Today I came across an article online about how to write a better blog post. I wasn’t too impressed with it, though – the language and syntax was a bit off, like using “4th step” instead of the more common “Step 4”, and the line “I advice using simple words on your posts, all articles in my blog are written in simple English.” I mean, seriously, that’s got three things wrong with it in advice about grammar. (“I advice” should be “I advise”, it should be two sentences with a full stop where the comma is, and there are two spaces instead of one between “articles” and “in”.)
And then at the end the conclusion had nothing to do with what the rest of the post had to say; it should really have been a ninth point, rather than a conclusion.
Anyway, it kind of annoyed me. And I know it’s probably some guy in India who got paid US$8 for writing it and thus the author and/or site owner isn’t interested so much in quality as attracting hits for ad revenue, but even so, it annoyed me. That’s also why I’ve linked the Reddit thread where it was posted rather than the article itself.
So I’ve decided to have a go at my own eight steps to a better blog post.
Step 1: Know your audience
If you have an existing blog you probably already have an audience in mind – general public, people who read books, students, academics, scientists, basketball fans, people from Wellington, New Zealand. Pick topics appropriate to that audience. Also write using language which is targeted at that audience – people who read a lot might have a wider vocabulary than the general public; basketball fans will understand different technical terms and concepts than will chemistry students.
Step 2: Know your topic
I blog about writing and fantasy because that’s something I know. I haven’t blogged about editing much because I don’t get to that stage of writing often. I haven’t blogged about George R R Martin’s books because I haven’t read very far into them, though I love the TV show. I wouldn’t blog about ice hockey because I don’t know anything about it and anyway that’s not what this blog is about. I blog about things I feel I have something to say about which is at least relatively intelligent and informed. There are enough people writing about things they don’t know much about in political and economic discussions. Blog about what you know, or learn about what you want to blog about.
But know your topic is more than that. You do occasionally need to do a little research, whether that’s watching something on Youtube or reading a journal article or even just checking facts or the spelling of a name on Wikipedia. Getting small things wrong discredits you. Check them if in doubt.
Step 3: Pick a strong title
A strong title isn’t necessarily one that’s witty and cool. A strong title is one which successfully serves the purpose of getting people to read. If the topic of the post isn’t clear from the title, no matter how witty it is, you’ll miss people who would be interested in reading the post because the ambiguity of the title led them to believe they weren’t interested it in.
In general, the strongest titles are those which do two or more of the following:
- It clearly describes or summarises the core topic of the blog post
- It picks out a key fact or figure which is an important part of the topic or question asked in the blog post
- It asks a question which the content of the post will answer
- It stands out through wit or wordplay
As an example of the above, there was a post I read recently which fulfils number two of my list which I read because of the title, which was “1 in 2 and 77.7p – some numbers” because I wanted to know what those numbers were about. I knew from information provided by the person providing the link that it was about discrimination and sexual violence against disabled women in the UK, and the numbers attracted my attention to read on, where I might not have otherwise.
Step 4: Plan your blog post
Certain types of blog posts don’t need planning – brainstorming or diary entry type posts tend to be more stream of consciousness, and that’s fine. For blog posts where you seek to make an argument, give advice or list information, though, planning is important.
Planning gives you the opportunity to determine your key points and cut out anything which is ancillary or strays too far from your core argument. It allows you to consider structure – how you’re going to present your points, what order works best for the content you are presenting, and so on. For me, a bullet list works nicely for planning purposes. I brainstorm everything I want to say, then cut down or group up similar points to cut down to three or more key headings. Others use a first draft as the planning stage, and then cut, move, edit or add sections to tidy up the structure and focus attention on the most important information.
Step 5: Be interesting
People don’t want to read something they’ve read before. There’s so much content available on the internet now that rehashing old information is a waste of time that could be spent learning something new. Now, I realise I’ve done something like that with this post, but bear with me.
To be interesting, you just need to bring something new: a new topic, a new perspective or approach, greater depth than previous attempts, a fresh voice, examples or arguments that haven’t been used in the context of this topic before, and so on. You are unique. Everyone is. So what’s your new perspective that people haven’t heard before? What experiences, observations and ideas can you bring to the table?
Step 6: Use clear, correct language
Clarity is important. If your readers can’t understand what you’re trying to say, they’ll give up and read something else. That means you should use language your audience will understand – clear, concise English. You need to structure your sentences, paragraphs and overall post to eliminate ambiguity – something that’s true of writing fiction too. “He walked over to him and punched him in the arm. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he asked.” In this example, which character is speaking – the man who has been punched or the one doing the punching? The same applies for non-fiction writing. If a sentence can be interpreted two ways, reword it. Be explicit if you need to.
You also need to use correct language. Incorrect language can leave the reader confused about the meaning or just annoyed at all the errors – and an annoyed reader is a reader likely to stop reading. So before you post, read through it or use the automatic spelling and grammar checkers of your software. They’re not always right, so you’ll need to use your own knowledge and read through your post to make sure everything is correct. I’ll admit, I still find the occasional mistake when reading through my old posts, and it’s sometimes difficult to spot mistakes when you’re familiar with the text because you see what you expect to see rather than what’s actually there, but try to get as much as possible.
Also be consistent in your language. If you use one version of English for one post or for part of a post, stick to it – switching between American English and English English from England (or British English, as it is more commonly called), will be confusing and some readers will spot it. Be consistent in your tone too: if you’re using fairly formal language for one paragraph, don’t just start using casual language full of slang in the next, unless you’re talking about the differences between formal and casual language. And keep it all the same level too – don’t start by using words which would pass the Up Goer Five test and then move to jargon and convoluted terminology that would make a professor reach for a dictionary.
Step 7: Use pictures
Pictures are good. They can illustrate your topic, add interest and break up text. Pictures make your post visually interesting. Posts which have visual variety are easier to read than posts which are uniform or even just a wall of text. Headings are another way to break up posts, but pictures are more effective as they give an alternative to text.
Pictures can also provide you with an opportunity to expand on an argument or add tangentially related information or a little joke in the caption, to give depth or humour to your blog post.
Step Eight: Use categories, tags and keywords appropriately
Categories, tags and keywords are how people find your content. Search engines latch onto them and link them to what people have searched for, or people simply search for a particular category because they know that content of that topic interests them. If you tag your blog post with relevant keywords, people looking for those topics will find your post more easily. But don’t tag them with any old keyword you think people will be searching for if the keyword isn’t relevant to what you’ve discussed, because that will annoy readers.
Basically, the sum total of what I’ve been saying here is probably stuff you’ve come across elsewhere, but I bet I’ve done it better that at least 30% of them. Also I’m not writing this to get hits for ad revenue, I’m doing it because I was annoyed at a similar list which probably is doing it for hits for ad revenue, which makes me a better person, probably.
Seriously, though. Research, planning, clarity, title grabbiness, interesting content and visual interest are all good ways to make your blog posts better, if you’re not already doing those things. And grabbiness is totally a real word. In English English from England, anyway, and any Americans can’t say any different.
What tips do you have for making blog posts better? What have I missed out because I restricted my list to eight items like the post that inspired this and not at all because I didn’t think of it? What non-standard tricks have you used to make your blog post stand out?