Writing effective content for the web is about more than picking a topic and actually writing the piece–although those two steps are, of course, a critical part of the process! A number of other elements are equally important when it comes to making your post readable, shareable and discoverable.
This topic came up in a Facebook group recently and I realized that I talk about this topic in presentations on writing for the web all the time, but I’m not sure we’ve ever written about it here. Let’s dive in and look at the keys to great blog posts, shall we?
The Importance of a Great Headline
One of the first steps to attracting readers is crafting a compelling headline–and it’s also in delivering great content to accompany that headline. People are busy. And writing great blog content is a lot like fishing. You have to rely on the power of your headline to hook them and get them interested in clicking through to read the post. Data supports this: 8 in 10 people will see your headline and only 2 in 10 will actually click through to read it.
The lesson here is that if your headline isn’t a killer one (and your meta description is pretty critical, too), you can kiss any chance of someone being interested enough to stop what they’re doing and reading your piece goodbye.
Deliver On Your Promises
Don’t think that a catchy headline will reel them in and keep them interested if you fail to deliver once they’ve clicked through. In fact, that’s one of the quickest ways to really annoy your readers. By misleading readers with an interesting or catchy headline and then not delivering in your content, you run a huge risk of alienating them completely.
There’s also the risk that they’ll be so annoyed they’ll share your post and hold it up as an example of crummy content on the social networks in which they participate. I’ll admit that I do that from time to time when content doesn’t deliver–mostly because I’m annoyed that the writer had the audacity to waste my time. Are you nodding your head here? Our time is really our most valuable asset, isn’t it? And when someone wastes it, it really is kind of like being stolen from. At least that’s the way I feel about it.
Subheads Make Reading Your Content Easier
Subheads are a key component of producing readable content. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that people read every word you labor over for those blog posts you write or for that web content you’ve spent time agonizing over. It’s just not possible. We have so much information coming at us on a daily basis that it’s literally (every time I say that I’m channeling Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation, and it’s important you say it that way in your head when reading this) impossible to stay up on all the things that come our way that we’re interested in and want to know more about.
When you keep this in mind when writing your blog posts and when you serve up content in chunks that are not only visually appealing by also scannable by virtue of the subheads you’ve used, it makes your content more valuable for the reader.
I don’t know about you, but I usually scan through a post before reading it its entirety to get a sense of what’s going to be covered there. Subheads help give me those answers PDQ and make posts exponentially more valuable for me. What about you? What are your reading habits?
A Picture is Worth a Thousand …. Clicks
Blog posts that don’t contain images are not as effective as posts that do. At least when it comes to attracting clicks. When posts don’t contain compelling images I’m less likely to read them, how about you? If you don’t have a header image in your post, when it’s shared it just shows up as a link, which diminishes your chance of a click through and isn’t that really what you’re hoping for?
Also, images, graphs, charts and the like also help make a post more scannable (in much the same way that subheads do), so whenever you can write and back up and/or illustrate what you’re writing about with visuals, do.
Meta Descriptions and Titles: The Guts of Your Blog Posts
The guts of your blog posts, the things that your readers can’t see, are as important as the part that people can see. And your titles and meta descriptions are the guts of your post. You should make sure your posts contain the right keywords and that they are no longer than 60 characters–anything longer than that gets cut off by the search engines. Likewise, you should keep your meta descriptions under 160 characters and use the same keywords in your meta description as you’ve used in your post title.
Your meta description is your chance to really sell your blog post. This description will be what’s pulled when someone clicks one of your sharing buttons and it will be what the search engines use to analyze your content and categorize it accordingly. I tell my team regularly that the post title and meta description are more important than the post as a whole, so if you’re not already paying attention to these parts of your posts, maybe you’ll be inspired to start.
Here’s an example from a recent post of a title and a meta description that shows what the post looks like when shared:
This is your “bait.” This is what content looks like when it’s shared online, so if your headline isn’t compelling, if your visuals aren’t interesting and if your meta description isn’t enough to tempt someone to stop what they’re doing and read your content, well, then, you’ve failed.
There you have it. My thoughts on the key to writing great blog posts. Great headlines supported by relevant content, subheads that break up the content and make it scannable, images in the post to make it not only more attractive when shared, but also that support the content and as much focus on the guts of your post as there is on what’s visible on the outside. And for all that’s holy if you can’t spell, get an editor. There’s almost nothing more unattractive or annoying than a post that contains spelling or grammar errors.
What did I miss?