There are three simple rules for how to write a killer blog post; unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.
Let's do 100, instead. Time to upgrade your trusty blog-writing toolbox with your choice of the many ways to write it, get it read, and get it linked better.
How This Post Will Help You Write Better Posts
Blogs are about getting your posts read. Readers. Visitors. Traffic. Marks; whatever you like to call them. Unless your blog is called “masturbatory meandering”, someone out there needs to know and care about what you're writing. Are your posts getting read?
Blogs are about good writing. People might want to kiss you, kill you, talk about you, break their keyboard over your head or slap your ass with it; it's all good -- if they stay conscious and keep reading. Are you writing good reading?
Blogs are about getting your posts linked to and talked about. Otherwise known as Social Proof, herd instinct, buzz, or the reason you smoked weed in high school. Search engines in particular want to know if you're considered one of the cool kids: are your posts getting linked?
Good blog posts incorporate all these elements. In this post, we'll cover them all (and more) so you can get busy writing kick-ass posts that people love.
Choosing Your Topic
“What topics would you write about for free?” - Darren Rowse, Problogger.com
1. Stay in Your Theme
Write within the bounds of your blog's theme. A post might be well-written, but if it's off-topic, readers won't care about that. If someone likes one of your posts, they'll read more of them: will they get what they expect?
2. Write the Post You Want to Read
If you could read the perfect post for you right now, what would it be, and what would it do for you? Does that post exist? If not, write it yourself.
3. Write What You Need to Say
External things can influence your topic choice: popularity, profit, viral potential, alcohol, etc. But are the things you think and feel about the most influencing it, too? These are things you need to say, and how to choose a topic that sets you apart.
4. Find Out What People are Asking
Answering questions is part of what blog writing is all about, but what are people asking? Find out by studying sites like Yahoo! Answers and Google Trends.
5. Write a How-To
How-to articles are wildly popular on the web; there are even popular articles on how to write a how-to. Can your topic be written in a how-to format?
6. Make a List Post
Top 10 lists, step-by-step guides; any valuable list people can find will get tons of traffic and links. If you don't hate traffic and links, choose a topic that will work well as a list post. Further reading: How to write a list post.
7. Create a Resource
A resource post is a repository of knowledge that people can bookmark and reference repeatedly (being bookmarked and referenced repeatedly is how blogs have sex). ChrisG calls resource posts “Pillar content” because they're practical, useful and have long-term appeal (like a pillar for you blog).
8. Choose a Topic You're Enthusiastic About
A truly good post can take days or weeks to write: what's going to keep you (legally) going when the writing gets tough? It's worth taking the time to find a topic you'll enjoy writing, learning, and thinking about.
9. Pick a Challenging Topic
Tough, challenging topics will improve your blog-writing skills and make your post more valuable. They also qualify you to play music from Rocky III in the background while you rise up to the challenge of your rival.
Plan and Prepare
“Spectacular things take planning and patience.” Liz Strauss, Successful Blog
10. Have a Goal
Every writer should have a goal; what's yours? Is it self-education, the joy of writing, engagement with readers, more blog traffic, money, mad bling or all of the above? Set a goal to help determine why and what you'll be writing.
11. Be Inspired
When you've chosen an ambitious goal and a challenging topic that you're enthusiastic about, by definition you must now be inspired. (If not, figure out what step you've missed because you're arguing with the dictionary at this point, not me.)
12. Know Your Audience
Can you describe your audience? The more you know about them, the better your posts will be. Read blogs (especially comments) and forums in your niche, and use Google Analytics to find out where visitors come from, how long they stay and what content interests them.
13. Research Your Post
Will your post be a fresh cornucopia of valuable information or a stale can of re-hash? Research makes the difference. In-depth research can reveal what your readers need to know but may never find out (without your kind assistance). Google and Wikipedia are good places to start.
14. Make Your Post In-Depth
When you research a topic well, you can get a sense for how in-depth it's been covered on the web. Challenge yourself to write a post that's more in-depth than anywhere else.
15. Use What Worked in Your Other Posts
Read successful posts you've written in the past and figure out what made them good. Writing style, readability, catchy headline, or something else? How can you bring those same elements into your new post?
16. Be Willing to Put in the Work
A blog post that takes 15 minutes to complete won't be your finest work, and that's okay if your goals are modest. If your goals are ambitious, however, you'll need to commit to the hard work that ambitious goals require.
17. Make Your Post Unexpected
Maintain the enthusiasm of your regular readers by making your post a pleasant surprise, especially when that surprise includes them. Example: make a good post better by writing one that could easily stand on its own, but is also a showcase of your readers' blogs and posts.
18. Use an Outline
Use an outline to keep up your writing flow. An outline is anything that lays out the main concepts and structure of your post, like a map that will guide your writing. For instance, on this post, I wrote all the subheadings first, organized and ordered them, and then filled in the details. Here's how to make a real outline (if you must).
19. Use a Word Processor
Sometimes using the post editor of your blogging platform makes sense, but at other times it's pure masochism. Any time you need to structure your post, work with long bullet/numbered lists, or just get tired of web editors, use something like Microsoft Word or OpenOffice (free).
20. Read, Read, Read
Read many blogs and articles, on a variety of subjects. Read as much as you can without becoming that angry internet troll who's seen it all. Creativity is only half of the equation – inquiry is the other. Read and learn, and then write and teach; it's yin-yangy (which I'm told is a good thing).
“If no one reads, all is lost.” - Brian Clark, Copyblogger.com
21. Understand Copywriting
Copywriting is writing to persuade people to take some kind of action; usually to buy something, but it can also be to link to your post, leave a comment or agree with an opinion. For bloggers, the place to start learning the basics of copywriting is Copyblogger.com.
22. Write a Good Headline
A good headline is a promise, much like an unopened bag of Cheetos is a promises of orange tastiness within. Good posts deliver exactly what the headline promised, just as a Cheetos bag delivers real Cheetos and not, say, prunes. For further reading, see: How to Write Headlines That Work
23. Use a Call to Action
Whether your goal is to get comments, links, more visitors or a sale, you'll need what copywriters call a “call to action” to fully realize that goal.
Example of a call to action: If you'd like more useful articles like this, subscribe to Finding The Money.
Further reading: 10 Techniques for an Effective Call to Action
24. Write Your Headline First
Visitors usually decide to read your post based on the headline alone: if you stray from the promise of the headline, many of them will lose interest. Write your headline first and regularly check what you're writing against it
25. Write for Readers
Any time a reader sees something in a post that has no value to them, you risk losing them. To write for readers, follow this simple rule: for every sentence you write, ask yourself: “What's in it for them?”
26. Build Trust
How to build trust with readers (instead of scaring them away):
- Get to the point immediately
- Avoid hype, stick to the facts
- Don't use “marketese”, be sincere
Offer free hugs. If you're attractive.
27. Explain the Problem and Consequence
If you're addressing a reader's problem, do they understand the consequence? If not, they won't see the value of your solutions. For Example: “Whenever possible, say 'thank you' when someone links to your post; otherwise that person may never link to you again.”
28. Use the Copywriting That Works on You
You click on headlines, read good posts, and buy things on the internet all the time, which means that someone's copywriting is working quite well on you. This is real-world education. Save this stuff, take notes, and start making it work for you in your posts.
29. Be Credible
A blog writer's credibility is always on the line (and should be). If you make make an assertion, give your reasons -- or better yet, proof. For example: “[Assertion] Most work-at-home opportunities are scams. [Proof] In fact, the aptly-named “Project False Hopes” from the FTC found that 95% of work-at-home offers are scams.”
30. Make Your Post Compelling
How much of your post do you want a visitor to read? All of it? Me, too. The answer is, make your post compelling by remembering these simple rules (stolen from Copyblogger):
- The purpose of the headline is get the first sentence read
- the purpose of the first sentence is to get the second sentence read,
- the purpose of the second sentence... etc
31. Turn Scanners Into Readers
You've written your post to be read, but internet readers are master scanners. Use subheadings just like headlines to capture interest, and scatter valuable and attention-getting elements throughout your post (especially in the middle).
32. Make Your Post Timeless
If someone reads your post three years from now, will it still have impact (make money, get links, etc.)? Consider writing it in a way that won't sound dated or irrelevant later. Further reading: 5 ways to make your blog timeless.
The Writing Process
“Listen, feel, and let the experience flow.” - Lorelle
33. Just Write
The secret to writing a blog post is to write, write, write. Staring at an empty page? Write on it. Whatever you write can be improved, but you can't improve on nothing (it's logically impossible, isn't it? Someone smart help me out here).
34. Write Without Distractions
Focus is important while writing your blog post; do your best to minimize distractions. Some people listen to music on headphones (like the Rocky III soundtrack – it gives you the Eye of the Tiger), some write late at night. Do whatever you can to enable concentration.
35. Motivate the Palahniuk Way
"When you don't want to write, set an egg timer for one hour (or half hour) and sit down to write until the timer rings. If you still hate writing, you're free in an hour. But usually, by the time that alarm rings, you'll be so involved in your work, enjoying it so much, you'll keep going." - Chuck Palahniuk's "13 Writing Tips"
36. Don't Have a Deadline
Deadlines can be counterproductive when they tempt you to publish a post that isn't really complete. If at all possible, chuck the deadline and commit to publishing when it's really done.
37. Work on a Self-Impose Deadline
Yes, the last tip was not to have a deadline (what's so wrong with doublethink?), but if the lack of one is allowing the process to stretch on and on, it's better to set your own deadline and commit yourself to meeting it.
38. Don't Worry Too Much About What Others Think
All bloggers and all writers receive negative criticism, and the better ones take risks anyway. Listen to any criticism that helps you communicate better, but don't modify your writing just to avoid it.
39. Don't Give Up
If you feel the urge to forget the whole thing and try something else, you either haven't been listening to the Rocky III soundtrack I keep suggesting, or you just need a break. Getting through tough spots will make you a better blog writer and it will show in your posts.
40. Don't Take Shortcuts
Taking shortcuts leads to mediocre posts. Your post is going to be badass when you're through, not mediocre -- so no shortcuts for you. If you feel like rushing through just to get it done, it's time to take a break and come back when you're feeling more energized.
41. Don't Be Self-Critical in the Writing Phase
When you're putting new ideas into words, being self-critical will kill your creativity. There's plenty of time for self-criticism during editing and re-writing.
“I don't mind reading about someone's cereal if it's written in a way that doesn't put me to sleep.” - Heather Armstrong, Dooce.com
42. Be Original
Anyone can write a blog post, so you need to give people a special reason to read yours. Don't worry too much about being perceived as original; just say what you need to say; that's pretty much what originality is.
43. Be Authentic
Be like your readers: they have personalities, opinions and flaws. And bullshit detectors. Be authentic.
44. Write Conversationally
Blogging is about conversation and interaction, and blog readers are looking for it. Lectures and prose are great, but between you and me? Let's have a conversation.
45. Deliver the Best Info First
Internet readers want instant answers, and will read the rest of your post if you produce the goods first-and-foremost. This is where the “inverted pyramid” comes in: deliver your most valuable information first, and expand from there.
46. Be Smart, Not Bookish
Big words and academic references don't impress blog readers. More impressive are bloggers smart enough to explain complex ideas in simple ways.
47. Use Examples
Readers need to know how your solutions and concepts work in the real world. Provide examples of your explanations whenever you can.
48. Be Fresh -- Avoid Cliches
Cliches are like a poison that saps away originality from your statements. Find fresh ways to express common ideas and your readers will stay awake.
49. Be Informational, Not Condescending
Condescending posts makes visitors grouchy, and then they stop being visitors. Try to read your post from a stranger's perspective, and get feedback from others to ensure that your post is coming across the way you want.
50. Use Humor
Because it's funny. Besides making your post better, it helps people lose weight, endure more pain, live longer, relieve stress and get in trouble at work. Humor saves the world; seriously.
51. Use One Idea Per Paragraph
Readers lose interest in paragraphs that have too many different concepts in them. Using one idea per paragraph will keep your writing tight and your reader interested.
52. Make Your Solutions Usable
A usable post is a good post. Can your readers apply the solutions you offer? Use step-by-steps, tutorials, and examples whenever you can.
53. Use Direct Quotes
A well-placed, relevant direct quote is not only valuable for getting your point across, it adds credibility and authority to your idea (and you).
54. Explain and Break it Down
Unfamiliar technical terms, acronyms and jargon tend to be off-putting to readers. If you can't avoid using them, make sure to explain them for readers who might be new to the subject.
55. Use Analogies and Comparisons
Analogies and comparisons get your point across in ways that other explanations can't. For example, compare the following statements – which one best gets the point across to a more general audience?
- "Anyone who asks how much RAM your monitor has doesn't know computers, because RAM doesn't go into monitors"
- "Asking how much RAM your monitor has is like asking how much gasoline your tires have."
56. Use Short Words
- You could say: “Whenever possible, use short words instead of long words because they increase readability.”
- But you should say: “Short words are easy to read. Use them over long words if you can.”
57. Use Fewer Words
Unnecessary words reduce the impact of your writing. Here's an example:
- Pretty good: “If it is at all possible to cut a word out, you should always cut it out.”
- Way better: “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” (George Orwell)
58. Speak Plainly, Don't Mince Words
Self-censoring and euphemisms come across as a blogger who isn't straightforward. The KISS rule doesn't mean "Keep It Simple, Sweetie", for instance. If you need to be careful about your language, find more plain-spoken ways to explain familiar concepts.
59. Write to One Person
Bloggers sometimes write like they're in front of a crowd, but blog readers don't want to feel like an audience. Picture one person who has the characteristics of your audience, and write to that one person.
60. Tell Stories
Stories capture our imagination, and can turn an otherwise dull explanation into something memorable. Bloggers are writers, after all: we might as well tell stories. See: “Tell a tantalizing story to kick off your blog post.”
61. Be Positive... Like Hemingway
"Be Positive, Not Negative." - Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway obviously didn't mean to be upbeat (you can be depressing if you want); he meant to make your sentences add something (like an explanation or an alternative), not merely take away. We'll use his quote as an example. If you say:
- "Don't be negative": you'll only take an option away
- "Be positive, not negative": you'll take an option away, but add an alternative
62. Write A Rough Draft
Blogging is a technical medium, which makes it tempting to write, organize, edit, and re-write all at once. That's a lot of mental gear-shifting. Get all your thoughts flushed out in a rough draft, and worry about the technical stuff later.
63. Use A Thesaurus
The thesaurus has several uses; one is to expand your vocabulary and another is to find inspiration. If you regularly use the dictionary while writing a post, try looking the word up on the thesaurus while you're at it. You'll often find words that expand your thinking on a topic.
64. Be Enthusiastic, But Not Obnoxious
Enthusiasm will help you write a better blog post, and it'll show naturally. Avoid excessive exclamation points, exaggeration, and all-caps; they'll make your enthusiasm seem forced.
65. Use Introduction, Body and Conclusion
- After the headline, your introduction is the most important part of your post. It tells the reader what to expect, giving them incentive to read the rest (anticipation).
- The main body of your post should contain what the introduction promised (reward).
- The conclusion summarizes the post and suggests what the reader can do with what they know (like handing over the cash).
66. Use Good Grammar and Punctuation
Good grammar and punctuation matter, but feel free to creatively break the rules when you need to (you want to know when you're breaking the rules, though). Here's how to improve grammar in your posts:
- Write your posts in Microsoft Word for its grammar proofing
- Read a lot
- Read these: quick and dirty grammar tips, and guide to grammar and writing
“No one cuddles up with their laptop for a long leisurely read.” - Lifehacker
67. Organize Your Post Consistently
Once a reader gets the idea of how your post is structured, they'll know how to find the information they're looking for. If the structure changes abruptly, they'll skim, skip over or just move on.
68. Use Subheadings
Ever come to a post looking for information, only to find a long diatribe with no subheadings? Ever gotten the hell out of there? Me, too.
69. Use Bullet points
Use bullet points whenever appropriate, like when:
- Listing multiple answers to a question
- Describing elements of an idea
- Whenever you can get away it; it's easier to read
70. Use Bold and Italics
Use bold and italics to make yourself more clear. Compare the clarity of these sentences:
- Using bold and italics is a way to tell readers what you think is important.
- Using bold and italics is a way to tell readers what you think is important.
71. Create White Space
White space (space between paragraphs, images, subheadings, elements of a post) is the difference between whether your post gets read or skipped over. When's the last time you heard that a post had too much white space? Save eyeballs; err on the side of white space.
72. Use Short Paragraphs
Internet readers appreciate concise, fun-size pieces of information. Keep your paragraphs to three sentences or less and you will get more readers.
73. Use Images
Not only do they get more attention to your posts, images make them easier to read. They can replace whole paragraphs by setting the emotional tone or context. Further reading: “How to position images in your posts”.
74. Make a Long Post Into a Series
When you've written a long post, it can be beneficial to split it up into a series. You'll encourage return visits to your blog while keeping people from being scared away by huge posts. (Tip: If you like scaring people, though, just write a post like this one.)
75. Make an Index
People want information as quickly as possible. If your post is a long one, make a click-able index (using internal links) to help them find what they need ASAP.
Editing and Re-Writing
"The simple truth is that even gifted writers can’t write a perfect piece on the first try " - Mason Hipp, Freelance Folder
76. Don't Publish Until You're Happy
If you think your post is complete, but you're not happy with it, it's not actually complete. Figure out what's making you unhappy and then re-write, re-write, re-write until you're satisfied.
77. Cut, Cut, Cut
Mercilessly cut out any sentence that:
- Isn't interesting
- Doesn't reflect the headline
- Isn't necessary
78. Read Your Post Out Loud
Reading your post out loud reveals the flow of your sentences and checks your choice of words. If a sentence is awkward to say, it's often awkward to read, too.
79. Get Reactions From Others
Feedback from friends and family will give you fresh eyes to catch jarring breaks in flow, unintended tone, and grammar problems.
80. Skip the Boring Parts
Think about what you tend to skip when reading a blog post; leave those parts out if you can.
81. Sleep on it
Re-read your post when you've been away for a while; sleep on it, if possible. Things will strike you differently and you'll catch problems.
Read through your post repeatedly and correct any mistakes in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. When you've read through it at least twice without seeing problems, you're done. Further reading: Quick Edit and Revision Tips
83. Check for Redundant Words
When reading through your post, check for redundant words and see if you can make them more varied (the thesaurus can help here.)
84. Know When You're Done
You could edit and re-write forever. When you are basically happy with the post, you should be close to publishing.
“You need to build a community around your blog, and make readers feel part of it.” - Daniel Scocco, Daily Blog Tips
85. Ask Good Questions
Asking good questions makes people think, and then they want to talk to you and link to you. A post that engages readers is a good one.
86. Update your post
Keep your ideas alive: anything you find that would enhance a post you've already written should be added as an update.
87. Ask for comments
If you want to know what your readers think, asking them is the best way. At the end of your post, invite readers to comment.
88. Always Respond to Comments
When you respond to comments, it encourages more comments, and comments are content. In addition, the more feedback you get, the better you know your audience, and the better your posts will be.
89. Add Updates Based on Comments
When someone takes the time to write a well thought-out comment on your post, add an update that showcases their offering (with a link to their blog, if appropriate).
90. How to Use Keywords
When someone performs a web search, they're asking a question with keywords. Is your post using keywords to properly answer? Search engines need to know what your post is about, and using your keywords in the url, title, and body of your post is a good starting point. Further reading: Keyword Usage and Targeting
91. Link Out to Get Links
A blog post that generates links is a good blog post. One of the best ways to get links is to give them. Link out to other blogs wisely, provocatively and generously in your post and you'll receive links in return. Further reading: 101 Ways to Build Link Popularity
92. How to Create Friendly Links
If you're just selling something, a simple “click here” link will do. If you're linking to other bloggers, however, some methods are better than others. Search engines look at the anchor text (the text of the link) as an indicator of how relevant the link is to certain keywords. For example:
To make a blogger like you: Liz has a good post on what makes a blog compelling.
To make a blogger love you: Liz asks “What Makes a Blog Compelling?”
93. Fix Your Call to Action
Are your visitors taking action on your post (linking, commenting, buying, etc.)? If people aren't responding to your call to action, figure out what's going wrong and fix it.
94. Be Polite, Use Hat-Tips
Giving your fellow bloggers credit makes them happy; not doing so makes them sad. If someone drew your attention to something new or interesting and you're writing about it, give them a hat-tip.
95. Attribute Your Sources
Plagiarism is bad, mmkay? Always link to the source if you're quoting another person's content.
96. Correct Any Mistakes Instantly
Any time you find inaccuracies or mistakes, correct them right away. Yes, it will make your post pop up again in feed readers – nothing wrong with that.
97. Keep Visitors Reading
Any visitor who reads your post to the end is likely to want more. At the end of your post, add related posts you've written.
98. Keep Them Coming Back
Give your readers incentive for return visits. For Example:
- Promise an upcoming, related post
- Remind them to check back for updates
99. Make Coming Back Easy
At the end of your post, make sure it's easy for a visitor to subscribe to your blog and bookmark or share your post.
100. The Final Rule
"Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."
- George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
What are your favorite tips for writing better blog posts? Have any advice on choosing topics, copywriting, writing, readability and getting your post linked? Leave a comment and tell me about it.
First, congratulations for somehow getting to the end of this post. You deserve a gold star and marshmallow-only Lucky Charms. Seriously.
I hope you've gotten lots of ideas for writing better blog posts here; the internet needs more of them. There are over 100 million blogs now, and what really matters are the posts. It's what we really have to offer. Without original, useful, authentic posts, it's all just business and window dressing.
Make the internet better: keep writing better posts.
Your turn: let's talk. (Sass, smart-ass comments, beat-downs, fawning all encouraged)