Blogging Is A Nine-Edged Multi-Tool That Needs To Be Wielded With Deft Precision To Carve Out Results
Haven’t we all often heard the rather general advice that our blog posts should all have “a great beginning, a fact-filled middle and persuasive ending”. If you’re into Knowledge Commerce, you’ll use blogging a lot for marketing – and these are the words about blogging you’ll hear a lot.
We are also told our blog posts should be based on keywords and written for both people and search engines. Further, many people give us many methods to churn blog posts out at scale.
All this is great advice in its own way, but it barely touches the point I want you to see. Your every blog post can be a Swiss Army Knife. It can be a multi-tool. Every part of a well-written blog post can serve a different purpose in helping you work on your customer.
At Solohacks Academy, our experience is that blogging is too important a marketing tool to be handled carelessly. Blogging is about precision. There are nine sharp edges to blogging, each of which can deliver value to your consumer and to you.
1. Starting At The Top – The Headline, The Meta Description And The Featured Image
I wouldn’t say that these three following elements are the most important parts of a blog post. Every part of a blog post is important. But we have to begin somewhere, so let’s start with the three elements that sit at the top of every blog post …
a. Headlines Are The Only Thing A Reader May Read. Give It All You’ve Got.
My biggest boss at the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather was the great David Ogilvy himself. He used to say “95% of people read only the headline. Another small fraction may read the subheads.”
Naturally, we cub copywriters asked him: “Then why are you saying long copy ads work well. Who reads the copy?” He would reply: “The long copy is to justify to the reader that the business has enough to say about itself.”
Moral of the story: The headline you use can make or break you. But that doesn’t mean you click into a free headline generator tool online. Everybody and his grandmother are going to the same place to get the same ideas.
Okay, now for some tips on headline writing …
- Make sure you’ve got an SEO keyword that is the topic around which you are going to write your blog post. Good SEO practices demand that you must use the keyword near the beginning of the headline.
- A good headline formula to keep in mind could be this. Tell the reader what factor about the keyword topic is the highlight of your post – and in what way it will benefit him. For example see this title: “How To Write A Great Blog Post In The Smartest, Shortest, Easiest Way!” Here “write a blog post” is the chosen keyword. The factor about the keyword to highlight is “great” blog posts. Then the benefit to the reader is added i.e. writing “in the smartest, shortest, easiest way”.
- According to Outbrain research, 60-100 characters is the sweet spot for English headlines. Also, on Twitter people share more when headlines are between 8 and 12 words. On Facebook, the most shared posts have headlines between 12 and 14 words.
- You’ll notice that great writers don’t try to get very cute with the headline. It may impress social peers, but you hardly get any clicks on Google if your headlines are whacky. They somehow downgrade your brand. Headlines need to be powerful instead. Not in the use of words alone, but in the promise of a powerful benefit in the headline.
- There are experts who say they write as many as 50 alternative headlines till they get the perfect one. I know I’d get fuddled writing 50 alternatives. If you know your audience and their pains well, you can write the headline in a jiffy. This is because you’ll know in an instant what will benefit them.
If you need some really good advice on how to formulate great headlines, there is a terrific Hubspot infographic on this. I’ve shown you a part of the whole infographic below.
Infographic courtesy: Hubspot
b. The Meta Description Is Your Competitive Difference. Make It Work Hard.
When you write your blog post you’ll have to enter a meta description in the SEO box of the post creation page. The meta description doesn’t usually appear anywhere on your blog post. But it reflects on the Google page where your post gets listed. See the image below.
Why is the meta description important? One reason is because it tells Google what your page is about. It describes the contents of your blog post in a short sentence.
But there’s another important aspect too. If you look at any Google SERP page for any keyword, you’ll find so many articles with near similar headlines. So why do you think someone would click on your article and not another one there?
Your intrigue factor could lie in your meta description. It could hint at the differentiated contents your article promises to have. People may then bypass the top listings on the page and choose your blog post to read, even if you’re low on the SERPs.
Some rules you should follow in meta description writing are these:
- Write the meta description with the keywords at the beginning of the sentence. Ideally, meta descriptions should be no longer than 155 characters.
- Don’t just say what’s in the article, say what’s different about your article. Use the meta description to give a hint of the uniqueness of your article. If you have a slightly different angle on the topic, make that known.
- Sometimes questions in the meta description work well. They make a reader want to click to see if his answer to the question matches the one in the article. An example of such a meta description could be: “Great blog posts of 2000 words needn’t be hard work … if you know some smart tricks. Know what they are?”
- Some experts like to put their Call-To-Action in the meta description. This too is a good idea. You can use a verb in the meta description that asks the reader to take some action. For example: “Want to write great blog posts fast? Cut your writing time by 30-45 minutes. Click here.”
- Some bloggers and publishers like to put meta descriptions out on their posts as well. These then act as adjuncts to their headlines. Entrepreneur.com usually does this. See this image of how their meta description also appears on the blog post.
Image courtesy: Entrepreneur.com
c. The Featured Image Is Eye-Candy. Use It To Arrest Attention And Hold The Reader.
The main image of your blog post (aka the featured image) is very important. When it appears immediately under the headline, it grabs the reader’s eye and holds attention.
Make sure this image is large and stunning, and relevant to the topic of the blog post. Let it reflect the mood of the post – serious, authoritative or practical – and also the tone of your overall brand. See the image below to see how it complements the headline.
This is important not just because any great image is eye-catching. The featured image also offers the mind a bit of steadying before it collects itself to read your article with attention.
It’s the equivalent of a small breathing space. The mind has nothing to do when it sees an image. It can just enjoy its moment. Whereas it has to apply itself with focus to understand the text.
A few things that are key to images:
- Always optimize an image down to its smallest file size, without losing quality. You can do this by using Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements) . Choose “Save For Web” instead of the usual “Save” feature. The image comes down to a fraction of its original size. This makes your page loading speed faster and Google happier.
- Choose images that are natural and not posed for the camera in a self-conscious way. People like candid shots and get absorbed in these. Pictures that are too posed are artificial and ruin your post’s credibility.
- Whenever you use an image, see that you add an “alt tag” which uses the keywords of the post in it. This is good SEO practice. The alt tag has an extra significance too for visually challenged people. The alt tag description is often read out by screen readers to explain what the image is about. That’s why the alt tag copy must have both the keywords and a good description of the image.
- These days people share visuals by themselves too, without the accompanying posts. So use plugins like Share This Image to make the images on your site socially shareable. It would be good for your branding if you have a small brand stamp at a corner of the image.
- Source your images from reputed stock photography sites. These sites allow you to use images via a Rights Managed or Royalty Free agreement. If the site demands a credit line, you should give credits to the source. This is not always requested by photo sites, so check the rules.
2. The Meat Of The Blog Post – The Introduction, The Subheadings And The Body Text
The three elements of a blog post we describe below are the ones most often taken for granted. Don’t look at these sections as space-fillers or word-count contributors. They need to do a far more crucial job than that …
a. The Introduction Is Not For Stating Your Solution. Agitate The Customers’ Pain.
Many writers open their blog posts explaining their whole post in a short and concise way. They think if no one reads beyond the intro, they must still get the point of the article.
This is exactly what you should not do. In fact, the surest way to get people to read on is to agitate their pain-points. After that use the rest of the article to offer your solution.
The more you touch readers’ raw nerves, the more eager they will be to read on for the answer. This is not some authorship secret. It’s simple human psychology.
Some experts advocate a four-step introduction. It can be as short as four sentences.
- First ask people if a particular pain is troubling them.
- Then ask them how bad the problem is.
- Then ask them if they’d like to be rid of the problem.
- Finally tell them you have the solution and what it’s about.
I personally love the “Ziegarnik effect” formula. Don’t give the answer in the intro. Raise the temperature of the problem. But leave them hanging in the intro with an “incomplete feeling”. They will read on to get a sense of closure. This is like telling someone a story but not giving them the ending. This makes them crave the mental relief of a “proper ending”.
One expert blogger who does these introductory sentences very well is Jon Morrow. I read his posts just to see how he manages to hook the reader in so well. Here, below is a classic example of his blog post introduction.
To write such compelling introductions, you need a deep understanding of audience pains. You can then be very effective with a pain-heightening introduction.
Also, use the words “you” and “yours” when writing. Make every person feel you have written this article for them.
b. Subheadings Are Your Opportunity For Semantic Words. Give Google What It Wants.
There’s an important term now in SEO called Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) What does it mean? It means Google now has gained much higher “intelligence” than before.
For example, when you use the word “apple” in your blog post, Google looks at the surrounding words. It guesses if you mean Apple the computer, or apple the fruit.
When it sees words like “hard-drive” or “laptop,” with the word “apple”, Google knows you mean the computer. When it sees words like “recipes” or “calories” with the word “apple”, Google knows you must mean the fruit.
These related words (semantic words) have become crucial to your blog post rankings. They help Google gauge your article’s match to search queries.
You have to try and use more semantic words in your articles. Google then gets a better grip on what you’re talking about. It also gets a good idea of your depth of knowledge in your article.
When you do keyword research on any topic, look at the long-tail semantic keywords that add depth to the topic. See how a tool like LSI Graph (shown below) can give you so many semantic words for any main keyword you input. When you use these semantic phrases in subheadings, you signal to Google that your article is full of “topic authority”.
One more point to note about subheadings. If the headline of your post is of font size H1 (as it should be), make your subheadings the next biggest font size. A size of H2 or H3 lets Google knows these are important lines of text. Also, put enough white space above each subheading so people can see that a new topic starts here.
c. The Body Text Of Your Post Is Where You Showcase Expertise. Make It Valuable.
If there’s a place where you can show the world how good a content-marketer you are, it’s in the body text of your blog post. This is your field to play with. It’s your area where you can display experience, expertise, niche command and uniqueness.
Since every chunk of body text follows a subheading, stay on the topic of the subheading. Don’t meander away from it. Use outbound links to strong sources of research or the writings of other experts. This will add extra credibility to your own writing. It will bracket you with with the best-of-breed in your niche.
How long should your blog post be?
- In Hubspot’s analysis, the ideal blog post length is roughly 2,100 words.
- Medium found that posts that took seven minutes to read earned the most engagement and attention.
- serpIQ found that most of the top-10 Google results are between 2,032 and 2,416 words.
When I started blogging, I created a rough template for my blog posts that usually has about eight subheadings. I would write posts about 2000 words long. That meant I could put about 200 words in the intro, and 200 words in the conclusion. Each of the 8 subheads would have about 200 words below it. So that would add up to 2000 words in all.
If you too plan it this way you’ll know exactly how much to write to make up a smart, easy article in the shortest time. It also helps to have a template where you can put down the exact outline of your article. Let’s say you have 4 key points to make under each subheading. So your 200 words will have 4 points of about 50 words each.
The image below shows the kind of template I created for myself. You too can make one for yourself (or use mine). See how I’ve also created some extra fields to fill, to keep my post on track. I have place to note who I am writing for and which stage of the buying journey they are in. I can also fill in what value my article will aim to provide. There is also room on this template to show where to include supportive images.
3. The Home Run – The Data, The Multimedia Elements And The Call-To-Action
The three elements of a blog post described below are often the ones left out of posts. It’s as if their presence can be done without. This is where the great bloggers differ from the rest, because they care a great deal about these three elements being just right …
a. Data Is Highly Valued By Google And Audiences. It Separates You From Fluff.
Writing a high-quality data-driven article is not a simple task. You need reliable facts, figures, examples, studies, and research data. You have to use these to give credibility to your work as an authority in your niche.
Whenever it’s possible to use data and numbers, do include these. Some key points to note when using data:
- Numbers written as numerals (46) instead of words (forty-six) attract greater reader attention. This could be because numerals stand out in body-text full of alphabetical characters. They are also easy on the eye when skimming fast through a page.
- Numbers and mathematical signs seem to have authority since they “stamp down facts”. It’s as if there s a lot of conviction when you say “46%” versus when you say “46 percent” or “forty-six percent”. This is a best practice from user experience research.
- Numbers in headlines make a good amount of difference. But beware those headlines that say “Change in your whole website in 5 minutes flat!” or “Learn how I made $123,456, 7890 in one month using my secret sauce!” Numbers can be believable and motivating. Or they can be so inflated and artificial that it makes people angry. Don’t let readers feel like pricking your pompous balloon with a sharp needle.
- Stay clear of irrelevant statistics. Just peppering your blog post with stats isn’t a genuine data-driven piece of content. It’s meaningless drivel and everyone who reads your article will figure it out fast. Remember this awesome cartoon below from Timo Elliott’s Blog.
Data that is visual is easier to digest and also impressive. Look for data accompanied by charts, graphs, diagrams and flow charts. You can usually get good data if you Google your keyword or topic and then foray the images section of Google. You may find charts, graphs or infographics in there, and you can trace the images back to their source pages.
Three points to note when using visual data formats:
- Always give credit to the source of the data and especially watch how old the data is. Don’t go beyond one year back. The online world changes rapidly, and nothing is as brand-eroding as old data.
- Make sure your statistical data and visual data are from well-respected sources. It sounds powerful when it comes from Gartner or HBR.org, versus some unknown research outfit. You don’t have to avoid all small researchers, but it helps your image to show what sources you rely on.
- When you pick data charts from different sources they all tend to look different from each other. So if you want your blog post to look cohesive you have to give the diverse charts some uniformity. Edit them all to a more or less similar size, or give them a distinct border with your brand colors.
b. Add Multimedia Elements For Engagement. It Helps Reduce Bounce Rate Too.
Multimedia add-ons on your site help vary the excitement on the page. They also increase engagement – and thereby reduce the bounce rate.
Multimedia inclusions could be:
- YouTube video embeds that let you “stop and watch”
- Embeds of Slideshare presentations to browse through
- Quizzes or polls that make you itchy to participate
- Gamification ideas that hook readers to “play”
- Podcast embeds to let you lean back and listen for a while
- Infographics that are are packed with minute detail
- Embeds from Instagram, Twitter or other social media
Five tips to make the most of multimedia elements on your blog posts:
- Make sure all multimedia elements are relevant to your topic. Use your own videos or slide presentations. Or if you like, you can use the media created by other authorities in your niche.
- See that the quality of the embeds are pure and perfect to see or to read. Don’t use shoddy media just to pad up your points.
- Make all media elements look uniform on your page. They may be from diverse sources and of different sizes. You can give them some uniformity by framing them in your brand colors or resizing them.
- Make sure you always credit the source. And when you use other people’s media elements in your post, add your own analysis to add value. Let these pieces not look like space-fillers.
- Some multimedia elements may not automatically be mobile responsive. They may look out of place in size and appearance on smaller devices. Use the right CSS coding to make all multimedia elements mobile-friendly. This is very important, so if you’ don’t have basic coding skills, get some outsourced help.
A special tip regarding YouTube embeds:
All YouTube videos have a feature called “Related Videos” that appears at the end of the video. This looks unsightly. Plus, you may not like your readers to see a collection of completely irrelevant other videos that YouTube shows.
Earlier you could remove these “Related Videos” using a snippet of code. But YouTube no longer allows that. Fortunately, you now have a plugin that does the job for you neatly. I found this solution on Chris Racicot’s article in GreenGeeks. It’s called the “Embed Plus For YouTube” Plugin.
Images courtesy: Chris Racicot
c. End With A Conclusion That’s A Call-To-Action. Make The Post Deliver Results.
You don’t need a formal conclusion to a blog post. But you could make a simple request inviting blog comments from readers by way of winding up.
What’s more important though is to include a good strong Call-To-Action (CTA) at the bottom of your blog post. To make your CTA really powerful, here are five tips:
- Use a commanding verb to start your CTA. Spur the reader to act – and act now. If you don’t show enough energy in the wording of your CTA, why will the reader feel roused to act?
- Kindle some positive feelings … preferably enthusiasm. People like seeing or reading something that warms the cockles of their hearts.
- Tell people why they must take action … what the benefit will be. “What in it for me?” is the silent question inside every reader’s mind.
- Don’t feel squeamish to use some FOMO arguments (Fear Of Missing Out). Even the hardest nuts are easy to crack if they feel they “will get left out” of something that’s OTO (One Time Only).
- Make the image one that invites a second glance … and a third … and a fourth. Nothing like a “stop-in-your-tracks” image that clicks with the emotions of the reader.
Rather than explaining how to write great Calls-To-Action, let me show you examples. Notice how different these examples are from each other. The big similarity is that they work!
Netflix: Join Free for a Month
Evernote: Remember Everything
Humboldt County: Follow The Magic
OK Cupid: Continue Button
In Summary …
- Blogging is a nine-edged multi-tool that needs to be wielded with deft precision to carve out great results.
- There are nine sharp edges to blogging, each of which can deliver value to your consumer and to you. It’s like a Swiss Army Knife.
- Every part of a well-written blog post can serve a different purpose in helping you work on your customer.
- Starting at the top, you need ultra-smart use of the headline, the meta description and the featured image. These have grab power.
- The meat of your blog post must contain the introduction, the subheadings and the body text, key to your quality and consistency.
- The home run – the data, the multimedia elements and the call-to-action – are the key parts almost always missing on blog posts.