Before you even begin typing you should know as much as you can about who you’re talking to. Where are they from? What are their socioeconomic circumstances? Why are they at your blog? What education level do they have and what language are they comfortable with? What references and jargon will they understand?
1. Know Your Audience
If you’re selling a specific product or service, existing market research can tell you a lot about your target demographic. If you’re speaking to a more general or mixed audience, it’s okay to not have a perfect picture at the outset – you can use a combination of comments, social media shares, linkbacks to your posts, tools like Google Analytics and information provided by subscribers to your email list to gradually get a bead on the characteristics of people that are drawn to your content. Never go into writing a blog post without data mining.
2. Grab The Reader’s Attention Right Away
The title and opening paragraph of a post are the most important points. You want a concise and readable title that quickly communicates what the post is about but yet still has an interesting hook to initially draw the reader’s eye. The first paragraph should be short and convey an overview of the most important information and immediately establish what readers can expect to find in the rest of the post. The title is extremely significant for your SEO efforts, and is one of the most important deciding factors for rankings.
Take a cue from journalistic style here – the format commonly used in newspapers and magazines is called the “inverted pyramid” because the most important and substantial information comes in the first paragraph with the remaining body of the article gradually fleshing out the less important details. A blog post doesn’t have to be as dry and just-the-facts as an objective news article, but the basic structure and formatting are time-tested and worth copying as a base for your posts.
3. Break Down The Walls Of Text
Nothing turns a prospective reader off like a long, dense paragraph. This formatting is appropriate for academic writing and detailed technical or science writing but it’s terrible for most types of blogs. Established readers may tolerate this but new traffic quickly scanning the post for relevance will just move on to the next search result. High bounce rates aren’t good for your rankings.
Always break paragraphs up into smaller paragraphs wherever it is appropriate to do so. If you don’t have a good “feel” for this, consider hiring an editor who can do it for you a few times and help you get a sense of how paragraphs should be spaced. A general rule of thumb is to not let a paragraph go on for more than 200 words at most (and 100 or so is really a better limit if it can be helped.)
Other techniques for breaking up long and monotous walls of text include bulleted lists, captioned images, charts, and possibly moving less relevant (but still useful) information over to a sidebar.
4. Help Search Engines Help You
Take a minute to understand how search engines like Google find and index your site and posts. The automated algorithms of the search spiders that crawl your site use things like meta descriptions, tags, and anchor text on links and images to figure out what it is you’re talking about and file it for ranking appropriately. Use brief but descriptive text that gets to the heart of what your content is about and dovetails with the type of traffic you are looking to get.
The content of pages you link to also tell search engines what your page is about. Be careful about using links, as the reputation of the sites you link to can actually help or hurt your own search engine ranking. Linking to sites of ill repute or topics that aren’t relevant to what the search engine perceives as your central topics can push you further down the results for your target terms.
5. Mind Your Mobile Users
According to a 2013 Pew Research study, over half of the adults in the United States own a smartphone and over a third own a tablet. About 15% of all internet users worldwide now primarily go online with a mobile device. These numbers are only going to increase. Are your posts friendly to your mobile visitors?
Ideally your blog is formatted so that it looks good and is fully accessible on both desktops and laptops as well as tablets and phones. But sometimes that’s not possible, especially if your blog uses software like Flash that isn’t always available on mobile devices. Test your blog out with a phone and a tablet to ensure it looks clean and is fully functional. If you can’t make it fully functional on mobile devices, consider adding a mobile version with a prominent link to it near the top of the front page.
6. Use A Call To Action
If your blog is selling a service or product, you’ll definitely want a call to action to convert readers to sales. But a call to action is also useful in simply getting users to follow you on social media, “upvote” you, share your posts or subscribe to a mailing list.
Calls to action can come at the end of a post, but they can also float elsewhere in the blog – on the sidebar, in headers or footers, or even between posts. Appropriate placement and formatting will vary depending on the layout of your site. However, there are some general tips that apply under any circumstances. There should be significant “white space” around the call to action so it does not get lost in the clutter. An alternate color and larger-than-usual font size helps to contrast it from the rest of your text.
7. Shoot For Evergreen
The term “Evergreen content” means content that continues to be useful to the reader for years to come (and ideally forever.) Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid giving a post a shelf life, such as when you’re addressing a news item. When you can, however, keep an eye toward making the post as timeless as possible. One way to do this is to avoid mentioning relative dates – for example, instead of saying “last year” or “last month” write out the specific month or year instead.
8. Check Your References
It’s easy to be lazy with references on the internet since people rarely (if ever) check them. It’s even easier to be lazy with references on blogs since they aren’t perceived as being an “objective” a format as a traditional news source. Reader trust is hard to earn and easy to lose, however, and passing off misinformation from a bad reference as fact can really blow up in your face.
If you’ve been to school in the last decade or so this should be ground into your head already, but don’t rely on sites like Wikipedia for references. As authoritative as information on those sites might sound, actually checking the footnote link often leads to a document that’s missing, irrelevant or hidden behind a paywall so that you can’t verify the article’s claim. Again, borrow techniques from traditional journalism here – don’t publish information that you can’t verify yourself from at least two direct sources.
9. Use Social Media To Full Advantage
The perfect post is no good if nobody ever reads it! Updating multiple social media accounts every time you create a new post or update something might sound like a major pain, but it is vital in today’s web world. You can’t rely on readers to come to you to check out your blog daily – they’re more likely to expect you to come to them through social media when you want their attention.
There are tools like Hootsuite that make this job easier by updating all of your social media accounts simultaneously with one simple announcement. You can also schedule announcements ahead of time. Clickable widgets for all the social media platforms you use should also be prominent and visible on your blog’s landing page as well as at the end of posts.
If that isn’t enough enticement to use social media, it’s also a valuable analytical tool to track who is sharing your posts and what your most popular content topics are.
10. Invest In Good Design
Stock WordPress and Blogger templates won’t necessarily doom a blog to obscurity but they certainly don’t help your case at all. A reader’s eyes are likely to glaze over if your blog and posts look too much like everything else out there. If you’re not capable of creating a unique and eye-catching design for your blog consider hiring someone to do so as a small investment in your future success.