7 steps to writing a blog that people will read (The 7 Blogging Commandments)
440 million. Right now, that's roughly how many other blogs are out there on the web. You don't need me to tell you that blogging is huge on the internet, but…it's kind of a big deal.
I also recorded an audio version of this article with extra bits.
Blogging is central to the web, and it's also unique to the web. It's grown along with the internet, and it's growing at a ridiculous pace. In 2011 there were less than half the amount of blogs there are on the web now.
So yeah, you're doing the right thing wanting to start a blog. I don't need to convince you on that front, and that isn't the point of this article.
There's lots of articles out there telling you how to write a blog, and the steps are straightforward: open a blank document, and tap your fingers on your keyboard until letters turn into words.
Making people read that blog though? Well, now we've got an interesting problem that needs solving, and I think I can help you out.
To do that I need to give you a bit of a pep talk, and I'm going to do that through the medium of something I've dubbed The 7 Blogging Commandments.
1. Thou shalt be original at all times
In English: Make sure you write original content.
Maybe you shouldn't be as original as Shia…but you get the idea.
You've got some competition out there in this blogging game, about 440 million competitors. You owe it to yourself to do this right and to put in your best effort. To do that you need to make sure that you're not doing any of that copying and pasting rubbish.
Please don't go away and read your competitor's blogs and kind of copy them. I can promise you they'll be rubbish anyway. I'm trying to convince you to be original.
There's two main reasons for being original. Let's look at both.
Reason 1: Pleasing your audience
Let me say that figure again: 440 million. There's so many blogs out there that it's difficult to imagine them all, but one thing is for sure: they'll definitely be another blog out there talking about the same stuff as you.
If there's another blog out there giving out the exact same content as you — which will happen — the way you write that content is the original thing that's different between the two of you. Your originality — the way you write things — will be the only thing that's different.
Think about how you're going to write stuff. Will you be serious? Will you be well-researched, almost scientific? Will you be funny? Will you be a bit weird? All of these ways of writing will make you different to other people.
Don't just sit down and start writing unless you're already an experienced writer. I guarantee if you do this your first blog post will read like one of your old high school essays and will be just as dull.
Writing is an opportunity to be creative. Don't get scared by that word, embrace that word. You can write the same article that somebody else has written before (like the one I'm writing right now) but not write it like anybody else.
Your main goal for being original should be to please your audience. Entertain them, inform them, shock them, or something else entirely. You need to generate a reaction from them. Bad blogging generates no reaction out of anybody.
Then we come to number 2: Uncle Google.
Reason 2: Pleasing Uncle Google
This isn't a pub quiz. The quizmaster in question here will notice that you've copied somebody else. That quizmaster is Google. There's a little thing called duplicate content, and Google doesn't like duplicate content. In fact, it can penalise websites if it figures out that you've been copying.
In other less technical words, you'll want to avoid copying somebody else's content because it'll mean you'll have some of the exact same content on your website that your competitor might have. This is bad because Google and other search engines will have no way to spot the difference between the content.
When Google is looking through your website and storing it in its database it will use this content to find out how relevant your website is towards a search term. If the content it has stored is identical to another website…well, you'll have a hard time convincing Google to rank your website.
Google will slap your wrists if you aren't original in your blog posts. I will also slap your wrists. And remove your blogging licence.
2. Thou shalt avoid the temptation to write boring content
In English: Don't write boring content.
I get it. You want to smash out that blog post that your marketing department has told you to write and get back to doing real business. So you do exactly that, and you go back to work.
You do this once a week, just like your marketing has told you to. You write a blog post and publish it every Monday. You even publish it on your LinkedIn too. But there's a problem, and it's a problem most marketing companies won't talk to you about.
Your blog posts? They're just boring. People are using them to put themselves to sleep at night. In fact, so potent is the drowsy effect of your articles that they're putting people to sleep on a morning too.
If you're getting barely anybody looking at your articles after you've been writing them for a while it's because they're boring.
Nobody will tell you this either because everybody else is busy living their own lives. You've got about 5 seconds to convince somebody that your article is worth their time, and if you fluff it up in your opening by writing something like this:
"Today I will discuss the positives and negatives of widget optimisation in the serious widget industries"
Jeez, I nearly fell asleep just writing those 16 words. You see what I mean? If your blog posts are reading like that, you need to write less boring stuff.
Here's some really quick and easy ways to do this.
Write like you're talking to a good friend at a bar
Imagine you're talking to somebody at a bar, and you're sharing an interesting story. Basically, write as if you're talking to a good friend. Once you've got this in your head you'll realise how ridiculous your boring writing is.
Forget the high school grammar rules
Don't ever use a "but" or an "and" at the beginning of a sentence. That's just one example of millions of stupid rules our school teachers rammed into our brains. When we're trying to think of these rules all of the time we're forgetting that all we're trying to do is just write down some stuff. Clean up your article when it's finished. Your first goal is to write some stuff that's not boring.
Add some funny
If you're a normal human being and you occasionally laugh and make people laugh, well, you've got a sense of humour. Don't be scared of using it. Humour is brilliant in blogging and any writing where it's appropriate because it makes your message more accessible and keeps people reading. Bring the funny. Don't be afraid of the funny.
Get somebody other than your mum to read your article
Ask somebody who'll be honest with you to read your article. Ask them if it's boring. If they say yes, start again.
Talk directly to your reader (yes, you)
This is the only sort-of grammar rule I'm going to give you. Imagine you're writing a letter to a single person instead of trying to address a large audience. In other words, use the word you instead of they. Here's an example.
The bad way:
Lots of people globally are thinking of writing a blog, and rightly so. There are many good reasons to write a blog, and in this article I will talk about how somebody would write a blog that people will read.
The good way:
So you're gonna write a blog. Good job. There's a million reasons for you to write one, but luckily I don't need to convince you. I do need to tell you how to write a blog that somebody will read. Let me show you some tips.
Do you see how that works? The Bad Way keeps the reader away from the article, and the article is discussing something that the reader can't relate to. It's discussing a third person who the reader doesn't know. The Good Way pulls the reader straight into the article. It's talking about you, the reader. I'm giving you direct advice. It's more personal.
Treat your article like a presentation to a room of people
Last tip here. So, you need to imagine you're sat in a bar with your friend writing them a letter stood in front of a room full of people giving a presentation. I know, I'm trying my best not to make this confusing.
When you stand up in front of an audience and start speaking to them to give a presentation, I doubt you want to be boring. We do this thing when giving a presentation: we try to be more interesting than we probably are. We pep up our voice, talk a bit louder, get a bit more animated with our hand movements.
It's similar when I do podcasts: I make my voice sound more interesting. I go up and down the range of my voice more. I speed up and slow down. I only have my voice to keep you interested so I need to work twice as hard to make it sound interesting.
The same goes for words. I only have my words to keep you interested right now, along with the occasional picture. I have to make my words more interesting otherwise I'll lose you. I need to use every trick in the book that I know to keep you hooked.
I'll use suspense…sometimes. I'll use short sentences. Sometimes I'll use longer sentences to change up the rhythm of the article, or to make you linger on a topic a little longer.
Sometimes I'll use one sentence as a paragraph.
Anything I can use in the design of the article to help you more easily digest this, I'm going to use. Think of your article like a presentation. The way you lay out your sentences is just as important as the actual sentences you use.
3. Thou shalt writeth the content people want to read(eth)
In English: Write something that people want to read…obviously.
If you want a blog that people will want to read, then you need to write something that people will want to read. I know this is stupidly obvious, but this is a stupidly obvious point that 99.9% of people completely miss.
You're not writing a blog because your business has some goals to write a blog. You're not writing a blog because you read an article like this one that tells you to write a blog.
You're writing a blog to inform people with stuff that they'll value. All that stuff that you normally tell your clients in meetings—that's really valuable knowledge—that's what you should be blogging about. Write about stuff that people want to know.
I absolutely love Answer The Public for this. If you have an idea of something you want to write about—let's say dogs—you can plug that term into Answer The Public and it returns a list of suggestions based on what people have been searching for.
Some of the questions are truly random…
…but they're all useful to get you thinking and to help you understand what your audience needs to know about.
I didn't use that website to write this article, but I've used The Meeting Theory: the tips I'm talking about in this article are things I've told my clients a million times in meetings.
Most people don't know how to write blog posts that people will want to read, so I know they'd be interested in reading an article about it.
This is a shift in mindset to what most people have when they first start a blog. They write about the things they want to write about. That might make their blogging more enjoyable, but the average reader won't find it as useful.
4. Use thine noggin and impart thy knowledge
In English: Write about something you know about.
When I'm looking for information, I'm never looking to read an ill-informed article written by somebody who doesn't know what they're talking about. There's zero market for such articles1, unless you enjoy reading tabloid newspapers.
I want to know that the article I'm reading is written by a well-informed fellow, and I'd be expecting the same of any article that you might write.
Write about the things you know about. Write about the things you have an obsessive, geek-level knowledge of. There's a market out there for it, I guarantee you.
The things you already have an in-depth knowledge about are the things you can write convincingly about. It's also the things you'll be able to write about in great detail, which is necessary to provide value and to write something useful.
Which leads me to the next point.
5. Thou shalt be useful
In English: Share something useful.
Our goal when writing a blog post that people will want to read is always to write something useful. I always think of the articles I'm writing as a little bit like field guides: they need to provide instruction on how to do something or provide insight into something.
Writing useful content is good for many reasons:
- People will willingly share your article with other people, because it's useful.
- People will actually read your content and offer comment on it, because it's useful.
- More people will read your article, because it's useful.
- Search engines are more likely to index your article more favourably because it's a useful resource on a topic.
Creating content that is useful is a different strategy to what most businesses follow. Most businesses favour producing any old content. The quality of those articles doesn't matter, so long as they get written. That usually means their articles are press releases about the company, which nobody on the planet will care about.
Look at Boeing's latest articles. None of those above articles are interesting. Boeing may as well not have bothered publishing them publicly on their website.
Most people who write news or blog posts on their company website fall into this trap though, because it's easy to do. It's easy to talk about yourself because you intimately know your own company. It's easy to find Dan who's just ran a marathon and post about that, or that new product you've just released. It's much much harder to find out what your clients find useful then write about that.
6. Thou shalt make your audience smarter
In English: Make your audience smarter.
Your goal is not to make your audience look stupid. Any communication shouldn't alienate your intended audience, that's bad communication.
Your goal is to do the exact opposite: you're going to make your audience smarter.
As much as you can, avoid the industry jargon. Remember, you're talking to your friend in a bar. They don't understand your industry the same way that you do. Keep your sentences simple. Don't use complicated words. Making your text more readable makes it more enjoyable for your reader.
Some writers have a habit of making their writing sound too intelligent. That means they'll use big words and long sentences, and every 20 seconds you'll be looking in a dictionary. Those are not the kind of articles you should be writing. You are not Will Self.
We all value knowing more stuff. We all enjoying learning new things, reading new perspectives and having that little lightbulb go off in our brain.
Providing value will return more value to you.
7. Knoweth thine reasons
In English: Know WHY you're writing.
This is another obvious point to finish on but the obvious ones are always missed. Lots of people start a blog because...well, they don't know. They just wanted to write.
Whilst that's a noble pursuit in itself, it won't make you a) stick to it or b) benefit in any way from it. The goal of this article is to teach how to write a blog that people will read, and for that to happen you need to have a reason for writing it.
My reasons are simple:
- Prove I'm an authority in what I do for a living
- Increase the visibility of my personal website in search engines...
- ...which will increase the visibility of me and my personal brand.
They don't have to be your reasons, but they'll probably be similar in some way. Even if your reason is "I just want to start writing consistently" then that's cool too.
Just know your reasons, and you'll stick to blogging. If you have no reasons, you won't stick to it.
Here's Jerry Springer's Final Thought
Blogging has lots of benefits. It helps people to understand that you're an expert in your chosen field, it helps to increase your search engine rankings for your own name, and it helps build authority.
It gives you something to point your clients at as well when they ask you questions that you get all the time, and it makes you useful. Providing useful content is one of the simplest ways to increase your authority online, but it's also one of the hardest because it requires a lot of time and effort to build up a bank of knowledge.
Finally, here's the points again
If you've forgotten what I said above, here's all the points over again, and how to write a blog that people will want to read.
- Write original content.
- Don't be boring.
- Write something that people want to read.
- Write about something you know about.
- Share something useful.
- Make your audience smarter.
- Know WHY you're writing.