The ultimate guide to turning a good idea into a great blog post
Mar. 10, 2016
How many people read the first 50 posts I published eons ago? One—me. My problem was that I was writing for me, not for my audience. People would click in and click out. My bounce rate and time-on-page were ghastly. My ego was crushed.
Those first 50 were my training wheels. Want to write your ideas the right way, right now? Want to stop tottering around and start raking in a solid readership? Learn from someone who’s done it the hard way and wants you to do better—me.
To make that happen, we’re going old school. There aren’t any tricks in this post, so if that’s what you’re looking for, move on. This post is about turning good blog ideas into well-executed blog posts with great writing—and you don’t have to be a professional writer to do it.
If you want your readers to stop skimming your content and starting soaking up every word, you need to hook ‘em fast and hook ‘em hard. Is it easy? Hell, no. But it’s worth it. Why? Because a brilliant blog post idea can score you loyal subscribers, paying clients, and word-of-mouth rep that can’t be bought—but only if you execute it well. There are three keys to keeping them reading past the first paragraph:
There are three things that captivate human attention better than anything else: stories, statistics, and questions. The fine print on this trio is that they all have to be relevant and interesting. You can’t tell any old story. You can’t throw out a number that’s been trotted out so many times, it’s coming up lame. You can’t ask a question they already know the answer to.
You need to pique their curiosity so that they want to know what comes next. How did you manage to turn a crazy inquiry into a repeat customer? What do the 3 percent of projects that earn $1 million have in common? How is my client onboarding process killing my chance of getting referral business?
To come up with truly inspired introductions, start with the first thing that comes to mind. This is your basis. Now consider the most interesting element of this thing. What’s the punch line? Where’s the twist? Tease out that element and make it the star of your introduction.
My college roommate has a goldfish brain. She’s smart, don’t get me wrong, but she’s the most easily distracted person I’ve ever met. So is your audience. They’re like kittens, and their 13 other open tabs are like crinkly paper balls they want to chase. Don’t give those naughty kittens any more balls to chase, guys. Keep them focused on the task at hand, which, with your intro, isn’t learning more about you or checking out your product list or subscribing to your newsletter. The one task at hand is reading your blog post.
Encourage them to keep reading by getting rid of extraneous distractions. Eliminate your sidebar (or cut down on the noise). Save off-page links for later in the post. Hold off on calls to action, subscription sign-ups, and product or service offers until the end of a relevant section or the end of the entire post.
Rambling feels good only to the writer. I know it feels good because I do it (apologies!). Your business blog isn’t for you though, it’s for your audience, and they don’t have time to hang in there while you meander your way to the point.
Get to it, fast. You don’t have to do it in the first draft. Edit yourself viciously if you must. Just do it.
When I ask my clients who their favorite bloggers are, they give me the same names over and over again. I get it—I love reading those blogs for the same reason you love reading those blogs: the content is so damn good. It’s thorough. It’s deep. It’s generous. It’s free. It’s honest. It’s personable. It’s relevant. And most importantly of all, it’s everything. When I read a great blog post, I don’t have to keep Googling for answers because that one post offered ‘em all up in one big bite.
You can be known for that kind of quality blog content, too. Here’s how.
Once upon a time, homepages were a thing. People went to the homepage first, then went to a blog, then started reading. Now, thanks to social media and search engines, people enter websites on every single page. That’s good for traffic but bad for control.
To counter that, you have to assume that the reader of one of your blog posts hasn’t read anything else you’ve written. In terms of you and your topic, they’re newborns. They’re aliens. They don’t have a clue what’s going on, so you’ve got to start at ground zero and teach up from there.
An easy way to do that is by pulling out the old journalism standby, 5W+H, or who, what, where, when, why, and how. These basic questions help newbies figure out if this is content that’s relevant to them. If it is, they’ll keep reading. If it’s not, they’re not your target audience and you can both move on knowing that you’ve done your job well.
Question: How do you teach from the bottom without alienating your long-time readers? By using every tool in the hierarchical formatting book. Your subscribers won’t be annoyed that you’re repeating knowledge they already know unless you make it hard for them to get to the new, good stuff.
I know you’ve been there because I have, too. You know, the scrolling and the scrolling and the squinting and the skimming and the scrolling until you finally give up because you can’t for the life of you figure out how deep the author has buried the lede.
No more of that, OK? I want you to start using your header tags and your formatting capabilities to differentiate each section of your blog post. Create subheadlines. Use bullet points and bold and underline. Use H2 and H3 tags—Google loves them. Then, preview your post and make sure it looks good both on a desktop web app and on your smartphone. To make your loyal readers really happy, pick a style and stick with it.
If you’re a pantser—that’s fiction-writing lingo for “writing by the seat of your pants”—chances are you’re leaving holes in your content. We do this for two reasons: one, because we get caught up in what we’re writing, and two, because we don’t know the answer so we just hope readers don’t notice.
Trust me, they notice, and when they do, they go hunting for other bloggers who are more thorough in their posts. To be the blogger who is known for leaving no stone unturned, I want you to give outlining a try. I know, yawn. Hang in there with me, OK?
Stow your pantsiness in the corner and focus on your content’s structure. Hit the biggies: subheadlines first, then each point you want to make in each section. Give your outlines time to percolate. Step away, do something else, then come back, read it over, and think about anything else you might have missed.
The essential question: Where are the holes? Another: What else will my readers want to know about this topic? Plot out how you’ll answer those questions—and what to do if you yourself don’t actually know how to answer them.
I’ve been called a know-it-all, but it’s not true. I don’t know everything about writing or blogging or marketing or small business, and I don’t pretend to. When you do that, you get caught, and then you look like a phony and a loser. Instead, I point to the people and the resources that fill in my knowledge gaps—and you should, too.
Why? Linking out to other industry experts makes you look generous and honest, two characteristics that customers today demand from their service providers. It also saves you time, because you don’t have to create your own posts and pages when someone else has already done it well, and energy, because you don’t have to become a subject matter expert in every niche.
It does other things—like help establish industry relationships and improve your site’s SEO—but what I like most about linking out to other me-approved resources is that it fleshes out my readers’ knowledge of whatever subject I’m writing about. I don’t want you to have to turn to Google to answer a question that I haven’t answered for you. If you do that, you leave dissatisfied. And just like the manager at the Firestone around the corner, I want you to have the best experience possible.
Call me spoiled, but when I receive a wrapped-up present without a ribbon, I’m not admiring the neatly taped corners, I’m wondering where my bow went. I’m not going to tell the gifter that—that’d be rude—but to me, a gift with a ribbon feels like somebody gave up after putting in oodles of hard work.
Now, no one is going to mention your missing conclusion (or your gift’s missing bow) unless you have an editor (or Mom looking over your shoulder). That doesn’t mean your audience doesn’t realize something’s missing. When we leave off conclusions, a blog post’s building momentum dissipates in a snap. Readers wonder if they’re missing something, or if a paragraph or two were eaten by code. Most importantly, though, readers are left with no clear message of what they ought to do next. That, my friends, is a missed opportunity.
It doesn’t have to be long. In this post, for example, we discussed how to take a good idea and transform it into a well-written blog post from beginning to end. Why? Because blogging is content that lasts. Unlike a Facebook post, which has the lifespan of a day or two, a blog post remains relevant for years. The time you spend on blog posts now pays dividends down the line.
See what I did there? A tidy conclusion in just a few sentences is satisfying. Now, it’s time to write.
P.S. Here are the best creative business blogs and content providers out there, according to you (and me!)
By Regina. You’ll want to take notes and bookmark these overloaded blog posts.
The Nectar Collective. Sign up for Melyssa’s free content library now.
Being Boss. Head to iTunes and subscribe to this weekly podcast from Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson.
Kimra Luna. Kimra’s Facebook group is a trove of marketing and product launch knowledge.