A 5-Step Plan to Improve Every Blog Post You Write

image of hand drawn number 5

Are your blog posts getting the results you want?

When you’re blogging to build or grow your business, you need each post to pull its weight.

That means writing articles that draw readers in. Articles that get shared and discussed and linked to. Articles that keep readers coming back for more.

Articles that persuade readers to take action.

If your posts aren’t getting the traction you want, you might think you’re not a good enough writer. But the truth is, every writer can follow a few simple steps to improve their posts. (And that goes for the old hands, too.)

Here’s your five-step plan for dramatically improving every blog post:

1. Create a plan before you write a single word

If you start with a blank page and put down whatever comes into your head, you’re not doing yourself or your readers any favors.

Free-flow writing is great as a warm-up exercise, if you’re struggling to get your fingers moving. It’s not a good technique for crafting a well-structured blog post.

Before you start your post, create a simple plan. Jot down the subheadings you want to include (or, for a list post, all the items for your post).

Do it: Spend five minutes planning your next post. If you’re not sure where to begin, create a mindmap, and record all the ideas that come to you. Later, you can decide which to keep.

2. Give extra value with examples and/or exercises

You might have lots of great information to share with your readers — but, for your post to be effective, this needs to be presented in a way they can easily grasp and use.

Readers don’t want abstract principles or theoretical discussions. Sure, they may be interested in understanding the why … but they also want to know what to do.

Examples help readers to “get” what’s being discussed. Here’s an example of a example:

He’d search Google with phrases like “[My closest city] [sport] ['Olympian' or 'world champion' or 'world record']” A search for “San Francisco bobsled Olympian” might get him a recently retired team doctor — the perfect lead to start with.

Exercises give readers a specific task, and help prevent overwhelm. (You might call them “Do this,” Your turn,” “Try it, or even simply “Exercise.”)

Do it: Look at a recent post. Could you add in a short example or exercise for each subsection or point?

3. Include a call to action at the end of each post

When a reader finishes your post, what do you want them to do next? Subscribe to your blog, leave a comment, join your mailing list, buy your product?

Unless you give readers some direction, they’re not likely to take action at all. They’ll just move on — probably to another blog.

A call to action is an instruction to the reader. You can work calls to action into the main body of your post — but the most effective place is usually at the end.

Here are a couple of examples of calls to action. Note the difference in length: if you’re asking readers to do something big, like sign up for a 20-part course, you’ll need to give them a bit more encouragement than if you’re simply suggesting they read another blog post:

If you’re interested in finding out more specifics on how to do that, I put together a free, 20-part course called Internet Marketing for Smart People that can give you a solid head start.

It talks about the delicate balance between audience relationship, selling, and traditional copywriting. Go snag it now, and start weaving a net of your own.

Do it: Next time you write a post, add a call to action, and measure the results. You might be surprised how effective they can be.

4. Edit your title, introduction, and conclusion

Very few bloggers can turn out a great post with one draft. Make sure you leave time in your blogging schedule for editing.

Your whole post is important, of course, but you’ll want to pay special attention to:

  • Your title — this alone will make or break your post. A fantastic post with a so-so title isn’t going to get seen.
  • Your introduction — you need to hook the reader and draw them into your post. If your introduction is vague, confusing, or too long, the rest of your post won’t get read.
  • Your conclusion — if someone reads to the end of your post, there’s a good chance they enjoyed your writing and liked what you had to say. Don’t lose them with an abrupt ending, or a weak call to action.

Do it: Plan time to edit your next post before you need to publish it. If you can, get help from a friend (ask them to choose between several titles, or a couple of versions of the call to action).

5. Format for easy readability

We’re all in a rush online. Readers don’t want to wade through big, long paragraphs of text — they want well-formatted posts that are easy to read.

Use subheadings, bold text, bullet points, and other formatting features to enhance your writing.

  • Subheadings act as signposts to the reader. Make them clear, not clever. (This is good for your SEO, too.)
  • Bold text is a great way to highlight key points, making your post easy to scan.
  • Bullet points add white space and make information easy to take in.

Do it: Next time you come across a blog post that seems effortless to read, take a close look at how it’s formatted — and see what features you could use too.

Over to you …

Providing great information isn’t enough to get your posts noticed in today’s crowded blogosphere. By making sure your posts are easy to read and engage with, and you’ll see much faster success.

Is one of the above steps a weak point for you? Focus on it this week.

And, if you’ve got any extra ideas to add, or if you want to share your experiences, just pop a comment below.

About the Author: Ali Luke runs Writers’ Huddle, a membership site for writers that’s packed with great content -- and that has lovely, supportive members. If you’re a blogger, novelist, short-story writer, freelancer (or a bit of everything) then get all the details and read what members have said here.

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Comments

  1. @Ali Luke, Great post on the core aspects of putting together a great post. I have explained this many times to my own clients. You have outlined the process beautifully. I especially love point three “Call to Action” need to work on a better on than just asking visitors to comment. :)

    @copyblogger suggestion guys… I am a regular visitor, I love all your content.
    But i have to tell you that the distance between the end of the post and your comment box is about 700px high, so before a person can comment they have to read about the genesis framework, then another box with more blog posts.

    This great for getting new business, encouraging readers to view other posts. At this point i feel for the guest blogger, so many distractions before one can comment. I have a few times forgotten i need to scroll far down enough to see the comment box, which means new comers may not see it at all.

    • Thanks, Geoffrey! I think asking for comments can be an effective call to action … but it’s often good to take it a step further. :-)

      • Yeah asking for comments is a great way to start your call to action. If you have other products such as podcasts (like I do) I ask them to kindly rate it and leave a feedback as much as possible.

        I agree that readers usually need a reminder to do something after just reading the post.

  2. I always have the rush in hitting the Publish button whenever I write a blog post. Until recently when I read the series of magnetic headline from this blog, I begin to slow down a little. I still don’t edit the introduction and conclusion though and just focus on the headline.

    By the way, Ali, I have this call to action every end of my post. It is an opt-in and do you think it works if I display it every post? It sort of like going to opt-in-blindness to my readers isn’t it if I over-do it?

    @Copyblogger – I love the series on the top right sidebar and kind of regret to start reading them this late. Is there a chance that you are going to start a series on writing a eye catching introduction? I fell in love with the magnetic headline and it will be good to see another one for writing introduction because I do think that writing a good introduction is as good as writing a good headline ;)

    • Alan, I think it’s definitely better to have *any* call to action than none at all. But you’ve already hit on the problem with using the same one on every post — people stop noticing. Personally, I avoid any plugins that do related posts, opt-ins, etc, and focus on hand-crafting calls to action. That way, you can tie them in with the post.

      I agree introductions are crucial … after all, there’s not much point getting people to read past the headline if you lose them in the first two paragraphs. Sounds like a great idea for a Copyblogger series. :-)

    • Actually Alan, what I’d try is instead of trying to work on a good introduction just write your post as you will, and delete the first 1-2 paragraphs after you’re done and see if it works that way.

      Writing a powerful opening is an art in itself, very similar to writing a good headline. Usually it’s just simpler to go “in medias res”. If your article is powerful enough it’s going to grab attention that way – and keep it.

  3. Don’t be afraid to fail! I’ve sat down plenty of times and tried to do everything “right” and still ended up with a piece of garbage. That’s just part of the process and it’s okay. The trick is to take a step back and figure out why it’s garbage. Just because you followed the plan that doesn’t mean you’ve actually said anything worthwhile in the end.

    • Great point, Nick! Sometimes, you can craft a great headline, edit your introduction to death, etc … only to realise that the post just doesn’t quite work. (Though there’s often something worth salvaging from failed attempts, even if it’s just a great sentence or a new idea.)

    • Hey Nick (and Ali),
      I soo agree with this. I try to follow a plan of attack, but it doesn’t always work out with a good post. One thing I have learned, though, is to save it for another day. It usually needs some major revision or better point of view to make it work, but there is good content there.

      Thanks to you both for tips and comments.

    • Nick,

      What you said there is something to keep in mind never be afraid to fail is a great way to put it! I am in the early stages of trying to learn how to become a better blog writer and hopefully today is the start where I can write up something half way decent. I am certain my blog post will be garbage but I guess practice practice leads to improvement. Thanks for the great advice and tips copyblogger, I just ended up stumbling upon your page trying to find ways for writing improvements.

      • Allen, welcome to Copyblogger — you’re in a great place to learn about blogging. (This is one of the very first blogs-about-blogging I read myself, close to 5 years ago now.) Best of luck with your posts!

  4. Thanks for these reminders, Ali. I find that I usually forget things like giving examples, which is a simple way to illustrate your point. I’m definitely going to include examples in as many posts as possible from here on out. Also, I’m going to create a check list of things to do before I publish a blog post, that way I don’t miss any of these important things.

  5. Nice job, Ali. I have to get better at number one. Seems like I read and read and read until the post blows up on the page. :)

    • i have two modes. Sometimes my posts are very structured and planned, and sometimes something will make me cranky and I just start pounding the keys.

      I think it’s good to have a mix. :) But those more passionate pieces benefit, IMO, from going back and making sure there’s some underlying structure there. Just the act of getting some subheads in tends to clarify the structure for me.

      • Thanks, Demian! And good luck with planning … it’s a great way to get moving if you’re feeling a bit stuck.

        Like Sonia, I’ll write both ways. I’m generally a planner, though — and I think for most writers, this is a good way to be sure you’re going to end up with a decent post. Once you’re used to planning, structure starts becoming second-nature — which is when those off-the-cuff, spontaneous posts full of energy can work amazingly well.

  6. Sometimes we “know so much” (ha!) that we forget the simple things that would tie it all together for our audience. Like Jennifer noted, Ali, I often forget to use examples. Examples can often cut the length of an explanation down because they illustrate a point so succinctly.

    To put a different spin on your advice, there are occasions when I’ll start writing first and THEN I’ll stop and make a plan. I’m a big proponent of planning but once in a while you just have this idea ready to burst from your brain and you just get started. Only after I’ve spilled all over my blank page do I go back and organize and slash and inject to make it coherent.

    Thanks for your work, look forward to hearing from you again!

    Carmelo

    • Thanks, Carmelo. And it’s great to have a different perspective on planning from you and Sonia … I think my preference for having a plan first might be something to do with being an uptight Brit! I do sometimes write in a more spontaneous way, though — and I think this can work extremely well for more experienced writers.

      • Hahaha … an uptight Brit. Yes, I surely know what you mean. We all have our styles and matching our styles with our work is really what you’re talking about, isn’t it? And sometimes the comment section helps us to pull together a concept. But, without the insights of the post itself, we’d have no place to start. Thanks again!

  7. After reading this, I went ahead and implemented some calls to action in some of my posts. I’ll test more of these ideas in the future

  8. I’d have to reiterate that the missing piece in so many posts is the example or exercise bit. Real-life examples are an opportunity to bring your story-telling skillz to the table and connect with your reader on a deeper level. Especially for those of us who’ve been reading (and writing) blog posts for any length of time, a simple list post just doesn’t cut it anymore. It might get eye-balls, but it probably won’t get as many hearts.

    On another note, I’d say adding the perfect image can also help your content stand out and be memorable. It surprises me how many folks don’t use images at all (or crappy ones), and I think it’s a huge mistake.

    • Tea, thanks for reiterating this one, because I’m not sure I emphasised it quite enough! A great example can make the difference between someone thinking “Mmm, that’s good advice” and thinking “Woah. This will make all the difference to me … I have to do it *right now*.”

      And great addition about images, too; I think that as well as being eye-catching and potentially adding a new angle or extra information, they help make posts look polished and professional.

  9. I’m new to this so I am soaking in all the tips, advice, comments and best practices. It can be overwhelming at times, but I’m o.k. with making mistakes then applying lessons learned. I use mind maps in my work as an instructional designer, but never thought about using them to plan out my blogs posts. Thanks for reminding how valuable mind maps can be to help you chunk things out!

    • Zoe, I think you’ve got exactly the right attitude in going for it and not worrying about making mistakes. I made a *ton* of mistakes when I started out in blogging, but I learned loads along the way — far more than I would’ve if I’d put off ever starting because I was trying to absorb every bit of information before I began.

      Good luck with the mindmaps — and with your blogging!

  10. This is the second thing I’ve read by Ali Luke, the first was her guest post on Passive Panda, which I still remember even though it was at least a year ago. Sonia Simone’s and Ali Luke’s comments show that the creativity stream runs fickle. Sometimes, a writer is so on their game, that they could knock out an award winning post in ten minutes, blindfolded. Other times, mechanical aides such as outlines, mindmaps are needed. Personally, I use outlines for consistency. For instance, cases where my writing is not flowing, I can still construct a post, one idea at a time.
    My calls to action continue to be weak so thanks to Ms. Luke for providing additional help here in the comments section.

    • J, I’m impressed you remember me and my post from a year back! I have my own blog Aliventures if you want to read more from me, and I guest-post at ProBlogger, Write to Done and Daily Blog Tips from time to time. :-)

      The writing muse is indeed fickle … and I think it’s also the case that some ideas don’t need as much structure and planning as others. Shorter posts are often easy to nail in one, whereas more in-depth how-to posts tend to benefit from having all the steps worked out in advance.

      Best of luck with your calls to action — you might want to keep an eye out for what other bloggers are doing in the final lines of their posts, and pop any great calls to action into a swipe file for inspiration / reference. :-)

  11. Hi Ali – this is a great post. I particularly like your point about giving examples or exercises – I always think that makes a post much more engaging.

    Thanks for making it a ‘manageable’ list, too – I’m a sucker for ‘list’ posts, but I prefer the short ones. “85 ways to…..” can be a bit overwhelming. Five I can cope with.

    My weak point is probably planning – I do plan my posts, but not in a very disciplined way, as a result of which I sometimes waste a lot of time reorganising the content as I go along. So that’s the one I’ll focus on for now.

    These are all really practical tips – much appreciated,

    Sue

    • Thanks so much, Sue! And I’m glad five tips worked — I wanted to focus on the biggest five rather than throw a whole lot of little tips out there. :-)

      Best of luck with your planning: everyone has a slightly different attitude to how much planning to do before they write (and some of us have different planning moods — see comments from me and Sonia further up the page!) I hope you can figure out an easy, comfortable way for you to plan, so that you can really get into the flow with writing.

  12. A picture truly is worth a thousand words (and maybe even a thousand clicks on Google). Include a picture in every post you write, along with a solid description as to why it belongs there. You must make sure you have permission to use each image you select. If it’s not yours, be certain you have express permission to use it in your post.

    Good post! The tips you mentioned will improve any blog post. :)

    • Thanks, MaLinda, and really good point about permissions — Flickr is great for this, as you can search for Creative Commons images licensed for Commercial Use.

  13. Great tips! I have tried out some of the tips above like write down subheadings first, call to action at the end of post and example for each problem. And now I just need to improve using the 2 left.

    Thanks – Ferb

  14. Hey Ali thanks a lot for these great reminder.

    For me the toughest part is to plan correctly every post. I too often start writing just like that without real structure and later on have to rearrange things.

    I edit most of my posts and change sometimes even the headings when I found a better one.
    I use a simple trick to edit my posts regulary: I schedule them to be published some days later and can then step back and correct them with a new eye just before publishing.

    Concerning the use of images it’s of course a pitty to not use them. They grab attention, make the post more reader friendly and can also push your SEO rankings. Just remember to put your keywords in the desciption and alt tag.
    There are lots of sources out there to find quality, royality free images.
    So why not use them?

    • Thanks Mikka. It seems that planning is coming up as a bit of a theme here in the comments!

      I love your editing trick: I think that’s a great idea. I often advise people to leave a post to “rest” at least overnight before editing.

  15. Giving examples is spot on Ali. I just got a book draft back from my editor in NY and although she loved it, she repeatedly asked ” give me something to do!”.

    I now plan to go back and weave some practical examples and stuff through the theory. Lot of work but I can see how it will help the theory ‘stick’ in the readers mind.

    Nice post Ali; going to google you now :-)

    • Google away, Ian! And, while I suspect my blogging output of the last two years will be more than enough for anyone, you can find older posts by me under my maiden name, “Ali Hale”.

      Sounds like your book is going amazingly well — and hurrah for an editor who doesn’t fiddle with things just for the sake of doing something!

      Good luck getting examples in: I agree it can be a lot of work, but I think it’s very worthwhile.

  16. Regarding #5 out of curiosity: is there a blog post around here discussing when to use bold, italics, underline, etc., or when to do any of those? I get the bold part, although I’ve seen examples of people using italics, underline or writing a new line instead.

    Maybe to add to #5 in terms of format, write about two or three sentences per paragraph. I got that tip from Yanik Silver years ago, I personally found it easier to read stuff written that way like yours, and I’ve written that way ever since.

    • Dave, what a great question … and I had a hunt around Copyblogger, but couldn’t find a post specifically on that. The main thing I would say here is not to use underlining for emphasis, because people tend to think that underlined text is a link — and then they get frustrated when they can’t click on it.

      I personally use italics to emphasise individual words (imaging speaking a line and stressing a particular word) — and I’ll also use them to mark particular text that isn’t exactly part of the post itself. For instance, if I want to say “This post is part of a three-part series and you can find part one here” at the top of the post, I’ll put that in italics.

      Two to three sentences per paragraph sounds like a great rule of thumb. Online, it’s tough to read long unbroken paragraphs — and sometimes a one-sentence (or even one-word) paragraph can work well to grab the reader’s attention.

  17. I’m happy to see I do most of what’s in this post. I do like free-flow writing sometimes but when I write a post this way I’ll put it aside for at least a few days and review it before posting it. I always find things to change and improve.

    • Sounds like you’re well ahead of the game, Mathieu! And letting a post sit for a few days before posting is a great idea … it’s amazing what you can spot to improve when you come to it fresh.

      • Well ahead of the game is a bit huge statement, I’m still very much learning. Love the stuff on this site! It’s not always easy to let posts aside after writing them I’m always eager to get them out but like you said it’s amazing what you can spot to improve with a fresh mind so it’s all worth it! Thanks for the comment Ali.

  18. I think examples and exercises are so key to draw people in as well as make the writing unique. I definitely want to get these five steps working for me. Thanks again. Blessings, Amy

  19. This post was a great way for me to reevaluate my blog and my progress. I’m happy to say that I’ve already started to implement most of these tips. I think adding an exercise for my readers would really make my posts pop! Thanks for sharing your tips!

  20. Excellent post. Points one and two are especially helpful to me, as these are things I need to improve on. I agree completely about the importance of the title and introductory paragraphs – you don’t want to lose them before they have a chance to see what you have to offer.

  21. Great tips! The only thing I would include is adding an image or two to pull the reader in and provide eye candy.

  22. Hi Ali, its interesting that you should mention using examples at this time. Just late last week I found out how useful this is in helping readers get a clear idea of what you are talking about. I’ve really seen it mentioned anywhere else too. Pretty useful. I also appreciate the reminder about the call to action. Am taking action now by editing all my blogs and add that. Thank ya :)

    • Thanks Shelly-Ann — examples are one of those things that make such a difference, but many bloggers don’t think to use them. Best of luck with your post editing.

  23. I think my weakest part is the planning ahead. I’ve always liked to write as I go… but then I find myself sometimes having to rearrange things, because the order I wrote them in didn’t make sense. Planning would have saved me time for sure.
    I’m working on my post titles, and I know there’s room for improvement, but I think I have a fair grasp of the “magazine cover” type titles. I just have to remind myself to keep using them!

    • I definitely find that planning saves time — it’s much easier to rearrange things during the plan than once you’ve got paragraphs of material on the page.

      There’s always going to be room for improvement in titles, I think (unless you’re Brian Clark… ;-)) I find that it’s always worth reviewing the title once the post is finished, before I hit publish; sometimes, what seemed like a perfectly OK title before I began writing turns out to be in definite need of a good tweak.

  24. I couldn’t agree more with point 5. The last thing I want to see when I visit a blog is a big wall of text.

    It’s not only straining to read, but shorter paragraphs also make it easier for you (the writer) to group information and write more content.

    • Ditto, Travis — if I see a post that’s a wall of text, I don’t even bother reading it now. It’s a shame, because some of those posts might contain great content … but there are so many other blogs that make my life easy with good formatting!

  25. I have to work more on call to action at the end of the article. In fact, I ignored this. I was just hoping that visitors will leave comment without asking them to do so. What a mistake! From now on, I will try to end each post with open ended questions encouraging visitors to leave comment.

    • One of the most common mistakes I see is people leaving off the call to action, Naty, so you’re definitely not alone! I’ve definitely found that a gentle nudge at the end of a post is a great way to get readers to comment, subscribe, etc.

  26. Sometimes I wanted to churn out a blog post fast, I left out examples. But I knew within that this post is not really connecting with the readers because readers want to feel the person behind.

    Also from this post, learned that always must tell the readers what to do next. Thank you!

    • Thanks Joe! It’s often tempting to just dash off a post and hit publish … but even a few extra minutes of effort can make a big difference in terms of results.

  27. What I love about Jon Morrow’s writing course is how he teaches everything you just talked about. I’m still trying to better my writing abilities and I have come a long way! I remember in high school I hated writing, I hated the papers we had to write and so I never really tired. Just tried enough to get a good grade. With Copyblogger and all of these techniques were available to me back then! Maybe then I would have enjoyed writing and would have been much further along in my journey of being a better writer. :)

    • Congratulations on your progress so far, Derek! I think school puts off a lot of potentially great writers … the sort of writing that’s expected for a paper is very different from the sort that suits a blog, and I know many people find themselves really flourishing as writers long after school is over. Sounds that might well be the case for you. :-)

      • Thanks Ali! It definitely is a transition. Learning one way of writing and then having a completely different ‘way’ of writing for a blog can be a difficult transition. Its definitely taking me some time to get it down, but you are right. School completely put me off writing. It wasn’t fun, it was all for the grade!

  28. As a fairly new blogger, I try to create blog posts that are current and speak to what multiple clients have recently asked me about. I’m assuming that if I get a few of the same questions over and over that it must be a current concern, and needs to be addressed. One thing I haven’t been doing is putting a call to action at the bottom of my posts, and I’m definitely going to start working on that. Thanks for the article!