How To Write A Standout Blog Entry
Blogging is the bread-and-butter of most content marketing programs, as well as the bread-and-butter of many a freelance writer’s income. It’s easily our most-requested type of content, and one of the most valuable to our clients.
Dollar-for-dollar, investments in blogging yield higher returns than advertising (on average). And, unlike advertising, good blog articles become a permanent asset that grows in value over time.
A well-kept blog forms a valuable library of content that sales and marketing teams draw on to nurture relationships, even as new content draws in new readers and new leads. Blogging contributes to SEO more than any other form of content, and can position a company as a sought-after authority in the industry.
Great blogging also serves as the backbone of a content marketing program, by refreshing interest in existing assets (driving traffic to white papers and case studies, for instance), building resources for deeper content (when related posts are amalgamated into ebooks and guides), and generating hooks that draw in new leads.
Of course, there’s a down side to every up side, and the down side to the blogging picture is that keeping up with the quality and quantity required is time-consuming and, due to the crowded nature of the content landscape, even with good writing it’s hard to stand out in any meaningful way. Gaining traction with blogging is much harder now than it was 10 years ago when I got my start.
But, of course, the fact that it is hard does not mean it’s not worth doing. It just means that you have to up your game. Here’s how.
Though it’s been true from the beginning of time, it’s amazing how many blogs still seem to miss this essential point: If you’re not speaking to your audience’s genuine needs and interests, then they’re not listening. The fact that so few blogs genuinely answer the audience’s need is good news for you, though—it means you can begin to stand out simply by honoring this one rule. Here’s how:
- Know who you’re after. Will the blog target CEOs or end users? Managers or small business owners? All of the above, you say? Then you’ve got a problem. Each of these audiences has their own interests and concerns, and if you’re trying to reach all of them, you’re going to reach none of them. Choose, and go with it. If you need to reach all of them, then you need to invest in more blogging so you can target them individually.
- Know where it hurts. Beyond simply knowing who the audience is, you’ve got to know what motivates them, and nothing motivates quite like pain. What are they worrying about? What are the challenges they’re trying to solve? Look up discussions on LinkedIn that people in your target audience are having—what are the questions they’re asking? Answer those in your blog, and you’ll be sure to catch their attention.
- Know what they’re after. In addition to catching their attention, a stand-out blog entry also knows where to send the reader when they’re done. The vast majority of readers click away when they’re done, never to return. Hooking them means more than just begging them to subscribe to your blog. It means knowing what they’re after and what THEY want to do when they’re done. Make it easy for them to take the step they already want to take, and you’ve brought them one step closer to your goal.
Blogging comes in many flavors, and unless you know why you’re doing it, it’s easy to waste a lot of time spinning wheels. Some possible reasons to blog include:
- To build authority in the industry
- To improve SEO
- To spark social engagement
- To generate leads
- To “go viral”
- To build a content asset library for sales and marketing
Of course, blogging can support more than one goal at a time, so don’t feel you have to limit yourself. Once you know what you’re after, you can focus on the types of blogs that will get you there.
Know Your Types
When putting together blogging packages for our clients, we focus on three core types, always matched to what they’re trying to accomplish:
- Authority Building. Companies who want to be seen as an authority in their industry must have the content to support that vision. Blogging for authority means producing long (1000++ words—often much longer) articles containing depth, breadth, and meaty original content that reflects true thought leadership. These are the most expensive and time-consuming type of entry to produce, and we often mix them in with shorter less-costly types to gain frequency for a more manageable investment.
- SEO. SEO is one of the most-cited reasons for blogging, and for good reason. Very few, if any, endeavors will yield as much SEO benefit as a well-tended, targeted blog filled with optimized blog posts. An SEO entry does not need to be as long or as deep as an authority building post (though an authority post can often double as an SEO post when done right). It must, however, focus on answering questions that are often searched for, and include the right keywords, along with useful information and internal linking. SEO posts often answer fundamental questions like “What is a Widget” and “How to Make a Widget.” Because of this, SEO posts also become a valuable library of content for marketing and sales to draw on over time.
- Social Engagement. Social engagement posts are designed to generate leads on social platforms and via email communications. They answer commonly asked questions, discuss trending topics, and generally stay tuned to the types of topics that get passed around and talked about in the forums your company engages in. These posts require an active social presence for good results. They can readily be combined with SEO and/or authority building.
We frequently package any or all of the above in combinations, based on client needs. Both SEO and social engagement posts are less costly to produce, and therefore often form the backbone of the program with authority posts added in at intervals. By building a package to meet client needs, you’re already way ahead of the pack. Now to make each entry stand out.
Choose Your Topics
With all of the above firmly in mind, the next step in stand-out blogging is to generate a list of relevant topics. We generally schedule a kick-off session with our client. Bringing in a sales person or two is usually beneficial, as well as the person(s) who will sign off on the content.
Topics will vary based on your purpose, but a few key points are worth bearing in mind:
- Don’t be afraid to cover basic stuff. Particularly if you’re blogging for SEO, don’t be afraid to cover topics like “What is a [fill in the blank]?” and “How Much Does a [whatever] Cost?” Think of it as building a library of content you can refer back to over and over.
- Focus on the pains, fears, and hopes of the target audience. This is where the magic happens—meeting the actual needs of the market.
- Ask the sales team what questions prospects ask during the sales process. Aim to answer those questions in the blog.
- Do Google searches on each topic and check the “searches related to” box at the bottom of the search results for related topics. It’s totally okay to rip those questions out wholesale and use them as your blog article title—in fact, that’s often the best possible thing you can do. (Shout-out to Brian Saemann at GoBeyond SEO for this tip.)
- Check LinkedIn Groups for what your audience is talking about. Answer their questions in blog form.
- Consider alternate formats like interviews, round-ups, and quizzes. Don’t limit yourself to standard blog formats. One of our highest performing blog entries at Scopcity was a round-up of quotes from a conference. It did well in part because everyone quoted in the article re-tweeted it, including some pretty significant influencers. Round-ups and expert interviews are both simple to produce and good for extending your reach. Quizzes and other types of interactive content tend to do very well as social engagement pieces.
As your blog gets up and running, pay attention to your metrics. When a topic generates interest, return to it and write about it from other angles, in more detail, with more stories, or with customer stories attached. According to Hubspot, a prolific producer of content, there are approximately 25 blog entries that generate more than half their leads… and they milk those 25 topics for all it’s worth. You can do the same.
Build the Content
Once you have a blog topic list, and all your materials are in hand (whether you’ve interviewed subject matter experts, drawn on external research, or are pulling the expertise out of your own head), it’s time to sit down and put it all together. Here are the essentials:
- A Compelling Headline. The importance of the headline cannot be underestimated. Too many great pieces of content get buried because no one ever clicks through. “When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar,” says David Ogilvy (the legendary ad man). If you’re not already a master of the headline, take the time to study it. Copyblogger and Hubspot both have excellent resources available for a simple search. Keep in mind that a great headline is NOT usually clever or complicated—often, the best headlines are concrete, direct, specific… yet leave a “curiosity gap” that drives the reader to want to click through. Easy-peasy, no?
- Grabby Subheadings. Once the reader has clicked through, it’s your job to keep them there. Subheadings throughout the piece help the reader to see where you’re going and what they can expect, both of which are key in holding attention. They also give them the opportunity to scan through to the parts that matter to them, which is important for busy professionals. Grabby subheadings will continue to “sell” the content and compel the reader to stick around.
- Catchy Image(s). At minimum, a good blog entry contains at least one high-quality, relevant (though possibly funny or irreverent) image. Even people who are highly text-driven (like me) are more likely to click through on a post with an image. The best images add additional information, commentary, or mood.
- Outstanding information, good writing, solid structure. You need only read the comments on a few pieces of mediocre “sponsored content” to discover that nothing irritates readers more than clicking through on a fascinating headline with a catchy image only to find that the content inside sucks. So what does good content look like? Obviously, it varies by article type, but some basics to keep in mind while writing:
- Lay the foundation. Provide context in the initial paragraphs.
- Introduce the problem or challenge. Even if you’re just answering the question “What’s a widget,” take the time to say, “not everyone understands what a widget is and what it does.”
- Tell a story. Nothing is quite as compelling to the human psyche as a good story. While not every blog entry will contain traditional stories, it never hurts to frame up the article with a relevant case study, personal anecdote, or other story. A word of caution: Pay special attention to your audience, and don’t tell them stories that will feel like fluff to them. If you’re writing for a logistics organization marketing to ecommerce brands, don’t start with a personal story about how much it sucked the last time you received a damaged package. Lead instead with a story of what happened to the brand when it delivered a damaged package… Point of View (POV)—it matters in marketing as much as in fiction.
- Make it relevant. Answer this question very early: “Why should I care?” Again, POV matters here—it’s not why everyone should care, but why your particular audience should care. Refer back to pains and fears for insight and inspiration.
- Provide a useful solution. Now that you’ve introduced the problem, provide the solution. Maybe it’s the simple answer to the question you’ve posed. Maybe it’s step-by-step instructions for writing a stand-out blog entry (<- See what we did there?). Maybe it’s an introduction to how your product solves the problem for clients. Whatever it is, make sure it’s compelling and interesting enough that the reader leaves feeling they’ve learned something useful.
- Wrap it up. If you’ve told a story, this is a great time to tell the “rest of the story.” Or return to the beginning and show how the information you’ve presented relates to the foundation you’ve laid. Don’t leave the reader hanging.
- Present the next step. The vast majority of blog readers click away from the site when they’re done reading, never to return again. Wasted investment! You can reduce the click-away problem by paying attention to what your readers want to do next, and presenting them an easy way to take that step right there on your blog. Maybe it’s downloading more information or a checklist, maybe it’s subscribing for regular information (only if you have a plan for providing it), maybe it’s speaking with an expert. Whatever it is, make it obvious, clear, and easy.
Take it to the Next Level
If you do everything laid out so far, and execute with skill, your content will be better, and more valuable, than at least 95% of what’s out there. Keep it up, promote the content, and you’ll assuredly develop a valuable following.
Great. But we think you can be greater.
While there’s certainly an art to creating genuinely remarkable, sharable, amazeballs content, here are some techniques you can try right away to stretch toward that goal.
- Use your voice. Think of the great voices of our time: David Attenborough, Brene Brown, Patrick Stewart. If you’re like me, you’ll follow one of those voices anywhere into any topic. Because they’re just good company. Often in business, we think our goal is to whitewash everything into a pale, ‘professional,’ dressed-up version of itself. Bollux. If you want a passionate following… or authority in your industry… or any of the other goals listed above… develop an interesting voice. Be funny, be irreverent, have an opinion about things, swear if that’s your bag, be silly, be vulnerable, be yourself. Guaranteed you’ll stand out. If you’re writing for someone else, take the time to get to know their voice and learn to write in it. Then charge them an arm and a leg for becoming them. You’ll have earned it.
- Cross disciplines. Some of our best-performing content is where we introduce improv, brain science, and other seemingly unrelated topics into the discussion. This approach has the benefit of drawing in more readers, providing a unique twist on tired topics, and generating considerably more interest than cut-and-dry writing. We all have interests and expertise outside our industry—bring them in and mix it up.
- Draw out an analogy. Sometimes the best way to spice up a traditionally “boring” topic is to compare it to something not boring. We’ve written articles comparing Excel spreadsheets to a bad boyfriend and environmental risk mitigation to dating—both of which were high performers for our clients. The key to making this work is to choose an analogy that is surprising and outside the usual, but nevertheless highly applicable.
- Be funny. Nothing, and I mean nothing, keeps readers coming back more than knowing they will get a good laugh. Of course, there’s also nothing harder and riskier than trying to be funny. You may think you can’t possibly do it, but the truth is that humor is a learned skill. Read humor blogs, follow funny people, watch comedy, and practice it. Consider taking an improv comedy class. It’ll pay off.
- Be vulnerable and authentic. Readers, especially savvy B2B audiences, can spot a fake from a mile away. Keep it real. Tell real stories, and not just from your highlights reel. Sometimes the stories of failure are exactly what will propel the blog into the limelight.
- Watch the metrics. As you build your library, pay attention to which pieces generate the most interest and discussion. Those are your gold mine. Don’t be afraid to revisit those topics again and again, and to repurpose the content into other formats (record a video, create an info-graphic, post it in a modified version on another platform, answer questions readers ask about the topic, cover another angle, etc.). Your audience will tell you what they love. Give them more of it.
- Practice. Study. Learn. Practice. Nothing will take you further than simple practice. Study your craft by reading blogs and articles about it. Rehearse the parts you’re bad at (I used to struggle with headlines… I got better) until you’re good at them. Find out what’s trending in the content world (it changes over time). Read the greats (Copyblogger, Neil Patel, anyone from Hubspot, to name a few) and learn from them. Then practice some more. Put the content out there and see what hits, what works. Listen to feedback, positive and otherwise. Practice more. This is where greatness comes from.
Know How Much to Charge
Do all of the above, master the craft, and you can command top dollar. If you’re an agency with a writer who can do all this, pay them well, and charge your clients accordingly. The return will be worth it, and they’ll thank you.
Of course, beginning writers will command less, and there is a spectrum based on portfolio, experience, excellence, and location. To find out more about how much to charge, read our write-up here.
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Fen Druadìn Head (formerly Heather Head) is an author, as well as the founder of Scopcity. When she is not writing, running the business, or chasing down bad guys on Twitter, she enjoys hiking, snuggling with her husband and three boys, and avoiding the kitchen.