April_04_2013

The 5 essential ingredients for a kickarse blog

Blogging is a great thing to do. It increases the credibility and exposure of a business, raises the profile of the writer, removes barriers to purchase and is like catnip to Google.

Done well, that is.

But you don’t have to spend much time online to see that most people don’t do it well! To make sure that yours aren’t among them, I’d like to share with you here five important ingredients for a great blog.

1. One main idea

A common mistake of blogs is to try and squeeze too much information into a blog. Another is to ramble without ever making your point!

Different people will take away different details from your blogs, depending on where they are, what resonates most with them in their current situation, and previous experience and knowledge of the subject. However, there should be one main concept that every reader walks away with.

Once you’ve decided on your main point, break it down into about 3 sub-ideas. These three ideas should also tell a logical story that gently leads the reader to the place you want them to be. My blogs typically follow this model:

1.   Set the context

Don’t assume your reader will have your prior knowledge of your subject matter – if they do, they’re your competition and not your target market! Open your blog by explaining any background concepts necessary to understanding your main argument, thus bringing all of your readers to the same starting point.

2.   Lay the foundations

Having ensured all of your readers have the right base knowledge, your next section can be putting your reader in the right place so that by the time you’re ready to make your killer argument, they have no choice but to agree!

3.   Make your point

Having done the ground work, your final section should be making your argument – which was the whole point of writing the blog in the first place!

2. Title

People will often make the decision whether or not to read your article based purely on your title – so make it a good one! Think about it – people will find your blog from a list of articles on a website, a tweet or a Facebook link, etc – and if your title is not interesting enough, no-one will even make it to the first line.

Your title should be compelling, but it should also accurately reflect your content. If your title makes promises the blog doesn’t deliver, it will chip away at the credibility of your future blogs and you will have to work harder and harder to get people to come back and read your future blogs.

3. Structure and format

Blogs are very visual media. If your article doesn’t look nice and easy on the eye, people are less likely to slog through a screen of text, regardless of how brilliant your words are. Judicious use of visual cues will help you to gently guide the reader where you want them:

  • Allow lots of white space. A screen full of unbroken text will discourage the reader.
  • Use short paragraphs, shorter than you were taught in school! It will not feel natural at first, but aim for no more than 4 or 5 lines in your biggest paragraphs. Having said that, they should still be proper paragraphs, and not a page of single lines!
  • Break up your text with sub-headings. There shouldn’t be more than a screen’s scroll between sub-headings. Also, people will read your title first, then they will scan your sub-headings before reading your blog proper. Your sub-headings, therefore, should tell the basic story of your blog. The reader should get what the blog is about based on your sub-headings.
  • Use relevant images. They give the eye a rest and if they’re cleverly chosen can add an extra layer to the narrative. Source them from a site like dreamstime.com or 123rf.com so that you legally have permission to use them – don’t just do a Google search. You will need to credit these sites somewhere on your blog page if you use their images.
  • Finally, aim for about 400-600 words. Less than that and you probably haven’t explained your point properly; more than that and you’re probably trying to squeeze too much information in, so consider breaking it up into two separate blogs.
4. Voice and language

Most people who are just starting out tend to write in too formal a tone, and use far too much jargon – as if they’re talking to other people like them! Remember, you’re not (or shouldn’t be!) talking to your competitors in your blog, you’re talking to a potential customer. Potential customers simply won’t care as much about the technicalities and methodology so much as the result. The sign of someone who knows what they’re talking about is the ability to simplify, not the ability to complicate. Never use ten words when one word will do, and never use a long word when a short word will do.

As far as formality of voice is concerned, a great rule of thumb is to imagine you’re talking to your nanna. I loved my nanna very much and spent a lot of time with her, so was very familiar with her – but I was always on my very best behaviour around my nan! That’s a good approach to getting the tone of your blog right too.

5. A great topic

People often struggle to come up with ideas, or wonder why anyone would be interested in what they have to say. If you’re charging people money for your expertise then of course you have things to say that people want to hear about!

Use the following list as inspiration for coming up with great blog topics:

  • Questions you are regularly asked by customers or your target market
  • Tips (like this one!)
  • Anything related to your industry that really winds you up
  • Bad practice or bad advice regularly seen in your industry
  • Misunderstandings or misconceptions that stop people from spending money with you
  • An unusual spin or opinion on a common topic

Written by Sheree Lowe.

Sheree Lowe owns Sundowner Social Media and is a social media engagement specialist, helping business owners with their relationships and conversations with their customers online. You can read more blogs at her website (sundownersocial.com) or say hello on Twitter at @SundownerVA.

Proud to be part of Fabulous Women.

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