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How to write a great blog post in a short space of time
It must be a confusing time to own a business. Whereas once getting new business leads was as simple as getting yourself into the Yellow Pages, designing a few snazzy business cards and ranking #1 in Google by getting your friendly neighbourhood SEO to direct a few thousand links at your site, those meddling kids at Google’s web spam team have made ranking well in the search engines a hell of a lot harder.
So how does a small business go about getting new leads via search engines now? How can you build juicy links without drawing the ire of whatever zoo animal Google has chosen to summon this week?
Image: File: Brazilian Tapir at Longleat flickr/skoop102
Google Tapir, coming to an algorithm near you soon!
The answer, many (me included) would preach, is content. Lots and lots of content. The kind of content that people will want to share with their friends and link to, providing them with entertainment and you with a treasure trove of links built in a natural manner. Easy, yes?
Well, not quite. The first issue is that not everything sticks; not even the finest of writers, online marketing agencies or graphic designers is going set the world alight with everything they produce even if they promote that content like there’s no tomorrow.
The second issue is time, particularly if you also happen to run your business. Producing the kind of content that provides the kind of idealistic returns I outlined above takes time. The idea of using content as a marketing tool almost dictates that companies have a separate publishing arm.
That’s all fine and dandy for larger businesses, but for the small start-up, it can be a real problem. A lack of resources can mean that you can’t afford to pay anyone for marketing which means you’re going to have produce content yourself. Add that to the list of one thousand other things you need to and it’s almost enough to make you give up this business lark and run away with the circus instead (do people still do that?).
Luckily, contrary to what I said earlier, producing content – particularly blog posts – doesn’t have to take a long time. True, many of the best pieces will have been pored over for hours, days and maybe even weeks but it’s perfectly possible to produce content that will provide your business with value in a spare hour or so.
Still sound like it’d take too long? Don’t worry; the process in this post is one you should eventually be able to refine so that it takes less time as you grow more confident.
The reason people take longer than they should to write a blog post isn’t because they’re slow at typing or just ‘not feeling it’ – it’s that they haven’t prepared well enough. Half…no, actually, two-thirds of the blog post writing battle is coming up with a solid post plan and ideas. Not only will it reduce the time it takes to write a post, but it’ll improve the quality of your writing too; nothing improves writing style more than confidence.
Preparing to write a blog post is incredibly simple and you don’t need to be tied down to your desk when doing it either. Ideally, you should prepare in the hours or days leading up to writing a blog post as this allows you time to develop and rethink your idea, as well as alleviating the dreaded ‘I’ve got nothing to write about’ pressure.
The idea bank
The greatest tool in a writer’s arsenal is a bank of ideas, a place where they can delve in and emerge with an idea for a blog post in five minutes.
Sounds fancy, doesn’t it? It’s not. In its simplest form, an idea bank is a list written down on a scrap of paper. In its ideal form, it’s a collection of potential blog post titles and ideas that are near enough ready-to-type.
The basis for most of the idea banks I draw up for a client is a 15 minute brain storm in which I jot down whatever falls out of my head. I leave that to stew for a bit and then come back and review, adding new ideas where I have them.
I then translate these to Evernote (a tool every writer should have), giving me an electronic bank of ideas that I can add to as I please. There’s a big emphasis on ‘as I please’ there too; the Evernote mobile app allows me to add ideas whenever they come to me.
In truth, you probably won’t use half of the ideas you note down (my Evernote is full of half-baked ideas for stories, blog posts and so on that’ll never see the light of day). But having them there can give you something to write about immediately, saving you a good half-an-hour of fret and worry.
The swipe file
The swipe file is the direct complement to the idea bank and can help inform the structure of your post without having to spend an age poring over form and style.
The swipe file is an idea borrowed from the advertising industry, when copywriters used to keep a literal file of sales copy and letters that produced good results. In our case, we compile a file of blog posts that have performed well (either your own or someone else’s), note what makes them work and employ those tactics in our own work.
If that sounds a bit like stealing, well…it is, a little bit, except we prefer to call it ‘inspiration’. A swipe file is great for times when you don’t have time to dream up some reverse chronological masterwork.
One of the most important things to note with a swipe file is that the form you choose for your post needs to fit the actual content of the post. A Cracked-esque list post probably isn’t going to fit with a nuanced opinion post, whereas a dry 2000-word epic won’t fit ‘the ten greatest uses of plumbing in history ever’.
There are a couple of ways to collate a swipe file: you could put together a list of links in Evernote (the Web Clipper extension is also good for this) or use a social bookmarking tool.
So, we’ve got our idea and the form for a blog post. Now it’s time for the biggest time-consumer of them all – research. Research is terrifying because most of it is conducted on the ultimate time-waster, the internet. Even if you stay strictly on-topic with your research, it’s entirely possible to spend hours reading simply by following link after link.
For the speedy blog post, therefore, it’s best to keep your research to a minimum. That doesn’t mean writing a poorly informed piece though – it means writing about what you already know. Most business owners should have a good idea of what’s going on in their industry, so stick to what you know and, preferably, what you’re passionate about.
Doing this means you can limit your research to the latest developments and opinions on a subject rather than having to take on a whole load of new knowledge. Your research should also involve reading up on what others have said on the topic you’re writing about; while you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you should try and offer something to readers.
For efficiency’s sake, I’d recommend doing all of your research in bulk before sitting down to write. That way, you can focus solely on writing rather than flicking between tabs. If you’re unsure of anything at the end, conduct a quick fact check.
Planning your post
We should now have everything in place for our post, so it’s time to structure our post ready for writing. The best approach to planning your post is to take the approach you would with an essay in school.
Begin with your introduction and a couple of bullet points covering what you’re going to say. Then move onto a paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown of your post. Again, use a couple of really quick bullet points to describe what you’re going to write in this post. Finish it up with a concluding point.
The benefits of this are two-fold; firstly, it helps to structure whatever argument or point you’re trying to make with your post, which in turn should make it more compelling. The second is that the bullet points should be easy to translate into full copy, meaning that your post is practically half-written already!
Ah, writing. The part of the blog post writing process that most people hate, ironically. Luckily, there are several ways you can write quickly and well. Who knows, you might even have fun too!
One of the biggest hurdles non-writers writing a blog post face is self-doubts about their writing ability. In reality, it doesn’t matter whether you can write as well as Orwell or Wilde but how engaging your post is and how well you can convey the point of your post.
If you’ve prepared properly and know your stuff, conveying the point of your post should come naturally. The engagement part is where people tend to fall down, but it’s actually pretty easy to be engaging – just be yourself. Rather than writing like a generic ‘how-to’ droid, write as you would speak. Don’t pore over your use of language or synonyms, convey the point as you if you were giving a speech or were engaged in conversation.
Write, write, write
Another big writing issue is editing as you go, which is guaranteed to slow down your writing pace massively. For a quick blog post, just write until you reach the end. Don’t stop to edit anything – you’ll have time to do that later. Just translate what you already have done into full copy.
Fine tuning your post
Once you’ve written your post, you’ll probably find that a lot of it either doesn’t make sense or isn’t expressed as well as you’d like it to be. This is where proof-reading comes in and I’d recommend two stages. The first is to read over the post yourself, getting rid of unnecessary words and altering instances of bad grammar. Don’t spend ages worrying about phrasing and only change copy if it’s so badly expressed as to be incomprehensible.
The second is to pass your post on to someone else to take a look over. You’ll be amazed at some of the mistakes a second pair of eyes will pick up!
Once you’ve made your edits and finalised, you’re done! In total, the process should take you around an hour but it could be even less depending on how fast you work. Now all that’s left to do is to put the post live and promote it – but that’s another blog post for another time.