Three Elements of a Good Blog Post

When writing your blog post, keep these three elements in mind.

Attention-getting headlines are a must. Write your headlines with your reader in mind. Think about what sort of terms people would use on Google to find the subject you’re writing about. Put that term in your headline.

Back in my newspaper days, when I was producing content for the Orlando Business Journal website, our crash course in search engine optimization included an example of what not to do, citing the news agency whose article about an airplane crash in the Hudson River was titled “Jetliner’s Icy Plunge.” Well, of course no one was doing web searches for those terms. People searched for “airplane crash Hudson River,” so outlets that had headlines close to that ranked higher on Google.

Copyblogger has a great set of resources called How to Write Magnetic Headlines.

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Focus on great writing rather than SEO. Include your keywords in the first paragraph, if it’s not too corny to do so. Keywords in your lead can improve your search engine ranking. But if putting them there produces prose that sounds artificial, go for authenticity instead.

Over at Lateral Action, Mark McGuinness puts it this way:

“While keywords are definitely important, it’s a common misconception that the most important thing you need to do to get a new website to rank well on search engines is to fiddle about with the keywords in your website text…First, produce great content that will naturally attract links from other sites. Then optimize your most important pages.”

I wish I could give you the five easy steps to great writing. But truly, it comes down to practice. Nevertheless, later in this series I will talk about the craft of writing and give you some resources.

Use story elements when possible. Fiction stories are made up of character and plot. Nonfiction, likewise, is often about people and events. Every story is a human interest story. Even a story about robots has the angle of “how will this affect the lives of humans?” Trace cause and effect relationships to a conclusion. Raise questions and answer them, from both sides, if possible.

One technique is to bring the reader into the article as if he or she were a player in it by using the second person, e.g., You know that when all the family arrives for Thanksgiving dinner, you’re likely to feel increased stress. Here are 10 ways to unwind during the holidays… This is most often found in how-to articles, but can work in other types as well. People are bored by facts, but they remember stories.

You can also make up a fictional story to make your point. Jesus did this with his parables, and modern-day parables can also be effective. McGuinness has a cast of characters that he uses on his site to illustrate points and relate them to his readers. Here’s one example: “The 3 Critical Characteristics of the Creative Entrepreneur”

Your story can be about something that happened to you and what you learned from it. I did this above with the headline anecdote. Sometimes the whole blog post is the story, for example in Hannah Gaddini’s post for The Junia Project about what she learned while preaching in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: “An Accidental Advocate (in one of the worst places in the world to be a woman).”

True-life stories about other people are extremely effective. The folks at Planet Money do this really well. Soon after the Haiti earthquake, they presented a story about “Yvrose Jean Baptiste, a small-time Haitian wholesaler” whose business was disrupted by the quake. If the reporters had just served up a bunch of facts and figures, you’d forget about it, but this businesswoman got people’s attention. Five years on, I still think of her when I think about Haiti’s beleaguered economy. That’s great storytelling.

Do Your Research, but Not Too Much

Research can be a great source of ideas. It can also be a huge time sink. If you’re doing research solely for a single blog post, set a limit on your time. Decide when you will stop researching and start writing. For most blog posts, an hour or two should be plenty. Then stop and work with what you have. You’re writing a blog post, not a book.

Well, maybe you are writing a book. That’s a whole other issue.

If you’re studying a complex topic that requires more time to fully understand, then consider writing multiple posts about it.

studying research writing

Photo by Mikhail Lavrenov • freeimages.com

Let’s also look at this from another angle. If there’s research you need to do to succeed or stay current in your business, consider blogging about it. If you were going to do the research anyway, you might as well get a blog post, or several, out of it.

As for writing a book, Nina Amir literally wrote the book about blogging a book. The short version is that you can write sections of your book in blog-post-size bits, and post them to your website. Then when it’s all written, you edit the posts into a blog. This is an effective technique that lets you build an audience as you write the book.

I have to say that blogging a book is not recommended for fiction. But for nonfiction, it’s a great tactic.

Use reliable sources

Don’t rely on Wikipedia for anything you stake your reputation on. There’s just no way of knowing when it’s wrong.

Wikipedia is useful for giving yourself a foundation of knowledge to build on. At the bottom each article is a list of links to other sources. Use those as the basis of your research rather than the Wikipedia article. Websites ending in .edu are university sites and are reliable as they usually carefully curate their content.

If you’re interviewing someone, be sure to check their references to establish their expertise. Plan your questions out ahead of time to make best use of the interviewee’s time. Consider recording, either with a computer or phone or digital recorder, but remember to let people know you’re recording.

Avoid research paralysis. Consider whether all the information you need is already in your head. Write the first draft based on what you know, then fill in gaps from research and notes. One of the reasons research slows people down is that the more you study, the more you realize how little you know. Don’t let that stop you. You don’t need to know everything. You just need to know enough to educate your readers. The more complex the topic, the more likely you are to want to keep digging. Stop. Share what you’ve learned so far.

If you are still inspired to keep digging, you can always write more later.

Introduce Your Readers to Someone New

Writing a feature about someone in your business can be good for almost any blogger. Nonfiction bloggers can feature industry experts, and fiction writers can highlight other authors whose readership is similar to the one you want to reach. There are several different ways to do a personality story:

Profile—This type of article is what you usually see in magazines. It uses multiple sources to tell a story about a person or create an impression of their character. Here’s an example: “Profile: Author, Humanitarian, and Pulitzer Prize Winner Sheri Fink.” Note that the article opens with an anecdote about her work in Iraq and closes with a mention of the danger inherent in the work. That’s an effective use of circularity. Continue reading

Types of Articles You Can Write for Your Blog

In my last post, I alluded to some different types of articles you might write for your blog. Every blog post doesn’t need to be instructional or inspirational, although those are two of the most popular types. Depending on your blog’s purpose and audience, you may want to specialize in a particular kind of post, or you may want to mix things up with a variety. Here are just a few options. Continue reading

Structure your blog posts for simplicity

Once during a training session at the newspaper, I asked a senior editor whether he thought reporters should outline their stories. He agreed they probably should, but admitted that most don’t.

I have written before about the power of the outline. When you’re writing something as short as a news story or a blog post, it’s tempting to think you can do without an outline. But even if your outline is just five items on a Post-It note, or two items in your head, have one. It will help you stay focused. It makes the writing process simpler, because you know where you’re going. Continue reading

Use your blog to serve readers

WordPress is far and away the blogging platform that hits the sweet spot between ease of use and powerful capabilities. There are platforms that are easier but won’t be as powerful, and more powerful platforms that are harder to use. I use WordPress and recommend it.

But the mechanics of operating a blog are beyond the scope of this article. I refer you to Copyblogger and Author Media, both of which can explain far better than I how to set up and operate a website. If you are particularly technophobic, you might want to consider Site Setup Kit, an online educational program that will help you set up a WordPress site. If you’re the kind of person who prefers to talk to a live person, do a web search in your local area for web developers or web designers and look for one who offers coaching. Here in Orlando I recommend Orlando Web Wizard.

Since I’m a writer and editor, not a web developer, I’m going to focus on how to write a blog. Continue reading

Why You Should Be Blogging

Writers are forever being told to blog. You have to get your name out there. You have to build a platform. You have to demonstrate your expertise.

All of this is true. The problem, especially for fiction writers, is doing all that in a way that doesn’t rob you of time better spent on your main writing project.

And novelists aren’t the only ones with this problem. Businesspeople, too, are told to blog. Continue reading