Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Welcome to part two of ‘14 Vital Questions That Will Improve Your Blog Post’. In part one, I focused on the post itself – its content and the way in which it’s presented to the reader. Now, I’ll extend my focus, moving away from the specifics of the blog post and onto the elements that surround its context in terms of brand, publication, and advertising.
Question 7 – How does this blog post fit with my other output?
Back in question 3 (‘Who is this blog post for?’), I said I’d talk about managing your readership when different parts of it want different things. The answer here is pretty simple, and it’s to make sure that you’re writing for each different aspect on a regular rotation.
More importantly, though, it means knowing who you’re talking to, who you’re neglecting, and when. I used the example of readers with differing social media experience – it’s fine to write something aimed at those who are already comfortable with the idea, but it’s important to understand that doing so says ‘this is not for you’ to another segment of your audience. That places you in a sort of debt to them – you’ll have to correct this impression at some point, because otherwise they’ll leave.
A different blog post catering to them a week later will help to smooth things out, but you can also do this within the original post. If you’re writing about a subject for an audience who already know the basics, use an early paragraph to direct those who don’t to another article that’s aimed at them. Unless you have a very, very specific audience, you are going to write content that’s not for everyone. That’s no excuse for leaving them in the lurch, though.Not every reader will like all your blog content. Go back for those you left behind. #indieauthor Click To Tweet
This question also covers your content as an ongoing work – have you recently covered something similar, or could you reorder your planned posts to acclimatize readers to a vital idea before you dive into it? If you plan to write an introductory blog post to a subject and a more in-depth piece, consider writing and publishing the introduction first, giving some of your audience time to transition into the group who are comfortable with the more in-depth content. It’s small decisions like this that create a long-term readership, as your readers are made to feel comfortable and catered to by your work.
Question 8 – Do I need to research for this blog post and, if so, how?
It’s entirely possible that your post doesn’t require any research, but even then this is a useful question to ask. I talked earlier about how regular content keeps readers coming back, but posting regularly is only possible if you know the minimum time it will take to write something. If you’re surprised to find that you lack vital information then that minimum becomes useless.
But it’s not just surprise research that needs to be taken into account, it’s the opportunity to research at all. Beginning to write a post is generally too late for low-level research. Yes, you might check a figure or search for a quote, but you’re unlikely to increase your knowledge of the subject in question to a significant degree. Thinking about research ahead of time allows you to engage in some less focused research – to read up on a subject or take advantage of an opportunity between planning and writing.
When writing about a particular genre, I’ll prepare by reading up on some books that I think will be useful examples. This usually involves a mix of searching my shelves for books I already know, getting familiar with texts I only partially remember, and researching and reading new books that might provide valuable insight. This latter form of research is heavily dictated by how far ahead of writing an article I’m thinking about researching it, and I’ve been surprised by the number of times a long lead-time on an article has meant that I catch a documentary on, or have the chance to talk to someone who knows a lot about, the subject I want to discuss.
Thinking early on about necessary research gives you time to do substantive research, to think about where your thesis needs support, and to start looking out for opportunities you’d have missed if you only considered research later. It also allows you to plan realistic deadlines…
Question 9 – What are my deadlines for this blog post?
The key thing to recognize about this question is that it concerns ‘deadlines’ plural. Not just when do you have to post, but when will you start researching, when will you start writing, how long will you spend publicizing this blog post?The more precise your writing deadlines, the more likely you are to stick to them. #writingtip Click To Tweet
Having a timetable rather than a final deadline will make it far easier to write a great blog post – not only will all the aspects of writing be better organized, but you’ll approach the job of writing in an entirely different way. Having one block of ‘writing time’ allows myriad sins. Instead, have a finite amount of ‘research time’ that ends up permanently lost if you don’t use it. Have a set time to start writing so that your brain knows what it’s working towards. Think those brilliant ideas that occur to you in the bed or shower happen at random? Maybe partially, but they’re also governed by how your brain understands your goals and deadlines.
On top of all this, solid deadlines allow you to ask a bonus question that you might otherwise ignore…
Question 10 – Can I do more?
By answering the questions so far you’ve begun to structure a great blog post, but question 9 allows you to make it brilliant. This question doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but rather in relation to all the answers you have so far. Looking at your thesis, purpose, audience, form and deadlines, is there anything more you could do?
‘Like what?’ you might reply. Well, for example, sourcing a custom image or infographic. Creating a practical tool like an exercise, questionnaire, or checklist. Finding more quotes, or more pieces of evidence, to back up your argument.
Remember that this is a sincere question – if the answer is ‘no’ then accept it and move on. The important thing here is to use this question to evaluate where questions 1—8 have taken you. You should now have a good idea what your blog post will look like and how long it will take, so is there anything more you can do, or are you ready to commit to the form you’ve imagined? While pondering this, be sure to also ask…
Question 11 – What do I need to put aside for later?
The answer to this question may be ‘nothing’, but think hard. This question relates to making the blog post easier to write and getting the most out of it later. For example, when researching, should you be collecting key quotes, and the sources they come from, in a separate folder?
Or do you intend to turn your post into an infographic or video? If so, you’ll want to identify and extract core data, or compelling phrases, for the future. Finally, you’re going to want to promote your blog posts later, so should you be identifying key quotes and compelling images that will be easier to find if stored in a specific document or folder?
You’ll notice this article includes ‘click to Tweet’ quotes, making it easier for you to share the advice that’s caught your eye. These phrases need to be identified and set aside, either while writing the blog post or afterwards. The former is far quicker, but it’s only possible if you begin writing with the intent in mind.Don't let content go to waste. Keep your eye out for content that can be put to multiple uses. Click To Tweet
If you’re sure you don’t need to extract anything, it’s also worth asking yourself…
Question 12 – How will I promote my blog post?
This question isn’t just about spreading your blog post far and wide, but about how you write and structure your post. Intending to share your post on Twitter? You’ll need some pull-quotes to get people interested, so don’t just think about setting them apart, be aware that you have to write some in the first place. Fancy attracting an audience through Pinterest? It’s a good decision, and it’ll be a lot easier if you a) include multiple images and b) provide images that can’t be found elsewhere. It may be that image choices for your blog post are partially dictated by what will work best for promoting it later.
Planning how to promote your post also allows you to work up an advantageous schedule, but it’s important to also think about what you want your promotion to achieve.
Question 13 – What does success look like?
This question might seem frivolous, but it’s important for the post you’re considering now and those you’ll write in the future. To begin with, your parameters for success will inform how much work and time it’s worth putting into a blog post. Yes, every post should be your best, but if you’re on a membership drive then you’ll want to budget more time for research, and give more consideration to a unique delivery of your message.
On top of that, you need to have a realistic idea of what your post will ‘do’ so that you don’t develop an unfairly negative opinion of its performance. It might that the most you can or should expect of a post is to break a hundred readers, or bring in five or so subscribers. If that’s all it can be expected to do, then having it do so is a big win – it’s success. It won’t feel that way, though, if you push it out into the world with no more definition of success than ‘impress me’.
Having realistic parameters for success also means you’ll have a better idea of what consistent quality looks like. If you think a blog post is great but then it performs poorly against ill-defined parameters, there’s no reference for what ‘great’ looks like in the future. This will harm your content and it’s also incredibly demoralizing.
When defining ‘success’ for a post, look at what other posts have managed. What does ‘breaking even’ look like, and how far away is success? At the same time, look at your promotion and other choices. Are those the measures you’ll need for the level of success you want? Don’t just think about success in terms of quantity, because you also need to consider its nature.
Question 14 – How do I want my reader to respond to this blog post?
The final question to ask yourself before you start the writing process is how you want your reader to respond to your post. Do you want them to feel a certain emotion (almost certainly tied to your thesis)? Do you want them to share on social media? Do you want them to comment and enter into a discussion?
This question matters because you’re going to have to act on your answer. Leave your reader with the thought you want them to have, but really leave them with it. Ending on a link is powerful because it’s the clear next place to go. Likewise an invitation to share or like, or even ending on a powerful thought. The way you end a blog post is always going to act as a prompt, so make sure it’s one that benefits you and your reader.End your blog post in a way that benefits your brand or site - where should the reader go next? Click To Tweet
All of the questions above are designed to slot together, one after the other, until you’ve got a better idea of the structure that will work for you. Your reader’s response might be the final piece of the puzzle, but it connects right back to your thesis. What you’re trying to do with your blog post, and your content as a whole, should dictate where you leave your reader.
For example, if you have another question that can improve a blog post even before it’s written, let me know in the comments to start a discussion.
Alternatively, if you’d like to know more about author blogging, check out 3 Things You Should Be Writing About On Your Author Blog and 15 Things You Need To Do After You Publish A Post.