A Primer on how to plan, structure and write a blog post that will help your business.
A brief note on what we’re doing here.
If you’re like many of the business owners, marketers and sales pros we talk to here in Manchester, you’ve set 2017 as the year that you’ll really focus on sales and marketing innovation. With all the developments and advancements in SEO, Content Marketing, and various marketing technologies, there is so much opportunity to reach your customers in the community.
Still, it can feel overwhelming to know what to do, or how to even start. Couple this with challenges you face in knowledge and skill development, hiring the right employees and vendors, and choosing the right technology, it’s easy to get lost, lose steam, and shift your focus on other more concrete business drivers.
To help, we’re partnering up with the Chamber to deliver a series of no-nonsense, zero fat blog posts on marketing. Over the next few months we’ll share pro-level, yet practical and manageable techniques and processes that anyone can follow to help drive new business, support recruitment efforts and build community engagement.
One of the many benefits that Manchester Chamber Members can take advantage of is Guest Blogging here on the Chamber’s website. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion regarding how to properly structure a post to maximize your impact here and within the Greater Manchester community. That’s why I’m going to kick this series off with how you can write a great blog post that benefits both your business, the Chamber, and the business community throughout the Queen City.
This is in no way a comprehensive digital marketing, content marketing, or search engine optimization strategy. This is simply an easy to follow guide for putting together a guest blog post for the Chamber. I haven’t included every single optimization trick, and some people may disagree with my approach. I can only say that we follow this structure for our clients, and they’ve certainly been satisfied with the outcomes.
And another note on blogging…
If you’ve tried blogging in the past, I’m sure you’ve read all kinds of “how to” guides, downloaded any number of eBooks, and maybe even had a marketing consultant help you with a strategy. Before we continue, I’d like you to ask yourself a few questions. Did it feel comfortable and natural? Did you enjoy it? Did it benefit your business?
We work with so many businesses that answer “no” to most—if not all—of these. Without spending too much time on why blogging doesn’t work, I can tell you that lack of strategy, guidance, and data can make blogging hard (if not impossible), unfulfilling, and drive zero results for your business.
Why you should read this post to the end.
Today, it’s my goal to provide you with enough guidance, strategy and tools in this post to get you started on the right foot.
Last year we were featured on LinkedIn for our 7,000+ word blog post detailing how to develop your content marketing strategy, a key component of any business’ business development efforts. The post that you’re reading right now captures some of the fundamentals of creating a marketing strategy that works, on a macro level. By reading this post and writing your own guest post for the Chamber’s blog, you will be well on the way to building your marketing strategy, maximizing your investment in the Chamber, and bringing your offline reputation to the greater online community.
So with that—let us begin.
“A hard beginning maketh a good ending.” — John Heywood
Sitting down to write a blog post, with a blank white faux page up in my word processing app de jour is probably the hardest part of blogging. Thankfully, having a process—and a purpose—helps.
And that’s the first decision you need to make: why are you writing this post? Is it for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes? Is it to extend your offline reputation to the online market? Is it to build credibility and thought leadership? Maybe some of all of the above?
DEFINITION: According to wikipedia, “Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results—often referred to as “natural”, “organic”, or “earned” results. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users; these visitors can then be converted into customers.”
Today, most companies recognize the need to blog to grow their business online. In fact, marketers that use blogs get 67% more leads than those that do not. Also, SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) have a 1.7% close rate.
Whatever your reason, keeping your purpose in mind will both help guide your efforts and keep you motivated.
Step 1: Topic Selection
When choosing a topic for your blog post, it’s important to consider who is viewing the Chamber’s blog: other business professionals and Chamber members, people considering joining, your prospects and customers. Make sure that the topic you select is general enough to appeal to a broad range, and specific enough to add value and demonstrate your expertise.
As an example, consider this post. It is broad enough to appeal to most businesses, yet specific enough that nearly everyone who reads it will take something of value away from it.
Additionally, consider choosing a topic that:
- You’re passionate about—this will come through in your writing.
- You have unique expertise in—this will help drive interest in your business.
- Has longevity—if you blog about something that is tied to a one-time event, its usefulness will be limited.
If you already have a business blog, make sure that you don’t just rehash something that you’ve blogged about on your own site. Create something new that compliments what you’ve already created.
A Note on Keywords
If part of the reason you’re writing your blog post is to help you rank on search engines, then you’ll want to make sure that you optimize your post for a specific long-tail keyword phrase. For example, if I was using this blog post for SEO, I would avoid a short, generic keyword like “blog post” and optimize for something more specific like “Chamber blog post” The first is too general and competitive in search (there are approximately 707,000,000 competing pages on Google, it’s listed as “difficult” to rank on the first page, and only about 90 people in the Boston to Manchester corridor are searching on that keyword phrase per month.
Conversely, the long-tail keyword phrase “Chamber blog post” only has 20,800,000 competing pages on Google, is rated as easier to list on the home page of Google search results, and has approximately 50 searches per month as of the writing of this post.
You’ll want to balance how many existing pages compete for the long-tail keyword you’re optimizing for, how competitive that phrase is, and how many people are searching for it in your market per month.
Step 2: Research
If you’re doing this correctly, you have a fair amount of expert knowledge about the topic you’re writing about, and you are probably able to crush out an appropriate blog post without doing any research. It helps to pull together any internal documents you have handy, and grab talking points and data where possible.
For many people (me included), there can be small gaps in your knowledge, and you’ll want to leverage other professionals and resources in your field to fill those gaps for your readers. Often, business resources like forbes.com, entrepreneur.com, and local publications like nhbr.com can supplement the material you’re providing. Just be sure to give credit and link to sources when applicable.
Citing external authorities can add legitimacy to your post. The Content Marketing Institute recommends using resources that your audience already trusts to gain credibility.
Research also helps your search engine optimization efforts. According to searchenginewatch.com, “Outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites are considered in the algorithms and do have a positive impact on [your] rankings.” Just be sure that you’re not linking to your competitors.
Ultimately, be sure to leverage plenty of external quotes, data points and sources in your post.
Step 3: The Writing Process and Word Count
Once you’ve chosen a topic and done your research, you may be wondering whether you should tackle all of the writing in one sitting, or if you should spread the work out over a few days.
Either way can work, but there is a risk to letting an unfinished blog post sit for too long; over time you might forget crucial points in your article.
Personally, I find it’s easier for me to draft an outline based on what I want to write, and create my first draft in one sitting, especially if it’s on the shorter side.
At this point, everyone is wondering how long a blog post should be. I can guarantee that most of you have heard that 300 – 500 blog posts are perfect, and that beyond 800 words is a “bit much”. You might even think that my reference to a 7,000 word blog post is ridiculous.
The answer is that it depends on why you’re writing the post. If you’re only writing for the audience who is pointed directly at your article via an email, link, or social post, then if you write at least 600 words (the minimum required for a post on this site), then you’re fine. But if you want to dominate your industry, you’ll want to write in the neighborhood of 2,500 words.
The link I shared will give you access to industry-specific word counts. For example, the sweet spot for Financial Technology is around 2,100 words, while a manufacturing company can make it work with around 1,800 words.
I find this to be one of the most helpful tools in writing. One of the big reasons people stop reading a blog post is due to poor flow—the article goes nowhere and lacks cohesion. Here’s my simple formula for creating an outline:
- Working title (The general idea of what you’re writing about. You’ll change this later, so don’t kill yourself making it perfect.)
- An introduction to your topic.
- A high-level history or background perspective.
- 3 to 5 key points and takeaways.
- Backup data.
- Conclusion, summary and takeaways.
Once you have this in place, add 3 to 5 bullets supporting each section. Remember, leverage external resources and statistics, and save the links.
A Note on Subheads
Subheads are a crucial element for a few reasons:
- Scanning – it’s easier for readers to skim your content and get the general gist to see if they actually want to read the whole piece.
- Flow – it helps structure your content in a meaningful way.
- SEO – Search engines look at subheads for keywords and indicators on content.
Be sure to use headlines to separate your content/ideas and to grab the reader’s attention. Copypress has some great tips on creating great blog subheads. Here are a few:
- Make subheads interesting;
- Tie subheadings back to the title;
- Don’t Be Cute.
Just be sure to include your target keyword phrase (3 words or more) in a few of your subheads.
Step 4: Moving Ahead with the Writing
This is different for each person. Some people can crank out 1,000 words in an hour. Others like to capture 100 – 200 words in a sitting. Some people dictate to their phone, transcribe and edit. This particular part of taking everything that you’ve compiled and getting it into your computer is up to you.
One pro tip? Avoid jargon and big words. If your reader feels stupid, they won’t finish. Inspired by 10 Writing Tips from Legendary Writing Teacher William Zinsser.
As mentioned above, I prefer to sit down and bang out a first draft in one sitting. If I don’t, I can lose my train of thought, get distracted, or lose passion for the post pretty quickly. If I’m working on a particularly long post (more than 2,000 words like this one), I’ll break it up into 3 distinct parts and treat each part as its own blog post. When I’m done, I’ll marry the pieces into one long post.
Regarding keyword usage within your site, if you use your keywords and variations of them naturally (do not over-stuff them), you will help your search engine optimization efforts.
Step 5: Not Optional—Editing
Editing isn’t just about grammar and proofing for spelling. Sometimes it’s about making painful sacrifices. Painful because you may have spent hours crafting certain sentences and paragraphs, only to end up throwing them away into the virtual trash bin.
Accept that these “sacrifices” are inevitable. This is also why I prefer to put more emphasis on speed and just let the words flow in one sitting. You won’t get it perfect the first time and it’s easier to capture your thoughts and ideas and go back and refine afterwards. And no matter how perfect your post, I guarantee you’ll have to do some editing when you’re finished.
Things you’ll be checking for during editing include:
- Flow – be sure to include proper transitions between different thoughts. Reading your article aloud can help you measure its flow.
- Repetitive words or phrases – replace with alternative words when necessary.
- Paragraph length and sentence length – shorter is almost always better. Your readers will appreciate it (no one likes huge walls of text). It’ll also help you keep different ideas isolated to their own paragraphs.
- A good tip for inexperienced bloggers is to ask a friend to check your work. The purpose of this isn’t just to check for grammatical errors, but mostly to get an opinion from someone on the flow of your article.
Step 6: Add Images
Images are great because they can serve a number of different purposes for your post very effectively.
For example, funny pictures or memes can add a lighter tone to dry subject matters. They can make your content seem less intimidating and more visually appealing. Pictures can also help simplify complex topics while getting your point across more effectively.
People need some visual stimuli even if your post is well formatted and nice looking. Why? Because most people don’t have the time, will or ability to focus on lengthy blog posts without some visual stimulation.
And finally, images are great for SEO.
Step 7: Your Headline
Entire blog posts have been written about headlines. Frankly, after you’ve come up with your topic, decided on the type of post you’ll create, written your post, selected your images, settled on keyword(s), and finally edited your post, your headline should come naturally.
A few things to keep in mind when crafting your headline:
- Be truthful—no one likes “clickbait”.
- Don’t be afraid to be sexy—be strong, fun, visual and clear.
- Keep your headline to within 70 characters—this is about how many characters Google shows on search results pages. Anything longer and your title will be cut off. Speaking of search, make sure you include your long-tail keyword phrase in your headline.
A Note on How to Choose What Type of Blog Post to Write
People want to know what to write about, and I find that deciding on a structure, or type of blog post, can get the wheels turning. If you’re stuck, you may want to consider creating content in one of the following popular formats:
- How-to’s and tutorials
- List posts
Each one has the power to unleash your creativity in ways you didn’t imagine.
How-to’s and Tutorials
This is the most powerful blogging archetype. Think about it — what are most people searching for online? The answer is simple. Most people are searching for solutions to their problems, or they’re trying to accomplish something.
A how-to blog post will allow you to create a step by step solution solving your buyer’s problem. This type of post is ideal for helping you to progress your Buyer’s Journey.
And as a bonus, how-to’s and tutorials will give you more credibility and establish your expertise.
So how do you actually write a how-to post?
Here are a few different ways you can go about it.
- Put the steps in the simplest order;
- Start the post with the easy steps and build up to the harder steps;
- Make certain steps “optional”.
Before (or after) you write the body of the article, you should create an introduction explaining what the post is about and how the reader will benefit in the end. Also be sure to include any requirements that the reader must meet before implementing the information.
This type of blog post leverages one of the most fundamental desires we have: to find the best information in the shortest amount of time. Why do list posts work so well? They’re generally easy to scan and read, easy to share and easy to put into action.
We can see the effectiveness of this method of writing by looking at the popular magazine cover stories. Notice how often they are written in a numbered list or bullet point format?
You can use list posts to boost your credibility in many different ways.
- Demonstrate your expertise and knowledge of your niche by giving your readers a heads up about potential problems. Ex: Do You Recognize the 7 Early Signs of Cancer?
- Here’s a classic example of a list post title: “10 Ways You can Beat High Travel Costs”. This post would only flop if you failed to deliver on what you promised in the title. Otherwise, readers will realize that you know what you’re talking about and that you communicate the information well.
Infographic posts are great for getting out of writer’s block. Infographics contain easy to digest information, are easy to read, and they’re easy to find. To find examples, just search for whatever you’re looking for plus the word “infographic”.
You can easily pull together the data needed for an infographic and feature it within your post. People enjoy easily digestible information, so they’ll likely share it a lot. People will share what they remember, and images are more memorable than text. A variety of different visuals will make your text more memorable and valuable to your readers.
Infographics, like headlines, are a great way to capture attention while providing thought leadership and value information. Just be sure that your infographics are clear, digestible, relevant and professionally done.
Wrapping Up and Bonus Tip for Those Who Read the Whole Thing
I hope that this brief guide helps you craft a blog post for inclusion on the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s blog. In doing so, you’ll be able to extend your personal and professional brand from offline to online, add significant value to your lead generation and marketing programs, and add tremendous weight to your search engine marketing efforts.
If you made it this far, I wanted to give you a final key piece of advice for sticking it out: make sure that you include a CTA (Call-to-action) at the end of the blog post. This is something like what I’ve included below this tip that will drive your readers to consider taking a direct and specific action or next step. Without this, you risk educating your buyers but losing them to a competitor.
If you have questions about what I’ve written here, or need help in developing a blog post, or developing a digital marketing strategy, please contact me directly at the number below.
Best of luck blogging, and I hope to see you around town soon!
540 North Commercial Street
T: 603 809 4164