There's one thing that separates great blog posts from the rest: Giving the reader what they truly, deeply want.
If you find yourself writing post after post but being less than overwhelmed by the response, it might be time to sharpen up those blogging techniques and try something new.
No other format of writing is so diverse in its distribution, and no other format has such massive reach with such a low barrier to entry.
But that doesn't mean it's easy.
The internet is as busy and crowded as its ever been. There have never been more bloggers clamouring for attention than you will find today. Quality and credibility, now, are the driving differentiators.
So that's what these 12 tools are about. Helping you understand what factors make the difference between the viral blog and the single-celled internet Amoeba.
Tell your story
Your story is the thing that makes people care about what you're saying. Or not. It's the bit that makes it possible for your reader to relate to you. To become a part of it, rather than just a party to it. It is, in many ways, the magic that holds all written content together.
Thanks to science, our brains are hard-wired to relate to stories more than any other type of content. We don't just read and understand a story, we place ourselves into it and go along for the ride.
This is not the logical part of the brain, it's the emotional part. When it comes to decision-making, it's the emotions that win almost every time.
The easiest type of writing, and the easiest type of speaking, is rambling. Run-on sentences and meandering paragraphs are sure to accomplish one thing very successfully: boring your reader.
Every year the average human attention span shortens. Online, this paradigm is magnified intensely. This year, the average attention span of a web user is down to just 8 seconds; roughly equivalent to a goldfish.
You have but a short window in which to capture the attention of your reader and communicate something important to them. Now, more than ever, is the time to be blunt about it.
Get to the point
They say the most important part of video editing is the first 10-seconds. The same is true for blogging, translated roughly to the first 3 sentences.
Before you can even start being direct, you have to get your reader past the first paragraph. Why should they bother to read any further if you can't capture their attention in the first place?
Try opening with your conclusion. Share the point of your post right up front, then the tell the story of how you got there. Surprise, intrigue and controversy are all things which keep people reading.
Show, don't tell
Use words to drive home the point you want to make. Back up those words with images which prove what you're saying is true.
It can be hard to find an image for every context, but when it's possible it has a significant effect. Humans (especially lazy humans, like us web users) are very visual creatures.
Jeff Bullas points out that (on average) articles with images get 94% more total views, press releases with images get 45% more views, and on Facebook stories with images are shared 37% more often.
Set the scene
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine this:
You're sat, quietly, watching your monitor in stunned disbelief. You didn't expect it. You didn't realise that this was going to happen to you today. Your hand shakes as you reach for the mouse and hit "Reply". Your server hiccups indignantly under the load of a million visitors. You only write two words: "Thanks, @aplusk."
Wouldn't that be nice?
Help your reader explore their imagination. Place them into the picture which you're painting and make them the main character. Be selfless to allow your reader to be selfish.
Arrange your words
One of the most common errors which newbie bloggers make is to ignore (or rather, not pay extra special attention to) formatting. Arguably, formatting has the largest influence of all on how much (and what parts) of your post are read.
If the user who spends 8 seconds on a page is our most common visitor, the second most common is the skim-reader.
You can complain about how unfair it is that nobody can be bothered to read properly any more, or you can see it as an opportunity and a challenge. Can you communicate the most important parts of your post to someone on a subway, looking at a tiny screen, in the space of just 1-2 minutes?
Break up your big blocks of text into manageable chunks. Use headings as a roadmap of where you're going. Try highlighting the most important passages which you would like people to notice.
It really works.
Reference the things
Just because it's written on the internet doesn't necessarily mean it's true. Why should I believe you?
Support your stories and opinions with facts. Call it "data driven" - call it "backed by science" - call it whatever you want. Reliable information is often hard to come by. Demonstrating that you are a credible authority on your subject of choice is a sure-fire way to dramatically up the quality of your posts.
Less hearsay. More juicy footnotes.
Who else has talked about this subject? Surround yourself with people who are smart and if you're lucky you might be considered smart by association. Citing experts in the field which you're writing about indicates that you know who is worth citing.
All of this takes practice, of course, but the KISSmetrics blog has some great advice about how to ask influencers for killer quotes as just one example of how you can bolster your writing with credibility.
1) you gain exposure to a new audience, and 2) your content becomes more reputable because you’re associating yourself with an influencer in your industry.
Compare & contrast
Occasionally the best way to communicate something new is to point out the similarities and differences between it and something old. Take a concept which is easy to relate to and subvert it.
You see this in startups all the time when they write elevator pitches to communicate what they do in the fastest way possible:
- "It's basically Twitter, for photographs"
- "Basecamp, for musicians"
- "Paypal, but not shit"
Building on a reference point which is already known and understood can often cause an "aha" moment of understanding.
Many of your readers are going to skim read, and some aren't going to read at all. Most people who do read anything, however, will read the first and the last paragraphs of your post.
Try to summarise all of your most important points in the introduction and the conclusion. Even if it's an abridged version, you should be able to cover all your bases.
Keep it succinct.
Call to action
Your call to action is the thing that you want people to do after having read your post. What is that?
Do you want them to read another post? Buy a product? Leave a review? Click on a link? Think about something important?
Your call to action should be crystal clear, and easy to find (regardless of what it is). Your post is effectively one big build up to the call to action. The thing that the reader should do next.
It often helps if there's a brightly coloured button.
As Brian Clark rightly points out, there are only 10 effective steps to becoming a better writer:
- Write more.
- Write even more.
- Write even more than that.
- Write when you don’t want to.
- Write when you do.
- Write when you have something to say.
- Write when you don’t.
- Write every day.
- Keep writing.
What to do next
Probably not everything at the same time! It might be easier to focus on perfecting the use of these techniques one by one until you start to feel comfortable jumping between them. Give yourself time to get acquainted.
- Have a look at some of the blogs which you read every day. Can you spot any of these tools in action?
- Go back over one of your posts and see if you can revise any sections to be more clear and concise.
- Decide what you would like your readers to understand or accomplish as a result of reading your writing. Does the rest of your post reinforce that mission?
Update: Enjoy this post? You'll probably love our Ultimate Guide to Markdown to get the most out of your writing!
What other techniques have you found to be particularly effective for reader engagement when structuring your posts?
Photo by Rick Nunn