Nothing like crash-and-burn to make me scrutinize my homepage content. What I found was ugly–and I can’t blame it all on WordPress glitches.
I like technology. I update my WordPress plug-ins myself; I pay attention to Google Analytics. Until recently, all was going swimmingly. Then I ran a bunch of routine (ahem) updates and all hell broke loose.
It turns out my hosting service hadn’t run the necessary server updates, thus taking my site down. However, they fixed their problem and brought my site back up the same day. Yay!
Not that I didn’t trust the very nice guy who helped me out, but I checked my website just to be sure. Ack! The updates had thrown everything wonky. It looked horrible. Worse, the homepage content was outdated. It didn’t flow logically. My story wasn’t clear. The reader’s experience was unforgivable. The calls to action I crafted so carefully were almost irrelevant. Ack! Ack!
I did what any recovering project manager does: I created a checklist to be sure every item was addressed. Then I organized it and condensed it for your use.
Websiste Homepage Content Audit Checklist
Take a look at your content.
Are you telling an engaging story?
Is your content organized in a way that makes sense for your audience?
Do your thoughts flow logically?
Is the content current and accurate?
The Reader Experience
Pretend you’re a prospective customer.
Is it easy and intuitive to access content?
Can readers quickly find what they’re looking for?
Will everyone feel welcome?
Do you make it tough to get to your content with pop-ups and videos?
Closing the Deal
Make it easy for someone to take the next step.
Do you have a clear call to action?
Is your contact information easy to find?
Do you make it easy for the reader to contact you?
Do you have social proof like testimonials, case studies and links to your business’s social media accounts?
If you’re not into tech, get some help with this.
Do videos and images load quickly?
Is your website’s homepage meta description accurate? Does it encourage people to click through to your site?
Do keywords accurately support your current business?
Have you set up a Google Business account so you can take advantage of local search?
One Last Thought on Homepage Content
A poorly designed reader experience drives me crazy. Marketing gurus tell you to add a newsletter sign-up and launch at least one video when a viewer lands on a page. Add the legally required cookie statement and you’ve built three barriers to your website’s homepage content. These interrupt the flow and distract the reader. They also give your visitor three opportunities to leave.
That said, website content should support your marketing strategy. Videos and pop-ups can work for the right audience. Just think through what you’re doing.
If you’re not sure or you want to bounce some ideas around, let’s talk.
I’ve invited Shawn Greene, noted author and speaker, to share her step-by-step approach to creating content using sticky notes. She’s generously let me repost her original blog here. While Shawn is known for sales training and instructional design, her method works for almost any content you need to create. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
You need a bunch of Post-its and something to write with.
It helps to use just one size and one color Post-it. However, that’s not vital — use what you have as long as they are large enough to write on.
However, do not plan to use different colors or sizes to organize, prioritize, and so on because that will be counter-productive
Step 1 – Brainstorm
Start thinking and put those thoughts onto Post-its. This should include any thoughts about your objectives or goals even if you think those are already set.
Important! Put just one thing on one Post-it. One idea. One thought. One sub-point. One sub-sub-point. One concern. One way-off-topic. One whatever. I repeat: one thing per Post-it.
As You Brainstorm
Do not analyze. Do not consider. Do not research. Do not check spelling. Do not put Post-its up on a white board as you brainstorm. Do not place each one on a white board and then write on it. Do not organize them. Do not put certain thoughts on one color Post-it and others on a different color. Do not discard thoughts that don’t fit the objective or because they won’t fly.
Just dump all of those thoughts, ideas, concerns, resources, questions, people, etc. onto Post-its.
Keep going until you have a pile of Post-its and come to a lull. Don’t force a continued brainstorm if you feel stuck because the next step will unstick you. Same goes if you don’t feel you have “enough” Post-its.
Find a space that is wide open and smooth (so the Post-its will stick and stay). A clean white board, conference table, window, or door often work well.
You can also create a space by taping flipchart paper on walls, windows or doors, or even white boards. This has the added bonus of being easily transported later.
Step 2 – Lay Out the Post-its and Group Them
Complete this step standing up, unless you’re physically unable to do so, because physical movement is part of what makes the Post-it method work so well. (Do not forego standing because you’re tired or because there is little room. Park the chairs in the hall if you have to.)
Place the Post-its onto the open space. Start by placing them randomly. As you add more Post-its some form of grouping will become apparent, often by topic.
Move Post-its into those now-apparent groups but keep the grouping fairly loose until you have placed all of the Post-its. Do not try to decide if the grouping is “correct.” Feel free to use different kinds of groups, too, don’t try to make them consistent.
The exception to the above are any Post-its covering your objectives or goals. Group and place those somewhere that is in view but separate from the rest.
Throughout this step: physically step back so you can see the whole. Move stuff around as needed.
You may find some Post-its created during the brainstorm do not have a topic or category to which they belong. Add those topics and categories now.
Move Post-its around as needed. Put any that don’t fit off to one side. Put any Post-its covering an introduction or close off to one side, too.
The One Thought Per Post-it No Longer Applies
As you move the Post-its around, other thoughts, ideas and concerns will come to mind. Sometimes it’s best to add notes to existing Post-its, sometimes adding new Post-its is best because you can move them around. Don’t try to figure this out in advance and don’t worry if your approach here is inconsistent. You will organize in the next step.
When the Post-its Do Not Fit the Objectives and Goals
No matter how well considered the objectives and goals were, you may find the brainstormed Post-its don’t quite fit. This occurs in two situations:
(1) The most common situation is the original objectives/goals weren’t quite right.
If the bulk of the content Post-its make sense, pull the misfit objectives down so they don’t distract you. Circle back to these in Step 6 (they often just need edits).
(2) The brainstormed Post-its are not right.
It happens! If you’re absolutely sure the objectives/goals are right, take a break — walk away for a few minutes.
When you come back, take the first set of Post-its down and brainstorm again. (You may want to hold onto the first set because they may apply for other objectives/goals.)
Step 3 – Organize, Including Flow
Once you have the Post-its laid out in rough groups, clean up the groupings and make them consistent, adding or removing Post-its as needed.
Now organize the groups into a flow, experimenting with various versions. Don’t let yourself get stuck looking for the perfect flow. Settle on one that seems okay — you will adjust things later as you develop the program, talk, reference, etc.
Throughout this process – physically step back so you can see the whole. As needed: deal with duplicates, move stuff around, remove things…step back again and repeat as needed.
As you organize, you may find some Post-its no longer seem to fit or no longer seem important. Don’t toss these into recycling yet, put them to one side.
You may also find new thoughts come to mind. Add Post-its, or add notes to existing ones.
Step 4 – Add the Introduction and Close
You may have put aside Post-its with content for the opening/introduction, and close. Add these in the right places.
It’s also quite common to have an outline that is missing an opening/introduction and close. If these are missing, don’t fill them in at this time. Instead, add one Post-it to hold a spot for the opening. and another to hold a spot for the close. You’ll fill these in after you develop the rest of the content.
Step 5 – Prioritize as Needed
No matter what we’re using the Post-it method for, we almost always have more possible content than we’ll be able to use. It’s time to identify priorities and there are two ways to do this:
Add a “P” to priority topics and individual Post-its. Focus on these as you develop the content. Add in the rest only as time and space allow.
Bravely remove anything that is not a priority. (Keep these in case you want to add the content or use it separately.)
Step 6 – Revise Objectives/Goals, if Needed
As noted, it’s common to find the original objectives or goals don’t completely sync with the brainstormed content. They often just need slight edits, for example:
The original objective was “understand new work flow.” The content focused on using the new work flow, so the objective is now “understand and apply the new work flow.”
The original objective was “increase client retention.” The content focused on setting appropriate expectations and agreements, so the objective is now “setting shared expectations.”
Step 7 – Transfer if Needed
We often need to transfer the laid-out Post-its or their content onto something. Common options:
Type them up in outline form.
Stick the Post-its onto paper. Flipchart-size paper is perfect but legal and letter-size work, too. Layer the Post-its like shingles so they take up less room.
Take snapshots. Make sure you can read what’s on the Post-its. If you have to take several snapshots, number them so you have the correct order.
That covers the Post-it method, except to address what to do with all those nifty used stickies: recycle them, of course.
Not Sponsored by Post-its
Post-it is a registered trademark of the 3M company. Though there are many imitators, I have to say official Post-its work the best.
About Shawn Greene
Shawn’s sales expertise is founded in direct experience in selling services — including but not limited to banking. Shawn continues to develop business for Savage and Greene, ensuring our training equips reps to handle today’s challenges.
When Shawn was a sales rep for a training company, she learned her penchant for asking questions, talent as an explainer and writing skills could be combined in “instructional design.” She’s been a professional designer since 1993.
Shawn lives with her husband and monster kitty. For fun, she and her husband play golf, kick back and watch NASCAR, and try to resist the kitty’s attempts to persuade them it’s already dinnertime.
And here we are, the culmination of all your hard work: writing and publishing.
Let the Fun Begin
Even with all the preparations you’ve made, writing can still seem daunting. Here’s a pro writer’s tip: just get words down. Follow the outline you created. Your goal is to complete the first draft of your blog not write The Great American Novel.
Pro Writer’s Tip
Do. Not. Edit.
Let me repeat: Do. Not. Edit.
Too many writers spend so much time polishing their first paragraph that they never get the rest of the blog written.
So, again: Do. Not. Edit. That’s the next step. First things first: complete your draft, no matter how rough.
Walk away. Take a break. Do something else. Editing requires a very different mindset. I know few people (OK, nobody. Certainly not me.) who can easily shift from writing to effective quickly.
A Process for Editing
Editing is the hardest part of writing. Here’s the process I follow. Editing takes me several passes; please don’t feel you have to tackle everything in one go.
Structure. Are the paragraphs in the right order? Do your thoughts flow logically from beginning to end? Are you taking any detours that might confuse your target audience?
Paragraphs. Does each paragraph capture a discrete thought? Have you opened each paragraph with an interesting sentence? Does the last sentence and lead the reader on to the next paragraph?
Sentences. Unless you’re writing for academia, tighten up your sentences. Ruthlessly remove extraneous words. Make your point in as few words as you can. Vary sentence lengths for interest. Use active voice. Edit like a surgeon with a finely honed scalpel.
Words. Find the best word possible. Add color and pop. Are you using jargon? If so, will your readers understand it? If not, find a better way to say it. Make friends with the thesaurus.
SEO. Have you used your keywords effectively? Expert opinions vary, but I recommend using your main or focus keyword in:
The title of your blog
In at least one subheading
At least twice in the body of your text
I don’t usually do all my editing in one sitting. Very often I’ll tackle the overall structure and paragraphs, but will come back at least once more for the rest. I love wrangling the words, getting just the right phrase, but I need to police myself to be sure I don’t get lost in the dictionary. There is such a thing as good enough.
What’s the difference between editing and proofreading? Editing starts with a first draft and polishes content until it sparkles. Proofreading follows editing. It eliminates misspellings, grammatical and punctuation errors, inconsistencies, formatting errors, and other basic mistakes .
Always. Proofread. Your. Copy.
If you’re not good at catching your own errors (I’m not), get a friend or colleague to proofread for you. At this point, after all this work, it would be embarrassing to undermine yourself with small errors that detract from your expertise and authority.
Some things to look for:
Correct spelling for names.
Correct titles, organization names, addresses, phone numbers, and URLs.
All quotes have attributions. (You’ve given the source where you found the quote.)
All images have captions and are attributed to their sources including yourself, if you are using one of your own pictures. (Note on the uncaptioned photo above: I used a free stock photo site and they did not give attribution to this picture.)
Punctuation is correct.
Spelling and grammar are correct.
Publishing is the easy part. Copy your blog into your website blog posting tool or content manager. Format headers, add images, insert relevant links, and be sure to proofread here, too. Save your work, set a publication date, and pat yourself on the back.
One more thing: let the world know you’ve just written something.
Scheduling Social Media Posts
If SEO is important, then this is your chance to let the interwebs know you’ve written something. Digital marketer Riley Haas says there are three steps to posting something on social media:
Tell the internet.
Tell the internet you’ve told the internet.
Remind the internet that you told the internet you told the internet.
Here’s a schedule you can follow:
Within 1-2 days of posting your blog, post to whatever social media media accounts you use for your business. Include a link to your blog. Use an image that you use in your blog, too.
Two to three days later, tell the internet you’ve told the internet.
About five days after your first social post, remind the internet. (“In case you missed it, here’s a link to my latest blog post on….”)
If you actively use LinkedIn, don’t forget to post your blog there as an article. Do this about two weeks after you’ve posted it to your blog for maximum effectiveness. And don’t forget to let LinkedIn know you’ve published the article.
Tools I Use
When it comes to proofreading, ’m in love with the AP Style Guide. The online version is kept up-to-the-minute current; useful when you’re writing about the topic du jour.
No tool will catch everything, and they all miss the finer nuances of writing. Don’t let an app be the boss of you. Sometimes writers break the rules. Just break the rules with purpose, not because of a lack of attention to detail.
Tips for Success
When editing, you’ll reach the point of diminishing returns and spend a lot of time on something that isn’t going to get much better. It’s a fine line, but pay attention to where your time is going. Get the problems fixed, yes, but don’t spin your wheels.
If you plan to do a lot of writing, you may want to create a content tracker so you know what was published where, and how you got the word out. Blog posts can become longer articles, or topics for speeches or white papers. Tracking how your content evolved can save a lot of time and confusion later on.
When you’re editing, read out loud to yourself. A paragraph that seems fine on the screen may sound awkward or senseless when spoken.
If remembering to post to social media seems as daunting to you as it does to me, use a social media publisher like Edgar, Hootsuite, or Buffer. You can create all your posts at the same time, schedule them, and forget about it.
Still Need Help?
Thanks for sticking with me. It’s been a long ride. If you’re still feeling stuck, don’t panic. If you need some inspiration and maybe a little help getting unstuck, schedule some time to talk with me. If nothing else, we can commiserate.
The first article in this series outlined my process for how to write a blog post. The second one gave you a framework for success with some planning.
In this article, I’m going to cover an essential concept for bloggers: on-page search engine optimization (SEO). I include it in the Research step of my process, but this is an important topic and worth a separate post.
Why Should You Care About SEO?
Chasing SEO rankings can be frustrating, especially if you’re a one-person shop or small business. You may not think you have a chance of ending up on the first page of search results, but SEO is essential if you want to:
Boost your reputation for credibility and authority
Attract new customers and retain existing ones
Build your brand
Increase traffic to your website
Stay ahead of your competition
There are two broad categories of SEO: technical and on-page. Your webmaster can help you with the intricacies of technical SEO; that’s above my pay grade. As a blogger, however, you can take some simple steps to improve your blog’s on-page SEO.
What Is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO is just Google’s term for good writing. It includes all the things a writer should be doing to produce great content, plus one more to make search engines happy. Good on-page SEO:
Answers readers’ questions
Employs clear, concise, well-formatted copy
Provides information for search engines so they can find and display your content
Keyword Questions You Were Afraid to Ask
On-page SEO starts with keywords, so let’s dive in.
What Is a Keyword?
A keyword is a wordthat a user enters into a search engine when looking for information. For example, I typed “backpack” into Google’s search bar. Here’s the search engine results page.
In about a second, Google served up 740,000,000 (!!!) results: images, maps, snippets of information, and links to other sites. It even helpfully organized all of this data into separate tabs to help me find what I want. Even so, it’s overwhelming.
What is a Long Tail Keyword?
A long-tail keyword is a phrase that more accurately describes what someone is seeking. Searchers use phrases to help narrow down the list of results and make them more relevant. For example, when I entered the long-tailed keyword “waterproof backpacks on sale near me,” Google presented the following information.
Google knows my location, so it shows nearby stores selling waterproof backpacks on a map. It also lists many more places where I can buy waterproof backpacks. The search results page has about two-thirds as many listings (448,000,000 is still a huge number). But the information presented is much more useful.
When you’re a small business, it can pay to use long-tail keywords. They’re more likely to answer a specific user question, and therefore more likely to put you closer to the top of the search results page.
Note: from now on, I’m going to use “keyword” and “long-tail keyword” interchangeably.
What Are Paid Search Results?
Paid search results are advertisements. Many businesses pay to advertise on Google and, while they have to match the keyword you entered to show up in your results, some paid advertisements get ranked at the top of the page. They’re also marked to show they’re ads.
There are two ways to identify a paid ad:
Look for the word “Sponsored” near the top of the page, as shown in the screenshots above.
Depending on what you’re searching for, you may also see “Ad” in a small box in the search results listing.
What Are Organic Search Results?
Organic search results appear below ads on the search results listing. Google ranks items based on how well it thinks the content matches a searcher’s intent. (It’s not that simple, but this is a good enough explanation for our purposes.)
Do I Have to Buy an Ad To Show Up on Search Results Pages?
No, you don’t have to buy an ad on Google. Paid advertising can get expensive, especially for popular keywords. Besides, most users have learned to ignore paid ads and skip to the organic search results.
Can I Have More Than One Keyword?
Absolutely. For the best results, you should plan to use a combination of keywords and long-tail keywords in your blog.
However, you need to select one as your target keyword. You’ll incorporate your target keyword into the blog title, at least one header, and the body of your text.
The rest of the keywords are called related keywords. Google recognizes related keywords, so it’s worth working them into your content. (We’ll talk about using keywords in the next couple of articles in this series.)
So how do you research keywords?
Step 1: Know Thy Customer
If you haven’t done any planning for your blog, stop now. Go back to the second post in this series, “How To Write a Blog, Part 2: Plan for Strong Results. One of the topics talked about understanding your customer well enough to know what problems you can solve for them. If you need to, review that before you go any further with keywords. When you understand your customer and her challenges, figuring out your keywords becomes much easier. (And that’s one of the reasons why the planning step is so important.)
Step 2: Build a Keyword List
Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Ask yourself how you might search for the topic you want to address. Write down every idea that comes to mind; you can prune later. If you get stuck (I do), ask a customer, colleague, or friend how they might go about the search.
Once you have a list, key the words and phrases into Google’s search bar and note the suggestions that it displays. For instance, when I keyed “backpacks on sale” in the examples above, Google presented the following results.
Right there, I have more ideas for search terms (keywords) others are using. You may want to do this several times to get ideas for more keywords.
You can also use the Google Keywords Planner to get more detailed results. Here’s an example of what I saw when I searched for “backpack,” “waterproof backpack,” “tote,” and “backpack near me.”
The Keywords Planner gives you a lot of good information.
Broaden Your Search lists suggestions for other keywords
Refine Keywords helps you target a specific audience using several criteria
Avg. Monthly Searches tells you the popularity of the keyword with searchers
Competition indicates how many other people are using the same keyword
The rest of the information applies to paid ads. The data will show just how popular a term is by showing how much advertisers will pay to use it. You may not care about paid advertising, but this is useful information for gauging how popular your keywords are.
You can download this list if you want, though it can be a long one. I prefer to add the keywords I’m interested in, the average monthly search data, and the competition ranking to my own spreadsheet.
Step 3: Review the List
Once you’re satisfied you’ve identified the relevant keywords, review the list. If you have a long list, score each keyword (high/medium/low, or 1, 2,3) to help you focus on the best choices. Sort the list by score and see what pops out.
If it seems like the keyword list is steering you to different topics than the one you planned on using, you have two options:
Look for different keywords
Reconsider your topic or the angle you planned to take
Step 4: Choose One To Be Your Target Keyword
Once you have a final list of keywords, pick one to be the target keyword/phrase for the blog. There are two philosophies about how to do this:
Popularity. Higher competition for a keyword means more advertisers are bidding for that term. If you want to tackle a popular topic, this might be the right keyword to use. But it will also be tough to get a high search ranking–if that’s important to you.
Lack of popularity. The opposite approach may identify a niche. The fewer advertisers there are bidding for a term, the easier it’s going to be for you to rank highly in search results.
There’s no right answer here, and sometimes it comes down to a coin toss.
Good for you! Your keyword research is done. Next up in this series on how to write a blog post, I’ll talk about writing eye-catching titles and calls to action. Titles are the first place where you put your keyword list to use. They signal to the reader (and to search engines) what problem you’ll be solving for them and they’re key to getting a reader to pay attention to you.
Tools You Can Use
Moz offers a Keyword Explorer tool that’s free for up to 10 keyword searches a month. This option is perfect if you’re a blogger and don’t need anything else.
SEMRush and Ahrefs are also excellent sources for keyword research and much, much more. But like Moz’s full-service offering, subscriptions can be expensive. They may not be worth the investment unless SEO is your thing.
If you use WordPress for your blog, I highly recommend adding the Yoast plug-in. Even the free version will help you improve your SEO with actionable suggestions. If you want to learn more about using keywords, Yoast has an excellent blog on the topic.
Tips for Success
Google offers a great series of workshops in the Google Analytics Academy. I recommend watching Analytics for Beginners to develop a basic understanding of this topic.
Don’t overthink your keywords. About a third of the effort you spend on your blog should go to planning and research together.
Need Help With On-Page SEO For Your Blog?
Are you stuck? Want to brainstorm? Don’t know where to start? Schedule some time to talk with me. I may be able to help you get unstuck and give you ideas on how to find and use keywords successfully.
If you’re making the effort to write a blog, you want people to read it. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of competition. Hosting Tribunal says it in a nutshell: “To date, there are more than 500 million blogs out of 1.7 billion websites in the world. Their authors account for over 2 million blog posts daily.”
How can you stand out? Some forethought and planning will help.
What precisely do you want to gain from blogging? If you’re not sure about this before you start, the whole thing becomes an exercise in frustration.
Answer your customers’ questions. That means you have to know who your customers are and what they want.
Put your spin on it. Yes, a lot of people write blogs. And yes, your customers care what you have to say.
Plan For Writing a Blog
Before you start dashing off ideas, take a few minutes to think through your goals, your audience, and your angle. Clarity at this stage makes writing a blog much more rewarding.
Don’t start writing until you can answer the questions below. Or at least recognize that for you, blogging is a hobby, not a way to grow your business. (No judgment from me. I’ve blogged for all sorts of reasons, not all of them related to business.)
Question 1: What Are Your Blogging Goals?
If you’re going to commit to the work of writing, figure out what you want to achieve before you start. It’s OK if you’re going to write because you love it. (I do.) But don’t miss this opportunity to reach a specific goal.
Do you want to:
Acquire sales leads?
Attract people to your website?
Build a following?
Demonstrate your expertise?
Expand your network?
Be specific. There’s no wrong answer, and you may have more than one goal. Best to sort that out now.
Question 2: Who Do You Want To Reach With Your Blog?
Determine exactly who your audience is. (Clue: the answer is not “anyone who….”) Be as specific as possible; you’ll do your best job when you write as if you’re addressing a single person.
Marketers will tell you to create a persona, a detailed description of your ideal customer. For most of us, it’s easier to pick a favorite customer: someone you like and someone who you would like to work with again.
Question 3: What Problems Can You Solve For This Person?
What would your favorite/ideal customer want to know? This is not the same question as, “what can you write about?” For example, I write about a lot of things, but my writing solves problems like these for my clients:
A start-up in the autonomous vehicle space wants a white paper that explains their idea to investors in a simple, non-technical way.
A digital marketing agency needs updated website content that showcases their recent work in industries they want to penetrate.
A consultant lacks case studies that highlight her expertise for potential clients.
Question 4: What’s Your Angle?
Your angle is your take on the topic. It’s your positionor viewpoint, based on expertise and a deep understanding of your ideal customer’s problems. Your angle helps you stand out from the army of other bloggers writing on the same subject.
Many would-be bloggers tell me they don’t think they have anything new to add, that everything’s already been said by people who know more than they do. That’s probably true.
But it’s equally true that your customers rely on you, not other bloggers. They want to know what you think, what you believe, how you feel. In short, they depend on your expertise.
If you’re having trouble coming up with an angle, answer these fundamental questions to solidify your perspective.
How do you feel about the topic?
Why is this worth writing about?
Whatdo you think your reader shouldknow?
What’s in it for them, from your perspective?
If you need inspiration, this is an excellent opportunity to agree with or dispute what others say. It can generate more ideas for content and maybe even boost your SEO. (More on SEO in the next blog in this series.)
Question 6: What’s Your Call to Action?
A call to action (CTA) is what you want readers to do when they’ve finished reading. Should they:
Download a checklist, white paper, or case study?
Set up an appointment?
Visit your website?
It’s OK not to have a clear call to action. Just make it a conscious decision; don’t let this be a missed opportunity.
My Favorite Planning Tool When I Write a Blog
Yup, you got it—sticky notes. They are my all-time favorite planning tool for anything from updating my herb garden to managing a major systems implementation.
If you want to know why, my friend Shawne Greene says it all in her blog.
Tips for Success
Once you’ve completed this planning exercise, you may not have to do it again. What you learn in this step will probably hold true for a while.
Blogging regularly can seem overwhelming. You do have other things to accomplish. Schedule a time and write several related posts at once. It’s more efficient, and you will be able to catch inconsistencies more easily.
To save your sanity, create a content calendar dedicated to the activities needed to publish a blog. Establish how often you want to post and put that in the calendar. Add milestones to account for the different stages of work, and for any tasks that others need to complete in support.
Keep an idea bank. Jot down anything that comes to mind, no matter how crazy. A list of ideas will is another resource for when you need inspiration.
Other Posts in This Series
This is the second in a series of posts on writing a blog. Here’s the series:
Get started with my thoughts on whether non-writers can blog (spoiler alert: they can, and should), and the process I use in How To Write a Blog, Part 1.
Here’s the thing about writing a blog that gets results: most people know what they want to write. What they’re missing is a process to guide them in creating a blog that people will read. So I’ve created a series of posts that lay out the process I use.
This post covers the preliminaries: whether you should write a blog (even if you’re not a writer), an overview of my approach, and a couple of my favorite writers on the subject. Future posts will cover:
Do some planning so you get results
Research and search engine optimization (SEO)
How to create a strong headline, an outline, and a call to action
Writing, editing, and publishing
Saving your sanity with a content calendar
Should I Blog?
Content is king, or so the pros tell us. We need, we must have, our business will die without blogs, videos, and social media posts. Lots of them, frequently posted, and all with fresh content. It can be overwhelming. Who needs something else to make them crazy right now?
For many of us, the easiest place to start with content is a blog. After all, how hard can it be? We write all the time: emails, presentations, reports–each of us generates a ton of content. Pick a topic and have at it, right?
As it turns out, blogging is a bit of work. But here’s the thing: the more effort you put into the upfront work, the easier it will be to write the blog and the likelier you are to be successful.
But I’m Not a Writer!
You don’t have to be a great writer to author a successful blog. You just need some expertise or a point of view about something in your field. Most of us have at least one of these qualifications, usually in aces.
You also need a process to guide you on how to write a blog. There are some basic things you can do to produce excellent content that your audience will appreciate. They aren’t complicated and, even better, most of it doesn’t involve writing.
How To Write a Blog: A Process
Here’s the process I follow when writing a blog for myself or my clients. I’ve adapted this from several sources and added some bits that I think are important. I’d particularly like to acknowledge Anne Janzer’s “The Writer’s Process” and, “Everybody Writes” by Anne Handley. (Both authors publish excellent newsletters, too, if you’re interested.)
Before you ever put pen to paper, answer these simple questions.
Who are you trying to reach?
What do they want to know?
Whatdo you want them to do once they’ve read your blog?
Only after you’ve completed this step should you proceed. Because if you can’t answer these questions, the content you’re so proud of will fall on deaf ears.
In fact, I think this topic is so important that I’m going to address it in its own post instead of combining it with the next step, research.
There are two parts to this step: keyword research (for SEO) and research to confirm facts, gather quotes from experts, and find appropriate images.
Yes, you should do this before you start writing. You may uncover something that changes what you want to say or how you want to approach the subject. To improve your SEO rankings and build credibility, you’ll want quotes, experts to cite, and websites you can link to.
SEO research doesn’t have to take a lot of time or involve the use of arcane technology (though it can). I’m going to recommend some simple tools and a basic approach that will get you started. Where you go after that is up to you.
Draft a strong headline and a call to action (CTA), and identify the major points you want to make. Take it from an experienced writer: headlines are often the hardest part of the entire process.
I know you’re itching to write, but Google and humans both pay a lot of attention to headlines. You want something crisp, concise, and compelling that will draw people in. And if you don’t bring them in, all this work is for naught.
As for a call to action: you don’t always need (or want) one, but make that a conscious decision. Don’t waste this opportunity to let people know what you offer and how they can reach you.
Once you’ve got your opening headline and closing CTA, the rest should fall into place–another reason why you want to do this before you start writing.
This is the easy part because of all the work you’ve done to get this far. Have at it. Write to your heart’s content. You’ll worry about cleaning it up in the next step. Don’t edit yourself, and don’t worry about length right now; focus on getting your message across.
Polish and Publish
Editing your work can be a painful experience. Frankly, it’s challenging. I’ve just told you to pour your heart out, and now I’m saying, “wait a minute here.” The thing is, it’s essential to get your ideas out of your head so you can share them. In this step, you’ll polish those gems until they shine like the diamonds they are.
Never fear, I’ll be giving you some suggestions for how to edit your writing in a future post, along with a few things to know to prepare your blog for publishing. There are some excellent automated tools to help, and I’ll tell you what they are, too
If you’re in business you’re a writer. Text, email, and social media are text-based. You can write a whole sentence using emoticons 😝 and acronyms IMHO (in my humble opinion) but unambiguous business writing requires a command of the language. Good news: writing tools can help you with English, whether the language is new to you or you’re an experienced writer.
The Etymology Dictionary is for word nerds. Enter a word or phrase and find out how it originated. Great for research—and for understanding where today’s vocabulary came from.
Use Answer The Public (answerthepublic.com) for an idea generator. Enter keywords and discover the most popular searches. ATP pulls data from Google searches and may give you ideas for your next article.
Polish Email and Simplify Social Media
I use Grammarly every day for on-the-go checks of my writing, especially on my iPhone and iPad. ProWritingAid is similar, though the free version seems more robust than Grammarly. The statistics and ever-so-helpful suggestions for change can overwhelm, however, and may not be valuable to you.
CoSchedule (coschedule.com) offers a free headline analyzer tool. I use it for punching up email subject lines and blog titles. Shoot for a score of 70 or higher.
Have you ever grappled for new ways to say the same thing? Check out Related Words when you don’t exactly want a synonym or you’re looking for a different way to phrase something.
If you do a lot of social media posting, look at PromoRepublic for scheduling your posts. It’s reasonably priced and well worth it for the treasure trove of ideas, content, and templates that save time and help you create eye-catching graphics.
Create Eye-Catching Data Visualisations
If you’re a data wonk, Onomics offers free data visualizations. I haven’t needed to use it yet, but it came to me highly recommended and I’m looking for an excuse to dive in.
Writing Tools Help But They Don’t Write For You
Writing is a creative process. Sometimes you break the rules deliberately. Your style of writing is your style of writing. Yes, there are rules, best practices, and the right way to use punctuation. And if everyone followed the rules, we wouldn’t have Ulysses by James Joyce, Catcher in the Rye by Holden Caulfield, or anything by Ernest Hemingway.
Writing tools are just that: tools. They catch errors and generate suggestions. Use that information wisely but don’t let it rule your writing.
Know a Someone Who Could Use This Information?
Forward them a link to this post.
Better yet, I give a talk with practical suggestions to help businesspeople become better writers. It’s loaded with simple tips and will help you see improvements right away. Interested in learning more? Contact me and let’s talk.
There’s a good reason why videos are increasingly popular. They’re easy to consume and they can be easy to make. You don’t need an expensive crew, equipment, and studio to produce a decent-quality video.
In a memorable video, the speaker communicates their message clearly and succinctly. Viewers are gripped by your call to action. They leap to their feet, ready to volunteer, write a check, fund a capital campaign. Inspired, they share your message with other equally generous people.
Ah, if it were only that easy…
Three Steps to Scripting a Memorable Video
We’ve all sat through DIY videos listening to speakers “uh” and “erm” their way along. The speaker seems lost and befuddled, wanders off into side-topics, gets distracted by the cat (or dog or kid) that comes into the room, and completely forgets their point.
Don’t be that person. Instead, follow these tips to script a memorable video.
Step 1: Grab Attention With a Powerful Title and Opening Sentence
You’ve only got a few seconds to lock in audience attention. Don’t waste this time. Hook your audience from the start. If you can’t communicate your message right away, nobody will bother watching the rest of your video.
Start with a powerful title that piques curiosity, then lure viewers in with an equally powerful opening sentence. Script the opening sentence to support your headline, then polish, polish, polish.
There are lots of free tools available to help.
Check out this article from HubSpot. Yes, it’s about email subject lines. But you can use this approach to craft great video titles.
Use the free headline analyzer at CoSchedule.com to craft a memorable video title. (CoSchedule’s headline analyzer will also score it for search engine optimization (SEO) characteristics. This will be useful if you post this video on your website.) Aim for a score of at least 70.
Step 2: Close Out On a High Note
It’s counterintuitive I know, but next, write your closing. Script a sentence or two that recaps and reinforces your message and includes a call to action. Polish until it shines. This is what people will likely remember, so it’s worth the effort.
A call to action is the step you want your viewer to take. It may be to enroll in a workshop, donate generously, or volunteer. Whatever it is, make sure you clearly state that next step.
Don’t forget to include your or your organization’s name and contact information (name, website, email, and/or phone number).
Step 3: Fill in With One to Three Talking Points
Now develop the body of your script. Here’s where you tell your story.
Most videos are short (30-90 seconds) — just enough time to make a couple of points. You need to decide whether you want to dive into one point or skim lightly over two to three points. The more you have to say about any one topic, the fewer topics you should have.
Jot down a few five or six words for each bullet point. As you write, hone your message so that it is tightly focused. If there’s a specific example you want to use, note it. Write down specific words or phrases you need to remember.
Worried about forgetting something? Keep your notes on your smartphone or on a pad nearby and refer to them if you need to when you’re recording.
Should you script every word or just use bullet points? I’m not a fan of scripting every word, but then I’m comfortable ad-libbing. See Bonus Tip 4 for my thoughts on this topic.
What kind of details should you share? It depends on your audience. For example, bankers, accountants, and lawyers may be more comfortable with bare facts. Parents might want to know how your organization helped another child before they trust you with theirs. Medical professionals might not want to share anything because of patient confidentiality and safety concerns.
A little humor can work, but it can be tricky to pull off. If you’re not a natural with humor, don’t force it. And if you are, avoid snark and irony. It may backfire if your audience is listening but not watching the video.
Bonus Step 4: Practice, But Don’t Practice Too Much
The key to any successful video is practice. Practice enough so you’re comfortable, but not so much that you sound rote. Be able to deliver your opening and closing as scripted, but allow yourself to explore your topic in different ways with each run through. You may discover something you forgot when scripting your talking points or find a better way to say it.
An old Toastmasters trick: memorize your opening and closing sentences. Know the major points you want to make, and let your words flow naturally as you move from open to close.
It’s perfectly OK to get excited, even passionate about your subject. Just don’t overdo it. Worse, don’t fake it.
If you’re recording your video yourself on your smartphone, your first recording or two (or more) may sound forced and unnatural. You may be nervous and you’ll probably make a couple of mistakes. That’s OK; this is practice, remember?
The trick is to recognized when you’ve practiced too much. Be aware when you start feeling tired or sounding rote. Time for a break.
Do I Need a Videographer For a Memorable Video?
It depends. Some of the most effective videos I’ve seen were shot on smartphones with no set, script, or video team. They succeeded because the speaker was passionate about their topic and wanted to share that excitement with me, the viewer. Their energy shone through and pulled me in.
But there’s a good argument for paying a professional videographer. It takes a lot of pressure off you, especially if you’re not technically inclined. A professional videographer will add polish to the final product in ways you probably can’t.
I’m all for paying a pro to do something I can’t do as well or when it would just eat up my time. In the long run, a professional videographer can save you time, money, and a lot of frustration. They can be well worth the investment.
If you want to see a wide range of videos, from polished to home-made on no budget, check out Indiegogo. It’s a fundraising site for everything from start-ups to non-profits, and most projects include a video. Some are great, some are awful. Worth the look.
Oh, and don’t forget to lock the door to the room to keep pets out while you’re recording your memorable video.
Whether you like it or not, LinkedIn is the place to be for most professionals. It’s more than your online resume: anyone wanting to confirm your experience will check you out on LinkedIn. If someone searches for you on Google, a link to your LinkedIn profile may appear. Even if you spend more time on other social media platforms like Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, your LinkedIn profile is important.
That means your Summary needs to shine. It may be the toughest part of your profile to write. Everything else is dates and skill and accomplishments. But this, this needs to catch the reader’s eye right away.
To make it worse, a reader will only see the first two-and-a-half or three lines of your Summary, even though you’re allowed 2,000 characters–a full page. And you’ve probably slaved over that page, too. No pressure, right?
Where do you start? What do you do first? How do you write a killer LinkedIn Summary? The steps below will get you off to a good start
While writing a LinkedIn Summary can be challenging, spend some time on the first three steps. Once you’ve completed them, the rest will flow more easily.
The Hard Part: Who’s Your Audience?
Decide what you want your Summary to do. Do you want a new job? More customers? A stronger network? Making this decision will help you create a clear message. Yes, you can do more than one thing at a time but choosing one will make your job simpler.
Determine who you need to reach. This is the audience you’ll be writing for and it’s important you know exactly who they are. If you’re looking for a job, you’ll want to attract recruiters and hiring managers in your field. ILooking for more customers? Then corporate decision makers in your industry are probably your target. If you want to expand your LinkedIn network, then you want to attract colleagues.
Why would someone look for you? What problems would they ask you to solve? (This is not the same as “what I can do for you.”) Make a list. Dig deep on this one. Sure, a hiring manager may be looking for a Senior UX Designer. But the real problem is her top designer quit right in the middle of the biggest project of the year. Deadlines are tight and she needs someone who can ramp up quickly. Your ability to learn quickly and work productively under pressure is probably more important to her right now than anything else.
The Not-So-Hard Part: Write Your LinkedIn Summary
Write a very short lead that will appear “top of the fold” on your LinkedIn Profile page. Summarize why you’re the right choice. Include contact information so the reader doesn’t need to click to find it. (They may not know where to look. Besides, LinkedIn has a habit of changing their user interface without warning.) Keep it very short－175-200 characters, not counting your contact info. Why? Because that’s what a reader will see without having to click “more” to read your entire summary.
Write the rest of your content, ending with a call to action. Keep it short, solution-focused and compelling. If you need help, see my blog post “How to Create a Powerful Message.”
Ask friends and colleagues to review and give you feedback. Polish, polish, polish. Edit your text carefully. If you’re not good at editing, have someone else do it. DO NOT RELY ON GRAMMAR AND SPELL-CHECKERS!!!!!! Seriously, if you screw up here you blow your credibility. Don’t be that guy. Or girl.
Create a draft in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. That way you can keep several versions around and play with them to your heart’s content.
Before you post your final Summary on LinkedIn, turn off Notify Your Network. (Check LinkedIn Help for information on how to do this.) Turn it back on when you’re all done and ready to publish to the world.
Need more help with a LinkedIn Summary? I know some excellent professionals who would be delighted to speak with you. Contact me to get the information.
It’s time to write that marketing email or sales letter or request for a donation. You need to convince someone to buy something and you don’t know where to begin. Here’s are six steps to create a powerful message that gets results.
AIDA Isn’t Just an Opera
Writers use a number of formulas to get create messages. AIDA (Attention, Information, Decision, and Action) works well for me, whether I’m writing content for a website or persuading a prospective client to buy my services.
Creating a Powerful Message in Six Steps
Before you start, figure out who you’re communicating with and what problem you can fix for them. This not about what you’re selling or why you’re the best. It’s about your audience. Why would they want what you’ve got? What problem are you solving for them? Say you’re a coach. Newsflash: your clients aren’t buying coaching. They’re buying help finding a job, getting a promotion, or getting along better with their partner.
Once you’ve got a clear definition of the problem, write your Attention statement. This step can be daunting. You’ve only got a few seconds to capture your reader’s attention. Your text should identify the problem from a potential customer’s perspective. (“Wouldn’t it be great if you could…” “Stop worrying about your next job.” “People just like you are….”)
Now comes Interest. This can be a sentence or a couple of short paragraphs that expand on your Attention sentence. Provide more information that shows you understand the problem your readers are facing. Make the case that you get it. Facts and figures are good here but don’t overwhelm the reader.
The Decision sentence(s) explain why your solution is the right one for them. Summarize your expertise; use quotes from customers; support them with numbers if you can. (“Our customers tell us we….”. “95% of the people who bought this product ….”. “Your donation will let us help 100 needy animals…”).
Wrap up with your call to Action. What do you want these people to do after they’ve read your message? Do you want them to sign a petition? Read an article? Click on a link? Buy something? Tell them what to do next. (“Click the button below to sign up for….” “Call us today to reserve your seat.” “Check out this video on YouTube.”)
Finally, polish, polish, polish. First, check the message with your current customers. Have one or two review your text. Use a thesaurus or use Related Words to punch up the message. Next run the text through Grammarly, Hemingway or another editor to be sure it’s clean. Finally, have a human copyedit it.
Like any new approach, this one takes a bit of practice. I find that if I spend a lot of time accurately identifying the problem I solve, the message falls into place fairly quickly.
If you’re just starting out and you don’t have customers yet, ask a boss who liked you for input. Or check in with friends and family. If you can explain it to them, you can probably draft a great message anyone will understand.