Most people don’t read blogs. They let their eyes wander through the text hoping to spot a new, exciting idea, a handy tip, or a new way to look at world events.
As bloggers, our job is to give them what they are after – quickly, because if we fail to do that, they will ignore us. Maybe for good.
Here’s how you can be insanely useful and make sure you won’t be ignored again.
Make your point crystal clear
I come to your blog and start checking out your latest post. If in five seconds it’s still not clear to me what your post is about, you’ve lost me.
It’s cruel, I know, but the world is full of great blogs so unless we’re friends, I’ll move on to the next blog.
But there are ways you can use to increase that five seconds to ten, and then to actually reading the full post:
1. Use a descriptive headline:
This has been said many times. The headline needs to catch my attention, or otherwise you won’t even get that five seconds I promised you just a few lines up.
But if you want to be useful, that’s not enough. Make your header, or at least the first sentence tell the reader the one most important idea you are going to present in the post so that she knows whether the post is for her or not.
2. Summarize your key points with sub-headlines:
People don’t stop to read the body of your text before you’ve convinced them to believe that it’s important.
That’s why it’s important to organize your post in distinct sections so that even if someone just reads the headings, he will still get the big picture.
3. Use bold:
Highlight the most important words and sentences so that the busy reader can pick them up without reading the surrounding text.
In fact, I could bet that even from this list, you’re not reading anything but the parts written in bold.
4. Use pictures:
They catch the reader’s eye, but also serve as a quick way to share a lot of information at just a glance, which is exactly what the modern reader wants.
5. Use short sentences and a lot of whitespace:
Short sentences and whitespace makes the text look less heavy. That makes the text easier to read which in turn improves the likelihood of someone reading it.
6. Keep it simple:
A good blog post takes one topic, looks at just one aspect of it, and does that well.
Besides, this way you can come up with more posts with the same amount of information you would spend to create one scary, big post with everything packed in it.
In case you missed the point while skipping over my content, here it is again:
Keep it simple. Make sure I can get your point without reading more than 10% of your words. The next thing you’ll notice, I might be reading the whole thing.
And as a bonus: use simple words. If your reader can’t understand the words you use to explain what you have on your mind, there is no way they could understand your idea either.
Make your content useful
The world is full of people looking for something useful to help them in their lives: work, hobbies, career plans, parenting, blogging, you name it.
And you have something useful you can share with them. All it requires is work and some thinking:
7. Find out who you can help:
You can’t help everyone. Some people are not interested in your topic. Some think they know more about it than you do. But then there is the group of people who are interested in the same things as you and want to learn more about them.
Pick a topic you already have a relationship with: your hobby, your job, some specific things you have had to go through in life. I’m sure there is someone who needs to hear your experiences.
8. Find out how you can help:
Quite often, just telling what you have learned through your experiences is enough. The problem here however is that you need to have those experiences.
If you blog about something you have little or no prior experience on, you will need something more. It’s still possible to be useful, but it will require more work: Visit Wikipedia, read lots of other blogs, go to the library, talk to people, read books, do experiments.
In other words, you need to learn new things so that you can teach them to your readers.
9. Be practical:
Don’t forget that your reader won’t stay for long (even in the best case). That means that you’ll have to work hard to make everything as quick to digest as possible.
And when it comes to the content itself, one of the best ways to make your reader happy is by presenting the topic in a practical way. Tips and how-to tutorials are nice because they give the reader a set of clearly defined things to do and try out without making her think too much.
Theoretical thinking might lead to bigger ideas but unfortunately a much smaller audience as well.
Put yourself in the shoes of the reader and ask yourself, “Is this going to give her a new boost in [blogging/coding/cooking/insert your topic here]?”
Quite often the answer is the same as the answer to another, similar question, “Is this information useful to me? What would I gain from reading it?”
When your readers have finished reading your post, they will have additional questions. Listen to them.
If their questions come through your blog comments and can be answered in a relatively quick comment, answer them right there on the place.
If the questions require a longer answer, write a new blog post to cover the question.
If the questions come through e-mail, answer the e-mail and consider if the answer would be something others would also like to read on your blog.
Sometimes crafting a good answer will require some background work, but it pays off because when someone asks you a specific question, that’s your best chance in being useful: you know exactly what your reader needs. You just need to go and find the information.
After publishing a post that you think should be useful, take some time to see how people reacted: did they Digg or Stumble your post? If they did, what did they comment on it? Did they comment on your blog?
How did the new post affect your visitor stats?
Also, if you have a direct way of contacting your readers (through e-mail, for example), it’s a good idea to ask them for their opinion. If they didn’t find your post that useful, chances are that most other people didn’t either, and you should have done something differently.
Then try again. Write a new post and concentrate in different ways of making it more useful to the reader: make the post easier to skim and more captivating, organize it so that it’s easier to understand, go look for some more background information on the topic.
And you might notice the reaction to your new post to be completely different from the first version. That happened to me again, just last week.
Keep it simple, be useful and make your readers love you!