I write quite a few blog posts and other articles for the web, and thought that the process I go through might be useful to others in the form of a blog post checklist.
[twocol_one]If what follows seems like a lot of effort – it is!
You can write a blog post in a few minutes, but if you really want it to attract search traffic and engage with your visitors, you need to give it a lot of thought, and be really thorough. Expect each blog post to take you at least a couple of hours, and usually more.[/twocol_one][twocol_one_last]
From the top, here’s my blog post checklist – how I recommend you create your blog posts. Some of the points will need exploring further, but I hope that there is enough to whet your appetite for now. I’ll expand them into individual posts in future :
1. Identify your key post topic
STOP – Don’t just start writing your post!
Think about it’s conclusion first – what do you want your readers to take away?
You won’t want to write about too many different topics in your post. Generally, people will read your post because they want to learn about one thing only, or have a question answered, or even buy something. So don’t confuse them – give them exactly what they came for. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.
Find out more about how to choose great blog post topics.
2. Identify your focus keyword
If you’re hoping that your blog post gets ranked well by search engines, you’ll want to think about using one main, and several minor, keywords or phrases in your post. Although search engines are moving towards a more ‘semantic’ search approach, it is still important to include your keywords within your blog post. So make sure your post is dotted with your keywords. Don’t overdo it – you’ll have problems if search engines think you are stuffing too many keywords into your post.
What is Semantic Search?
Semantic Search is a move by search engines to try to match searcher intent with the contextual meaning of terms on your page.
3. Create a catchy and engaging post title
Whether it’s in a newsletter, on your website home page, or in a search results page, your post title is the first thing that most people will see when deciding whether or not click through to read the whole article. So make sure it is compelling enough to make yours the post that is clicked ahead of the other results on the page.
There are tons of articles dedicated to creating the perfect post title, but essentially :
- Make sure it isn’t too short and not too long (50 – 65 characters would be best)
- Include your primary keyword towards the start of the post title
- Try to speak directly to your target audience, in language they might use
4. Wireframe your post
You might be able to skip this step when you become a prolific writer. Broadly speaking, make sure your post has a beginning, a middle, and an end :
- Outline the problem you’re solving for your visitor
- Get your heading and sub-heading structure right : h1, h2 etc
- Detail with examples
- Describe your solution(s)
- Summarise and help the visitor with their next action
5. Would a visitor know what was expected of them?
This boils down to a call to action. Why have you invited the visitor to read this post? Make sure your post includes things for your reader to do next. This might be as simple as a ‘For more information’ form, but could also include :
- Links to related posts
- An invitation to leave a comment
- A ‘buy’ button
6. Write your post!
Convert your outline or wireframe into a full blog post. If you’ve followed the above steps, this bit should just flow easily. A few pointers though :
- Write enough – don’t imagine that a couple of sentences is going to deliver search engine visitors in their droves – it won’t!
- Aim for at least 1,000 words, but make it less (or more, or a lot more!) if you think the article needs it, or if you think the audience for the article might have a higher (or lower) attention span
- Try to use your own words – don’t copy swathes of content from other sites, as search engines won’t treat you kindly
- If you need to include content from other websites (as we have with the graphic showing the word count vs. average social shares), make sure you credit the source and give them a link. Yes – it might help their SEO, but they have earned it by doing their own legwork…
- Write the article in language that your target audience will understand. It’s no use going ultra-technical if your article is a beginner’s guide to WordPress.
7. Check your spelling… and your grandma
Sounds obvious, but how many blog posts do you read that contain simple vocabulary issues? Read your article through several times, make sure it is spell-checked, and if possible get someone else to read it before posting.
Poor spelling and grammar put me off interacting with a website. It puts others off too – so get this easiest of things right!
If you have a lot of pages and posts on your website, it’s likely that you’ll be able to link to them from your new article. As well as helping your visitors find other content that you’ve written (and so keep them on your site instead of letting them go elsewhere), it’s a great way to help search engines find other content on your site and to understand your site structure and what pages relate to one another.
BUT – Don’t flood your article with links, as this will make it harder for your reader to focus on the article in hand.
9. Use images, tables, video and graphics to break up your text
A no-brainer! The most successful blog posts comprise of a good balance of text and graphics. Balanced posts make it easier for readers to digest content. They also offer something for the ‘text hungry’ as well as those who prefer to skim images.
If you view your article and all you see is text, text, text… get creative and find some (relevant) visual content to break it up.
If you don’t have your own store of branded graphics, try using a free stock image and adding relevant text on top to grab your reader’s attention. The image only needs to be loosely related to your content, and you might also be able to use it in your social media posts as an attention grabber to draw people into your website.
Sidebar and footer areas are great places to add related / supporting content. If you can put page-specific content in these areas, think about making it relevant to the main article content.
Can you plug a product or service there?
How about a relevant customer testimonial or two?
If it’s not easy to adjust the sidebar and footer content for each page, why not add a contact form and / or newsletter sign-up form?
11. Optimise your images for SEO and Page Speed
Alternate Text (Alt-Text) and Title Attributes
Make sure images have alt-text and title attributes – be imaginative and remember they are used for different things, so make sure they are not identical…
Your ‘Alt Text’ attribute should be a short explanation of the actual image. It’s displayed for visitors who have their images switched off in their browser, and also used by screen reader software to describe the image to visually-impaired readers.
Your ‘Title’ attribute should provide more contextual, informative detail about your image. This text is often displayed as a tool tip when a visitor hovers their mouse over the image.
Both are used by search engines to help them understand your images, and the context in which they are used on the page. So do add this text if possible.
Image sizing for the web
Page load speed is really important! Images often have a bigger impact on page load speeds than any other elements on your page. Two image-related issues could really slow your page load speed :
- Image Dimensions – Size your images to the right dimensions before uploading them to your site. If your image is going to be displayed on your page 300px wide, don’t upload a 1000px wide image expecting your site to resize it for display. If you upload an image that is too large, your site may well use valuable memory resizing it on-the-fly. This isn’t good.
- Physical image size (in Megabytes) – If your images contain too much detail, their file size will be large. This means that it will take longer for browsers to download them. Run them through an optimiser before or during uploading to your site. Choose an image optimiser that reduces overall file size without significantly impacting quality.
Here is an example of a typical SERPS (Search Engine Results Page) entry for the search term ‘Merino wool sweater’. Why did Google decide to display this site in the search results for this term? Why might you click it?…
It’s a well known fact that Search engines use a large range of factors to influence which pages come up in the results pages for particular terms. Using the above example, it’s fair to assume that the appearance of the search term words in the SEO title and Meta description were one of those factors. It’s also likely that the position of websites within the search results pages is influenced, at least to a small degree, by how often that result gets clicked, compared to those around it…
The chances are you would most likely click on a search result that achieved a combination of the following :
a) mentioned the keywords you were searching for;
b) was written in a user-friendly way, as proper sentences, not full of jargon, and not ‘stuffed’ with keywords;
c) sounded like it was written by a real person who was actually interested in helping you out;
c) actually asked you to do something – gave you a call-to-action;
So, as a website owner, how can you influence what search engines display in their results pages?
Often you can’t – search engines will choose a snippet of text (or multiple snippets of text) that they think best relate to the phrase the user is searching with.
However, by adding a meta title and a meta description in your page html code, you can ‘suggest’ your choice to search engines. Often, it’s this that they will use. Here’s an example of a meta title and meta description used on a page on this site…
<title>WordPress Updates Package – WordPress & Plugins Updated</title>
<meta name=”description” content=”A WordPress Updates Package that keeps your site up-to-date, keeping it safer from hackers while you focus on running your business. Find out more.“/>
13. Write a snappy and compelling excerpt (if your theme uses them)
You’ll often see a list of blog posts on website home pages, or on blog or category archive pages. This is typically a list of 10-12 most recent blog posts, with a post title, introductory paragraph, and ‘Read More’ link for each. This introductory paragraph is what’s commonly called the ‘excerpt’.
Left to it’s own devices, a content management platform such as WordPress will default to displaying the first 55 words (or whatever your WordPress installation defaults to) of the post. This is usually not a great idea, as the first 55 words of your blog post are not likely to be the most compelling reason for people to click through to read your full article.
WordPress themes often give you a better way of managing your excerpts. Look for the ‘Excerpt’ field when writing your blog post. If it exists, try writing a succinct and compelling introduction to your article. Your reader would probably have been initially drawn to the article by the post title. Indeed, this might be the only reason a lot of people might need to read the full article, but just in case they need more persuasion, a great excerpt will push them to click your ‘read more’ link.
When writing your excerpt, try to keep it to a roughly consistent length as other excerpts on your site; Tell them what you’re going to tell them if they click! Use a few keywords by all means, but above all make sure it really hits home with your reader – this is your 5 second opportunity to draw them in.
14. Check and improve readability
This isn’t the same as spelling and grammar.
Your aim here is to make sure your style of writing matches the level of the reader you’re hoping to attract.
You could always ask a few typical readers to take a look and let you know how easy or difficult they found it. However, a more objective result can be had by running your content through a webpage readability tool such as readable.io (see screenshot).
If your WordPress site uses the Yoast SEO plugin, you already have an inbuilt readability / Flesch score tool that will help you to adjust your text to reach the level you’re after.
15. Check your Yoast SEO score and improve where sensible…. but don’t obsess
Whilst we’re on the subject of the Yoast SEO plugin – this plugin is great for making sure you’re doing all the ‘low hanging fruit’ SEO things in your post. Yoast offers a simple red / orange / green traffic light system for a bunch of key SEO triggers.
It alerts you if you’re not using your target keyword in your post title, meta description, and enough times (but not too much) in your post content; it also points out if you’re not using heading tags, and lots of other things.
However good this plugin is, though, don’t over obsess in getting all your lights to go green!
The indicators are used to advise on general good practice. Google doesn’t look at the Yoast score for your article – it looks at your article to determine it’s relevance for search results. In a nutshell, this means that you could have a whole bunch of green Yoast lights, but no search traffic because nobody is searching for your keyword, or your keyword is just so competitive that you’ll never rank high enough.
16. Check your post slug. Does it adequately, and succinctly, describe the post?
The slug is the bit that comes after your domain to more specifically identify your post.
As well as an opportunity to include your keyword(s), the slug is seen by search users in the SERPs when your site is displayed there. It can help your SEO by adding more reassurance to searchers that your article is what they are looking for.
So, think about your slug! Make it readable; Pop a keyword or two in; But don’t make it too long and risk Google truncating it.
17. Choose your post categories wisely
Don’t get confused between categories and tags. I’ll cover tags next!
Post categories are a good way to organise your blog content. They can be hierarchical too – so, you could have a high-level category, and then multiple subordinate categories within.
You can display an archive ‘list’ of all posts within a particular category, and you can link to your category archive page from individual blog posts. So, if a visitor likes reading a post on your website, a good category structure will allow them to quickly find all of the other posts within that category.
Think of categories as the main topics or subjects of your blog. Make sure your categories mean something to your target audience and are not just buzzwords that you use. Understand that they can be used as, and seen as, keywords, and so can be useful for your SEO.
Post tags are used to link blog posts together that share (mention) common words, and describe your post in a little more detail than categories alone can do. Tags cannot be hierarchical, but, just like categories you can have archive pages for tags.
I try to think of tags in the same way that an index is used within a book. You can easily use it to find out which posts mention specific words.
In WordPress sites, tags are optional, whereas posts must have at least one category.
19. Preview your blog post on desktop, tablet and mobile. Look OK?
The inexorable rise in the number of people using their smartphones and tablet devices to browse the web makes it essential for your content to work well on all devices. You’re probably already using a responsive theme, if you’re a WordPress or other content management system user, so why worry about your content on smaller devices?
Even responsive themes can cause your blog post to look weird, for instance, you might find that in portrait view on your smartphone one of your images takes up most, but not all of the width of your screen, leaving only a small margin for text. So it might mean you need to move a bit of content around, or align some images differently.
Some themes give you quite a bit of control over the layout of your blog posts on mobile devices. So it’s worth checking out your theme options.
20. Ask someone (preferably someone who is just like your ideal visitor) to review it for you
We all love what we write – right?
What does it cost to get a friend to give your post the quick once over before you press ‘Publish’?
Getting a second opinion gives you the opportunity to make your post even better, by incorporating the hopefully objective views of somebody else. Get them to tell you if the post is too long, too short, not focused enough, and whether they found it relevant – and interesting. Did they learn anything from it?
Try to reciprocate. Offer to review one of their posts, and not only will you help them out, but you might pick up some useful tips to improve your own blog writing technique.
21. Publish post. Or schedule for your target audience’ best day and time
At some point you just need to bite the bullet and push your masterpiece out to the World.
This is that point!
If you are using some sort of social media auto-publishing mechanism – the sort that works by pushing your post out to your social networks as soon as you publish it – you might want to think about scheduling your post to publish on the day and time when your social media audience is typically in the mood to read!
22. How does it look on your home page and archive page?
When writing your post, you won’t be able to see how it will look on your home page (if you display blog posts there) or on your archive pages.
What are my blog archive pages, you ask?
An archive page is any page on your site that shows a list of your blog posts. For example, your main ‘Blog’ or ‘News’ page would most likely be an archive page, as would any page that lists your posts by category, or by tag. Archive pages generally list around 10 of your latest posts along with any combination of the following : the post title; a short excerpt; a thumbnail image; a call to action (typically, ‘Read more’).
Once your post is published, take a quick look at these pages to see how your post looks with all the others on the page. Is the excerpt much longer (or shorter) than the other posts? Has the thumbnail image been cropped or sized as you would like? Are the excerpt and call to action compelling enough to get visitors to click through to read the whole post?
If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘No’, then go back and edit the post.
You’re probably already posting regular updates to your social media accounts, and so you know the value of social media to your business. So make sure that you maximise the value of your new blog content by sharing it with those accounts too.
Don’t believe people when they tell you that email is dead!
If you don’t already use newsletters to connect with your subscribers, try it. It’s likely to be a far more successful and cost effective way to bring relevant and interested readers to your website than most other marketing methods.
If you do have a regular newsletter, make sure that you feature your new blog post in your next one. When you send your newsletter, invite your readers to leave a comment on the post. Your newsletter subscribers are more likely to be happy to comment on your post than random visitors.
We’re almost there!
Now that your post is live on your site, have a think about other pages and posts on your site where a link could be added to your new post.
Links into your post will help visitors to find your post when they otherwise might have missed it. It will also improve the internal linking structure of your website, which will help search engines to understand how different pieces of content on your site relate to one another.
The links you should be creating are from within the text of related pages and posts. So if you’re looking at a page on your site and you think that somebody reading it might benefit from also being pointed to your new post, add a link to help them find it.
So there you have it. 25 nuggets of blogging gold to help you get more success from your blogging efforts.
If you’ve ploughed your way through this and still want to be a blogging superstar – you’re now armed with the basics to go and achieve.
This isn’t a definitive list.
Maybe you don’t do the half of it, but still get good feedback from your audience.
Maybe you do even more – let me know by leaving a comment.
p.s. here’s that link to the Evernote blog post checklist again.