-tail’ search terms are the ones to incorporate into your blog, preferably in H1s and H2s, but a word of warning: don’t artificially stuff search terms into your writing, as search engines are wise to people who try and game the system.
10. Choose great images
Blog posts with images get almost 95% of total views than those without. But when you’re choosing visuals for your blog post, you can’t freely use any image from the web. You could pay for images you can use commercially through a provider such as Shutterstock. Alternatively, Unsplash is a platform for communities of people to share photography which can be used freely by other creatives in their work.
11. Promote your blog post
Having written your blog post, you need to share it on social media. Use hashtags or tag influencers to encourage retweets and shares. If the content is really useful, people will share it and it will snowball. Post a link to the blog post in Facebook groups and subreddits. A sharing strategy is important in the first stages of establishing a new blog. Traffic from organic search is going to take time, as SEO is a long game, but if your blog post is helpful, well-structured and delivers on its promise, it’ll start to show up in search results.
‘This is the blog post I wish I’d read when I first started blogging,’ I said at the beginning, and I hope it’s going to be genuinely useful for you.
Blog content must be genuinely useful to be successful. Don’t approach content sharing half-heartedly or cynically. If you believe in what you do and how it can make life better for people, why wouldn’t you want to share that with them? Savvy readers can easily spot clickbait, thinly disguised attempts to sell something or a blog post that’s been hammered out for the sake of having a blog post.
Content marketing is all about getting people on board with you, but that’s because you know you can take them places rather than because you’re selling them down the river.
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