Writing your first blog post is scary as hell!
What am I going to write about?
How am I going to write my opening sentence?
What about the title – how do I write that?
And above all – how do I write in a way that grabs my readers’ attention and keeps them moving down the page?
Don’t worry. I’ve been where you are. I know what it’s like.
And I’ve got you covered!
Here are all the tips you need for your first blog post. I’ll show you:
- How to find ideas and inspiration
- How to connect with your readers
- How to keep them on the page
- 1. Use Structure and Make It Your Friend
- 2. Let Your Sub-Conscious Go To Work For You
- 3. Use a Mind Map
- 4. Avoid Writer's Block
- 5. Start With a Hook
- 6. Write a Compelling Intro
- 7. Use Short Sentences
- 8. Use Short Paragraphs
- 9. Use Transitions To Keep Your Readers Moving Down The Page
- 10. Use Headers and Sub-Headers
- 11. Be Specific
- 12. Show Empathy
- 13. Tell Stories
- 14. Edit and Proofread
- 15. Cut Out Unnecessary Words
- 16. Create a Title That Grabs Attention
- 17. Jot Down Keywords For Blog Post Titles
1. Use Structure and Make It Your Friend
One thing I've learned from writing two theses and dozens of expert reports is that structure is your best friend.
What do I mean by that?
Let's say your article consists of 7 points. And under each of those 7 points you have 3 or 4 sub - points.
That's your structure!
And with a structure like that your first blog post is half written. All that's left is to fill in the blanks.
To put it another way: structure is way of ‘chunking down’. What previously was a mammoth task becomes a series of manageable chunks.
2. Let Your Sub-Conscious Go To Work For You
Scientists still don't fully understand the mind. No one does.
But one thing we do know is the mind is capable of extraordinary things.
Have you ever gone to sleep with a problem that seemed unsolvable? And in the morning you wake up with the perfect solution?
That's the sub-conscious mind.
It went to work for you while you slept.
And it can do the same thing with your blog posts.
When you feel stuck or you just can’t think of how to move forward with your blog post, put it aside. Get an early night.
And in the morning be very alert for sudden ideas that pop into your head (usually in the shower).
Important: when you get these flashes of inspiration from the sub-conscious, write them down immediately. If you ignore them, eventually the sub-conscious will realize "this guy's not paying attention" and will stop giving you ideas.
Here’s a little blogging tip to help your sub-conscious work for you: whenever you take a break from writing, make a mental note of the next section you’re going to work on.
That way, while you’re taking your break (watching the next episode of Designated Survivor, cooking a meal, or going for a walk) your sub-conscious will go to work on the next task.
3. Use a Mind Map
When you sit down to write your first blog post, try using a mind map.
I’m amazed at the number of people who use lists instead of mind maps.
Mind maps can unlock the power of your brain in a way that lists simply cannot.
Why are mind maps so effective?
Because mind maps mirror how the brain works.
Mind maps use radiant thinking whereas lists use linear thinking.
Research shows that the brain works by association. It finds endless connections between memories, ideas, and information.
And that’s where mind maps excel as a writing tool. They allow you to find connections between ideas.
In the middle of your mind map is the title of your blog post. Radiating out from that are the main points you want to make. And sprouting from each point are the sub-points.
When you make a mind map you’re unleashing the power of your brain in a way that’s simply not possible with a list.
This is the mind map I used to write this article:
4. Avoid Writer's Block
I’ll be honest with you – it’s not just the first blog post.
Starting any new blog post is always a challenge.
“Am I going to be able to pull this off?”
But for some of us that question is more than a challenge. It makes us freeze up. We become paralysed.
If that’s you, then sitting down to face an empty computer screen is possibly the worst thing you could do.
Instead, try jotting down some ideas on your smartphone. This tricks your sub-conscious. It allows you to completely bypass the great big writer's block that’s waiting for you just around the corner.
Before you know it, you’ll have enough ideas jotted down that your article is 80% written!
5. Start With a Hook
Here's a little secret:
The purpose of every sentence in your blog post is to get your reader to read the next sentence. It’s as simple as that.
And this applies even more to your opening sentence.
I feel sorry for opening sentences – the burden they carry is immense! Imagine if you or I carried that weight on our shoulders.
But that’s exactly how it is. The opening sentence (also called the hook) is what makes your reader decide to leave or keep reading.
Here are some common types of hooks that literally pull your readers in and keep them reading:
- Ask a question (e.g. “Has this happened to you?”)
- Make a confession (e.g. “I’ve got a confession to make.”)
- Get inside your reader’s head (e.g. “Frustrating isn’t it?”)
- Assume something about your reader (e.g. “I think you’ll agree with me when I say…”)
- Be controversial (e.g. “Contrary to popular opinion…”)
- Begin to tell a story (e.g. “About a year and a half ago…”)
For more information on how to use hooks, see my guest post on ‘Successful Blogging’.
6. Write a Compelling Intro
If you only implement ONE of these blogging tips in your first blog post, make it this one!
Have a look at the Introductions of well-known bloggers. You'll notice they nearly all follow a formula.
I call it the PSP formula:
- The Problem
- The Solution
- The Promise
Your reader has a problem. That’s why they typed a search term into Google. And it’s why they found your post.
You need to spell out the problem and make it as vivid and painful as possible.
Right after that, you need to point to the solution.
You don’t need to explain the solution, at least not yet. But you do need to make it clear there’s a solution to the reader’s problem.
Next, you have to state that you’re going to provide that solution.
That’s your promise.
(And you must deliver on it!)
Some Real Life Examples:
Here’s the Introduction to an article by Brian Dean, a master of content writing:
7. Use Short Sentences
Ernest Hemingway was famous for his use of short sentences. And he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
So short sentences are a good literary style. No doubt about it.
But there are other reasons to write short sentences.
On the Internet people want information they can digest quickly.
They want to see this:
And not this:
We all have a tendency to write longer sentences than are needed.
As I wrote this section, I went through what I’d already written and managed to shorten seven sentences. Here are four of them.
Notice how the shortened versions are not only easier to read. They quicken the tempo. And that keeps the reader from getting bored:
8. Use Short Paragraphs
Just as sentences need to be short in online content writing, so do paragraphs.
But as Mike Blankenship points out in an article on 'How To Write a Paragraph in 2017 (Yes, The Rules Have Changed)', it’s good to alternate paragraphs of different lengths.
That way you build up a rhythm. And rhythm is soothing. It makes reading easier.
9. Use Transitions To Keep Your Readers Moving Down The Page
When you’ve completed your first blog post, go over it carefully and see if you can add in some transitions.
Have you ever read those really chatty and lively blog posts?
One minute you’re reading the opening sentence. The next minute you’ve reached the end. And you’re looking for a space to leave a rave review.
If you’ve ever had that experience, chances are you fell under the spell of clever transitions.
What exactly are they?
Transitions or transitional phrases are short sentences that link one paragraph to the next.
They’re usually conversational and they sound so natural you hardly notice them.
But they literally pull you down the page.
Whenever you see a blog post with hundreds of comments and unbelievable numbers of social shares, you can almost guarantee it’s packed with transitional phrases.
I’m not kidding when I say this blogging tip can literally turn your fortunes around.
You can find out more about this technique in my SmartBlogger post, ‘How To Use Transitional Phrases To Keep Your Readers Sliding Down The Page’.
10. Use Headers and Sub-Headers
And that’s going to give your page an SEO boost.
Because the easier it is to read your content, the longer people will spend on your page.
That’s called ‘dwell time’ and Google measures it. More dwell time = higher rankings.
But it doesn't stop there:
Headings and sub headings are crucial SEO elements.
11. Be Specific
If you want your readers to engage with your first blog post, be specific.
Because details create images in people’s minds.
Take this sentence, for example:
“When I began my blog 7 years ago…”
What images does that conjure in your mind?
Very little, is my guess.
But what about this:
“When I began my blog in the fall of 2009, just after my wife had left me…”
That sentence is going to stay in your reader’s mind, whether she likes it or not.
Because it immediately created an image in her mind.
Here are some more examples:
- In order to succeed in blogging…
- In order to get more traffic, build your list faster, and become known within your niche…
- It took me ages to decide on a domain name.
- It took me three months of research and dozens of false starts before I finally came up with the right domain name.
- I began writing for the Internet a long time ago.
- I began writing for the Internet before Google existed.
Do you see the difference?
Details are everything!
When you put details in your writing, those details create images in your reader’s mind whether they like it or not.
And those images create reader engagement.
12. Show Empathy
If you really want to connect with your audience in your first blog post, you have to do one thing very well:
Show them that you understand their problems.
So, how do you do that?
There are whole exercises on how to understand your audience:
You painstakingly build a customer avatar or a reader persona. And then you try and work out what their biggest frustrations are, their biggest fears, their greatest dreams, and so on.
But you know what?
We all belong to the human race.
And so we all share the same basic hopes and fears.
We want to succeed, we’re afraid of failure. We want approval, and we’re terrified of looking ridiculous. We look at other people’s success and we’re afraid that we don’t have what it takes to do the same.
Whatever niche you’re blogging in, I’m guessing that your readers will have more or less the same hopes and fears that you have.
In a nutshell: if you understand your own hopes and fears, you more than likely understand those of your audience.
Here are some phrases you can use to establish empathy:
- If you’re anything like me…
- Like just about every blogger in their first year, I never imagined it would be so…
- I don’t know about you, but my biggest fear is…
- You know the feeling…
- You’ve tried this, you’ve tried that, and nothing is working.
- Perhaps you’re thinking:
- If that’s what you’re thinking,
- Have you ever had this experience?
- You dream of…
- You want to be…
- You worry that…
- But somehow you feel…
- But you’re simply not getting…
- It’s so frustrating!
- Is it getting you down?
And here are some examples of empathetic writing, with the empathy underlined.
From an article by Leanne Regalla, titled Why Your Blog Doesn’t Stand a Chance in Hell of Succeeding (and What To Do About It)
From an article by Henneke Duistermaat titled 18 Seductive Writing Tips That’ll Leave Your Readers Begging for More:
You may be wondering why so many of these examples come from SmartBlogger.
The reason is simple:
Empathy is almost a trademark of Jon Morrow’s writing and it’s one of the key skills that he teaches his students.
Here’s a piece of empathetic writing from man himself. It’s from a blog post titled ‘Why I Quit Blogging (And What To Do If You’re Struggling)’:
13. Tell Stories
Begin your first blog post with a story and there are very few readers who won’t keep reading
Because we’ve evolved as story-telling creatures.
We’ve been telling each other stories for tens of thousands of years. We’re almost hard-wired to hear stories.
Here are some examples.
From a blog post by Danny Brown titled “When You’re 7 Years Old and Your World Dies Around You”:
14. Edit and Proofread
The biggest mistake you can make with your first blog post is to write your last sentence, upload it to WordPress, and hit ‘Publish’.
The fact is when you write blog posts you’re often trying to meet deadlines, real or imaginary.
And you’re focused on ideas, the flow of the argument, the big picture. You’re not focused on details.
Editing and proofreading brings an entirely different focus to your writing.
The article is finished, the argument flows nicely.
Now you’re doing something you weren’t able to do before: looking minutely at the form of words, the spelling, the grammar, the punctuation.
I’m always amazed at the changes I need to make every time I proofread a blog post. And what amazes me even more is the number of additional changes I need to make even after the blog post has been published.
These are the kind of things to look for:
Can your sentences be shorter?
Can you break a lengthy paragraph into bullet points?
Are there spelling mistakes that a spell-checker won’t pick up? You know the ones I mean: the word is correctly spelt but it’s the wrong word.
In the example below, there are no fewer than 10 spelling mistakes. But none of them were picked up by the spell-checker in Microsoft Word:
15. Cut Out Unnecessary Words
Remember we talked about using shorter sentences?
One way to do that is to cut out unnecessary words.
Unnecessary words clog up your writing like cholesterol in the arteries. Cut them out so that your writing flows.
Here are some examples of unnecessary words from an article by WordsWorks titled ‘Do You Really Need All Those Words?”:
In an article on Flabby Words and Phrases That Rob Your Writing of All Its Power, Shane Arthur lists 297 words that that you can safely cut from your writing.
Here are some examples:
16. Create a Title That Grabs Attention
The title is arguably the most important part of the your first blog post.
Why is that?
Because if your title is flat and boring, chances are your visitors will never even read your first sentence.
Here are some key tips:
Tip #1- Keep the title under 70 characters so that it doesn’t get cut off in the Google search results
Tip #2 - Include your keyword in your title, as close to the beginning as possible
Tip #3 – Use strong action verbs and powerful adjectives – for a list of these, see my article on how to write blog titles.
Tip #4 - Use numbers in your title. And make those numbers odd not even. Odd numbers get more clicks.
Tip #5 - Add the year at the end of the title (15 Ways To Get More Subscribers in 2018).
This is a tip I got from Brandon Gaille’s Blog Millionaire course (which I highly recommend).
When people scan through the search results, they’re wondering which of the articles are old and out-of-date and which are still relevant. If your article has the current year in the title, it’s likely you’ll get the click.
But don’t overdo this – if all your blog post titles contain the current year it begins to look a bit spammy.
Tip #6 - Address the reader directly by including the word ‘You’ or ‘Your’
Tip #7 - Borrow titles from BuzzFeed
BuzzFeed is famous for it’s click bait titles. And sure, a lot of bloggers really dislike click bait.
But the fact is these titles work (witness the way BuzzFeed burst onto the media landscape).
Max Woolf has analysed the most popular titles on BuzzFeed and isolated the phrases that get the clicks. Here are some of them:
17. Jot Down Keywords For Blog Post Titles
Every blog post should begin with a keyword.
As you’re reading online content keep an eye out for keywords within your niche that you haven’t written about before.
Look out for:
- Keywords that are an alternative to another keyword (e.g. ‘online content’ instead of ‘blog posts’)
- Keywords that represent topics you don’t fully understand but you want to get a grasp of
- Long tail keywords that represent a special angle on a larger topic
I have a note-taking app on my smartphone and I jot these ideas down as soon as they flash across my mind.
When you get one of these ideas, always note it down immediately.
If you don’t, it’ll be gone forever. And all you’ll be left with is a nagging feeling it was something important.
I use Google Keep for noting down these keywords.
Writing your first blog post is a challenge – no doubt about it.
But the tips in this article will help you get started.
Let’s quickly recap.
For getting ideas and organizing them:
- Use as much structure as you can – once you have a structure in place your article is almost written
- Use a mind map to unlock the creative power of your mind
- Learn how to put your sub-conscious to work on your blog posts
For pulling the reader in and keeping them on the page:
- Write a catchy title
- Start with a hook
- Write a compelling Intro
- Use transitions
- Show empathy
- Tell stories
For formatting your blog post:
- Use short sentences
- Use short paragraphs
- Use headers and sub-headers
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