Philosophers have long pondered: Can a blog be brilliant if no one reads it?
Regardless of your topic, it will help you tremendously to learn the basics of marketing and copywriting. It’s rare for a blog to succeed based solely on the quality of the writing. Instead, successful bloggers know how to structure and describe their posts so that they’re impossible not to click and read.
Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Write a Captivating Headline
Legendary ad-man David Ogilvy used to say that 5 times as many people read a headline as read the body text. In his words, “When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
“When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
Therefore, you must take the time to write a perfect title for your post. Here are some general tips:
- Use a vivid or strong adjective
(“How To Write an Irresistible Blog Post”)
- Create some urgency by using words like today, now, or instantly
(“3 Ways To Burn Fat Today”)
- Pique the reader’s curiosity
(“Don’t Make This Common Home-Buying Mistake”)
As a general rule, you should brainstorm 10 possible titles before picking one. Headlines are that important.
- Jon Morrow’s 52 Headline Hacks
- How To Write Magnetic Headlines
- How To Craft Post Titles that Draw Readers Into Your Blog
2. Lead With What’s Important
In the excellent book Made to Stick, the authors tell the story of Nora Ephron’s high school journalism teacher. He presented some facts to his students and told them to write the lead to the story:
As students sat in front of their manual typewriters, Ephron’s teacher announced the first assignment. They would write the lead of a newspaper story. The teacher reeled off the facts: “Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.”
The budding journalists sat at their typewriters and pecked away at the first lead of their careers. According to Ephron, she and most of the other students produced leads that reordered the facts and condensed them into a single sentence: “Governor Pat Brown, Margaret Mead, and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the Beverly Hills High School faculty Thursday in Sacramento … blah, blah, blah.”
The teacher collected the leads and scanned them rapidly. Then he laid them aside and paused for a moment.
Finally, he said, “The lead to the story is ‘There will be no school next Thursday.’”
In other words remember that your blog is for your readers. Get to the point quickly.
3. Promise an Outcome
So if you’re not supposed to write a flowery intro, what should you do?
Simple: tell your reader what she can expect if she reads the article. What will she learn? How will her life be different?
In general, I open with 1 or 2 sentences to introduce the reader to the topic. If I’m addressing a specific problem, I might point out what implications this problem has. But very quickly, I tell the reader what she’ll learn if she keeps reading. Then I get to the meat of the post.
As far as I’m concerned, introductions serve only one purpose: to hook the reader. To get her invested in reading the rest of the article. Sometimes you can use a bit of curiosity to do this, but you can always promise a result.
So you’ve managed to get the reader to click on your article and read through the intro. What can you do next to keep her interest?
4. Use Fascinating Subheads
A good blog article makes generous use of subheads. Subheads serve several purposes:
1. They break up a long article into shorter sections. The dreaded “wall of text” makes people throw up their arms and leave. Just like paragraphs break up sentences, subheads can break up blog articles into tidy chapters.
When your reader finishes a section and moves on to the next subhead, it’s like achieving a tiny little goal. That might sound ridiculous, but that’s exactly what’s going on in her brain. So not only do subheads improve readability, but they make reading more enjoyable.
2. They discourage the reader from skimming. Your blog is in a constant war against scanners: people who just skim an article trying to find the “important part.” But if you’re taking the time to write about it, it’s clearly important.
Fight the scanners by using subheads that pique the reader’s curiosity. Force them to read through the paragraphs to get the full context.
5. Make Your Blog a Sensory Experience
Words have the amazing power to persuade, but sometimes we underestimate just how strong they are. New research is showing that certain words activate different parts of the brain — even when compared to their synonyms.
In particular, sensory words light up the brain as if we’re actually experiencing them through the 5 senses. Here are some examples:
We need a bit more research to understand the effect of these words, but it’s reasonable to assume that they engage the brain more than boring and bland text. (Bland… see what I did there?)
But even more powerful than using the 5 senses is to use strong, emotional words — especially in your titles and subheads. Compare these words and think about which ones have a stronger emotional connotation:
- Upcoming vs. Looming
- Appealing vs. Intoxicating
- Difficult vs. Crushing
- Happy vs. Euphoric
Pay close attention to your word choices. When you really need to engage or persuade, find a emotional word that packs a punch
6. Tell a Story
Stories have the powerful ability to engage and persuade people. Not only do we remember stories more easily than facts and figures, but the brain is also more accepting and less critical of them.
When someone recites facts to you, your brain focuses on the semantic meaning of the words. But when you hear a story, the sensory and empathy centers of your brain light up. It’s like you’re experiencing it first hand. You begin to relate it to your own experiences, and it’s a much more engaging experience.
- The Science of Storytelling: What Telling a Story Does To Our Brains
- How We Got 300% More People To Read Our Content
7. Enhance The Experience With Pictures
Not only should you evoke the senses, but you can dial it up to “11” when you include pictures to illustrate your points. And when you focus on the senses, emotions, and stories, pictures will naturally be easy to find.
Here’s how I find the majority of my photos:
I visit Flickr and search for either a literal or metaphoric representation of my topic. Something that I know I’ll find pictures of. For instance, I found a blue bird when I wrote about Twitter and a “big fish” when I wrote about niches (i.e., big fish in a small pond).
Yes, this is going to require some creativity on your part. But as you get better at this, you’ll begin to delight your readers.
Once you see your search results, you need to do two things. First, go to the top menu and filter the License by Creative Commons. These are the photos you have automatic permission to re-use. (Click the images to embiggen)
Then, Sort these photos by Interesting. I tend to find better photos when I look for what’s “interesting” rather than “relevant.”
Next, download the photos you like and add them to your post. Be sure to credit the photographer. (I like to do it at the bottom of my article.)
8. Make It Practical
The purpose of a business blog isn’t to philosophize. It’s to educate your customer in a way that helps them solve their problem.
I tend to follow the “Why, What, How, What-If” model when blogging:
- Explain why the topic is important.
- Tell the reader what he’s about to learn.
- Explain how the reader can implement your idea.
- Describe what will happen to the reader if he does.
Of course, this isn’t an explicit structure you use; you just bake it in to your post and make sure you answer each of these questions at some point. I usually put the why and what in the introduction, make the how the meat of my article, and then put the what-if in the conclusion.
The final step focuses on writing in a way that’s compelling and easy to understand. A major reason people hate to blog is because they think they need to follow the rules they learned in high school.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
No one is grading you on whether you end your sentences with a proposition. People only care if you’re interesting or not.
Here are some tips for writing with clarity…
9. Write Like You Talk
Again, this issue arises because we think a teacher is going to pull out a red marker and tear apart our blog posts. It’s really tempting to channel your inner college professor when blogging. To use big words and long sentences to impress everyone.
Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect. People will just think you’re boring and pompous if you write like that, so cut it out.
Here are my 2 biggest tips for writing how you talk:
1. Use contractions.
This is how people people talk in regular conversation”
- They don’t say, “Do you not want ice cream? Let us go to the store!”
- They say, “Don’t you want ice cream? Let’s go to the store!”
This rule is simple but worth paying attention to.
2. Talk directly to the reader.
Use “You” and not “One” or “You guys.”
I also tend to use “We” when talking about human nature so it doesn’t sound like I’m accusing the reader of anything. For instance, “We don’t call our mother as often as we should.”
10. Break Up Your Long Paragraphs
As a general rule, I don’t let my paragraphs get longer than 4 lines. I start a new sentence whenever I complete a thought, and I start a new paragraph whenever I change topics.
Just like you need to use frequent subheads to improve readability, you need to use lots of paragraphs within each subhead. Otherwise, your writing turns into a wall of text.
11. Find a Rhythm
Alternate between short and long paragraphs, just like I’m doing in this article. If every paragraph is the same length, your writing gets boring and predictable.
Write a 1-sentence paragraph when you want to emphasize a point.
Read your writing out loud and notice when something doesn’t flow as well as it should. This is typically a problem with your rhythm. When this happens, decide whether you need to add a word or take one away. I often use pairs of adjectives together for this very reason.
12. Use Bullet Points
And lots of them. Whenever I need to list things, I’ll put them in bullet point form rather than listing them serially.
This is so critically important that I’m including this tip separately. But you’ll understand why you should do this in tip #13.
13. Treat Your Blog As a Canvas
You’ve probably noticed that I use bold text a lot. I use it when:
- I’m introducing a new term
- I’m comparing 2 items in the same paragraph
- I want to show that 2 items in the same paragraph actually go together
- I just want to emphasize a word or phrase
No doubt, this is another middle finger to your high school English teacher. But here’s why I do it:
Text, by its very nature, is a very linear form of communication. You read the words in order, and — if the writer knew what he was doing — you form a complete understanding once you’re done reading.
But this isn’t how humans learn. Some people like to say they’re “visual learners,” but that’s BS. We’re all visual learners.
Think of text as an obstacle that stands in way of getting what you want — whether it’s education or entertainment. People don’t want to read; they want the benefit of what they’re reading.
The benefit might be a good story. Or it might be an education. But — whatever you write — it’s your job to remove as much “friction” as possible from the reading process.
This means turning text into a visual medium as much as you can. Put things in bold. Use subheads. Make a bullet point list. Maybe even experiment with using a 2nd color.
Treat your blog as a canvas.
14. Write For an 8th Grader
No, not literally. But you do have to remember that you’re typically writing for a broad audience. Not everyone will speak English as a first language — nor can you assume that all your readers are well-educated.
The average person in the United States reads at an 8th grade level. So if you want your blog to have wide appeal, you need to make it easy to read. You do this by following the previous tips:
- Write like you talk
- Don’t use big words if you don’t need to
- Keep your sentences and paragraphs short and crisp
After you write a blog post, run it though this website to see its average reading level, according to several tests. If you score above an 8, take another look at the words you use. Then make sure your sentences aren’t too long. Make the appropriate changes, then run your post through it again.
This is a fairly comprehensive list of writing tips, but it’s not complete by any means. A lot of your skill as a writer will develop simply through practice — although I maintain that being conversational and telling a good story are two of the most important principles.
Bookmark this list and revisit it before publishing new posts. Your readers will thank you!