Writing a blog post is similar to driving; you can learn the highway code (or read posts about how to write a blog post) for months, but nothing beats getting behind the wheel and reaching the open road for the real thing. Or anything like that.
Let’s get back to business now that I’ve completely mangled that hazy metaphor. You realise you need to start blogging in order to expand your company, but you’re not sure where to begin. I’ll teach you how to write a brilliant blog post in five easy steps that people would want to read in this post. Are you prepared? Let’s get this party underway.
[Summary]: How to Write a Blog Post in Five Easy Steps
Step 1: Decide on a subject for your blog post, write an overview, perform analysis, and double-check evidence.
Step 2: Build a headline that is both insightful and attention-grabbing.
Phase 3: Write your message, either as a draught in one sitting or in stages.
Step 4: Use photos to increase the flow of your message, introduce satire, and clarify complicated topics.
Step 5: Make changes to your blog post. Avoid repetition, read your post aloud and search for rhythm, have someone else read it to give input, keep sentences and paragraphs short, don’t be a perfectionist, and don’t be afraid to leave out text or make last-minute changes to your content.
Let’s take a closer look at each move now.
Step 1 on How to Write a Blog Post: Planning
First, a disclaimer: even though you can type 80 words per minute and have excellent writing skills, the whole task of writing a blog post can take more than a couple of hours. You could spend several days or even a week “writing” a blog post from the seed of an idea to eventually clicking “Publish,” so it’s critical to spend those crucial hours preparing your post and even dreaming about your post (yes, thinking counts as working if you’re a blogger) before you actually compose it.
Long before you sit down to write with your digital pen on paper, make sure you have everything you’ll need. Many new bloggers miss the preparation stage, and while you might be able to get away with missing it, completing your homework now will save you time in the long run and help you build healthy blogging habits.
Pick a subject that piques your attention.
“No fun for the authors, no fun for the reader,” according to an old adage. As an author, you can live and die by this assertion no matter what business you work in.
Make sure you choose a subject that concerns you before moving on to the next steps. Nothing – and I say NOTHING – can ruin a blog post faster than the writer’s lack of excitement. It’s easy to see when a writer is bored with their subject, and it’s a little humiliating.
I can even hear your objections. “However, Dan, I have to write a blog for a cardboard box manufacturer.” I really understand your anguish. I’ve written content for thousands of clients in some less-than-exciting industries (such as financial regulatory enforcement and corporate housing), but the ability to write well on any subject, no matter how dry, is the hallmark of a talented blogger. Blogging, on the other hand, is a lot simpler if you have at least a passing interest in the subject.
You must also be prepared to recognise that not every article would pique your curiosity. Any posts may sound like a hassle, so if you have editorial power of what you publish, pick subjects that you will be interested in reading – even if they are related to niche industries. The more enthusiastic you are about your subject, the more enthusiastic your readers will be when they read it.
If you’re stuck for ideas, take a look at our list of eight blog subject generators to get you started.
Create a schedule for your message.
Great blog posts don’t just appear out of nowhere. Also the most accomplished bloggers need a rough plan to keep them on track. Here’s where outlines come in handy.
An outline doesn’t have to be long or comprehensive – it’s just a rough guide to insure you don’t go off on a tangent about anything unrelated to your subject.
For eg, before beginning work on this article, I sent my editor the following outline:
a brief introduction
[Short description of what the blog post will be about]
Section 1: How to Write a Blog Post
– Outlining, analysis, and other things bloggers can do before putting pen to paper
Writing a Blog Post (Section 2)
– Blogging usability tricks, including how to concentrate on posting
Rewriting/Editing a Blog Post (Section 3)
– Strategies for self-editing, stuff to avoid, and common blogging blunders
Optimising a Blog Post (Section 4)
– How to customise a blog post for on-page SEO, social shares, and interaction, among other factors
Conclusion (section 5)
The aim of this summary is to insure that I understand what I want to discuss, the order in which the different sections will appear, and some basic information about what each section will contain.
Outlines help you stay on track. They keep you focused on the general layout of your article and discourage you from indulging in poorly thought-out metaphors about driving. Often I’ll make a more elaborate description (and sometimes I won’t bother at all), but most of the time, something like the one above would suffice.
Do whatever works for you to stay focused, or you write your outline in your word processor, on a sheet of paper, or even scribbled on a bar napkin.
Do your homework
One of the most important secrets that professional bloggers (including myself) don’t want you to discover is that we don’t know anything. To be honest, we don’t really know anything about a subject until we sit down to write about it.
This isn’t to say that all bloggers are outright liars. Many bloggers’ innate enthusiasm, on the other hand, is what makes them so good at what they do. If you blog for a living, you must be able to hop from one topic to the next with ease, even if you have no previous knowledge of the issue. Knowing how to correctly research a blog post helps one to do this, as well as write authoritatively about subject areas that are unfamiliar to us.
It almost goes without mentioning, but using Wikipedia exclusively as a reference source is almost always a bad idea. Yes, Wikipedia has thousands of well-researched articles, but it isn’t infallible, and misleading data do slip between the cracks without the knowledge of web editors. Why quote the middleman because any verifiable evidence on the blog is quoted from links elsewhere on the web?
Choose reputable sources if you’re going to rely on third-party data for your blog post. Official trade unions, government blogs, widely cited academic papers, and leading business figures are all excellent examples. However, no one is always right, so treat each source with the trained cynicism of a journalist and doubt all until you’re certain the evidence is correct.
And sure you get the facts together.
I edited a piece about the highlights of a big technology conference written by a colleague a few years ago. Under a strict deadline, the writer had done an excellent job of writing perfect copy in a short amount of time, but he had neglected to double-check his details. He quoted a Forbes article in which the author believed Steve Jobs was using PowerPoint on stage, which was never the case. The Forbes writer’s journalism was sloppy, and my colleague’s error was simple, but the outcome was the same: one badly researched paper had a significant effect on another when both authors neglected to do their homework.
One blatant mistake is what it takes to destroy your reputation. Everyone makes mistakes, so it’s important to stay away from blunders like this one. If you’re just getting started, posting misleading facts can undermine your reputation and legitimacy, and even if you have a blog of millions of dedicated followers, your regulars will be all too happy to hop all over your error – just look at the comment sections of outlets like Wired or TechCrunch to see how easily this can happen.
If you fell victim to a well-executed scam, echo commonly spread disinformation, or actually make an error, admit it straight away and be open with your edits. You can bet that if you try to sneak anything past your followers, they’ll call you out on it, exacerbating the problem. Be truthful, take responsibility, and get it fixed as soon as possible.
Phase 2 on How to Write a Blog Post: Producing a Memorable Title
About headlines, everybody and their grandma has a view. Some experts advise being as descriptive as possible (to avoid confusing the readers and manage their expectations), whereas others advise being more vague. If you’re Seth Godin, vague headlines could fit, but for the rest of us, being definite is preferable.
When it comes to writing blog post headlines, you have two options. You can then choose the final headline before writing the rest of your article (and use it to organise your outline), or you can start writing your blog post with a working title to see what suits when you’re done.
Personally, I don’t follow a strict plan in any direction. Often I’ll start with a good headline and stick with it, while other posts would need a lot more effort. While clickbait headlines from sites like Upworthy have arguably destroyed internet blogging, the mechanism behind the site’s headlines has validity in that it encourages you to actually think about your post and how to grab your audience’s attention.
The way you write headlines can also change based on who you’re writing about. Take a glance at these super-specific headlines from across the world, for example:
In just 60 days, our side project produced $51,365.
How Lua’s CEO Created an Enterprise Messaging App That Increased Open Rates From 20% to 98%
5 Stuff We Did in 2014 to Raise Our Sales by 1059%
All of the numbers in these headlines was viewed in the form of giving actionable guidance to other advertisers and entrepreneurs. Due to their transparency (which draws the veil back from profitable expanding companies and the people who manage them) and the “how-to” angle, “case study” blog posts like this also do well (which attracts people who want to accomplish the same thing by following real-world examples).
That’s fine if that’s what you’re hoping for, which in my case is uncommon. I didn’t read all of these posts because it seems that at least half of the blog posts in my RSS feed follow this format (including this one). They’re awesome as an example, but I ignored them because they’re so close to the millions of other posts I see every day telling me how to expand my company by X% in Y months with three hacks.
Another common strategy is to include a question in the title. When done correctly, this can be extremely efficient, as seen in the following examples:
Is it possible for an algorithm to write a better news story than a human journalist?
Will You Be Interested in Being a Part of a Crowdsourced Environmental Alert System?
What Do Uber, Zenefits, and Kenyan Slum Public Health Have in Common?
However, this strategy is becoming more tiresome, and fewer newspapers are using it these days (thankfully, alongside the ever-annoying “You won’t believe…” headline). If you’re going to use a topic in your headline, make sure it’s one that your viewers will be involved in.
Writing headlines for blog posts is both an art and a science, and it deserves its own article, but for now, what I can recommend is playing with what fits best for your audience. Enable your readers to get hyper-specific case studies about how to do something if they so choose. But don’t do anything simply because someone else is doing it, particularly if it doesn’t resonate with your target audience.
Phase 3 on How to Write a Blog Post: The Writing
So, you’ve done your homework, chosen a headline (or at the very least a working title), and are now ready to write a blog post. So let’s get started.
There are two major ways to writing a blog post, similar to headlines. You can either sit down and compose an entire draught in one sitting (which is my favourite method) or work on it incrementally over time. There is no correct or incorrect answer here; only what works for you.
However, I suggest completing as many as possible in a single session. This helps you remain focused on the subject, reduces the chances of forgetting important details, and gets the darn thing out of your hair faster.
Even if you’re more productive in brief bursts, try to get as much writing done in those sessions as possible. The more you replay a draught, the more enticing it becomes to add a little here and there, and before you know it, you’ve strayed far from the original subject. And if you choose to draught a blog post over three or four writing sessions, get as much done in one sitting as possible.
Fiction, like most talents, becomes better and more intuitive with practise. You might find that writing a post takes a week (or longer) when you first start, but with practise, you’ll be able to write great posts in hours. Unfortunately, when it comes to publishing, there are no “hacks” or “shortcuts” – you must put in the hours at the coalface.
NOTE: Many people have difficulty writing introductions. It’s a smart idea to compose the introduction last. Only get down to the point of the blog post; the presentation will be dealt with later. Here are five simple methods for writing an excellent introduction.
Step 4 on How to Write a Blog Post: Effective Image Use
Writing for the internet is a whole different beast from writing for a print publication. People also lack the time, will, or ability to concentrate on long blog posts without any visual stimuli. Even a well-formatted text-only blog post is likely to send your reader screaming back to Reddit or Twitter within minutes, which is why including photos in your posts is so critical.
Images Improve the Flow of Your Blog Post
Breaking up the text is one of the most critical reasons to use photos in the blog posts. Many people browse blog posts rather than reading every letter, so using photos in the copy would make it seem less overwhelming and more attractive visually.
Visual Punchlines are made up of images.
Everyone enjoys a good joke, and a well-chosen illustration will help lighten the mood of the posts while still injecting some much-needed levity. This is especially useful if you’re writing about a dry (or downright boring) topic.
Complex topics are easier to comprehend when images are used.
Let’s face it: digital marketing (and hundreds of other niche topics) isn’t always the easiest subject for beginners to grasp. That’s why, if you want to grow your following, photographs are a must-have in your blogging toolkit. Diagrams, maps, infographics, graphs, and other visual tools will assist the readers in comprehending abstract or nuanced concepts and grasping the points you’re attempting to create.
Step 5 on How to Write a Blog Post: Editing
Writing a blog post is difficult. It’s more difficult to edit a blog post. Many people falsely believe that editing entails merely removing ineffective sentences or correcting grammatical errors. Although sentence structure and grammar are significant, editing is about seeing the piece as a whole and, on occasion, sacrificing words (and the hours it took to compose them) for the sake of cohesion.
I won’t advise you to double-check your spelling and grammar because you should already be doing that. I will, though, have some self-editing advice and recommendations for tightening up your writing so that it has impact and keeps your readers scrolling.
Repetition should be avoided.
Repetition of such words or sentences is one of the most jarring aspects of reading. When you’ve finished writing the first draught of your blog post, go through it again and look for words you can substitute and stop repeating yourself.
BONUS: Any writer has a word or expression that he or she uses as a crutch. This is a term that, no matter how diligently a writer tries to avoid using, they obviously cannot avoid using in their writing. Determine what the crutch word is, keep an eye out for it, and make sure it doesn’t come up more than it wants to.
Check the Flow of Your Post by Reading It Out Loud
Many authors master this trick in writing workshops. If a piece sounds uncomfortable when read aloud, it would most likely sound awkward in the minds of your readers. It can sound strange, but reading the post aloud to search for wordy bottlenecks or contrived sentences is a good idea. Have you ever had trouble with a sentence’s flow? It should be reworked so it is easy to say.
Have someone else look at your work before you submit it.
This is especially important for new or infrequent bloggers. Asking a friend or colleague to double-check your work isn’t a sign of incompetence or failure; it’s a dedication to make your work the best it can be.
Ask someone with editing skills to proofread your work if possible. Often, make sure they realise you’re not asking for assistance finding typos or grammatical mistakes (though if they do, that’s great), but more to hear their opinions on the piece’s flow and structural logic. Is it clear what you’re trying to say? Is your stance on a controversial issue crystal clear? Does the piece cause the reader to ponder or question a previously held belief? Is it worthwhile to pursue the advice you’re giving? All of these are questions that a second pair of eyes reading your work will help you resolve.
Sentences should be short, and paragraphs should be shorter.
Big walls of text will threaten or outright annoy a reader faster than anything else. It’s a simple blunder made by amateur bloggers, and one I see all too often in many online posts.
Sentences should be kept to a minimum. They’re easier to read, which makes it easier for your audience. Shorter sentences also make it less likely that you’ll go off on tangents. For eg, I recently came across a sentence in a Wired opinion piece that included seven subordinate clauses, an editorial blunder of epic proportions.
Paragraphs can also be brief and to the point. The more concise the paragraph, the more likely your readers will continue reading. Since web-based publishing became the standard, the “rules” of paragraph form have become a little bent, but try to hold individual thoughts isolated to their own tidy, short little paragraph.
Recognize that the blog entry will never be perfect.
There is no such thing as an ideal message, and the faster you accept this, the better.
I’m not calling for sloppy work to be published, nor am I suggesting that you shouldn’t be meticulous about the data. But I’m thinking that even the best blog posts can always be improved, because time is always against us. Again, unless you’re Seth Godin, you’ll most likely need to publish more than one post every month, but agonising over each one would drain your motivation to write and waste time – not to mention risk enraging your editor or content manager.
Make each post the best it can be, learn from your mistakes, and move on.
Don’t be afraid to improvise or cut corners.
You may have forgotten, but I originally included a segment on optimising blog posts for SEO in the example overview for this article. I had every intention of writing this part, but after seeing how my first draft was shaping up, I knew it was much too large a task.
Your outline isn’t set in stone until there’s something you simply must incorporate (for example, a part that your sales or management team is awaiting in a post that you promised to deliver). Remember, an outline is a reference, not a set of unchangeable rules. Don’t be afraid to cut anything that doesn’t fit, whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole section. Be ruthless when it comes to your job.
That was the last thing she wrote…
Blogging is one of those tasks that seems to be easy before you really get to do it. It does, though, get simpler with experience and practise, and you’ll be blogging like a pro in no time.
Let me know in the comments if there’s a part of writing a blog post that I didn’t cover, or whether you have specific questions about my approach or something else blog-related – I’ll do my best to address them.
Now go ahead, take up thy pen, and blog like a badass.