Do you sometimes feel like there’s a magic formula to blogging that everyone else knows apart from you? Do you feel like your blog is an online ghost town despite your best efforts? Are you wondering whether blogging is really for you?
In my recent article about why your business needs a blog, we looked at the many benefits of blogging for business.
As we saw, it:
- Builds your reputation and showcases your expertise
- Improves the user experience
- Boosts your SEO
- Brings in more organic traffic
- Amplifies your reach on social media
- Helps you capitalise on long-tail keyword searches
Of course, many of these benefits depend on creating the kind of blog posts that your audience want to read and are excited to share with their own networks.
Is there some secret formula?
Is there really such a thing as the perfect blog post?
Well, perfection looks different to everyone, doesn’t it? So, I’m not really sure that the perfect blog post exists.
However, great blog posts do share common features that can make the difference between content that gathers tumbleweed on your website and content that keeps being talked about, shared, quoted and brings many of those all-important benefits listed above.
In this guide, I’ve put together the features that I think guarantee attention-grabbing articles on your blog.
Single focus for clarity
Each and every article published on your blog should have a single focus rather than being about multiple topics.
When people search for information online, they tend to have a specific need or query in mind. Having clicked on a link in the search results, they expect to land on a page that will answer that specific need.
By making sure that all of your blog posts have a single focus, you can show readers at a glance that a piece of content will give them the information they’re looking for.
Also, a single focus means that you won’t have to go into competition with other blogs you’ve written using the same keywords.
And Google won’t have to look at a blog post about multiple topics and try to work out which is the most important.
The need for a single focus is why I am writing this series of articles about blogging. It enables me to write content about the benefits of blogging, then separate content about the anatomy of a great blog post, then content about promoting your blog and so on.
Someone wanting to read about promoting their blog, for example, may already know about the benefits of blogging so they won’t want to hunt through a huge article to get to the information they need about promotional tactics.
A single focus keeps things simple for the reader.
Main (H1) heading that grabs attention
Knowing this, it’s clear that a blog article’s headline needs to stand out from all of the other headlines people see in a day by grabbing attention.
There are many different styles of headline that could work well with your audience, so I’ve added links to some resources at the bottom of this section.
My advice is to experiment with different headlines and to keep an eye on the performance metrics in Google Analytics, Google Search Console and on social media as this will help you to build up a picture about the headlines that resonate with your audience.
In his Definitive Guide to Writing a Headline That Doesn’t Suck, Neil Patel says he tends to favour a three-part headline that begins with a ‘tutorial style’ intro, e.g. ‘How to…’ This is because ‘How to’ blogs ‘clearly dominate’ his blog in terms of shares.
Patel’s three-part headline format breaks down into:
- Intro (tutorial style)
- Outcome (what the audience wants to achieve)
- Audience (who the article is written for/how the audience perceives themselves)
Here’s an example:
How to / do SEO / for a ‘tiny’ website that doesn’t have any visitors or money
(Tutorial) / (Outcome) / (Who the article is for)
List style posts, questions and headlines that shock all work well too.
Above all, a great headline should:
- Promise something the reader will get from reading – i.e. offer a specific outcome
- Provide specifics – numbers and stats work well
- Create intrigue or curiosity
Keep in mind
If you have a WordPress website and you use the excellent Yoast SEO plugin, it likes to see the focus keywords as near to the beginning of the headline as possible, reflecting the fact that this is where people look first on a web page.
It isn’t essential but it can be worth experimenting with putting the topic of your blog as near to the beginning of the headline as possible to let visitors know that they’re in the right place.
Certainly, your headings should be as clear as possible.
While you want to create some mystery or intrigue, you don’t want the headline to confuse the audience by making them guess what the article is about.
Great resources for headline help
If you’re struggling to come up with a compelling headline, why not take a look at the following resources?
- What does a great, clickable headline look like?, guest blog for SEO+
- The definitive guide to writing a headline that doesn’t suck, Neil Patel
- Magnetic headlines, Copyblogger
- 58+ headline formulas, The Blog Marketing Academy
- Portent Content Idea Generator
- Hubspot Blog Ideas Generator
The hook that draws the audience in
The first sentence of any blog article is arguably the most important sentence in your entire blog. It has to draw people on to the second sentence and so on.
One of the most powerful ways to grab the attention of your readers from the outset is to open a blog article with a story.
Why is this?
Well, the human brain is hardwired to learn from stories.
Long before we had the written word, human beings used spoken stories to share their knowledge or warn people against danger. This drive to package information in a narrative continues to this day and is at the heart of human language.
Scientific evidence proves how our brains respond to stories – amazingly, they act as if we are living the story ourselves. Evidence shows elevated heart rates, sweating, a faster pulse and even higher levels of oxytocin being released into the body.
The London School of Economics, for example, found that an average of 5-10% of people can retain statistics if they hear them. This increases to 25% of people if the stat is accompanied by a picture. However, retention jumps to a remarkable 65-70% when statistics are shared in a story.
An article from Buffer shows that, using split tests to determine the results, nearly 300% more people read all the way to the bottom of a blog that started with a story compared to the people who saw the version that didn’t begin with a story.
Storytelling techniques to open an article
It’s definitely worth experimenting with telling a story to introduce a blog article. Some popular techniques that work well include:
- Repeat a conversation – tell your audience about a conversation you had or a situation that occurred and how it relates to the topic of the article
- Use a metaphor (or make one up if you have to) – e.g. you could talk about going on a picnic and how the view to your right was sunny and the view to your left cloudy and then use this to introduce a blog about choosing your perspective in life or realising that other people choose which perspective to share with you
- Use emotions – share how you felt about something with your audience or talk to them about how they might feel, e.g. a parenting blog about helping a baby settle at night might open with a story about the exhaustion and frustration of sitting up all night with a crying baby
- Connect your opening to a story people already know – e.g. an article about winning a contract as a freelance designer could tell a David and Goliath-type story about going up against a big design agency
- Use a picture and talk about what’s happening in the picture or the emotions the picture evokes
If you need some inspiration for how to write the intro to your next blog, you might find these resources helpful:
- 10 brilliant examples of how to open your blog post with a bang, Michael D Pollock
- Storytelling in blog posts: How to add sparkle and delight readers, Enchanting Marketing
- The Ultimate Guide to Storytelling, HubSpot
Sub-headings that keep people reading
As we’ve mentioned above, most people skim read a blog rather than reading it in full.
Their eyes will scan over the page looking for visual clues that stand out to explain what the article is about.
The eye is drawn to headings, images, different font styles (such as text in bold, italics or bullet points) and sub-headings.
In fact, sub-headings are the perfect way to break up your content and highlight what each section is about. This gives readers a good overview of the article and lets them hone in on sections that are of particular interest.
Again, if you’re using the Yoast SEO plugin, it recommends a maximum of 300 words of body copy between sub-headings but preferably less.
Your sub-headings will help to draw people from one section of your blog to another, encouraging them to read the entire article.
After you’ve written a new blog article, scan through yourself and see whether the sub-headings highlight the overarching gist of the piece.
Yoast recommends using your main focus keyword and/or related words and phrases in your sub-headings.
I wouldn’t be too prescriptive about this though; the most important thing is to write compelling sub-headings that invite people to keep reading.
Something I find works well is to put functional sub-headings in as placeholders when you’re writing the first draft of a blog and then go back to review them during the final editing stages.
As with your main heading, your subtitles need to offer the promise of something or create intrigue.
What do we mean by H1, H2, H3 headings, etc.?
As you’re probably aware, search engines need help understanding the content of a web page. With headings, we give them a special tag – i.e. <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc. – to identify which pieces of copy represent headings.
A web page or blog article should only ever have one H1 tag per page.
This tells the search engines what the main title of your page is – and therefore, the topic the content will cover. This is important as it will help search engines to rank your article in response to relevant search topics.
The H2 tag relates to your top-level sub-headings within an article. In this guide, for example, I’ve given H2 tags to the sub-headings that begin each new section.
In turn, the H3 tag relates to your sub-sub-headings (like the one I’ve used in this section). You could use H4 headings and so on too, although there’s usually no reason to do this.
It probably goes without saying that a blog needs to offer compelling content to keep people reading.
But how do you create compelling content?
After all, what one person finds absolutely riveting could send someone else to sleep!
The key here is to always write with your target audience or so-called ‘ideal’ customers in mind.
Who are the people reading your blog?
What do they want to know?
What keeps them awake at night?
What information are they desperately searching for right now?
What can you share that they’ll find valuable?
If you can keep these questions front of mind, your blog articles should attract plenty of engagement.
An easy-to-scan layout
I’ve already mentioned several times that blog articles need to be easy to scan to keep people interested.
It’s important to bear this in mind as you write an article.
Think about ways that you can create interest and pull out key points from your content in a visually engaging manner.
The following pointers work well:
- Use numbered or bullet pointed lists to highlight key points in your blog (like I’m doing here!)
- Make important text stand out in bold, italics or by highlighting it
Use a block quote format to make important quotes stand out from the rest of the content
- Only ever left-align your text as justified text that lines up to the left and right of the screen is too hard to scan
- Keep your paragraphs short – it’s much easier to read an article if there are lots of lines breaks and short paragraphs
- Use images (more about this below)
- Use sub-headings (see above)
The perfect word count
If you do a Google search for the ‘ideal blog post length’, you’ll see a whole host of advice on page one of your search alone, before you’ve even clicked on any links!
Answers vary from 1,600 words or 1,760 words to 2,400 words right down to 300 words.
So, who’s right?
In my opinion, there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ word count for a blog (check out this Whiteboard Friday by Rand Fishkin about why ‘the perfect blog post length and publishing frequency is B?!!$#÷x’).
In my experience, very short 300-word blogs are unlikely to make much impact with an audience, unless you’ve already built up a strong following who value every contribution from you, large or small.
It’s also hard for search engines to rank 300-word blogs because there’s not a lot of content to decipher and return in search results.
Personally, I choose to write and share longer articles like this one. It’s important for me to provide value to my audience and I want the content I share to be packed full of practical advice about SEO.
Thinking about how I interact with blogs written by other people, I’m far more likely to share content that’s in-depth and written with a specific target audience in mind.
I think it reflects well on me to pass on well-researched knowledge to my audience, even if the credit goes to someone else. My hope is that other people will share my content in the same way, recognising the research and experience that goes into each article.
With this in mind, an article should be as long as it needs to be to communicate the information you want to share.
Images that reflect the core topic of your blog
Stats show that articles that include images get 94% more views than articles without.
The advice in this section applies to all images used in a blog post, including the featured image (see below).
The images you include in an article should complement the blog topic. Images that show what you’re talking about are great – ideally, someone who’s skimming through the article will be able to get a sense of what it’s about from the images alone.
Images are also a fantastic way to break up blocks of copy to make an article easier to skim read.
You don’t have to be too literal with the images you choose. If you can’t find the perfect picture, you could choose something more conceptual instead.
As you’re likely to be blogging quite often, you probably won’t have the budget to pay for images for every post.
There are some great sites featuring free stock images contributed by aspiring and existing photographers under the Creative Commons license.
All you have to do is check that the photographer has given permission for you to use the image commercially and under what terms. For example, you might have to credit the photographer on your blog or, if you can use a picture without credit, you might not be allowed to adapt it in any way.
There are several different license options so it’s always best to check the terms listed with your chosen image.
The following sites usually offer free, royalty-free images that you can use and even adapt for commercial purposes:
- Burst (by Shopify) – mix of free and paid-for images
- Foodies Feed – food-related images
Optimising your images
When using images for your blog, it’s helpful to make sure that they’re optimised from an SEO perspective. To do this:
- Save the image with a filename that includes the focus keyword for your blog – this is another reason why relevant images are important as the filename should reflect the subject of the image.
- Make sure your images are the right size and file type to load quickly – you don’t want huge images slowing down page load speeds.
- Give each image an ‘alt tag’ – Google can’t understand images and visually impaired readers may struggle to see them; the alt tag is a way of describing the image to search engines and for accessibility purposes. This is a great place to include the focus keyword for your blog. However, you shouldn’t stuff keywords into the tag in an attempt to game Google. Instead, try to give a simple description of the image.
A striking featured image
If your blog is on WordPress, then you have the option to add a ‘Featured Image’ to each published article. This is the image that will appear alongside your headline/URL on social media so it’s a good idea to give it some thought.
Most social media platforms have preferred dimensions for images but can automatically resize as long as the aspect ratio of the image is suitable. The best featured image sizes are:
- Horizontal: 1024 x 512
- Portrait: 800 x 1200
Portrait images are primarily for Pinterest as the other platforms use horizontal images.
Think about where your blogs are most likely to be found and where your audience spends most of its time online. If Pinterest is your main social media platform, go for portrait images. Otherwise, horizontal images are probably better.
Internal links that tie related content together
Ideally, your blog won’t be working in insolation on your website.
You probably have a series of core topics that you write about in some way, including blogs about sub-topics under each umbrella.
Best practice is to include links in your blogs to articles on related topics. This enables the reader to go off at a tangent or read deeper into a topic if they want to.
As well as improving the user experience, linking content together is great for your SEO too. If you can encourage people to read deeper into your site beyond the first page they landed on, this will lower your bounce rate and improve the dwell time (i.e. the average length of each visit) on your site.
It will also spread the so-called ‘link juice’ coming in from external links to your site.
What do I mean by this?
Well, one of the signals that Google uses to decide where to rank a web page is the number and quality of ‘backlinks’ coming from a third party site to the page. This is the ‘link juice’ or ‘link authority’ flowing into a web page.
However, the link juice doesn’t stop when it arrives on a page. If you imagine every link on a page as a straw or tube, the links also allow the link juice to flow to the pages they connect. This increases the link authority on all of the linked to pages.
Using the ‘hub and spoke’ model, link juice can come into any of the spoke articles, flow back to the main ‘hub’ article and out to the rest of the spokes.
My advice is to link to other blog articles or service pages on your website rather than linking to top-level pages like your Home page or Contact page. Internal links should be about expanding the information available to the reader.
If your blog is on WordPress, the link creator (above) will bring up a list of articles you might want to link to. There’s also a search facility that you can use if you can’t remember whether you have blogs on a specific topic.
Every blog you write should ideally include some links to external sources too. This is beneficial in a couple of ways.
If you can back-up any claims you make or statistics you cite in your blogs with a link to supporting evidence or the original source, it shows that your content has been properly researched and can be trusted. This is important for building your expertise, authority and trust (EAT).
Also, if high authority websites become aware that you’re linking to them or even mentioning them in your content, they may decide to link back to your article.
This is a fantastic way of earning a backlink from a site trusted by Google. It’s a massive vote of confidence in your content that can improve the page and domain authority of your blog.
General link advice
Both your internal and external links help to tell search engines what each blog article is about. They also make it easy for readers to broaden and deepen their knowledge without having to do loads of searches and research themselves.
Just remember that, when you include links to external sites in a blog, you should make sure that the link opens in a new window, while the original tab on your website remains open too. Otherwise, you risk encouraging people to navigate away from your site before they’ve read an article in full or looked at any more of your content.
There is no perfect number of internal or external links in a blog.
The Yoast SEO plugin always recommends that you feature at least one of each. The best approach is to provide a link when it makes sense. If you can back up a point with a source then, great – link to it.
If you have written more about a specific topic in another article, let people know with a link. Best practice revolves around doing everything you can to improve the user experience.
A clear call to action
Having kept your audience enthralled with your great content, it’s important that you tell them what you want them to do before they navigate away from the article and, consequently, your website.
This is where the call to action comes in.
Of course, different calls to action work for different audiences. They will also depend on your overarching goals for your website and your wider business.
- Do you want people to sign up to your mailing list?
If so, you might offer a free downloadable guide, worksheet or checklist.
- Do you want people to sign on for a free trial?
If you do, the end of your blog is the ideal place to tell them about it.
- Or do you want people to follow you on social media?
In this case, ask them to hit the social share buttons (more about this below).
The key here is to be as clear as possible about what you want the reader to do next and how they will benefit by following the call to action.
You may need to experiment with different calls to action to see which ones work best for your audience.
Unique meta data that invites people to click through to your site
Google uses the meta data for a web page to help it understand what the content is about and return the page in relevant searches.
The meta title and meta description are the short pieces of information we see about a web page in search results.
For example, here is how a searcher would see the meta title and description for the SEO+ Home page:
Every blog you publish should have a compelling title tag and meta description. This should tell people what the page is about but also act as a call to action, inviting them to click through to your website.
If you don’t add a meta description to a web page, Google will probably just pull out the first lines of text from the page, whether or not they work as a call to action.
You can find more advice about creating clickable meta date in my On-page SEO Guide.
A relevant URL
When creating the URL for a blog article, my advice is to keep it short, sweet and relevant.
Again, think about the single focus of the article – this would make a great URL.
Too often, I see blog articles that have been published without any thought going into the URL. This can make the address very long.
For example, an overly long URL might be: example.com/The-Definitive-Guide-to-Writing-a-Headline-That-Doesn’t-Suck.
While, yes, this reflects the title of the article, people wouldn’t necessarily know to search for this.
A better URL would be example.com/write-better-headlines – after all, ‘write better headlines’ is likely to be the exact search term someone would use if they want to learn to write better headlines.
With a short, clear URL, people can even guess the address for themselves without finding it in searches.
For example, someone might ask themselves, has Hazel at SEO+ published a guide to on-page SEO? They could then type in seo-plus.co.uk/on-page-seo-guide and land straight on the information they’re looking for.
Make each article easy to share
Although your SEO efforts should help to bring in traffic to your blog via Google, social media offers the greatest potential for new readers.
Ideally, you want to create such great content that people feel compelled to share it with their own networks and audiences.
To achieve this though, you need to make it as easy as possible to share your content.
There are a number of ways you can do this:
- Add social sharing buttons to all of your blog posts – if you have a WordPress site, there are loads of plugins for this (I love Social Warfare)
- Pull out key quotes from your blogs and make them tweetable (Click to Tweet is a popular WordPress plugin)
- Feature links to your social media pages on the header or footer of your website and/or in any author information you provide about yourself at the end of a blog post
Great blog posts: A quick recap
I hope this guide has inspired you to wow your audience with your next blog. Here’s a quick recap of the must-have points great blog posts should include:
While I wish I could give you a magic formula, these pointers are as close as I can get without knowing your audience.
My advice is that you keep an eye on the metrics for your blog over the coming months (and beyond) as this will help you to build up a picture of what works best for your target clients.
If you keep them at the heart of your blog, you can’t go far wrong.
In my next blog, I’ll be talking about how you can find ideas for your blog content and how to set up an editorial calendar. Make sure you check back regularly.
In the meantime, why not ask me your blogging questions in the comments below or join the SEO Value Facebook group where the topic of blogging comes up a lot?
If you found this article helpful, I’d love it if you could share it – thank you.
Hazel Jarrett, director of SEO at SEO+, is well-known in the SEO space, has won many awards during her 20-year career and has been published on various well-known sites. Through her services and training programs, her SEO strategies have generated 10s of millions of sales for her clients, earning her a big reputation for delivering the results that matter.
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