What does it look like?
If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking of something like a single square of processed cheese (I see it curling and browning at the edges) encased within two stale, dry slices of wonder white. It’s cut in uneven triangles.
And I have an admission to make: I’m one of them.
(OK that last one might be all on me.)
The point is, I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But after years of blundering about as a blog writer, I think I can give you a few basic strategies for elevating your blog game from cheese sandwich to … well … at the very least, roast beef and horseradish on rye.
Now, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume two things: firstly, that you know how to write, and secondly that you have something to say. If either of these assumptions are false, you’ll definitely want to work on those first.
Still here? OK then let’s talk about planning.
Note the abundance of reviews, the fact-based opinions, and the obvious “something-to-say” vibe you get from its pages. That’s the gold standard, and you may not immediately have quite as much substantial content as this guy, but it’s a good reminder.
Your blog post plan begins with something you want to say. It shouldn’t just be talking for its own sake. If you’re not quite sure what your blog post is going to be about, find that “thing” that binds your ideas together before going any further.
Build Your Outline
If possible, intuit your outline before you read or think too deeply. Commonsense and intuition aren’t always an ally in the writing process, but here, right at the beginning, I’ve found that going with your gut is infinitely preferable to over-thinking.
Try to find three big things to say. Threes are powerful. I can’t back this up with science or hard data, but if you can explain something in three points, readers will find it just the right level of detailed.
If you have a lot to say, look for threes within threes — that is to say, set three sub points (or h2 points, if you’re web-minded) for each of your main (or h1) points. Gold star for you if you noticed that’s how I structured this article.
Perform Targeted Research
If you don’t do enough research, the rest of your writing process will be painful as you constantly rush off for more information. You need most of your knowledge assimilated before you move to the writing process.
However, it’s important not to over-research either. Too much information may overload your blog post with extraneous detail. It’s also a terrible time-suck. This takes practice, but aim to get good at identifying that moment where you have just enough data to fuel your content, and nothing more.
Oh and a final pro-tip before we hit the writing stage. Figure out your opening sentence while you research. This may be a statistic, an anecdote, or an unusual point of view (sandwich metaphors are often quite useful).
Then we get to writing — and here I hesitate a little. Writing is different for everyone. So my defensive little caveat is that I’m about to lay out what works for me. If this feels wrong for you, then you can and should find your own way.
Write For Your Audience
So, know your audience — and have a firm grasp of why they’re reading your content. For example, they may be trying to decide on a course of action; seeking to learn something new; deliberating on whether to purchase a product or service.
Now, it is true that you can have multiple purposes as you write, but there should always be one main driving audience goal. Keep that purpose uppermost in your mind as you transform the meat of your words into honey-baked wisdom.
If you’re writing sensible blog posts about home insurance or self-cleaning underpants, you may question whether story-telling and suspense play any role in your content. It can. And in these days of content overload, it probably should.
How you build interest and suspense is going to greatly depend on the topic you’re covering. However, as a general rule, you can’t go too far wrong if you define a problem, talk about what the reader has to gain or lose, and then offer information on how to overcome it.
The trick is, don’t give everything away in your first paragraph. But don’t be a tease either, constantly dangling new revelations just out of reach like a late night infomercial host selling miracle hair growth formula.
Aim to Surprise
Throw in a few interesting words, or turns of phrase. The goal here is not to dazzle and amaze readers with your vocabulary. Your purpose is simply to add startling tidbits that cause the reader to jolt back into paying attention.
Many blog writers go with the logic that because blog posts aren’t fairy tales, it’s fine to use a bland chicken farm of no-nonsense words all neatly lined up in a row. March in the opposite direction. The more dry and explanatory your topic, the more zang you should add to your content’s zing.
Oh, and kick cliches to the curb. Only use boring proverbs or over-repeated sayings if you have a very specific reason to do so. Just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many cliches will spoil your blog.
See? Cliches stink.
Here’s a bit more highly arbitrary detail. Wait a minimum of twenty minutes before editing. Use a grammar checking tool to pick up the obvious stuff, and then perform a close read through to pick up those problems a grammar-droid algorithm can’t detect. Always do both.
Ruthlessly cut out the fluff, even if you love what you wrote. I’ve found it helps to paste extraneous copy into a snippets document. This way, you can always bring that chunk of golden prose into a future blog post where it will be more relevant.
Finally, check for style drift. Did you start by writing in the third person only to drift into speaking directly to the reader as you relaxed into the content? Do you use an active voice but skulk off to a passive voice when touching on issues you’re less confident about? You needn’t be obsessive about it, but massage as much consistency of style into your blog post as possible while allowing yourself moments to jump into a different voice when warranted.
Test Your Voice
The voice test is a great way to make sure your writing is engaging and readable. By reading your copy out loud, those long and unnecessarily windy sentences will stand out like a randy chimp at a garden party. Shorten those suckers.
Slightly altered punctuation may help the writing read like you want it to “sound” in your reader’s head. Oxford commas add clarity where needed, and the wonderful em dash may give your copy a dramatic pause — right where you need it. Italics are a good way to suggest emphasis.
You might even want to choose one (see? Italics) place in your copy where an exclamation point makes sense. Yep, just one! Exclamation points leech credibility from writing, so it’s best to use them sparingly.
You don’t have to tie each of your points up in a neat little bow, but give your story an ending — some kind of call-to-action which binds your ideas into a tasty tinfoil swan that your readers can heat up later when they want to revisit the delicious gourmet sandwich that was your blog post.
And Here’s the Call-to-Action
Sure, blogs run on copious quantities of cheese sandwich content, but the more amazing (or even quasi-amazing) posts you can add to your blog’s menu, the greater the likelihood people will return to your word-kitchen.
If… that’s... a thing.