Writing effectively is as much an art as it is a science, and blog writing is no exception.
Having a blog can be a great way to connect with your audience and share your knowledge. It’s also a way to establish yourself as an expert in a particular area.
However, there are 10 MILLION POSTS published everyday. How do you stand out in that? How do you ensure you have exactly what your audience is looking for so that they stay on your site and don’t go elsewhere?
When I first started blogging, I had no idea what I was doing. Five years and several hundred posts later, I like to hope that I do.
The biggest thing I’ve come to learn is just how important the structure of your post is. Blog writing is a lot more like essay writing than it is writing fiction.
Don’t believe me?
How to structure a blog post
Have a clear introduction
Every blog post should have a clear introduction that maps out what your post is about. Some writers also include an anecdote or explain why they’re an authority on the topic.
Whether or not you start with a story will depend on your audience. Some people like it, others don’t. If you’re writing a guest post for someone, be sure to research the style their most successful/recent posts adopt. This will ensure you don’t waste your time writing a long introduction when they prefer 100 words.
Your intro is the place to make it clear why someone should keep reading. It’s valuable real estate.
So, when you start writing, ask yourself what problem you’re trying to solve for your reader. Focus on that one problem. For instance, this post is all about structuring a blog post. It doesn’t go into things like keyword research or promotion. It focuses on the content itself.
This is where doing your keyword research is particularly useful. Having a keyword keeps your post focused and ensures you’re less likely to digress. Extra points if the first mention of your keyword is in your first 100 words (title not included).
The average attention span in 2017 was just eight seconds. That means most people won’t have the attention span to read your post, no matter how much work you’ve put into it.
So how do you get their attention?
Headings allow users to skim your post and refer back to the points they’re most interested in. They should be enough to whet their appetite, nothing more. The longer you make your headings, the more difficult you make it for readers to skim read.
Subheadings can also be good places to fit in related keywords.
Your subheadings can also have subheadings, which can have even more subheadings. You can have a Russian doll of subheadings if you really want to, just be careful not to get too carried away.
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Keep paragraphs short
The shorter your paragraphs, the easier they are to skim read.
This is one of the main ways that blog writing, essay writing, and everything you’re taught in Creative Writing class differs.
Blog writing isn’t about making paragraphs as long as they need to be, it’s about breaking it up in appropriate places so that your readers find your post easy to digest.
Longer paragraphs, much like longer headings, make skim reading hard.
They also look awful on mobile. Google now indexes the mobile version of sites first, so if it looks bad on mobile, both its mobile and desktop rankings will suffer.
Write in plain English
Blog posts aren’t the place for purple prose and intricate metaphors.
The longer, more complicated your sentences are, the more difficult it is to retain your readers’ attention.
Keep it simple. Always.
This means one point per sentence.
It may also mean breaking the rules of grammar. For instance, using a full stop instead of a semi-colon or colon. I know, I know, it’s distressing. But reader experience should always come above grammatical constraints. Sorry.
Use your voice
This is something that a lot of people forget.
Yes, most things have been written about before.
But the USP of your content is you. It’s your voice, your opinions, and your experiences. Adding those into your content is what will help it to stand out.
Want to lean into your voice and write the best post ever? This post on how to write readable, engaging blog posts every time is just what you need.
Let it be the length it needs to be
Whenever people submit guest posts to me, they either ask me what the maximum word count is, or they apologise for it being too long.
The truth is, there’s no such thing as a post that’s too long. Search engines love longer content because they believe that it’s in more depth and therefore of more value to the reader.
Longer posts also keep people on your site for longer, which further helps with search engine rankings.
Some people feel uncomfortable explaining things that feel like they’re stating the obvious. For instance, if I were to write about the benefits of writing for mental health, then go into depth about what free writing is even though I’ve covered it before. But not everyone will have read that post, and not everyone coming to the new post will be familiar with free writing. Explaining it to them isn’t belabouring the point; it’s offering further value.
Don’t forget, no matter how loyal your readers are, most of them won’t read every post. Repeating an explanation of something isn’t going to put people off.
As we’ve already discussed, most people skim read content. That means if they already know what free writing is, they’ll just skip that part and move on to the next bit.
Use compelling imagery
Using imagery that ties in with your points breaks up your blog post and helps to keep your audience’s attention. Pretty images also catch someone’s eye as they scroll through and give them a reason to pause.
However, all images used in your post should relate to the contents of your post in some way.
Have a conclusion
Tie things up at the end with a conclusion summing up your points, much like you would in an essay.
Don’t use this as the time to bring in new points or reference your sources.
It may be the only part people read so that they can get the TL;DR version of your post, so make sure it wraps all your key points up nicely.
Have some sort of call to action at the end
You’ll notice on The Writer’s Cookbook I have an ‘over to you’ section where I suggest topics for further discussion. This is a simple call to action that sparks discussion. People are then more likely to return to the site if they get a notification that they’ve had a response to their comment, either from me or another writer.
Blogging is all very well and good, but why are you doing it? What do you want your readers to do in exchange for this titbit of information? Sign up to your mailing list? Leave a comment? Share your post?
Make sure the call to action at the end of your post is clear and direct.
Be sure to only include one call to action, too. The more you have, the less likely your reader is to take any action.
Before you start writing…
…it’s really beneficial to create a plan. It doesn’t need to be in-depth, it just needs to include all the key points you’re going to cover.
Doing this helps you to organise your thoughts so that when you put them on to the page they appear in a logical order. You can also include any research you’ve done in your plan so that you know what source fits where.
Your plan could look something like this:
- Introduction on what free writing is
- Writing without filter
- Reference dictionary?
- Subheading: benefits of free writing
- Help with chronic pain, mental health
- Reference Curable, Dr Sarno
- Subheading: how to start free writing
- Set a timer
- Be somewhere you’re comfortable
- Subheading: tips for a successful free writing practice
- Be somewhere comfortable
- Put some music on
- Pick a topic to write about
- Subheading: what to do if you’re struggling
- Don’t pressure yourself
- Don’t worry about sharing what you write with anyone
- Set a shorter time
- Try writing somewhere else
- Call to action
As you can see, this isn’t particularly in depth but it clearly lays out what the post will cover. And now I’m off to write said post ?
This plan/structure works whether you’re writing a how-to guide, a listicle, or a thought leadership piece.
It’s important to:
- Have an introduction that explains why they should read your post on the topic, not someone else’s
- Break it up using headings
- Keep paragraphs short
- Write in plain English. You’ll lose people if you try to be too clever
- Don’t be afraid to use your unique voice—that’s what will keep people reading!
- Save the purple prose and complicated metaphors for your epic fantasy or poetry
- Use images that tie in with—and back up—your arguments
- Wrap things up with a conclusion
- Have a call to action at the end, even if it’s just a link to your social media accounts
Blog writing is far more like writing essays than fiction. That doesn’t mean it has to be boring, though. Your post should have a clear structure that follows one train of thought and focuses on one topic.
It helps to plan out what you’re going to write before you start. This gives you a clear focus and stops you from going off on a tangent.
The most important thing to remember when writing content, though, is to write about something that you enjoy. If you’re writing about something that bores you senseless, this will come across and it will bore your readers too.
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Over to You
What ingredients do you think a great blog post needs? Which blogs do you think do a great job of this?
This post was originally published on 16 March 2017.