How To Start A Blog: The Ultimate Free Guide
If you’ve been thinking about starting a blog in 2018, you’ve come to the right place.
Whether you’re interested in sharing some personal insights, or building a passive online income for yourself, a blog is an excellent idea.
You can focus on whatever topic you’re passionate about, write what interests you, and connect with other people who share those same interests.
Blogging is great!
I have been blogging since 2007. I’ve been able to write hundreds of blog posts that have helped thousands of businesses and bloggers, and I’ve leveraged that content into a full-time career as a CMO, marketing consultant and author.
Thanks to my blog, and the fact that I am a 100% work from home business, I have been able to move whenever and wherever I want, as well as work from Barcelona, Florida, California, Hawaii and countless other destinations.
Even my mom’s dining room! (Ok, that might not sound as glamorous, but being able to let my kids spend a whole week around Christmas with their grandparents and cousins, without having to take time off from work, was a big deal.)
And you can too.
“Blogging is like work, but without coworkers thwarting you at every turn.”
- Scott Adams
But we all have to start somewhere. For a blog, that means understanding some back-end technical details, and some front-end style and best practices. Click to watch a quick summary of this article:
- What Is Blogging?
- How To Make A Blog A Business?
- Sell Products
- Sell Services
- Affiliate Recommendations
- Who Is Your Blog For?
- Blogging Focus
- Blogging Targeting
- Blogging Analytics
- Example: Peg Fitzpatrick
- How To Find Your Blogging Voice
- How NOT To Start A Blog
- I Can Blog Using Social Media
- I Can Blog Using A Free Website
- Starting A Blog
- Domain Name
- Blog Hosting
- Blog Platform
- Installing Wordpress
- Configuring Wordpress
- How To Write Blog Posts
- Structure & Format
- Cheater Blog Posts
- Standard Blog Posts
- Pillar Blog Posts
- How To Start Writing
- Fleshing Out Your First Blog Post
- Blog Post Introductions
- Blog Post Body
- Blog Post Conclusions
- How To Craft Blog Titles
- Blog Post Writing Tips
- Example: Rebekah Radice
- How To Generate Blog Post Ideas
- Recording Blog Post Ideas
- Keyword Research for a New Blog
- Keyword Research Step One
- Keyword Research Step Two
- Keyword Research Step Three
- Blogging About Trending Topics
- Bottom of Funnel Blog Topics
- Example: What Happened To Vine?
- Other Blog Post Idea Sources
- How To Make Your Blog Posts More Shareable
- Social Sharing Buttons
- Pinnable Images & Click To Tweet
- Example: Dustin Stout
- How To Build Your Blog Audience
- Social Channels
- Building An Email List
- Subscribe CTA
- Content Upgrade
- Gated Content
- How To Structure Your Blog To Make Money
- The Content Pyramid
- Content Pyramid Example
- Key Ideas, Strategies & Tactics
- Key Tools & Resources
- Get Your Free eBook
Throughout this guide I walk you through best practices and provide essential strategies and tactics for your success. I also recommend specific tools and services that I’ve used, some of which are affiliate links - those cost you nothing more and, in fact, in some instances I’ve negotiated an even better deal for you.
We’re going to cover a lot of ground. I’d strongly recommend that you hit CTRL - D right now to bookmark this resource so that you can come back to it later. You can also download it as a PDF for free here:
Ready? Let’s get to it!
Blogging started when people first began using websites to journal their activities and ideas. The term blog came from “Web Log” and so the initial blogs were quite personal in nature.
That doesn’t have to be the case today.
Blogs are currently used in much the same way normal websites are used: to educate site visitors on a particular topic.
“The process for finding, creating, and consuming information has fundamentally changed with the advent of the web and the rise of blogging.”
- Ryan Holiday
One difference though between what one might call “normal” web pages and a blog is that a blog is expected to have new content added to it regularly, and thus the blogging system should facilitate that.
While most blogs might have comments and tags and other frills… it’s that regular addition of new content which is what really defines and separates the blog from a static site.
Even the posts themselves and the format they’re in matters little. It’s all just content. Here on The Social Media Hat, I use “pages” and “blog posts” and “articles” and “stories” to separate in my own mind and site organization what I’m publishing. But the normal site visitor likely wouldn’t know the difference.
We will get into some of those details very shortly. For now, what’s important is to understand that if you’re going to start a blog, that means that you’re going to be creating a website that you will need to update regularly with new information.
It’s an important point, because that represents a commitment on your part that you have to stick with to achieve success. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to set up a blog, publish one post, and suddenly get droves of traffic that drive crazy amounts of passive revenue.
That’s a pipe dream.
Rather, know that it will take you time to develop an audience. You’re likely going to have to write a lot of blog posts and create a great deal of content, over a lengthy period of time.
How much and how long will depend a great deal on your individual goals. Are you doing this for fun? Are you hoping to make a little money on the side? Or are you hoping to turn your blog and interests into a full time business and career?
Which leads us to a very important consideration: how to make money blogging.
If you’re blogging for fun, or already have a plan to monetize your blog, feel free to skip this section. If, however, you’re definitely interested in understanding how people can make thousands of dollars a month from their blog, I have a brief introduction for you.
There are actually a myriad of ways that people can make money from a blog and website, but at a high level, most methods fall into a few basic categories.
One of the most common ways to monetize a blog is to add advertising. Google AdSense, for example, will generate dynamic ads in whatever spaces you specify that is related to your content and therefore more likely to be of interest to visitors.
In order to see good revenue from advertising, you’ll need to establish growing levels of traffic. It’s poor SEO to fill a brand new site with advertising, and individual advertisers will likely only be interested in working with established brands, so don’t plan to implement advertising right away.
Another common way to monetize a site or blog is to sell products. These might be digital products that you’ve created or resell, or physical products. Depending on the product, you may need to integrate a shopping cart application into your site, or you might be able to refer visitors and interested buyers to a separate site (or just use PayPal buttons, for instance).
While you can certainly launch your blog with products to sell (particularly if that’s the point of your business), keep in mind that as a new business and blogger, you still need to establish a reputation, so keep your expectations reasonable at first.
61% of U.S. online consumers have made a purchase based on recommendations from a blog. (Source: BlogHer)
While selling services may not be the typical blogger’s primary focus, it certainly does offer a lucrative option, particularly if you’re simultaneously working to develop passive revenue streams.
In other words, while you’re working on building traffic and slowly earning more from advertising or other streams, you can still make a great living using your blog content to establish your authority in your niche and offer your services to other people. You can promote them directly on your site, as well as through third-party sites like Fiverr.com or Guru.com.
Finally, what’s typically one of the most effective ways for bloggers to make money is through affiliate recommendations and sales.
The arrangement is simple. You create your blogging site around a central theme, identify one or more businesses that are already selling products or services which serve that niche, and then you promote them on your site. As an affiliate, you are provided a custom link to use to refer readers which, when clicked, automatically associates that visitor and customer with you. You get credit for anything they purchase and earn a commission.
Like all of the other methods, this is by no means an easy path to untold riches. You still need to develop an audience and establish your authority. And when you want to promote an affiliate product, you’re going to have to really sell it and demonstrate value, just as if you were selling your own product or service.
The beauty though is that fulfilment is 100% someone else’s responsibility. And if you’re able to create some really effective systems for funneling readers into the recommended products, you’ll begin to see real monthly earnings - enough to build a real living off of.
I’ll outline what those systems look like for you later on.
“I’ve long advised that bloggers seeking to make money from blogging spread their interests across multiple revenue streams so as not to put all their eggs in one basket.”
- Darren Rowse
While it’s usually best to work on developing a rich archive of content and an engaged audience first, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan for how you’re going to earn money.
To help you figure out where to narrow your niche and how to best build the business side of the blog, I strongly recommend that you sign up for Solo Build It! for Wordpress, the complete online business building program from SiteSell. For the price of a few good books, you’ll have access to what is essentially a Masters degree in online business. This version specifically for Wordpress will tie some of the keyword research tools into your Wordpress site for ease of use.
There are three main areas of concern that need to be addressed before you start blogging and then continuously while you’re blogging, and those are Focus, Targeting and Metrics.
Focus is important in order to keep your blog content topics as narrow as possible. When you stray off into posts that are off-topic, they’re usually a waste of time. It seems counter-intuitive to keep narrowing and narrowing the focus of what you’re writing about - it may seem like you’re limiting your audience. But the fact is, a highly focused set of topics will make it easier for you to figure out what you need to write about, and grow a highly interested audience.
I started blogging when I first opened my web dev business. At the time, I thought that writing about anything business-related would be good for my audience and great for my blog. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Those early posts that I wrote garnered no traffic, no leads, and no sales, and therefore were completely worthless.
What I lacked was an understanding of the connection between the content I needed to write and the audience I was trying to reach.
This is why it’s a good idea to develop one or more personas for your blog and business.
A persona is simply a made-up person that typifies your ideal or target audience. You might include demographic or geographic data if it makes sense to do so, but the more important features are usually their fears, issues, concerns, needs and goals.
If you can gain an understanding of what your audience needs, and how they’re limited, you can create a picture for yourself of how you can help them.
Once you’ve established one or more personas and have started to create content that you think is a better fit for them, you can use your analytics to confirm that.
Google Analytics will help you see how your site content performs, and all of the major social networks also offer reporting options to help you gauge the effectiveness of your social activity as well.
In fact, whenever you’re on the fence about whether a particular topic is a good one, it’s often best to test it with a short social media post rather than invest the time it takes to write a blog post. If the social post resonates with your audience, you know it’s safe to proceed with the longer article.
Example: Peg Fitzpatrick
A great example of a blogger with excellent focus is Peg Fitzpatrick. Peg is a marketing consultant and speaker, so she’s targeting small to medium business owners and brands with her content.
She knows that by sharing detailed blog posts about various aspects of social media marketing, she can position herself as an authority. She also knows that the people interested in her content will, for the most part, be too busy to read all of her articles.
There will always be people who need more help than you can provide in a blog post and will be willing to pay for your expertise.
One area that you may be wondering about is your “Voice.” Maybe you’ve heard other bloggers talk about it. What is it, and how do you get it?
Your voice with regard to writing and blogging is actually very akin to your spoken voice. By that I mean, when you and I are sitting in a cafe having coffee and talking about our career paths, you hear me speaking.
Not only do you hear the words, you hear things like intonation, cadence, stress, emotion, passion, confidence. You learn just as much from the way that I speak as from what I say.
Your writing is the same way. Sure, the typed words are important for facilitating what it is you want to communicate.
But there’s more.
Which words do I choose to use? Which words do I stress? Where do I choose to start new paragraphs or use short sentences.
These are things that, when combined, come together to be “uniquely you.”
But it also happens over time. When you begin to write your first blog post you may not have a clear idea of how you want to talk to your readers.
You may not know if you want to be funny or clever or even shocking.
Of course, whatever style you choose should usually reflect who you are outside of your writing. Most of my friends and colleagues who “met” me through my blog and then we meet face-to-face later find that I write almost exactly like I speak.
What style will you choose?
More important, how will you go about finding that style?
“The best way to develop your writer’s voice is to read a lot. And write a lot. There’s really no other way to do it.”
- Stephen King
Yes, like so many other aspects of blogging, your voice is going to take time to develop. Not only do you need more experience to be able to discern what your voice is, you will also need practice writing with that voice in order to make sure that everything you write is flush with your style.
Here are a few tips to get started:
- Read your writing out loud. Ken Evoy showed me the power of this technique and it’s truly amazing. Not only will you be a better editor of your own work, you’ll really “hear” the voice that you’ve portrayed in your writing and may find yourself loving what you’ve drafted, or saying, “yuck!” out loud.
- Learn the rules of grammar. You don’t want to get stuck on spelling & grammar, and you definitely don’t want your readers to get stuck. Let them focus on what you’re trying to say, rather than any confusing mistakes you might have made.
- Know when to break the rules. Blog posts are not college research papers. It’s OK to break the rules if done deliberately, with purpose for the reader.
- Write from your own knowledge & passion. When your writing comes from your heart & mind, rather than a regurgitation of notes and research, your personality can come out clearly.
While we may not have spent a lot of time talking about your blogging voice, it is something I advise you to think about quite a bit. This is one of the best ways you and your blog will stand out.
“A blog needs a voice that is both exclusive and authentic.”
- Nick Goins
Before we jump into the nitty gritty of what you need to do to start your blog, let me address and dissuade you from a few common mistakes and misperceptions about blogging options.
I Can Blog Using Social Media
This is fallacy #1. Some people will tell you that all you really need is a Facebook Page and you can just post all of your content there.
While you do need a Facebook Page, and we’ll be talking about that later on, it is not a substitute for a blog or business website.
First, your Facebook Page lives within Facebook which means you have no control over the environment. What’s in the sidebar and footer - what’s around your content - has nothing to do with your brand or business.
On your blog, however, you can use that space to promote your own business and lead your readers into more fruitful activities.
Second, and this cannot be stressed enough, you do not own your Facebook Page. Facebook can shut down your Page at any time, with no warning, and with no promises to reinstate it even if it was a mistake.
While most bloggers and businesses have little to fear with regard to losing any of their social profiles, is that really a risk you want to take?
I Can Blog Using A Free Website
What if, instead of a Facebook Page, you opted for a free Wordpress blog. That should be OK, right?
Again, just as with a Facebook Page, anything you’re getting for free means that you aren’t paying for or owning that thing. If you’re going to invest countless hours publishing hundreds of blog posts, do you really want to rely on a free service for that?
But there’s a deeper, psychological issue at play here.
If you want your new blog to be taken seriously, you cannot opt for a free website. No matter how hard you try, it will be obvious to every single reader that you are either too cheap to pay for hosting, or too lazy to try.
Either way, that leaves a sour impression and they’re not likely to be interested in learning more from you.
So do yourself a favor and follow the following guidelines to the tee!
From a technical perspective, you need three things to start a blog: Domain Name, Hosting, Blog Platform.
Your domain name will be your blog’s address on the web. My blog, for instance, uses the domain name TheSocialMediaHat.com. There are two parts to that domain name: the left label, which is unique to you and your blog, and the right label, which is referred to as the top-level domain or extension.
While there are many top-level domains to choose from (.net or .info, for instance), it is ideal to use .com since that is the default extension, and considered to be the most authoritative.
Selecting a domain name thus requires finding a combination of an available left label + top-level domain. No easy task! To be frank, finding an available .com is often frustrating and time-consuming.
My advice: Don’t settle on a name for your business until you’ve found the perfect domain name.
Additional domain name selection tips:
- Use a .com domain name if at all possible.
- Do not invest in a Premium domain name (one currently owned by someone else) unless you have an established brand.
- Avoid numbers or punctuation.
- Domain names are not case sensitive, but you can write them that way if you use multiple words to help with readability, like TheSocialMediaHat.com as opposed to thesocialmediahat.com.
- Check the availability of related usernames on the top social networks (i.e. Facebook & Twitter) to ensure brand symmetry.
- Make a decision on your domain name within 48 hours of finding the perfect one, to avoid “squatters” buying it before you do.
Once you’ve found the perfect domain name, don’t buy it just yet. You can usually get it for free with a hosting package, which we’ll talk about next.
Also, let me encourage you once more to utilize the resources offered within Solo Build It! to fully vette and research your chosen niche before proceeding. If you buy a domain name for, say, birthday-party-ideas.net and then later decide to focus your business on birthday party cakes, you’ll end up spending more money on a second domain.
Hosting is the physical location of your blog and website - where your files and folders and data live - and it represents one of the business costs of maintaining a blog. The fees range from a few dollars a month up to the hundreds of dollars a month, depending on your site’s needs.
For new bloggers, the good news is you can start relatively inexpensively, and upgrade as needed. Over time, as your site gains more traffic and interest, you’ll need to upgrade your hosting. But that’s usually a nice problem to have!
Typically, hosting is offered as Shared, Virtual Private Server or Dedicated.
Shared - The most common and least expensive option; this kind of hosting is when you and many other people use space on the same server.
Virtual Private Server - An upgraded hosting option; this kind offers a limited number of clients greater access to server resources.
Dedicated - The best hosting option; this kind offers you a complete server solely for your website and visitors. The performance is the best, but the cost mirrors that.
As I mentioned, new bloggers can certainly start with a shared hosting account, and my recommendation is BlueHost. The hosting plans are inexpensive, reliable, and offer easy installation of Wordpress, which we’ll get to in a moment.
And note that I’ve partnered with Bluehost to give you an even deeper discount on your first hosting package, just to help you get started!
You’ll see the special deal that I’ve arranged. Click on Get Started Now.
You’ll then see the available plans to choose from, including your discounted $2.95/mo Basic plan. That’s the one you want to start with. Down the road, you can upgrade your shared hosting account to better-performing options as needed, plus you’ll save nearly $100 by choosing that payment plan!
If you’ve found a suitable domain name using the widget above, you can get it for free with your Bluehost shared hosting account.
Just type in the domain you found and click on Next to enter your billing information.
Once you have your domain name and hosting account, you’re ready to start building your new blog and online business.
The Social Media Hat is a blog and “Content Management System”, or CMS. That means that I am able to log into my site’s backend administration area and add content using a standard form. Once submitted, the CMS automatically files and displays the content as intended. New blog posts, for instance, are displayed on the homepage and within selected categories.
There are, of course, different kinds of platforms on which you can build a blog. While my site uses a CMS called Drupal, it’s not what I would typically recommend, particularly for a new blogger. While Drupal is a professional-grade CMS that is powerful and flexible - that power comes with a much greater level of complication. Drupal sites are some of the most challenging to set up.
Instead, I recommend that new bloggers use Wordpress. Wordpress is the most popular CMS in the world, and for good reason. It’s easy to get started and use, and flexible enough to accommodate most blogs and business models.
With your Bluehost hosting account, installing Wordpress is as easy as clicking a few buttons. In fact, as soon as you finished initiating your Bluehost account, you should have seen this screen (or something similar):
Next, choose “Business” so that the best options for your blog are pre-configured:
And that’s it! Once finished, you’ll see your new Wordpress dashboard:
While it’s not possible here to go into great technical detail on how to configure your individual Wordpress installation, there are some basic concepts which you will need to have an understanding.
When your website uses a CMS like Wordpress, the overall look & feel of the site (design) is controlled by a central template, called a Theme. The Theme controls what color your text and links are, what your background looks like, and how elements are arranged on your site’s pages.
The beauty of using a template-based design on a CMS is that you can choose whatever theme you wish and soon as you enable it, all of your site’s pages and content are instantly converted to the new look.
(This is because, technically, your pages and blog posts do not exist as physical files. Unlike older websites that had an HTML file for every page, a CMS stores page content within a database record and dynamically displays that content whenever asked to by a site visitor and browser.)
Every Wordpress installation comes with several free themes to start with, and you can download more from a variety of places on the web. Themes come in free and premium (paid) flavors, and all can be customized to suit your needs.
As a new blogger, my advice is to not get too hung up on the theme. Choose a free or inexpensive theme that suits your blog focus and target audience and move on. Once you’ve settled into your new blog and have started to build your audience, you can invest time and money into a more professional and customized theme.
You can find some excellent, and inexpensive, theme layouts here with StudioPress.
Out of the box, there’s a lot that Wordpress does to support blogging. But there are no doubt additional functions that you’ll want to incorporate that Wordpress doesn’t do initially, and for those you will need to install Plugins.
Like Themes, Plugins can be free or paid, and can be installed and enabled on the fly. At a minimum, I recommend these plugins:
Yoast SEO - This is the gold standard when it comes to making sure that your Wordpress site has correct Meta Tags and is fully optimized for Search.
Solo Build It! for Wordpress - As I mentioned before, it’s critical to the long-term success of your blog that you treat it like a business, and no one can help you do that as well as SBI!.
Social Warfare - It’s critical that you encourage your readers and site visitors to share your content with their personal networks, and that means giving them beautiful social sharing buttons that work to encourage sharing. Social Warfare does that, and far more.
Solo Build It! for Wordpress also includes more extensive plugin recommendations and information, so be sure to check that out.
While there are hundreds of thousands of plugins out there, and it’s tempting to add all kinds of bells and whistles to your site using them, don’t. The more plugins that you install, the slower your site will perform. And it will be more susceptible to security issues.
Now that you’ve selected a theme and set up some initial functionality through plugins, it’s time to start creating content. We’re going to go into depth on blog content in a moment, but it’s important to understand the Wordpress structure for content before we do.
You can create pages within your Wordpress site and these will typically be for content that’s not likely to change over time, and be central to your business. Your About ‘page’ is a great example. That’s a piece of content that is likely to be very important to your business, one that you’ll likely include in one of your site’s menus, and therefore shouldn’t be a blog post.
Blog posts on the other hand are the kind of content that you’re going to be adding to your site over and over. On whatever schedule you’ve decided for yourself.
Posts will certainly be important and informative, but are also designed to be shared and are expected to be focused on a specific topic.
There are other kinds of content you can set up within Wordpress if it helps you in the organization of your site, such as Products, Testimonials, FAQs, or News Stories. But Pages & Posts represent the core of most blogs.
PRO TIP: Note that “blog” refers to your overall site and “post” or “blog post” refers to the individual articles you add over time. Try not to refer to your individual articles as “blogs” as in, “I just published a new blog today.” That’s a rookie mistake that you can now smartly avoid!
Finally, you’re going to need to set up a taxonomy which is simply a set of terms that Wordpress will use to group your content. They’re called Categories and Tags. As part of your business plan and the discovery process you went through with SBI!, you should have just a few Seed Words which would likely make great Categories. Virtually every blog post that you write should be assigned to one of those categories.
For me, for instance, my Categories are Blogging, Social Media, SEO and Email Marketing - the four primary aspects of Content Marketing. Everything that I write now falls within one of those four major categories.
Tags, on the other hand, can be far more numerous. It’s common to assign 3 or more tags to a particular blog post, and it’s OK to assign brand new tags on the fly, though you do want to be careful to be consistent. You wouldn’t want to use “SEO” on one post and “Search Engine Optimization” on another.
Regardless of whether it’s a Category or a Tag, Wordpress automatically makes that term a clickable link that readers can use to find more content within that term. Therefore, many bloggers will put their main categories in their top menu (as I have), and link to tags within the text of certain blog posts whenever needed.
For instance, if I were writing about LinkedIn, I can simply link that word to my LinkedIn tag and then you’d be able to see everything else I’ve written about LinkedIn.
Now that we’ve got the technical stuff out of the way, let’s dig into the actual blogging.
PRO TIP: Use a Blogging Planner to organize and document all of the details we're about to cover, including when you plan to publish and what you're going to be blogging about. You can learn more about our blogging planner here.
There are no rules when it comes to writing blog posts. What I’ll be giving you is better described as the Blogger’s Mindset which, in the famous words of Captain Barbossa, “are more like guidelines, really.”
The rest of this blog post will cover all of the basics for writing and publishing blog content. I wanted to have these technical details available in an article that could be easily updated.
For more advanced strategies, techniques and my super-secret tips, watch for my upcoming book, “The Blogger’s Mindset.”
Structure & Format
Every blog post must have a Title and some content (the Body). While you can put whatever you wish in the title, keep these considerations in mind:
- Titles need to be compelling and entice a reader to read the next sentence.
- Titles should be descriptive of the blog post and not misleading (clickbait).
- Titles should avoid using numbers, punctuation or other special characters.
- Titles should be within 80 - 100 total characters for complete display on social networks and search engines.
The content of your blog post can be as little as a single word, with no technical limit as to length. You can include images or audio or video. In fact, a blog post could simply be an embedded video from YouTube.
However, the most effective blog posts for your niche will likely be written articles that you have created which help to explain a particular topic to your audience. Which means they’ll likely require an introductory paragraph, several points and examples, and a conclusion.
While my own blog posts often flow in different directions, the basic format for many is this idea of a Five Paragraph Essay, which was taught to me by my High School english teacher. Each essay was to include an introduction, three main points, and a conclusion. Each main point was to include at least two examples.
While you certainly aren’t limited to just 5 paragraphs, I think you’ll find that format to be quite effective at communicating an idea and justifying your position.
Other required elements of a blog post are:
- An interesting image. Every blog post that you publish must have at least one image associated with it - preferably one that you’ve carefully selected and edited (or created) so that it helps interest and engage readers.
- A call to action. What do you want the reader to do next? After they’ve read the blog post? Make sure that’s obvious by spelling it out at the end of the post, usually in the form of a link. That might be to read a different article, buy a product, or just sign up for your newsletter. Which reminds me, you need to have...
- A newsletter. While you have a lot of options with regard to what you email your subscribers, you do need to start building that list. Don’t wait until some obscure date in the future, and miss the opportunity to sign up and engage with all your initial visitors.
Articles with images get 94% more views. (Source: Jeff Bullas)
We’ll address each of those requirements in more detail in a moment.
I mentioned before that technically, a blog post can be as short as one word, or as long as tens of thousands of words (like this one, haha). What matters most is that your post is as long as you need it to be to effectively communicate something to your audience.
Generally, I find that your posts will fall into three categories:
Cheater Blog Posts
A Cheater Post is a blog post that is really short - typically 250 to 500 words - and likely includes some content from someone else.
For instance, you might embed a YouTube video or have a teaser for someone else’s blog content. You’d still have a Title, of course, and perhaps a sentence or two introducing the sourced (curated) content.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with cheater posts, so feel free to use them. But note that since you’re offering someone else’s content as the ‘meat’ of your post, or maybe it’s just a really short blog post, there isn’t as much value and information there, from you, that you might have offered in a longer post.
It’s therefore unlikely that a cheater post will get you as much search traffic, or be considered one of your most popular posts.
Standard Blog Posts
A longer post, perhaps following that 5 paragraph essay format I mentioned earlier, would be a standard blog post. These posts typically fall into the 750 to 1250 word count, and are what people tend to expect these days in a post.
They’ll take just 5 - 10 minutes to read, and are likely a good summary of a particular idea or topic.
In short, they deliver the goods.
Most importantly to you, a Standard Blog Post is one that you’re likely to be comfortable writing and publishing on a regular basis.
Pillar Blog Posts
Pillar Blog Posts, on the other hand, are monsters to write. They’re epic, much like this article you’re reading now, and often weigh in at 2500 words or more.
They’re referred to as “pillar” because of how critical they are to the overall success of your blog and business. A pillar post will be:
- Completely unique
- Well researched and thought out
- Filled with valuable information and insights
We know that, statistically, “long form” content wins out over time, and this is why. If you write a 500 word post on a topic and I write a 10,000 word post on the topic, which post do you think goes into greater depth and detail? The longer one, of course.
It’s these longer posts which appeal to people more, which means they get more social shares and more search traffic. This results in greater prominence for the piece of content within your site structure and, if properly positioned, greater value to your business from leads generated or sales earned.
Yet there’s a problem. While pillar posts are generally great for your business, they also represent an enormous investment of time. This article, for instance, took many, many hours for me to write, spread out over the course of several weeks. And it was only possible after I had years of experience that I was able to leverage as material for the post.
That’s why I recommend that most businesses and bloggers aim to create just one piece of pillar content per quarter. It’s something that you can spend an hour or two a week working on and still have time to keep up with your regular publishing schedule.
If you make sure that your posts follow those lengths, with those caveats I mentioned, you’ll be in good shape insofar as blog post length.
“You need to organize your content in a clear and easy-to-read format to keep your readers engaged, regardless of its length.”
- Pauline Cabrera
So I mentioned ‘regular publishing schedule’ and have talked about the need for being consistent. That’s critically important to the success of your blog.
“If you want to continually grow your blog, you need to learn to blog on a consistent basis.”
- Neil Patel
You have to set aside time every day to write. Make it a part of your schedule and routine. It’s that writing that’s going to fuel your entire business and marketing strategy, so give it the importance and attention it deserves!
As for publishing, that can be on whatever schedule you want. Ideally, you should publish a new piece of content weekly, but that’s certainly adjustable. What’s important to understand is that:
- Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.
- Quantity is important though, as the more often you publish, the faster you’ll grow an audience.
Most importantly, do not strive for perfection in your posts. It’s an attribute that’s next to impossible to achieve, and will only stand in the way of publishing and building your authority.
“Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.”
- Brian Clark
How To Start Writing
Now that you have an idea on how long your posts should be, and how often you should be publishing, it’s time to actually start writing.
I prefer to begin all of my blog posts within Evernote. That’s a note-taking app which you can install and sync on your computer, tablet and mobile devices, giving you instant access to your in-progress blog posts at any time.
Evernote is free for 1 or 2 devices, which is perfect for the beginning blogger.
You can title your note whatever you want to title your blog post, but keep in mind that this is a temporary title. You’re going to want to revisit that title and spend some time polishing it. More on that in a little bit.
For now, a basic title or description so that you’ll recognize the note later will suffice.
The beauty of using a tool like Evernote is that, no matter what you’re doing or where you’re at, if an idea for a blog post comes to you, you’ve got someplace to record that idea right away. (More on this later.)
Next, there are two things I often do within Evernote which help me to pull my blog posts together quickly.
- Outline the post
- Add notes to the bottom as a scratch pad
I’ll use this blog post as an example once more.
When I decided to create this piece of content, I knew I wanted to provide you with all of the basics you needed in order to get your blog up and running. And I knew that would cover everything from technical details to writing tips, so I started to write those ideas down.
Each major topic that I wanted to address became a subheading in my outline. Like this:
- How To Write Blog Posts
- Structure & Format
- Cheater Post
- Standard Post
- Pillar Post
- How To Start Writing
- Fleshing Out Your First Blog Post
- How To Craft Blog Titles
As I continued to map out everything I wanted to talk about, topics were moved around and edited to create the best, most logical flow possible.
That’s not to say I didn’t come up with other topics and ideas once I started writing, but I began by creating a roadmap for where I wanted to end up.
Each time I sat down to work on this blog post, I knew which topics I’d covered and which ones still needed to be addressed.
The longer the post - the more this technique of outlining will help you and, frankly, become a requirement.
For the Blogger’s Mindset book, each and every chapter was determined well before I started the actual writing.
The second thing I do is add a scratch pad space at the bottom of in-progress blog post notes.
Once I’ve started a new note, I simply hit Enter ten or twelve times to give myself some room, and then add something like this:
/// NOTES ///
Under which I can “scribble” anything that comes to mind. That might include links to other resources, quotes, rough ideas of topics or questions I want to address - anything at all.
For this blog post, I had some initial ideas there on what I wanted to cover, as well as reminders to work more examples and references into the text.
This may be an important “first step” for you in all your writing as it gives you a place to quickly record all of your thoughts and ideas. Just like the idea for the blog post itself needs to be captured as soon as possible, any other thoughts you have about where this post needs to go or what needs to be included need to added right away.
Once you’ve got all that down, map out your outline, and then it’s time to start filling in the details.
Fleshing Out Your First Blog Post
When I studied Computer Science at BGSU in the 1990’s, the first program everyone had to write was a simple print screen command. A typically 3-line program that initiated the program, wrote a bit of text to the screen, then concluded the program.
Those first words… the phrase that every beginning CS student wrote, were always, “Hello World.”
It’s so prevalent, you’ll often see that same phrase repeated on new websites and first blog posts.
That’s not what we’re going to do here.
If you feel you need to test the publishing process or just get a feel for how it works, then by all means go ahead and publish a Hello World type post, but delete it as soon as you’re ready. Every blog post matters, even your first one, so let’s make it a good one.
I would also encourage you to avoid making your first blog post about yourself. People who want to learn more about your business will head over to your About page.
Instead, choose the most interesting topic and question that you think your target audience is interested in and address that as well as you can.
Once you feel like you have a good topic, and have created a bit of an outline for yourself, start writing the post.
“The key is, no matter what story you tell, make your buyer the hero.”
- Chris Brogan
Blog Post Introductions
There are many different ways you can open a blog post, from quotes and telling stories to asking questions or introducing people. The more articles you read from other bloggers, the better sense you’ll get for how you like to write your introductions.
And certainly feel free to try different styles and approaches with each new post.
However, for most of the content you’re going to create, the best approach is to begin by outlining the issue or question or pain that your topic addresses. Demonstrate to your readers that you’re going to talk about something important to them, and that you understand their difficulty.
“A blog is only as interesting as the interest shown in others.”
- Lee Odden
An easy way to do that is by asking a question, and then relating it to yourself.
“Struggling to find the best images for your blog posts? Not sure which sources of images are free, or even legal, to use? Me too. I used to waste hours trying to find the perfect image - way more time than I’d spend writing the actual article.”
And then you can talk about how the rest of the blog post is going to help address that topic.
“The good news is that there are plenty of free or inexpensive sources of images out there, ones that are completely legal for you to use on your blog, and I’m going to show you where and how to use those sources to find great images for your blog or social media quickly.”
Blog Post Body
And that may be all you need to get into the meat of your post. Do remember that, when it comes to your readers, your job starting from the Title is to get them to read that sentence, then the next.
As you proceed through the rest of your blog post, everything you say needs to be relevant & necessary, and should make the reader want to continue reading. Fill your post with too much fluff and nonsense and they’ll hit the Back button!
You don’t have to write the individual sections of your blog post sequentially. In fact, it’s sometimes good to get the ‘easy’ parts written first so that you feel like you’ve made good progress on the article.
But do make sure that once you’ve finished writing, everything flows well together. Include transitions between sections, reference other sections, and then read the entire post out loud and see if it all ‘sounds’ good to you.
“People often ask me how am I able to write several blog posts in a day? My reply is simple: I stay in the zone. I eliminate all distractions and just write.”
- Syed Balkhi
Blog Post Conclusions
A few words about the end of your blog posts…
There are two goals that you must have in mind when you begin to craft the closing moments of an article:
- Bring closure to your argument.
- Give readers something to do next.
You do not want to publish a blog post without addressing these two points, and they’re probably harder than you think to get right.
Closure means that you make it clear to your reader, not just that you’re done writing, but what it is that they’ve learned and help them to draw the appropriate conclusions.
You can summarize the points that you’ve made, but you never want to try to introduce a new point in your conclusion. If you realize that there’s an important point you want to add, create a new section for that point.
An excellent technique is to connect back to statements you made in the opening paragraphs, particularly if you were sharing a story of some kind. Some of the best blog posts will open with part of a story that illustrates the problem being discussed, and then finish the story in the conclusion in a way that includes the solution.
When you’ve finished it, re-read it and try to put yourself in your reader’s shoes - will they feel “satisfied” once they’ve read your article and conclusion?
PRO TIP: There’s a fine line bloggers have to walk between creating writing that helps their readers, makes them happy, and demonstrates authority… without giving away too much. It often helps to think about your target audience and business prospects and figure out what problems they have that you want to solve with products or services, and what other related problems they might have that you can solve with your content.
Next, determine what it is that you want your readers to do next. This is your Call To Action, and is typically the very last part of your blog post, though it’s OK if you are able to deftly insert it earlier.
There are many different CTAs that you can choose to use:
- Contact for more assistance
- Buy this product or service
- Subscribe for more content like this
- Read these articles for more information
- Follow on social media
The trick is to determine the best possible CTA for each particular blog post. Not every article has to try to lead readers into your contact form. Rather, put yourself in your reader’s shoes again and think about their mindset once they’ve read your conclusion.
Are they ready to call you? Or are they going to have more questions that other blog posts might better answer?
Sometimes you will create content that is specifically written to lead into a specific CTA, and that’s great. When I write reviews of tools that I’ve fallen in love with, I know before I begin that the CTA is going to be to give that particular tool a try if it addresses some of your pain points.
But sometimes we’ll create content because the question came up in some way and we feel it would make a great blog post. In those instances, it’s just a judgement call as to what the best CTA might be.
Can you have more than one CTA?
When it comes to the final CTA at the end of a blog post, I strongly recommend you only offer one preferred option or action to take. It’s exceedingly difficult to write a pair of CTAs that make sense and sound good together.
However, if you think that your closing CTA is only going to be applicable to a portion of your audience, you can test including alternate CTAs throughout the text of the post.
For instance, let’s assume that your article’s preferred CTA is to get in touch with you for more assistance. For the people reading your blog post who might not need more help, you can:
- Include links to related articles within the blog post body.
- Include an invitation to join your mailing list within the blog post body.
You might also use your own product or service - or even better, a customer success story - so that you’re able to weave a natural mention of a product or service into the midst of your blog post.
No matter what, find a way to incorporate a strong CTA into every article that you write. It will help once you have had the time to create a series of pages and posts which can potentially take a reader on a journey of discovery that leads to your ultimate goal. We call these Sales Funnels, and we’ll touch on them in more detail when we talk about blog structure in a moment.
“(Superheroes) can disappear for months or years and then burst back onto the scene with a climactic display of their impressive powers. Okay for superheroes, not okay for your content. It might feel boring and constraining, but publishing consistently brings results.”
- Amy Harrison
How To Craft Blog Titles
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves and start talking about your body of work, I promised you that we would spend more time addressing the title of your blog post.
Initially, this is the most important part of a blog post. Your title is what immediately grabs someone’s attention and draws them into the post - or it doesn’t!
“Your headlines are the first and sometimes the only chance you get to grab readers attention. Write something that makes potential visitors want to know more about the topic.”
- Steven Wilson
Consider that, for most of your prospective readers, your headline is the first and often only part that they’ll read. They’ll judge your entire piece on those 6 or 8 words and decide whether it’s worth their time or not.
And to be perfectly honest, most of our prospective readers choose not to read more.
Whether you’re looking at shares to social media or emails to your subscriber list, it’s likely that 75% or more of your potential readers will either not see your blog post at all, or ignore it due to lack of time or interest.
I tell you this, partly to underline the importance of growing a large, engaged audience, but also to reinforce the point that your headline is the most critical component of a post.
Therefore, it’s worth spending time on!
How much time will depend on the article and how well you feel you know your audience and their grasp of the topic being discussed.
Sometimes, creating a title is challenging because the topic is quite advanced, and it’s hard to know exactly what to say in a short title that still adequately describes the blog post.
Personally, I’m usually willing to invest at least another 20 minutes considering what the best possible title for a particular post might be.
The crux of the problem is that every post is different. Which means there’s no truly right way to go about crafting a title. But I will share with you a number of techniques, considerations and tools so that the process might be eased for you.
First, consider that there are a number of title “formats” which have been shown time and again to perform better than others.
What we mean by that is, given the choice between clicking on and reading an optimum format title versus a sub-optimum format title, social followers or email subscribers tend to prefer the optimum formats.
- How To
So if your blog post happens to give 3 examples of solutions to a particular problem, it would seem best to begin your title with “3 Ways To Solve…” or something along those lines. That’s a list or listicle.
Second, you’re going to want to look for ways to make an emotional connection with your article. A simple, factual headline like, “How To Rake” may accurately describe the post, but is hardly exciting or interesting.
Instead, look for ways to develop the headline so that it includes reminders of the pain the problem causes, or the benefits that may come as a result. Like this:
How To Save Time Raking Leaves And Still Get A Fabulous Lawn
With that headline I’ve now reminded the reader how much they may dislike spending all afternoon raking leaves, and how much they enjoy it when they’re done and their lawn looks great. As long as the content delivers on that headline, we’re good!
Finally, there are a few technical considerations when it comes to crafting headlines:
- Do not use Emoji in headlines
- Avoid special characters and most punctuation
- The optimum word count is 6 - 8
- The optimum character count is 60 - 100
- Recommend under 70 characters for optimum compatibility
It’s important to understand that your headline will appear in a variety of places: Google / Bing / Yahoo! Search Results, Facebook link preview, LinkedIn link preview, Google+ link preview, Twitter link preview & tweet text, and so on.
Each of those channels has a somewhat different way of displaying links and headlines and may cut off long headlines. Keep yours under 70 characters if you want to make sure it looks great everywhere.
One of my favorite tools to help me with my headlines is the Headline Analyzer from CoSchedule. It will scan your proposed title and give you specific feedback on your choice of words, length, and so on. It will score your title and keep a running tab on each new iteration so you can test some ideas and see how they stack up against each other.
You took the time to craft a fantastic blog post. Don’t sell yourself short by rushing to publish with the first title that came to mind.
Blog Post Writing Tips
There are a few more techniques and tips that I want to cover that will make your blog posts shine from the very start.
First and foremost, every blog post needs a Featured Image. Usually appearing above the text of the post, this image represents the overall article and message that you’re trying to convey. It should be branded in some way, and would typically incorporate the title or version of the title of the post.
“Your message is too important to let bad imagery become a hurdle or a turnoff to potential readers.”
- Michael Hyatt
In the back end of your site, that image’s direct URL is used for a meta tag called Open Graph Image. Open Graph is a set of tags that provide specific pieces of data to supporting platforms like Facebook. In this case, we want to make sure that we use Open Graph Image so that whenever anyone shares your posts to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn, the correct image is displayed in the link preview.
There are a few different ways you can go with regard to image size and ratio, but I prefer a two to one ratio using a size of 1024 pixels by 512 pixels. All of my featured blog post images are sized that way which looks great on the posts themselves, and works with all the major social networks.
If you’re not comfortable using Photoshop or Illustrator to create images, I strongly recommend that you give Canva a try.
RELATED: 5 Reasons Canva Will Rock Your Blog
After that, there are a number of things that you can do within and throughout the content of your posts to make them more interesting and readable. These include:
- Embedding images throughout the text - a study by BuzzSumo actually indicated that blog posts with images appearing every 75 to 150 words are shared more. These images can be screenshots, GIFs, graphs, infographs, and so on.
- Quotes and Quote Graphics are also good. They help highlight important points or sentiments within the article, as well as add variety to the flow.
- If you can, embedding social media posts like tweets, or even videos from Facebook or YouTube, can be extremely effective. Not only do they make your content more engaging, but it’s possible for readers to engage or view the social media posts themselves, which adds social activity and visibility.
- And of course, break up your text with sub-headings, whitespace, short sentences, bullet points, and so on.
You’ll note throughout this blog post that I’ve used really large bits of text to indicate when major sections are about to begin. These are called Headings and when you highlight text within your Wordpress blog post, you can choose a format from a drop down that includes H1, H2, H3, H4, H5 or H6.
Now, H1 is reserved for the title of your blog post and your Wordpress theme should automatically display the title using the H1 tag. Not only do the various heading tags determine how large that text should be, but also importance.
Think back to the partial outline example we used earlier. Here it is again, only this time I’m indicating which heading tag each point would receive in the body of the text.
- How To Write Blog Posts - H2
- Structure & Format - H3
- Length - H3
- Cheater Post - H4
- Standard Post - H4
- Pillar Post - H4
- Frequency - H3
- How To Start Writing - H3
- Fleshing Out Your First Blog Post - H3
- How To Craft Blog Titles - H3
Other than H1 being reserved for the title, the only other rule you need to remember with heading tags is that you should use them similar to how you’d indent and structure an outline. All of the major points have the same heading, all of the sub-points have a similar, smaller heading, and so on.
Using these guidelines, and the other tips I mentioned, will help you format your posts in a way that will help your readers remain interested & engaged.
Example: Rebekah Radice
A great example of a blogger who really understands the importance of readability and visible interest is Rebekah Radice. She uses all of the above techniques, as well as a very unique and compelling brand style that’s carried through all of her graphics.
The number one problem facing most bloggers is knowing what to write about next. There’s nothing worse than to be facing a deadline for publishing content and be staring at a blank white screen.
My blogging system completely removes that issue and makes your blogging more effective and less time-consuming.
Recording Blog Post Ideas
It starts by selecting a tool - I happen to use Evernote as I said earlier, but you can use Apple Notes, Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote or other similar note-taking apps. Full-blown publishing tools like Word or Google Docs are not as effective, as we want to be able to easily see all of our notes and switch back and forth. It’s also critical to use an app that works and syncs with all of your devices.
Within Evernote I have a notebook for my blog and within that are notes for every blog post idea that I’ve come up with.
When you are first starting out, do some keyword research and begin creating notes for various topics that you think your audience might be interested in. I usually title the note using an initial title idea for the blog post, and then include any other ideas or notes within the note.
Then, during the normal course of my days, whenever I see or hear or read something that makes me think of a potential blog topic, I immediately create a new note within Evernote for that topic.
This way, when I have time available for writing - and I do recommend you set aside 30-60 minutes per day for writing - all I have to do is scan through my existing notes and see which topics I feel like writing about.
Be diligent about this process and you’ll create years worth of blog post ideas for yourself.
Keyword Research for a New Blog
I’ve mentioned keyword research a few times now, so it’s probably a good idea that we spend a moment working through that is and how to do it.
Keyword can refer to one or more than one word - a keyword phrase - which people use to find information.
For instance, you might have typed, “how to start a blog” into a Google search and found this blog post.
Research comes into play when we decide to use available tools to help us understand what other people are actually searching on, and at what volume, so that we can decide whether there’s sufficient interest.
In fact, not only can the research show us volume or demand for a particular word or phrase, but also how much competition or supply there is that we’d be up against!
Keyword Research Step One
If you haven’t done keyword research before, the easy place to begin is actually at google.com with a new Google search, using the autocomplete feature.
As you begin to type something into the search box, Google will show you what other people have searched that begins with the same characters!
Right away I know that other people are not only interested in learning how to start a blog, they’re also interested in learning more about starting a blog on Wordpress, starting a blog business, and so on.
So that’s great information for me, and I can plug in all kinds of variations to help me understand what other people are looking for.
As I notice trends or specific ideas, I can note them in Evernote as potential blog post ideas, or at least points to be made within a post.
Keyword Research Step Two
Once you begin to have a few ideas on specific keywords, whether you’re looking at blog post ideas or researching your niche overall, your next step is to jump into Google Keyword Planner.
Keyword Planner is part of Google’s AdWords product - the place you would to purchase ads that display alongside Google search results - and it’s designed to help you see the potential for any given keyword.
Create a free account and simply begin to enter words or phrases of interest to you into the keyword search, and take a look at the results.
In this example, I’ve looked up “how to start a blog” and found that people are searching on that phrase 74,000 time a month! Yet the competition is only Medium.
More importantly, the search volume trend over the past 12 months is steady - you can see that it’s unlikely there’ll be significantly fewer people searching on this term in the near future.
The flaw though in using this tool for our kind of research is that’s designed to be used for Advertising planning. The “Competition” and “Suggested bid” data is all based on other advertisers - how many other brands are bidding on that term, and what it would cost to achieve a high placement.
Once you get a sense for which terms are really viable, it’s time to consider a better tool.
Keyword Research Step Three
Brainstorm It! within Solo Build It! is perfect for ideation. If you took my advice earlier and signed yourself up, you can rely on Brainstorm It! to not only help you refine your niche, but also get a real sense for how many other sites out there are actively talking about a particular keyword.
You see, instead of showing you advertiser data, Brainstorm It! uses data from Amazon and other sources to parse true content sites and show you actual numbers of real competitor sites… well, competing pieces of content at least.
As you sift through keyword ideas and resulting data, you’ll be able to review the actual pages that are coming up in the results and see if they’re covering the topic in as much detail as you plan to, or just mentioning it.
There’s a huge difference between this blog post on “How to start a blog” and an FAQ on a hosting company’s site that says you can “use their platform to learn how to start a blog” and then there’s no further discussion.
Off-hand mentions of your keyword can be ignored, and the serious competition can be reviewed. What did they cover? More importantly, what didn’t they cover? How can you do it better?
You can also use SEMrush for ongoing tracking and monitoring, as well as incredibly powerful research into the competition.
Use these steps and tools to determine any number of blog topics to write about, and note them all in your Evernote notebook.
Blogging About Trending Topics
The other aspect though of blog topics is knowing when there’s a trending topic or story that you might take advantage of. This is generally referred to as Newsjacking.
While it may not always involve an actual news story, let’s assume for the moment that something has happened which relates to your business or industry in some way. There’s a story out there and you have a brief window of opportunity to consider doing something. I have a series of questions that I ask myself each time I see a potential trending topic.
First, ask yourself if your audience would be interested in the story and your take on it. If the answer is yes, proceed.
Second, ask yourself if YOU are interested in the story. There’s no point in dropping everything to write about something you find boring. But if the answer is yes, proceed.
Third, ask yourself if you have a unique angle or perspective to add. It’s easy to simply tweet a link to a news story, but if you can add your perspective and layer meaning for your audience, that can be powerful. So if the answer is yes, proceed.
Finally, ask yourself if you have time to write and publish this content, and if the overall timing is good. Even the fastest writers need 30 - 60 minutes to create an article, and even then, it does no good to publish a story at midnight. You need to be able to get your content into the mix before overall interest in the topic has peaked and started to wane. If you have the time and it’s not too late to publish, proceed!
While most newsjacking topics tend not to get traffic long-term, they can sometimes result in massive - even viral - amounts of social engagement, traffic and links, as you’ll see in a moment.
One related approach to content creation is to be mindful of Holidays and Events, and create content for or related to those events. For instance, if your target audience is business owners, you might think about how you can help them with and around Tax Season. You'll find more information on this approach, including a free set of calendars and campaign planners, here.
Bottom of Funnel Blog Topics
One other recommendation when it comes to your blog content and topic determination is to think about “Bottom of Funnel Content.” This is content that people will be searching for when they’ve already come to the understanding that they need something, they need help, and now they’re doing their own research and comparisons.
A good example shared by Marcus Sheridan is that of Yale Appliance. Since 2011, they have been focused on creating valuable content that their customers need and appreciate, and that’s led to dramatic increases in traffic, leads and sales.
For instance, many appliance owners are rightly concerned about the potential service needs of their investment, so Yale Appliance published an article titled, "The 5 Most Serviced/Least Reliable Appliance Brands.” While not necessarily popular with the appliance manufacturers, it’s an extremely popular and effective piece of content.
Example: What Happened To Vine?
Getting back to newsjacking for a moment, I want to share with you an example from my own site, TheSocialMediaHat.com.
In late October of 2016, I was glancing through my RSS Feed notifications and saw that a new blog post had been published to the Vine blog late on a Thursday afternoon that was titled, “Important News About Vine.” That sounded ominous so I clicked on it and quickly learned that one of the major social networks was being shut down. I knew that this was an important story that my readers would want to know about, and I also knew that they’d have more questions than what the original announcement addressed, so I wrote my own piece.
Despite being published late in the day, the story was immediately picked up and shared by many shocked marketers and Vine users. As more details emerged, I kept the story updated and the traffic levels for the first few days were incredible.
Interestingly, as it so happens, the blog post continues to get high levels of traffic to this day. Over 400 readers a day continue to Google “What happened to Vine?” and come read my summary, resulting in thousands of new visitors to the site and new opportunities for me to make an impression.
Other Blog Post Idea Sources
When it comes to topics, you should regularly take the time to brainstorm ideas so that you have a healthy list of potential blog ideas to draw from. The following are a number of additional sources for coming up with those ideas.
1. Industry News
Bookmark websites or subscribe to newsletters and RSS feeds so that you can keep abreast of current industry news and trends. Some stories you may choose to simply share a link to Twitter or Facebook, while others may inspire a full blog post or news article. If you aren't sure where to start looking, try doing a simple Google search on "[your industry] News" and see what comes up.
A more advanced technique is to use Feedly to collect RSS Feeds from a variety of sources, whatever sources you decide to subscribe to. You can then simply log into Feedly to see the latest posts from those sources. You can use the Feedly app on your iPhone or iPad to see new entries. I use Feedly to monitor the blogs of Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other players in the social media industry.
2. Books in Your Niche
Business owners are often encouraged to read more books, magazines and articles from their industry in order to continue to educate and improve themselves. Such reading can also often inspire us to write new blog posts to share what we have learned with our readers and customers.
3. Question and Answer Sites
There are many Q&A sites like Quora or Inbound (and others more specific to your own niche). If you take a little time to review some of the questions that relate to your business and industry, you might find some topics that you can easily answer yourself. However, instead of testing an answer on the site, craft your answer as a blog post within your own website. Bonus points for posting or linking your blog as an answer on the Q&A site as well.
4. Recycle Your Own Posts
If you have been blogging for a while, you undoubtedly have old blog posts that you can recycle. What you should look for are blog posts where your business or industry has changed and you can provide new, updated information which would supplement the old post.
When recycling an old post, certainly do not edit the old one. Instead, create a new post and retain as much of the original content as you wish, simply adding and enhancing as needed. At the start of the new post, explain why you are revisiting the same topic and include a link back to the original post for reader comparison (and deep linking).
5. Interview Other Experts or Controversial People
Depending on your industry, you might consider talking to or interviewing other people. These people might be experts in the field or simply controversial individuals.
If you have never interviewed someone, do your homework. Prepare by researching who they are so that you are familiar with their work, and have questions prepared in advance.
You can use Facebook Live, YouTube Live or other tools like Skype to record an audio or video interview - complete with a live audience if you wish! Once finished, you can publish a transcript of the interview as well as embed the recorded media.
Be sure to include some background information on the person, and remember to thank them!
6. Television and Pop Culture
This source involves the timeless writing technique of comparison, where you relate two dissimilar concepts so that the reader is made to understand one concept due to their existing understanding of another concept.
While watching a television show or movie, or listening to the radio, you may be reminded of some aspect of your business or industry and will be inspired to write about it in a blog entry.
For instance, if you are a fan of the TV show Lost, you might write about how a business could find success using the Dharma Initiative model of organization. Some of your points may be tongue in cheek, but most of your points should have enough merit to be considered.
7. Social Media Newsfeed
Regularly check your Facebook news feed for issues and topics that people are talking about. While you will likely want to avoid the more controversial topics, there may be a number of news items in your friends discussions that you use as inspiration for your next blog post.
Similarly, pay attention to what's being discussed on Google+ and other social networks like Pinterest and LinkedIn.
On a related note, make sure you're paying attention to and answering comments and questions on your social posts. Agorapulse can assist with that. Some of those comments (and your answers) may turn into great blog post ideas!
8. Twitter Followers and Trends
Similarly, you can use your Twitter feed to get ideas on what is trending currently, but Twitter makes an even better tool than Facebook.
First, you can easily follow prominent people in your industry and even use Twitter's recommendations to find new people to follow.
Second, use Twitter's "Moments" and "Trends" tools to see what Twitter users everywhere are talking about.
9. Group Discussions
Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ all have discussion groups of one kind or another. Join groups that are talking about your business and industry and pay attention to the questions being asked and topics being discussed.
Answer questions whenever appropriate and participate as much as you can. Often, your topic answers and discussions will naturally lend themselves to new blog posts.
10. Educational / Historical Topics
Every business should strive to provide blog articles that educate their readers, clients and potential customers on relevant topics. While you don't want to provide so much information that you are no longer needed, there are likely plenty of topics which you can write about which are helpful. You might also occasionally draft posts that discuss the history of your industry or aspects of your industry.
Review your blog analytics. Which blog posts and topics seem to get the most traffic and attention? If you can identify those kinds of trends, then you may be inspired to write more posts on similar topics.
Now, when it comes to getting more people to share your content, there’s no substitution for creating really valuable information. Long form content… over 2500 words… that thoroughly addresses a particular question or topic in an engaging way, will always get significantly higher levels of sharing and referral traffic than short form content. But it’s still important to help that along and make it as easy as possible for your readers to share with their audience.
Social Sharing Buttons
And that starts with having great Social Sharing Buttons.
Frankly, a simple Add This button widget with a few of the major icons won’t cut it. Ideally, you’d use a professional system like Social Warfare that offers you and your readers beautiful, customizable social sharing buttons, along with critical backend features.
For instance, once you’ve established your blog and you’re getting regular shares of your content, it’s important to turn on the social sharing numbers and give your readers proof that your content is being shared. That social proof validates their decision to read your content and serves as a psychological nudge that they, too, should be sharing the article.
Due to the theory of the paradox of choice - which states that the more choices we are presented, the more likely it is that we will make no choice at all - it’s actually a good idea to include fewer social sharing buttons. Use Google Analytics (and the share button’s analytics if they offer them) to determine your most popular social platforms and focus on those. For most of you, that will likely be Twitter and Facebook.
Pinnable Images & Click To Tweet
Having a featured image like we discussed above will help, as well as having a tall image that’s better suited for Pinterest - if your audience is prone to use Pinterest to save content like yours.
You should also consider taking some of the quotes, statistics or highlights of your blog posts and creating Click To Tweet links or buttons. When clicked, the reader is simply given a new tweet dialogue box that you’ve pre-filled with the highlighted text and a link back to the article. ClickToTweet.com can create that for you and provide a single link that you can apply to any text or button image you wish.
Example: Dustin Stout
One of my favorite examples of bloggers who understand social sharing is Dustin Stout. He also happens to be one of the founders and developers behind Social Warfare, so he knows exactly how to leverage the tool for optimum sharing.
Now, at this point you might be thinking, “That screenshot of a blog post with over 500 shares seems a long way off.” And to some extent, that’s true. Your first blog post isn’t going to get 500 shares.
But that kind of social activity and blog traffic will come in time, so let’s lay the groundwork for how you’re going to get there.
At the end of this guide I will share with you another comprehensive guide for “How To Promote Blog Posts.” In the meantime, I want to make sure you have the basics in place from Day One.
While you can’t be expected to learn and incorporate active social profiles on every social network, you can take advantage of the various networks and create free, branded profiles.
At a minimum, your new blog should have a Facebook Page, Twitter account and a Google+ Page. If your audience seems to be the kind of audience who might use Pinterest or Instagram, secure those accounts as well.
Over time, you’ll want to grab a YouTube Channel, LinkedIn Company Page and any other free social network that allows for the creation of a brand account.
You can take the time to figure out each channel and determine your level of activity later on. For now, just make sure that you secure a brand profile and, if possible, a vanity URL like, facebook.com/TheSocialMediaHat.
One feature your Wordpress site and theme will include is the ability to set up and display social media profile icons - little icons that represent each social network and are linked to your respective profiles. These allow your site visitors to find and follow you on those networks if they’re so inclined!
And remember, over time, you’ll learn how and when to share your content to those networks, allowing your social followers to see that you’ve published something new.
So set up those profiles and add linked icons right away.
Next, make sure that you sign up for an email marketing service and offer a way for your blog readers to subscribe to your newsletter.
You do not have to make any promises in terms of how often you send a newsletter, and you do not have to have any specific plans in place for that that newsletter will say.
But you do need to start growing your email list.
Your email list will become your most valuable blog asset.
ConvertKit is a fantastic tool to start using to grow and manage your email list. You will be able to easily add signup forms to your site and then periodically send newsletters to that list.
Building An Email List
Beyond just having a list that people can subscribe to, there are certain things that you’re going to want to do to kick that list grown up a notch.
The first technique is that I mentioned earlier, which is to include invitations to subscribe to your newsletter within the body or CTA of your articles.
That’s particularly effective when you’re in the midst of a series of posts, or know that you’re going to revisit a post’s topic in a later post, so you can tease that to your readers and encourage them to subscribe so as not to miss that future content.
The second technique is one that I’ve demonstrated within this blog post, and that is the “Content Upgrade.”
The entire article is free and available to read, but you can also offer your readers something extra that they can only get if they subscribe. In this case I’m offering this entire eBook delivered to you. You could, instead, offer a related workbook, checklist, swipe file, or something similar.
Content Upgrades are generally easy to put together and extremely effective at increasing new subscriber rates.
The third technique is to have what’s called “gated content” - content that you have to subscribe in order to read at all.
Since there’s no blog post to read otherwise, the conversion rate is the highest for gated content. However, it’s less effective at pulling in traffic on it’s own as the landing pages tend to have very little actual content themselves.
Instead, they’re best used for ad campaigns.
My most effective lead magnet is a Facebook Survival Kit that I wrote and turned into a beautiful PDF. I periodically promote the landing page to “Facebook Page Managers” in various countries around the world and am able to drive traffic to the page for less than $0.005 per click.
Once subscribers are added to my ConvertKit system, they receive a series of emails from me that help them discover additional resources, and eventually introduce them to tools and services I might recommend.
Start with setting up your social channels and incorporating an email list subscription form. Once your blog begins to get decent traffic levels, you can add content upgrades, gated content, and even different kinds of pop-ups to convert more of your readers into subscribers (I use Growth Funnel for those).
I mentioned earlier that the best way to lead readers through your blog into a “purchase” is to create a funnel for them. We also talked about how bottom of funnel content is particularly powerful for converting readers into customers.
The Content Pyramid
Now, let’s flip that funnel upside down so that it looks like a pyramid:
As you can see, the top of the Content Pyramid is dominated by a "top level page." This is a page of your site that's likely linked in your main menu, and is typically one of your most important services or products.
When creating this page, there should be a single keyword phrase that we're targeting — that's the phrase that, when searched in Google, we want this page to come up and be clicked by potential blog readers or clients.
In order for that page to be ranked well for that particular keyword phrase, it needs to be optimized for search. One way to "SEO" a page is to get "backlinks" to it. Backlinks are when other pages and sites link to your page or site. Google sees and tracks those links and considers that a major ranking factor within the search algorithm.
This is commonly referred to as "Link Juice." When my site links to your page, I'm giving you link juice. And the better my site, the better the link juice that gets shared with you.
What many don't realize though is that internal pages have a limited amount of link juice as well. While not counted nearly so well as external links, they can still help you. And this system actually helps ensure that external links flow into your site as well.
As you can see in the graphic, the top level is supported by three supporting topics, and each supporting topic is supported by three blog posts or pages.
This is where the magic happens.
When you write one of those blog posts, you make sure that there's a link within that post up to the supporting topic you're writing about. Then, as you share that blog post out and other people begin to link to it on social media or directories and blog posts of their own, link juice starts to flow into that blog post and up to the supporting topic. And since each supporting topic is linked to the top-level page, the link juice flows all the way to the top.
The actual algorithms and rankings aren't quite that straightforward, but the point is that this system works. If you follow my instructions, the result will be 13 pieces of quality content that are all highly optimized for search (as well as for reader education and lead generation).
Content Pyramid Example
For the sake of simplicity, let's assume that we run a graphic design shop, and that we want to talk about and rank for the term "Wordpress Themes". That becomes the Title of this Page, and the content of the Page should talk about this service that we're providing, including three aspects of that service that we're going to just touch on within the Page (Topics). In our example, supporting topics might be:
- Selecting A Wordpress Theme
- Customizing A Wordpress Theme
- Changing Wordpress Themes
Each of those three Topics then gets it's own Page, linking back up to the Wordpress Themes Page. Each of these Pages should be at least 750 words in length, and make good use of this targeted keyword phrase.
Finally, for each one of these three Topic Pages, we're going to (eventually) publish three blog posts providing specific information and guidance. For instance, "How To Backup Your Wordpress Site Before Changing Themes" or "Why Responsive Design Is Important For Wordpress Themes".
Now, I mention eventually because it's important to keep in mind that it's not expected that all of this content will be developed overnight. In fact, it might take months to write, optimize and publish the various blog posts and pages on the lowest level.
But that said, it still must all be planned out ahead of time. From the top level page down to the individual blog posts, you need to brainstorm and decide in advance what each topic is going to be.
We’ll go into this technique, and other more advanced strategies, in detail in The Blogger’s Mindset when it’s published, so please watch for that! If you have questions in the meantime, please leave them in the comments below or contact me directly.
I know that was a lot to cover, so nice work getting this far! Let’s take a moment to review the most important points, and then I’ll leave with you some final thoughts.
Key Ideas, Strategies & Tactics
- Before you buy a domain and start your blog, do your homework. Make sure your idea for a blog & online business is feasible.
- Start with an easy-to-install & easy-to-use Wordpress site, reliable hosting from Bluehost, and a great looking theme from StudioPress.
- Give thought to who you’re writing for so that you can craft every piece of content for them.
- Use Evernote to capture your blog post ideas and drafts.
- Determine a regular publishing schedule, like once a week, and stick to it. But spend time writing every day.
- Work on building a logical structure to your blog so that the content you write leads readers into desired actions.
- Put the mechanisms for growing your audience, such as social & email, in place right away.
- Don’t rush to monetize your site. Instead, focus on creating great content, sharing helpful information, and building up your audience.
Key Tools & Resources
- Solo Build It! for Wordpress - Business Planning & Keyword Discovery
- Bluehost - Domain Name Registration & Hosting
- StudioPress - Wordpress Themes
- Yoast SEO - Optimize Your Blog for Search Engines
- Evernote - Ideate & Compose Blog Posts
- ConvertKit - Email Marketing Solution
- SEMrush - Keyword Research & Monitoring
- Agorapulse - Social Media Management
- Social Warfare - Social Sharing Buttons
- Canva - Graphic Design
- Feedly - RSS Feed Tracking
- Growth Funnel - Pop Up Campaigns
Of course, once you’ve started to blog, you need to begin promoting those posts and the blog overall. For that, I’ve created an entire course of study for you (also free), called Blog Promotionology, The Art & Science of Blog Promotion. Once you’ve gotten your blog off the ground, that should be your next stop. (You can also head over there now and get a copy of that article as a PDF as well.)
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- Gary Vaynerchuk
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By Mike Allton, Content Marketing Practitioner
Mike is a Content Marketing Practitioner - a title he invented to represent his holistic approach to content marketing that leverages blogging, social media, email marketing and SEO to drive traffic, generate leads, and convert those leads into sales. He is an award-winning Blogger, Speaker, and Author at The Social Media Hat, and Brand Evangelist at Agorapulse (formerly CMO at SiteSell).
As Brand Evangelist, Mike works directly with other social media educators, influencers, agencies and brands to explore and develop profitable relationships with Agorapulse.Follow @Mike_Allton