Jessica Wells Russell

Ironically, the first time I sat down to write this blog, I was struck with writer’s block. As a professional writer and blogger, it’s something I’ve faced a time or two before. Usually, I’m able to take a little break, watch a “Friends” episode I’ve seen a million times and get back on track.

This time, however, I found it more difficult to get back in rhythm. It’s more intimidating than you might expect to write about the thing that’s your thing – the thing you spend the most time doing most days of the week, and the thing people pay you to do.

After all, you don’t want to give up your secret sauce – that special *something* that makes what you create just a bit different from everything else.

Luckily, writing a good blog post, in a way, is like any great secret sauce – there are critical ingredients and key parts that can be emulated.

Over the handful of years I’ve been doing this, I’ve tried out many different processes and approaches, but for myself and other professionals in the industry, there are a few important things that simply work.

Let’s take a step-by-step look at what it takes to write a good blog post – and what the secret ingredient is to making it ~great.~

Step one: Research, research, research

That’s right – writing a good blog doesn’t start out with a blank page. In fact, we’re miiiiiiles away from that. Before you start writing, you have to do your due diligence and research. Every good writer worth her salt knows that before you create something of your own, you have to get a sense of what’s already out there, what people are looking for, where they’re looking for it and the keywords and phrases they’re using to find it.

And when we say research, we mean research everything – or at least, all that you can. Don’t just peruse a few social media posts, websites and blogs on a single keyword – because, after all, your entire topic and content marketing approach might change based on what you find during your research. I can’t tell you how many times I started the research process with one topic in mind, only to find something even better and more interesting along the way.

So, a few tips to help guide your research:

  • Be open-minded. Don’t just check out the topics and sources that you prefer – consider other keywords and ideas that you find along the way.
  • Don’t be afraid to fall down the rabbit hole. You know what I’m talking about here – you start on one page, but follow a link to another page, which leads to you an embedded tweet, and then a video. Follow the trail as far as you can, because it’s these deep insights and below-the-surface sources that could help you find the perfect inspiration you need for your own blog.
  • Closely consider your sources. It’s important to make sure that your research includes relevant, reputable and trusted sources, and that you’re not taking inspiration or using alternative facts – i.e., avoid your weird cousin’s blog that he uses to spout conspiracy theories from his basement.

Step two: What’s your target audience looking for?

Your research process should also incorporate the needs and preferences of your target audience. It’s helpful to decide ahead of time which persona you’ll target with your content. This can prevent you falling too far down that rabbit hole we talked about, and guide your research toward a topic and talking points that map to what your target persona is asking about.

As David Leonhardt, The Happy Marketing Guy founder noted, “Your best bet is to pick a proven topic, one you know your audience loves.” This can be as simple as checking out the trending stories on Google and taking things from there.

Step three: What’s out there – and what’s lacking?

At the same time, though, you don’t want to just regurgitate and rewrite content that’s already out there. This is yet another reason why research is so critically important. Not only should you skim through the top blogs on your chosen topic, but take the time to read through and see what they’re actually saying – and, especially, what they aren’t saying.

In order for your blog post to be relevant and valuable to your readers, it should add to the conversation already surrounding the topic. And this means coming up with new and unique points to include in the discussion.

So, as you read over what’s already out there, take the time to ask yourself – what’s missing? What part of the topic hasn’t yet been delved into in detail? Or what’s been overlooked, so far, by other sources? And it’s particularly important to put yourself in your target persona’s shoes – What questions will they be asking about the topic, and how can you create content that matches what they’re looking for?

As SEMrush contributor Bill Achola pointed out, this part of the process takes a loooottttt of work. But it’s absolutely worth the effort.

“We want to find fault in what has already been done so we can fill that gap with our improved version of the same content (without the mistakes those other writers made *evil laughter*),” Achola wrote.

So, take what you’ve found, be inspired by it – but don’t stop there. Take things a step further, add to the conversation and make your piece of content better than what’s already out there.

Step four: Map out your main talking points

Now, this is where your own personal preferences as a writer come into play. Each writer is unique in his or her process – and it’s these distinctions that help create truly great pieces of content.

So when it comes to the content mapping or outlining process, go with your heart. Some writers find it helpful to create super detailed outlines that include all of their main points, SEO-backed keywords, the sources they’ll use and the stats or quotes they’ll draw from those pieces. Other writers prefer to create briefer outlines that only encompass a title, a few keywords and some subheads, and allow their creative juices to flow more freely.

Whatever you decide, we definitely recommend taking the time to create a least some kind of outline or map to guide you. Brafton uses a unique content mapping template that helps our writers identify the needs of the target audience, the questions content will aim to answer, target keywords, existing sources and main points, as well as the unique talking points their content will add to this discussion.

In any case, taking the time to create an outline or map will surely make the actual writing process much smoother, and help you hammer home those main points without leaving anything out.

Step five: Find facts, figures and quotes to back up your points

This may happen before, after or even while you’re creating your content map/outline. Whatever the case, you should be sure to incorporate some strong quotes and statistics (where appropriate) to backup your points. These quoted insights and hard facts from reputable sources and industry experts help show your reader that you know what you’re talking about – even if they don’t immediately recognize your name.

So, for example, remember when we discussed creating content that adds to the existing discussion? I could incorporate a quote like this:

“Good writing is a good conversation, only more so.” – Ernest Hemingway

See what I did there? 😉 And because this little piece of advice comes from the late, great Hemingway, it brings a little cachet and prominence to the point.

Or, we could incorporate impactful statistics – something like these facts from OrbitMedia and NewsCred:

While it typically takes over three hours to create a blog post, readers usually spend under a minute – 37 seconds – reading an article.

That might seem a bit dystopian – “You mean, I spent hours creating this thing, and Sally Readerwhatsherface can’t even give me a full minute to read it?!?!?!” – but don’t be discouraged. Including elements like images, multiple subheads, bulleted or numbered lists, pull quotes, GIFs and other graphics to break up the text – especially in longer posts – can help hook readers and keep their attention.

Step six: A dash of secret sauce

Okay guys, here’s a little (BIG) reward for those of you that have stuck with me this far. Remember that secret sauce I mentioned toward the beginning? Sure, certain parts of every good secret sauce can be emulated – I mean, we all know that Big Mac sauce is basically just Thousand Island, right?

But there’s just something about the kind that comes on your burger that makes it that much better than the pinkish-orange dressing sitting in a plastic bottle in your fridge.

So here’s my secret ingredient – the white vinegar and extra pickle relish that makes my version of Big Mac sauce tastier than regular ol’ salad dressing:

Always, always, always be sure to include a bit of yourself in each post that you write. Incorporate your own style, your own sense of humor (where appropriate) and, your own voice where you can. This might be a little difficult, and you have to always consider overall SEO, the preferences of your target audience and your brand image. And, I mean, it should go without saying that you don’t want to interject your favorite dirty joke into a blog about, say, cloud technology. Save that -ish for the bar.

But in order to take your blog post from just ~meh~ to good [ 🙂 ] to GREAT, you have to include a dash of that special something to make it your own.

Through my research for this, I found all kinds of really fantastic pieces on how to write a great blog – this other piece from Acholla has been of great help. But I’ll tell ya – none of em included GIFs, or mention of a secret sauce. And, in my humble opinion, it’s these inclusions – alongside my own personal style, and let’s face it *grace* – that will (fingers crossed!) help my piece stand out among all the others.

Sure, we should all listen to Tim McGraw:

But also don’t be afraid to flex when you can. Your unique style and point of view as a writer is your secret sauce that nobody else can perfectly emulate – use it.

Step seven: Review. More than once

Alrighty. You’ve gotten this far: You’ve found your niche, picked your topic and created your post title. You’ve found some relevant sources, stats and quotes to include, mapped everything out and included your own unique spin and style during the writing process.

But, hold up, it isn’t time to hit publish just yet. Every good writer knows that writing is just as important as what comes next – editing. Seriously, guys, I can’t tell you how many times a good peer editor has saved me, and ensured that my blog wasn’t just good, but great.

And none of this “I’m too shy to share” bull. If you’re going to post that piece anywhere at all, people are going to find it. So buck up, review it yourself, and then let someone else take a look. You might be surprised at the small things someone else finds, or the insights they might bring up that you overlooked.

For real, y’all. Get yourself a good editor, and don’t just look things over once – review, edit and proof your piece multiple times to make sure all your T’s are crossed and your i’s (and lowercase j’s for that matter) are dotted.

Step eight: Publish, promote, respond and learn

Okay, noww it’s time to publish.

Post that baby up on your website, your LinkedIn and wherever else your target audience is looking. Mention and link to it on social. And be proud of your work. Shoooot, I’m proud of this blog! 😀

You should be ready to respond to relevant comments and questions – after all, you added to and continued the discussion that began with your sources. It’s up to you to keep things going. And, you never know – a reader’s comment might inspire you to create part 2 (or even an entire series!) on your topic.

At this point, it’s also important to keep in mind that blogging is a continual process. With each blog, you’ll learn something new about your research process, content mapping, including quotes from industry influencers and getting it out to your readers. And it’s these insights that will make your next piece that much better.

Now, get out there and create something great!