The no-fail guide to writing popular blog posts

From vocabulary to tone to headlines, this guide has all the tips you need to write a blog post your readers will love.

Do you wish you knew the secret to writing popular blog posts? You know, posts that get over 200 comments, 20 backlinks, and hundreds of shares on social networking sites?

I’ve started two blogs within the past five years. The first one became a Technorati top 100 site, and I’m currently working on the second, Quick Sprout. I’ve learned a few lessons about writing popular posts, and I want to share those lessons with you.

Use simple words.

The first thing you probably notice when you read popular blog posts is that they’re really easy to understand, no matter what the content. They are easy to read because the writer wrote with simple words.

I always write my posts with a fifth grade vocabulary rather than that of a highly educated person. I’d rather you be able to read and understand what I write than appear like an educated person who just confuses people. The interesting thing is even with a fifth grade vocabulary, you will look like an expert.

Also, people are more likely to share a post they think other people will understand. So use simple words, not fancy ones.

Use the word “you.”

A really great blog post sounds like the author wrote it just for you. Do you know why that is? The writer used the word “you” instead of “we” or “them.”

I write like this because I want to make you feel like it’s just you and me at a café talking over coffee. Yes, my blog has thousands of readers, but my posts seem much more personal when I pretend to write for one person.

A neat trick to help you do this is to think of somebody you know and pretend you’re writing the blog post just for him or her. I know some writers who keep a person’s photo above the computer to remind them they are writing for just one person.

Write how-to posts.

People want useful information.

The content I wrote for the Technorati Top 100 blog wasn’t very good, even though it was highly ranked, and it was because I didn’t offer a solution to people’s problems. I didn’t show anyone how to do anything.

The template for a how-to post is simple. Just sit down and write out all the steps involved in doing something.

Say you want to show your audience how to subscribe to your blog with an RSS reader. The headings within your post might be “Choose a reader,” “Sign up,” “Click on the RSS button” and “Subscribe.” Under each heading, give more information, explain what to look for, list the pros and cons, and point out confusing issues.

Write detailed posts.

When I started Quick Sprout, I was frustrated with how slowly it was growing. I wrote good posts and got some comments, but not enough to make people want to share and link back.

At one point I decided to experiment and write a really long, detailed post. It took me some time to write and I hoped it would be worth the effort.

It was!

People commented on and shared that post a lot. From that point on I decided I would only write long posts with a lot of good, specific information.

People love long, detailed posts because so many other blogs only offer information that is short and light on details. To add detail to your posts, use statistics and graphs. A post with images, stats and graphs will get more links than the same post without the visual appeal.

Hook your readers.

The first way to hook readers is to write a great headline. Great headlines are:

  • Unique: You can only use unique headlines once. You must carefully tailor the headline of each post because each post is unique.
  • Useful: A headline is useful when it promises practical information. The reason how-to guides are popular is because they give answers to problems.
  • Ultra-specific: Add numbers or statistics to a headline to make it specific. My article, “6 advanced ways to improve your search rankings,” is a good example because I used both a number and the word “advanced.”
  • Urgent: The best way to create urgency is to work a deadline into your headline. “6 days until the stock market crashes” or “Your last chance to get a free copy of my book” are good examples.

The best headlines have at least three of these features.

After the headline, hook readers with a great first sentence. Ask a question, share a quote or statistic, or make a crazy statement that doesn’t seem true, but is. The point is to write a first sentence people can’t resist.

To prevent readers from skimming your post, write strong sub-headlines. Sub-headlines are especially important if your post is long. Readers should be able to scan them to get a summary of what the post is about. I write my sub-headlines as normal headlines and use the four points I highlighted earlier. That way, readers will see them and say, “I have to read this!”

Create a conversation.

One of the most important parts of writing popular blog posts to write them like they are conversations. People forget that blogging is social media, and being social means you know how to carry a good conversation.

To have a conversation means to listen to the other person and ask questions. It shows the person you care about what she thinks, and you don’t think it’s all about you. (It’s not.)The same conversation rules apply for a blog.

To create a conversation, exchange words at the end of the post. People usually do this in the comments, though some prefer email.

If there isn’t a dialog, you’re talking to yourself. At the end of your posts, always ask people what they think, and tell them to leave their thoughts in the comments.

Prove your points.

In your posts, it’s really important to prove any claims you make. For example, in the section where I said graphs and statistics get more backlinks, I linked to another post that supported what I said.

If you don’t do this, you will lose credibility and people won’t believe what you say.

When you support your points with links to other posts, you also share another good source of information with your audience. Chances are that author will link back to your blog at some point, too.

Show you are an authority.

A lot of bloggers are uncomfortable with this point because they feel like they’re tooting their own horn.

To show you’re an authority on a subject means you have to get other people to say you’re an authority, and then point out that they said so. You aren’t bragging; you’re pointing out the truth. How you say it matters, of course, so stay humble.

One way I showed you I have the authority to speak about writing popular blog posts is that I mentioned my blog was a Technorati Top 100 blog. It shows that someone else with credibility recognized me as an expert.

I also could have told you how many readers Quick Sprout has. There must be a reason so many people like the blog, right?

People won’t think you’re bragging if you don’t force your accomplishments on them. Look for ways that feel natural.

You might have seen blogs with “As seen in” sections that display the logos of important companies and media sources. This is another way to show you have authority, as well as testimonials from readers and clients.

Care about your readers.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from starting two blogs and several companies is you have to care about people, and show them that you do.

I love reading blogs where I can feel the writer’s concern for me. I try to do that on Quick Sprout. One obvious way to do this is to bring attention to the people who helped you succeed.

If truly care about people—including your readers—you will try to learn new ways to improve your posts so you can help more people. That is certainly a good recipe for success!

There is a lot of competition in the blogosphere, and it’s easy to get frustrated when your blog can’t get the attention it deserves. Be patient and use these tips. I’m certain you will start to write popular blog posts on a regular basis.

What advice do you have for people who want to write popular posts?

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout. A version of this article originally appeared on Problogger.

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