It’s difficult to know exactly how many blogs there are ‘out there’. Tumblr alone boasts 291 million, WordPress says it publishes 22.6 billion pages a month and Technorati reports that over 2 million blog posts are written every day. But how many of those are actually being read? And how do you make sure yours in among those that are?
The ease with which almost anyone can build and publish a blog has created an internet awash with teenage angst, racist rants and ‘how to’ guides on everything from recording music to building bombs.
There are, of course, thousands of hugely successful blogs with tens of thousands of followers. So how do they do it? How do you write a blog that people want to read?
1. Write about subjects your audience is interested in
While writing about your trek around the Himalayas might be of interest to friends and family, unless it’s absolutely brilliantly written (and packed with useful advice, hilarious anecdotes and original observations) few people outside your intimate circle will be interested.
Equally, writing a post about the creative team getting pissed at the D&AD awards has limited interest. Writing about how they came up with the idea for the winning campaign, on the other hand, will have curious creatives everywhere taking a sneaky peak.
So forget about telling people what you want them to know. Tell them stuff they want to find out about.
2. Find your angle
Having an interesting subject isn’t enough. You need a reason for writing about it, often referred to as the ‘hook’ or the ‘angle’.
Let’s say you run a recruitment agency. Clearly, you’re going to be writing about how to get a job and how to find people to fill vacancies. But beyond the obvious ‘how to write an effective CV’ and ‘10 things not to say at interviews’, you’re going to need a constant source of recruitment related stories.
So be the roving reporter. Go out and talk to people. What are they saying about your subject area? Read relevant media. Read other blogs. Look out for new facts, figures, trends and research. Find a topical link. Write about your own experiences. Have you found an easy way round a difficult problem? Do you agree or disagree with a popular or unpopular trend?
If you’re stuck for ideas, take a look at 101 blog post ideas, the ultimate list of blog post ideas or how to think up a year’s worth of blog posts topics in an hour.
3. Do the research – don't make it all about you
Too many blog posts are self-congratulatory. They talk about a new product or service. They say how delighted the MD is to have won such a fantastic bit of business. Or they tell you why a particular customer adores their products and services. (This last one is forgivable if it’s an honest account of how the company helped the customer overcome a genuine problem.)
The best blogs are informative. They might also be amusing, entertaining or even heart-tugging, but above all they tell the reader something useful.
Unless you have an endless supply of experts in your organisation, you’re probably going to have to do a bit of research.
This used to involve several trips to the library, setting up interviews with experts or carrying out tedious experiments. Nowadays, we can get pretty much everything we need from our smartphones.
But don’t limit your research to a couple of Wikipedia entries and an article you read in the Guardian Online. Read as much as you can about your subject (and your approach to it), write loads of notes, make an informed judgement and add a few thoughts of your own.
For more advice on planning your blog post, read How to write an awesome blog post in 5 easy steps and How to research blog posts: a step-by-step process.
4. Use the circular template to plan your content
While news stories and press releases follow the inverted pyramid outline (where you summarise the entire story at the beginning), blog posts, features and articles follow a more circular, narrative template.
This circular template is designed to encourage your reader to stay with you from start to finish, and make your content flow in a logical, easy to read style.
The beginning – making your reader want to read on.
This is where you appeal to curiosity, ask a question, put forward an argument, challenge conventional thinking or hint at good things to come.
With hardly a week going by without someone asking us to sponsor them, many of us are now feeling ‘charitied out’. So how then did Jim Peterson persuade his colleagues to raise over £5,000 for a children’s hospice in less than six months?
The middle – developing your idea.
Here you present your evidence, back up your argument, show your reader how to do something, emphasise your point or make your reader think differently.
Use bullet points, subheads or notes to plan what you’re going to say in each section.
- Organised trip to the hospice so people could see the work they do
- Persuaded local stores to donate prizes
- Offered prizes for best fundraising ideas
- Talk about the fundraising events, include interesting/funny anecdotes
- Divided up tasks so everyone could contribute something
- Kept the momentum up with weekly news bulletins
- Children coloured in giant rainbow each time a target was reached
The end – tying everything up nicely.
Having presented your findings, aired your thoughts and informed your reader, you now bring your story back to the beginning.
While the likes of ‘Just Giving’ have made it easy for us to donate money, it’s the willingness to give up some of our precious time that makes the real difference in fundraising. Holding out a bucket in the high street asks a lot more of a person than simply dropping a coin into it. So to all the Jim Petersons, strolling minstrels, cake bakers, gardeners, cleaners, babysitters and bucket holders out there, we salute you.
5. Write an effective headline
Even if you have a vast number of followers eagerly awaiting your latest post, every successful blog post needs an effective headline.
We’re bombarded with online information constantly so unless a headline attracts our attention and appeals to our interests, we’re unlikely to even notice it let alone click through and read the post.
Headlines also play an enormous part in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) so try to include relevant keywords in your title. By calling this post ‘How to write a blog post people actually want to read’, I give stand a better chance of it being found by people wanting to improve writing skills than if I’d called it ‘One born every minute’ or ‘Being heard in the digital age’.
You’ll find some ideas on how to create attention-grabbing headlines in my blog post 10 headlines we can’t resist.
6. Get to the point quickly
The internet’s a fickle place. Even with a brilliant headline, if you don’t grab people’s attention in the opening paragraph, they’re unlikely to read on and they’ll find what they’re looking for elsewhere.
Let’s say you sell linen tea towels and you want to use the Queen’s 90th birthday as a topical hook for a story on commemorative tea towels. You might be tempted to set the scene, present the back story and lead into your blog post with an introduction. Don’t.
How NOT to start a blog post
Love them or hate them, commemorative tea towels have been around since the 18th century and there’s no sign of their popularity waning. Tea Time Favourites have been making commemorative tea towels since the Coronation in 1953 and now, as we celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday, we take a look at the most popular commemorative tea towels of the past 60 years.
How to start a blog post
Who’s your favourite Royal lady? Diana, Kate or the Queen? To celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday, we look back at 50 years of commemorative tea towels and see which Royal is the most popular. The results might surprise you.
If you’re struggling to find a way to start your blog post, take a look at 7 great ways to start an article.
7. Write about useful stuff
Having come up with a great idea, a sound outline, a snappy headline and an opening that’s got your reader hooked, don’t go killing it by stuffing it full of junk.
Junk is stuff you can get anywhere. Junk is stuff nobody wants because everyone’s got it already. Junk is empty, clichéd statements that tell us nothing.
Useful stuff is advice, examples, facts, tips and techniques. Useful stuff is things we might pay for but are very happy to get for free.
For example, I sell copywriting and training services. So why am I writing a blog post on how to write a blog post? Aren’t I losing out on some copywriting or training business? Possibly. But I’m also demonstrating my expertise, creating a bit of trust and possibly even gaining some ambassadors for future business.
Both Hubspot and Moz sell marketing services but their blogs are jam packed with advice on marketing. By giving away loads of useful stuff, they attract a massive following of ambassadors, influencers and, possibly, future clients.
8. Make it easy on the eye
People don’t read well on screen. They scan, skim and look for bits that interest them. So do use visual tricks to make your writing easy on the eye.
- Keep words and sentences short. And break text up into lots of short paragraphs.
- Use subheads, bullet points and bold, CAPS and underlined text to draw attention to key points
- Include links so people can read more – if they want.
And there you have it. Of course, you still need to get your good work in front of your target audience but at least when you do, there’s a good chance they’ll read it.