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How to Blog (Even If You Can't Write)
Posted on June 20th 2013
You don’t have to be an amazing writer to be a successful blogger. You just need to learn some simple tricks and dedicate yourself to the process. The difference between every great writer and the mediocre one isn’t grammar or innate talent; it’s hard work.
Here are 5 steps to succeed at blogging, even if you think you can’t write.
1. Play Mad Libs with headlines
This is one of the fastest and easiest things you can do to grab attention and change the way you think about blogging.
If you think that all the headlines you see in Cosmopolitan and Seventeen are new, you’re wrong. All they’re doing is taking headlines that were written in the ‘50s and replacing old subjects with new ones.
If you want to come up with a killer headline idea, just take a trip to the grocery store and look at the headlines. Ignore the headlines that are built around a current piece of news, and you’ll find the gems that make for perfect evergreen content. Here are a few examples of titles you’ve seen dozens of times and probably didn’t even realize it:
- How Safe is Your [thing/person of value] from [threat]?
- The Shocking Truth about [blank]
- Get Rid of [recurring issue] Once and for All
- How to [blank] (Even if [common obstacle])…This one should look especially familiar *wink*
- X [blank] Secrets Every [audience member] Should Know
I stole these straight from Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks, and he should be fine with that, because it’s a book about how you should stop wasting time trying to get creative with headline ideas, and start borrowing headline structures from the masters.
You don’t need to get a copy of Headline Hacks to do this, either (though it’s free, so why not). Here’s a headline from Cracked.com:
20 Terrifying Facts Food Companies Don’t Want You to Know
Go ahead and play Mad Libs with it. I’d be amazed if anybody cared:
X Terrifying Facts [Industry] Companies Don’t Want You to Know
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen titles like that dozens of times before. And they never stop working.
2. Write your subheadings
Step 2 and 3 are interchangeable, just so we’re clear. The more you know about your subject, or the more creative freedom you have with it, the less you need to worry about doing research before writing your subheadings. It all comes down to your subject and type of article you’re trying to write. Sometimes it’s better to start with the facts, sometimes it’s better to start with the opinions. Only you can decide on that.
The point is, write your subheadings before you bother trying to do any actual writing.
Subheadings organize your thought process and let you think about what to write in bite-size chunks. Writing 1000 words is intimidating to people who have never tried to write professionally before. Writing 100 words? That’s a lot easier.
Every subheading should have at least one of the following traits:
- It’s surprising
- It’s mysterious/intriguing
- It’s actionable
- It’s emotionally intense
- It’s funny
3. Do your research
Research is what separates the winners from the losers.
The most successful bloggers either write from experience or do a ton of research before (or while) writing a blog post. If you don’t have the first-hand experience, you only have one option: dig up some interesting information from some tough sources.
That means email experts and ask them questions. It means quote experts and organize the quotes into an amazing piece of work. It means perform your own tests so that you can speak from personal experience, and cite your own data to prove it. It means open up a book, magazine, or peer-reviewed journal. It means mining every source you have for the most surprising, counter-intuitive, shocking pieces of information and discarding the rest.
Now take your research, drop quotes into their respective subheadings, and paste a link or a citation so that you know the source.
People wonder how it is I can get content into sites like Moz, Copyblogger, and Venturebeat. The answer is always the same. I write the blog post most people would write, except I add world-class examples, scientific studies, anecdotes, and personal experience. There are a lot of other things I do, but that’s the one that’s responsible for most of the results.
4. Don’t be a try-hard
Besides not doing the research, this is the most common issue I run into.
People who can’t write try way too hard to make their writing sound good. Very few bloggers (or novelists, for that matter) are successful because their language is so amazing that people can’t turn away.
This is nearly every professional writer’s dirty little secret.
Good writers don’t worry about writing well.
Instead, they worry about suspense, research, emotional impact, and the story they’re trying to tell. They worry about having personality and keeping readers entertained.
The secret to good writing is this: be transparent and be yourself.
Use short sentences and short paragraphs. Talk directly to your reader. Use plain language. Yes, I advise spicing things up by replacing boring verbs with colorful ones, and yes, the active voice tends to be better than the passive one. But, in general, you should focus primarily on having personality and having fun.
When all else fails, just read it out loud. Does it sound weird? Change it. That’s it.
5. Promote it
Here’s the big one. I’m seeing more and more inbound marketers advocate a “build it and they will come” approach to blogging. That very rarely works. Content without promotion is worth close to $0.
Don’t get me wrong. If you’ve already built up some powerful domain authority, you’ll be able to earn some decent traffic just by chasing the right keywords. Still, in order to get to that stage, a lot of promotion has to happen beforehand.
It should go without saying in this day and age that guest posts play a big part in that. I advocate going after guest posts on the top blogs in your industry. It’s not that you need those kinds of links in order to see any kind of ranking boost. Instead, I simply don’t believe you’ve reached the quality of content you need in order to be successful until you can win those kinds of guest posts. Listen to feedback and take it seriously whenever you come across it. You’ll need the advice. Don’t allow yourself to get offended. That’s where 99% of your competitors will give up.
Guest posts on top tier blogs are powerful for many reasons. The referral traffic can be a great source of natural links for your site in addition to the primary link. The exposure is a great opportunity to make a branding impression so that audiences will be more comfortable the next time they come across your name. You can also propagate through social networks in a way that isn’t possible when you post on your own site.
In addition to guest posts, I still believe in outreach, building relationships, and even outright asking for inclusion in a list of resources. Paid links, as long as they are no-follow, and advertisements can also be a good way to build up a list of subscribers.
If you’re doing outreach and the like on a large scale, I’d also advise investing in project management software like WorkZone. It’s amazing just how fast projects can spiral out of control without planning.
Being a great blogger doesn’t come down to being a great writer. It’s about research, understanding and entertaining your audience, being yourself, and being transparent. So long as you’re also willing to promote it, it’s hard not to succeed as long as you keep putting in the work.