#1: Pick a Format
What kind of post are you writing? Is it a list? A How-To or Tutorial? A product review? Here’s a list of 12 types of blog posts from Social Media Examiner if you’re stuck. Whether you start with a point or pick a format and then decide what the point(s) will be, have a point and pick a format. Almost immediately, your posts will suck less.
#2: Have a Point
What’s the point of the post you’re writing? Can you state it simply? It feels like it shouldn’t need to be mentioned. But having reviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of blog posts that were pure jibberish, it bears repeating.
Have a point. If you can state that point in a single sentence, even better.
For example, the point of this post is to help you write better blog posts.
#3: Have a Perspective
The world doesn’t need more sterile 400-word blog posts. Use your experience, expertise, or opinion and add some perspective to your blog posts. This can be in the form of mistakes to avoid, debunking of popular misconceptions, or the occasional rant. Adding your perspective to your blog posts will help you develop your voice.
#4: Write a First Draft. Go Away. Come Back and Edit.
If I had to venture a guess, I would imagine that 80% of all blog posts published every day are a first draft. They’re never edited or re-written. Take the time to crank out a first draft. Then go away for a day if it’s possible. Come back to the post and read it with a fresh set of eyes. Print out a copy and mark edits in a different color ink. Remove unnecessary words. Tighten up the language. Read it out loud. Does it make sense? If you take the extra time to do this one thing, your posts will be better than a huge chunk of the garbage floating around the internet.
#5: Have an Audience in Mind Before You Start Writing
If you know who you’re talking to, your posts are less likely to fall flat. What I’m talking about is commonly referred to as a buyer persona. Kevan Lee from Buffer goes into great detail in Buffer’s Beginner’s Guide To Marketing Personas. It’s worth reading, bookmarking and re-reading whenever you’re stuck trying to decide who you’re writing content for.
#6: Write for Humans. Not for Search Engines.
The goal of your blog writing should be to connect with readers. This won’t happen if you’re stuffing your writing full of keywords.
If you’re going to think about search engines and keyword volume of a specific phrase, spend an equal amount of time thinking about the intent of the person searching. What questions are they trying to answer? Once they’ve answered that question, what else might they want to know?
#7: Use Active Voice. Not Passive Voice.
If you’re unsure of the difference between active and passive voice, here’s a refresher. In the active voice, the sentence’s subject performs the action.
Active voice example: The dog ate the bone.
Passive voice example: The bone was eaten by the dog.
Here’s a more in-depth explanation from Grammar Girl.
If you’re using WordPress and a free plugin like Yoast SEO, click the readability panel and the tool will tell you what percentage of sentences in your post are using the passive voice. It’s a good idea to go back through your post before you publish and change as many passive voice sentences to active voice as you can. If you’ve got more than 10% of your sentences using the passive voice, the Yoast tool will give you a warning to reduce the amount of passive voice sentences.
#8: Break Up Long Paragraphs.
A paragraph should have a single topic stated clearly in one of the first sentences in the paragraph. The following sentences should expand on ideas related to the topic sentence. The last sentence of the paragraph should reference the original topic or state some important conclusion related to the topic sentence.
If you’re using the Yoast SEO tool, any sentences longer than 150 words will trigger a warning. While you’re editing, make sure any longer sentences are discussing a single topic. If you’ve crammed a couple different topics into one sentence, consider breaking up the paragraph. Or remove anything that doesn’t need to be in there.
Shorter paragraphs tend to help with readability.
#9: Use Subheadings and Images.
Subheadings and images can also break up large blocks of text and help with readability. It’s also a great way to organize your thoughts. Try writing your headline and your subheadings first. Use these as the skeleton for your blog post and fill in the details accordingly.
#10: Be Careful with Your Font Sizes.
Tweaking your font sizes slightly can make a huge difference in readability. Especially on mobile devices.
If your content is difficult to read, people won’t read it.
Smashing Magazine suggests a minimum of 16px font.
#11: Avoid Overused Phrases.
Don’t use cliches in your writing. And avoid industry jargon. At best, it tends to add very little value to what you’re trying to say. At worst, it’ll turn off your reader and you’ll lose them.
Here are a couple of resources with overused phrases to help in your editing:
- 51 Overused Adverbs, Nouns, and Cliches
- Oxford Dictionary’s Avoiding Cliches
- Be A Better Writer’s Massive List of 681 Cliches To Avoid In Your Creative Writing
#12: Use Definite, Specific, Concrete Langauge.
This tip comes straight out of William Strunk, Jr.’s The Elements fo Style.
“Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract.”
Which of the following sentences is better?
1. A period of unfavorable weather set in.
2. It rained every day for a week.
In Strunk’s words, “If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on any one point, it is on this, that the surest method of arousing and holding the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite, and concrete.”
Look for sentences where your writing could be more specific. And rewrite them.
#13: Do Your Research.
We have an amazing advantage that writers didn’t have access to 15 years ago. It’s called Google.
If you’ve got an idea for a blog post, a headline, some smart subheadings and some images that will drive home your point, the skeleton for your post is ready. Head over to Google and type in the phrase that you’re targeting. What’s ranking on the first page of Google results for your query? What types of headlines are the top three results using? What can you learn from what Google think’s a searcher’s intent is given the top three results? What do the posts do well? Where are they falling short? Can you borrow ideas that are being used in these posts? Can you expand on these ideas and dive even deeper?
There’s a rush to push publish these days and the results show that there’s more shallow content than ever before. Set yourself apart by doing research, diving deeper on subjects worthy of a deep dive and putting in the extra work.
#14: Steal Ideas From Better Writers.
There’s a well-known quote that goes something like this:
“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
It’s been said a variety of different ways over the years and attributed to a number of different people. Who said it first doesn’t really matter. If you’re undertaking any sort of creative endeavor, you’re likely to find what Ira Glass describes as a gap between your killer taste and what you’re actually able to create.
In this phase, amateurs can improve the quality of their writing by finding worthwhile people to copy or steal from.
I’m not suggesting that you plagiarize. And this is applicable to skills outside of writing blog posts.
I’m suggesting that if you’re learning how to play guitar, you copy licks from guitarists you admire. Practice those licks over and over again. Break them into their component parts. Reassemble them. Soon you’ll be able to use the phrases as if they were your own. Move on to more difficult licks from other guitarists and repeat the process.
If you’re learning how to draw, find an artist whose style you like and try to recreate a piece you admire. Break the piece down into it’s most simple elements. Practice those elements until they become second nature. Try piecing those elements back together in different combinations. Soon you’ll be able to incorporate elements into your own compositions. Move onto more difficult elements and repeat the process.
Find an author or writer whose content you enjoy reading. Dissect what they’re doing. Pay attention to the language that they’re using. How do they write their headlines? What are they doing with their subheadings and their use of images? How are they crafting their social media posts? I find tons of value in posts by marketers like Neil Patel(How To Write A 2000-Word Blog Post In 2 Hours) and Larry Kim (11 Amazing Hacks To Boost Your Organic Click Through Rates).
#15: Omit Needless Words.
Editing helps you remove needless words. It’s one of the most crucial reasons to not hit publish on a first draft.
If you work on a team, having someone else review your writing can help.
If you’re editing your own writing, see tip number 4.
If you find someone who can copy edit your blog posts for you, even better.
If you want someone to copy edit your posts and optimize them for search engines, send me a message.
#16: Read More.
If you’re serious about wanting to write better blog posts, read more. And read books.
Here are a bunch of my favorites for various levels of writers that are worth reading multiple times. If you enjoyed this post and you’re thinking about snagging one of these books, follow one of the Amazon links and you’ll be enabling my unsustainable reading habit.