During the blog-review day last week, I talked a lot about site usability and ways to make your site more visually inviting and easy to use. But the writing itself is the core of it all, the reason people come to your blog. Without strong writing, your site can be clean, beautiful…and devoid of visitors.
Some basic changes to both how you write and the content you choose for your blog can help draw readers and keep them coming back.
Here are some simple tips to improve your blog posts:
- Work harder on headlines. I saw a lot of lazy headline writing in the blog review last week, with nothing compelling to make me click and read it. If you’re not getting the traffic you want, spend time learning how to write great headlines readers will find irresistible. I recommend reading Psychotactics’ free report: Why Some Headlines Fail.
- Get SEO words into your headlines. I see no-SEO headlines everywhere — blog posts titled something like “A bad decision” or “Ignore the red flags.” I have no idea what these posts are about, and I’m not going to read them. Understand that your headlines are floating around the Internet, disconnected from the context of your blog. Each headline needs to be able to stand alone and communicate what your blog’s about.
- Fulfill your headline’s promise. Often, I find myself reading a blog post, glancing back up at the headline, and then reading it again in hopes of finding the information promised in the headline. Once you’ve written your headline, make sure you deliver that topic.
- Get SEO words into your first lines. I learned this from Darren Rowse in an A-List Bloggers Club training video. It should be obvious, yet I still didn’t get it until recently. We’ve all done Google searches and seen how often, the first line or two of a post appears in the search result along with the headline. That means getting key words into those lines could help lure readers to click on your post. It’ll also help readers feel reassured right away that you are writing about their interests.
- Use a word instead of a phrase. Don’t say “he thought about possibly making a decision on whether or not to” when you could say “he decided.”
- Shorten paragraphs. On the Internet, a two-sentence paragraph is good. A one-sentence paragraph is often even better. A five-sentence paragraph is frequently not going to get read. Online readers want short blocks, or it’s too intimidating.
- Shorten sentences. Just as paragraphs should shrink, sentences shouldn’t ramble along for five lines, either. Overlong sentences send a message that you’re an academic, or in any case lofty and far above us all. Break long sentences into two or three sentences. Know that sentences on blogs can be quite short and work well. Like this one.
- Vary paragraph openings. Scan down your post and read the openings of your paragraphs. If they all start with “However” or “Then” or any identical word or phrase, that gets dull for the reader. Make sure you vary your opening lines.
- Make paragraph openings scannable. Don’t start paragraphs with elaborate windups. Reading the opening phrase of each paragraph should be a workable way to quickly scan the post and find out what it’s about.
- Hunt down repetitive words or phrases. I recently read a blog post that used the phrase “over and over”…well, over and over. At least four times. That’s a real reader turnoff. Say “repeatedly” the next time.
- Say it once. Don’t belabor a point in a short blog post. Reread and trim out additional references to the same point.
- Strengthen your transitions. A good article or blog post should be knit like a sweater. Each paragraph should follow logically from the one before it, so that readers simply can’t look away until the end. Read your post again just for the transitions, to make sure there are no dropped stitches where you abruptly switch onto a new track and might lose the reader.
- Kill your opening. If you’re one of those writers who takes four paragraphs or more to get to the gist of your post’s topic, you’re probably losing a lot of readers along that winding path to your initial point. Hack the big windup off the top and start with the strong paragraph with key words on your topic that gives us the lowdown.
- Exterminate extraneous paragraphs. Sometimes, a paragraph you’ve written simply doesn’t add much to the post. It’s going back over ground you’ve already covered, or it’s a point you’re adding that simply doesn’t contribute much. Out it goes.
- Trim tangents. I’m of the opinion that there is no room for tangents in a typical short blog post. If you have a side issue you’d like to address, do another post on it.
- Review word choices. Your word choices tell your audience about your persona. Are you using five-dollar words that might alienate some readers? Read back through your post to look at your descriptive words. Make sure they convey the tone you want.
- That. This word is often just excess flab. “He decided that it was time to go” means the same as “He decided it was time to go.”
- Just. Here’s one I’m guilty of — another extraneous word you can trim.
- Very and really. Here’s a couple of words to use sparingly. They rarely add anything. “It was exciting” will do just as well as “It was really very exciting.”
- Your/You’re. Can’t tell these apart? Try saying “you are” in its place. If it makes sense, it’s you’re (contraction). If it doesn’t, it’s your (possessive, or belonging to).
- Its/It’s. Repeat the exercise above — if saying “it is” makes sense, you want “it’s.” If not, use the possessive (its).
- Whose/Who’s. Repeat the exercise in #20.
- Their/They’re/There. It’s possessive, it’s they are, or it’s a place.
- Being verbs. Passive being verbs (writing, saying, learning) bore readers. Switch to active, present-tense verbs whenever possible — I write, say, learn.
- Past perfect verbs. The problem in #24 only worse. Try to avoid saying “has been going” or “have been seeing.” Say “they went” or “he saw.”
- Know your expressions. If you’re going to use a proverb, saying, or piece of slang, make sure you’re using it right. I pointed out to one writer that she had put “chunk change” in her post when she likely meant “chump change.” She insisted chunk change was actually correct. There’s really no excuse for this sort of thing when a quick Google search can fact-check it.
- Spellcheck. You think you know how to spell words like dependent or advisor…but it’s possible you don’t. Check and make sure.
- Web site vs website, e-mail vs email. When new words emerge in our culture, I turn to the AP Stylebook for help on the correct way to write them. Earlier this year, AP changed its standard from Web site to website. Many are still hoping the standard will become email rather than the current e-mail. Knowing these small details helps you look like a pro.
- Cannot. It’s one word — apparently, one many people think is two words.
- Know where punctuation marks go. Commas and periods go inside quotes, not outside them, for instance. If you’re ever glazed and can’t remember, look at a newspaper.
- Eliminate dangling participles. I was cured of this one forever by my 9th grade English teacher, but in case you didn’t have Mr. Matheson (RIP), let me give you a couple graphic examples: “Running down the hall, my jacket caught on a locker.” (Spooky jacket running by itself!) “Creamed and boiled I like my onions.” (Ouch, I don’t like to be boiled!) After an initial participle, the subject must directly follow…or embarrassment may ensue.
- Use quotes. Even if you’re not interviewing people and it’s a personal blog, you can always draw readers in by quoting conversations you’ve had in your life. Here’s a post I did using quotes that gives you a sense of the spice quotes can add.
- Add useful links. Many personal blogs don’t do any linking. While there’s a theory that links distract the reader, I’m of the opinion a blog post should be like a lunchbox. It’s handy by itself — but you should be able to open it up and get more nourishment out of it, too. Your post is a starting point that allows the reader to learn more, which gives you more credibility and makes your posts more useful to readers. Plus, linking to busy sites will help you get found.
- Be creative. Posts can be screenshares, poems, cartoon strips, or an analysis of someone else’s song lyrics. They can open with a famous saying. Feel free to blow readers’ minds with something different now and then.
- Take a risk. Your blog posts are a chance to stretch yourself as a writer and get immediate feedback. Write something daring, wild and beautiful, and see what happens.
- Go naked. Stop hiding your true self from your audience, and tell them what’s really going on in your life. Unvarnished honesty is much appreciated in the blogosphere.
- Ask questions. Don’t be a know-it-all — your readers want to feel their opinions matter, too. Write posts that ask readers to share what they know.
- Answer questions. If your readers write to you, answer them on your blog. It’s a great way to engage readers and show you care.
- Make it about the reader. So many bloggers are simply musing about their life. Unless you use those life experiences to deliver something useful to readers, they may well be bored. Think about how you could help readers with your experience.
- Proofread it…again. Many writers just don’t seem to do that final read-through. But error-free posts convey more authority and tell readers you really care about their experience. (I sure hope there aren’t any typos in this story, or boy am I going to look dumb!)
Got any more simple writing tips for bloggers? Leave them in the comments.
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