Editor’s note: this post was written by David Turnbull. Find out more about David at his blog Adventures of a Barefoot Geek.
Writing killer blog posts is more than just correct grammar and perfect spelling. Fixing mistakes in your use of English (or whatever language you write in) may add polish to your work, but polish isn’t enough to save a blog post with poor foundations.
Now, I’m not saying everything I write is “killer” – that very word is subjective in itself – but after being an avid blog reader for quite a few years and blogger myself for nearly the same amount of time, I feel I’ve identified a few keys to what makes an article well received.
Here are 14 tips for writing killer blog posts:
- Start with a great headline.
- Love the concept.
- Be ambitious.
- Challenge assumptions.
- Brood over your idea.
- Own a notebook.
- Record every idea (and make it easy to do so).
- Avoid inbred thinking.
- Identify your best idea generation times.
- Believe in what you’re saying.
- Write less!
- Edit by hand.
- Don’t publish everything.
- Let it sit.
Headlines aren’t only the key for capturing the imagination of your readers, they’re the for capturing your own imagination before you’ve even begun a blog post. Take time crafting a headline that would capture your attention and get you excited to read the article. If you’d be excited to read the article you’ll be excited to write the article.
A blog post about lint, no matter how beautifully it’s written, is still a blog post about lint. And that’s lame. Instead of fretting too much about sentence structure and proper grammar, focus your attention on the concept behind the article. The idea you base your content on is far more important than the way its delivered.
Don’t aim too low. Instead of writing a “Top 10” list why not aim to write a “Top 100” list? Not only will you be rewarded exponentially in terms of traffic, but starting with such an ambitious idea will inspire you to match that ambition with quality. And it’s not just limited to list posts. Definitive guides (such as “The Definitive Guide to Podcasting”) are also great outlets of ambition.
Opinions and assumption-breaking thoughts lead to controversy and controversy = attention. If all your posts just agree with what others have said why would someone read what you have to say? Creating controversy for the sake of controversy is a fairly cheap tactic, but there are plenty of assumptions in every niche that you can disagree with, and with good reason. For example, one reason Rolf Potts is so well known is because he helped popularize the idea of vagabonding, which challenged the assumption that travel is both short term and expensive.
Brooding is overlooked and under appreciated, but Dr. Charles Reynolds Brown, former Dean of Yale explained its importance very well:
“Brood over your text and your topic. Brood over them until they become mellow and responsive. You will hatch out of them a flock of promising ideas as you cause the tiny germs of life there contained to expand and develop…” (How to Develop Self-Confidence & Influence People by Public Speaking, Dale Carnegie.)
Pen and paper is a powerful combination. It’s easy to open a new document on your computer and be overwhelmed by the blank screen. Staring at a blank piece of paper on the other hand is more inviting and has the advantage of breaking up what’s most likely your standard routine. Get a glass of water, maybe a bite to eat, and then sit back on a couch with a scrappy notebook and pen. Ideas will flow, and killer blog posts will be conceived.
It’s easy to discount ideas that you deem unworthy of writing down. Write them down anyway. Think of every idea as a seed. Write it down today, and it may just grow into something beautiful. I’ve had some pretty average ideas spark some fairly fantastic ones.
Inbred thinking is the continual regurgitation of the ideas of others. Online, the problem is most commonly seen on “make money online” blogs, which sprung up after the success of John Chow, Darren Rowse, and Shoemoney, but had no foundations of their own. Because of their lack of experience all their “insights” were simply the ideas of others poorly hacked together. There are many ways to fight inbred thinking, but the two greatest ways are simple: don’t get attached to any individual’s way of thinking (no one is perfect after all) and always be looking for your own experiences.
Being someone who prefers to wake up earlier it was to my dismay that all my greatest ideas come fairly late at night, between 11pm and 12pm. And it’s not just a one time thing. I’ve experimented with brainstorming at different times and that period consistently results in both a higher quality and quantity of ideas. But everyone’s different, so don’t just begin brainstorming at midnight because it works for me. Experiment with different times.
Telling people what they want to hear (“Making money online is easy!” “Of course you can lose 100kg in a day!” “Health doesn’t require eating right or exercise!”) can be a great hook but there’ll be a lack of substance, and it’s that lack of substance that will turn off readers from really connecting with your work. Don’t say things because you think readers will like you more because of it. Stick to what you believe.
One thing school taught me is writing more = good. But in the real world that’s not the case. There’s no need to leave out important details in your articles but ruthlessly remove unnecessary words, sentences and paragraphs. Say more with less.
Editing is unsexy and lame but it’s the difference between a good article and a brilliant article. And if you really want to make a post stand out, print it out before it goes live. Get a red pen and just like your teachers did in school, read through it, circle errors and correct the mistakes you undoubtedly overlooked.
After spending hours pouring your soul into an article it’s hard to not be attached to it. But not everything you write is brilliant. The concept may be great, but articulating your idea is a whole other beast. Before you hit the “Publish” button look at your work and ask yourself “Will I be proud of this article if I look back at it in 2-3 years?” If the answer is “No”, don’t publish it, but don’t delete it either. Just leave the article as a draft, and come back a couple of weeks later to see if it can be saved.
Once you feel your article is “good enough”, leave it as a draft and start working on other content. Revisit the article 1-2 weeks later and read through it. You’ll have forgotten exactly what you’d intended to write and this’ll make you less blind to mistakes you may have overlooked. And, as with brooding, letting your article sit will give yourself a chance to form new ideas, both consciously and subconsciously.
David Turnbull is a Buddhist blogger, computer geek, book worm and Apple fanboy. He spends his time sharing his ideas about technology and simplicity on his blog, Adventures of a Barefoot Geek and chatting with people on Twitter.
photo by _StaR_DusT_