A Fool-Proof Formula for Easily Creating Compelling Content

image of mathematical formula

There’s a secret to writing a lot of compelling content.

Every successful, prolific content writer knows this secret, and most other people … well, they don’t. And that’s what contributes to the mystique around the magical wordsmithing powers that some writers seem to have.

Well, no more.

Today I’m going to share that secret with you. The secret to prolifically creating excellent content isn’t inspiration or brilliance — it’s found in structure, planning, and research.

Doesn’t sound very sexy, does it?

Well, look at it this way … it’s structure, planning, and research that allowed me to write more than 40 posts, more than 80 guest posts, two books, and a lot of other content, all in a single year (2011). It’s the process that earned me the nickname “The Freddy Krueger of Blogging”.

Does that sound a little more attractive? Okay then, let’s dive right in…

Start with the audience and the angle

It all starts by understanding the people you’re writing for.

I’m not talking about some vague description like “moms aged 25-45″ or anything like that — I mean getting down to something very specific: “representative readers of Site X,” where Site X is the blog or website you want to write for. You need to do this step whether you’re creating content for someone else’s site or for your own.

You need to figure out what they want to read by seeing what they’ve responded well to in the past. No guesswork, no conjecture — it’s all right there for you to see.

Here’s what you do …

First, go through the site’s list of most popular posts. If there are more than 10 of them, then open them all up, and make a list of the top 10 (based on comments, shares, or whatever else the blog tracks). And if the site doesn’t list the most popular posts, just go through the last 30 or so that they’ve published, and pull out the 10 most successful ones.

Second, now that you’ve got that list of 10, start looking for patterns. Specifically, look for topics that are shared by several of the posts. You’ll probably find that over half of those posts are about the same 1-3 topics. No reinventing of the wheel needed — those are the topics that the audience likes best, so pick one and write about it!

Third, think about one insight that you can offer about one of those hot subjects. Just one. That’s your angle.

Now let’s move on to your headline …

Use proven headline formulas (don’t reinvent the wheel!)

You already know that a really good headline is the most important part of your post.

So how do you write a really good (or even a great) one?

Some people will point to Sean D’Souza’s three questions:

  1. Is it question-based, rather than answer-based?
  2. Is it problem-based, rather than solution-based?
  3. Does it evoke curiosity?

Others will use templates, like Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks.

These are great resources, and I use them both, but the very best way I’ve found to create a winning headline quickly, easily, and without a lot of margin for error is by copying what works on the site I’m writing for (again, whether that’s someone else’s site, or my own).

You accomplish this by going back to the list you just created of the site’s 10 most popular posts.

Once again, you should be looking for patterns, and once again, you’ll probably find that at least half of them follow the same couple of patterns.

For example, right here at Copyblogger, about half of the most popular posts follow one of the following two patterns:

  2. What [SOMETHING] can teach you about [SOMETHING]:
  3. There are even several posts that follow BOTH patterns, like:

These are the patterns that work well on Copyblogger, and they’re fairly common patterns that will work well on a variety of sites, but the real key is to do this kind of analysis on the site that you’re targeting (even if it’s your own).

Now that you’ve got the headline, it’s time to write the opening section and hook the reader!

Hooking your reader

After the headline, the hook is the most important part of the post, and it’s the part of the post that needs your best writing.

The good news is that it’s usually short (on Copyblogger, it’s about 4-6 sentences long), and creating it is fairly straightforward.

You create a hook by describing the symptoms of the problem that you’re going to solve.

Don’t talk about the actual problem, or the subject of your post — just describe in vivid detail the current, frustrating experience of your intended reader. Then, at the very end, you hint that you have a solution, by saying something like “It doesn’t have to be this way …”, or “Here’s how you can fix it”, or “Here’s why some people don’t have this problem.”

Here’s the hook that I wrote for “21 Ways to Create Compelling Content When You Don’t Have a Clue” — do you see what I did here?

Sometimes you’re just out of ideas.

It’s not a matter of talent — you’ve written some awesome stuff in the past. But now, you go back to the well for a fresh idea, and it’s coming up dry.

This happens to the best of us — even geniuses who consistently produce epic content have off days.

Yet they continue to write.

They may grumble about how hard it is to get going and create something solid, but they still do. Again, and again, and again.

Are you noticing the pattern?

These hooks describe the most frustrating symptoms that the reader is experiencing, using language that is as vivid as possible, and then they pivot to state that you have a solution to the problem.

It’s that simple, and it works like a charm every time, for me and for my students.

After the hook, comes the rest of the post — but don’t start writing yet! Instead, just outline …

The 4 sections of an awesome blog post

Once you’ve got your hook, you’ve got to write the body of the post, starting with an outline.

Once again, this doesn’t have to be left to chance — most successful content follows the same pattern of information delivery:

  1. The Problem — Where you explain the problem that causes the symptoms you’ve described in the hook.
  2. The Underlying Cause of the Problem — A little more detail about why this problem keeps on happening.
  3. The Solution — Your brilliant insight into how the problem can be solved.
  4. Implementing the Solution — How the reader can turn ideas into actions, and what they should do next in order to apply what you’re teaching them.

This is the exact content formula that I teach in the Write Like Freddy Training Program, and it’s how I wrote more than 80 guest posts last year.

Don’t worry about writing the whole section — just write the sub-heads, and plug in a really brief (one or two sentence) “reminder” about what information is going to go in each section.

Looks pretty simple, right? Actually, it is.

That’s the beauty of it — writing quality, compelling content doesn’t have to be complicated or frustrating — just so long as you take the time to organize yourself, and follow the process.

After that, writing itself is almost a paint-by-numbers game …

Find a system, and work that system

The key to becoming a better writer is to do a lot of writing.

The key to doing a lot of writing (and ending up with high-quality content and not just sad “creative writing” journal entries) — fast — is to take as much guesswork as possible out of the process.

Once you have the outline for your content created, run through and “fill in the blanks” with a few intelligent paragraphs for each section. You’ll be able to do that easily, because you already know exactly what needs to go there.

It takes more time to decide what to have for lunch (some days!) than to flesh out the body of your post.

Following a system helps you stop wasting time wondering how to get started and what to do next — and allows you to spend your time and energy actually writing. This is the opposite of staring at a blank screen waiting for inspiration to strike, which is the death knell of creativity and productivity.

You’ve got to find a system that works well for you

Whether it’s my Write Like Freddy system, or another — the important thing is that you need a systematic approach that works well, works fast, and works every time — for you.

What about you? What system do you use to create lots of compelling content?

Please leave a comment below and let us know…

About the Author: Danny Iny (@DannyIny) skyrocketed his industry-leading marketing blog to success by writing more than 80 guest posts on major blogs in less than a year (earning him the nickname “The Freddy Krueger of Blogging”). Now he teaches others how to do the same in his Write Like Freddy blog writing training program.

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Reader Comments (91)

  1. says

    Thanks Danny. The trick I use to write awesome content quickly is: don’t focus on coming up with good post ideas at all.

    Instead focus on good questions. Answer questions. And convert your answers into posts. This is a better system because when you’re answering a question, you are not in an information sharing frame of mind. You’re in a problem solving frame of mind. Which makes you quicker. Which makes you know what to edit out and makes your posts concise.

    • says

      That’s a great tip, Ankesh. By focusing on good questions, you’re guaranteeing that the post will be relevant to your audience (instead of trying to come up with good content, which can be a shot in the dark). I like it!

      That being said, a good structure and outline to follow can still be very helpful in streamlining the process, and keeping you from going off the rails on a tangent. :)

    • says

      Totally agree with you Ankesh, to me this is first step if you want to be helpful blogger not a thought leader. There is another part of this puzzle which is a ” Useful Answer”.

      Good question must accompany by “useful answer” with excellent presentation to crush it :-)

    • says

      Ankesh, I think that is a great idea! So many of my clients struggle to come up with content for their blogs but it’s not nearly as hard as they make it out to be. Every time they ask me a question I know that I can turn it into a blog post because chances are they aren’t the only ones asking that question. The same can work for them!

  2. says

    Great content as usual Danny, I always, always forget the ‘don’t reinvent the wheel ‘ concept despite the abundance of sites I as can emulate from. Another wake-up call for me and my blog journey, hope I don’t hit the snooze button again.

    Still digesting my FPM course, hope that FREDDY course would still be around when I’m ready for another course..


  3. says

    Thanks Danny

    Being quite a new kid on the block I try to spend some time reading posts like yours on some of the larger sites. I am learning all the time and gives me great confidence with all the sharing of valuable information that occurs.

    Will try some of the points you discuss and see what it can do for me.

    I started my online business fulltime in February this year. So I still need to deal with a number of other issues such as attracting traffic, etc. To get back to the point. I have started using a method of writing down a possible title followed by the subheadings I want to use in the post. The next step is to write and edit. More often than not I end up adapting the post title. My pennies worth. (Only have 9 posts on my blogs to date). Hopefully I will be able to refine as I grow.


  4. says

    Thanks, Danny, for such great ideas. I wish I had read them before I wrote my last blog post! I especially like your short way of outlining much better than the way I’ve been outlining.

    May I add one more tip? I’m a worrier, and want to get my writing just perfect. To combat “my littler worrier,” I’ve found that my writing flows best when I’m relaxed. I outline a post, think about it, and then actually write it first thing in the morning or just before I go to bed. That way I’m not fully awake and my little worrier stays somewhat asleep.

  5. says

    The thing that made this post brilliant, in my opinion, was the specific strategies. I’ve read a lot (probably too much!) on blogging and marketing over the last few months, and I’m starting to get to the point where I’m thinking, “Ho-hum, not a lot that’s new is being said.”

    You could’ve easily claimed the secret to writing compelling blog posts was to tailor the post to the audience, write a good headline and intro, and have good content – which is true, but not extremely helpful… and a zillion other articles say the same thing. But I love the way you provided a useful, applicable system to put those principles into practice!

    • says

      Yes, absolutely, it comes down to being explicit and applicable in your writing – I’m glad you appreciated that about this post, and it’s really what I try to do with all my posts, and what I try to teach my students as well. Thanks for your comment! :)

  6. says

    Thanks for the post, it was very helpful.
    I couldn’t agree more about the importance of developing ‘buyer personas’ instead of listing faceless demographics.
    Examining the most popular posts is an excellent way to discover the strengths of a blog, but not as good for identifying a blog’s opportunities. To unearth opportunities, I like looking at keywords and bounce rates – it helps you find keywords going unaddressed or poorly handled.
    Again, thanks for the post.

  7. says

    Two other tactics that work:

    1. Articles about a social network get shared like crazy on that network (e.g. Twitter articles get shared on Twitter).

    Obvious? Yes. But there’s a hidden tactic here most people don’t realize. It’s about matching your audience with the other blogs audience on a social network.

    For example, let’s say my audience uses Twitter. A lot. Here’s what I’d do:

    1. Find websites with heavy Twitter followers (e.g. Copyblogger)
    2. Write an article about Twitter (e.g. “The Ultimate Guide to Twitter Marketing”) to maximize shares
    3. Direct my own audience to the article via my website and Twitter

    This simple method would increase your social shares and help spread your content far and wide. It also builds credibility with your own audience (“hey, I just posted this awesome article on Copyblogger!”)

    If my audience used Facebook more, I’d find Facebook friendly blogs and post Facebook related content there. Simple, huh?

    2. Schedule your posts to launch simultaneously.

    The “Freddy Krueger of Blogging” did this exceedingly well. Instead of publishing one guest post a week, ask publishers to schedule it for a certain day (the further out the better… major blogs are backlogged a few months in some cases).

    This is very doable. My wife and I have already scheduled 24 guest posts to go live on May 1st, and we’re hoping to get that up to 50.

    Guest posts are marketing. Marketing works in blitzes. Damn, I gotta get back to work πŸ˜‰

  8. says

    I may be in the minority, but to me the whole “What [SOMETHING] can teach you about [SOMETHING]” approach to subject lines is beyond it’s expiration date, or at least so overplayed (or perhaps so cliched) that it has lost much of its inherent appeal. The tipping point for me came when this tactic spilled over to twitter, with an overabundance of “what the hog dog vendor can teach you about social media” style tweets jamming up my stream. This tactic may still be pulling strong conversion rates when done well, but at least for this consumer of content, it turns me off more often than not when writers are too clever by half in their subject lines.

    • says

      It’s not about being clever, Terry – that’s the problem, I think. When people try to make it clever, it fails. The point is to be interesting and useful. And when it is, it works like a charm. :)

      • says

        I have no doubt that you are on point with your differentiating between clever and effective. Seems to me I am seeing more imitators that originators on the subject line front – subject lines, tweets, titles and headings where the author either cut-and-pasted in someone else’s phrase, then tweaked without much apparent thought, or tried to be too cute with their metaphors vs. thinking of the needs of the audience. “6 Things Family Guy Can Teach You About Hashtags” reeks of laziness, and an instant add to my email filter.

        Regardless, excellent topic, follow-on dialogue and food for thought – does make one appreciate those that do things well vs. those that do things by rote. Cheers.

        • says

          At some point I also think we need to remember that we’re smack in the middle of the social media echo chamber — we read many more blog posts, articles, tweets, etc. than normal people do.

          If your customer is also part of that group, then your own sensitivity about what’s overdone may well apply. If your customer is not part of the echo chamber, then what feels tired to you may work very well for them. That’s one reason I thought Danny’s advice was so sound — it starts with the audience, not with our own personal peeves or likes.

          • says

            I believe we are all of the same mind here Sonia, I also believe we are all saying effective copy writing takes thoughtfulness of words and attention to customer or audience. I do stand by my position, and regardless whether one is within a social media echo chamber or not, however one defines that, it is a disservice to the audience to give preference to cleverness for the sake of cleverness over thoughtfulness (as Danny mentioned above).

  9. says

    Having a system for your writing is grossly underated. It makes it so much easier to let your creative side out if you dont have to deal with how your going to stucture it in the post.

    Another headline structure that I like is [Subject][Hook]. You first write what the topic of your post is and then something that will make the reader want to read it. My article IM Resources: The Only List You Will Ever Need is a good example. It lets the reader know wxactly what its about and what they are going to gain from it.

  10. says

    Thanks for this post, Danny. I’ve probably read about 5 of the guest posts you’ve done for this launch in the past two weeks and this is by far the best and most detailed of the ones I’ve seen.

    I often have difficulty coming up with post topics for my blog, and I don’t think my titles always have the biggest punch so this is a big help for me.

  11. says

    Great post Danny and thanks for laying out the process in such a straightforward way. You always do a great job of testing new things and systematizing them. Thanks for sharing this system with us!

  12. says

    Awesome post. Not only a great method by inadvertently inspiring as well. I’ll try it out on a few posts at Academy Success and see how it goes!

  13. says

    Awesome article! Thanks so much for your wonderful big picture view of the blank screen problem and the details on solving it permanently!

  14. says

    Hey Danny – Great job in developing a solid plan of action. It reminds me of my college days when our teachers drilled into our brains the 5 paragraph essay. An outline is so effective, and these tips can easily be used across a wide body of content from white papers to e-books.

    • says

      Thanks, Heather. Yeah, it really is just about the power of a really solid outline, and you’re right, it applies to anything you’re writing. I’m actually in the process of putting together a manifesto right now, using pretty much the same process. :)

  15. says

    I’m rarely stuck for an idea (if anything, I often have too many.) But when I do need inspiration, I go to the terms people use to find my blog. Often, they’ve thought of a use for my content that never would have come to my mind.

  16. says

    I am afraid of what Depeche Mode is going to teach me but I am listening. These formulas are wonderful. The headline is both the first impression and the curiosity inducer. Make people think while getting them to engage is the key. Setting your goals,that’s the easy part… (Headline) ‘How to be a Better Blog Writer’. (First line of the post) ‘Write more blogs’.

  17. says

    I was just reading something on iwillteachyoutoberich.com about creating systems for lead generation, and really what we’re talking about here is no different.

    When you have an outline like this, it really does help get your writing process down faster, but beyond that, it also helps to “program” your readers as to what to expect next.

    This is why prime time tv shows, news broadcasts, and other forms of media all follow a similar format. In many cases, the program has to get written and shot either daily or weekly, and getting overly “creative” with the format would make the entire production process incredibly difficult.

    This helps to simplify the process, and become a master of your style. Thank you for an incredibly insightful post Danny.

  18. says

    Thanks for this awesome content. I’m sort of a systems guy, and having it broken down into small actionable steps is very helpful. It’s all about helping people fix their problems!

  19. says

    This is one of the most helpful posts I’ve read in a while – especially since I’m presently in a content slump.
    I just changed the main focus of my blog, and am finding it hard to get new posts out that focus on my new angle.
    Usually I’m a prodigious writer, but your outline is brilliant: I’ll be able to whip up new posts without having to rack my brain about what to write.

    Thanks – and love your site! You answered a question of mine a while back in a “Readers’ questions answered” feature, and it was right on target.

  20. says

    When I was a kid, I loved writing and it was easy. When I became an adult, I struggled with writer’s block for years.

    The breakthrough was not any technique. It was getting back in touch with my inspiration and my life purpose, which came – honestly – through meditation, self-help, and various ways of tapping in to my intuition and spirituality.

    Now I have article-worthy “a-ha” moments multiple times every day, and it’s just a question of whether I actually sit down and write about them, or have other priorities at that moment. I think the structure you offered for the articles is beautiful and will help people a lot. For basic inspiration, I recommend people meditate daily and get in touch with the “reason you’re here.”

  21. says

    Thanks again for providing valuable content. I have used your tips before and have made measurable improvements on my content, but they still need improvement. My headlines are mediocre at best. Your tips for headline improvement make sense. Afterall, it was your headlines that brought me to your blog in the first place. Your site has consistently brought me good info. Thanks again.

  22. says

    Very informative post Danny! This is a great blueprint, I like how you’ve laid out the structure of a good blog post and how talked about each section. I think I can definitely use a lot of your suggestions to create more great content for my blog.

  23. says

    Hi Danny, I have been writing a lot of posts lately and having some difficulty. I really needed these tips will be valuable in my future articles. Thanks!

  24. says

    This is probably one of THE best content writing blog posts I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot). Thanks so much for sharing your insight on this subject and for making writing good content look and feel a bit more attainable. We’ve just recently “relaunched” our blog and I would love your feedback on our content. (blog.willowmarketing.com)

  25. says

    I’ve found that some of the better blog posts tend to come from a good story…either they open with a compelling or funny story or the lesson is one based on a story. People tend to connect to your lesson more when there is a story thrown in for good measure!

  26. says

    Phenomenal post Danny! I needed an outline so that I could improve my blog posts! You delivered exactly what I was looking for.

  27. says

    Absolutely love this! Thanks for the help, especially with writing a title. I’m just getting started with blogging and want to do it right. This point stuck out to me the most:

    “Following a system helps you stop wasting time wondering how to get started and what to do next β€” and allows you to spend your time and energy actually writing. This is the opposite of staring at a blank screen waiting for inspiration to strike, which is the death knell of creativity and productivity.”

    I love how easy you make this out to be. Ive been missing a system for writing.. thanks for the help!

  28. says

    Hi Danny, thank you for this!!

    I just started a new website which I need to build from scratch.
    This will definitely will help me create content much faster than I was used too.

    Will share when relevant.

    (and thank you all for some great comments too)

  29. says

    Enlightening post. I found the way that you break down the steps to writing content very useful, as its acts as constant reminder to retain some sort of structure.

  30. says

    Thanks for sharing this… I found the link to this post on Income Diary…

    I’ve been struggling with creating compelling post and I think this post has really given me tips that i will start applying… Thanks

  31. says

    Love this post. i remember reading it a while ago but gave it a re-read because it was linked from Problogger. I have several different formats I like to go to when I’m struggling to come up with ideas for posts. Good stuff here.

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