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How to write blogs that people will read

Gareth Cartman

Blogging is tough. I can attest to that. I write about 30,000 words a month for clients, for myself, for fun and for the sake of it sometimes. Some of those words never find the light of day. Some of them really deserve to. Some don’t. But I never stop writing. And I’m lucky that I can write as part of my job.

Good writers have always been around, but from a web point of view, they haven’t always been rewarded with the rankings they deserve. With the introduction of author rank, they should be, and maybe they will be over the coming months. 

Think about the amount of content you consume. Even when you’re searching for a service or a product, you’re reading stuff – reviews, articles, the provider’s website, all of it words. Someone has taken the time and care to write it. And the better it is, the more likely you are to keep reading it, and the more likely you are to buy from them.

If you have a website, and you don’t have a blog, you don’t have much of a chance of ranking any more. Sorry. You never did, anyway. So the question is not why – the question is how. How do you write a blog that people will read? How do you even come up with ideas for a blog?

Be inspired

The first problem, for many website owners keen on blogging, is finding a bit of inspiration. What on earth to write about? This is especially true if you work in, say, plastic polymers or industrial piping. You don’t want to write a sales pitch, you want to be seen as someone who knows what they’re talking about.

So here’s how to be inspired, even if you sell industrial piping:

  • Search the news for anything vaguely related to your industry. Google alerts is OK, but there are other sources such as which scour the web for what’s happening
  • Search twitter for what people are saying about your industry
  • Think tangentially – for example, you sell software that helps people manage property portfolios, but what do your customers do, and how do they use it?
  • Follow people – there must be other bloggers. How are they doing it, and what are they talking about? Can you write a response to something they’ve written, or can you add to it? Or do better…
  • Use keyword research - long-tail key phrases can give you article titles, such as ‘How can I…’ or ‘What should I do…’ – so dive into your Analytics data, or better than that, your Adwords keyword research tool

Think of the vicar who has to put together a sermon every Sunday morning, for the same people. He faces the same challenges as you, which is why you often hear vicars referring to something they saw in OK! Magazine (or something) and then saying “… and this reminds me of our Lord Jesus”. You can tie anything back to the Bible if you really want – so you should be able to tie anything back to your industry and what you sell.

Have a structure

All good writing, whether it’s in the papers or online, a blog or a dissertation, or even a vicar’s sermon, should have a thread to it. A beginning, a middle and an end. All good writing should have a focus to it – so decide what your key message is – what is the key ‘takeaway’ that people should get from your article.

Now, start to build your article without words. Build your ideas, and order them. You’ll have a beginning and an end, but how do you structure the middle? Let your ideas develop into paragraphs, and move them around so that the ‘flow’ of the article sounds logical. Here’s an example – this very article.

  • Introduction (bit about me, blogging and stuff)
  • Transition (about you, leading question)
  • Inspiration (how to be inspired)
  • Structuring an article (before you write)
  • Finding a voice (your style, restrained / cheeky / etc.)
  • Making an article flow (from paragraph to paragraph, applying your style)
  • Finishing it off (reading it out loud, SEO fundamentals)
  • Conclusion (summarise, wrap it up, next article)

Now you’re starting to get somewhere. Personally, I do this stage in my head, in the car when I’m driving (as this is the only quiet time I get!) But doing it on paper allows you to visualise your thoughts and put them in a readable, logical order.

Finding your voice

Blogging is quite informal, but corporate blogs can’t always be cheeky, chatty pieces of irreverent blather. What you’re looking to do is establish a tone of voice that is consistent throughout your writing.

The best way to find your writing voice is to talk through the article in your head. You can do plenty of editing in there. Imagine you’re being interviewed and listen to yourself; listen to the little quirks of language that you’re using. We all use them, even if we think we don’t. Perhaps you talk in short sentences. Perhaps you use a lot of questions – transpose that into your writing.

Whatever you do, remember your audience. Hardly anybody likes to read huge swathes of text online, and long sentences can be especially challenging unless you’re writing research papers. Make it easy to read, above all.

Making an article flow

A common thread in your article could be a metaphor that you introduce at the start of the article. It could be a point of discussion that you raise at the start, and refer to in different contexts throughout. This common thread keeps people’s attention; it keeps them reading because they always have a central point around which to refer back. Even when you make a new point, you can make it in the context of an old one.

I tried this little trick in this article about SEO – the idea is to maintain a theme, and ensure that you don’t drop it halfway through the article. Readers expect to be led through your content.

Another great way of making your article flow is to lead one paragraph into another. I missed a trick in the transition from the previous paragraph to this one, but the paragraph before that led naturally into the next one by picking up on the previous idea and developing it.

Let your paragraphs flow naturally from one to the next, as if they’re connected, and your readers will naturally feel that they want to continue reading it. By abruptly starting a new idea, you are creating an opportunity for the reader to drop out.

Finishing it off

Now, walk away from the article. Go and do something else, and try to remember the best bits. What do you remember from it, and what stood out? Can you add to the article, or should you take something out?

When you come back to it, read it out loud and ask yourself if anything jars, or sounds unnatural. Look for areas where readers may drop out, and look for opportunities to break the content up from a visual point of view:

  • where can you put headers to break the article up
  • where can you introduce images to catch the reader’s eye
  • are there any quotes you can use as call-outs

Half of the challenge here isn’t just in what you’re writing, it’s how the page is presented. Nobody likes to read huge chunks of text, they like short paragraphs that are broken up with headings introducing different concepts. Whatever you can get to support your words, use it – video, data, photos – and you’ll find that readers’ engagement with the article increases.

And when we talk about engagement, we start talking about SEO. Yes, we measure time on page, but we need to get them there first. Therefore, use your keyword research to improve your on-page SEO – are you getting your keywords in the title and towards the start and end of the article? Are you adding your alt-tags? Etcetera, etcetera.

Concluding it

And now we need to look at how the article concludes, not simply in terms of ‘how do I wrap it up’ and summarise what has gone before, but how satisfied do you feel having finished the article? Does the final phrase feel like you have left things open? And have you referred back to your common thread. Never leave a thread hanging, that’s what I was always taught.

Equally, it’s a good opportunity to encourage social interaction with the article. If people have got this far, it’s a sign that they have engaged well with your writing, so asking people for their opinion, or posing them a question at the end can resonate well. It brings them back into their world, after a brief sojourn into yours, and makes your point relevant to the reader.

If you take anything from this article…

Take these points:

  • You can find inspiration anywhere, for anything, if you look in the right places
  • Structure your ideas first, your words second
  • Build a common theme throughout your article, and don’t let it go
  • Write blog posts naturally, find your voice and keep it
  • Find ways to make your paragraphs flow from one to the next
  • Break it up into readable chunks with headers, images, bullet points, etc. – people consume and skim, they don’t always read from top to bottom

Oh, and keep doing it. Not just for Google and their insatiable thirst for fresh content, but for yourself. You’ll improve over time, and find your voice. You’ll gain confidence in your tone of voice, and your opinions, and you’ll find that people keep coming back for more. It takes time – lots of it – but the strength of a blog is that it positions you as a thought leader, someone with something relevant to say. It positions you as a real person, something many corporate websites forget to mention, and people buy from people.

So what are you waiting for. Get writing, will you.