How to Blog: A guide for non-bloggers
If you don’t do a lot of writing on a day-to-day basis, blogging can be a scary prospect. It doesn’t have to be. This guide will get you started the right way.
Thinking strategically about blogging
Putting content out into the world takes time and effort. It is worth it, provided you have a clear goal. A harsh reality for most startups is people are unlikely to subscribe to your blog and traffic may be sparse. However, creating original content is still valuable for a wide array of reasons.
A blog is a great place to state your company’s ethos and mission statement. It tells people who you are, what you do, and what you believe. It’s useful to have somewhere to point journalists for background information, and the content is a resource for potential investors to get a deeper background into your company. At a base level, it can provide reference materials for your customer support team.
From a customer acquisition perspective, content is great Google-fodder. If you write about topics that are relevant to your company, people who are searching for information relevant to your company may find it.
Take our portfolio company Emme, for example; their product is aimed at women trying to adhere to taking their contraceptive pills — they wrote a post titled “Missed a pill? We’ve got you covered.” A perfect example of leveraging content marketing: It covers a commonly frequently asked question for the company’s current and future customers alike.
What to blog about?
An easy place to start would be to write pieces that cover frequently asked questions. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you want unique content.
If your company is tackling a new market or proposing widespread disruption of an existing space, you probably have opinions about why the current solutions don’t solve the problem. If so; write about that. You don’t have to pick a fight with an incumbent, just write about the world as you would like it to be.
Who are you writing for?
Keep your audience in mind. You aren’t writing for yourself, but for someone seeking to educate themselves on the subject matter. Because they have an interest in the topic, but not the in-depth expertise you’re imparting, avoid (or explain) jargon and add background context. Don’t assume knowledge when writing for newbies — but also don’t over-explain if the target audience is experts in the field. Think about what you want your audience to take away, and write accordingly.
What is the point you are making?
It’s important to have a clear vision of your message. What is the top line information you’re seeking to convey with this blog? Then think of what you would search for on Google if you were trying to research this particular subject.
If you’re making more points or answering more than one question, then perhaps you’re looking at several blog posts. Oftentimes, someone will search “How do I write a blog post”. If your guide to writing a blog post is buried inside a huge, in-depth article about building a media strategy, Google won’t serve up the article to your potential readers.
Let’s start writing!
Once you have a good picture of the who, what and why, let’s put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, if you’re one of those new-fangled technology types)
The best headlines are written after you’ve finished writing your article
Build a skeleton
Don’t worry about a headline yet; just write up 3–4 sub-headlines. Each of these is a segmented part of the overall point you are trying to make. For each sub-headline, add a few bullet points to remind you of what you need to cover in that part of the article. This blog post, for example, started with all of the main steps outlined, before I dived in to flesh it all out. The bullet points gradually disappeared and were replaced with fleshed-out sentences.
Write a headline + introduction
Fun fact: The best headlines are written after you’ve finished writing. your article. Only then do you have the full picture of what you wanted to write. I’ve frequently commenced a blog post, only to discover that I really wanted to tell a different story — letting the story live and giving it space to breathe is a great way of making that happen. It’s easier to change the 5–6 words of the headline than it is to force a story that just isn’t happening.
If you’re struggling to write an engaging headline that clearly conveys what follows, seek help from your team. Often, even the best writers often don’t construct their own headlines. That’s what sub-editors (or a good friends) are for!
Your headline must encapsulate your topic, but also stand out from the crowd. Everyone hates ‘click bait’, but there’s nothing wrong with accentuating your point in order to glean visibility. For example compare these two titles: “Guarding trade secrets is important.” It’s literal and straight-forward, but it doesn’t really jump off the page. For that post, we instead ended up going with “Trade secrets are a valuable asset — guard them or die.” Much better. You can read the article here, if you’re curious.
The introduction is important too; this is where people choose whether to invest more time. The adage of “Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, tell em, then tell ’em what you told ‘em” makes a lot of sense; Your introduction is your pre-amble; the short version of what the reader is about to learn.
The corollary is obvious; your conclusion or summary should recap what the reader just read. Reiterate your key point(s) and give the reader something to ponder with your takeaway line.
We’ll get into search engine optimization — an attempt to massage language to rise up the Google rankings — later, but it’s wise to include some key search terms within your headline and introduction. Google Trends is a good tool for identifying them, but a fun exercise is to begin a Google Search pertaining to your topic and look at the drop-down suggestions to see what people are actually searching for.
The structural edit
The next step is called the ‘structural edit’ — Check that the order of your points still holds up to scrutiny; do you refer back to anything earlier or later in the piece — and do those references make sense? Do the points you are making logically flow from one to the next?
This is also a good time to get feedback from other people; from an advisor or someone else at your company. Does the big picture you’re outlining make sense? Are you missing something pertinent?
On the flip side, are you saying too much? Often it’s wiser to split very long blog posts into separate posts. If you are writing about IPOs, for example, it could make sense to tackle ‘when to IPO’, ‘how to IPO’, and ‘why IPO versus an acquisition’ in individual posts. It helps organize the content better, but there’s a conceptual argument too: the reader cares about each topic at different times, and will probably be frustrated by a lot of information that is irrelevant to them in an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink post.
Tech editing & fact checking
Once you’ve nailed down the content, it’s time to go a level deeper. Now, you’re going to be on the look-out for factual errors in your posts. If you include links, make sure all the links work properly. If you claim a company was founded at a particular time, make sure that you get your facts straight. Don’t trust secondary sources, a quick phone call or email to the primary source to fact check can be worth it. It’s also good practice here to check every declarative statement you make, and link to sources for further reading.
If you are writing about a technically complicated subject, you may want to bring in an external technical editor, or fact checker. For opinion pieces, you may get away with just reading your own piece one extra time with fact checking in mind.
You’ve seen Twitter fights, right? Poor grammar and spelling can undermine even the most convincing, irrefutable argument. Even experienced writers can struggle to spot errors in their own work, so a line edit is important.
If you don’t have a helpful grammar snob in your network, get one. Otherwise, there are a few helpful line editing tools available to all — I’m a big fan of Grammarly for grammar and spell checks, and Hemingway for language simplification.
If you are line-editing for yourself or someone else, it’s a great idea to read every sentence out loud. Yes, out loud, properly, not just mumbling to yourself. If it doesn’t sound right when you read it out loud, it can probably be improved. “How would I say this to a friend?” is a great guideline for informal writing. “How would I say this to my boss? / how would I say this to a judge in court?” is helpful for more formal language.
Publishing the post
Finding a home for it
You can host the blog post in a dedicated section of your website, but we’ve found it’s better to go where the audience is. At Bolt we use the blogging platform Medium, as do many of the startups in our network, and the wider tech community.
Medium makes it easy for the audience to a ‘Follow’ button to keep track of your future posts and the ‘Blog’ section of your website can be linked directly to a dedicated page on Medium.
Medium blog posts are simply presented, with lots of white space and clear text in a large font. There’s little to divert the reader’s attention from the text and imagery you have so purposefully selected — but on the flipside, you only have limited influence over how your post looks. If you don’t like the limited image alignment options that are available, for example, tough luck.
If Medium isn’t to your liking, the field gets pretty huge pretty quickly. Tumblr and Wordpress are other options, and most web CMS systems (such as Wix and Squarespace) have a blog feature built in. The full breakdown of pros & cons are outside the scope of this post, just know that it’s an important choice, so do your research and choose wisely.
Okay, now we have a ‘finished’ blog post. The final piece of the puzzle is the ‘page furniture’ — the parts of your blog post that aren’t your blog post:
- The headline: Does it make sense? Would a reader click on it if they found your post in Google?
- The main photograph: This usually shows up when you share your post on Twitter and Facebook etc — it’s important, so make it good and eye-catching. Often, the publishing platform has a dedicated field for this.
- Your graphs, photos and figures — if relevant: Don’t forget to make sure that images have an alt tag so screen readers (and Google) knows what the graphs and photos are. You should also include captions to every image to help readers get a better context.
- Categories and tags: Most blogging platforms have categories and tags to help the taxonomy of your blog, and to increase discoverability.
- The URL — also sometimes known as the article’s slug — If someone shares your post via email, you usually only see the URL. Make it good. For example, myblog.com/how-to-blog is better than myblog.com/123u75757. A solid URL will also assist with rusing up the Google rankings.
It’s always a good idea to read the help guide to your blogging platform: Leverage any page furniture tools you have available to you.
A word about SEO
You often hear people talk about search engine optimization in the context of content marketing/blogging. Of course, there are some basics you need to get right, as we touched on above. It’s also helpful to use the right terms for something and do a little bit of research into the words people use in your industry. Ultimately, though, search engines are getting better and better, and a lot of the ‘tricks’ people use to get better search engine rankings have stopped working. Write for your human audience, and the search engines will catch up.
Once you’ve published the post, it’s out there. Congratulations! Google will index it, and people will be able to find it.
It’s also a good idea to do a bit of work to promote your post. Share it on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, for starters. Email it to a few people that you think might be interested. If you want, you can even put some advertising spend behind the promotion — boost your post on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
If you interviewed someone for your post, or if someone helped write it / gave feedback, make sure to thank them and loop them in when the post is published — people are pretty likely to share posts that mention them, so you may as well leverage that, too.