Quite a few how-to articles on the web about content marketing encourage you to create content for your website and your social platforms, but stop short of telling you how.
As a former newspaper reporter (I have published more than 1 million words about various topics), I thought I would try to offer a few value-adding suggestions for writing a blog post.
(I am timing myself on how long this article takes to write and edit)
What should you write about? Let me tell you that regardless of your business – from attorney to massage therapist – you have a ton of topics worthy of a blog post. My first piece of advice is to look at your business, product, or service in its components and identify potential topics. Some examples:
An attorney could write about:
- Recent changes in the law following an election or legislative session
- Routine items that coincide with the calendar (for example: end-of-year tax and estate preparations/reviews)
- Localize trending topics (for example topics from the Ashley Madison hacking scandal could include: company email, fraternization, ethics, leadership and morality in the workplace)
A massage therapist could write about:
- The differences of various massage types
- Tips for giving a good massage (for yourself or your partner)
- Etiquette on what to wear (or not wear) when getting a professional massage
Gather Inspiration 24/7
Another suggestion for finding topics is to read your daily newspaper or other information source (either in print or online) and think about how some of these articles relate to your business.
For example, the massage therapist could write about how a massage is a good cure for holiday stress (or stress in general). You can also use trending tools such as Google Trends or those for other social websites to see what people are talking about and how any of those topics may relate to your business. You can also tap into your existing customers on what interests them about your business. You can do this by simply asking them during the transaction, or you can send surveys or questionnaires if you have their contact information. You can also tap into various analytic tools for your website and see where customers and potential customers are spending their time when on your Website.
Another great source of topic inspiration for me has been life in general and the conversations I may have with people throughout the day, week and month. I once wrote a feature story about those “Support the Troops” magnets that were appearing on the back of cars in the years following 9/11. That idea arose during a road trip conversation. You may opt to keep a notebook with you to jot down these ideas as they occur.
Create a Schedule
While you should be thinking of topic ideas on a daily basis, there is no reason you have to create the content on a daily basis. As my MBA Marketing professor Elliot Maltz used to say, “Under Promise and Over Deliver.” Set out to write one blog post a week and maybe a Twitter posting three times a week. Or something like that. If you end up doing more than that, great! I recommend creating a hard copy monthly schedule (use a calendar template in Word or Excel) and write down the dates you will be posting and some topic ideas (which you have in your notebook) for each of those dates.
If you want to write bigger pieces, such as white papers, this is a great tool for planning backwards from your publishing deadline. For example, if your goal is a white paper to be published at month’s end, you could set some dates for when you want to have any reporting accomplished, or when you want a first draft completed. You can create a monthly or quarterly schedule.
My recommendation is to write enough to make your point. What does that mean? It will depend on the subject, but let’s say a general posting would be about 500 words in length. I think it is easier to write to a shorter length and overwrite then to set out to write 1,000 words and struggle to reach the mark. Additionally, most readers prefer shorter rather than longer articles. After all, you are competing with millions other on the Web.
Another concern I often receive from business owners, and other authors, is that they have writer’s block or otherwise don’t know how to start. My advice is to just write. Grab an egg timer and write whatever you know about your chosen topic for three minutes or 10 minutes, or however long the timer goes. Afterward re-read what you wrote and move those sentences and thoughts to the beginning, middle or end of your article. There are a ton of other suggestions for writing structure and writing tips that I may write about in a future article.
Write First, Edit Second
Some of the challenge in writing your article is that we’re trying to make it perfect the first go round. DON’T! Write the rough draft first and then go back later to edit for grammar and flow.
Make it Conversational
One way to win friends and followers is to make sure you write in a conversational voice. Think about explaining your topic to a friend or your grandmother (not to say your grandmother couldn’t also be a friend). You should also read your rough draft out loud (I typically will print out a copy). Doing so, you will quickly identify rough patches in the tone and flow of the article.
I am an outdoors enthusiast, whether hiking, biking or mountaineering. One of the practical rules for the outdoors is to layer your clothing so that you can easily adjust for the weather. I think in today’s digital world, it is equally important to layer your content. Once you have finished writing your blog, think about the ways you can add layers to it. And by layers, I mean adding: pictures, videos, podcasts, graphics and so forth.
For one Law Firm client, we had attorneys read their articles they had written for the monthly newsletter into an audio podcast; for a few, we also recorded the recording on video. More layers, in this case, will help your SEO exposure and client/customer consumption.
Please e-mail me or comment if you have questions or suggestions for future posts. (It took 48 minutes to write this article, and 9 minutes to edit.