We need to talk. You, yes you, the typical blogger. No, not you regular readers. You guys are cool, because I check your blogs every time you comment. No, this is for those who’ve found this blog through the Reader. I’m writing this for you.
You need to stop publishing every brain fart of yours on WordPress. I mean it. I say this because I want you to flourish. And if WordPress flourishes, then we all do too, right?
But back to the subject at hand. You can’t half-ass your posts and expect your readers to care. So let’s go back to exploring the basics.
What’s this, you may be saying, I didn’t come here to be lectured!
Well, you did publish your post after all, and that means a little feedback is fair game.
Improve schmimprove, you might say, I don’t care what anyone else thinks.
And that’s where you’d be wrong. Yes, we shouldn’t care what people think about our voice, but when it comes to the craft, there are certain standards we should adhere to.
As William Zinsser wrote in his book On Writing Well, “In terms of craft, there’s no excuse for losing readers through sloppy workmanship. But on the larger issue of whether the reader likes you, or likes what you are saying or how you are saying it, don’t give him a moment’s worry.”
Having said that, let’s get on with the list then, shall we?
Draw people in with your title
If you’re like me, you’d probably be no stranger to using titles you came up with in seven seconds. Heck, I even used to do that for my newspaper articles.
Unfortunately, we should be putting in way more effort in our titles, because it’s the sole element that determines whether or not people would actually click on them.
According to Ann Handley in her book Everybody Writes, you should spend as much time on your title as you do on your entire article.
Overkill? Maybe. Worth it? Definitely.
Common pitfalls: Visit the WordPress Reader and you’ll come across a sea of vague titles staring back at you. Sure, some of them may be poems or diary entries, but how likely would you draw in a reader with one-worded titles like ‘Seascapes’ or unclear ones like ‘At The Restaurant #38’?
Up your game: A good place to start with your titles is a promise or solution, like ‘How To Write More And Procrastinate Less’. Be honest with what you think your audience would like. Or emulate titles that you like. You can also try a copywriting classic, which is to write a hundred titles before picking the best one.
Hook ’em with your introduction
On the WordPress Reader, the introductory paragraph is a chance to salvage a reader if your headline didn’t work. Done correctly, the introduction should act as a gateway drug to your story. In essence, it should be the literary marijuana to your cocaine.
This section of your blog post needs to be as direct and interesting as possible, because it comes second in the line of priorities, right after your title. You’ve worked so hard to get them to click, now make sure they stay a little bit longer.
Common pitfalls: Starting off with acronyms, names of societies, or a friend’s name that your reader isn’t privy to. So openings like ‘Today’s MMM is brought to you by the Writers Of This Generation. And isn’t Jenny such a darling?’ are out.
Up your game: Establish rapport early. Is your article about back pain? Then highlight the common problems such as not being able to sit at your desk for prolonged periods. You can also make sweet, sweet promises to your audience, such as a list of stretches to ease said back pain.
Allow easy skimming with subheadings
Just because you’ve written short paragraphs doesn’t mean it’s easy for your audience to skim through your post. It may be easy to read, but they’ll have to work extra hard to figure out the structure of your story.
I’ve been guilty of this. If you look back far enough, you’ll see how much I used to neglect formatting, and how little people cared when I used to write for myself.
This does not apply to you if you primarily publish poetry or fiction on WordPress, however, so do exercise your own judgement.
Common pitfalls: Don’t use your subheadings as placeholders for your SEO keywords. That means no shoehorning weird phrases where they don’t belong, because your audience can tell what you’re up to, even if they’re not technically inclined.
Up your game: Your subheadings are another way of drawing your readers in. Treat them like mini titles. Your aim is to give your readers a rundown of your story, solely by skimming. Likewise, you can evaluate your own story structure through the flow of your subheadings alone.
Increase reading comfort with whitespace
Speaking of readability, you’ll also need to fill your article with tons of whitespace so that your readers won’t feel like they’re playing Word Search. These can exist in the form of:
- Lists (ha)
- Shorter paragraphs
Basically, you’ll want to break up large chunks of text in a tasteful fashion, particularly for digital writing.
Common pitfalls: Don’t think you’re doing your readers a favour by writing only in one-sentence paragraphs. This’ll fill your readers’ minds with staccato thoughts instead. Vary the paragraph lengths a little.
Up your game: On sentence length, try reading them aloud to see if you can complete each sentence in one breath. Shorten them if you can’t. Create paragraphs consisting of said sentences, and try to keep each paragraph below four lines in height. Picking a theme with a slimmer body section helps too. Going too wide fatigues the eyes.
Spice up your posts with visuals
Yeah, we’re still in whitespace territory. But images warrant their own category because there are tiny nuances related to them.
Besides the beautifying your posts, visuals are also important for SEO because image search is a thing now. For instance, a yoga blog would benefit from readers searching ‘what is forward bend’ and clicking on the images tab.
Common pitfalls: On WordPress, one thing that kills the user experience is using the same featured image as your first visual. What this means for the reader is seeing two similar images back to back. That’s not very pleasing to the eye. Always be mindful of how your final draft looks like.
Up your game: To better your chance at appearing on image search, make sure to fill up the ‘Alt Text’ field every time you upload a picture. If you’re unsure what to include, just try to describe the image to a blind person (because that’s one of the actual uses for alt texts).
Help your readers exit with a conclusion
When all is said and done, you’ll want to sum everything up for your audience. What did they just read? Have you made your point? What ONE idea do you want them to reflect on once they close the browser tab?
This is where you can throw in your CTA as well. Do note that your call-to-action won’t work if your post didn’t meet their expectations.
So don’t expect people to sign up for your newsletter just because you have a shiny little button embedded *cough*like the one below that you should definitely sign up for*cough*.
Common pitfalls: Bloggers have a tendency to ask readers to like, comment, subscribe, fill up a survey form, join a newsletter, and buy their new book—all in one sentence. Remember that getting your audience to just click requires a Herculean effort, so don’t overcomplicate things.
Up your game: Focus on the power of one. One question, one request, one link. Make it as clear as possible. That means displaying your links in bold, or laying out any—short, hopefully—extra steps they should take. Leave your readers with one conclusion to think about too. Not two, not seven, just one.
Turn your posts into a journey
When it comes to the meat of your story, you’re going to want to provide something meaningful. That means that your readers should leave your posts feeling like they’ve consumed something of substance.
No matter the length (which, by the way, should ideally be at 2,100 words, according to Hubspot), you should have taken your reader through the typical intro-body-conclusion by the end of your post.
The best thing you can do here is to look up your favourite bloggers. How long are their articles? How do they present their points? And how did you feel at the end of it?
Up your game: Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Don’t just copy and paste a quote as an entire post. Explore why that quote matters to you, or why it should matter to your readers. Because if all they wanted was one quote, they’d visit BrainyQuote instead of WordPress.
Common tips, but not commonly used
I know you’ve read posts like this a hundred times before. After all, every ‘best blogging tips’ post never fails to include these elements: a killer title, an interesting introduction, subheadings, images, and CTAs.
But click on the Reader button right now and you’ll find that even the most talented writers still put out content that’s hard to consume due to their appearance alone.
Having said that, I also want you to know that you shouldn’t simply take writing advice from strangers on the internet, yours truly included.