Brace yourselves, because we’re beginning this post with a cliche you’re all sick of by now: content is king. (Or, in our case, queen!) But repeating this phrase ad nauseum won’t make your content more regal — only following through on actionable writing advice will.
Great content writing is what converts website visitors into paying clients. Your site content is your company’s silent salesperson, and it works 24/7 — even when you forget it's there. How many of the people who come to your website actually convert? How many leads per day are you fielding from your website?
There’s a reason we’re called The Content Factory — we write thousands of pages of content per year for clients ranging from Astroglide to The Alternative Board, covering everything from lube, to asphalt, to cloud computing solutions. That kind of volume and variety provides some interesting opportunities for A/B testing, and over the years we’ve learned a ton about what does and doesn’t work when it comes to blog content writing. This blog post is a built-out version of TCF’s internal writing guide, which our employees follow with every post they write for clients.
Don't believe us when we say that content can make a huge difference? Look at the screenshot below from SEMrush — the graph depicts the increase in search traffic for one of our SaaS clients — one which we write 8 – 10 blog posts a month for. Likewise, this is only after a relatively short period of time. After a year, you can expect this graph to look even more impressive.
Here’s the bottom line: if you know how to write a blog post, you’re going to be doing a lot more business than someone just relying on social media. In our experience, blog posts and content marketing can have a much higher and longer-lasting ROI than social media or digital PR. If you need proof, just look at our blog. If we were driving this traffic to our website via AdWords campaigns, it would require over $300,000.
It’s our job to write our way to the top of SERPs, and it’s something we’ve successfully done for our clients as well as ourselves. In less than a year, we took the organic value of Astroglide’s search traffic from $8,500 per month to $51,600 per month — all via content and content marketing. We’re not mentioning this to brag, but to point out that these results are totally replicable if you’ve got a decent strategy and system.
Traffic means nothing without conversions, and a targeted audience means that more of your posts will attract and turn leads. We engineer our content strategy to attract only the most valuable readers, like you! This is why we work hard to keep ranking for keywords like “website content writer” and “cost of social media marketing”, among others. You don’t just want readers, you want customers — so as you find SEO keywords to target and write your copy, do so with conversions in mind.
If you’re looking to market your business online, at this point it should be obvious that you need to know how to write a blog post that converts. Here’s our guide to doing just that.
It All Starts With the Title
It’s not really a secret that the most important part of the blog post isn’t technically even the post itself — it’s what goes above it. If you don’t have a good, eye-catching title, then people will just shuffle right by your content. Consider all the articles that pop up on your social or RSS feed each day — do you click on absolutely every single one? Chances are, you’re only browsing the ones that catch your interest quickly.
So, how do you come up with a killer title? Is it as easy as following some formula and just shuffling around the words? If we’re honest, while “This One Neat Trick to Do X” will probably nab you some clicks, the ubiquitous nature of clickbait-y titles mean that simply plugging your topic into a common, catchy title won’t be your best bet. If you want to craft a blog post that can convert, you need to figure out what other people in your industry are doing — and what customers are clicking on. As a note, you need to make sure you have the most "clickable" link on that SERP — which means that not only do you have to come up with a killer title, you have to make sure that your meta tags are properly being used, so Google knows exactly what to label your content.
Your first step should be to isolate a keyword to focus on (or, better yet, multiple keywords). If that sounds confusing, try reading through our guide on finding keywords for SEO. Once you’ve found a keyword, your next step is to try to find an idea that keyword can slot into. As a rule of thumb, you always want the keyword or a variation of the keyword in the title, so try to zero in on something that really involves whatever keyword you are targeting.
You should also search BuzzSumo for your topic. (As a sidebar, we love BuzzSumo — so much so that we've openly blabbed about how much we love it to PR Week.) Pay attention to which posts have had the most social energy. What is being shared? What isn’t? Take these lessons with you when you’re trying to craft your title — but, at the same time, don’t be afraid to play around with it a little bit. After all, while there are certainly best practices you should follow when it comes to writing titles, you do want your post to stand out from the crowd. Keep in mind, though, as is the case with all writing, “being different” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to land on a goldmine of success.
When it comes to writing killer titles, sometimes it takes a little experimentation to figure out what works best for your business. We've found that the easiest way to do this is by A/B testing your titles with Facebook ads. Facebook lets you test ads with various titles and images, allowing you to easily compile data which can help you figure out what sorts of titles work best (and also give you an idea of what kinds of images you should be including in your posts).
The good thing about titles is that they can always be changed, so if you find that a blog post isn’t delivering the traffic numbers you expect it to you can try more A/B testing until you land on a title that works better. Once you’ve got your working title and know what direction you’re going with the content, it’s time to actually write the blog post.
How to Write a Blog Post in 13 Steps
So, let’s call out the purple elephant in the room — good content requires good writing. While trying to define what’s good and bad when it comes to the written word is like tap dancing on stilts through a minefield, there are a few definite things we can say for certain. Good content writers rarely (if ever) sway from the following rules:
- Always cite your sources with a link. Your grade school teacher said it to you, your college professors said it to you, and now I’m saying it to you: cite your damn sources. When you toss information out there (or quotes, or ideas) and you don’t link back to where you got it from, not only are you being a jerk, but you’re also shooting yourself in the foot. Links are good for SEO, and they provide the potential for backlinking, which is crucial to any successful blog.
- Learn to use HARO. HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, is a tool that allows writers to pitch questions to experts in order to get quotes for articles. Need to write about what a dietitian thinks about a certain muscle-building formula? Want to know what a network administrator thinks about a new security vulnerability? HARO lets you get answers — but that’s not all it does for you.
Often, the experts that answer your question will have a large social following — meaning that once your article goes live, they’ll be more than happy to help share it. HARO allows you to leverage larger networks in order to increase the size of your own. That means that as soon as your article is published, it's getting sent out in front of a ton of people who would've never otherwise seen it. This can help start your content off on the right foot — plus, it increases your chance of building backlinks, which will positively impact your SEO. Oh, and most importantly, this is all free — they aren’t paying you to run their quote, and you aren’t paying them for their time.
While a full content marketing strategy will rely on more than just HARO to get your content out into the world, HARO by itself can be incredibly formidable. Don't believe us? In just one month, we were able to nab 11 backlinks using HARO. If you're willing to spend some time answering (and sending out) pitches, there's no reason why you can't duplicate our results.
- Make sure you’re in the clear with the legal department. There’s a big difference between “Sally robbed a bank” and “people are saying Sally robbed a bank” or “Sally is accused of robbing a bank.” Make sure your copy isn’t saying (or promising) something that you can’t deliver on, or you might end up with some trouble in the legal department.
- Use facts and figures. The best writing is clear and concise — if you speak in generalities, your audience won’t stick around for long. Back up what you’re saying with facts, figures, or statistics to give your statements weight. Talk about trends in the past and give specific examples that illustrate your point. Avoid referencing “culinary works of genius” without mentioning some of the foods by name. Don’t say “almost two-thirds” if you know the stat is 63% — this helps you sound like an authority.
- Keep conversion in the picture. Remember, you aren’t writing this blog post just for the hell of it — you have a goal in mind, and that goal is turning readers into customers. Does your copy give the reader a good impression of your company? Does it make your team look like industry experts? Are you referencing products or services your company sells? If you aren’t, your copy might pull in traffic, but it probably won’t pull in business.
There’s a fine line to walk between optimizing your content for sales conversion and overselling to the point that your copy works against you. Nobody likes a pushy salesman, and the same is true for sales copy. When you’re first learning how to write blog posts about your own enterprise, it can be difficult to sound “confident” — often, business owners either sound too humble or (even worse) too arrogant. This is one of the reasons it’s important to have an editor, as they will be able to point out if the tone just doesn’t seem right.
- It’s all about making that CTA. The call to action (CTA) rule goes with the above one, but maybe not in a way that you’d expect. A lot of professional content writers sometimes think that the only value a post can produce is direct value — meaning that a CTA has to reference the company directly, or a product that they sell. This isn’t true! A good CTA sometimes just encourages the reader to interact via social media, or to post a comment. While this sort of CTA won’t directly convert to sales, it will get more eyes on your post (and, if they comment, it will provide the additional value of getting more juicy keywords on the page).
- Never give the reader an excuse to leave your site. Level with us here — if you’re primarily counting on search engines to drive traffic to your page, then most of your readers are itching to leave. We know, we know — your copy is fantastic and why would anyone want to just walk away from that? Yet, when someone is referred to your page through Google, they were probably combing through a ton of other links.
If you give them a reason to leave (or a reason to just open another tab and search for something else), you probably aren’t going to get them back. To avoid this, do your best to link to other posts on your own website, and avoid using complicated terminology or acronyms without explaining them in the copy. Don’t give people a reason to go to Dictionary.com to find the definition of weird words you use in the copy!
- Avoid dated content. Yes, newsjacking — or posting content that's somewhat related to a trending news story — is all the rage, but if no one is searching for the terms in your article after the event is over, then you’re wasting your time. You should comment on timely topics with an expiration date, but the majority of your copy should be evergreen, meaning that six months after you write it, it’ll still appear new and fresh. This way, you can keep promoting your posts and the content will never look dated (this also gives you more staying power when you start ranking in the SERPs).
- Don’t forget to format. So you’ve done some killer keyword research, cleared your pitch by your whole staff, and you’ve carved your opus into stone. All you’ve got to do now is publish it, right? Nope. Next to throwing a thousand popups at your audience, the best way to make people slam their back buttons is to have unformatted blobs of text lazily strewn about your page. Don’t you click away as fast as possible when you’re confronted with a blog grey block of text that never seems to end?
All of your content needs to be properly formatted: that means your blog post should be broken up into logical sections and paragraphs. Likewise, you should be using H3 headers, bulleted lists and images to break up larger blocks of text. Speaking of images…
- Have a header image. Okay, so this is dangerous territory. While content writers don’t like to acknowledge it, header images are often the biggest make-or-break part of a blog post. It doesn’t matter how good your post is — if you don’t have a header image (or worse — if your header image is bad), no one is going to read your blog post. Posts without images tend to look more intimidating. They also don’t look very professional.
On the other hand, simply throwing any image up there to cap off your post is, well, if we’re being nice we’ll just go with “bad.” Seriously, though, if your image looks “too stock,” unprofessional (here’s a hint: if it looks like you made it in Paint, most people aren’t going to be impressed by your design skills), or it just seems completely out of place, the visitors that land on your blog aren’t going to stick around for long.
Oh, and a final note on images — always verify that you have the rights to every asset used in your post (and for that matter, your entire website). Copyright infringement penalties are scary, and trust us when we say that you want nothing to do with them. Use a professional stock photo service like BigStock or Foap, or take your own pictures and make your own graphics. A single lawsuit is all it takes to turn your content writing enterprise into an absolute disaster.
- Don't forget about the importance of content marketing. Content is important, but it isn’t everything. While writing strong blog posts can absolutely give you a huge return on your investment, if you’re producing content without sharing it with the world, you might as well be trying to telepathically communicate with your future customers.
Content is a bit like the worm on the hook — without the bait, no fish are going to go for your line. At the same time, if you don’t actually dip your line in the water, you aren’t going to catch many fish. Similarly, if you don’t use all of the tools available to you to promote your content, you’re probably not going to see those huge returns.
Make a strong effort to market your content — many experts, including Derek Halpern, say that you should spend more time with content marketing than you do with content writing. Specifically, Halpern says to shoot for a spending 80% of your time content marketing, and only 20% with the actual writing. Does your ratio need to skew toward content marketing that much? Not necessarily, but at a bare minimum you should spend equal time marketing your content as you do writing the copy.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away. A lot of SEO and blogging guides will tell you that all content is good content, and that you should always publish anything you write. This is terrible advice. A poorly written post that has nothing to do with your company (or product) might draw in visitors to your site, but they aren’t going to be staying for long — and they certainly aren’t going to have a positive view of your business.
Keep in mind that it’s okay to put aside a post for a few weeks. Write something else, and then come back to it later. If you’re writing evergreen content, it won’t matter. Additionally, don’t be afraid to go back to content you’ve posted in the past to spruce it up — if you started before reading this blogging guide, it might be a good idea to skim through your older posts to update them. You always want to keep people on your site for as long as possible for several reasons, including improving your search rankings.
- Get yourself a good editor (and a plugin or two). Want to really make sure your content shines? Before you send it out the door, hand it off to someone you trust. Now, when we say “editing” we aren’t just talking about word choice and grammar. While that stuff is important, you also should have someone give your post an SEO run-through, too.
Don’t have any friends that know the difference between a keyword and a backlink? If you use WordPress, a plugin like Yoast can double-check your page, making sure that everything is appropriately optimized for search engines. (As an added note, we also suggest you use the Broken Link Checker plugin, too — not only do broken links hurt SEO, but they also frustrated users.)
Ultimately, the best way to learn how to write a blog post is by simply writing them. As you write and grow your blog, you might realize that a certain style of post does better than another, or you might figure out that a certain title works incredibly well for your content. As is the case with all writing, the only way to truly know what works is by trying it and testing it on your target audience. You’ll know you’ve hit on something when you start getting more leads from your website.
How To Optimize Your Blog Post For Google's Featured Snippit Box
For content writers, Google's Featured Snippit Box presents one of the biggest changes — and biggest opportunities — for optimizing your blog posts to come about in years. Also sometimes called the Google Answer Box, this feature is showing up in an increasing number of search results, particularly when the search query is asking a specific question like "how to make french toast". This feature of Google search pulls content from one of the top ranked pages for a particular search query that answers the question directly and puts that information at the top of the search results in it's own special box, like so:
When this feature first rolled out, many people in the industry were concerned that having the answer to their question appear front and center in search results would significantly cut down on the number of people who would actually click through to the site being featured. However, over time this has been shown to not be the case, with most pages that already held the top spot for a term showing an increase in traffic after appearing the Google Featured Snippet Box.
So how can you best optimize your blog content to potentially land you a coveted spot in the Google Featured Snippet Box? Hubspot did an outstanding job of breaking it down in their blog post How to Optimize Your Content for Google's Featured Snippet Box. Here are their 7 key takeaways from that post:
Backlinks matter much less for ranking in the Featured Snippet when you already rank on page one.
There should be an area on the page where the search query appears in a header (h2, h3, h4, etc.).
The content you want to appear in the Featured Snippet (the answer to the query) should be placed in a <p> tag directly below the header mentioned above. This answer should be between 54–58 words long.
Google doesn't always just pull through a whole paragraph of text into the Featured Snippet. If you add "Step 1," "Step 2," "Step 3," etc. to the start of each subheading within a page (h2) then Google will sometimes just pull through the subheadings and list them chronologically, like in the example above for this URL. This is particularly prevalent in question-based queries.
Featured Snippets for the same query often have different content within Google.com, Google.co.uk, Google.com.au, and Google.ie. Try "how to search on Google" as one of many examples.
For shorter, less question-orientated keywords that display a Featured Snippet (e.g. "Inbound Sales"), it's much more likely that Google will pull through a paragraph of text as opposed to a step-by-step. Page structure is incredibly important here.
Google tends to prefer 'answers' that begin logically as an answer would.
By focusing on creating content that addresses your audience's particular needs by answering specific questions and utilizing the tips above, you have a decent shot at getting into the Google Featured Snippet Box — and raking in all the sweet, sweet traffic that comes with it.
How to Write a Blog Post: The TCF Checklist
- Have you done keyword research? Are you targeting the appropriate keyword?
- Do you use general language, or do you use in details? When you do speak in specifics, do you have evidence to back up your statements?
- Do you quote experts? If not, would your article be improved by quoting an expert?
- Do you say anything that could get you in trouble legally?
- Does your blog post have a clear goal in mind? Does it relate back to a product or service you sell?
- Do you have a CTA?
- Does the reader have an incentive at any time to leave the page because you’ve failed to inform them of something?
- In six months, will your post be relevant?
- Is your post formatted properly? If you use WordPress, have you checked your post with Yoast?
- Do you have a header image? What about an image every 500 words?
- Once it’s posted, will you immediately be able to get it social attention?
- Do you have links in your blog to both internal and external pages?
- Look at your keyword. Is your post better than every piece of content that’s currently ranking for that keyword? How sure are you? If you’re not positive, go back and polish it.
- Has your content been edited?
- Have you fully optimized your meta tags? If you're running WordPress, are you using Yoast?
When you’ve checked every box, you’re ready to publish!
If this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is a lot of work. And it isn’t easy, either. But if you can hit on the right formula and take an aggressive blogging strategy, you’ll see results. To give you an idea, in just 3 months we doubled the monthly search value of our tech clients from $4,085 to $8,100 (and increasing) — with just four blog posts per month. That’s a pretty conservative strategy, but it’s still working well for the client. It can work for you, too — you just have to get started.
Need help outlining your content strategy or writing the actual blog posts? We’ve got you covered — contact us and we can get fresh, quality content on your site as soon as next week.
Do you know of a business owner or blogger that could benefit from this guide? Make sure to share it with them — and if you so via Twitter, make sure to tag us (@ContentFac) so we can say thanks!