Strategies for writing blog posts

Lionel du Plessisblog, Blogging

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Strategies for writing blog posts (A great big “How to…”)

“I can do this” I keep telling myself. “Writing blog posts is easy”.

Well, if it were that easy, then everyone would do it. But in reality, the cursor blinks, the blank page causes snow blindness, and it’s time (thankfully) to get up and make some tea. And that blog post never gets written. Maybe tomorrow.

It would be so nice if something made sense for a change. Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

It happens all the time. More times than I care to admit. That’s the reason for this blog post. “Strategies for writing blog posts” is a follow up of my other post “Why your website needs a blog (your marketing efforts rely on it). I hope it all makes sense in the end.

Aside: This post took an age to write. 5 days.

Strategy 1: Know your audience

What helps me to write, is knowing who I’m writing for (besides adding pages to my website and growing my organic search ‘footprint’). In this case, I have a mission to help my clients to write their own blog posts. To write them in such a way that helps their sites organic search results. Having a clear picture of who my audience is helps me to structure my thoughts. This process is called creating an Audience Avatar or Buyer Persona.

What exactly is an Audience Avatar?

It’s a profile of a person you create based on what you know about your audience. In my case, I have a few clients who I’m in contact with on a regular basis. I know their fears, their needs, their plans, their goals… and then I create one person that closely resembles the sum of all them. Like a Frankenstein creature, I have created a person borrowing parts from 5 – 10 people. This is who I’m talking to. Writing for. It allows me to write conversationally. And it forces me to to write in the Active Voice. Like a real one-on-one chat.

Note: You need not only have one Avatar. You can have multiple Customer Avatars if it makes sense. The point is that you need at least one so that you are not talking to a shapeless formless void. You need a name, a human with personality, in order to have a meaningless conversation. Also note that this process of creating an Avatar helps with ALL your marketing efforts, not just blog posts. It is a worthwhile exercise to invest your time in.

How to create your Avatar (Persona):

My go-to source for all things marketing is Digital Marketer Lab. I am a paid member and they have excellent tutorials (highly recommended).

Based on the their tutorial, here’s what you need to do:

Flesh out your Avatar – First Interrogation

  1. Start by “fleshing out” your Avatar with Demographic data – Give your Avatar a name, age, gender, location.
  2. Next, fill in what you know about their habits, their favorite quotes, what books they read, what websites they visit.
  3. Now take a look at what their challenges and pain points are – In the light of what YOU do, the services you offer, think about what THEIR daily challenges and Pain points are – write a paragraph for each in detail.
  4. Goals and Values – this part is what makes them tick. Be as detailed as necessary.
  5. Look at what their Objections  are to making a purchase from you? And what role do they have in making a final decision? Knowing this will complete your understanding of your ideal customer.

Second Interrogation

I’ll take it a step further and answer the following list:

  1. WHO is the persona? (Discuss what traits characterise him or her)
  2. WHAT role does he or she play? What does his or her typical day look like?
  3. WHERE is there a gap in his or her needs/wants (beyond my products/services)?
  4. WHEN does he or she need to close this gap (i.e., where is he or she in the buying decision “funnel”)?
  5. WHY would he or she care about us, as a company (aside from our product)?

Now the second part does have some overlap with the first, but I find it helps to approach the same objective from a different angle. Like an interrogation, eventually after answering the same types of questions over and over, the truth will emerge.

Strategy 2: Discover Topics to write about

Now that you have your Audience/Customer profiles, the next bit is easier – finding what topics to write about. If you have done a thorough job by REALLY getting to know them, topics that interest them will emerge.

I’ll use one of my client’s as an example – Scarab Jewellery Studio. One thing we’ve discovered about Scarab’s audience is a particular interest in the back story of the jewellery pieces. They want the inside scoop of the person who ordered a bespoke piece and how the piece was made. Now this topic is a gold-mine for marketing. You could see how this topic could be written from a few different angles: from the designer’s perspective (a behind the scenes workshop perspective) and also the client’s perspective – a human interest topic that people love to share on social media.

Another topic that requires no thinking (if you’ve been listening to your customers) is the FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions). Personally, I believe everyone in business should have a FAQ section on their website. Some of these FAQ’s could easily be expanded into an in-depth blog post. Particularly if the Question needs a long answer.

Strategy 3: Types of blog posts – How, Now, Wow

I recently read a blog post that impressed me with the simple strategy of How, Now, Wow.

Here’s the takeout:

The HOW type of blog post focusses on “How to…”

Instructional, informative long-form writing that establishes your expertise in your field. In our Scarab Jewellery example, “How to clean your jewellery at home using everyday household cleaners” is one example. If well written, this type of post can become what is known as an “evergreen” post. One that doesn’t date and can be referred to at any time.

The NOW type of blog post focusses on current topics

This type of blog post gleans from current events relating to your particular field, adds your voice to the subject, and establishes you as being a thought leader. It demonstrates your thinking in the field. In our example, Scarab Jewellery is fashion related and because I know them so well, even investment related (their pieces are handcrafted using solid metals – so in a volatile market, would you buy expensive fashion jewellery or invest in solid gold pieces that don’t lose value?)… just a thought.

The WOW type of blog post

These WOW posts are designed with social sharing in mind – think infographics, Quizzes, and Video. Think of creating your own assets that are entertaining and shareable. It adds a fun element to your “Voice”.

Note: here’s what they did not tell you in the article referred to above. It costs time and money. Particularly if you do not have the skills and you need to outsource. And even if you do have the skills, time is money.

UPDATE: For more on “Blog Post Types” you should absolutely use – see this latest article on my blog

Strategy 4: Do Keyword Research

Oh boy. This is a broad topic. And deserves a blog post (or two or three) all of its own. But it’s not difficult to understand and you can quickly become good at finding keywords and using them like a pro.

I’ve often said it to clients, the internet runs on keywords. While this not strictly true in a technical sense, here’s what I mean: when somebody (your customer) looks for information or answers on Google or Bing, the only way to ask for it is to type in a query. Words. It can be one word or more. It can even be a sentence (which I often do). What comes back always amazes me. Google sends a bunch of results which almost always gives me exactly what I’m looking for. Particularly if I use 5 words or more.

Vanilla Keywords vs Long-Tail Keywords

Google is very good at understanding “searcher intent”. From a marketing perspective, which would you prefer: a customer who’s ready to buy right now, or a tyre-kicker who’s stabbing in the dark? This is difference between a one-worder and a five-worder. It’s the difference between “jewellery” and “where to buy rose gold engagement rings online”.

The first one-worder search is a tyre-kicker – the topic for jewellery is so huge. The searcher who types this in not very specific. Also consider how many sites use the term. ALL jewellery sites would have at least a few hundred. The competition for such a generic term is gigantic – but Google serves up results anyway. How they decide who gets top-billing is a discussion for another post entirely. The point is, you want to avoid broad topic keywords for your blog posts. And the chances of you getting to the top of search results with highly competitive one-word keywords is extremely slim.

You want to be found for long-tail keywords. Why? Because not only are long-tail keywords less competitive (easier to rank on Google’s top search results) but also indicates a different type of customer – a ready-to-buy customer. It comes back to their intent – typing in “where to buy rose gold engagement rings online” it’s easy to see that the searcher is much further down the “buying funnel”, and one or two steps away from hauling out a credit card than someone just poking around with “jewellery”.

If the search intent is laser-sharp and highly specific, you want to at least have a blog post or two that matches such a query.

How to find long-tail keywords

You need tools. Period. I have tried many tools, and the one that still delivers a superior experience is LongTail Pro. I love this tool and highly recommend it for both the newcomers and experienced bloggers. It runs on Adobe Air (so it’s good for Mac and Windows), and comes with very good How To’s and even offer a comprehensive course – Do yourself a favour – Check it out!

You need a spreadsheet. Google Spreadsheets, Excel or similar will do.

You need access to Google Trends (Do this: in your browser, open up a tab and navigate to Google Trends. Open another tab and navigate to Google Search. If you’re using Google Spreadsheets – open another tab and get that ready).

Ready? Let’s start. I’ll continue with the jewellery theme.

Research with Google Trends

I’ve decided to do a How to post around the subject of engagement jewellery or rings. I’m not sure if “rings” or “jewellery” will be the best to use. I’m also not sure what is popular regarding metals – is gold still more popular, or platinum. Let’s poke around. Use Google Trends to figure it out.

strategies for writing blog posts - google trends results for two keywords

strategies for writing blog posts – google trends results for two keywords

So as you can see from the screenshot, I’ve confirmed that “rings” is the winner. “Engagement jewellery” is not a familiar term except in the UK, Australia and India (see maps below). I can definitely understand the term being used in India, but in my market, “rings” will do just fine.

But before we leave Google Trends, I did notice a “Breakout” Search term for “Morganite Engagement Ring” and “Halo Engagement Ring”. I do have those, so I’ll add that to my blog ideas list.

strategies for writing blog posts - google trends results per region

strategies for writing blog posts – google trends results per region

Still with me? We now have a “seed keyword” – a central theme on which I can build.

Refine with Keyword Research Tool

Next I’ll put that seed keyword into LongTail Pro to see what long tail keywords we can find, how much search there is for those KWs, and how much competition there is:

A list of long tail keywords in Long Tail Platinum from a seed keyword

A list of long tail keywords in Long Tail Platinum from a seed keyword

Note: A lot more long tail keywords were returned, but I selected the ones that I was interested in with a star. Also, I have pulled a 5 – 10 word phrase from my initial seed keyword and got a Competition Score (anything from 20 to 45 is a win). I’m ignoring the Paid Advertising suggested bidding calculation for now. I’m interested in writing a blog post – not an ad campaign. Bear in mind that jewellery is a highly competitive online market. Your situation may be vastly different.

Choosing which Keyword Phrase (long tail) to use

I’ve noticed a theme here which I like – people are searching for “Price”, “wedding band”, “where to buy”, “where to get”, “for women” and finally “design your own”.

At this point I will export all this data from Long Tail Pro as a CSV file into my spreadsheet.

Before we begin to pen a word, or assemble our long tail keyword phrase, let’s first look at what our competition is doing:

Strategy 5: Research your Competition

Luckily Long Tail Pro has this all sorted:

Check out the competitor websites for the long tail keywords using Long Tail Pro

Check out the competitor websites for the long tail keywords using Long Tail Pro

By clicking on the arrow on each keyword, a list of websites and blogs in the top 10 will be revealed. You should click through to see what they are doing and ask yourself the following: Can I do better?

The whole point of this exercise is to be found by serious searchers – the 5-worders or more. These people are looking for answers and product. Right now. If you can weave in all the ideas you’ve discovered from your seed keyword into a blog post, and do it better than the competition, the chances of success is that much greater.

Learn from your competitors. Never plagiarise. “Duplicate” content is easily picked up and penalties are strict. Sometimes severe.

Strategy 6: Write

Here’s my Headline:

“Where to buy Quality Engagement Rings for women at a good price online”

It seems like a great headline. I have all the keywords jammed in there and it reads well. However, it may be too long.

So I ran in through another great tool called Headline Analyzer by CoSchedule and tweaked it until it was better:

“Buy Quality Engagement Rings at a good price online”

I will use other similar phrases in my introduction (important for Google) such as “Solid Gold Engagement Ring” and the like.

Make sure you have your long tail phrase in your page title and Meta description.

But the most important thing to remember when writing a blog post, is write naturally. Do not be a slave to the keyword. Google does a very good job at figuring out the gist of your post. Synonyms are understood by Google and will serve up your post if it picks up a good number of words that match what your searcher is looking for. If a human can’t be bothered to read your article because it doesn’t read well, then I can guarantee you that it won’t get much traction on the search engines.

Rule of thumb: Make sure your keyword appears in the title of your post and the h1 (headline). If you’re using Yoast SEO, keep your eye on the keyword density – below 1% is good. Using your keyword too many times can actually hurt you.

Use Lots of sub-headings

Try and avoid too many paragraphs. Avoid very long sentences. Avoid industry jargon and abbreviations as much as possible. Break up your text with images, captions and quotes. Remember that people like to scan through the post – having sub-headings helps them to understand the the global message. If they’re interested they will go back and read it all.

Write more than 300 words

300 words is considered a minimum standard for good SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – but a recent study of the top twenty search results reveals that most of the blog posts that consistently get top billing have 2000 words or more. Think of it this way, by writing a long quality post, you have more opportunity to write about the subject in depth and more keywords to be found by the search engines.

A long well-written post has gravity.

Not all posts deserve 2000 words. But I know you’ll figure out when it’s appropriate.

Don’t forget your image ALT text

Make sure your Image Alt text not only describes your images, but also includes the keyword phrase.

Here’s a tip: If you’re using WordPress (which I highly recommend) you can add the Yoast SEO plugin which helps you keep an eye on all your on-page SEO. The latest version gives me a Readability Score and an SEO Score. It operates like an on-board traffic light – Red if something’s bad, and Green if all is good.

Add links to other sites and blogs

Having links, where appropriate, to sources of information or referrals for further reading is important. Once again, Yoast SEO plugin alerts me to add a link or two. I try and be generous with links. Hopefully, other important blogs and sites will link back to me. These “backlinks” are the “Holy Grail” in some SEO circles (for good reason) – but that’s a discussion for another blog post or two.

In Summary, I have given you my best overview and strategies for writing blog posts. It may not be exhaustive. But hopefully you would have picked up a few gems.

I would love to know if you enjoyed it. Or even hated it. Maybe I should have added something.

Let me know.

That’s what the comments are for. 🙂