1. What to write about?
1.1. Write about things you know inside out
Don’t bother writing about a popular topic you don’t know all that much about.
The best articles are about topics you are enthusiastic about and know really well. Information about your field of interest that you are excited to share.
1.2. But also write for your readers
This sounds logical, but write as much as possible about topics your readers are interested in. Write something worth reading and sharing.
Before you publish new content, always ask yourself: “Would I share this article with my contacts? Or would I forward it to someone I know?” The answer to these questions should be yes.
1.3. Get ideas from your audience
How do you find out what your users want to read about? Useful sources of inspiration are questions, e-mails and comments on earlier blog articles or social media.
Or link your research to current events and hot topics people want to read more about.
2. Write to be found: search engine optimization (SEO)
2.1. Focus on 1 keyword
If you want your blog post to do well in Google and the other search engines, you need to use the right words, in the right places.
The easiest way to do this is to focus on just 1 keyword.
Bear in mind that a keyword can actually be more than a single word. For example: “migration” can be a keyword but also “migrant crisis”.
2.2. Do some keyword research
How do you decide which keyword to use? Obviously it should be a word related to the topic you’re writing. But the exact way you formulate your keyword can have a huge impact.
If you want lots of readers, you need to use the words people will actually write in a search engine if they want to find this information.
Google Suggest is a good source of inspiration: as soon as you start writing something it automatically suggests popular search queries.
If you’re not sure which keyword to choose, Google Trends can help you decide. Google Trends is a free tool you can use to check how often a certain keyword is typed into Google.
In this case, lots more people are looking for ‘Gezi protests’ than ‘Gezi movement’. So if you want people to find your article, you should use the keyword ‘Gezi protests’.
2.3. Use the keyword in your headline
Search engines attach high importance to headers: always use your key word in your page header or headline.
When you first meet someone, your first impression is quintessential. So is your page title or headline.
People will form an idea of the content of your article in just a few seconds. And they’ll make the decision to keep on reading or not at lightning speed, based on your title and first sentence.
The title is also the first text someone will see if it’s shared on social media:
So take your time to think about a good title for each article.
5 characteristics of powerful titles:
- Include the keyword
If you want people to find you on Google, you need to include the keyword in your page heading.
- Provide information
Your title should describe what your article is about.
- Be clear and to-the-point
Avoid wordplay, little known abbreviations and difficult words.
- Questions with what, where, when, how, why
Questions work because they make your readers curious.
- Use listicles
15 ways to …, 5 reasons for …, 6 questions about …, etc.
2.4. Write a strong summary or description
Your blog post summary will appear in lots of important places. It will be shown on the overview page of the blog and on the search results pages of Google.
If you share an article via social media, your summary will be used for that as well.
Be sure to use your keyword in the summary if you want the search engines to use your summary in the search results.
Keep your summary short: Google shows only the first 160 characters of the summary. After that, it simply adds an ellipsis (…). If you want to play it safe, don’t use more than 155 characters. And don’t forget: spaces and punctuation marks count as characters too.
Your summary should provide information about the content of your article. At the same time, it should spark curiosity and motivate readers to click and read the full article.
2.5. Make link text meaningful
Integrate your links as much as possible in the text. This makes your texts nicer to read and avoids you from wasting space.
Users know that they are supposed to click on a link, so don’t write meaningless text such as ‘click here’:
But rather write:
- More information on the event.
In the same way, avoid ‘naked’ links.
In this case, write instead something like:
- Also interesting in this regard: this interview with Deirdre McCloskey (PhD, Economics, Harvard).
Interlinking means you link your own blog post to other articles on your blog. This can help to increase your page views and the search engine friendliness of your blog post.
You can do this in different ways:
- Link to another blog article in the course of your article
- Provide a list of related articles at the bottom of your blog post
- Lead people to all the articles you’ve written on a certain topic by using tags (see below)
3. How to write a blog article?
3.1. Structure comes first
A good structure reinforces the message of your text.
Sub-headings and paragraphs are an essential component of your structure.
Use h2 and h3 sub-headings with clear information about the content of the paragraph. That way, readers who only read the sub-headings can have an idea of what the paragraphs are about.
Make sure there is enough white space between paragraphs.
3.2. Provide visual clues
Give your scanning readers a helping hand. Visual clues tell them what is important and what they should read first.
Most readers will read information that seems important first, such as words in bold, bulleted lists, paragraphs, titles and sub headings in larger fonts.
Likewise, they’ll read your titles, opening sentence and conclusion before reading the rest of the article.
3.3. What’s a good length for blog articles?
There are no fixed rules or magical numbers.
If you want to do well in Google, there is a minimum number of 450 words. You can of course still write shorter articles. Just don’t expect them to do well in Google.
There’s no real maximum length: the best advice is to use your common sense. If you have lots to tell, don’t cut the article shorter than it should be. Rather consider if you can cut it up into pieces and spread it over several articles.
Tip: tell your reader in advance how many minutes it will take to read your post.
3.4. Keep paragraphs and sentences short
While the length of your article isn’t that important, the length of your paragraphs and sentences is.
Nobody likes to read long, complex sentences or paragraphs. More often than not, they create confusion and slow down the reading speed.
Write short paragraphs (max. 3 sentences).
Short sentences (max. 10 words) work really well too. But don’t write all staccato-like sentences. Alternate shorter and longer sentences to create rhythm and natural flow in your text.
3.5. Use everyday language
Avoid jargon and formal academic language. It creates distance and makes your texts complicated. Readers never complain about texts that are too simple. Only about texts that are too difficult to understand.
Plain language also inspires more confidence. So choose everyday words over fancy ones, even if your texts are meant to be read by other academics.
Christopher R. Trudeau investigated the effects of legalese on readers. He tested 2 versions of the same text: 1 version in legalese, the other one in plain English. He tested with lower-literacy and higher-literacy readers.
Main differences between the versions were:
The conclusion? All test users preferred the text in plain English. But the more highly educated the readers, the more they were bothered by legalese:
Trudeau explains why: “Long, complicated sentences force users to slow down and work harder to understand what they’re reading. This isn’t something people want to do, even if they’re familiar with the subject or language you’re using.
It’s easy to assume this isn’t the case for highly literate readers or people considered experts. Yet the more educated a person is, and the more specialist their knowledge, the more they want it in plain English.
These people often have the least time and most to read. Which means they just want to understand your point and move on, quickly.”
So make complex ideas understandable by clear and direct language. If you must use jargon or technical words, explain what they mean.
3.6. Use active verbs
Passive constructions are often less concise and more impersonal, because there is no subject.
Try to use passives only when the subject (= agent) of a clause or sentence is:
- Not known
- Not as important as the object
- Not a real ‘doer’ but rather a ‘done-to’
3.7. Bulleted lists work wonders
Want to list 3 or more things? Use a list with bullet points instead of an enumeration with commas. Like I did in the previous tip.
Lists are neatly laid out, straightforward to scan and easy to remember.
Basic rules for a good list:
- Use bullet points or checkmarks
- Don’t use numbers unless they have meaning and indicate a chronological order (e.g. a recipe or step-by-step explication)
- Begin each item with a capital letter
- Order the list logically
- Lists of words or groups of words: no punctuation
- Lists of sentences: full stop after each sentence
3.8. Don’t be afraid of external links
External links lead to web pages outside of your blog. This helps to attract search engines, new readers and other bloggers.
Add external links to interesting articles you’ve read, relevant news articles or terms and definitions. Also good for linking to are sources that were the reason you wrote the article, context information, and so on.
If you provide a link to a very popular blogger in your field, chances are they will someday return the favour.
3.9. What’s your call-to-action?
What do you want your readers to do once they have read the article? Do you want them to subscribe? To share your article? To read related articles?
Focus on 1 main action you want from them, and make it clear at the end of your article.
Address your reader directly to capture his attention: use the imperative for your call-to-action.
3.10. Don’t overuse caps, bold or italics
Caps, bold and italics make your text hard to read. So use them sparingly.
Don’t write quotes in italics but select the quote format in the platform:
4. Tagging: do’s and don’ts
4.1. What are tags?
Tags are words or word groups linked to your article. They should tell readers what your blog post is about, so in that aspect they are similar to keywords.
They should always be short and contain two or three words at most.
4.2. Why are tags important?
The tags you attach to an article are meant to help you do well in search engines for those keywords.
They’re also meant to link several articles about a topic together.
4.3. Choose tags wisely
Don’t use vague tags like:
But be as precise as possible:
- Gezi protests
Be aware of the style in which you create your tags: it makes a difference if you write your tags with or without capital letters. In other words: ‘Gezi protests’ and ‘gezi protests’ are separate tags. If you use ‘Gezi protests’ for some articles and ‘gezi protests’ for other articles, not all your blog articles will be grouped together.
5. Use images correctly
5.1. Choose a powerful lead image
Always choose a meaningful picture of extremely good quality.
For the lead image of a blog post, you are only allowed to use Flickr pictures with a creative commons licence.
- Surf to Flickr.com.
- Write your keyword in the search bar.
- In the top left menu, click on ‘Any licence’ and select ‘All creative commons’.
- Select a picture and download it. Always download the largest size available.
For blog post main pictures, the minimum width is 1160px.
- Insert the image in your blog article. All the images you upload will be automatically saved in the media library.
Keep this media library clean: throw images you don’t use away.
- To add the Photo Credits to your featured image on your “Bio” web page or on your Blog Post you can use the caption field by clicking on the pencil icon placed at the bottom right of your image.It will appear a text field in which you can write your Photo Credits for the image, then click on “Save”.Now on the bottom right of your image you can see the Photo Credits.
5.2. ALT tags for your images
Besides the lead image at the top of your article you can also add images in the content part of your blog post.
Obviously, it stays important to choose good quality pictures here too.
Another thing to pay extra attention to, is the ALT attribute or ALT text you need to attach to these images.
The ALT attribute or ALT text is mandatory for images on the web. It is the text that readers will see in case the image cannot be displayed, for example because of a slow internet connection.
You should add ALT text for all images in your body text.
Always use descriptive ALT text that is specific and relevant for your image.
You can edit the ALT text in the image library.
6. Check for errors before you publish
6.1. Re-read before you publish
Avoid punctuation and spelling errors, because they can affect your credibility. Always read your content thoroughly before you publish.
6.2. Use a spell checker
Spell checkers are useful to detect spelling errors. You can easily find a spell checker extension for your browser in Google.
6.3. Manually test all of your hyperlinks
Before publishing, test all your hyperlinks.
In the editor mode, select each link in your article, click right on your mouse or trackpad and select ‘Open link in new tab’:
Is it the right page? Great. Is it not? Fix it.
Sounds tedious? It is. It’s also very important.
Publishing an article with dead or wrong links is an insult to your readers. Make the effort to check every link before you publish.
7. Sharing and promoting your content
7.1. How to promote your blog?
To attract readers to your blog, you need to promote your articles.
Share your posts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other platforms, and ask colleagues or experts in your field to do so too.
Reacting on related blog posts is also efficient. If you read an interesting article written by a colleague or someone specialized in your field, don’t be afraid to comment and refer to your own article.
Or promote your blog on your website (if you have any), in your e-mail signature or by sending out newsletters.
7.2. Interact with your readers
If you do it right, chances are high users will comment on your blog articles (or at least we hope so!).
If so, don’t forget to take the time to respond and thank them for their interest, especially for the first couple of comments.
They’ll feel appreciated, which increases the chance they’ll follow your blog and become faithful readers.
7.3. Share content on Facebook
If you share your article on Facebook, your post will automatically include the main picture of your article, the first lines of your article and a link to your blog.
Keep your post brief — 40 characters or fewer, and don’t write introductions or exhaustive context information.
Write a compelling, punchy short status update that motivates readers to click on the link.
Where to publish? Share the article on your own timeline and ask colleagues and friends in your Facebook network to share it with their contacts. You can also share it in relevant Facebook groups.
Don’t be afraid to reshare your content over time. If you’ve written an article on a topic that’s suddenly in the news or becomes a hot topic, use it as an opportunity to attract new readers. This also applies to other social networks, not only to Facebook.
7.4. Share content on Twitter
Posts on Twitter are always limited to 140 characters. That’s not a lot.
You’ll often find you only have enough room for your title and the link to the article.
To help keep your links short you can use a url-shortener like http://bit.ly. That way, at least your url will not take up more of your characters than necessary.
7.5. Share content on LinkedIn
On LinkedIn you can either share an update or publish a post.
If you share the link to your blog article in a LinkedIn update, the post will automatically contain your title and first sentences.
You can choose from 3 visibility options: public, your connections or public and on your Twitter account.
LinkedIn posts, on the other hand, are essentially independent pages available straight from your feed and profile. Don’t use them to refer to articles on your external blog like you would do in an update, but publish the full article. Every LinkedIn post has its own unique URL and its content is indexed by search engines.
Additionally, you can display your best articles in a LinkedIn portfolio on your personal profile.
7.6. Other social networks
Of course, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are not the only social media platforms where you should share your work.
7.7. Give it time
Don’t expect your blogging to get you immediate results. If you’re looking for a short-cut to recognition, blogging isn’t it.
Your first blog post probably won’t generate much buzz. Your first year of blogging might not even be that successful.
Don’t be put off. Blogging is a long game. You have to be in it for the long run for your efforts to pay off. Be patient. As with all good things: it takes time.