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September 13, 2018

Do These 6 Things Before You Publish Your Blog

Content strategy tips for your blog

James Fraser (Sam Heughan) at his printing press in "Outlander." Photo courtesy of Starz

Writing a blog post or article for your company website is easy, right? You have an idea, you spit it out, top it with a headline, and voilà! It’s live!

Well, that’s one way to do it. But those of us focused on content strategy take a much more thoughtful approach. Because it’s not just about what you want to write about. It’s what your targeted audience wants and needs to hear.

If you’ve struggled with this, you’re not alone. Take a look at some of the company blogs in your industry, and you’ll see posts that make you scratch your head. Why are they writing about that, you wonder? The simple answer is they don’t have a content strategy. Maybe somebody with influence said, “We need a blog”, marketing rushed to appease that exec,  and now they’re stuck publishing the darn thing.

Sound familiar? Well, don’t despair. Many of us have been there. Heck, I published a personal blog for more than 4 years, and the last year was sheer agony. I wanted to kill it, but I had put in so much time. Wasn’t that worth something? Finally I said no. The day I pulled the plug was bittersweet. But overall, I felt relief.

But let’s say killing your underperforming content isn’t an option. Then now’s the time to review your next blog post and make sure it’s designed to accomplish what you need it to. You may discover it’s a matter of a few quick fixes. Or maybe you realize it’s time to do some serious content strategy regarding your overall blog. Either way, you’re making progress.

So, looking at your blog post or article, see how well you can answer the following questions:

1. Will your blog post help you achieve your goal?

Goal!

Ah, yes, the goal of the blog post. It’s more than simply making sure you have a blog post to publish. It goes back to the main goal of the blog. What do you want it to achieve?

Maybe it’s increasing newsletter signups. Or you want to boost engagement by getting more comments from your readers. Or perhaps encourage someone to download an ebook. And let’s not forget the genuine altruistic goals of a blog, which is to help people become better writers, better engineers, better marketers, better cooks, etc.

Of course, the underlying goal of most B2B content is to drive sales. Content writers don’t write case studies, white papers, ebooks or articles because it’s cool. They write content to help companies create awareness for a particular audience, which will eventually generate leads, which leads to prospects and then … drum roll … to sales.

But back to the goal of the blog post. If you can identify what you want to achieve, then it’s that much easier to write. The mission has become more clear.

2. Will your blog post appeal to your primary audience?

For every blog post you write, you have to have your targeted audience in mind. This is a cornerstone of content marketing. The audience is the persona you’ve mapped out, whether it’s Sally the Scrum Master or Bob the B2B Content Manager. (Marketing often gives personas silly names, because it makes the personas more relatable and also easier to remember than Persona 1 and Persona 2.)

Personas represent your ideal client or ideal follower, depending on your goal.  So every blog post you write has to have them in mind. What are their pain points or challenges? Does your blog post address those pain points and offer helpful tips and advice? If it doesn’t, take another crack at the blog post.

It’s painful, I know, but just because you love what your wrote doesn’t mean it will connect with your audience. I once had a creative writing teacher who told her students to kill their little darlings. These were the sentences that we writers held on to, because the sentences were so well crafted, so beautiful, so dear, that we just couldn’t get rid of them. Even if they did nothing for the story.

Well, it’s the same thing with blog posts. Heck, I’ve already killed one blog post this week. I had what I thought was a great idea, I wrote it, but it just didn’t come together. I struggled to make it work. I’d already spent two hours on it! Don’t sunk costs matter? No, they don’t, especially if what you’ve written doesn’t address your primary audience.

3. Does your blog post try to cover too much?

This isn’t to say it’s too long. Some blog posts are super long, but they’re still on point.

Each post is very specific about the topic. You won’t find the kitchen sink in any of those posts.  So when you’re about to publish your blog post, analyze whether it’s focused or not. If you’re having trouble with the headline, that may be your first clue that you’re packing too many ideas under one roof. The good news is you might be able to split the post into two if you have too much going on.

4. What is your blog post’s headline?

via GIPHY

Headlines matter. They can be matter of fact, funny or a marriage of the two. But above all, they must speak to your audience. Usually, they’re answering a question your reader has, such as “How do I…?” or “What should I..?”

There are all sorts of clever ways to write headlines. The best ones are modeled after headlines that magazines used to tease readers. I often consult 25 Headlines Hacks by Jon Morrow before I publish a blog post. I also do a Google search to find out if anyone is writing about my topic. Related search results at the bottom of a search page are another way to find potential headlines. Again, these show you how people are searching.

Neil Patel has a great blog post dedicated to writing headlines. So does HubSpot, although I really hate the term “click bait.”

5. Does your post have a call to action at the end?

Good question! We’re circling back to the beginning of this post. What’s your goal? More newsletter signups? More comments? More downloads of an ebook? More followers on LinkedIn?

Now’s your chance to ask your audience to do the thing you want them to do. In a nice way, of course. If you’ve done your job right and they find value in your post, they might give you their email address to receive your newsletter, for example. They might leave a comment or simply like the post.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t get a huge return right away. It can take time to generate interest. It takes time to get the blog post formula down. You might have a few lurkers who aren’t ready to do anything … until they are. Because you keep adding value.

In any case, it never hurts to ask for what you want. What’s the worst that can happen if you ask someone to download an ebook? Nothing. Ok, then maybe it’s time to revisit the call to action. Try something different or try these tried-and-true calls to action from HubSpot.

The point is, give your reader something to do after they’re read your blog post. You want them to go someplace else on your website rather than pack up and leave.

6. Are you selling too hard?

Are you selling at all? If you are, knock it off. Blog posts are supposed to be informative and helpful. Their goal is not too overtly sell anything. If you do, then you’ll tick off your audience.

You know why people hate shopping for cars? Because people who sell cars are usually pressuring us to buy something even though we’re not ready. And it’s irritating as heck.

Those of us who create content for blog posts or articles don’t write sales copy. That’s at the end of the ol’ sales funnel, i.e., the landing page. But not in the blog post.

Need help with content strategy?

These tips are really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to analyzing and tweaking before you publish. But ideally, you have a content strategy. Find out what else you can do to improve your content.

Bonnie Nicholls on Linkedin
Bonnie Nicholls
Bonnie Nicholls is a freelance writer specializing in thought leadership content: case studies, articles, white papers/ebooks and blog posts. She supports industries such as Agile/Scrum, defense and leadership training.