So, you’re going to write a blog. That’s great. You can share what you know, represent your brand – do some of this content marketing that’s so popular. So just roll up your sleeves and start typing right?
Not so much. With an estimated 2.7 million blog posts written every day, it’s critical that your material rises to the top. And for that to happen you need to avoid the classic rookie errors that will sink you. Here are the 10 key mistakes that will make your blog bad.
1. You think it’s about you
It’s not. Even if your blog is about you, as a subject, it’s critical that the focus of your blog is serving your readers’ interests. Because that’s why they’re reading, right? They have a question you can answer, a problem you can solve, and while they’re busy reading about their issues, you have a chance to – ever so subtly, mind – slip in the point that you’re really rather good at X, Y & Z, and perhaps they’d like to sign up to your email newsletter?
Rookie writers make the ‘it’s about me’ mistake in all sorts of ways – and they’re all more or less fatal. Maybe someone did you a favour and deserves a mention early in the post? Maybe your boss is super important and wants their credentials explained in the first paragraph? Or perhaps your company just sealed an incredible – YAWN – deal that it seems important to detail… you get the picture. Basically, the ways in which you can bore and bamboozle your readers are myriad. To avoid that you simply need to keep front-of-mind at all times this simple mantra: blogging is about serving your reader – not you.
2. You bury your lead
Understand this: web users are itching to not read your blog. Ten years ago spending time on the internet was an exciting thing – now it’s a chore. Plus the competition for eyeballs has expanded vastly. What this means in practice is your content has to deliver right from the word go: fail to snag someone’s attention from the start and they will gladly close the tab and move on to something else.
So your lead is this: the single most attention-grabbing, relevant, exciting thing in your blog. Burying it 400 words into your post is a great mistake – it needs to go right at the beginning. A good rule of thumb here is that if you haven’t delivered a hook within 15 seconds of starting, you’ve lost your reader.
3. You start without structure
This one is related to ‘burying your lead’, in that a sure way to have the best part of your article (the lead) buried deep down in the running order, where no one will ever reach it, is to just start writing. In real life people like to warm up to their point before delivering it – but that’s not a good thing in a blog. You can avoid this by creating an article outline before you start.
How do you do that? Well first up, decide on your working headline. Then brainstorm everything you have to say about it, listing each point on one line. Next cut and paste these lines into the best order for delivering the article’s message; this, paragraph by paragraph, will be the structure of your post. But with one final change: you need to snip out the most attention-grabbing thing and move it to the top. This will be your lead, and it doesn’t matter if you have to bend the logic of your article into a pretzel to get it up the front, because, well… point number 2…
4. You use a writing voice
Authenticity is key in blogging, and nothing kills authenticity like a special put-on writing voice that’s unlike your natural speech. As a general rule, you should write as if you were telling a story to a couple of friends – friends who’ll easily get bored if you waffle, and laugh at you for using big words to impress.
5. You pad out to reach word count
Maybe you read somewhere that longer articles are better for SEO. Or maybe the brief was to deliver 700 words, despite your article being doable in 400. The temptation here is to pad out your work with extra verbiage, but look – good SEO means nothing if real people hate what they read when they reach you. And that extra 300 words of fluff can only impede your original point.
So, remembering that brevity is
definitely the soul of really good writing, take a deep breath, then set out to cut out all the dozens and dozens of fluff words and phrases and sentences in your work.
6. You leave darlings un-murdered
‘Murder your darlings’ must be the world’s most repeated piece of writing advice. For anyone unfamiliar with the phrase, it’s not about killing people you love. It simply means that if you read over your work and there’s something there that you really love, it’s probably the worst part of the blog.
Of course, that’s not always true, but if you’re struggling to get your basic point across, then muttering ‘murder your darlings’ to yourself can be a timely reminder to take an axe to that multi-layered metaphor you were so proud of. Chances are your work will flow better without it.
7. You use the straw man
A straw man argument is where you set up a weak point in order to knock it down – and straw man writing is the same. If you ever find yourself writing like this, do you readers a favour and cut the phoney stuff out – your actual point will be stronger for it.
Here are some examples with the straw man part struck through.
A holiday in Bali can be wonderful, but it’s certainly a long way to travel. Wouldn’t a holiday in Queensland be great? While some might believe that it will strengthen the British economy, Brexit has weakened the spending power of UK residents.
8. Your headlines are clever
Once upon a time, newspaper headlines were delivered in the company of all sorts of page furniture such as photos, pull-quotes, and intros that helped give them context. Back then witty headlines were an art form that could afford to be clever at the expense of clarity, thanks to all those supporting elements. Now though you’ll be lucky if your headline appears with an explanatory intro, so it needs to do all the work of enticing a reader, plus telling them what the hell the article is about. So a clever headline is fine, but only if it’s already as informative and enticing as it can be. Always opt for function ahead of fanciness.
9. You use the passive voice
Here’s an example of the passive voice: “Sushi was eaten by the man.”
And here’s the same info in active phrasing: “The man ate sushi”.
The second version is direct and concrete, while the first version – the passive voice – feels abstract and lacks impact. Unfortunately, this is how most people learn to write at university, where the passive voice rules, and it’s a hard habit to break. Look out for the word ‘to’ – it often crops up when we slip into this form. E.g. The sentence:
“When it comes time to protect your property it’s best to seek professional advice.”
Should be re-written as:
“Protect your property by seeking professional advice.”
10. You muff the basics
One of the key identifiers of quality on the web is good language use. Get it wrong, and potential customers will view you as shonky and move on. So you need to know your basics:
- There / their / they’re
- Your / you’re
- Its / it’s
- To / too / two
- Affected / effected
- Stationery / stationary
And so on. If you’re not sure of about any of the basic rules of grammar, look them up.
Oh and don’t mess up your
apostrophe’s apostrophes. The internet is a merciless place.