Welcome back, perfectionists! This is the last part of my blog writing series. In my previous posts, I told you the secrets to a perfect topic, keyword selection, research and planning. It’s time to take a critical look at your Ugly First Draft and polish it—maybe even all the way to perfection?
What’s in a title
Let’s go back to the first part of my guide for a while – about blog topics. A well-defined topic will help you create a captivating title, but if you don’t have the ultimate The New-Yorker-level idea, that’s ok. A working title will do for starters and that’s the part you don’t want to miss. These few words capturing the topic will help you stick to it and not drift away from the scope you’re going for.
What if I come up with more than one title?
That’s definitely better than have no title at all 🙂. Actually, it might be possible to make use of different titles by matching them with the right communication channels. Who said you can’t use a different title in a Facebook post or on Reddit? In fact, this could help you gain more traffic from each platform. Take a close look at the style and format of the posts. Do they include an image? What’s the character limit? How do other users formulate their posts and links?
The perfect title checklist
No matter how many ideas you have, there’s a risk of making stupid mistakes that may have unpleasant consequences. This can even happen in small elements of your composition, like the title. In my content marketing experience, I’ve noticed a few sensitive areas to pay attention to.
Disclaimer: These are my personal guidelines I use to stay on the right path. Not all writers will agree, mainly because different things work for different audiences and goals you want to achieve with your blogging efforts.
For every blog post title, I make sure it:
- Doesn't offend anyone. Avoid socially sensitive jokes and beware of hate speech. Of course, there are other ways to offend people with a written word, but that’s not the point of this article. Just give it a second before hitting “Publish”.
- Attracts attention. This is a factor that will vary from industry to industry, so I guess I’ll leave you with this awesome list of best- and worst-performing title phrases by Buzzsumo.
- Corresponds to the article content. It may be tempting to create clickbait that will give you tons of clicks, but the point of content is not to drive worthless traffic from random people who will leave after a few seconds without reading. You wouldn't invest your time and effort in writing something that nobody read just because of a misleading title, would you?
Every article contains unique knowledge and our goal is to share it. Avoid unnecessary words or phrases (especially stating obvious facts), get straight to the point. Of course, you don't want to sound like a vacuum cleaner manual, but the point is to share information in the most efficient and user-friendly way.
Think about the order of information in your article. Make sure the reader discovers the topic starting with the basics and the moving on to the details. It might seem counterintuitive at first, but I’ve found a simple game helps: when you have your bullet points and sub-points in place, write them on small pieces of paper and try to play with them like with jigsaw puzzle. Imagine you’re explaining the topic to a six-year-old. Where would you start? How would you continue to make the reader understand what you have in mind? Can you spot logical connections and common denominators?
- Divide your article into short paragraphs (ideally 4-6 lines) whenever possible. It declutters the text and helps you distribute information in a digestible format.
- Add subheadings to make the text easier to read. Introduce every new thread with a subheading to help the reader scan the text. Following SEO best practices, the upper limit for a section is 300 words.
- Use different text formatting to emphasize the essential parts:
- Bullet points and lists (make sure to use at least three in each list).
- Include internal links to, for example, other blog posts, and external links to other sources. To boost SEO, the anchor text should be related to the topic of the link (not “click here” but e.g. “marketing automation”).
All forms of visual content are welcome! By “all” I mean images, graphic designs, GIFs, videos, tables, diagrams and anything else that enhances your article, makes it more informative (e.g. screenshot) or unique (e.g. meme). With every graphic element you add to the text, make sure you come up with an adequate alt description including a keyword. This is a piece of text that displays instead of the picture in case it doesn’t load properly (and the picture description for the visually impaired audience). You should be able to insert it in your CMS (Wordpress offers this option).
There’s one more thing many authors often forget – intellectual property rights. I doubt you would like anyone to steal your text and re-post it without proper credit, so why would photographers and graphic designers be treated any differently? You can find free visual content in many places like Unsplash, Pixabay or Kaboom Pics. Content licensing is not a topic for a quick chat, so I won’t go into the details here. Instead, take a look at the Creative Commons guide when you can.
Style and tone of voice
I realize this part is going to be very subjective because the way you want to write depends on your reader persona and the product/service you’re promoting. I decided it would make the most sense to share the guidelines I follow at Synerise as an example. Of course, it’s not always possible to follow all the rules, but that’s what happens when you work with multiple authors. Each one has their own individual style and it’s ok to skip a long sentence or unusual synonym from time to time :)
Fairly simple language
Write sentences no longer than two lines (or 20 words). That’s for the sake of readability and SEO (like it or not, Google algorithms favor simple syntax and grammar). If it’s hard for you to keep track of such details, try Hemingway app, but don’t follow it blindly. It tends to suggest changes that could make the text sound too robotic.
Avoid jargon and difficult words (when possible)
It’s time to ditch the high-school habit of stuffing your writing with rarely used vocabulary. You don’t have to prove anything this way. Overcomplicated vocabulary doesn't make you look smarter. Instead, it can irritate the reader and make them leave.
Careful with the passive voice
In most cases, active voice (The dog bit me) is easier to understand while reading than passive voice (I was bitten by the dog). Don’t get me wrong, passive voice is important and inevitable, but don't overuse it – this grammar guide will give you an idea how it works.
What I have in mind is the sweet spot between formal and colloquial language, just as if you were trying to explain something to a colleague you like. Speaking of conversations – reading out loud is also a good practice to test the clarity of your language and grammar.
When it comes to content writing, the devil is in the details. The grammatical form of verbs matters, too – use "you/your", not "we/our". Such forms create a more personal connection with the reader and help to keep their attention.
Avoid the necessity of using "he/him/his" etc. when you refer to a user. If there's no other way to write it, replace these pronouns with plural forms ("they"), or simply "he or she". Keep in mind that the last option can be difficult to read in a sentence.
I've already mentioned the topic of offensive writing and hate speech when discussing blog titles, but – surprise, surprise – it's something you should keep in mind at all times. Even if you share a strong statement, don’t use aggressive language that might make the reader feel uncomfortable.
BAD: It’s stupid to steal pictures from the Internet.
GOOD: Using random pictures from the internet is not OK because it may violate the intellectual property rights of the photographer.
Of course, biased language can be used as a figure of speech and I’m always impressed when I see it used with skill and character. But before you risk an unpleasant misunderstanding by trying to sound “sharp”, think again.
I can’t believe how long this text has become, but writing is a topic that never ends. I realize that remembering all these rules and tips might be tricky at first, so why not help yourself with these simple tools:
Grammarly – Corrects grammar (surprise, surprise) and spelling
Hemingway – Helps with readability
Flesch-Kincaid readability score - An overall view on readability, fewer details than Hemingway
Let's sum up the key thoughts I’ve shared here:
- Don’t hesitate to start writing, no matter how experienced (or inexperienced) you are. Having something valuable to say is enough of a reason to write a blog post about it.
- Asking others for help doesn’t make your own input worth less. Delivering value to your readers should be your priority and external feedback can add another dimension to your content.
- Pick your topic carefully, with readers’ needs in mind, and support yourself with keyword research. These two factors will align and help you find the right scope for your text.
- Create content that’s human-first. There are so many SEO guidelines it’s hardly possible to comply with all of them and not forget about the fact that your readers are humans, not robots.
- It’s great to have your opinions as long as you can back them up with solid research. Take some time to find enough arguments to support your statement.
- Never start without a plan. It may change in the process, but a backbone of even a few bullet points will help you stay on track.
- Have a process in place, even if you’re working on your own. I noticed it’s one of the things that helps me finalize what I start – knowing what will (or should) happen next on the way to the finish line.
- Treat your text like a work of art, which consists of merits and aesthetics. Take care of the formatting, title, headings, visuals and other elements. The way your text looks strongly affects its usability and the reader experience.
How are you feeling now, my fellow perfectionist? Overwhelmed? Excited? Motivated? All of these emotions are just fine, as long as they don’t stop you from giving writing a try or having the will to improve your skills. Grab your pens (oh wait, keyboards) and enjoy your intellectual adventure!