Let’s just put it all out on the table, shall we?
- Search results are now considered more trustworthy than traditional media as a source of news and information
- 74% of customers prefer to get to know a brand through articles rather than advertising
- A mere 25% of consumers indicate their interest to a brand or vendor early in the sales process
There’s plenty more where that came from, but these three facts alone should be enough to convince you that content marketing is worth your time!
Of all the content marketing strategies out there, one of the easiest and most effective is blogging. And if you’re one of the numerous professionals who have convinced themselves that writing—and by extension, blogging—just isn’t in their wheelhouse, this one’s for you!
Below you’ll find an easy breakdown of what it takes to turn out a good blog post:
Exhibit A: Topic Selection
When you’re brainstorming topics, there’s a few important questions to consider:
1. What's trending?
If you aren’t already tuned in to what your audience, industry news sources and competitors are talking about online, get on it! Also take note of what you’re hearing in conversations with clients and colleagues. Finding a way to hook into something that’s already a hot topic is the easiest path to a big traffic pay-off.
2. What's my angle?
It’s likely you’ll have more than one answer to this question at any given time, but as you’re thinking about what it is you’re trying to promote, try to focus on one key objective at a time (general awareness for an upcoming event, registration for a particular session, a big-name speaker, establishing industry expertise, etc.).
3. What do I know about my audience?
Here’s the perfect opportunity to use all that juicy data you’re collecting (which is a topic for another day)!
4. How can we add value?
This is the final and most important thing to consider when you’re trying to choose a topic. If you weigh in on an issue or subject matter that is irrelevant to your objectives and/or your audience, at best, it’s a waste of your time and theirs. At worst, you sabotage your future ability to be noticed or taken seriously by the very people you’re trying to reach.
Exhibit B: Plan of Attack
So now that you know what you’re writing about, it’s time to figure out your “process.”
According to me, the world can be divided into two kinds of writers: reporters and columnists. A reporter will start by seeking out expert sources and research that will determine how the story is shaped. A columnist starts by deciding how they want the story to be shaped and then goes looking for experts and research to support that narrative. Which kind of writer you are is ultimately a question of how much control you’re comfortable giving up. Think about what fits you best and start there.
Editors Note: If you have either of these actual jobs, your preferred process is irrelevant. No one’s rationalizing media bias here!
Exhibit C: Add Substance
Unlike news, it’s totally fine to have a point of view in a blog post. In fact, if you’re writing on behalf of a company or brand, it’s a good idea to make that clear. However, just because it’s not The New York Times doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to incorporate information from at least one expert source, as well as, any credible facts and figures you can dig up.
Avoiding language and topics that are overly sales-y or self-serving and keeping product mentions/links to a minimum will also go a long way toward establishing yourself and your content as a valuable source of information for your audience.
Exhibit D: Write Smart
As you write, think about the “F Shape:”
Seen above, eye-tracking studies have shown that the dominant reading pattern on the web loosely follows the shape of an “F.”
People start at the top (shocking, right?) and move horizontally to form the top bar of the “F.” Next, they move down the page a bit and read across horizontally again, but less so than they did at the top of the screen. Finally, they scan quickly down the left side of the page, vertically.
The takeaways here are that you need to start strong and use eye candy if you want people to read your content. In terms of web copy, eye candy translates to photos, videos, bullet lists, bolded phrases, links, etc. Anything you can do to break things up visually is good (within reason).
Exhibit D: Write Smart +
I could write a whole separate post (or blog) on SEO, but all you really need to know for our purposes here, is this: Never sacrifice readability for SEO. If first priority has been given to SEO, it shows –and not in a good way. Keyword usage at any cost won’t get you anywhere with the search engines anymore anyway. So, resist the urge!
Here’s some high-level things to keep in mind:
- Focus on 1-2 keywords per post
Use your primary keyword once in the title, 1-2 additional times in the body, in the URL string for the post, once in the meta description and never in the meta keywords field (best case scenario: it’s useless. Worst case: there’s evidence that suggests some of the search engines use anything here as a spam indicator).
- Use images
Content with visuals gets 94% more total views and is now 40 times more likely to be shared on social networks. Search engines also like them. Include keyword(s) in alt tags and captions to get the most bang for your buck.
- Aim for a word count between 300-1500 words
This is not a hard and fast rule and not every single post needs to be a book, but if you have the substance to warrant something a little longer, go for it.
Exhibit E: Headlines Are a Big Deal
We all like to tell ourselves that our fabulous writing is the real draw, but don’t be fooled. The headline is the most important part.
Your headline is often the only shot you have at getting people (and search engines) to actually notice your post. It’s the pitch, so you’ve got to make it good.
Here’s a few tips to help you nail it:
- Make it fun
- Don't oversell
Hubspot thinks the cardinal rule of headlines is to respect the reader experience. And I agree. As they note, if you set high expectations and then fail to deliver, you lose readers’ trust. Better to be accurate about your topic and how good or exclusive your info is, even it’s not quite as sexy as you’d like.
- Keep it short
File this one under “duh.” But you’d be surprised how quickly you can convince yourself that your Shakespeare length headline is ok because “it’s just so good!” Keep titles to less than 65 characters if you’re thinking SEO and 117 or less for Twitter (minus the 22 you need for the link and a space).
- Think about SEO
Same rules about SEO apply to the headline. Don’t sacrifice readability or appeal for it. If it makes sense and reads well, try to squeeze your primary keyword in there (preferably at the beginning).
Here’s a few examples of blog titles that work well.
That’s All Folks!