How to write posts that people will actually read

by Sterling Camden

Are you just blogging for your own edification, or would you like to have more readers?  Yeah, I thought so.  Me too.  Whether you’re blogging for dollars, for your ego, or for a cause — you wouldn’t be putting it out on the web if you didn’t want people to read it.  But even among your subscribers, most posts will not garner more than a quick skim unless you can grab their attention and convince them to sit down and take their virtual shoes off.  Here are a few pointers:

  1. Choose a subject that you care about.  The best writers can make even the mundane interesting, but why make things hard for yourself?  Your own enthusiasm for the topic will animate your writing style better than any studied approach to writing.
  2. Read up on it.  Check out what others have said on the subject, so you don’t miss any key perspectives.  More importantly, the “conversation” up to this point will often spark new ideas of your own upon which to build your post.
  3. Think of a catchy title.  Many bloggers seem to think this is the most important step, and lots of posts have been devoted to this one facet of composition.   For readers who are skimming at warp factor 9, the title is your only chance to lock on tractor beam and pull them in.
  4. Provoke your readers.  If you want to get them off their RSS horses, then you’ve got to make them say “whoa!”.  Right at the top, make an assertion or ask a question that (at least seemingly) challenges some cherished belief or hits one of their own hot buttons.  They’ll read another sentence or two to see if you’re really saying what they thought you said.
  5. Be funny.  No topic is so serious that it can’t benefit from a well-placed verbal whoopie cushion.  If you don’t know how to be funny, then sorry, you are the joke.  Seriously, you can almost always find something humorous to say by drawing unexpected associations between elements of your subject and unrelated but universal domains such as food, sex, and extraterrestrials.  [Insert “Spock and the cucumber” joke here].
  6. Use examples.  I almost left this one out, because I was too lazy to come up with any.  So you can judge whether this post serves as a negative example or a counterexample.
  7. Engage with your sources.  Make sure you discuss what others have said on the subject (refer to step 2) and link unto them as you would have them link unto you.  This isn’t just being nice.  The holy trinity of Pingback, Google, and Technorati will direct interested readers to your post.  If the blog you’re linking to doesn’t support pingback, then make sure you add a trackback.
  8. Add your own insights.  Sometimes you can get away with just rehashing what everyone else said, but the best posts introduce a new way of looking at some facet of the subject.  That’s what brings readers back the next day.  That’s what makes them link to you, too.
  9. Choose your conclusions wisely.  You don’t have to decide on every point you discuss.  When you can leave the question open, end with an evocative ambiguity, and/or ask your readers what they think.  On the other hand, if you feel strongly about your conclusions, state them boldly and then suit up for the ensuing flamestorm.
  10. Don’t go on too long.  I think I’d better stop here.

Of course, there are many SEO-related tasks (besides linking) that you can undertake to help get your posts noticed.  The points I’ve outlined above concentrate more on the content itself.  What would you add to this list?