Just the phrase “effective writing” sounds vague and lovely. It inspires a flurry of images and associations like some far-off land you hope to visit someday. Executives in high heels speaking with power and influence, military pilots touching the sky, or in my case, a content writer working towards specific business goals.
Content writing is a huge challenge because it means creating long-form copy for a quantifiable set of metrics. But creativity isn’t quantifiable. It’s not linear and no matter how hard you may try there’s no perfect formula for blog writing. That said, there are ways you can adjust your approach and perspective for effective writing that touches hearts, minds, and sometimes wallets.
Effective writing for blogs: Everything you need to know
Efficient writing vs. effective writing
How long does it take to write a great blog post?
Effective writing for blogs – my step by step process
Efficient writing vs. effective writing
There’s a stereotype that all writers have too much to say and write too much. As a content manager, I see the opposite just as often. Many writers struggle with boredom and brevity. If a writer doesn’t find a topic engaging or they don’t find the hook, they just write the post as fast as possible. This leads to a lot of throwaway copy and it’s not good writing. Efficient, but not effective.
I had a co-worker once who was exceptionally efficient. He had the cleanest desk, his email inbox was empty, and his spreadsheets were color-coded. He was punctual, responsible, and smart. But he was a salesperson and he rarely closed sales. He was so efficient that he ended every meeting with his leads quickly. He didn’t dig into their objections or offer information in a personalized way. He didn’t experiment with delivery or style. He didn’t change up his location or the statistics he shared. He had a process. It was clean and efficient, but it wasn’t effective.
I see a lot of writers fall into the same trap. I understand it can be frustrating and monotonous to write about the same topic every day. When you feel stuck it’s easy to repeat yourself or to fixate on things that don’t really matter. Marketing is full of best practices and target numbers. Maybe too full. It can be very distracting.
Effective writing means prioritizing what matters
I can already hear you saying “But everything matters!” and I feel you. Let’s say your high-level business goals are sign ups and leads, but they have two completely different audiences. What if your blog is popular for a topic that doesn’t help your bottom line? How do you convert those visitors into sign-ups or leads? What other content or information will make your audience curious enough to click?
There’s a ton of information online about how to start a project from the beginning, but it’s harder to write about the real problems and experiences of your readers. Most people would love to start something from scratch, but instead, they spend hours fixing what is broken. How can you dig into each reader’s individual experience and write blogs that truly help them solve problems, build trust in you, and take action?
First, you need to understand what they’re looking for.
SEO is important because it doesn’t matter how great your writing is if no one is reading it. Every person is unique, and that includes the words we use. So, the way I ask a question is different from the way you will ask the same question. This is why it’s helpful to understand a bit about keywords and SEO before you start writing a blog post.
I use Trello to organize my blog ideas. I use one list for loose ideas of what I want to write about, and I add notes to these cards or add new cards when I get ideas. When I’m ready to write about one of these ideas, I’m ready for keyword research.
The top keywords for your topic will tell you what your audience is most curious about and how urgent that topic is for them. I don’t write a post without a keyword. I’ve seen too much great writing fade into oblivion. If you haven’t done keyword research, this class is very helpful. Ahrefs and Keyword Planner are also great tools. Ahrefs also has a good blog for learning more about keywords and SEO.
Before starting an article I find 4-5 keywords that all address the topic I’m writing about from different angles. This gives me a clear starting point. Then I take a careful look at the first page of Google results for each keyword. The top result is the post that search engines feel best answers the search. Other articles on the first page will often approach the topic from a different perspective.
Skimming 5 or 6 of these articles will tell you what you should cover to ensure that your article is as comprehensive as these high-ranking articles. It will also show you the loose ends that you can tie up. It will reveal related questions people are asking that these posts haven’t answered. This research will make your post more useful and interesting to potential readers.
I usually keep a plain text doc as I scan articles to jot down notes and bits of copy I think are interesting. I also take note of the links that I think do a good job of expanding on terms or concepts that will be unfamiliar to most of my readers.
If I still feel like there are holes in my research, I use some Google search tricks to find other perspectives on the topics I’m researching. My favorites are topic + history and topic + controversy. I got this idea from a great blog I read, but I can’t find it in my bookmarks! If you’ve read it, please send me an email! I would love to read it again.
I also use the site search function if I want to research a topic from the perspective of a specific site. For example: site:https://www.nytimes.com/ topic
Authority in writing
Our world is more niche than it used to be. This makes authority important. Showing that you have deep and experience-based knowledge of your topic adds to the credibility of your blog posts. But a content writer is often in a position to write about a wide range of topics, so you won’t always have this level of experience.
Developing a thorough research process helps you develop and communicate authority. Education and experience are the way that experts in every field got to where they are, and it’s the quickest path you can take towards expertise over time. Another way to do this is by building connections.
Authenticity is essential. So if you have real knowledge of a niche, think about your audience. It’s fine to write for the in-crowd sometimes, but your writing will be more useful if it explains concepts to both insiders and to people who are new to your topic. If you aren’t familiar with a specific topic or niche, don’t confuse niche-specific vocabulary with authority. Writing a superficial post with insider terms isn’t helpful to anyone and it can damage your effectiveness in the long run.
So, do your research, then get started.
How long does it take to write a great blog post?
Blog writing takes as long as you say it will. Sort of. Some posts will take more or less time depending on your familiarity with the topic, the complexity of your article, how much research it will take, and your personal writing and editing process.
I usually give myself 4 to 6 hours to research, write, and design a blog post. I sometimes split it up, and do my research notes and outline one day and write my post the next day. I like having an extra day to let my brain rest and mull over the new information. Sometimes that works in my favor, other times I have to go over my sources again before I start writing.
If you want to write faster, these articles have some smart strategies:
Effective writing for blogs: My step by step process
Writing one 2000+ word article is fun. Writing 2-3 posts a week in between meetings, analytics, and other projects is another story. I have a few ways that I approach writing an article to stay fresh, engaged, and motivated.
I write morning pages every day. If you’re not familiar with morning pages, the term was popularized by Julia Cameron, best-selling author of The Artist’s Way. I fill two 9 by 12 pages with writing each morning with whatever is in my head. This practice keeps me writing consistently. It also clears out the to-do lists, emotional moments, and distractions that might interfere with my content writing.
As I write my morning pages I also find myself wandering into new topics and ideas. I often do this kind of freewriting before I start an article, just to clear out my head and get focused.
If I’m doing too much editing as I write I’ll set a short timer for each section of my post. With this strategy, I write to each section for 5 to 10 minutes. This can be less daunting than writing the whole post at a go. It also helps me dig into each individual section, to see the details I can add to make the post unique.
In my research notes, I include phrases that I especially like. I also have a list of articles from my blog that have high conversion rates. I borrow and rewrite sections of new blog posts using these saved pieces as references. Plagiarism is a bad plan, no matter who you are writing for. It’s dishonest and bad for SEO. But I have no problem borrowing good ideas and tweaking them to make them my own.
Like many content writers, I came to this profession from another industry. My education is in art and art history, and most of my career experience is in higher ed admissions, which is basically inside sales.
An education in art means a lot of critique. If you’ve never been to a college art class, critique involves putting completed projects up in the classroom. Then the class has a discussion about each piece.
During this conversation, the artist explains their process and how the finished project meets the expectations of the class assignment. Once the explanation is complete the teacher and other students share their compliments and criticism of the work. Artists spend a lot of time defending and answering questions about the work. This means that, depending on the rigor of your art education, most formally trained artists are more articulate than the average bear.
For me, it means that I am sometimes better at sharing complex ideas verbally then I am in writing. So, I will often do my research and create an outline, then voice type my articles.
Your writing process matters
Writing with a pen and paper brings out a different voice and tone in my writing than writing directly on my laptop does. I often lapse into third-person or overly formal writing when I write on my laptop, so I rarely write this way.
Instead, I write by hand in a sketchbook with my messy handwriting. Voice typing my handwritten text saves me a ton of time and effort, and the voice typing tool in Google Docs is easy to use and is mostly accurate.
How to write more
When I first started writing blogs as a career I struggled with the word counts. Most of my prior experience was in copywriting, so my specialty was short and declarative sentences and paragraphs. I also have a background in academic writing, which is complex, coded, and lengthy. I talk more about how I came to content writing in this post about restarting my career.
As I wrote my first few blogs I struggled with writing enough words to not only sell the product but also meet that minimum word count. For a blog post to rank on search engines, it should be at least 1500 to 2000 words long, some sources recommend a blog should be even longer. That’s tough if you don’t have much to say about a topic.
This is where your keywords and research come in. Those extra details can inspire you and can also help you make your post more useful and relevant. This is also why I write a post around 4-5 related keywords instead of a single keyword. This strategy gives each post a solid foundation and resources so I can write a long and valuable blog.
Remember: Don’t get lax on editing or repeat the same idea multiple times just to fill up your word count. There is nothing worse than a post full of “really”s and other filler words.
After I write my copy I start editing. I love editing. I would guess that the satisfaction I get from editing is akin to a neat freak cleaning a house. I’m not sure because I am a bit messy with my personal space.
But my writing is clean. I learned how to edit before I realized I was a writer. I learned from an incredible mentor in advertising, you can learn more about that experience in this post. I love getting everything neatly in order and crystallizing ideas. The editing process can sometimes slow down my writing because editing while you write is a quick way to shut down interesting ideas.
Effective writing is about priorities
I’m a perfectionist but I try to be careful not to over-perfect my writing. The constant need for new content keeps me from stressing about the details in my editing. I try to stay away from perfect grammar when I can. My reasoning? Perfect grammar doesn’t close deals. Yes, it reinforces the authority of my writing and proper punctuation is important. It’s just not my number one priority. Effective writing is.
After I’m done editing, I bring my copy into Hemingway Editor. I’m not alone in my bad habits and this tool helps me see those habits in my writing more easily. I have crappy eyes and I’m thankful for the color-coded errors. They make it easy for me to notice when I’ve made a sentence too complex or I’m writing in past tense instead of present tense.
Hemingway Editor also gives your writing a score. I get attached to metrics and I feel a thrill of satisfaction when my score is in a good range. I also know from experience that there’s not any correlation between that score and how successful my articles are. The same thing holds true for SEO plugin scores, visitor numbers, and any other analytics that I use to optimize my content writing.
I can use these tools to write blogs that are easy to read. I use them to help a post rank better for search engines. I even use a tool to check the emotional resonance of my blog titles. But none of these tools really measures how readers feel when they read my writing.
The next step when I’m writing a blog post is linking. There are a lot of reasons that someone clicks a link in a blog. For me, link clicks tell me that my readers want to interact. They’re also signals for SEO and authority. I see more link clicks when the link is an important part of the post and not a last-minute addition. Since engagement is always a priority, I feel links are essential for blog writing.
Sometimes links come first, around the same time as keyword research, but it depends on the goal of my post. I usually start with links when I am writing a guest post, and you can read more about that process in this article, A small business guest post strategy you can do on your own.
Make the most of your links. Choose good ones.
When you’re tight on time it’s simple to just add the top link from Google but read the article before you link to it! Also, make sure that the link isn’t accidentally promoting one of your competitors. This sounds obvious, but I’ve caught this error many times. Link to high authority domains in your industry or niche. Link to content that expands on and reinforces your perspective and how you develop those ideas.
For example, when I write about time management I often reference Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This book was a big influence on my professional development, so I link to those ideas when it’s relevant. This gives my readers a better idea of where I’m coming from and why without a lot of extra text that doesn’t fit the rest of my blog post.
Don’t forget internal links
For some writers, links are an extra or an afterthought. To me, links are my blog’s best friends. They are resources that make my writing better. They’re the yardstick I measure my writing by.
This is why internal links are a favorite strategy. Internal links are the other pieces of writing that you want to introduce readers to. If one of your blogs is very popular, you’ll want to link from that blog to your favorite posts, especially if they share a common topic or theme.
As your blog grows, make a list of posts so it’s easy for you to interlink consistently and grow the SEO value and referral traffic for every post on your blog.
Blog post design
The last element of an effective blog post is how it’s visually communicated. It doesn’t matter how good your writing is if you present it in a format that is unprofessional or hard to read.
Beyond those basic concerns, writing is a visual language. The shape of the letters in your chosen font, your text size, white space, and the images you choose all influence how readers feel about your writing.
You may not always be able to control these aspects of the blogs you write, but you can keep them in mind as you edit so that the style and tone of your blogs are consistent with their context.
Effective writing checklist
There are a lot of articles out there with proven systems for how to write fast. Your time is valuable and you want to use it to your advantage. But before you focus your energy on knocking out a 2000 word post in a couple of hours, review this quick summary of steps for effective writing.
- Don’t always follow the same process
- Plan ahead when you can
- Do your research
- Write in a way that works for you
- Don’t over-edit
- Use links that add value
- Add visuals that support your writing