Everyone freaks out, at least some of the time, when it’s time to write – even (or especially) those of us who make a living putting words onto a screen.
The following advice is what we share with our customers who havefolks who want to write. We hope you find these writing tips useful as well. Please note that this isn’t comprehensive. Why is that?
There is no single right way to write.
There is a right way for you.
These tips are intended to nudge you in the direction of getting those insights you have that are useful for your audience out of your head and shared with the world.
Also, there is no magic to writing. Some people are better at it than others and a rare few are truly great, but anyone willing to put the time and effort in can learn to communicate effectively via the written word. You know, writing.
The goal with blogging for business is to make a connection with your reader by creating work that is interesting and useful to them.
Blogs are also spectacular fuel for your marketing efforts. Companies that blog regularly report higher leads than those who don’t blog at all or blog only infrequently.
Blogs ultimately lead to sales – occasionally directly, more often by establishing a reservoir of trust among your potential customers. However, don’t cram your products and services into every nook and cranny of your blog posts!
In general, your goal is to be useful. Because we’re writing about business and how the people you’re writing for can make their business more successful through use of the technology and services you provide; stick to being useful. Use humor if that’s natural to you, but your goal with every post is simply this:
“Is my reader going to learn something they didn’t know about how they can improve their business.”
- For most of you reading this, you’re blogging as part of an overall effort. If you write one post – ever – that’s OK. In general with blogs, more is better. We write enough blog posts for your company to start and maintain momentum for your marketing. Your blog posts are lagniappe (I’m from Louisiana, that’s a word that means “a little something extra”). If you are blogging alone for business, target one post/week at a minimum.
- Shoot for 500 words. Fewer are fine. More is fine. I always say 500ish words because that’s short enough to be written fairly quickly, but long enough to make a point, ask for help, tell a short story, etc. There is no magic length that will make people read and share your post other than this:
- Good blog post, regardless of length = will be read and could be shared
- Bad blog post, regardless of length = won’t be read or shared
- Don’t Plagiarize. Feel free to quote from other articles and research and link freely, but don’t lift work from others and claim as your own. It’s not nice. Also, Google doesn’t like it.
- Write Like You. Be yourself, it’s too hard to be someone else. Have an informal style, great. More formal, great. Sense of humor, weave it in there. Have a hobby or love a particular movie, share anecdotes or use movie quotes to make a point (for better or worse, I wrote an entire blog based on quotes from The Princess Bride).
- Show Up. If you only want to write a single post, that’s fine. If you want to be seen as an expert and trusted resource, you have to keep posting . . . and keep posting . . . and keep posting.
- Don’t Get Discouraged! Seth Godin, arguably the Godfather of content/inbound marketing, wrote almost daily for three or four years before he started getting real traction and attention. Nineteen books and counting, he’s now one of the most recognized marketing experts in the world. Keep putting great work out there and good things will happen.
- Write What You Know. You know stuff that your customers and potential customers would find useful and helpful, share it.
- But Don’t Be Afraid to Stretch. Interested in a particular topic? Do the research and write about something interesting to you.
- Don’t Fake It. If you’re interested, it’s a lot easier to be interesting.
- The Blank Screen Mocks You. When you get stuck – yes, when, not “if” – just write something. The physical act of writing or putting fingers to your keyboard -- gibberish, a note of gratitude to a friend, a tirade against that guy who cut you off on the way to work, anything – is often enough to get you moving. Things that sometimes work for me:
- Get up and stretch
- Take a 5 minute walk
- Pet one of the cats or the dog – whichever is closest.
- Insert your own here
- What Kind of Posts? There are a variety of different types of posts you could write:
- How-To Do Thing X: Straight-forward advice. Here's an issue, here's how I solved it, a customer solved t, or suggestions for solving it.
- Tips and tricks: similar to advice, list of 3 or 4 or 5 strategies for addressing a particular business or technical challenge.
- Numeric list – the most shared an read blogs are top xx numbe blogs. You can surely find top 7 reasons to lease a copier vs. buy a copier?
- War story: personal story of something that went really well (or even really poorly).
- Opinion: what's going on in the industry that bugs you? Stir the pot. Don’t be afraid to take a stance on something, pro or con.
- Call to action/asking for advice: Are you experiencing a problem that you're having a hard time figuring out? Use your blog as a platform to ask for advice/opinions from others.
- What’s Keeping You Up at Night? What sorts of challenges have your customers scratching their heads or pulling their hair out (or both at the same time)? Technology? Strategy? Staffing? If it’s a challenge to one customer, it’s probably a challenge for others too. Write about it.
- Prediction: What’s on the horizon that customers should understand and know about?.
- Title Is Critical. Simple, accurate, and descriptive seems to work best.
- Write in Digestible Chunks. Forget what your grade school English teacher said, you can have a single line paragraph.
- Lists and Bullets Are Great. Oddly, oddly numbered lists do well – it doesn’t need to be a “top 5” or “10 best.” I’ve seen 7, 55, 78, and other numbers used in lists.
- Give It a Break. If an entry exceeds 500 words, try to provide subheads (mini-headlines) throughout the piece to break up the text. Think of them as a bread trail to lead the reader through your points.
- Length (again). Don’t be afraid to write a long post. Statistics stats show that if a long post is good, people will read it through.
- Statistics Can Really Bum You Out. Don’t be alarmed if something that you write, that’s really good, doesn’t seem to generate a response. Web readers are fickle. While one can develop a good sense of what’s going to attract eyeballs over time, one is never going to be 100% accurate. A Led Zeppelin now and then is to be expected. Don’t worry about it. I’ve taken to blaming the tides for why various posts are read/not read.
- Spell Check.
- Reread AFTER You Spell Check. Their, there, and they’re are all correctly spelled, but you want to make sure you’ve used the right one.
- The Oxford Comma RULES. I think it adds clarity. This is my favorite explanation as to why: JFK, Stalin, and strippers.
- Link Love. Link to other blogs, articles, etc. as often as possible/is relevant to what you’re writing.
- If you want to embed video and/or illustrations to make a point (or just to add visual interest to your blog), within the boundaries of fair use/copyright, please do. And be sure to name it appropriately – the search engines look at the names of the images, so they could help Google better understand what your blog is about. And don’t ever forget to add alt-text to your images.
Other Helpful Stuff
Here are a few of my go-to resources for writing:
Grammar Girl – for simple explanations of rules when you’re stuck (when to use “affect” or “effect”) this is a great resource.
Copyblogger – one of, if not the, best source of online writing tips I've ever found. I can't recommend subscribing to it highly enough. I get at least a great tip each week, if not more, from reading it.
Stephen King, On Writing – I like a lot of his work and the way he writes. Good combo of writing advice (CliffsNotes version: Just. Write.) and his own writing journey.
Writing That Works – a good and easy to digest primer for writing effectively in business communication specifically. The advice applies equally to blog writing.
Now, GO WRITE!
There’s more because there’s always more writing advice and tips and methods and how to’s and techniques and . . . well, you get the idea.
To bastardize a phrase, every blog post begins with a single word, start typing.