What's the single most important ingredient for a successful blog piece?
Think about it before you answer. This is extremely important. If you get this wrong, you probably shouldn't write the article in the first place.
If you said, "the headline," you'd be absolutely, positively, undeniably, 100 % . . .
The primary ingredient you must have before you write a single word
That would be a relevant, useful topic, of course.
One that your readers need to hear.
Let me put it this way.
Have you ever seen an absolutely mouthwatering photo of a bacon cheeseburger that made you whip out your wallet so fast it whistled? And then you got the sandwich and had to remove the pickle to find the meat?
The picture looked delicious . . . but the product didn’t deliver.
You can have the most attention-grabbing, eye-catching and promise-filled headline ever written. And your subheads and text formatting may provide the best roadmap imaginable. But if you lack this first ingredient – the useful topic – your article won't deliver either.
I've read articles like that before and have written a few myself: Toasted bun, delicious pickle and condiments, hot melted cheese and maybe some crispy bacon . . . but a content patty the size of a 50-cent piece.
Don't write 50-cent content patties.
You need to study the product or service, the market and the potential client intently. Find out what they REALLY want and REALLY need. What your readers are hungry for. Discover where your product engages with their needs and then cook your content to perfection.
Here's a tip.
Get out your most successful articles and dissect them to find out why they clicked. What was it that drew readers to them? Why did they work so well? Then, as the shampoo bottle says:
Lather, rinse, repeat.
While you're at it, try to find a unique perspective or at least a unique way of expressing it. Just remember that you are writing the article for your readers and it must be valuable to them.
Now you're ready to cook, Content Chef!
Bake a magnetic headline
Right after choosing a great topic, the headline is a key ingredient to getting your work noticed and read.
A ton of material has been written on headlines. Here are the search results on headlines from HubSpot, for example.
Only over 1000 articles! I'd suggest you go and read every one of them.
But let me mention just a few ideas to get you started.
- Don't think that your first headline needs to be the final one. Write something that will get your creative juices flowing.
- When you have your first draft done, it's now time to get serious about the headline composition.
- 80% of Internet readers will read the headline to make a decision on reading the article. Bake up a good one that is hard to resist.
- Some popular formats are: How-to headlines, Numbered List format (7 Ways to Make Better Coffee), the Question, and the Teacher or Why headline.
- Remember that only 20% of your potential readers will go on to read the entire article. Spend a good amount of time creating it to increase the odds.
Preheat your alpha and omega ingredients
The first and last letters in the Greek alphabet are alpha and omega. In some cultures, they stand for the beginning and the end.
Your article needs a great alpha and a powerhouse omega. The leading and closing paragraphs determine the overall effectiveness of your post.
Want to try something different on your next article?
This is a great little exercise. You may not want to use this on every blog post you write, but give it a shot. You might be surprised. And it's a technique you already use when planning a trip.
Here's the three-step process you'll use after you've written your working headline:
- Write your lead first. It might be one paragraph, several paragraphs or even one sentence. But make it a powerful statement that can't be ignored.
- Craft a powerhouse conclusion, including the call to action. Determine the action you want your reader to take and make it so.
- Now, figure out how to get from Point Alpha to Point Omega. Everything you write in the body text should stem from the lead paragraph and pull your reader to the conclusion.
Do try this at home. It can be a powerful way to write. In fact, if you're suffering from the dreaded "writer's block," this technique will push you through it. How does it do that?
Think about plotting a trip on a map. Just about everyone I know begins by determining the starting location and ending destination. In fact, if you use Google Maps to map a journey, that's the first thing you'll type into the text box.
In a flash, Google outlines your journey. You can also choose the type of route you want to take.
Now that you know where you're starting from and where you're going with your article, all you need to do is fill in the route.
You map out your reader's journey with the next key ingredient.
Sauté some progressive subheads
I'm not talking about progressive in the sense that they are reformist or enlightened. No, what I mean is they need to convey a natural progression from your "alpha" to your "omega."
In one sense, they form a table of contents.
I often recommend that writing subheads before writing copy. Some writers disagree. But once again, you are plotting the course of your article. And it can help battle writer's block as well.
It allows you to write in a non-linear way. Once you have your subhead markers placed, you can jump back and forth to different topic sections as the spirit moves. If you're having difficulty in one section, jot down some notes and move to another.
Break down the article into small, bite-size chunks. Don't look at the task and feel like you must swallow it whole!
Blend in the final ingredients
Let's discuss the final ingredient blend: your body copy. But before we do, I want to make one very important point.
Remember that none of these ingredients are carved in stone when you write them. It's more like they're written in sand. If you need to make a change, wipe it out and make it. Your headline, for example, is just a working headline at first.
You may – and probably will – need to change it several times before publication.
Your copy is where you will make the most impact with your content dish. Blending the final ingredients is where you have the most leeway and the least room for error as well.
Remember the 50-cent burger!
When you write your copy:
- Make sure you have your facts straight. Do quality research!
- Set the tone and voice of your article. If at all possible, write conversationally, but not sloppily.
- Be aware of words or phrases that don't taste the same in all locations.
- Make your reader think . . . but make her smile, too. Add a dash of humor when appropriate.
- Write the best sentences possible and use persuasive words (just be sure the context makes sense).
- Use bulleted points and numbered lists to control the pace of the article.
- And above all else, be authentic. Your passion for the subject should ooze from the copy. If you aren't passionate about what you write, learn to be.
After you've created your masterpiece, go back and edit it. Here's where you'll choose the final headlines and subheads. Here's where you'll trim the fat and make it leaner. Check for spelling, grammar and clarity.
Don't forget the icing!
Using a great graphic is like putting icing on the cake. Think about it next time you're in a bakery. Which cakes draw your attention? If you're like me a beautiful icing display catches my eye first.
The editors here at Uberflip do a great job here. Their graphics catch your attention and hint at what is in the article. A great graphic can do a lot in getting your article read.
Some say that it was a Chinese proverb that stated, "A picture is worth a thousand words." I don't know for sure and no one really does.
But use graphic elements to your advantage and let them help promote your story.
OK, Chef . . . it's time for you to get cooking!
I'm taking off my oven mitts and handing the kitchen over to you. Cook up a delicious article yourself, but be sure not to leave out the essential ingredients.
You might give some of the crazy techniques I mentioned a try. And if you have any other suggestions or food for thought, be sure to tell us in the comments.