Although the way we communicate has changed considerably in the last twenty years, good writing is timeless. Sometimes writing is so good you don’t even know it’s good – it’s just there, seemingly having poured out of the author. This is no accident and can take years to achieve.
But we don’t have years!
Add to that, you’re often competing against paid professionals – content marketers – who make their living ghost writing for business execs.
How is little ol’ you – with a career, family, and a million other responsibilities, swimming in a sea of, literally, a billion blogs – supposed to compete, let alone stand out?
Fear not. Help is on the way!
I put together this article on writing a blog post, an article – whatever you want to call it in 2019 – to help you drop the learning curve, and, give you an inside peak as to what goes into creating an impactful article that yes, just might appear effortless.
None of this is as fun as just letting it rip, or winging it, and some might even call it "work," but I believe it to be a necessary process that will, potentially, generate content ideas for you well into 2021.
So, yes, while this article is dense, but it will give you the aforementioned "process" along with lots of cues and tips on what to do and think about in order to squeeze the most out of an important touch point with your target audience. A touch point that will further establish your personal brand, and you as a subject matter authority.
4 Things To Do BEFORE Writing A Blog Post
Before you put fingers to keyboard, I urge you to do a few things that won’t be fun, but, in the end, will make your article more effective and cut down on the time it takes to complete. In fact, this is where most of the heavy lifting is done. Do the work here, and in this order, and the proverbial dominoes start falling, setting you up for immediate and long-term “on brand” content generation.
1) Know your target audience. If you read my first piece, I went on and on about the importance of knowing your target audience. So, hopefully, by now you’ve done your target audience/buyer persona worksheet.
If you’re too engrossed in this article to click that link, profile at least three of your customers (ten would be ideal), noting everything about them. Start with the general – demographics, seniority level – and then get more granular – a day in the life, and pain points and objections to your service offerings. Be as specific as possible. You should start to see trends emerge. This will help form your target audience profile(s). It’s okay to have more than one persona amongst your clients and prospects.
Your target audience will dictate almost all of your content decisions going forward so when you have that down, the answers to almost all of your content questions – What do I write about? Should I include this bullet? Should I share this? – will become clear.
So, to think about it another way, your target audience is your Why – why are you creating what you are creating?
While the target audience prism may make your writing experience feel more constrained, it will make your content focused and ensure that you’re providing value to your readership.
Your target audience profile is the bedrock of your content strategy.
Additionally, I find that when I’m stuck and remind myself of my audience, I magically recall (maybe, it’s my subconscious working, but whatever it is, I’ll take it!) certain tips and strategies that I might have normally cast aside as “too obvious” or “a given.” But it’s often these tips that will round out your article, taking it from good to great.
Long story, short, review your target audience persona sheet before starting a new article to remind yourself who you are writing for.
2) Brainstorm. The age old question: What should I write about? Coming up with original content and writing an article or more per month is a daunting task. Throw in the need to make all of your content flow with a thematic throughline that ties all of your work together, and you can see how your grand plans can unravel fast. However, there’s an easier way.
Because you know your target audience, and because the whole purpose of creating your content is to serve them (how tired are you of hearing me say that?!), that’s all we have to focus on.
If you walk away with only one tip from this whole article, let it be this:
List all of the complaints, obstacles, and questions you hear from your target audience and write about that.
This list will serve as your list of topics for the articles you are going to write.
But, if you’re like me, you like to pull ideas apart in every which way with the hopes of unearthing something different than your competitors. Here are eight questions to ask yourself about your target audience to help build out your list of article topics.
What are their pain points?
What makes their job harder?
What does their boss care about?
What are situations that you have seen blindside your audience because they weren’t prepared?
Think about what you continually see as the barriers for your target audience’s success at their job. To frame it another way, ask yourself what you would wish YOU knew if you were doing THEIR job?
Where does your competition fall short? This is a delicate balance. Don’t bash your competition, but also make your particular value add clear. One way to do it: Set up a familiar situation and then illustrate how you help, while also pointing out how your unnamed competitors drop the ball.
What are their objections to hiring you? Overcome these objections in your writing.
What is some insider knowledge that you can share? Some people may refer to this as “Inside baseball” – where an industry professional peels back a layer of the more esoteric inner workings of a business. Note: while these posts are usually either very popular or complete duds, I’d wait until you built up a solid rapport with your readership before posting one of them.
By now you should have about 8 different lists. Lay them all out. Delete the redundancies, combine the tangential and overly similar (some of these may become subtopics), and put aside ideas that, right now, may seem “off brand” or not thematically relevant.
If you take a step back and look at your combined lists, most likely, you’ll notice something that should provide some relief, quelling any fears of writer’s block: a long list of topics.
To put it in perspective, since you’re only writing one article a month, if you have 24 topics – that’s two years’ worth of thematically related content you now have ready to create.
Obviously, industries evolve, trends emerge, and you may notice that your audience is particular to certain topics, so I’d do this exercise every six months, but still, it’s a relief to know that you may just have two years of fresh content mapped out.
3) Research SEO. To me, this is the least fun thing to do, but when done right, it can expedite your climb up the search rankings. The problem is, doing it right is a job unto itself. But, if you’re not going to pay anyone and you’re aiming to grow organically (i.e. not “paid search”), there a few things that will give you good ROI on your time.
Long Tail Keywords. Keywords are good, but long tail keywords are more effective. A keyword is a single word used in an internet search. So, a longtail keyword, or a keyword phrase, is a three or four word phrase that a potential customer would use to search for your product or service. Ask yourself “What does my audience search for when they search for my services?”
The easiest way to jumpstart this is to find what your competitors are ranking for. Google Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest are good tools for that. If you want to take a bigger dive, Neil Patel wrote an excellent article on ranking for the right SEO words.
Meta description. On your website, make sure your meta description (the part that shows up in the Google results description) contains the right keywords. And your page title and headings should be accurate, but it helps if they’re a keyword too.
For example, at a recent SEO marketing lecture I attended, the presenter, Brandon Leibowitz, owner of SEO Optimizers, noted how in Los Angeles, “SEO Agency” yielded more than four times as many searches per month than “SEO Company”. Obviously, you’re going to want to describe your business as an SEO Agency.
Title and headings. When the SEO machine indexes and organizes, it also takes into account your content titles as well as subheadings. When formatting your blog post, you’ll probably see this as your h1 and h2 header tags. So, as much of a fan of the front-page headlines of NY tabloids that I am, that kind of word play won’t help your SEO rankings. In general, try use your keyword phrases and make your article titles and subtopics obvious, and, if you can, personal and relatable to your audience… and below 60 characters. (All these annoying suggestions, I know!)
Two more things to keep in mind in regards to SEO.
Original Content. Google search engine rewards original content. And, it helps when that content contains some longtail keywords related to what you do. Google is always changing its SEO methods, but in general, when writing your articles if you bullet out your tips, you’re more likely to appear in the featured snippets area (the part that contains the most searched for questions related to your search topic with dropdowns that contain the answers) on Google’s first page.
Backlinks. I saved the best for last. A backlink is when your website or a page on your website is linked to by another website. Why would someone backlink to you? Because your content is providing value to their audience.
The easiest way to do this is to guest blog (or guest posting). If you can get two backlinks a month, you’re doing okay. If you can get five, you’re a rockstar. And, if you can get backlinks on big sites like Huffington Post, or niche industry websites – this helps proportionately more than a small website with fewer followers. Ahrefs backlink checker is a great tool to see what web pages are linking to your competition. Hint: you might want to introduce yourself to the owners of those web pages.
A word about…Word count. Currently the length of the ideal blog post is 1,890 words. While this is helpful intel, don’t get too hung up on it. Consistently putting out good content is the most important thing to do, especially if you’re just starting out. And, whatever you do, please don’t pad your words.
4) The Checklist Outline. All right, now that you’ve done all of the hard work – you’re ready to write! Not so fast.
While some may call this an outline, I actually think about it as a checklist first then that checklist is massaged into an Outline.
Writing is structure. When you nail the structure, which is borne from your Outline – at the worst – you should have a cogent piece.
You already have your throughline/theme, topics, and maybe even a couple of subtopics from your brainstorming session in Section 2.
Essentially, you’ve laid out your argument, now how are you going to frame it and then support it?
From here, I urge you to take 10 minutes and list what you want to emphasize and accomplish with your article – the salient points, the takeaways, the info that your target audience needs to know to do their job better.
I often start by asking myself: What needs to be here (to support my topic/argument)? Then, rearrange that list in an order that makes sense to you, so it flows logically.
When rearranging, an easy way to think about it is to place the purpose of your article at the top (like a title), put your supporting ideas below and within each supporting idea, bullet out the main points you have to hit to both support your subtopic and provide the tangible value to your target audience in order to drive your message home.
For the article you’re reading, my outline looked like this:
One more way to tackle structure.
Context is king. When you think about your article as an argument, how you lay out or “frame” your argument is crucial. The typical case study format is a tried and true formula for attacking your article. Note, you don’t have to label each section of your piece like a case study might, the below can be used simply as organizational tools:
You can even use the case study format as a way to organize your thoughts within the respective subtopics in your piece. But maybe the best thing about using this tool is that it naturally provides a narrative (story) structure to your writing, making it more accessible.
WRITING YOUR BLOG POST
So, you’ve done the hard work, you’ve laid out what you want to say, now write your piece.
Personally, I write out of order. Knocking off the subtopics that I can best speak to first. When I’m writing about these topics, I’m trying to support and/or prove my point(s) via my writing by giving context, points, counterpoints, and facts when necessary.
At this stage, let it rip.
Write whatever pops into your head and don’t look back. You’re the expert. Don’t be afraid to let your gut instincts guide you. You never know what you may have stored away in that brain of yours. And, please don’t censor yourself (easier said than done!). We’re just trying to get it all out there on the page. You're going to have to rewrite and proofread anyway. But that's a whole other post.
For now, take comfort with this often repeated quote attributed to a whole bunch of writers:
“I hate to write, but I love having written.”
There is a tremendous amount of content out there. You’re fighting for clicks, eyeballs, and attention. It may not always be easy or fun, but by defining your target audience and then consistently making decisions that create content that provides value to that audience, you’ll stand out from your competition, become a trusted resource, and build your personal brand along the way.