You know how to write a blog post, right? You sit down, you type up your thoughts on a topic, and voilà! Blog post! It may be that simple for a personal blog, or one that you maintain for a hobby. But for a blog that complements your business site, it’s not enough.
Content that delivers relevant, high-quality content to your readers, and performs consistently in the search engine results pages (SERPs) requires more time, more attention to detail, and yes, more work. But once you get the process down, it becomes easier with each post.
Writing Blog Posts Can Mean More Leads
Top-notch blogs have a bigger job than just providing visitors with reading material. Research shows blogging can have a significant effect on SEO metrics, from visitor count to lead generation.
That may help to explain why 77 percent of marketers prioritize written content and blog posts over all other channels.
Knowing how to write a blog post as opposed to just knowing how to write can make the difference between leads, conversions and revenue, and just a nice little blog your family and friends read.
Get to Know the Audience
A blog is nothing without readers. Make your first goal getting to know who the audience is—and isn’t—and what they want.
Start by asking a few key questions:
- Who are they? Remember to take age, geographical location and profession into account, and any other factors that may be applicable to the blog and its purpose.
- What do they want to know? Do they need to solve certain types of problems? Do they want to learn how to do something? Do they need help making informed buying decisions?
- What’s their level of expertise? Consider whether the audience is likely to have a beginner, intermediate or advanced understanding of the topics.
- What are their common problems? Understanding the obstacles an audience faces is the first step to creating blog posts that offer solutions.
When writing a blog post, staying focused on the audience is key. To do this more easily, try creating reader personas. Similar to customer personas, these are semi-fictional representations of the blog’s core audience.
A reader persona should include both general information and specific details, from demographics to personal interests and hobbies. Want to keep things simple? Try creating reader personas by filling out a premade template.
PERSONA TEMPLATE IMAGE HERE
Stick to the Style Guide
Even if a blog is full of well-written posts, it won’t look truly professional unless all its posts are consistent in voice, tone, format, syntax and design.
That’s why style guides are essential to content creation. By writing each blog post in adherence to both an established and an internal style guide, you’ll create polished, cohesive content that resonates with readers.
Whether you’re creating posts for a blog that already has a detailed style guide or one with no guidelines at all, it’s well worth your time to get acquainted with the style guide basics.
Several major style guides are used in an array of settings. Some of the most widely used include:
- The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS): Typically used in the writing and publishing industries.
- The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook: Frequently used in the news and journalism industries.
- American Psychological Association (APA) Style: Used in academic settings, particularly for scientific disciplines.
- Modern Language Association (MLA) style: Also used in academic settings, often for the humanities.
If you’re writing a blog post for an academia-related site, you’ll likely be using either APA or MLA. Otherwise, you’ll probably be using CMOS or AP Style. Both are adaptable options that can be applied to a wide variety of topics and industries.
The main difference between CMOS and AP Style is the latter is designed for use in news and journalism, and so tends to emphasize brevity and simple punctuation. CMOS is designed for use in editing, publishing and literary writing, and thus is more nuanced, flexible and conducive to creative expression.
In addition to a general style guide, create one that’s internal and brand-specific. That’s where the blog’s stylistic idiosyncrasies will be defined, as well as its brand personality and overarching voice. Having an internal document will also help an entire content team be consistent in their content creation.
Choose a Crowd-Pleasing Topic
A post written on a fascinating topic can not only engage a blog’s existing audience, but also bring in new readers. You’ll want to avoid just echoing the topics of well-ranking blogs, regardless of whether they’re a good fit or not.
So how can you find relevant topics readers will search for while still staying true to the blog’s purpose and strengths? Topic research.
- Study the competition. While you should never flat-out copy the topics of competing blogs, analyzing what works for the competition can serve as a practical jumping-off point. Ignore topics unrelated to your blog’s primary focus, and only take inspiration from those your audience would find compelling.
- Look at high-performing previous posts. This strategy is so simple it can be easy to overlook. Want to know which topics really speak to your audience? Try taking a cue from successful past posts.
- Refer to personas. The reader personas you’ve created can help you identify engaging topics. If a topic sounds like it would interest your reader personas, it could be worth pursuing.
- Use a research tool. If you’re willing to pay (or sign up for a free trial), you can use SEMrush to come up with blog topics. Their Topic Research tool is second to none and can also double as a keyword research tool. Looking for free options? Try using AnswerThePublic to find out what people are asking, or check out Google’s “people also search for” box after performing a search.
- Poll your readers: If the blog you’re writing for already has an active reader base, get topic ideas straight from the source by polling them. You can easily create polls on Facebook and Twitter, or use Google Forms to send polls directly to readers on the email list.
Target the Right Keywords
If you’re not including valuable, relevant keywords in your content, then you’re not really writing a blog post. You’re writing something you may as well print out for all the attention it’s going to garner from the search engines.
The overarching topic of your blog post is important, and topicality is one thing that’ll help your posts rank. And one of the easiest ways to indicate topicality is by choosing the right keywords.
Do keyword research before you begin writing. While it’s possible (and sometimes necessary) to optimize content after the fact, you’ll save yourself a lot of time if you incorporate target keywords from the get-go.
Create an Outline
You know your audience, you have your style guide handy, you’ve settled on a topic, and you’ve researched which keywords to target. Now you can finally start writing the blog post itself.
Start by creating an outline. Consider the type of blog post you’re going to write. Will it be a listicle? What about a how-to guide, or maybe a product review? Your final outline will vary depending on the answer.
An outline will also help you stay on topic, and keep the post focused so you don’t take your readers off on tangents.
Focus on Value
No matter how well you think your post might be able to rank for a keyword or topic, it’s unlikely to contribute to the blog’s long-term success if it doesn’t offer value to readers.
Google ranks pages based on quality as well as relevance. They instruct their search quality evaluators to consider reputation, expertise and helpfulness when rating pages, and part of its mission statement is to “deliver the most relevant and reliable information available.”
In other words, if the blog post you’re writing doesn’t offer accurate, valuable information to readers, then it probably won’t do you much good in terms of SEO.
The solution is to focus on value and quality when writing a blog post. Steer clear of fluff, and always keep the purpose of the post, blog and website in mind.
If you’re writing for a news blog, for instance, the purpose is to deliver accurate news. If you’re writing for an entertainment blog, the purpose could be to deliver funny content. Whatever the case, never forget your goal.
To stay on track, try asking yourself if the post is:
- going to adequately answer readers’ questions;
- going to satisfy searcher intent;
- providing readers with content, information or a perspective they can’t get elsewhere;
- well-researched and filled with authoritative information; and
- in line with the blog and website’s overall purpose.
Use Proper HTML Tags
HTML is the foundation of every web page, and it’ll be the foundation of your blog post’s page too. Even if you’re using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, learning some basic HTML can make it that much easier to transfer posts from your word processor to the blog.
Tip: Yes, you can write blog posts inside WordPress or another CMS. But you may find it easier to draft in a word processing program, and then paste into the CMS. It’s a personal preference, really.
While “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) editors like those in Google Docs and Microsoft Word can show you what your finished post will look like, you’ll probably have to spend more time tweaking the formatting than you would if you wrote your post with proper HTML tags from the start.
If you already have the right HTML tags in place, you can simply paste your post straight into the HTML editor you’re using. So while WYSIWYG editors may be helpful in some instances, they just can’t give you the convenient copy-and-paste functionality of HTML.
Common HTML tags you can easily incorporate throughout the writing process include:
- Metadata: Denoted by a number of meta tags within the HTML
headelement, metadata communicates fundamental information about the blog post to search engines. This can include the title, description, canonical and social media tags, and more. To see every meta tag you can use, check out this complete list.
- Section headings: Denoted by the tags
h1being the highest level of headings and
h6being the lowest. The
h1tag tells search engines what the page is about—that’s why it’s essential for the
h1heading to contain the blog post’s primary keyword. Google’s John Mueller has said pages can technically have multiple
h1tags without hurting SEO, but other sources such as MDN Web Docs recommend against it for organizational reasons. Sticking to a single
h1tag also has the benefit of ensuring accurate semantic markup, (i.e., HTML tags conveying information about the content’s meaning) and accessibility.
- Lists: Denoted by the
oltag. Unordered (i.e., bulleted) lists are denoted by the former, and ordered (i.e., numbered) lists are denoted by the latter. Each separate list item is marked by the
litag. Use unordered lists for individual pieces of information, and reserve ordered lists for step-by-step sequences.
- Bold: Bold text is denoted by the
strongtag. Both tags result in a similar visual change, but the former indicates a purely cosmetic difference while the latter indicates importance. Use the strong tag to indicate importance to visitors using text-to-speech software. They’ll hear a change in the text reader’s inflection.
- Italic: Italicized text is denoted by the
emtag. Similar to the
strongtags, the former indicates a cosmetic difference while the latter conveys emphasis. Thus, the same guidelines apply: The
itag creates a visual effect, while
eminstructs text-to-speech software to apply proper inflection.
- Hyperlinks: Denoted by the tag
a href="URL", which will open the linked page in the same browser tab by default. To specify the linked page should open in a new window or tab instead, you’ll need to use the target attribute and _blank value after the URL:
Once you learn those tags and get in the habit of using them during the writing process, you’ll be able to save yourself hours of future frustration.
Note: Some CMS platforms like WordPress or themes like Divi offer blocks or drag-and-drop options, doing away with the need for HTML. Incorporating HTML into your content can give you a little more control at the code level.
Besides helping readers easily access other pages and additional information, links offer several benefits to a blog post.
Internal links can:
- pass link equity (i.e., value and authority) from one page to another;
- facilitate indexing by making it easier for search engine bots to find and navigate among pages;
- encourage interested readers to spend more time on the site; and
- help the destination page rank for keywords included in the anchor text.
Outbound links can:
- establish a connection between your blog post and relevant, authoritative sites;
- positively affect Google search rankings;
- signal to readers you want to be as helpful as possible, not try to prevent them from leaving your post; and
- help create (or maintain) symbiotic relationships between your blog and other sites.
It is possible to have too much of a good thing, though. If the links you include start to look spammy or unnatural in the eyes of search engines, or if you’re writing a blog post solely to build links, the site your blog posts are published on could see a rankings loss.
To avoid triggering red flags, be sure to:
- stay away from anything that could be construed as a link scheme;
- qualify outbound links with the appropriate value, such as rel=nofollow or rel=ugc; and
- only link to relevant pages, whether internal or external, in places where it’s natural and makes sense.
Links are one of the most powerful tools in your blog toolkit. Use them wisely.
Add Relevant Images and Videos
You only have a few seconds to capture readers’ attention. Visual media can help you do that. Research from MIT found that the human brain can identify images in as little as 13 milliseconds.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conducted a study and found people remember images better than they remember words.
For you, this means that images can serve as an effective way to pique readers’ interest and help your blog post stand out in their minds. It doesn’t, however, mean that any image is better than no image at all. A generic stock photo of someone typing on a laptop won’t contribute much to your post and certainly won’t grab readers’ attention.
Instead, focus on adding images and videos exclusively where it makes sense, and only use those that add real value to your post. For instance, you might include:
- charts and graphs to illustrate data you’re referencing;
- screenshots to clarify a step-by-step process;
- video tutorials covering the topic at hand;
- videos of an event you’re discussing;
- photos of people to accompany their quotes; or
- graphics to simplify a complex concept.
Make sure any images and videos you use are of high quality, and always:
- optimize them to help boost page speed;
- include a source where appropriate; and
- follow Google’s image best practices and video best practices for proper SEO.
Proofread Twice, Publish Once
The last blog post writing task is inarguably one of the most crucial: Proofread twice (or more), and you’ll only need to publish once.
Even if you’re a skilled writer with an exceptional understanding of grammar, spelling and syntax, treat every blog post you write as if it’s full of hidden errors. No one is immune to careless mistakes—the New York Times, widely considered one of the most venerable newspapers of all time, published a typo on its front page every day for more than 100 years.
While proofreading, keep your style guide close at hand and remember to check for:
- formatting (i.e., line spacing, font, text size, etc.);
- organization and numbering;
- spelling errors;
- incorrect or inconsistent grammar; and
- improper, missing or left-open HTML tags.
It may be helpful to skim over your style guide before you start proofreading to ensure it’s fresh in your mind.
Loosen up Those Fingers!
You knew there’d be more to writing a blog post than just the writing. Right? Now it’s time to get to the actual writing part. But none of these tactics are out of your reach. They just take time, a little skill, some experience, and maybe a bit of luck. But applied consistently, you’ll see your content’s quality and performance go up in no time, and you may even have a little more fun along the way.
Illustration by iloveseo.com / April 2020