5 Ways to Make Your Blog Content Sparkle/ August 25, 2014
In blogging, everyone starts out the same way:
Of course, there are different levels of ‘terrible’ at which you can begin, but the fact remains that blogging is a skill. It needs to be practiced and developed before gaining genuine traction.
But what happens when your content is better than average?
Imagine web traffic soaring when your weekly blog posts sizzle with style and personality. Could you capture the hearts and imaginations of your audience?
Might that translate into better sales numbers and stronger brand value?
Perhaps everyone’s first blog starts out mediocre at best, but there’s no reason you have to remain mediocre.
If you’re ready to devote a little more time and effort to build your blogging skill, read on. It’s an investment with the potential to pay huge dividends.
Great Blog Content Is No Accident
Talent is a disadvantage.
Don’t believe me?
Let me tell you a story:
From 5th grade until after graduating high school, I played the violin. Musical ability came naturally to me, so I advanced quickly.
I was talented…and that was my downfall.
Because my natural aptitude kept me ahead of my classmates, practicing seemed like a waste of time. I was one of the best violinists in my orchestra, so I never learned how to practice, work, and get better intentionally.
That talent also drew attention, so with a glowing recommendation from my music teacher, I enrolled in an exclusive summer camp for performing artists.
The audition piece was harder than I was used to, but none of the other kids in my grade could play it at all. I was talented enough to play it through, though it wasn’t very musical. It didn’t matter to me if it wasn’t that good, because I was still better than most everyone else.
My expectations for this camp were…let’s call them unrealistic. That’s a nice way to phrase it.
In reality, I was way out of my depth, and I had no idea.
On the first day, I played my audition before settling into my dorm room with my roommate, another young violinist. Right from the start, she admitted that music hadn’t come naturally to her, but she loved violin music so much that she was willing to work hard to develop the skill.
“Wasn’t that audition piece a nightmare?” she said. “I’ve been practicing it for months and it’s still not perfect!”
At this point, I thought for sure I was going to be first chair.
If this super exclusive performing arts camp let in people like my roommate, people who had to practice for months just to play the 45 second audition piece, I was surely going to dominate.
Then the results were posted.
I was officially the worst violinist in the camp.
THE WORST VIOLINIST IN THE ENTIRE CAMP!
Talk about a rude awakening.
After that huge serving of humble pie, I bounced back and resolved to improve before chairs were reassigned the following week. Unfortunately, until that camp, I had always relied on talent, so I didn’t know how to work and improve.
My roommate, by the way, was third chair. Only two other violinists in the entire camp placed better than she did.
That summer, I found out that talent is never a substitute for work, practice, and focused effort.
Blogging is just the same.
Maybe you’re the best writer in your office, or the most gifted student in your creative writing course, but on the internet, your talent won’t compete with people who are working and improving.
My high school orchestra was a small pond, and I was the big fish. When I went to camp, I was suddenly swimming in the ocean, and I ran into a few sharks.
Your office or school or blogging club is a small pond, but the internet is an ocean.
Don’t let your past accomplishments cloud your vision, and focus on constant improvement if you hope to compete out there in the great big interwebs. Creating really fantastic blog posts that have the power to stand out from the huge sea of mediocre content – that’s not an accident or a talent.
It’s a skill.
And here’s how you develop it:
1) Nail the first sentence.
Just because somebody finds your blog post doesn’t mean they’re going to read it.
There’s this thing called “bounce rate,” and it’s important.
Bounce rate is determined by how long people stay on your website. For example: if lots of people find you in Google, but they go back to their search results after only viewing your page for 1 or 2 seconds, you’ll have a high bounce rate.
Lots of factors contribute to high bounce rates, but often it’s because readers are skimming your content, deciding that you don’t have what they’re looking for, and then moving on.
If the first sentence of your post is thoughtful, well written, and poignant, though, those people are much more likely to give more consideration to the rest of your post. Whenever you write, think of this:
Your first sentence is going to determine whether or not anyone continues reading.
Here’s a copywriting secret for starting your posts with power:
Start in the middle.
It’s scary at first, but your blog posts are going to be so much better because of it.
All you have to do is write your content in whatever way you normally write, then take a break.
Have some tea.
Take a shower.
Walk the dog.
After stepping away for at least an hour (if you can wait a whole day, that’s even better) go back and read your post. You’re looking for something very specific in this readthrough.
You’re looking for the part where it “gets good.”
Don’t you hate it when a movie takes forever to really get into the action? There’s so much setup and character development and other junk at the beginning, you don’t even get into the plot until 45 minutes after the opening credits. It’s so boring!
So don’t do that with your blog posts.
When you find the place where the action really starts…
Go back and delete EVERYTHING before that part.
Yes, it’s scary. Yes, you worked hard on all that boring stuff at the beginning. Cut it anyway. Trust me, nobody is going to be confused because you got rid of all the expostulation at the start. People are smart, they’ll follow along just fine.
If you need to go back and replace some of those details, do it later in the post, and don’t be boring. If they don’t fit, you probably don’t need them. Then…
2) Cut The Rest of the Junk
Go through your post line by line, and keep asking this question:
“Can I say this with fewer words and retain the same amount of impact?”
Whenever the answer is “yes,” DO IT.
This is one of the places where high school English classes with minimum word count essays have failed to teach good writing. You don’t need more words – you need fewer.
In almost every case, phrasing something as concisely as possible will be more impactful than adding in flowery language and unnecessary bulk.
You may want to repeat this step a few times to make sure you’re conveying your message clearly, but it’s well worth it. Use the minimum amount of words necessary to…
3) Tell a Story
Instead of preaching at your readers, why not draw them in, appeal to their senses, and relate to them as if you’re an actual human being?
There’s a reason that in-demand public speakers, popular business books, and the best blogs relate information using stories. Readers (and listeners) connect with a narrative much more easily than with a list of information.
For example, you’ll likely remember that band camp story at the beginning of this post far longer than you’ll recall the overall topic.
Blogging is a great opportunity to show the human face of your business, and to make genuine connections with people you normally wouldn’t be able to reach. Storytelling is an effective way to do that, and to make your posts more interesting.
After that, you should follow up with great pictures…
4) Up Your Image Game
If you want to be found in search engines, you need at least one picture with every blog post as a minimum.
If you want your content to shine, though, you’re going to need to put a little more effort into your images.
While you’re telling a story, use great pictures to highlight the points you want readers to find particularly memorable. Place them throughout the text where they look visually appealing, and where they’ll encourage readers to keep scrolling and reading more of your post.
Some notes about pictures:
Free stock photography is available, and some of it is awesome. You’ve even seen some of it in this post.
Before you use it, though, make sure that the license covers what you want to do. Sometimes, images can only be used for “editorial” purposes, meaning that you can’t put them in your marketing material, and if you’re going to do anything in print, you might need additional permissions. Some sites require attribution, while others don’t, and other restrictions may be present.
NEVER pull images out of a Google search and put them on your blog. Even an innocent mistake can result in thousands of dollars in fines and irreparable damage to your reputation, so don’t take chances.
And while you’re placing pictures throughout the text in your blog posts, remember:
5) Always Focus On The Reader Experience
You might be writing your blog post because you want to sell something, or because you want to build your brand, or because you want to bring more people to your website…
But that’s not why people are reading your blog posts.
Nobody visits your blog because YOU want more people on your website – so why are they reading your posts?
Are you solving a common problem or providing a useful answer? Is your content entertaining or funny? Do your readers get valuable information that they can use to improve their lives?
Remember that your audience isn’t in it for you; they’re looking for some kind of value for themselves. Give them that value and they’ll keep coming back.
Make it easier on your readers, too, by writing your posts in fonts and colors that are easy to read. Keep your web design uncluttered, don’t bombard people with marketing (that’s why so many people prefer blogs over magazine websites) and avoid huge blocks of text that are hard on the eyes.
Write with your readers in mind, and you’ll be worlds ahead of the blogging competition.
And when you blow your competition away in the blogging world, you’re one step closer to outstanding results in every area of your business.