Why is writing so important?
It’s important because it allows us to communicate with other people. It allows us to share our voice and unique perspective with the world. We have a unique voice that can influence our readers.
If we don’t write, we miss out on the opportunity to contribute to the growing online community. It’s been estimated that online bloggers produce about 79.2 million new posts and 39.1 million new comments each month. With the amount of information being published online every month, it’s become more and more critical that we actually start to understand how to craft better blog posts.
Along with all of the trends and stats, I wanted to write this post for those of you who know you have a lot of great information inside, but haven’t yet gotten it out there — myself included.
Maybe you think it’s not that important right now, or are just procrastinating and spending time elsewhere. Whatever the case may be, writing is an important skill, and in this post I want to break down all the elements you need to craft a new post from scratch.
Before we dive in, I want to really make it clear why this is so important. It’s a skill that we should absolutely prioritize TODAY and habitually start investing in.
Understand the Power of Thought
Let’s be clear. The mind is a powerful machine. It’s capable of producing incredible ideas and solutions. What we may or may not be conscious of, is the fact that “thought” is the very seed of all great work that exists in the real world. When we capture our thought and all it’s nuanced details inside our mind, it can enable us to truly achieve world-renowned work.
When you write words, you express “thought”.
Imagine for a second that you’re looking at the Earth from outer space and you can see the dark, sparkling universe with billions of stars floating next to each other. You can see the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Now remind yourself this:
Humans were able to transport other humans from the Earth to the Moon.
Words are incredibly powerful because they give you the opportunity to transform the way another person thinks.
Why do you think so many books become “New York Times” or “Amazon” best sellers? It’s because these books can actually change people’s lives. They can give someone the knowledge as simple as how to play a guitar, or as transformational as getting out of debt and creating a successful business. That’s the power of words. Words are merely the vehicle or medium (no pun intended) through which you can transfer thoughts to minds of others. And with the scale of internet, this is truly powerful.
“The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment.” — Tony Robbins
Understand the Topic
Okay, let’s jump into the tactical stuff. Before you can start writing, you should at least have a familiarity with the topic that you’ll be writing about.
If you’re not as familiar with your subject, that’s okay — you just need to go learn.
Just be sure not to spend all your time learning about your topic, and skip the actual writing part. That would be like spending hours in the batting cage, without ever actually taking an at-bat and seeing what happens. Sure, you might swing low in the first innings, but you’ll never hit a home run if you step up to the plate try to hit the ball.
Once you have a basic understanding of your topic, you’ll be able to start articulating your ideas and get them into text.
Decide Who You’re Writing For
One of the most important considerations that you can take into account before producing a piece of content is WHO you are actually writing for.
There are billions of people reading content on the internet every day. Each of these people have a unique set of interests, demographics, cultural influences, jobs, needs, and desires that they are looking to somehow fulfill.
By focusing on a specific segment of your target audience, you can dramatically improve the quality of your content and tailor it to a specific type of reader. This is let’s you personalize your content and provide relevant examples, case studies, or tips that would be extremely useful for those readers.
What you should try to avoid, is appealing to everyone at once. Think about like this.. If you were to start listening to a piece of classical music (and you really like good classical music), then all of the sudden through the song it starts breaking into heavy metal or punk rock music, what would you do to the music? You would probably turn it off, right? This is somewhat similar to the topic content you’re creating. You obviously wouldn’t want to dramatically shift topics or appeal to an entirely new reader halfway through as it would distract your current reader from finishing their journey.
Be clear about WHAT it is you are talking about, WHO it is you are talking to, and on a deeper level WHY are you talking to them about it? Is it important? Figure this out and make it clear. The clearer you can be on this the better you can articulate your thoughts, and the more value you will provide.
Here’s an example…
I am writing for John, a student at Stanford that wants to create a new startup in Healthcare. He has not yet produced a ton of content on Medium or a personal blog. He has a lot of great ideas and is very smart. He needs a playbook for writing blog posts.
WHO: John, the Stanford entrepreneur looking to build a startup.
WHAT: How to structure and produce a high quality blog posts.
WHY: It’s important for John to share his vision with a targeted audience and attract his ideal prospects through content marketing. He can also validate his startup idea through targeted copywriting. He can share his value proposition and promote the differentiators to test his assumptions, discover early adopters, and build a customer list.
Organize Your Thoughts
Once you understand your topic fairly well and you know what your audience would be interested in hearing, take some time to organize your thoughts in a simple way. This could be a mindmap, written notes, or a bulleted list. By listing out all the components of your post idea, you’ll have a basic foundation to work with.
It all comes back to the simple analogies that you’ve probably hear before, but I’ll surface again here. You wouldn’t just go out and start nailing wood and metal together for a new house before you mapped out the blueprint and thought about the design.
The good news is that you can design your entire post with a simple set of bullets. For example, here’s the outline for this exact post:
- Understand the Power of Thought
- Understand the Topic
- Decide Who You’re Writing For
- Organize Your Thoughts
- Think About SEO
- Get The Headline Right
- Know Your HTML
- Support Your Post with Facts
- Visualize With Imagery
- Include CTAs
- Add Quotes
- Tell Stories and Connect To Reader Emotion
- De-Clutter Your Writing Environment (unless you like clutter)
- Use Cloud Software & Get Feedback
- Design a Text Banner
- Decorate Promotions With Affiliate Links
- Be Your “Imperfect” Self and Bring Your “Unique” Personality
- Use Buffer or Hootsuite To Share Across Social Channels
While this does seem like a big list of bullets, it’s a sequential flow of thought that leads the reader from a background idea through to a publish button on a modern tool. I can easily move points around and shape the post structure before diving into each section. I can dig deep under each bullet and list out additional ideas around what I might mention about that section, tools I might be using, a general opinion or angle I might take.
With a clear structure and outline in place, it’s much easier to know where you’re going with the post and how you can lead up to that final destination.
Think About SEO
Let’s consider what the “internet” really is for a second.
The Internet is the global system of interconnected computer networks that use the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to link devices worldwide. The Internet carries an extensive range of information resources and services, such as the inter-linked hypertext documents and applications of the World Wide Web (WWW), electronic mail, telephony, and file sharing. — Wikipedia
Wait a minute! Inter-linked hypertext documents? That’s actually pretty amazing… Not just any documents. Inter-linked hypertext documents. (essentially website links)
So what does that have to do with SEO? Well Google indexes all of these “links” that literally power the web. I mean think about the last 10–20 minutes.. you most likely performed a Google search, right? That’s why SEO is critical. You need to know what makes your post searchable, so that you can better optimize your content to reach the right readers.
Mainly, you want to understand what keywords you’re utilizing and how you’re formatting the images, links, etc.
Get The Headline Right
The headline is critical.
Why? Well to start, 80% of readers will never make it past your headline.
There’s so much information out there and so many great articles, which makes it harder to stand out from the crowd. By crafting a specific and unique headline, you immediately improve your ability to get someone’s attention which is literally more than half the battle.
There’s a fantastic tool out there from CoSchedule called the Headline Analyzer. It let’s you analyze your headlines and gives you feedback on how to improve them for readability and shares.
Headlines can be measured and optimized based on these metrics:
- Length (Approximately 55 characters long)
- Keywords (Relevance)
- Sentiment (Positive, Negative)
- Word Choice (Common, Uncommon, Emotional, Powerful)
Know Your HTML
If you remember what I mentioned earlier about what we’re working with — inter-linked hypertext documents, then it’s clear that there’s some engineering going on under the hood. We need to be aware of this engineering to utilize it effectively.
HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language. This language is what the internet and web browsers use to format the elements on the screen.
When we write a blog post, we’re using what are known as “tags” to format our text. The headline of this post would typically be an <h1> tag. You might also create a unordered list or <ul> with <li> tags nested inside.
Here’s what you should know on a basic level:
- Headings — <h1–5> (Headings)
- Paragraphs — <p> (Body copy)
- Meta — <meta> (Browser meta data. Title, Description, Keywords, Open Graph, Twitter Cards)
- Unordered Lists — <ul> (Bulleted lists)
- Ordered Lists — <ol> (Numbered lists)
- Links — <a> (Links)
- Blockquotes — <blockquote> (Quotes)
- Images — <img> (Images. “alt” attributes are also important here.)
Most writing tools will handle this for you, but it’s good to have a basic understand of what you’re working with.
Support Your Post with Facts
Advanced writers aren’t just writing what sounds good. They detail important statements with hardcore “facts”.
What’s a fact you might ask?
A fact is something that is postulated to have occurred or to be correct. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability — that is, whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to experience. — Wikipedia
Facts keep readers (and writers) on the same playing field. They keep us both in tune what what is actually going on in the domain that we’re writing about. While we don’t always need to write a non-fiction piece. If you are writing something that makes a claim, you should support these statements with facts to build trust with your readers. Tangible evidence can help convince and sell someone on a new idea.
You can find facts in the form of statistics, white papers, reports, research papers, or trusted surveys. The best facts include specific data sets that outline a historical track record or sizable context. This is usually referred to as “quantitative metrics”.
A few great sources for finding facts are:
Visualize With Imagery
You know the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. And it’s true.
Humans were given 5 senses and vision is a big one!
The act of seeing starts when the cornea and then the lens of the eye focuses light from its surroundings onto a light-sensitive membrane in the back of the eye, called the retina. The retina is actually part of the brain that is isolated to serve as a transducer for the conversion of light into neuronal signals. — Wikipedia
Neil Fleming, a university professor from Lincoln University in New Zealand came up with a VARK model that discusses learning sensory modalities of learning. Fleming claimed that visual learners have a preference for seeing visual elements that represent ideas.
By providing visuals in your content, you can actually deepen:
- Reading comprehension
- Critical thinking
Think about your favorite brands… Maybe Facebook, Google, Twitter, Evernote? What do all of these brands have? They have engaging visual branding. All their visual components, whether it’s colors, fonts, logos, images, design systems, they are all interacting with visual perception.
I like to thing of these components as digital assets. Good fonts are assets that can yield someone’s “engaged” attention (valuable).
There’s nothing more powerful than making a firm decision and commitment to take action on something.
When you truly connect with your audience, relate to their specific situation, outline how they can achieve their goals, and inspire them with engaging material, you move the conversation into a new zone. That zone opens the door to new questions, new opportunities, and what marketers ultimately label the “Call To Action”. This is the specific copy that will prompt that reader to make a decision.
When you’ve successfully taken readers into this zone, they are more likely to engage with a CTA. These CTA’s are powerful because they can give YOU, the opportunity to truly change someone’s life. Your influence should not be taken for granted. You should treat that responsibility with respect and be clear about what you can deliver.
Some examples of CTAs in the marketing world include…
- Get Started
- Learn More
- Register Now
- Start My 14 Day Trial
- Sign Up Today
- Start [VERB]ing your [IMPORTANT GOAL] with/in [BENEFIT]
Humans are aspirational. People want to look up to other people, and it’s one of the best ways to motivate others to strive for more out of life.
When a successful investor, business leader, or innovative designer says something, we listen. This dates back to our primal existence. It’s why quotes live on for generations.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison
Adding quotes can help inspire and motivate your readers, while also simplifying big concepts and helping to display a unique opinion.
“While there are many ways to say the same thing, one may be more pleasing and convincing than all the others because of the way words are arranged.” - Ward Farnsworth
Tell Stories and Connect To Reader Emotion
We all have unique experiences to share. Those experiences are valuable because they teach us powerful lessons about the novelties in life. They show us how we can adapt to our surroundings or overcome challenges that we never would have thought possible.
Stories are powerful because they provide readers with a “human” experience. They help to create a sequence of events that readers can tie together. They create a rhythm that appeals to our human senses and emotions. When we engage with a relatable, meaningful story, we’re more likely to understand why something resulted the way it did.
Stories are an essential tool for engaging content. We should all strive to become better storytellers and master “The Art of Storytelling”.
De-Clutter Your Writing Environment
(unless you like clutter)
What we’re ultimately looking for when we invest our time and energy into writing a piece of content is a level of depth. Not just depth in the writing itself, but a depth of focus.
In Cal Newport’s Deep Work, he talks about the ability to focus on a cognitively demanding task, without distraction. When you have a messy writing environment or loud surroundings, you’ll be less likely to reach that deeper level of focus. This has also been referred to as the “optimal experience” or “flow”, highlighted in the book Flow by Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
While it’s not entirely true that you must declutter your desk to do your best work, it’s something that can decrease distraction which is ultimately important for deep work.
Use Cloud Software & Get Feedback
There are a lot of different tools out there to help you write. Most of these tools do a lot of the same things. The end goal is usually to get your ideas out of your head and into text. While technology is usually pretty good at enabling us to do this, we can take it a step further by using apps that sync to the cloud.
Syncing is important because it speeds up the process of getting feedback on our content and iterating on new versions. If our posts are live on a URL that we can quickly share with a team member or potential customer, we have an immediate valve to gauge and measure the value of our copywriting.
A few great tools that sync with the cloud are:
- Google Docs (The Gold Standard)
- Evernote (Great for writing on Mac)
- Grammarly (Great for spell checking and grammar)
- Medium (Because it’s awesome.)
When looking for feedback, you should find someone with an expertise in the subject you’re writing about. Seek out connections on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and ask them to review a draft of your post. You can also join a forum, membership community, or Facebook group.
Here are five questions can ask your reviewer:
- Do you find this post helpful and relevant to [TOPIC]?
- How do you think this post can be improved?
- Why would you read a post like this?
- Who do you think would find this post useful?
- On a scale of 1–5, how likely would you be to share this post to your network?
Design a Text Banner
When you scroll through posts on Facebook or Twitter, what do you think peaks more of your attention? Is it the bit.ly link next to a bit of short text? Or is it the colorful graphic with the beautiful typography highlighting your headline? Most likely it’s the latter.
By taking a few extra minutes to design your own text banner, hire a contractor to do it, or request a banner from 99 Designs, you’ll improve the promotional quality of your post and give visitors a brief preview of your branding.
Here’s a look at the text banner for this post:
Decorate Promotions With Referral Links
Creating valuable content is only one component of helping someone transform their life or work. It’s not the information alone that will help your readers achieve a particular goal, but the application that will drive the results. The benefit of the internet is that we can include links to relevant resources, tools, or products that will benefit readers even more.
If you know of great tools and products that will help your readers achieve a particular goal or eliminate tasks that take up time and energy, you’d be doing them a favor by sharing those specific links. If you spend a lot of time on Product Hunt, you’ll most likely know of many niche tools that come out which a lot of people online wouldn’t know of. This is a great opportunity for you to share these resources and get compensated for the referral. When someone clicks on a link to that resource, you make a small commission for sharing that valuable insight.
You can usually find these referral programs directly on the vendor’s website of the product or tool that you’re using. You can also join a marketplace of referral programs where you’ll find a variety of resources (and make new discoveries). I’m a big fan of GrowSumo, where I’ve partnered with my favorite products like Reply (an automated email prospecting tool with analytics and split-testing) or Poindexter (a simple tool for startups to automate financial projections).
Sharing new tools with your readers can be a great way to help shape their workflow and support their technical stack.
Use Buffer or Hootsuite To Share Across Social Channels
We’re living in a noisy world these days… social media and software are taking over a large part of how we operate and market our businesses.
With Twitter’s 328 million MAUs or Facebook’s whopping 2 billion with a “B”, there are more posts, comments, conversations, and likes online than ever before. We have a lot of options to choose from too: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Medium, Quora, Reddit, AngelList, Pinterest, etc.
When you create something valuable, don’t hold back on sharing it across channels. (unless you’re specifically personalizing a channel) Use tools like Buffer, Hootsuite, or even CoSchedule for your post distribution. You can tailor each social channel with the data it needs (Open Graph on Facebook/Twitter) and expand your reach when you post.
It’s also a great way to measure where you are getting traffic from. In Google Analytics, you can see if Twitter brings most of your traffic, and might decide to reduce the amount of content to Reddit or Instagram. Overall focus on the 20% of your channels that are yield you 80% of your traffic.
Bring Your “Unique” Perspective
Creating content in today’s digital arena can seem like a competitive race to acquire the most views, convert more clicks, or increase stickiness and form new habits for users. This can result in a human’s voice getting lost in translation. You’ll be told what to say, how to write, and all the best practices for optimizing your content down to the impression.
Don’t forget to add your unique perspective…
This is what branding is all about. This is what creativity is all about. The new ideas that are “actually” innovative are not coming from the people who are just split-testing and digging into analytics. New ideas can come from unique experiences that teach real lessons in life. This includes using technology to solve problems, working with a new team, or traveling to another country and meeting someone from a different culture.
Every new author can bring a different perspective to a domain or context which other people can learn from.
Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it. — Viktor E. Frankl