How does she do it?… ?
How does that Ana Hoffman manage to publish so much [good/great] content all around the web?
Never in a million years would I have imagined my name used next to “writes so much“, “great content“, “everywhere“…
I’ve always strongly disliked writing. It never came easy – always a struggle…
I was on track to graduate Summa Cum Laude from high school, but got a ‘B’ on my final test in creative writing (my teacher felt too sorry for me to give me a ‘C’.)
Then I almost dropped out in my first year of college because all we did was writing essays and I hated it.
Yes, I am a lousy writer.
How does someone like me become a blogger? Good question…
Some years back, I set my heart on starting an online business. Shortly thereafter, I was told I needed to write content to promote my business. Yes, I needed to start a blog.
Ahhhh, the irony…
And my distaste for writing? It had to be dealt with, one way or another.
More on that later.
But first… a few pearls of wisdom.
Finding the Writer in You
What makes a good writer ‘good‘? Or a great piece of writing ‘great‘?
There are as many answers as there are writers and readers.
To me, a good piece of writing resonates with both the reader AND the writer.
It has to touch them BOTH.
Then and only then, the writer will write well and the reader won’t stop reading.
How do you master that kind of writing?
No, I don’t have a ‘10 Steps to Become a Good Writer‘ checklist for you.
Trust me, that’s a good thing. The last thing you want to do is to adopt another writer’s voice or style!
I can however tell you what I’ve learned on my journey to writing better blog posts.
1. Follow your natural style
There’s a reader for every style of writing.
Find your writing style first, then find the readers whom it resonates with.
My first few blog posts were so bad that I quietly deleted them a while ago in fear they’d come back to haunt me.
You know why they were so bad?
I wrote what I THOUGHT my readers wanted to read. Turned out I thought WRONG (surprise, surprise!… ?) and I lost the few readers I had to begin with.
The a-ha moment came out of pure frustration…
Write how you speak.
Simple. Friction-free. Made sense!
My brain thinks in bullet points. It wouldn’t know what fluff is if it hit it on the head. (hmm… what would it look like if my brain had a head?… ?)
Me thinks in bullet points – me writes in bullet points. And short sentences. And paragraphs?… what’s a paragraph?…
That was definitely a step in the right direction and my Readers agreed!
Good example of my bullet-point writing:
2. Personality is the key
You don’t have to
- be a stand-up comedian,
- be a master story-teller,
- write with “I don’t give a …” attitude
…to be memorable.
You don’t have to be sweet and cuddly and agree with everybody either.
Find strengths within yourself and focus on what you’ve got.
For instance, I’ve got my ‘dry Russian humor’ on my side.
Some like it, some don’t. But they get it anyway. That’s who I am.
3. You are not writing a novel
Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ is a brilliant piece of writing. Brilliant. A must-read.
And I bet it would be read a lot more if it wasn’t 1,296 pages long. Or 587,287 words, give or take a few.
It’s not unusual for blog posts to top 10,000 words these days. Those posts are MASSIVE. They get a lot of shares. Links. Traffic.
And that’s great! It’s good to write a post like that every once in a while to bait all of the above.
However, let me ask you: when was the last time you truly read one of those impressively long posts? Let alone put into action what it taught?…
Still stand by everything I said there.
Respect your Reader. Respect their time.
How I Write Blog Posts – My Step-by-Step Process
Writing a great blog post takes a great deal of time. That’s a given.
It usually takes me hours upon hours to write a post worth publishing.
With that in mind, it’s VITAL to establish an efficient writing process.
Here is mine.
Feel free to copy the entire thing or tweak it to your own preferences.
1. Every great post starts with a great idea
Read. Listen. Observe.
That’s how you get the best blog post ideas.
I’ve made it a habit to read daily; as a result, I have 20-30 blog post ideas to work with at any given moment.
As your blog readership grows and comments start coming in, you’ll start getting even more post ideas.
Someone might ask a question. Someone might say “I wonder...” or “what if“.
If you aren’t getting enough comments to get you inspired yet, here’s a tip on how to use comments on popular blogs (it’s #5).
- 202 Bite-Sized Tips To Insanely Increase Your Blog Traffic
- 150+ Blog Ideas That Will Absolutely Kill Writers’ Block – Devin Joubert at coschedule.com
- 5 Unique Ways to Find Blog Post Ideas For Even the Most Painfully Boring Industries – Joe Davies at Moz.com
How to keep track of your blog post ideas
There are many ways to keep track of your ideas (Evernote, Trello, etc), but I’ve found that creating WordPress post drafts is the most sure way not to lose track of them.
Every time I think “this would make a great post“, I create a draft with a working title and a brief description.
I use Drafts Dropdown plugin to help me access my drafts quickly and easily from anywhere at Traffic Generation Café.
Just click on “Drafts” from the admin menu and you are there.
2. Start with the post outline
No, I don’t start with a blog post title. To me, that’s putting the cart before the horse.
A blog post outline is your train of thought on the topic.
My outlines most often look like a bunch of headings and bullet points.
There’s another benefit of starting off with an outline: use it to repurpose your blog post into a SlideShare presentation, video, podcast, etc.
Intimidated? Don’t be – it’s a lot easier than you think.
My best hacks on repurposing your blog posts into various content formats:
By the way, it’s a good idea to save your post outline separately before it becomes a full blog post.
You can later copy/paste it into a PowerPoint presentation, add more excerpts from the post (optional), then publish it on SlideShare and YouTube (explained in the posts mentioned above.)
3. Format your post as you go
I’ve found this to be a great time-saver. You already have plenty of ‘do it later‘ tasks; why add this one to the mix, right?
So add your headings, bullet-point lists, bold, italic, and underlined formatting as you write your post.
Better yet, learn keyboard shortcuts to turn the tasks into a few extra keyboard strokes. Easy peasy.
Advanced styling tip (and a huge time hack)
If you are good with coding, you can add custom formats right to your WP post editor.
If you are not, do what I did – find someone who can. All the formats you see in the screenshot above were coded for me by Ian Belanger.
I can also easily add additional social media sharing buttons anywhere within a post straight from my post editor menu, like this (and please don’t be shy to use them – your shares are MUCH appreciated):
4. Add links as you go
Adding internal links (links from one page on your domain to another page on your domain) and external links (links from your domain to a different domain) is extremely important for the benefit of
- your readers (to provide additional relevant information),
- you (to increase the time readers spend on your site and the chances they follow your calls to action),
I tend to add links as I go, just like with post formatting.
The keyboard shortcut for adding a link is CTRL+K (Windows) or ⌘+K (Mac).
How to get rid of inline links in WordPress [TIME HACK]
WordPress has recently introduced a feature that’s driving many bloggers NUTS (me including) – inline links.
Inline links force you to make 4 clicks to add a link to your post instead of 1-2, like it used to. They look like this:
Not only will this plugin allow you to add links the way you used to, but also give you a handy option to quickly add target=”_blank” (to force your in-post links open in a new tab/window – I highly recommend doing that!) and/or rel=”nofollow” to links that need it (affiliate links, sponsored links, guest post links, etc.)
Learn more about nofollow links:
What are NoFollow Links in SEO (And Why You Should Care) – Ashley Faulkes at madlemmings.com
How to make it easier to add internal links [TIME HACK]
For that, I’ve created a Google Drive master spreadsheet of all my posts.
I use that spreadsheet in many other ways as well and highly recommend you create your own.
Here’s a link to my blog post list; feel free to use it as a template for yours.
Needless to say, remember to update your master blog post list as you publish new posts.
5. Add introduction and conclusion
Not my favorite part of the process…
My inclination is to open every post with ‘Read it, then do it‘ and close it with ‘Read it, now go do it‘,… buuuuut I probably shouldn’t.
However, if you are not a story-teller, don’t sweat it; a sentence or two at the beginning and the end will do.
That’s what I tend to do anyway.
I’ve also been testing creating ‘blog post trailers‘ – video introductions to my blog posts.
Not sure I’ll have the time to make one for this post before publishing it (I am still planning on making one a bit later), but to give you an example of a blog post trailer, take a look at 5 Brilliant Ways to Go Blog-to-Video with Content Samurai. Not only you’ll see my video post intro in action, but will also learn how I make them.
Making blog post trailers does take more time, but it also allows you to drive traffic from sites like YouTube, SlideShare, use them in your social media posts, etc.
6. Add featured image
Adding visual content to EVERY blog post is a must.
You can write the most brilliant post, but truth is few will read it if it looks boring.
I am often asked where I get my blog post images. You can learn more about it here:
I edit found images with SnagIt or, even better, in PowerPoint – and I’ll tell you why.
Creating blog post images in PowerPoint makes it easier to repurpose them as a SlideShare presentation, then a YouTube video. Learn more about how you can do it too:
7. Brainstorm blog post titles
Most copywriters recommend you START with a post title.
I think it’s a great suggestion, but it’s never worked for me.
My brain has a mind of its own. It might start with one idea for a blog post and end up taking it in a completely different direction.
Thus starting with a blog post title is not an option for me.
By the way… did you notice I said ‘titleS‘ in the heading?
No, it wasn’t a typo.
You absolutely need to write more than one title for every blog post!
Preferably, more than two… or even three..
Did you know UpWorthy team writes 25 headlines for each of their articles? Then they A/B test the top two to find their best performing headline.
Best way to keep track of your blog post title ideas
This plugin adds a panel to the sidebar of your WordPress post editor where you can add notes relating to the post.
That way all your ideas stay in one place.
Simple and useful.
Easiest way to test your blog post title contenders
ThriveThemes Headline Optimizer is a simple, easy to use WordPress plugin that allows you to test your headlines, like the most successful sites do, on your very own website.
It literally is as simple as
- write as many headlines as you can think of;
- start your test and Thrive Headline Optimizer takes care of the rest.
Here’s an example of Headline Optimizer at work in 7 Simple Tips to Create Traffic-Driving Mobile Friendly Emails post:
As you can see, it doesn’t take a genius to do this – even a small one-word tweak could make a big difference!
8. Add call to action
Each post you write should have a purpose.
What action would you like your readers to take after reading your post?
- subscribe to your email list?
- buy your product/service?
- click on affiliate links?
- share the post on social media?
Should you have only ONE call to action per post?
Let me tell you something – it’s impossible to have ONE call to action in any given blog post.
Blogs are meant to be interactive with features like:
- comment section
- social media sharing buttons
- related posts
- sidebar with even more elements to click on…
That’s the very nature of blogging. A blog post is not a landing page.
However, there still should be one MAIN call to action per post.
To get your creative CTA juices flowing, read:
25 Call to Action Examples You Can Swipe Right Now! – Sarah Arrow at sarkemedia.com
9. Edit and proofread
Here’s my proofreading routine:
- Always take a break before proofreading the post – at least an hour or, even better, a day.
- Read the post in ‘Preview’ mode – check what it will look like when published and correct any formatting mishaps.
- Read aloud. If it doesn’t sound right, it needs to be reworded.
And, most importantly…
10. Check SEO
This is the last thing I do: cross my t’s and dot my i’s for the on-page SEO elements and write a post snippet for the search engines.
I use Yoast SEO plugin for that.
If you are not exactly on the first-name basis with SEO, I recommend you download this free guide:
Learn step-by-step how to do SEO for your pages and posts in 15 minutes – Ashley Faulkes at madlemmings.com
Read it? Good.
Now go do it. ? ?
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
The only thing that makes a writer lousy is resisting change.
Writing great blog posts is a matter of practice, listening to feedback from your readers and peers, and adjusting your writing style accordingly.
From Ana with ❤️
PS If you’d like for me to visit your blog and give you a very quick critique of your content, let me know in comments. Be prepared for some tough love though!