Better blogging: 5 quick steps to better blog posts

People take notice of eye-catching titles People take notice of eye-catching titles

Do you ever read your blog posts and think, “They’re okay, but surely I can make them better?” Of course you can! There’s no substitute for interesting, original and well crafted content, but even the best written of blogs can suffer if they’re visually unappealing or annoy readers. Here are five easy tips to make your blog posts stand out from the crowd and draw your readers in.

1. Headlines and intros

You’ve just written a scintillating post about a great day out with your kids that didn’t require a second mortgage. How are you going to show off your brilliant work? Will you title your post, “17/7/14: What I did today”? Or will you go for something like “Best day out ever – and it was FREE!”? I know which I’m more likely to read.

Your post headline is your best-selling tool, as it’s the first thing readers will see. I subscribe to over 150 blogs, which means typically 50 posts hit my inbox every day. There are a handful of blogs where I automatically read every post, but for the majority I will make a snap decision based on the title.

So what makes a good headline? It could be a descriptive title that screams, “I’m relevant! You’re interested! You must read me!” Or it could be a more abstract or cleverly worded title (I’m a sucker for good wordplay) that intrigues or amuses me enough to draw me in. There’s no ideal solution that will work for all readers, but it’s worth putting thought into your titles. There’s a reason why newspapers have specialist headline writers.

The same thing goes for your intro. After your title, these are the second-most important words you will write. As a reader, if you’ve passed my ‘headline test’, the next hurdle is to engage me with your first paragraph.

Tell readers what the post is about and why they should keep reading. Don’t faff about. Posts which begin, “I know it’s been a long time since my last post, but real life got in the way” or which launch straight into the narrative without telling the reader what they’re about are no-nos. Get. To. The. Point. And do it briefly.

2. Easy on the eye

I used to work in the magazines business and once asked an editor I respected if she had any advice for an aspiring writer. She thought for a moment, then said six words which have always stuck with me: “White space is your best friend.”

Reading online is hard, even more so than physical text because we rely on lit screens that increase eye strain. It’s easy to focus too much on content at the expense of physical context.

Section headings, short paragraphs and sentences and lots of images make ar
Good layouts make life easier for readers by using headings, images and short sentences and paragraphs to break up the mass of text

It’s not difficult to make your posts easier to read by creating space between your words.

For starters, avoid hard-to-read typefaces with tiny font sizes. Be conscious of the text/background combinations you use – there should be a clear contrast without having too glaring an appearance. (Avoid fluorescent colours!)

Break up the flow of your text by making sentences and paragraphs short. Replace ‘buts’ and ‘howevers’ with full stops. Shorter paragraphs mean more line breaks and more white space.

Take a look at newspapers and magazines. Many paragraphs are only one or two sentences long. It improves readability.

If you write posts of any significant length, consider using headings and/or images to provide punctuation and navigation.

3. Clear focus

If you regularly find yourself writing really long posts (1,500-plus words), ask yourself why. Are you trying to cram in too many ideas? Do you need so much detail? Or do you go off on too many tangents?

As a general rule, you should be able to articulate what the key message or focus of each post is. Not two, not three, not 794 – one. If you have two central themes, think about splitting this into two posts. (Bonus: you now have an extra post!)

Do your readers need to know every detail of what you did on your day out? Or just the three or four points of greatest interest? Detail is great up to a point – it adds description and colour and gives the reader a sense of being there. But take it too far, and illustration quickly becomes confusion.

And if you regularly find yourself going off on tangents, no matter how interesting or amusing, ask yourself if they are relevant. If not, get rid. Or turn them into short posts of their own. (Bonus: even more posts!)

4. Get out the red pen

Many writers hate editing. They’re keen to move on to the next idea. so why hang about dithering with the old one?

Editing equals better posts (Image: mycontentpro.com)
Editing equals better posts (Image: mycontentpro.com)

If you’re one of those people who can write perfectly formed prose first time every time, then you’re both lucky and rare. More likely, though, you’re deluding yourself and would benefit from editing your work.

A thorough edit – and I’m talking ten minutes here – will leave you with a shorter, tighter narrative. There should be no sacred cows. The objective is to make your readers’ experience better, even if it means ditching that clever turn of phrase.

I aim to do three things when I edit: correct any typos, reduce the word count (I set a target of reducing post length by 10%-15%) and ruthlessly cut out content which is nice-to-have rather than need-to-have. If it’s not essential, it goes.

Editing requires (a little) additional effort. But the better you edit, the better your end product is. What writer doesn’t want that?

5. Wait for it!

Last but by no means least … Putting finger to keyboard when you have a big idea that you’re desperate to put into words is great, but does that mean you should hit ‘publish’ immediately? Sometimes you can – a topical post or a short, snappy one that contains just a simple thought – but how often have you re-read a post and realised that you missed out something, or suddenly come up with a much better way of saying things?

As a rule, I try to let posts sit overnight and let them turn over in my subconscious, or at the very least wander off and make myself a coffee before returning to my computer to re-read my post. In 90% of cases I’ll change or add something substantial enough to make it worthwhile.

This is subtly different from editing, which tends to focus on removing what is wrong or unnecessary. Re-reading a post is more about improving and adding to what is already there. Allowing yourself the time to do both always leads to a better result.

There is actually a sixth step, but in the interest of rule three it’s worthy of its own post so I’m going to leave that for another day …

If you have any other top tips, please feel free to share them in the comments below.