You already know you should be blogging.
Everyone goes on about how it will improve your SEO, boost your credibility, build your authority, blah, blah, blah.
Everyone, except the other people who say no way! You don’t need to blog! There are plenty of other ways to sell your shit. And that is also true. There are!
But I know you have a story or two to tell, and truly? Blogging is a great way to worm yourself inside people’s hearts. The ones you like talking to, who you would love to work with.
It’s tough though, right? You can’t just slap some words together, hit publish and expect the masses to clamber to your door. You need to be strategic, and you need to write Quality Content.
But how? What even is that? Don’t you wish someone would just give you a step-by-step gui – wait.
Here you go!
*NB I say step-by-step, but writing is not usually a linear process. I’ve placed the steps in as logical order as I can in the hopes it saves you some time but you will probably need to circle back along the way.
Hold on tight, it’s a hefty one.
1. Get clear on the purpose of your article (and why you want to blog)
What exactly do you want to achieve with this piece of writing? How does it link in with your business goals?
You might be aiming to:
- Build trust and demonstrate your knowledge and expertise
- Educate your existing or potential clientele
- Increase awareness and/or promote discussion around something
- Solve a problem for your reader
- Increase your readership
- Drive traffic to your website
- Promote a specific product, service or event
Knowing what you want to achieve with your blog will guide your structure and style from the start. It will also help you to think about who you want to reach and which stories you might tell.
It’s ok to have multiple goals but you might want to prioritise them, and make sure they don’t compete or dilute your message.
Now is also the time to start thinking about what you want your reader to do after they’ve read your work – the call-to-action! We’ll revisit it later though.
2. Understand your reader
Think back to the last time you made a new friend. How did it happen?
I bet you connected over a shared experience, emotion, or understanding. You know, that point where you just go yeah, this person gets me! We can hang out.
Blogging allows us to connect like that with way more people than we can reach in person – and it’s all down to the power of words. We all know how words can make us feel things. Just a couple of sentences can make us cry, laugh out loud, shout out yes!! Or even just feel seen.
But to get those kind of reactions to our writing, we have to understand what makes our readers tick. We need to know their hopes, their problems, their dreams and their fears. The things that drive their decision-making. This might sound creepy but remember we are using our powers for good here, aiming to educate, motivate and inspire.
Unfortunately it’s not enough to know their age and whether they’re Instagram or Facebook kinda girls.
If we want people to search for, read and share our articles with their friends, we have to know:
- What kind of things are they searching for (and why)?
- What information will solve their problems?
- What writing style will engage them, have them talking about us and wanting more?
One way to step into the shoes of your reader is to create a “reader avatar” to write to – choosing an individual person and developing a detailed bio.
It could be as simple as picturing yourself writing to your best friend or fave client, but the idea is to know as much about them as possible – from their favourite TV shows to who they voted for in the last election.
But how do you just choose one reader to profile?
My recommendation is to write to your “ideal” reader or “dream client” – the person who you really want to read your writing. The one you want to attract into your life as a reader, a customer, or a friend. Maybe all three!
Some people cringe at the idea of defining “dream clients” and “reader avatars.” It seems fanciful, unrealistic, and like too much work. Not to mention the poor people who might be excluded, and miss out on your amazing gifts?!
But have you ever tried to give a gift to someone you don’t know? Maybe one of those Secret Santa type deals, where you’ve got $20 to buy something for old Aunty Cheryl but you only ever see her at Christmas and have no idea what she’s into. Do you just go, ok she’s female and over 70, so she probably wants lavender soap? Seems risky.
Compared to buying for your best mate. You’ve already compiled a list in your head, adding to it over the year as you see things you just know she’ll love. So much easier! And fun!
It’s the same when it comes to giving the gift of your voice. Don’t be the shitty soap that gets re-gifted next year!
If you need some help to get to know your dream client or ideal reader, I have a little something for you. I’m working on a free download that will guide you through the process – jump on the list here and I’ll send it to you as soon as it’s ready.
3. Choosing a topic (and an angle)
Yep, we’re only just deciding what to write about now! You probably have plenty of ideas, but need to find an angle that your readers will go for. The easiest way to start is to remember we are here to solve problems. Quality content gives the reader something they are missing, whether they know it or not.
Say you know heaps about the impact of stress on the body, and you want to write about it. But your reader isn’t thinking Oh, I wonder what the impact of stress is on my body? I think I’ll Google that!
They are most likely wondering Why am I sick all the time? Why is my skin so bad? or even How can I manage my time better?
If we’re blogging to improve our search engine optimisation (SEO – getting found on Google) you need to blog about stuff that your reader searches for.
You have the answers! You just need the right question.
It’s sometimes easier to choose a draft headline or title before you start writing. What would your ideal reader click on, if they saw it in their Facebook feed? The headline serves to remind us of the question we want to answer, and helps set a structure to answer it. You can always go back and change the title later (I usually do!).
Blog “headline formulas”
There are a number of headline “formulas” that copywriters use to get people to read their ads. These can also work well for blog titles, and include things like:
- “Here’s how to…” (improve your immune system by reducing your stress)
- “Here’s how I” (stopped getting sick all the time by prioritizing what’s most important to me)
- List post e.g. 7 top tips, 3 reasons why, 5 ways to… (7 top tips for reducing stress and improving your health, naturally)
- Ask a question: (Is stress causing your skin to break out?)
4. Find a story to share
We humans like to think of ourselves as rational, objective creatures but neuroscience says we make decisions based on emotions, not logical information. And the literature shows that we are more likely to remember how something made us feel, than “important” information.
If you want to make connections and be memorable, you gotta make ’em feel something!
And that’s what stories do. When we read or listen to a well-told story, our brains react in a similar way to if we were there. Fear, tension, excitement, relief, it’s all in there. And oxytocin (the hormone associated with love, trust and bonding) is released when we listen to stories… helping us to connect with and trust the storyteller. (Read all about it in Gabrielle Dolan’s Stories For Work – The Essential Guide To Business Storytelling)
In blogging, sometimes we start with the story, and figure it out from there. Other times we have a point to make and so need to find a story that helps to illustrate it.
It doesn’t have to be something momentous or life-changing, but it can be if you want. It could just be a short interaction that made you think, or perhaps it’s the life-changing event that led you to start blogging in the first place. But the key is to keep it relevant, specific and personal. Give your reader a glimpse of the real you, while being clear on what they can take away from it.
I have a recent, almost spooky example of the power of stories to share with you, about reconnecting with an old school friend. We used to hang out a bit back in the day, drinking and playing social netball together, but we were never really on the deep and meaningful conversation level.
We didn’t see each for many years, staying in touch as you do via Facebook. We both started new businesses and followed each other along, liking and commenting as things popped up. But then one day, my friend shared a very vulnerable, heartfelt and incredibly wise post about her experience with miscarriage and trying to conceive.
Until then I had no idea, but she was going through something similar to what I had experienced, just a couple of years earlier. Her story turned me into a blubbering mess but after I cleaned myself up, I messaged her to say thank you and let her know I had been there too. We organised to meet up and after not seeing each other for more than ten years, we found out just how much we really had in common. Fast-forward to now, she’s my freaking life coach (I shit you not) and I work with her on her blog.
Yep, we pay each other for our services while having amazing conversations and being wonderful friends. You don’t get much more “dream client” than that!! All because of a story she was brave enough to share.
You don’t need a story like this in every article you write. You can connect with your audience without recounting a journey of personal enlightenment. But if you can share something real and be vulnerable, it can take your writing from nameless information to something that draws your reader to contact you.
My blog posts with the most comments, emails and direct messages are the ones with the stories, where people go: Oh my god this happened to me too! Thank you so much for sharing, for drawing attention to the issues, for making me feel less alone.
These are the people who subscribe to your list or follow you on social media, because they actually can’t wait to read what you write next.
5. Map out your blog post, then fill in the gaps
Yep, just like a high school essay.
It needs a beginning, middle and end, or an intro, a body, and a conclusion. You need to state your argument (Stress makes you sick but you can fix it) and then back it up with your supporting points (here are the things you can do to reduce your stress and this is what the result will be).
Your intro should be very clear about what your reader will get from the article, while the conclusion wraps it all up, reiterates you key messages and tells the reader what to do next. If you are stuck on the intro and can’t get writing, leave it til after you’ve written the body.
The body structure will be guided by the information you have. Have you got lots of short sharp facts, or a couple of key points you want to explain in more detail? You can also take clues from the headline if you’ve chosen a draft – a “why” post might be like an essay, a “how to” could be step-by- step like a recipe. A list post, is well, a list!
Be sure to use subheadings to break the body of your article into sections.
6. Get writing!
This should be easier now that you aren’t staring at a blank page. Once you have a skeleton structure, it’s just a matter of filling in the gaps with your knowledge, stories and sexy AF personality! Don’t worry too much about how it sounds at this point – you can edit later. Forget about perfect grammar and punctuation and just write as you speak – this will help with your flow and you’ll end up with something that’s more relatable and easy to read.
I constantly need to remind myself not to edit as I go. It makes things sooooo slow – it’s so easy to get bogged down in the detail! In one of my favourite books about writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott said:
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”
And it’s so true! You just gotta get that shit down on paper, no matter what it sounds like to begin with. When you’re done, you have something to work with.
Once you’ve completed a draft, you may have found your writing has taken you in a different direction to what you expected. This is totally fine, and might be a good thing as the writing has helped you figure out what you really want to say; but you might need to go back and adjust your headline, subheadings and structure to suit your new direction.
Headlines and opening sentences
The purpose of your headline is to get people to read your opening sentence. It needs to be attention-grabbing but clear and honest (no click-bait please!). The purpose of your opening sentence is to get people to read the next sentence, and so on, so it really makes sense to spend time getting those first few words right. Remember that attention-grabbing doesn’t have to be crazy and unexpected – just something that your reader wants to read.
Call to action (CTA)
Hopefully you’ve had this sitting in the back of your mind from all the way back at Step 1. What do you want people to do as a result of reading your article?
- Read more of your work?
- Sign up to your newsletter?
- Download a free resource?
- Follow you on social media?
- Get in touch with you?
- Buy a product or book a service?
It’s ok to have more than one CTA but make sure they naturally progress from the information you provide. Keep it natural, keep it specific, keep it adding value. Try linking to other articles and resources within your work, rather than one sentence at the end that lists everything they can do.
7. Put it down and go.
I know you’re excited. You’ve just written the most amazing, value-packed article and you can’t wait for the world to see it. But listen to me.
When you come back with a fresh mind tomorrow you will edit the shit out of it and make it even more amazing again.
8. Edit your work for humans and Google-love (yep, SEO baby!)
Don’t be scared by the SEO part. You wanna hear a secret? Humans and Google like the same things, mostly.
Google is basically a machine that learns what kind of content humans like and rewards those websites that deliver it with higher search result rankings. Well that’s my analysis anyway, SEO experts feel free to weigh in!
Sure there’s a technical side but there are two big things that everyday non-tech-head bloggers like us can do to help with SEO.
Make your blogs:
Easy to read
- Clear writing with simple language, punchy sentences and no extra words
- Logical flow of information
- Correct grammar and punctuation
- Scannable text using subheadings and white space
Easy to find
- Logic and simplicity in site organisation – sensible categories etc
- Key words in all the right places (Headline and subheadings, URL, image filenames, meta tags, etc)
Side note: How long should my blog post be?
How fun and totally not annoying is it when people say “How long is a piece of string?” Haha! Truly though, there is no one perfect length. My advice is always to include as much information as is needed to answer the question in an interesting way – but with no extra words that add nothing to your meaning.
Every word needs to work. Every word on your page is energy your reader needs to expend, in order to understand your message. I read somewhere that celery takes more calories for your body to process than what you actually consume when you eat it. Let’s not be celery. Let’s be chocolate fucking cake and deliver as many goddamn calories in the quickest most delicious way possible. Remove any words that don’t need to be there!
But what about SEO?
Recent trends suggest that longer posts usually perform better on all platforms (Neil Patel said that) – with more social media shares, links, and Google-love. A study by Backlinko showed that the average word count of results on Google’s front page was 1,890 words.
Longer form writing gives you more opportunity to go in deep, include rich examples, long tail keywords and so on. But let’s remember that Google values quality content over everything else. Content that humans find useful. So 1900 words of bullshit will get you nowhere.
Make your post as long as it needs to be to achieve your purpose. But do think about how you might add depth to your ideas, and think of some topics that you can really get stuck into. “How-tos” and “ultimate guides” work well here.
9. Insert graphics.
You will at least need a feature image and possibly one or two more pictures to break up the writing, depending on your length. You might use your own photos, find some free stock images, or make your own infographics using a tool like Canva.
10. Share with the world!
It’s finally time for the world to read your writing! Honestly this part could do with an article all of it’s own (or a book!) but I’m not gonna do that right now because all of this blogging talk has made me a bit tired. So lets just do a quick run through and agree to talk about it more another time.
Once you hit publish on your article:
- Share it with your mailing list
- Share the link to your existing social channels – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Linked In, whatever you use (or more importantly where your best mate the reader is hanging out!). Make sure you adjust your images and captions so that they make sense for each platform.
- Don’t forget your relevant Facebook communities – many Facebook groups have set days you can share your blog, but individual group rules vary so make sure you check them out first.
Could you use some support from a group of like-minded bloggers? For motivation, accountability, feedback, tips and resources, join our Facebook community Strategic Bloggers Inc.
Or if it all just feels a bit hard and you’d like to get some one-on-one assistance, I’d love to help out so please get in touch!