Photo by Burst

How to Write Compelling Articles That Get Read and Shared

5 steps I’ve followed to craft trending Medium articles

Recently, I was talking to a friend who was feeling disappointed with her blog posts. She’d publish a post, and all she’d hear were crickets. Even after promoting her posts, hardly anyone was commenting or sharing her articles.

Most of us writers know what that feels like.

When I began my blog a few years ago, I set out to write blog posts that would inspire and help fellow writers. But after spending days crafting a post, I would only receive a handful of comments.

Many of those comments were positive, though, and they encouraged me to keep going. Still, I felt a little discouraged. I wanted my posts to reach more readers.

After a while, it occurred to me that maybe the problem wasn’t with my content but with the way I was presenting it. So I decided to study the rules of copywriting and read every article I could get my hands on about how to write powerful blog posts.

As I started implementing what I was learning, my posts began receiving more and more comments and shares (one even went viral on StumbleUpon). I republished my posts on Medium, and many have become trending articles in numerous publications. And my email list grew from 200 to over 2,000 subscribers in just a year.

In this post, I’m boiling down into five steps everything I’ve learned about writing articles for the web.

Please note: This isn’t a guide to writing viral posts. Rather, this is a guide to writing compelling articles that will resonate with your readers and add value to their lives.

1. Craft a Strong Headline

Imagine you’re browsing through the newly released books at a bookstore. You don’t have enough time to stop to look at every single book. Most likely, you’ll only pick up a book if it has an intriguing title and cover design.

The same is true of blog posts. People’s social media feeds are flooded with a constant stream of articles and online content. In order to make yours stand out, you have to have an attention-grabbing headline: something that offers value to the reader in exchange for their time.

David Ogilvy, known as The Father of Advertising, is said to have stated,

“The headlines that work best are those that promise the reader a benefit.”

A benefit could be anything from entertaining someone to teaching someone to inspiring someone to helping someone solve a problem.

Take for example my top three posts from 2016:

Each of these headlines states a clear benefit to the reader.

As you write your blog post headlines, keep the 4 U’s of headline writing in mind:

  1. Unique
  2. Ultra-specific
  3. Urgent
  4. Useful

Usually, you won’t be able to cover all four of those U’s, but if you include at least one or two you should be able to come up with a strong headline. List posts perform well because they are ultra-specific, and how-to posts do well because they are useful.

You can run your titles through the Coschedule Headline Analyzer to see if there are ways to tweak them to make them more powerful.

Bonus Tip: Once you’ve come up with your headline, you should also choose a lead photo for your post that illustrates your headline in some way. This is the photo that will appear when your post is shared on social media (or in your readers’ Medium feeds) so make sure it is eye-catching.

Unsplash is a fantastic website where you can find beautiful, royalty free photos to use.

If you’re posting on Medium, I also recommend including a subtitle.

2. Open with an Irresistible Introduction

You’ve caught your reader’s attention with your headline, but does your post deliver what it promised?

The first paragraph of your blog post should draw your readers in and make them want to read more. This is where you lay out what they can expect in the rest of the blog post.

There are three elements of a powerful introduction:

  1. The Hook
  2. The Transition Section
  3. The Thesis Statement

This is the same formula I used when writing introductions to college essays, and it is very effective for blog posts too.

In the hook, you grab your reader’s attention with a memorable story or fact or question. Usually, in the hook, I set up a problem that is facing the reader. Often I like to address the reader directly with a question. For example, “Does it ever feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything that you want to accomplish?”

Next, I’ll transition into a story about a famous person or even a story about myself. In this transition section, I’ll dig a little deeper into the detrimental effects of the problem. Then, I’ll explain that I have found a way to solve the problem.

Finally, I present the thesis statement: a one-sentence summary of the post and how I will be helping the reader solve their problem. For example, “In today’s post, I’m looking at five different ways we can carve out time for writing even when it seems like there are no more hours left in our schedules.”

My examples are from a how-to post, but you can adapt this formula to any type of post that you are writing.

3. Follow the Story Structure of the Hero’s Journey

Stories add another dimension to our writing. This fascinating Infographic shows how the human brain is hardwired to respond to storytelling differently than other forms of writing.

You can use stories to illustrate your main points, and you can also use the elements of storytelling to structure your entire post.

When I write my posts, I follow the outline of the hero’s journey, a term coined by American scholar Joseph Campbell to describe one of the most common storylines in literature. Think of the plot of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, or The Odyssey.

Here’s the basic outline:

  • A hero is called to go on an adventure to solve some kind of problem. (Every good story has some kind of conflict driving the plot forward.)
  • She may be reluctant to accept the call but eventually realizes that if she doesn’t solve the problem, her life will spiral out of control.
  • A mentor helps her prepare for the adventure.
  • After facing a series of challenges, the story reaches its climax. Will the hero overcome the problem or not?
  • The hero emerges victorious and returns home transformed.

How can you use this storyline to write your blog post?

Use the body of your post to take your readers on a journey. Your hero is your blog reader. You are the mentor. Share the steps you took to overcome a problem that the reader is facing. Then show the reader how they will be transformed once they implement those steps.

My post below shares eight more tips for writing powerful stories that will connect with your readers:

4. Make Your Post Easy to Read

Even if you write a wonderfully compelling or incredibly helpful post, people might still not stay around to read. Most people glance over a post quickly to see how long it is. Others are wary of click bait, not wanting to invest their time in something that won’t benefit them.

Here are three steps you can take to make your post more convincing to read:

1. Break your post up into short sections with subheadings

The subheadings give your reader an outline to follow, and the short sections make a long post much easier to digest.

However, you want to make sure that the subheading doesn’t give too much away or people won’t bother reading each section. Notice how each of my subheadings in this post are short teasers to what follows in the paragraph.

2. Use short paragraphs and sentences

Long blocks of text are intimidating to read, especially if you are reading on a mobile device. I try to write paragraphs that are no more than three to four sentences long.

3. Evaluate your post’s readability

I use Grammarly to catch any typos or grammar errors I might have made. And then I evaluate my post against a readability score.

A readability score tells you roughly what level of education someone would need in order to read your piece of text easily. It will help you write with a more conversational style. I try to write my posts as if I were talking to you in person over a cup of coffee in a café. Would you like another latte?

You can use this website to measure your text readability. Or if you have a self-hosted WordPress website, I recommend downloading the Yoast SEO plugin. It will help you optimize your content for the web and has a built-in readability analyzer.

Here are several more tips from Kurt Vonnegut on how to improve your writing:

5. End With a Call to Action

You’ve taken your readers on an incredible adventure. Now what should they do with that information they’ve just learned?

I usually title the conclusion of my blog post “The Takeaway”. It’s where you can emphasize the most important lessons of your post.

Next, give your readers a clear call to action to follow. Maybe you tell them to implement the steps they’ve read about in your post (stress the dangers if they do not take action).

Finally, you have a chance to build a relationship with your readers.

I like to end with a question and encourage readers to answer it in the comments. You could also create an additional resource to accompany your post that readers can download by signing up for your email list. (You can embed an email subscription form in your Medium post using Upscribe.)

And don’t forget to ask readers to share your post on social media if they enjoyed it. At the bottom of my Medium posts, I ask readers to click the heart if they found the article helpful.

The Takeaway (and a free checklist!)

No matter what kind of article you are writing (a how-to, a listicle, a personal narrative, a book review), you can use these steps to make your article more powerful and engaging. Adapt them to your style and your topic.

Ultimately, you want to keep your readers in mind. How will your post add value to their lives? Is there any way that you can dig deeper and add a unique perspective to your topic?

When you implement these five steps, you will transform your posts into content that will truly impact your readers. They will be eager to share and read more of your work.

Want to save this guide and a checklist to your computer to use while you write your next article? Get the free PDF & accompanying checklist here along with access to all of my writing guides, including my guide to using Medium to grow your email list.


This article was originally published at nicolebianchi.com.