There are a few blogs on the Internet. A few of them have instructions on how to do content marketing and blogging the right way.
And by a few, I mean millions.
As a content marketer, you’re overloaded with information. Even if it’s helpful information, you can’t process all of it. Research has shown that when you’re faced with an information overload, the viewer tends to glaze over and not see the actual information. You instead look for patterns. This is why zebras value their stripes and paint horses value their splotches—it’s hard for the predator to discern the individual animal behind the pattern of the vast herd.
That’s fine for herbivores who want to live to see another day, but what about for us bloggers? What if you picked out the pattern that all “blog headers should be blue” because you noticed a plethora of blue header graphics and can’t really remember anything else?
Sometimes you need a distillery. (No, I do not mean you need to go get a drink).
In this post, we will boil down to the very basics of blogging. We’ll enforce three core blogging concepts and will show you how to run a successful blog. Let’s forget hedging our bets so you can get a clear picture instead of a blurry pattern.
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1. Write The Blog Post
Fact: You have to write blog posts if you’re going to blog.
Real-world Realization: Writing is hard work. It’s not shovel-ready work, it’s not elbow grease, but it’s work that strains your brain.
Writing successful blog posts means you’re facing several decisions about what and how you will create the copy. While there’s truly no wrong approach to how you'll resolve these decisions when you are sincerely trying to do your best, this post is all about distillation. Let’s reduce all of those legitimate options and cut down to the bare bones of blogging.
What should my blog posts be about? (Ideation.)
Your post should be about one specific thing, and then three things related to that one thing.
In other words, it’s about the idea of core content and peripheral content. If you blog about baking, that is your core. You’ll spend most of the time writing about the recipes and things you bake. Three related topics to that core content might be talking about handy kitchen tools, ingredient reviews, and new cookbooks.
Your post should be about something you love and believe in. If either of those are lacking, writing will not be enjoyable work; it will be dreaded drudgery.
What should my specific post be about? (Focus.)
Your blog post should be specifically focused, not generally. You are not writing about every kitchen mixer, but a specific kitchen mixer. You are not writing about everything you can do with email marketing, but about a specific email marketing technique.
You might have lost specific focus if:
- You have more than three level two headings.
- Your post is much longer than you planned.
- You are having trouble writing a conclusion or call to action (we’ll talk about that next).
- Your introduction or thesis statement doesn’t make sense with what is in the body of the post.
How long should my blog post be? (Depth.)
Everyone has their own opinion, and there are many different right answers to the question of blog post length. But let me give you one to start from: 1,000 words (give or take a hundred).
In those 1,000 words, your blog post should contain:
- An introduction: You will tell your reader what you’re about to say in the blog post introduction.
- An argument: This is the main body of your post, where you present information to the reader. That information should have:
- At least three links to your own content.
- At least one link to scholarly or research-based content.
- At least one link to quality outside content.
- A conclusion: You will tell your reader what you just said.
- A call to action: You will give the reader something to do with a call to action.
What should my blog post look like? (Appearance.)
Your blog post should have:
- A great headline: about six to eight words long. The most exciting words come at the beginning of the headline.
- Three level two headings: If it has a third level of subheading, try to have a few for each level two heading.
- At least one pull quote or tweetable quote: This helps with blog promotion, which we talk about next.
Here is an example:
Give your reader lots of white space by keeping your paragraphs to no more than three sentences each.
Having headings, lists, and white space is all about people being able to scan your blog.
How many images should I have in my post? (Appearance.)
You must have at least one image.
That image should:
- Be a “hero” image (strong enough to stand on its own outside of the context of your post).
- Have either your URL or your Twitter handle on the image. This is in case your image is orphaned via Google image searches or image social networks like Pinterest.
- Be sized to fit the majority of social networks. Using a tool like Canva can really help you out.
Dig Deeper: If you want to set yourself up with a mini course in foundational blog writing techniques, here are my favorite posts on the matter and methods I use myself:
- Write Better Blog Posts With Just 4 Quick Edits
- The 10-Minute, 10-Step Solution For The Best Blog Outline
- How To Write A Blog Post When You Don’t Want To
- How To Defeat Writer’s Block
- How To Write A Blog Post: Your 5-Point Checklist To Rock A Perfect Post
- How To Blog With As Little As Possible
- 4 Simple Brainstorming Techniques That Will Help You Write Killer Content
- 4-Step System For Writing A Great Blog Post, Even If You Have Writers Block
2. Promote The Blog Post
Stupid question: If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear, does it make a noise?
More useful question: If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear, does anyone care?
Coming up with a content marketing promotion strategy is easily forgotten about for anyone who is more focused on creating blog content, abhorrent of self-promotion, or simply too distracted with the joys of writing to bother letting anyone know that there’s also publishing going on.
Who do I tell I wrote a blog post? (Audience.)
You tell people you know are interested and any you think might be interested.
The people you know are interested are those who:
- Signed up for your email.
- Followed you on social media.
- Commented on your blog.
- Shared your link somewhere.
- Email you.
The people who might be interested are those who:
- Do the previous list, but on another blog that is similar to yours.
You already know this.
It’s easy to forget there are five obvious audiences (and one possible audience) who want to hear from you. Sometimes it's easy to spend too much time building a promotion plan that is email or social media heavy.
For every blog post you publish, alert each of these known/potential audiences.
How do I tell them? (Relationship.)
Telling people you created new blog content is a lot less awful if you’re not a jerk about it.
When you consider people to be part of a relationship between you/your content instead of merely receiving a subscription or notice of publication, you won’t slip into bad and spammy behavior.
To honor the relationship nature of people instead of the recipient nature:
- Make unfollowing easy: Honor all cease and desist requests without question or fuss.
- Space out your promotion based on the intrusiveness of the delivery device, where email is more intrusive than a Tweet. Intrusive level is based on how sticky it is, and what level of effort is necessary to make it go away.
I bet you thought the third step was going to be something like “engage.”
Engagement is sort of in promotion, anyway, in that relationship part.
The focus here is on blogging. Not social media. Not marketing. And beyond talking to people who comment on your blog post, I’m not going to pursue engagement of your audience in this post.
When it comes to blogging, the two most basic things you can do are create the content, and then let people know you did. And then, by making those two things a habit, you up your chances of having a successful blog.
What are the best habits? (Methodology.)
In the great tradition of sharing thought-provoking quotes from successful people, quotes which necessarily contradict each other because no one works in the same way, I wrote a post about some of the habits of successful writers.
The best habit isn’t what Ernest Hemingway did. It’s what you do to get things done.
How do you get things done? To help understand yourself a bit better, ask:
- Do I work better in the morning, afternoon, or night?
- Do I work better with lots of planning, or by the seat of my pants?
- Do I like to get things done all at once, or spread it out over time?
- Do I need to work with a group, or on my own?
- Do I need help with editing or revisions?
- Do I blog better in the office or at a coffee shop?
I can tell you how I do things and how people say things ought to be done, but what really matters is how you get things done. The best habits are the ones that produce results for you. Figure out how you get results. Build those habits, even if the productivity world is telling you that you’re wrong.
How do I create a habit? (Action.)
Behance has some good ideas on how to make a habit out of the behavior you want to solidify.
- Create big goals: Your bigger goals can then be made up of smaller daily goals that you can accomplish. Your goal isn’t simply “learn to play the guitar” but is made up of smaller goals like: “find guitar teacher today” and “order guitar book” and so on.
- Create if-then statements for behavior: Chain one set of behavior to another. For example, “If I get up from my desk chair, then I get a drink of water” if your goal is to drink more water each day. Or “If I want to go for lunch, then I must first write down one new blog post idea before I go.” This is very much about the cue-routine-reward pattern of habit development.
- Reduce options: Don’t give yourself too many choices or too many habits to form. Pick two habits you want to create, such as writing a blog post draft every Monday and publishing it by Wednesday. You can worry about other habits and options after that one is set. This blog post itself was meant to help you reduce the options (remember: information overload).
It takes at least 21 days to form a habit, or so the habit mythology goes. Let’s raise the bar and say that you need to do something for a month before moving onto acquiring a new habit.
Now You Know How To Run A Successful Blog
So let’s review it all, and tell you what you already knew (a hundred times over) but felt overwhelmed by:
- Write: Write blog posts that are specific using the set guidelines in this post.
- Promote: Promote those blog posts.
- Habits: Once you have habits based on the set guidelines here, expand out and wade back into that information overload.