People start blogging for any number or reasons. Maybe they want to express their thoughts and be creative, or maybe they need to promote their business. Maybe you have been tasked by your boss to write a blog about your area of expertise. Whatever the reason it is always best to take some time and do it right.
So where do you start? What do you need to know? How do you get people to read your blog?
These are all good questions. Before you get overwhelmed and stymied by writer’s block, let’s start with the basics. The A*B*Cs if you will.
A is for Audience
If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times: Always start with your audience in mind.
Unless you are publishing a journal, anything you write is for an audience. If you want that audience to read what you write, you must consider them—before you start writing. Who are they? How many people would be in your target market? Are there subsets of this market?
You obviously have some insight to share, but will it be of interest to your readers? Do a little research, even an informal market research survey of clients and colleagues. Ask them just a few questions:
- What keeps you up at night?
- What do you know about [your area of expertise or industry]?
- What problems never seem to get resolved?
If you take a little time to understand the interests and problems of your target audience, you will be well on your way to success.
B is for Brainstorming
Once you have done your homework, you can start thinking about what you want to write. I always recommend you start with a list of 10-15 topics. At least some of these should address the questions and concerns of your target audience. These topics do not have to be individual blog posts, but they can be. Take some time with your list of 10-15. Are there some that can be consolidated? Are there others that are too broad and need to be broken down into multiple posts?
A quick note on brainstorming: Suspend your judgement! To be effective, brainstorming needs to be devoid of criticism.
Put your inner editor on mute and let the ideas flow.
Don’t spend a lot of time on brainstorming. Just get a list of topics together and then figure out how you’d like to approach each one. I encourage a little variety. Here are a few possibilities:
- Explain how you would approach a specific problem
- Teach your audience how to accomplish a small technical task
- Explain a complicated issue in a simple, easy-to-understand language
- Present and analyze recent research results
- Interview an expert
- Comment on a breaking story and provide your perspective
- Take a controversial or non-intuitive stance on a topic
- Write a case study
- Offer practical tips or advice
- Break a larger problem into more manageable bites
- Review a book, article, or product
- Analyze how recent regulatory or legislative changes might affect your industry
- Take a look back at the year (or decade) or foretell the future
There is no end to possibilities! And there is nothing keeping you from approaching the same topic in different ways.
The end result of your brainstorming should be a calendar of working headlines.
For example, if I want to write a business blog highlighting my expertise in the modeling and simulation (with a focus on agent-based models) I might come up with the following calendar for a 1-month weekly blog effort:
Week 1. What is Modeling and Simulation? (a brief look into the fundamentals of modern M&S)
Week 2. A review of Agent-Based Modeling for Dummies
Week 3. The top 10 reasons to use modeling to support key decision making.
Week 4. Company X: The perils of ignoring predictive model.
C is for Content
Now you are ready to write. But it takes more than just stringing a few words together.
1. Gather Information
Writing posts can be tedious, but you don’t always have to start from scratch. If you’ve already covered an issue in other contexts, consider new ways to frame the content you’ve already developed. This could be past research, past presentations, internal case studies—anything that will help you as you write. Remember to back up quotes, statistics and other facts with outside references. Pull together these links and references now, so you don’t have to interrupt the writing process.
2. Make an Outline
Make a list of the key points you want to make in your post. Then start organizing this list into a rough outline. And populate the outline with some of the raw information you already gathered. Be sure to consider how the narrative should flow. You don’t want to lose your readers.
Pull out your outline and start writing your first draft. Try to use examples and other evidence to support your points.
Take your time, but don’t try for perfection.
4. Edit and Format
Now is the time for perfection.
Once you have a draft, take some time away from it. A day is preferable, but an hour works too . When you step away you come back with a fresh perspective, and you’ll see the holes and flaws. Remember, it will be somebody’s first impression of you and your firm, so take a extra care to avoid embarrassing mistakes.
If you can, ask a colleague to read the post. It is good to get an outsider’s perspective before you publish.
To make the post more readable, use of lists, bullets, and subheads. Even better, use images, tables, and charts—but only if they help illustrate your points. These breaks in narrative will make your piece appealing and easier to scan and read.
5. Craft Your Headline
Let’s turn our attention back to your working headline and finalize it. Spend a little time on this, because most readers won’t get past your headline. You need something to draw them in.
Here are a few basic guidelines:
- Straightforward is usually better than a clever
- Clearly state any benefit
- Stick to a tried-and-true blog formula—
- Number (Three ways to…)
- A “How to” (“How to Win Friends and Influence People”)
- A question (“Are you losing money to cyber-snoopers?”).
- Keep the ideas simple and bite-sized.
- If you are working with a keyword or phrase, be sure to include it. (I’ll offer more advice on keywords in a later WftW post.)
6. Add a Call to Action
A call to action is a critical finishing touch. It gives prospects another way to engage (even if that is just reading more content). Here are a few examples:
- Links to other related blog posts
- A relevant piece of downloadable content (a brochure, guide, white report, etc.)
- A free consultation
- A webinar (free or paid)
- Registration to an upcoming event.
Just try not to sound too promotional.
7. Optimize for Search Engines
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a BIG topic, so I won’t go into detail here. The thing to remember is that SEO helps the search engines find and index your post. That way it can reach that all important audience. Here are just a few optimization suggestions:
- Identify and incorporate keywords into your headline and 2–3 times in the body of the post.
- Add links to other related content in your blog or on your website. If you mention a topic you have previously written a blog post on, link to it.
- Write a meta description, the short summary of the post that will appear in search results. (Your blog platform will have a place to add this.) Limit it to about 150 characters. This is another opportunity to encourage readers to click through and read.
So there you have it. Follow these ABCs and you are well on your way to blog fame and fortune.
For a more in-depth discussion on Audience read My No. 1 Rule.
Questions? Need more guidance or help getting started with a blog? Send me an email. I am happy to help.