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How to consistently write great blog content: Lessons from a year’s worth of on-the-job writing

Every bit of research tells us that companies with blogs get more traffic, leads, and sales than companies that don’t. And yet many companies have yet to crack the formula for producing content that is both valuable and compelling. That second thing is important. If you can’t sustain your audience’s attention it won’t do much for you, no matter how precise or detailed your tutorial is.
It’s as much of a challenge as it is an opportunity, and it’s one that I’ve considered more seriously in last twelve months. My production schedule, more or less, looked like this: One blog post, once a week. One bi-monthly email newsletter. Social media content every day. Sometimes I worked on “special ops” missions: ebooks, event pages and event-related coverage, and editing my colleagues’ work.
In the meanwhile I stockpiled the ideas, technical steps and style points that had been most useful for me in accomplishing the following goals:
– Connecting with consumers in a noisy, increasingly mobile world – Breathing life into boring business copy by adopting a more vivid writing style – Building credibility by having conversations with actual “sources”
So, yes, this is one of those “what I learned about writing in one year” posts, but hopefully one that’s packed with data, examples, inspiration and things to try.
Pity the reader
Understand that people are busy. They’re doing rapidfire, consecutive Google searches looking for answers. They’re sophisticated consumers and expert scanners of text. They’ll bounce after the first paragraph if what you’ve written isn’t what they’re looking for.
Understand that people are mobile. We spend spend about two hours a month reading news on mobile devices, according to a recent report by The Knight Foundation and Nielsen. And we’re just as likely to read longform content as we are to read shorter content. For longer blog posts, keep your paragraphs short and your subheadings strong. Clicky headlines get all the credit, but engaging, descriptive subheadings help readers find the info they need faster. They can also hook readers all the way through to the end.
If you’re building a case with numbers, simplify them. You can lose readers in an avalanche of percentages and six-figure digits. Try presenting your data as quotable soundbites:  “More than half of all companies…” “Three out of four purchases…” If you’re presenting a lot of data, use visual aids.
Understand that people are busy. They’re doing rapidfire, consecutive Google searches looking for answers. They’re sophisticated consumers and expert scanners of text. They’ll bounce after the first paragraph if what you’ve written isn’t what they’re looking for.
Understand that people are mobile. We spend spend about two hours a month reading news on mobile devices, according to a recent report by The Knight Foundation and Nielsen. And we’re just as likely to read long form content as we are to read shorter content.
For longer blog posts, keep your paragraphs short and your subheadings strong. Clicky headlines get all the credit, but engaging, descriptive subheadings help readers find the info they need faster. They can also hook readers all the way through to the end.
If you’re building a case with numbers, simplify them. You can lose readers in an avalanche of percentages and six-figure digits. Try presenting your data as quotable soundbites:  “More than half of all companies…” “Three out of four purchases…” If you’re presenting a lot of data, use visual aids.
Finally, Apple can get away with “anodized 6000 series aluminum,” but most of us don’t work at Apple. Don’t tell them what a product feature is (“What the heck is an API integration?”). Instead, tell them what it does. Adjust your work to the comprehension of the widest possible audience. Don’t talk down to readers but do give value to as many people as you can. Industry jargon and buzzwords will detract from both the clarity and credibility of your writing. 
Make your words sing
One surefire way to produce a wooden and monotonous narrator in your reader’s head is to write consecutive sentences with the same word count. To avoid this problem, vary your sentence length. The interplay between long sentences and short sentences mimics the emotive way we speak, offering a more exciting experience for your reader.
Rhythm is a dancer.
Alliteration, used wisely and sparingly, is one more method for achieving writing that is pleasing to the ear. Consecutive words beginning with the same sound are often used to add flow to poems and songs. Alliteration is also used to to write marketing copy that is catchier and easier to commit to memory. Dunkin Donuts, PayPal, and American Apparel are some brands that have used this literary device in their naming strategy. 
Metaphors can also bring antiseptic business writing to life. An average metaphor adds emphasis and triggers a feeling; a really good one can be irresistibly quotable. “A parade of new products.” “A reply-all of embarrassments.” Creatives can really embrace their creativity here. Some responses: “A pretension of snobs.” “A sniffle of snobs.” “A flöck of snöbs.” “A pitchfork of snobs.”
Familiarity breeds happiness
In the field of user experience design, designers often use familiar images. UX designer Germaine Satia gives the example of the trash bin icon. It’s not sexy but it works. We’re confident about what to do with it when we encounter it in software.
The Skimm’s subject lines. 
Similarly, content marketers can pay homage to popular culture and current events by using a phrase from an author that we all recognize. Like familiar images, we can use these to build rapport and spark a specific action or emotional response. The email newsletter The Skimm regularly references pop culture in their subject lines: “Fish are friends, not food.” 
This constant riffing off pop culture is a core tenet of their brand voice, so it won’t work for everyone. But, if your brand guidelines will let you get away with one tiny in-joke, why not try it? “Always be closing (candidates),” as a subject line for Workable’s email newsletter about recruiting, had one of the highest email open rates this year. 
Win friends and influence people
Writing is faster and easier when search engines fetch all of your research materials. It’s the most efficient way to complete your project, but it doesn’t have the credibility or leverage of finding and interviewing real people. Start with the subject matter experts in your own workplace.
Juliana Casales, Director of Marketing at ReferralMob, says that “In my experience as an in-house content manager, it can be hard to get teams outside of marketing to contribute to blog psots and eBooks. The thought of tackling a blank page can be daunting to non-writers. But if you sit down with someone for ten minutes and ask them about their day to day observations and advice, you’re taking the pressure off and making it easy for them to share their knowledge.”
The other option is to identify and interview relevant customers, experts, and influencers. It’s nice to find that one perfect quote from someone else’s work that elevates your entire piece. But it’s fantastic to interview the expert yourself, so that people end up quoting from your post and linking to your work. Aim to be the primary source.
Other benefits from this scenario: You’ve forged a new connection for yourself and for your company. Your conversation with an expert leads to ideas for a whole series of blog posts. And of course, you’ve put this person’s expertise under a spotlight. They may even share it with their networks, contributing to a boost for your post’s visibility.
Finish your thought
After laborious research and ruthless self-editing, you’re ready to publish your piece. Not so fast. In many cases the writer, and consequently the writing, runs out of steam before it’s really done. Think about the promise you made in the first paragraph and the point you’re trying to make. Wrap it up in a satisfying conclusion. 
Pro tip: When that comes through loud and clear, use that to polish your first paragraph too. Another guiding question: How do you want your reader to feel? Do you want to make them smile? Leave them wondering? Maybe you’re going for a mic drop. Write accordingly.
Give yourself space
The contemporary workplace is rife with distractions. Your flurries of notifications from email, Slack and Twitter and your intermittent calls are terrible for writing. We all hate the feeling of losing our train of thought and then having to ramp up to our previous state of focus. There are word-processing apps for blocking desktop notifications, and site-blocking apps for blocking your most severe online addictions. You can also block off a couple of hours on your calendar to write and make sure that your schedule is visible to your team. 
Writers, by necessity, are readers with a capital “R.” When we encounter a text that effectively does what it set out to do, we try to X-ray it with our minds: Why is this so good? How is this author able to say so much more with less? What specific things can I do to make my work clearer, wittier, more persuasive, more memorable? 
These are not new ideas by any means. But on a tactical level, these are things that I’ve done to visibly improve the overall clarity and impact of my work. If you aim to produce high quality content on a regular basis, you may find that adding one or two of these things can be a quick cure for a piece that’s lacking a little something. Over time, they turn into habits. The more good habits we make, the easier it becomes to give value to your readers right at the beginning—and keep them all the way with you until the end. 

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