Do you think you know how to write a blog post? If your blog doesn’t earn much money, I’ll bet that you don’t — at least, you don’t know all the elements that go into writing a successful blog post today.
Writing a popular blog post is a lot more sophisticated than it used to be. If you want to attract a decent-sized audience, there are a ton of technical steps to take to make sure readers can find it — and then, that they read it, like it, and want to subscribe.
Here’s a look at the process my blog editor Evan Jensen and I have cooked up at this point to make sure our posts reach the largest possible audience (and yes, I’m using affiliate links for some of the tools I recommend):
How to write a blog post? First, have a plan
My top tip for having a successful blog is to create a system and checklist for each blog post. That way, you get a consistent result. It’s not that some posts come out spiffy and others look like something you slapped together in a semi-daze when you couldn’t sleep for 30 minutes last night. With a system, you can give readers a pro experience, every time, and leave them clamoring for more.
Here are the blog post writing rules I’ve developed:
In the beginning, you have an idea for a blog post. If you’re smart, you don’t just start writing. Instead, you think on your idea for a while. Maybe you save links to related things you’ve seen, that might be good resource links in the post.
You look in your Google Analytics or similar tool at your most popular posts, and see if this topic is in line with those. If this looks like the type of topic your audience likes — but you haven’t covered it in quite this way before — it’s time to proceed.
2. Headline keyword research
Before you get too married to your idea, it’s time to see if there’s a related keyword phrase you could use in this post that you’ve got a shot of ranking for. I like to use kwfinder to check on this.
For instance, for this post, I started with the idea of having ‘successful blog post’ be the keyword in a headline like “Anatomy of a Successful Blog Post: Inside My Process,” but kw told me that wasn’t getting many searches compared with ‘how to write a blog’ (when it says traffic volume is ‘N/A,’ that means it’s too tiny to be measured.), and would also be tough to rank for. Sort of a double-negative whammy. So my headline idea got tweaked a hair, and the word ‘successful’ had to go.
Now that my headline idea is engineered to succeed, it’s time to write a draft. After many years of spending way too long writing first drafts of blog posts, I now try to quickly write the post, beginning to end.
Ideally, I then leave and come back the next day to edit and rewrite. Taking a break from the post gives you ‘fresh eyes’ for improving it. I used to edit for hours on first-draft day, vowing I wouldn’t come back and tweak it again. Guess what? I can never resist. So now I dash off the first draft and come back later.
4. Image design
Having an eye-catching graphic to go with your blog post has become increasingly important to getting your post widely shared and attracting new readers. Last year, I decided to invest in the sort of graphics that are widely shared on Pinterest and Instagram — namely, ones like you see on this post (by my graphic designer Keira Dooley), with a nice design plus a version of your headline and your blog’s URL visible on the graphic.
As a result, Pinterest quickly became one of my top-10 annual sources of traffic, even though all I do personally is share my post graphics once, on one of my boards:
5. Editing and fact-checking
Every stellar post gets edited, writers — nobody produces a genius first draft. As I mentioned, I come back and look through my draft again in a day or two. My blog editor Evan Jensen then also edits my posts, in large part to make sure they’re concise (I tend to write long, can you tell?) and to remove my tiresome language tics (I say ‘really’ and ‘just’ too much, to name just two).
We also do investigative reports and interviews on this-here blog, and reports on emerging opportunities for writers — so the editing process is also a chance to poke holes in the story, question everything, and make sure we’ve got all our facts straight. Don’t be one of those sloppy bloggers who says, “Everybody knows…X.” Research your assertions and link to proof.
Some blogs use tags to sort topics, others use ‘categories,’ and some use both. Here on Make a Living Writing, I use tags.
Quick tip: Try to reuse the same exact same tags for common topics instead of just making up a new tag. That will make your tags more useful. For instance, you can easily get a bunch of LinkedIn marketing tips on this tag. If I varied that, you’d end up with several different tags you’d have to comb through to get the focused information you want. It makes a mess.
In WordPress (which I use on all my sites), when you start typing a tag, it will suggest similar tags that use that phrase, to help remind you of existing tags you use. Pick one of those to avoid having to do time-consuming tag-consolidation projects later (ask me how I know!).
For instance, here are the WP suggestions for tags related to this post’s topic of writing blog posts, that I used to determine the best tags:
Good blog posts are not huge blobs of text. Online readers are skimmers — so posts need to be broken up with strong subheads or lists with bullets or numbers. Once a post is drafted, it’s time to check for these important elements and make sure they’re formatted with H2 tags for better search-engine juice.
You’ll note I could have made this post simply a bulleted list with the ‘bullet format’ tool, but I’m hand-numbering these points and using the H2 tags instead, to make these subtopics more visible to search engines, and to make the post easier for readers to scan through.
8. Link check
Successful blog posts have two types of links — links to authoritative external sites and links to other posts within this blog. Not only do you need to find and insert these links, but somebody needs to check and make sure all the links are working properly — or you’ll hear reader complaints. You wouldn’t believe how often you’ll discover broken links!
Those can’t be just any links, either. Especially when it comes to the links guest authors want to promote themselves.
I have some pretty strict rules about what I’m willing to link. I won’t link to a spammy-looking site that forces an opt-in before it’ll show you any valuable content (say, like they do on Freedom With Writing), that has a full-page pop-up that’s hard to get rid of, or goes straight to a sales page where it’s difficult to find your way back to their home page or main site. I’m not putting the hard-sell on my readers that way, so links have to be checked.
We’ve already covered keyword research for headlines, but of course there’s much more you can do for search engine optimization. I use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress to prompt me to do more on-page SEO. For instance, it’s easy to forget to go in your post images and put the keyword phrase in there, too.
Yoast makes suggestions for how to improve your SEO, from shortening your headline to putting your keyword phrase at the beginning or end of your headline, and much more. Near the end of drafting this post, here are some thoughts Yoast had for me that I might take action on to further improve this post’s SEO:
If you send out an RSS-linked email campaign to deliver your blog posts, you want to control what it looks like. If you don’t, it will just grab the top of your post and randomly cut off mid-sentence. But if you build a custom excerpt, you can decide what goes in that email. Currently, that’s a step we’re taking, but look for us to switch to newsletter-style delivery, where we send you out an email with a link to the new post and a few sentences about why you might be interested.
But if you’re interested in the RSS-delivery mode, you should build an excerpt. Here’s the top of our excerpt code for a previous post:
11. Shareability enhancements
The next question we ask is whether the post has any special features you need to add to encourage more sharing. For instance, if you’ve got an expert roundup, you might want to have screenshots of all of their Twitter profile pictures and handles linked Twitter, or use a tool such as AddThis‘s ‘click to tweet’ widget to wrangle a pithy quote into something that’ll be visually enticing and easy to share.
You can see the spice these extra elements add to your post in my roundup Guest Post Tips: 9 Top Online Editors Vent About Writers (see how I added an internal link there?).
12. Style check
When you start accepting guest posts, it’s important to stop and do a style check before you set that post on ‘publish.’ For instance, I hate subheads that go on longer than one line, I want short paragraphs and sentences, and we end each post with an engagement question to get readers thinking and coming over to my blog’s Facebook page to comment.
To give readers the ‘magazine quality’ experience I want, we also follow AP Style, and have a lengthy style guide of our own. Is the web (as in the Internet) capitalized or no? (AP style says it no longer takes a capital, after years of commanding us that ‘spiders spin webs, and the Internet is the Web.’) Is it e-book or ebook? Being consistent with these sort of small things makes readers comfortable, and builds loyalty.
13. Byline or tagline
Every post either has my name at the top if I wrote it, or “Editor” for guest posts, which serves as a byline. Alternatively, it has a tagline at the bottom where a guest post author gets a couple lines to describe themselves, and up to two links. See the ‘links’ section above for the checks we do on those tagline links to make sure they meet our standards.
14. Bottom bar
Studies have shown that one of the best places to put a promo on a blog is an ad banner at the bottom of a post. So most of our posts have a nice banner graphic at the bottom of the post that exposes readers to some thematically related product or service (usually of my own, rarely of someone else’s).
At this point, I have a lot of products, and we need to pick the best offer. Is it maybe just a banner to get my free e-book and subscribe? Or perhaps my membership community, mentoring, or one of my e-books or self-sudy courses could be the most obvious next step for a reader wanting to learn more. A banner needs to be chosen and included in the link check, so we know that graphic links to the right place. You can see we’ve naturally chosen a blogging-related item to spotlight at the bottom of this post.
15. Social media planning
Next up, it’s time to think about how the post will be promoted in social media. Since I got rid of blog comments, chat is now happening over on Facebook and LinkedIn. Currently, that has to be scheduled to go on there, though we’re hoping to shortly get Jetpack working to automate that.
If there are influencers mentioned in the post, it’s time to look up their Twitter handles and schedule a post that targets each one of them separately, to spotlight their greatness and hopefully encourage them to share (I’ve found many won’t share if you jam a whole list of the influencers into a single tweet). For instance, here’s a recent share of ours:
Finally, it’s time to pick a time for your post to publish! There’s a little science to that, since people who read your blog via an RSS feed will get it at the time you pick, and your RSS email campaign would have to be scheduled a few hours after that (to make sure the feed is definitely up in time).
If you’re auto-sharing on social media, you may want to publish at a time that’s been shown to be ideal on your favorite platform — say late afternoon Eastern time, or before 9:30 am Eastern. We’ve been publishing at 3 am to go out early Eastern, but may be tweaking as we start to auto-share out to Facebook and such with Jetpack.
17. Email distribution
The top way to promote your blog is to email it out to your list. You’re either doing that automagically with an RSS-to-email campaign (Mailchimp makes that easy for me to set up), or through a newsletter you schedule at your optimal time (watch for me to switch to this soon!).
Develop your own blog rules
Every blogger has to decide on the best practices and standards for their blog posts. It’s worth taking a little time to create a checklist and develop your own standards. You’ll get more shares, impress more readers, and put your blog in better shape to be a good money-maker.
What’s your blog post publishing process? Let’s discuss on Facebook.