It’s a Sunday evening and I’m sitting down to finally draft out next week’s blog post. Frankly, I don’t feel like doing it. I’d much rather relax on the sofa, devouring the next episode of The Night Manager. But I remind myself that I haven’t gotten this far in my 11-year-long blogging “career” simply by relaxing on the sofa and swooning over Tom Hiddleston. I have published more than 1100 blog posts – that’s some 750,000 words online! I can’t just walk away now.
The good news is that I already have a 600-word outline of what I want to write about. The path is already paved – I just need to go one step at a time. So I start to write this blog post about… well, how to write a blog post.
The blog post is so long my Safari crashed a few times while I was editing in WordPress. Here’s the full list of what we’ll go through:
- Keyword positioning
- The Ugly First Draft
- First pass editing
- Intro, conclusion, and headline
- Grammar check
- Final SEO pass
Step 1: Ideation
Most people think it all starts with a good idea. They know jack sh*t. It all starts some random evening when you’re reading an article about the way ants communicate while working, which reminds you about something you read about open offices which in turn reminds you about… You get the gist of it.
Writing starts with what you read every day
Writing starts with hundreds of pages read. A bunch of topics simmers over low heat in your brain until something sparks the nuclear explosion of a blog post idea.To become a better blog post writer, read, read, and read some more. Ideation starts with the content you consume.Click To Tweet
In any given week, I read something like 180 articles on marketing. There’s huge potential for something there to catch my attention. It might not spark an idea about a post just yet – but if I find it interesting, I’d jot down the main idea in Evernote or clip the whole article for future use.
If there’s actually a clear idea about an article I may want to write, I’d add it to my Backlog ideas list in Todoist and add notes there with links that might be related. This post began as a rough idea with no specific shape – just a single task in Todoist
At the same time, there were a few resources I knew I wanted to include. I added all of them in Evernote. Most of the tools you’ll see below and all of the articles I’m linking to are not part of specific on-the-spot research done today. They were clipped over the last couple of months.
This is the process I employ when managing a blogging team of one here. If you need more structure or need to organize a whole content team, check out how to streamline content creation with Trello. You can also use some of the ideas there on how to keep ideas and resources you may find handy.
I thought you’d never ask!
The second, simplest, and the least used way for getting ideas on a new blog post is just asking your audience. If you’ve spent some time here, you probably have seen a Hotjar mini-survey popping up where you’d also be asked what else you might want to read. Here’s how that might look on a blog post of yours:
I’ve had a bunch of well-read pieces published as direct replies to questions readers have asked. It is a long-term solution, especially if you have little traffic. Only a handful of respondents actually take the time to answer – but some of the ideas there will be gold!
Take note of other people’s pain points
I’d often put on my journalist hat whenever I talk to people. I pay attention to the topics people are interested in, the problems they have, the answers they seek. These bits turn into nice post ideas. The recent productivity series of posts I wrote was born out of a conversation with a friend. I was just mindful enough to notice that this can turn into a writing idea.
If you don’t find the perfect resource, create it!
Sometimes when I’m researching a particular topic, I’d get mad by the number of articles I need to go through before I find the answer I’m looking for. Maybe there’s nothing related to my specific case (B2C SaaS, anyone?!), maybe it’s just that I have to piece together information from eight different sources. This is a welcome opportunity to write something that comes close to my idea of a post on the topic.
Sometimes I feel a bit anxious to work on pieces like that. After all, I’m just starting my research – what do I have to teach others? Then I approach it as a learning opportunity through the Feynman Technique – if I manage to synthesize and explain it, I truly know it.
Step 2: Outline
Let’s assume we already have the perfect topic we want to explore in the next blog post. This is where the rubber meets the road – time for the outline.
Writing a full blog post seems daunting, but writing an outline is much easier. It’s a great way to trick your brain into starting. You don’t have the obligation to finish that post right then and there – but if the writing process sucks you in, you very well might.
I’d sometimes work on several outlines at the same time. All you need is a note-taking software and the ability to do bullet points. My weapon of choice here is Evernote. Sometimes I’d write in full sentences, other times it’ll just be a couple of words. Anything works, really. Here’s how this post started out:
The purpose of the outline is for you to discover what you’ll be writing about. You’re probably under the false impression that you already do? Let me tell you, when creating a detailed outline, I’d find myself adding at least 20% more content to the post that I didn’t know I had.The purpose of the outline is for you to discover what you’ll be writing about.Click To Tweet
Step 3: Research
Having an outline you’re happy with doesn’t necessarily mean you have everything you need. There might be questions related to your topic that you didn’t even think about addressing. That’s when I like to go online and check what additional content might be added to the post. To do that, I use several tools:
The tool helps you find all sorts of questions asked online around your topic. I’d explore several different ways of formulating my query and write down any questions that might bring value to the post.
Google related searches
Google has all the answers – but it also has all the questions. You can use that to find searches related to your topic. At the end of the search results page, you’ll find a list of related searches – here’s how it looks when you type in “blog post writing”:
Sometimes you’ll also see the “People also ask” box which is just that – a list of related questions. Now you have the full information needed to answer the questions people have.
I’ll also do a quick check on BuzzSumo for the top shared posts on the topic. It’s not so much a question of filling in some gaps, but a way to find a different spin on the same topic. For example, I might decide I want to add a section about headlines or some ideas on driving attention with your blog posts.
Step 4: Keyword positioning
Just including that step here makes me feel a bit hacky and spammy. But I want you to take a moment and notice something important. In my process, keyword research comes only after the general topic and outline are set.
I primarily pay attention to the topic I want to cover and the additional value it may bring. I try not to get seduced and write posts only because of high traffic potential. So stick to your original post idea and use keyword research only as a means to get that valuable content in front of more people who might need it!Don't get seduced by keyword research. Don't just blindly go after high search volume topics - use keywords to extend the reach of the valuable content you already set out to write.Click To Tweet
The aim here is to find the right words which people use to ask the question you’re answering. It might be just a small tweak of the term you’re using. For example, I’m a non-native English speaker, so sometimes I use one term and in reality, others would use different words to describe the same thing. Find those words and make them work for you.
To do this, there are a bunch of tools you might want to try. I have access to Ahrefs and if you can afford it, I’d definitely recommend it for keyword research. If you need a free solution, try Ubersuggest, Moz Keyword Explorer, or Keyword Tool.
No matter the tool, the process is similar. You want to start off with the search terms you currently have in mind and see if there’s a similar term with bigger search volume that’s not too competitive.
For example, I might have planned to focus this piece on blog writing steps. But looking at the results here, I might opt in for a phrase with higher search volume like “how to write a blog post”. Additionally, I’ll also see that the SERP is full of “X steps to” articles and I might look for a headline that differentiates my post from the rest.
At this point, you should have all the pieces together: a general topic, a detailed outline that’s enriched by additional questions and a concept on what keywords you’re aiming for. Time to roll up your sleeves and start writing!
Step 5: The Ugly First Draft
This part of the process should be very simple, but it rarely is. The one thing you need to focus on is this: just write. Don’t edit, don’t move stuff around. Draft out the full post, preferably in one go.
This might sound easy at first, but you’ll understand the implications the first time that you go “oh, I should’ve talked about this thing 2 paragraphs up, let’s go back”. Then you’d start to edit, creating the links there. Then your whole writing momentum will disappear.
It takes a lot of practice and discipline to not edit as you write. Block at least 2 hours on your calendar, go into a separate app, go into focus mode, disconnect from the internet. Whatever works for you.
Take all the content out of your head and onto the page, preferably in one go and without checking Twitter mid-sentence (which I did just 10 minutes ago – so hey, don’t judge yourself too hard, either!). Then you can pour yourself a drink and rest a bit before you continue with the editing phase. Or even better – leave that for another day.
Step 6: First pass editing
Now, hopefully, you’re well rested and ready to review that post with fresh eyes. If you’re doing this right, you’ll probably just get a visceral reaction right at the start: “What’s that crap I wrote yesterday!?!” That only goes to show that you did a good job by writing without editing.
Once that moment of horror passes, you’ll get down to business:
- Move stuff around: check the consistency and see if chunks of your post make more sense at a different location. Move them and add any bridging paragraphs you may need.
- Work on clarity: make sure you’re not making any assumptions about your readers’ knowledge of the topic. Add any descriptions or definitions. Explain what certain abbreviations mean. Make sure sentences are easy to understand.
- Prepare the graphics and photos for the different sections: you can’t rely on long copy alone. Adding photos will help your readers instantly get what you’re talking about and will give their brain a welcome break so that they can refocus.
By this point, you’ll have a good draft that’s clear and understandable, so we can move into the technical side of editing – formatting.
Step 7: Write your intro, conclusion, and headline
You can only know what you set out to say in your blog post once you actually say it. This is why it’s good practice to write your intro and conclusion after the rest of your post is done.
Blog post introduction
The aim of your intro is to get the attention of the readers. There are a lot of different ways to do that, but unless you have a brilliant new idea you can rely on some popular introduction formulas that CoShedule helpfully outlined for us:
- An interesting fact: tell people a statistic that will hook them and then share more on the topic.
- Start at the end: tell readers where you ended up before telling them how you got there.
- Add a personal story: this is a favorite of mine, especially for a personal blog. Share something you experienced yourself. This can be a full-scale confession or a cliffhanger that gets people curious.
- Ask a question: have you ever wondered how to write a good blog post introduction? Here’s how 😉
- Start with controversy: don’t be all smiles and politeness. Sometimes starting in a dramatic way can win you more points.
Conclusions that make sense
Writing a conclusion can be even more difficult than the intro. I usually default to a short recap of the post, but there are other effective ways to do it. A great conclusion will remind people why the topic you’re talking about is important and entice them to take the next step:
- Ask a question
- Challenge readers to do something
- Share your personal experience
- Say what happens if we don’t take action
Whatever you do, don’t leave people hanging.
Blog post headlines that make people clickThe key to a successful headline, as backed by research: communicate reader value, spark curiosity, entice emotion, answer a functional need.Click To Tweet
The final step is the headline. There’s quite a lot of advice and research on the topic and I wouldn’t even dream of adding something to the discussion that hasn’t already been said. But I can give you a summary. Looking at research done by BuzzSumo on the most shared posts, a headline should fulfill one of several requirements:
- communicate the value to the reader
- entice curiosity
- spark emotion
- point to a functional need
Here are the numbers on the headline phrases that got the most engagement – and why I think they did:
There are some other rules we should take into account as writers, such as the way the headline is formulated. What seems to work there is:
- including numbers
- addressing the reader directly
- demonstrating the functional benefit with a “how to” title
Here are the numbers:
There are tools out there that can help you to improve your headline:
- Portent and Hubspot Blog Topic Generator can give you fun ideas. I’d never really use one of them directly, as referring to “50 shades of gray” is not really my style – but they can spark your creative process.
- CoShedule’s Headline Analyzer – again, a tool to be used with a grain of salt, but a valuable source. Once you get a good idea for your headline, try to improve it by running several variations here.
- Copywriting Formulas – if you need further inspiration, check out this suuuuuuper long post with dozens of headline formulas. They focus on landing page headlines, but you may test some of them anyway.
Finally, I’ll again point out the same thing I mentioned about keyword research – don’t be seduced by hacky tactics. As long as your blog post brings value, the right headline or intro formula is secondary. But you will want to keep these ideas in mind in order to bring that value to a larger group of people.
Step 8: Format the post for easy reading
We have a very short attention span and nobody really reads all the text they see on a screen. You need to embrace that and adjust your writing style for online reading. This includes a few items you can add to your editing checklist:
- Add subheadings that split long blocks of text.
- Use active verbs and simple sentences.
- Make sure there’s lots of white space. Any paragraph longer than 100 words should be chopped into separate ones. Each paragraph should hold only one idea.
- Highlight key phrases in bold (but don’t go overboard!)
- Add rhythm to your text by varying sentence structure. Don’t just use short sentences, but switch between shorter and longer ones.
The tool Hemingway will help you understand your text’s readability and sentence structure. For a general audience, you should aim for a score of 7 or lower (lower readability grade means the text is easier to understand). You can influence this by simplifying sentences and choosing simpler words. But don’t try to have simple sentences only – this will kill your text’s rhythm. Here’s a very specific example of what we mean by that – the author of the text is Gary Provost, visual by John Zimmer:
It may seem like basic stuff, but the formatting is vital for getting your message across. Working with it will help you bring value to a larger audience.
Step 9: Grammar check
This will be one of the shortest steps, as there’s not a lot to say about it. Just never proofread yourself – either have someone else help you with that or use Grammarly. I default to it every time, as even the basic free version will help me avoid embarrassing typos or punctuation mistakes.
Take this seriously, as mistakes will immediately make people doubt your professionalism.
Step 10: Final SEO pass
If you’re blogging on WordPress this will be easy enough for you – just add the YoastSEO plugin, add your focus keyword and follow the recommendations 🙂
For everyone else, here are the on-page optimization basics you need to cover:
- Include your key phrase in the post title.
- Have the key phrase or close variations appear in subheadings.
- Add a meta description to the page that’s both keyword-optimized and entices a click. The days of just listing keyword variations here are gone and you should instead use the meta description to boost your CTR.
- Add alt tags to the images in your post that work with your target phrase. Change the filenames of the images before uploading them, too.
- Add internal links to other related articles. Once you publish the post, add links to it in some of your other articles.
Step 11: Distribution
You’ve just hit that Publish button and you feel like a star! Congrats! But this is where the hard work begins – you need to let the world know you have something for it.
Share it now
The first step, of course, is to leverage your own network. Share the post through your personal accounts everywhere that makes sense. I will post this piece on LinkedIn, but if you wrote a post on crocheting tips, Pinterest might be more valuable to you.
If you’re publishing a company blog, you may ask your team to share, as well. You can also use a tool like Buffer to share through everyone’s accounts at the same time.
Share it again
You can post the same piece on social media several times – just make sure you’re not being spammy. Add a different angle to each share and you’ll appeal to a different group of people. Sharing in different times of day will also help you extend your reach.Share your content often, but don't get boring! Instead of just announcing a new post, ask a question, cite a fact, share a quote, add mystery, or use a pop culture reference. Click To Tweet
I generally share my new blog posts over the course of a month and I use different posting frequency for the different social networks:
- On Twitter, I’ll share twice on the day of launching the post, then on the next day, in 3 days, a week later, 2 weeks later, and a month later.
- On Facebook, I’ll share through both my personal profile and the blog’s Facebook page – on the day of launching the post, the next day, a week later, 2 weeks later, a month later.
- On LinkedIn, I’ll share right when I launch the post, a week later, and a month later.
Each of these shares has a different angle and I’ll choose several of these for any given post:
- A regular announcement: New blog post is out! Here’s my full step-by-step process for writing a blog post!
- Asking a question: Do you struggle when writing? I do, too, but I’m managing to overcome it thanks to a structured blog writing process. Here it is!
- Citing a fact that gets people thinking: There are 140,000 new blog post online each day. The key to getting through the clutter is a structured writing process.
- Sharing a quote: “I stayed healthy and I stayed married.” This is what Steven King credits his writing success to. I have some other ideas you can use for blog post writing success.
- Adding mystery: I’ve managed to keep a successful blog for more than 11 years. I do it and stay sane while doing it thanks to this writing process.
- A pop reference: If you like it then you should’ve written a blog post about it! [insert Beyonce GIF here] Here’s how I get ideas for new blog posts – and all my other steps for writing:
Use your groups and answer questions
The best thing about being online is being part of like-minded communities. Make sure you add value to them all the time – so then every once in a while you can also share something you wrote there. Of course, your best judgment needs to come into play – make sure your blog post is something the group is interested in.
Mention brands and authors
A good blog post contains ideas from different sources. So when you include such sources, give them a shout-out on social media. They will be happy to hear you value them and might even distribute your content further.
In a recent blog post about productivity, I listed all my favorite tools – and I was quick to mention them on Twitter. They didn’t take long to reply and like my tweet – which means part of their audience saw it, too.
You can do the same with influencers who’s posts you linked to or just mentioning people in your network who’s opinion you want to hear on the topic.
The world needs more quality content
So much content is released into the world every day it can get your head spinning. In this reality, it may seem you don’t have a lot of valuable stuff to say. This is how I felt for a long time. But once I started writing, I saw that people find value in my posts and this can be the start of great new relationships.
No matter what you think your worth is, roll up your sleeves and start writing. If you make sure your highest goal is to bring value you’ll find a way to do it. And a clear blogging process will only help you get there faster.