In recent years, blogs have transformed from online journals into a necessity for any individual or business looking to build their brand.
They’re a crucial part of the larger ongoing content marketing revolution, and for good reason: websites with blogs receive significantly more traffic than those without them.
But there’s more to blogging than simply publishing your thoughts on the internet.
Writing a blog post that successfully engages readers demands careful research, organization, and creativity. Here are 11 tips for crafting an awesome and effective blog post.
1. Do keyword research.
Keyword research is crucial for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes—that is, creating content that readers will be able to find organically in search engine results.
That’s not to say haphazardly created blog posts are awful, but you’ll find that having a keyword strategy in place can bring in more traffic than your post would have received otherwise.
With that said, you should pay attention to both primary and secondary keywords. What’s the difference?
Your primary keyword is your post’s main keyword target—the keyword or phrase you want your content to rank for in search engine results. Secondary keywords, on the other hand, are related keywords with the same user intent, albeit with generally lower search volume.
While a post can have multiple secondary keywords, there should only be one primary keyword per blog post.
For example, let’s say you were going to create a blog post about different breeds of bears.
According to SEMrush, people search for “types of bears,” on average, 9,900 times a month. Meanwhile, the highly relevant phrases “kinds of bears” and “how many species of bears in the world” are searched for 720 and 50 times a month, respectively.
Based on this research, “types of bears” would be your primary keyword, while “kinds of bears” and “how many species of bears in the world” would make good secondary keywords.
To find out what words and phrases to target, use keyword research tools like:
2. Develop a post outline.
Middle and high school writing classes often preach the value of creating essay outlines.
While a blog post isn’t quite an essay, the same advice holds true: developing an outline is an important part of writing a great blog post.
Without one, you just might end up on a writing tangent and produce hundreds (or even thousands) of words that are peripheral to your blog post’s central topic. That means wasted time writing and editing unnecessary content.
That said, you don’t need to create an overly detailed or complex outline—just one that provides a general framework for your blog post. What’s more, you can use your keyword research to help guide your outline, e.g., by noting where it may be logical to address your topic’s secondary keywords.
For example, here’s what an outline might look like for a piece comparing cats and dogs as pets.
- How long have humans domesticated cats and dogs?
- Brief description of cats and dogs’ ancestral backgrounds—their overlap and divergence
- Basic build and biology
- Hunting and territorial instincts
- History of domestication to serve humans
- Ability to be trained
- Ways of expressing affection
- Bathroom behavior
- Recap: Where are dogs and cats’ biggest similarities? Differences?
As you can see, it defines the key points that should be addressed in each section, acting as a guide for the actual writing process. This way, the blogger won’t be distracted and expand on unnecessary topics.
3. Hook your reader.
The median time a reader spends on an article is 37 seconds.
So if you don’t hook their interest in the first line, they’ll click away to a different article, or even a competitor’s site.
Don’t be intimidated by the thought of creating an enthralling first line, though.
Crafting a hook is less about creative phrasing than it is about solid research. If you know what you're talking about, chances are a good hook will naturally pop into your head. If it doesn't, try writing the rest of the article first and adding the hook when you're done.
An effective hook can be:
- A quote
- A short anecdote
- A question
- An interesting fact
- A controversial statement
- Your post’s thesis
Whatever hook you choose, be sure it accurately conveys the tone of your piece and smoothly connects with its message and information. Nothing frustrates a reader more than getting started on a piece and then realizing it wasn’t what they were after.
4. Write for your target audience.
The most effective and engaging blog posts are tailored to their respective audiences.
This is because when you try to please everyone, you’ll generally end up with more vague and generic writing.
So rather than write in broad strokes, tailor your writing to your target audience.
You can do so by catering several elements of your blog post to them, including:
- Subject matter - To even attract your target audience in the first place, produce content that’s relevant to them. Subjects coming from left field may confuse visitors and make your website’s central theme unclear. For instance, if you run a parenting blog, your posts should be about topics like childcare and pregnancy advice. That would include articles about bottle-feeding or bedtime rituals—not motorcycle parts or hiking equipment.
- Content depth - Consider your target reader’s background knowledge. How familiar are they with the topics you’ve chosen to write about? If you’re writing a beginner’s guide to triathlon training, for example, you should include the fundamentals, like what exactly a triathlon is comprised of. A blog post about polynomials in math, on the other hand, probably doesn’t need to start from the basics of addition and subtraction, given that it’s an advanced concept only readers with a certain mathematics background would search for.
- Language level - This refers to the complexity of your language, and it matters because it conveys your knowledgeability. Just imagine writing a research-heavy blog for a target audience of professors and PhDs. Using highly academic terminology would likely generate more trust and authority than fifth-grade writing. Conversely, if you were writing a guide to assemble IKEA furniture, it’d be best to use simple language that anyone could understand.
- Tone - Your writing tone refers to how you convey your message or your brand voice. In this way, you can also think of tone as how your personality comes through your words. Does it lean more toward the casual side or is it all professional? How about humor—is your writing snarky, a little zany, or straight to the point? Finding the right tone is crucial because you may otherwise bore or offend your audience. Consider a funeral home business with a joking, lighthearted blog—according to social norms, this tone is far from appropriate and would steer customers away.
Writing for your target audience has the effect of personalizing your blog posts and in doing so, makes them more engaging.
<div class="tip">Need help brainstorming who exactly your target audience is? Consider creating user personas for each of the different segments of your audience. These personas can help you visualize who exactly you’re writing your blog posts for and even help with post ideation.</div>
5. Include your target keywords.
Incorporating keywords in your content is crucial for making your blog post SEO-friendly.
After all, keyword-optimized blog posts perform better on search engine results pages (SERP).
To accomplish this, be sure to include your target keywords where appropriate, such as:
- Title - Come up with a title that features your primary keyword.
- Body of text - Include your primary keyword at least once in your post’s content, or more, depending on its length. When appropriate, also incorporate your related secondary keywords.
- Subheadings - Where relevant, include your primary and secondary keywords in your subheadings. There’s no hard rule for how frequently they should appear, but avoid inserting your keyword into every subheading.
Avoid going overboard, as Google penalizes sites for keyword stuffing, or repeating a keyword nonsensically. Unfortunately, the notion of ideal keyword frequency isn’t an exact science, but the key takeaway here is to incorporate your keywords naturally.
<div class="tip">Keyword stuffing is a popular black hat SEO practice—but it's not the only one. Be sure to avoid these bad SEO techniques.</div>
6. Stick with the active voice.
Do you know the difference between active and passive voice?
In the active voice, the subject acts on the object. In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon by the verb.
- The cat chased the mouse. (active voice)
- The mouse was chased by the cat. (passive voice)
Unless you have a particular reason to write in the passive voice, you should always write in the active voice. It tends to be easier to read and understand, and evokes more action.
Worried that a passive sentence slipped in?
There’s an app for that Hemingway App is a free, easy-to-use application that helps “make writing bold and clear.” Copy your text into the app, and it will highlight your passive-voice sentences in green.
7. Make your content skimmable.
Studies show that most online content gets scanned, not read.
By the time your readers’ eyes have adjusted to the harsh backlight, filtered out advertisements, and absorbed bright website colors, they’re tired. So the easier it is for them to see, grab, and digest information, the happier those readers are.
To make your writing more skimmable, try these copywriting techniques:
- Use bullet points and numbered lists.
- Write shorter paragraphs.
- Aim for shorter sentences (but also use a variety of sentence structures).
- Use bolding and italics to highlight major points.
The same information—even using the same word count—feels less overwhelming to the reader when they see plenty of white space on the screen. People are more likely to keep reading if they aren't intimidated by a long, unfriendly wall of text.
Moreover, by enhancing users’ reading experience, scannable blog content may encourage visitors to come back for more.
8. Link internally and externally.
Including hyperlinks in your blog post is a must for both user experience and SEO purposes.
Internal (inbound) links to other content on your blog enhance the user experience by making website navigation easier. They also help define your site’s structure and hierarchy, the way each of your pages and posts are laid out.
Meanwhile, external (outbound) links to authoritative websites—like any references you’ve pulled data from—can enhance your post’s search visibility. In a study by the marketing company Reboot, websites with outgoing links to high-quality sites ranked better than comparable sites that did not link externally.
That said, you should follow these best SEO practices for linking:
- Make your anchor text relevant to the page it links to. The era of being told to “click here” is long gone. Instead, you should structure your sentences and anchor text to ensure the reader knows exactly what's behind the link you're presenting to them
- Avoid keyword-dense anchor text. Keyword-dense anchor text, also known as “rich” anchor text, refers to anchor text that is an exact match for the link’s target keyword. For instance, if your blog post links to a page about rare diseases, you should avoid making its anchor text “rare diseases.” Instead, opt for variations like “unusual genetic diseases” or “information about rare disorders.”
- Spread your links out. In other words, avoid cramming twelve links into one paragraph. Stuffing an exorbitant amount of links into your blog post, especially in a single sentence, looks spammy and can negatively impact its SEO.
9. Write clearly and concisely.
As famed English professor William Strunk said, “Omit needless words.”
Blogging has no place for extraneous language, repeated concepts, or poetic phrases. You should instead get straight to the point.
If you’re struggling to identify “needless” words, here are some common filler words and phrases:
- Due to the fact that
- Has the ability to
- In order to
On a similar note, you should also aim for simple language over complex or technical jargon. Today’s online reader has neither the time nor patience to use a dictionary to decipher your writing.
Consider the difference between these two examples:
- Data indicates that higher spousal life satisfaction is associated with a lower risk of mortality.
- Research suggests that having a happy spouse can lead to a longer life.
You might find the first sentence in an academic journal, and that’s fine if your target audience is of a more scholarly variety. However, if you’re trying to reach a mainstream audience, the second sentence is far more effective.
10. Incorporate quality images.
You can publish blog posts that consist only of text, but don’t expect them to perform so well compared to those with pictures.
That’s because image-filled content results in better user retention and engagement.
It’s no wonder—as visual creatures, we process visual content faster than text. Our memories are even highly attuned to images, making it far easier to remember pictures than words.
With that in mind, you’d do well to add images to your blog post. Aim for incorporating one every 350 words, specifically images that support or relate to your text in some way.
And fortunately, there’s no shortage of stock photos for you to use on the internet. Check out these resources to find both free and paid images for your blog:
<div class="tip">Looking for more free images? Check out this comprehensive list of sites that offer free stock photos.</div>
11. Review and proofread your blog post.
Any first draft is bound to have spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. That’s why you should always review your work before publishing it.
To make the editing process more impactful, start by letting your writing sit for a while. Do something else, so when you look at the piece again, errors will stand out more clearly.
You’ve also got a variety of proofreading software and content writing tools at your disposal to help spot errors, including:
Whether you manage a personal or corporate website, blogs are more important than ever for attracting new leads and developing your company’s branding.
And the more you blog, the better you’ll get at it—your copywriting will improve and you’ll become more familiar with SEO over time. You may even see clear trends in the kind of posts that perform well with your readers and be better prepared to appeal to them.
What hard-earned wisdom about blog writing would you like to share? Share with us in a comment below.
This point was originally published in February 2018.