70 million, 3 and a half hours, and 37 seconds.
Keep in mind these numbers as you go through this guide, and think of these numbers before you sit down to write your next article.
What do they mean?
70 million. That’s how many articles are being published every single month by Wordpress.com hosted blogs alone.
3 and a half hours. That’s how long it takes the average blogger to write, edit, format, add images, and publish an article.
37 seconds. That’s how much time the average reader spends going through an article.
I know what you’re thinking—only 37 seconds?! That’s heartbreaking, especially with the average blog post length weighing in at 1,151 words.
There’s a race to the top in providing genuinely helpful, well-researched, transformational content for readers today.
That’s why learning how to write a blog post that stands out from the crowd in providing immense reader value is essential.
But, yes, as a beginner it often feels overwhelming the plethora of options that are available when writing your articles, which is why certain platforms have made it their mission to simplify the process.
Regardless, no matter the platform you choose, there are still plenty of elements to take care of before you click on the publish button.
To help you out on your journey as a blogger, let's first break down the main elements of a blog post.
The Elements of a Blog Post
The headline is, by far, the most important element of your article.
It is the first thing a potential reader notices and it influences their decision to read your article or not. The headline is so powerful, in fact, that even a "perfect" headline will only influence around 20% of those who read it to click on the article.
Few readers will read a post if the headline doesn’t at least make them curious in some way.
The headline can make or break your post.
A great shortcut is to think of the headline not just as a way to describe what your article is about but to entice the reader.
In other words, the headline is not about the article, but about the reader, because whenever someone stumbles upon your post, they want to know whether or not your article is worth reading.
“What’s in it for me?” they ask themselves as they try to figure it out.
That being said, you should be able to notice a couple of things about your headline:
- It should state a potential benefit for the reader (whether directly or indirectly)
- It should let the reader know how much mental energy and time is required (this is one of the reasons listicles are so popular — a reader can easily deduce how much time they have to invest to read the list.)
- It should use a combination of powerful words that are meant to provide the reader with a strong incentive to click on the article
That being said, these are all shoulds, not musts, so you can usually get away with using any 2 or them, or if done right, just one element.
But one thing to always keep in mind is the fact that the headline is not about your article, is about capturing the attention of readers.
The Featured Image
The featured image is the second most important element of a blog post.
In fact, most times, if the featured image piques a reader's curiosity, they will check out a blog post even if the headline doesn't entice them.
Now, when choosing a featured image for your blog, there are a few keywords:
a. Consistency. Choose a consistent theme around your articles featured images. Whether you're using stock photos or creating custom graphics with a tool such as Canva, you need to be as consistent as possible with your featured images.
b. Themes and style. Now, let's talk a bit about style. It has to be on point with your blog's branding. A picture is worth a thousand words, and you've got to make sure those words are the right ones. Use images that further enhance your writing style, the type of content you share, and your blog's niche.
As an example, someone who shares articles that are deeply researched, data-driven, and written in a proper academic language could use as featured images custom charts and graphics, a minimalistic approach. That sends the right message.
Alternatively, if you are writing a humor blog, then a sketch or a doodle might work best in terms of featured images for your blog.
Stephen King is known for laboring for weeks, sometimes months over the opening lines of his stories.
A good opening will get your post read. A bad opening will get your post ignored.
First impressions matter. A lot. And whether we like to admit it or not, the opening lines to our articles can persuade a first-time visitor to become a subscriber or can make them decide to close their browser tab, never to return to our online space.
So how does one craft an opening line to a post that effectively engages readers?
How do we make them fall in love with us?
Well, in order to understand introductions, we must first understand the way an article works.
This is a pyramid of various elements of an article.
Right there, at the top, which also interestingly enough, forms the pyramid's base, the headline and the introduction.
The introduction has to attract your readers, because here's a harsh statistic: only about 1 in 10 readers will ever get past your introduction.
When we talk about the main body of your article, we're talking about all that comes after the introduction, we're talking about the emotional rollercoaster that you must provide for your readers to feel excited to spend the next few minutes reading your article.
You might want to follow these rules:
- Write about something you care deeply about, something that sets your soul on fire.
- Do your research.
- Avoid writing about the same stuff, from the same perspective, as everyone else. Even if the topic is extremely popular.
- Write for humans – not to please Google.
- Edit. Fix grammar errors.
- Create something you’d be proud to call your last post ever.
- Do not write for your own gratification (or to impress yourself with the fact that you are literate)
- Write the kind of article that would make a stranger want to become friends with you.
- Spend as much time on details as it is necessary.
- It is not the idea, but rather the execution.
Of course, do not forget to spend time on formatting your posts:
- Bold: It pays to be bold as a blogger.
- Italics: Good if you want to empathize a certain word or part of a sentence. Do not overuse though.
- Strikeout: Run a line through a word or sentence.
- Bullets and Lists: Because humans are pretty much unable to spend much time reading something that doesn’t resemble a grocery list. And because it’s easy on the eye. Yes. That one too.
And keep in mind: you must always edit your posts. Not after publishing them, but before.
Also, the holy grail of writing your article's main body: Take into consideration the fact that most readers are scanners.
You’ve got your great topic, your killer headline, and an extremely useful post. Your reader decides to give your post a few seconds of his time.
But if your post is made of a huge block of text, he’s not going to read until the end.
Readers are quite busy, so they are picky with their time. And no reader is going to give you even a little bit of their time unless they’re damn certain what’s in the content.
Don’t force your readers to dig through endless paragraphs in order to know what your post is about. They won’t do it — they’ll move on quickly to the next item in his feed reader.
Make your post scannable — the best ways to do that are with lists, but other great methods are subheads, blockquotes, images, and the use of bullet points.
Sometimes it goes like this: you hook your readers with your headline, and captivated them with your introduction.
But somewhere along the way something awful happens...
Your reader has lost interest in your blog post and is now barely scanning through, wishing to reach the end as soon as possible.
No reason to panic. There is a way out of this.
The key to holding a reader’s attention is, of course, engaging content. However, large blocks of text are inherently unfriendly to one's attention span.
Emphasizing key points with the use of bullets and lists is one way to combat text fatigue. But breaking up large chunks of text with the use of subheads serves a much more important role.
With subheads, you’re actually “selling” the reader on continuing to read by using a mini-headline.
With each sentence and element of our writing, there’s one main goal—to get the next sentence read and keep the reader engaged. At all times readers must feel like they are gaining continued benefit from investing their time in your writing.
So, don’t think in terms of subheads, think sub-benefits.
Simply identify all of your main points, and at the transition point between each, write a headline highlighting the benefit of reading the next section.
Use these 3 subhead techniques for better results:
1. Express a benefit.
As long as you think of your subheads as what they actually are (sub-headlines), you should do well.
2. Advocate action.
In the case of articles and blog posts, your overall flow will improve if your subheads all start with the same part of speech (parallelism), and that part of speech is a verb.
3. Try writing your subheads first.
Just as it can be helpful to write your headline first to properly define the overall compelling benefit the piece has to offer, you can also clearly delineate the sections of your blog post by then writing your subheads next before any body text.
If it helps, think of everything you write as a list. How many points (benefits) are you trying to make in order to properly communicate your topic or pitch? Write them down, and if you find that one or more of those points doesn’t really “fit” or provide a benefit to the reader, get rid of it.
Images and Graphics
Charts and graphics are important because not only do they allow you to visually express a certain main point or key takeaway, but they also break the text down.
If you feel like your article needs a bit of breathing room, and after you've made use of subheads and lists, the best way to add a bit of space is by creating an image or a graphic.
It can be as simple as a stock photo, the idea is for the image to be relevant to the article.
Remember: a picture is worth a thousand words. Make sure those words complement your blog post.
Charts and Graphs
Let's talk about visually adding data to your articles.
I'd like to say that this applies only to certain niches, but truth be told, you can create an infographic or a pie chart for just about any type of content.
Just like an image, you can use charts and graphics to masterfully break down a long article, but you can also use it to express your article's main takeaways.
"Too long, didn't read" can be easily expressed with a simple infographic that people can download, print out, and share.
At the same time, if there's important information you want to convey, something that the average scanner... uhm reader might miss, then you can easily create a chart or infographic to share that information with them.
Once you’ve convinced people to read your post by writing a genius headline, entranced them with your introduction, and kept them going with each sentence until the conclusion, you may find yourself wondering…
How do I wrap this thing up?
How you start determines if your post gets read, but how you end determines how people feel about your post.
And, depending on your goals, your ending will determine the success of the piece as a whole.
Begin with the ending in mind
One key to a successful ending is to understand exactly where you are trying to take the reader before you ever write a single word.
The goal of any effective writing is to take the reader on an enjoyable, informative ride from point A to point B, possibly persuading along the way. The way to do that is to have clarity before you start.
Here are five great ways to close things out, depending on your goals:
It’s that middle part that often gets kind of neglected by our brains.
So, in the ending, simply summarize, because you don't want people to keep wondering what was your post actually about.
2. Call to action
What do you want your readers to do? Buy something, call you, download a free e-book, bookmark the post, leave a comment, or subscribe?
Don’t forget to ask, or, if appropriate, tell the reader what to do.
Make it clear what you’d like to have happened.
Oftentimes a great piece of writing is intended to make people think or feel in a certain way.
If you are inspired when you write the post, your conclusion will many times work itself out based on the way you began. Tie your conclusion back to your opening, but don’t spell everything out for the reader. Rather, let the reader tell themselves the story.
The postscript is used a lot in blogging, although you might not recognize it… it’s called the UPDATE. When a post is updated with new information at the end, you might read the eye-catching update even though you didn’t read the original post, which then prompts you to go ahead and read the whole thing.
So often online, our goal is simply to make sure people pay attention the next time we show up, whether it be the next email, blog post, or installment in a tutorial, so it’s crucial to build curiosity and offer them a compelling reason to stay tuned in.
Just think of the way Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ended. That kind of cliffhanger, no matter how bad the middle part is, ensures that people will want to know more.
Endings are crucial because the last impression you leave with people is the most important, both in terms of response and emotion.
That’s why having a clear understanding of what your post is about and what type of response you want can make or break your post.
The Stages of Writing a Blog Post
Here’s the secret to great writing according to Stephen King:
Take out the bad parts.
If this sounds like useless advice, you have yet to understand that great writing is all about rewriting. And you rewrite by taking out the words that aren’t necessary.
So, if you want to write the type of articles that get tons of engagement, you need to develop a process that ensures you create an article that’s clear and concise.
Yes, we’re going to go through all the stages of writing a blog post, while also discussing the way our process influences structure. And the other way around.
Writing the first draft can often be the cause of a lot of headaches, especially among those who are most often plagued by “writer’s block.”
The truth? It’s easier to write a first draft if you keep in mind a few key notions:
1. Know your main takeaways.
What do you want to express? What are the main points you want to share with your audience?
2. Be aware of the emotional undertone of your article.
We often struggle to write because we think in terms of “information.” The truth is that information can be arranged in many different ways, and we can remove most of the ideas we want to share, and the article will still make sense. The emotional undertone, however, is what someone feels when they are reading your article. Try to feel the emotions as you write your first draft, and ask yourself, “what do I want my reader to feel?”
3. The narrative is yours to control.
This is an issue all creatives struggle with, at least from time to time. They forget the narrative is theirs and only theirs. What does that mean? You can write your ending first, then your introduction, and try to tie them together. Or the other way around. Or you can write a few main takeaways, and then try to expand upon them.
Here’s a trick that might help you when writing an article. Like I said previously, it’s important to know your main takeaways.
What are the main ideas you are trying to express? Write them down. Now, you’ve got a list.
The reason most articles are in the form of lists is simply that a list is the easiest thing to write down. Whether you write a series of steps/events or a number of ideas/notions, the underlying principle stays the same: if you know your list, you can easily write it down, then expand upon it.
Editing an article often feels like an almost impossible task. because truth be told, editing is far more than just proofreading.
Editing is about two main concepts:
This means that whenever you edit your articles you are asking yourself a set of questions:
“Would it be better if I deleted my first paragraph?”
“How clear is that sentence?”
“If I delete this, does it still make sense?”
That’s what editing is all about: making sure the reader knows exactly what is going on and they don’t get bored trying to get to the next step in the journey.
Writing is, mostly, rewriting. This is an important notion that I recommend you internalize on a rational and emotional level.
I’m not kidding. This simple concept will also help you with writing your first draft, as you no longer feel the pressure of writing perfection into existence, and also with your editing, and you understand that editing is the most important stage in the process.
At the same time, and as we’ve talked about previously, the introduction deserves that we do our best in tinkering with it until we’re proud with the end result.
That’s why rewriting the opening paragraph, editing it for clarity and conciseness, and making sure that it’s enticing enough to get people to read on, are some of the most important steps in the process of writing an article.
Spend as much time as you need working on your opening line.
“If I delete it, does it still make sense? And if yes, isn’t it better to use the next paragraph as my introduction?”
Do this process in order to know for sure what your true opening line is. Once you recognize it, try to make it so that it “promises a reward.”
The reward is whatever knowledge the reader might gain by going through the entire length of your article.
Rewrite accordingly. Be honest in your assessment when trying to figure out if you’re giving too much away or not enough, or if you’re just lying to your readers as to what is your article truly about.
The fourth step in the process is to enhance the article by adding images, charts, graphics, quotes, bullet lists, and key takeaways.
If you still feel that your article is a bit long (and not that clear and concise), then you can effectively replace entire paragraphs with images, graphics, or charts.
When creating an infographic, for instance, it forces you to be as brief and concise as possible, given the limitation of the medium itself.
Alternatively, you can break down large paragraphs into a set of bullet points, sharing only the essence with your readers, and giving your article a bit of white space.
In one usability test by Nielsen research, scannable and objective copywriting resulted in 124% better usability compared to a more traditional blog post format with larger blocks of text.
In eight years of blogging, I wrote over 2,500 blog posts and articles. I also worked one-on-one with over a hundred different bloggers, reading their content, giving them advice on how to turn mediocre content into phenomenal pieces that get liked, commented on, and shared by their readers.
And oftentimes I stumble upon articles that could have had twice the impact they did, if only the blogger had spent an extra five minutes on properly formatting their blog posts.
Imagine a paper filing system. Each page in the system must be filed away in the right drawer. There are only a limited number of drawers, and thus each one must cover a rather broad area.
Categories are best used in this way:
- Limit the number of categories: resist the temptation to add new categories because a long list of them will not be read or browsed by anyone.
- Every single post must go into (at least) one category.
- Categories are navigation elements: do not just think of categories as a way of labelling posts, they are a core element of your navigation, which means they should be factored into your site’s architecture and navigation, and displayed appropriately.
On the other hand, tags aren’t categories. They are supposed to add to your categories; the tags don’t describe the posts themselves, but rather sections within those posts:
- Use the same tags over and over again: if you have a series of posts on article writing, you could tag them as “journalism,” “writing,” or a hundred other variations. The important thing is to reuse the tags on every post you write on the topic.
- The tag cloud is easy to scan: a list of categories is easy to be recognized because it is in a list.
Tags have a lot of potential; they can be used to replace searching, they help you reach more readers in the WordPress Reader. If you use less than ten tags, they appear there, where everyone who follows that certain tag can read your post.
Categories and tags are useful, given that you use them properly.
It’s time to click on that publish button.
Of course, our job isn’t done. This is, indeed, the last stage in the process flow of content creation, but it’s also the first stage in the process flow of content marketing. This means that you’ve got to distribute your content.
If content is king, distribution is queen. Don’t doubt it for even one second.
That’s why you have to develop a clear plan you can set in motion the moment you click that publish button.
You can share your article on various social networks, send it out in an email newsletter, republish it on Medium, and even interlink it within older articles of yours.
The options are truly endless, and it all comes down to how much time and effort you want to invest in this part of the process.
For instance, you can go beyond the mere sharing of links to your articles on social, and create derivative content (social media posts) inspired by your articles and share those as well.
There are no limits. Truly!
But my suggestion would be to start small, with a few easy ways of sharing and promoting your content, and then slowly work towards more avenues, derivative content, and more.
Writing an article is 90% about mastering the basics. It's about understanding the basic elements, and how they can benefit you (and provide value to the reader.)