You know what I’ve discovered? Most of the people writing about blogging are experts. Funny thing, that.
These expert bloggers have been doing it for a while and they have thousands (if not tens or hundreds of thousands) of subscribers. The best give lots of free stuff away that’s actually worth reading, and we know we’re standing on the shoulders of giants when we follow their advice.
And all that’s good. Don’t get me wrong.
But when I first started blogging about six months ago, I struggled to find a succinct summary all in one place. I spent a full day online giving myself an MBA -– Masters in Blogging (Advanced). I subscribed to this, downloaded that, printed out something else, read everything I could without my eyes becoming permanently crossed.
Because I couldn’t find what I needed — a straightforward checklist-style guideline to getting started as a newbie — I put my own together.
Does a newbie have anything to teach you?
I know what you’re thinking:
What does this Jill person know about brilliant blog posts? She’s just getting started herself.
I’ll readily confess my own lack of experience. My knowledge is growing (subscribing to copyblogger is helping), but my confidence still lags behind what I’m learning.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? I reckon there might be a few others who are in this same boat. And it’s to these newbies (and maybe some more experienced bloggers who are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of info about How To Blog So your Bank Balance Explodes) that I write today.
I broke it down into 17 (relatively) easy steps, so you can find everything in one place. Use this post checklist-style, to start writing the kind of content that attracts links and readers:
Four factors to remember before you start to write
- Write a draft headline. You’ll come back to it at the end, and it may very well change and evolve. But a basic proposition and a compelling hook will help guide your content.
- Make sure you have one idea per post. My first draft post had about 47 ideas in it. This turned out to be a good thing. Once I got it through my camera battery-sized brain that my post was too complex, I then had 47 possible posts, which should keep me going for about six months. But I did have to trim that first post (and every subsequent one) down to One Idea. When in doubt, leave it out.
- Make sure you know your purpose. What are you trying to accomplish with this post? Are you hoping to sell a product? Get referrals? Attract links? Be bookmarked on Delicious? Get lots of attention on Twitter and Facebook? Disclose some irrelevant personal information to a bevy of strangers? (The first five are recommended, the last one should be undertaken with extreme caution.)
- Who are you writing to? Come up with an ideal reader, with a full set of personality characteristics. This is a person who loves what you do, buys everything you sell, and tells everyone they ever meet about you and your site. Write to that person, whether fictional or real. My ideal reader is Carolyn, who happens to be a real person who lives in Boston. When I write, I imagine it’s a (semi) personal note from me to Carolyn.
I’ll give you an example for that last point. After the enormous success of her memoir eat pray love, Elizabeth Gilbert was harassed and harangued to write another best seller that millions of readers around the world would want to read. (And as a platform for a movie that Julia Roberts would want to star in.)
No pressure there.
Gilbert says that she tried for months to write that book, and failed. She threw her first attempt at Committed away because she was trying to write to the millions and it just wasn’t working.
She ended up writing the book for a small circle of women who know, love, and support her. The millions who ended up buying and reading the published book came later.
So, to sum it up: come up with a solid headline, for a post based on one idea, with a clear purpose, and for a single ideal reader. Now you’re ready to start writing this sucker!
Eight idea sparks for more compelling content
Here are some tried-and-true techniques that can help you write stronger posts. Try igniting one or more of these idea sparks when your fingers are on the keyboard but your brain is drawing a blank.
- Make it eye-friendly. If you use them wisely, a nice bunch of fascinating bullets is a great way to break up your copy and make it easy to read.
- Embrace the list post. Building a post around a numbered list is still one of the strongest ways you can organize content. If you’re skeptical, take a look at those “popular posts” to the right. See a few numbers in those headlines?
- Examples and stories. What has your own journey been? What light bulb moments have you had? Where do the themes you write about show up in the everyday? (Seth Godin is the master of this; study how he does it.) And how does this relate to what you do and to the products/services you are selling?
- What are you reading and watching? Articles, news stories, research papers –- all good stuff to refer to and comment on, drawing a connection back to what you do.
- NEWS FLASH! Is something in your world new? Have a project launch in the works? What about a speaking gig or workshop you are running? Perhaps someone well-known in your field is coming to town? You can use your own news flashes or “borrow” other people’s, they both work.
- Interviews. Who’s fascinating to your readers and willing to give you some time? Ask them some good questions, write their responses down, then wrap it all up with a jazzy conclusion.
- Challenges and bugbears. What’s bothering you or your (potential) customers? Offer input to help them with their real or imagined problems, or talk about how you overcame something on the dark side.
- Who do you admire? Pick a famous person and write about the link between something about them (their work, their interests, their charity appearances, their drug rehab story of pain) and how it relates to your own work.
Five last things to check before you post
You’re nearly done! You’ve created some killer content (well, it just about killed you, anyway), so now it’s time to wrap up.
Let’s finish off with some style! Five quick things to remember here:
- Hyperlinks. Linking out is an important part of developing relationships with other bloggers, and it’s also helpful for SEO. Try to include a hyperlink about every 120 – 200 words.
- Make your last paragraph sing. Give us a call to action (tell us what to do), make us an offer we can’t refuse (and put a ticking clock on it), or reach a surprising conclusion.
- Come full circle back to your title. Does it need any tweaking to reflect your content (your one idea, your clear purpose, and to speak to your ideal reader)? Is it compelling? Is it something your readers will want to bookmark, link to, and share?
- Do a final check for structure. How does the post look on the page? Have you broken all that text up so it’s easy for us to read?
- Say something about yourself. You know, it could start with “About the Author:”
How about you — what’s on your own personal “checklist” for creating brilliant posts? Let us know in the comments.
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About the Author: Jill Chivers is a quick study. Since starting her blogging career six months ago, she has made many fine mistakes. She intends to use this terrific checklist to improve her own blog posts. From her home base of the Sunshine Coast, Australia, Jill presides over her new online business, which helps her customers resolve tricky problems of all kinds.