The Key to Writing Great Blog Posts

key to writing great blog postsWriting effective content for the web is about more than picking a topic and actually writing the piece–although those two steps are, of course, a critical part of the process! A number of other elements are equally important when it comes to making your post readable, shareable and discoverable.

This topic came up in a Facebook group recently and I realized that I talk about this topic in presentations on writing for the web all the time, but I’m not sure we’ve ever written about it here. Let’s dive in and look at the keys to great blog posts, shall we?

The Importance of a Great Headline

One of the first steps to attracting readers is crafting a compelling headline–and it’s also in delivering great content to accompany that headline. People are busy. And writing great blog content is a lot like fishing. You have to rely on the power of your headline to hook them and get them interested in clicking through to read the post. Data supports this: 8 in 10 people will see your headline and only 2 in 10 will actually click through to read it.

The lesson here is that if your headline isn’t a killer one (and your meta description is pretty critical, too), you can kiss any chance of someone being interested enough to stop what they’re doing and reading your piece goodbye.

Deliver On Your Promises

Don’t think that a catchy headline will reel them in and keep them interested if you fail to deliver once they’ve clicked through. In fact, that’s one of the quickest ways to really annoy your readers. By misleading readers with an interesting or catchy headline and then not delivering in your content, you run a huge risk of alienating them completely.

There’s also the risk that they’ll be so annoyed they’ll share your post and hold it up as an example of crummy content on the social networks in which they participate. I’ll admit that I do that from time to time when content doesn’t deliver–mostly because I’m annoyed that the writer had the audacity to waste my time. Are you nodding your head here? Our time is really our most valuable asset, isn’t it? And when someone wastes it, it really is kind of like being stolen from. At least that’s the way I feel about it.

Subheads Make Reading Your Content Easier

Subheads are a key component of producing readable content. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that people read every word you labor over for those blog posts you write or for that web content you’ve spent time agonizing over. It’s just not possible. We have so much information coming at us on a daily basis that it’s literally (every time I say that I’m channeling Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation, and it’s important you say it that way in your head when reading this) impossible to stay up on all the things that come our way that we’re interested in and want to know more about.

When you keep this in mind when writing your blog posts and when you serve up content in chunks that are not only visually appealing by also scannable by virtue of the subheads you’ve used, it makes your content more valuable for the reader.

I don’t know about you, but I usually scan through a post before reading it its entirety to get a sense of what’s going to be covered there. Subheads help give me those answers PDQ and make posts exponentially more valuable for me. What about you? What are your reading habits?

A Picture is Worth a Thousand …. Clicks

Blog posts that don’t contain images are not as effective as posts that do. At least when it comes to attracting clicks. When posts don’t contain compelling images I’m less likely to read them, how about you? If you don’t have a header image in your post, when it’s shared it just shows up as a link, which diminishes your chance of a click through and isn’t that really what you’re hoping for?

Also, images, graphs, charts and the like also help make a post more scannable (in much the same way that subheads do), so whenever you can write and back up and/or illustrate what you’re writing about with visuals, do.

Meta Descriptions and Titles: The Guts of Your Blog Posts

The guts of your blog posts, the things that your readers can’t see, are as important as the part that people can see. And your titles and meta descriptions are the guts of your post. You should make sure your posts contain the right keywords and that they are no longer than 60 characters–anything longer than that gets cut off by the search engines. Likewise, you should keep your meta descriptions under 160 characters and use the same keywords in your meta description as you’ve used in your post title.

Your meta description is your chance to really sell your blog post. This description will be what’s pulled when someone clicks one of your sharing buttons and it will be what the search engines use to analyze your content and categorize it accordingly. I tell my team regularly that the post title and meta description are more important than the post as a whole, so if you’re not already paying attention to these parts of your posts, maybe you’ll be inspired to start.

Here’s an example from a recent post of a title and a meta description that shows what the post looks like when shared:

blog meta description

This is your “bait.” This is what content looks like when it’s shared online, so if your headline isn’t compelling, if your visuals aren’t interesting and if your meta description isn’t enough to tempt someone to stop what they’re doing and read your content, well, then, you’ve failed.

There you have it. My thoughts on the key to writing great blog posts. Great headlines supported by relevant content, subheads that break up the content and make it scannable, images in the post to make it not only more attractive when shared, but also that support the content and as much focus on the guts of your post as there is on what’s visible on the outside. And for all that’s holy if you can’t spell, get an editor. There’s almost nothing more unattractive or annoying than a post that contains spelling or grammar errors.

What did I miss?

Image: Wesley Fryer via Compfight cc

  • http://twitter.com/gpkc Greg Peters

    This is great advice for all of us admitted blogger wanna-be’s and some pros who could use a boost. Thanks for sharing the information.

  • http://www.veritate-et-virtute.com BurgessCT

    A comprehensive how-two in 10 mins (I read some parts twice)
    Thanks Shelly

  • http://marksherrick.wordpress.com/ MarkSherrick

    Love it. The only way those of who need help can learn is when the ones who know what they are doing spend the time to help us out. Shelly and her crew have it down, and I commend them for advice like this for the rest of us.

  • http://twitter.com/3PercentConf The 3% Conference

    Agree, wholeheartedly. I also find too many bloggers all scramble to write about “THE” hot topic du jour instead of owning an original thought about something.

  • ShellyKramer

    You’re welcome, CB :)

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Greg. So glad you found the info here useful. Always makes me smile.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Mark. You are always such a generous soul. I’m glad the interwebs made it possible for us to be friends!

  • http://marksherrick.wordpress.com/ MarkSherrick

    Its all Twitter’s fault. You can blame the two guys who created it.

  • ShellyKramer

    Owning an original thought? Surely you jest. xoxo to you, Kat.

  • http://www.drmichellemazur.com/ Michelle_Mazur

    This should be sent out to every blogger who is just starting out. I wish I would have read this post as a newbie blogger. It would have save me a lot of time!

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  • http://twitter.com/YouBeingSocial You Being Social

    Great article! I cannot underline your section “A Picture is Worth a Thousand …. Clicks” enough! I teach my team to look for images in a blog post that is otherwise relevant, concise, well written and from a credible source. If it has all of those things, but has no image, then it will get passed by when we are searching for content to share on our client’s behalf. An image not only grabs the readers’ attention, but it also makes the profiles on many social networking sites look more aesthetically appealing. Thanks for the great article, Shelly! @JennyQ (P.S. whose license plate is that? — Love it!)

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  • Adam Fox

    I am just starting out blogging in my MS science class and COETAIL course (written about 8 posts in my life). I appreciate the timely and well received advice. I was aware what popped up in my Reader and Pulse but didn’t think to create my own posts with the proper meta-descriptions and header images. Thanks for the information!

  • http://twitter.com/gpkc Greg Peters

    Headlines really are a deal-maker.

  • ShellyKramer

    Agreed :)

  • Sandy Appleyard

    I totally agree with all your points, but one thing I’ll add is the use of bold, italics and underlining keywords. It’s actually funny that I read this post right after scrolling straight through another that had no heading and no bolded keywords….just paragraphs of info. I cringed…and moved on :)

  • http://theannoyinglife.com/ Kevin Martin

    I agree that not delivering on one’s promises in the headline can cause a blog to lose its credibility.

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  • ShellyKramer

    Well then, we both agree on that ;)

  • http://freetraffictip.com Tinu

    So very true. The other thing I see a lot is a great post that obeys all these guidelines but is targeted to the wrong readers.

    .

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