What a relief it was to hit send on your final college essay (or, if you’re old enough, scrunch your final handwritten word at the bottom of the last page of your last little blue book). In that moment, you knew you would never again be judged for the quality of your writing. You had a lifetime ahead of you free from care of grammar and sentence structure. The agonizing hours you spent forcing your jumbled thoughts into well-ordered strings of words were over.
How wrong you were.
After years of writing nothing more complex than a text message, you’ve suddenly found yourself in the role of soon-to-be-published author. How did this happen? Inbound marketing. More specifically, your company’s marketing team and their annoying obsession with getting everyone to contribute to the blog.
So You Have a Blog Post Due...
You’re facing the first blog assignment of your life and whatever writing skills you had, you left far behind you in college with your Frisbees and Dave Matthews posters. How do you cram for this test?
First, be reassured. However bad your first article is — and it will be bad — as long as you stick with it, keep writing and keep learning, you’ll improve. No one ever became a star blogger on their first post.
Check the archives of any leading blogger on any topic, or any company leading its industry with inbound marketing, and you’ll find closets-full of the skeletons of hacky, awkward, error-riddled blog posts. But you’ll also notice how the stupid mistakes, clumsiness, and amateurism fade over time. With practice and, especially, a commitment to learning as you go along, the same will happen for you.
Your First Blog Post: The Absolute Essentials
Because you know you will get better at this no matter what you do, you don’t have to worry too much about writing the perfect blog post your first time. But you do want to write something passable. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Write At Least Two Drafts
Almost any good writer will tell you their first drafts suck. And those that don’t are lying. If you agonize over every word in your first pass through an assignment, blogging is going to be very painful for you.
First, get some words on the page, in whatever order they tumble out of your brain. Then take a little break, or take a long one. Grab a cup of coffee or sleep on it. Then go back and rearrange or change all those words so that they mean something.
2. Think About Your Reader—And Only About Your Reader
As you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, put these people out of your mind: your boss, your boss’s boss, your clients, your mom, your college English professor, your fifth grade teacher, me, you.
If there is a single absolute rule to writing an inbound marketing blog post, it’s this: The only person who matters is the person who is reading your post. What makes a blog post good? It’s good if your readers respond to it. If they don’t, it’s bad. It’s about as simple as that.
Everything you write and the way you write it should be in service to your readers and no one else. Before going from your first to your second draft, ask yourself:
- Will this post help my readers in some way? Will it solve a problem for them or answer a question? Will it makes their lives easier?
- Have I structured my post and chosen language that makes it easy for my readers to learn what they want to learn from my post?
- Have I met my readers at their level or am I forcing them to come up to mine?
- Have I been respectful of my readers’ time and the fact that they’ve chosen to use it to read something I’ve written?
3. If You Can Only Improve One Thing About Your Blog Post, Improve the Beginning
As you can guess from the above point, to be a successful blogger, you have to have a pretty good understanding of your readers: what they know, what they don’t know, what they want to know and want to achieve.
You know your business better than me (I hope), so I can’t tell you everything you need to know about your readers to be a successful blogger. What I can tell you, though, is that if they’re human and they spend any amount of time online, they’re overstimulated, easily distracted, and fickle as hell. After all, aren’t you that way? I am.
Online readers make split-second decisions on whether to continue reading a blog post or not. The opening is your only chance to convince your readers what you have written will be worth reading. Fail to do that, and they’re gone.
There are a million different ways to open a blog post effectively. I tell my writing team at Innovative Marketing Resources to think of their titles, their first few sentences, and their first few paragraphs as emails promoting the value of the rest of their posts. The opening of your article is the time to demonstrate to your readers you understand a specific problem they are having or a specific question they are asking and that, in the course of your post, you will solve their problem or answer their question.
Don’t just tell your readers you understand where they’re at. Show them. This can take the form of telling a story. For an example, reread the first few paragraphs of this article, or read how my colleague, Larry, opened a recent article about blogging:
It's a gloomy Saturday here in Boston; 43 and raining, which makes it the perfect day for laundry, heading over to Porter Square for a bowl of ramen, or writing a blog post.
If you’re like me, I already know what you’re thinking: that spicy delicious ramen is a no-brainer, but writing? That sounds like work. And on a Saturday? Forget it!
4. Read It Over Before Publishing—And Have Someone Else Read It Over!
Your teachers were wrong. Just because you don’t know a predicate from a pronoun doesn’t mean you don’t know grammar. We all know enough grammar to get by. It’s how we communicate with each other as speakers of the same language. You don’t have to be able to diagram sentences to be a great writer. What you need to do, instead, is develop your ability to hear the difference between good writing and bad.
After your second draft and before you publish your first blog post ever, read it aloud to yourself. Anywhere you catch yourself stumbling over your words or rereading awkward sentences are places that could use improvement. Do your best to improve them so that they read more smoothly.
Then — and this is important — have someone else read it. You’re simply too close to your own creation to hear everywhere it goes bad. If your company was smart, it set up an editorial process that ensures a second read before your post is published. If not, run your post by a trusted colleague, or a friend or family member. Ask them:
- Do you understand the point I’m trying to make? What is it?
- What parts of my article were painful to read? What parts were a pleasure?
- Did my article raise any questions without answering them?
And, of course, have them keep their eyes open for misspellings, typos, and plain old dumb mistakes. We all make them.
Going to the Next Level of Blogging
I gave you four things to do to write a passable first blog post:
- Write two drafts
- Think about your reader
- Focus on the beginning
- Read it over before publishing
Once you master those, what next? I contribute regularly to this blog with tips for inbound marketing writers, beginners, as well as experienced writers. Subscribe by filling out the form on this page.
If you’re looking for more guidance right now, here are a few articles I’ve written recently to help beginning bloggers find their voices:
- New to Inbound Marketing? Your Top 5 Writing Questions Answered in 500 Words
- 1 (Longish) Step to Becoming a Better Blog Writer
- 4 Stupid Content Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)