Blogging is an integral part of most content marketing and SEO strategies. When done right, it generates traffic, social signals, backlinks and leads for a website. “Doing it right,” however, is easier said than done. Blogging the right way starts with tightening up the quality of writing in your blog.
As freestyle as blogging is, people still judge blogs and their authors by how effectively ideas are conveyed in the written form. Spoken media like video and audio can mask grammatical flaws, run-on sentences and mile-long paragraphs but you can’t get away with those in writing. Text is static and people can subconsciously tell good from bad writing even if they’re not grammar Nazis.
Snappy, effective and flowing blogs performs best for online readers. The Internet delivers information on demand, which means readers will turn away if you don’t capture their interest within seconds. Even when you do reel them in, your writing has to consistently deliver quality in order to sustain their interest from start to finish.
Here are some tips on how you can do just that:
Tip 1: There’s No Substitute for Expert Knowledge
The first element of effective blogging is knowing exactly what you’re writing about. Whenever possible, blog only about the things that you know a lot about. If you’re managing content for a third party, getting subject matter experts who have the highest degree of familiarity on their audience can make a big difference. If a client and his product managers don’t have the bandwidth to blog, set up regular meetings to get their perspectives on topics in your editorial calendar.
Being an expert or having the guidance of one significantly speeds up the writing process. A high level of knowledge gives your post a more potent factual and logical punch – essential ingredients when you’re trying to establish authority.
Tip 2: Narrow Down Topics before You Start Writing
You can guarantee yourself an easier and faster blogging experience by zeroing in on very definite topics that are limited in scope. Blog posts can be comprehensive, but the areas of knowledge discussed have to be closely related in a way that drives home a singular point.
For instance, the title “How to Bake a Cake” may sound straightforward but when you consider how many types of cake there are, this blog post can spill over in a lot of different directions. In contrast, writing a post titled “How to Bake a Black Forest Cake” sets very definite limits on what the post will contain. It sets the right expectations on the part of your readers and it saves you the trouble of having to limit your topic within the post itself.
Writing more specific posts allows you to cover a lot of different areas of knowledge in your niche’s body of content. That gives your site a better chance to rank for a diverse set of keywords. A site with a multitude of pages that offer ample amounts of content will often outperform a site with just a few long-form content pages in terms of search and overall user experience.
Tip 3: Cite Your Sources
You did not come up with all the knowledge in your niche and your readers don’t expect that to be the case. You may have experts blogging for your site, but they learned a lot of what they write in school, by experience and by reading the work of others online. That said, mentioning your sources and linking back to the pages where you got your info is a hallmark of editorial excellence. It shows that you give credit where it’s due and that your information adds to what others in your field have already contributed.
Citation also shows that you are aware of the state of knowledge in your industry, which adds credibility to your writing. Search engines also take the act of linking to authoritative sites as a trust signal. The more comtextual your linking practices are, the better your perception gets in the eyes of Google.
Here’s an example, if I was blogging about employee retention and I wanted to drive the point that salary isn’t a primary factor in an employee’s tenure with a company, I can go about it in one of two ways. I could write:
Some surveys show that pay is not a prime factor for employee retention.
Or I could go with:
According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), pay is not a prime factor for employee retention.
Neither one is wrong but the second one carries more weight because of the credible citation. It shows that I’m not arguing based on assumption and what I have to say is based on facts. That’s a quality that humans and search engines appreciate – one that will pay off in the long run.
Tip 4: Write Attention-Grabbing Headlines
The headline is the most important part of any blog post. It’s the first thing that the reader sees and it’s the one thing that determines whether he’ll go on to read the rest of the entry. If your blog headlines fail to rivet the user in just a few words, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to deliver the rest of the information you painstakingly wrote.
Headline writing is a fine art in itself. Not everyone can deliver a powerful, enticing statement with just a few simple words. Average writers is can write headlines that sum up a post’s ideas in one phrase. Great writers, however, find ways to strike the reader’s psyche using different play-of-word strategies.
If you’re new to headline writing or if you want to take your skills to the next level, I suggest reading Copyblogger’s How to Write Magnetic Headlines resource. It’s easy to comprehend, it’s full of useful examples and it offers a wide array of headline styles that you can play with.
Tip 5: Avoid Using Big Words
Novice writers have the tendency to use big words in an attempt to look smart. After all, it takes high intelligence to use terms that only 10% of your readers have ever heard of, right?
Wrong. The use of big words in blog posts does nothing but alienate the majority of your readers. A truly smart writer understands that and caters to the needs of his audience.
When writing blog posts, keep this old journalism cliché in mind: write to express and not to impress.
Your readers cannot care less about your vocabulary prowess. They only care about the substance of the message you’re trying to deliver.
In GDI, we have “The Four Syllable Rule” for our writers. Basically, if we use a word that’s four syllables or longer, we qualify it as a big word. We then try to come up with more common synonyms or sentence construction tweaks to deliver the same message in a more reader-friendly way.
Don’t use luminescent when you can use bright. Don’t write excogitate when you can just write consider. Don’t say paradigm when you can just say model.
You get the idea.
Exceptions to this tip and The Four Syllable Rule apply. Technical terms, proper nouns and long words that are very common can be given a pass.
Tip 6: Short Sentences Work Best
There’s a lot of fuss in the content development world about how long a typical blog post should be. In GDI, we never worry about the word count of anything we write. We follow one simple rule: it should be as long as it needs to be and as short as possible.
We’re big fans of Amy Hempel’s minimalist writing style. We try to emulate it as best as we could due to its beauty, simplicity and effectiveness. One of the things we encourage our writers to do is to write simple sentences with singular thoughts. This helps readers easily digest whatever messages we want to deliver. It’s also a way to minimize the chances of creating confusion.. We believe that the longer a sentence runs, the thinner the attention of a reader gets.
During our editing process, we take long sentences and try to break them into two or more shorter ones. We know a sentence is too long when it has two or more commas in it. Of course, exceptions exist. There will always be more than two commas when enumerating items in one related group.
Robin Williams, one of the world’s most prolific comedians, was found dead yesterday in his apartment.
This sentence can be broken up and simplified into:
Comedian Robin Williams died yesterday. His body was found in his apartment.
We split the compound sentence into two shorter ones. Also, notice that we took out the phrase “one of the world’s most prolific”because it’s an unnecessary qualifier. Williams is a standout comedian who’s famous enough to be recognized by most readers.
Tip 7: Break Up Long Paragraphs
Just like sentences, paragraphs go ugly when they get too long. Even if the sentences are related and coherent, you still need to break them up into sub-groups to prevent the buildup of text walls.
A text wall is a massive block of text bunched up together in an unsightly way. Readers may not actively think it, but a text wall sends implicit signals of complexity and boredom. Text walls can also be a source of confusion as they erode away reader focus. All of these things can add up to a terrible reading experience that a reader wouldn’t want to repeat.
To deal with this, our writers form paragraphs of three or four short sentences. If the sentences are long, a two-sentence paragraph is recommended. When delivering news, one-sentence paragraphs are encouraged.
Tip 8: Use the Active Voice
Without getting into dense English grammar rules, here’s what you need to know: the active voice is the type of sentence where the subject performs the action indicated by the verb. In the passive voice, the subject does not perform the action but is being acted upon by the verb.
Here are two sentences that are saying the same thing but are constructed in two different voices.
Active: Glen is writing a blog post.
The subject is Glen and he is performing the action (writing). In the passive voice, the sentence order is reversed, Glen is no longer the subject but the action is still attributed to him.
Passive: The blog post is being written by Glen.
Notice how in the passive voice, the sentence is slightly longer and the feel is less fluid. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you repeat this type of sentence construct throughout a 1,000+ word article, it impacts the overall reader experience.
The active voice is widely preferred due to its direct and flowing nature. When blog posts are written in mostly active sentences, the reader tends to feel a sense of “motion.” The overall experience becomes slicker and the reader doesn’t tend to get bored.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the passive voice should be banned. It has its uses and there are some cases where it just fits better than an active sentence construct. There are no hard and fast rules on when this should be the case. For best results, we only use the passive voice when they feel the active voice isn’t applicable.
Tip 9: Stop the SEO Copywriting Madness
Adding SEO elements to your writing is generally good practice. Mentioning keywords that you want to rank for helps your site become more relevant to those terms. However, a lot of people misconstrue this advice and apply it to an extent that damages reader experience.
They call it SEO copywriting. Pffftttt…
That’s not to say that SEO copywriting isn’t a legitimate practice – because it certainly is. My problem is with the people who label keyword-stuffed content as SEO copywriting. That’s not copywriting: that’s just a horrible, obsolete attempt to curry the favor of search engine algorithms.
Instead of worrying about things like keyword density and the number of times you mention a keyword, worry about sounding like a mindless bot. Worry more about what your readers might think of your work after they’re done reading it.
In GDI, we don’t even mention the word SEO copywriting. We just write like normal human writers do. When we do this, keywords come out naturally and within context. The only optimization we do is mentioning the main keyword in a post’s title – and even that is not a hard and fast rule.
Search engines now have the ability to better understand language by applying latent semantic indexing principles. Algorithms can tell what you’re writing about even when you don’t incessantly mention the same keyword ad nauseaum. That’s why co-occurrence is a big deal these days. You can literally rank for a keyword without ever mentioning it in your post because Google is smart enough to figure out word associations.
Following these tips isn’t always easy. It takes some practice and a commitment to improve. Start by applying a few at a time and build up from there. When you get to a point when you can apply each principle, you, your client and your readers will notice a significant bump in writing quality.