First, you need to realize that all the time you might spend checking your blog stats and optimizing your ads and redesigning your site and optimizing it for search engines and submitting it to high-ranking sites and social bookmarking services … all of that is well and good, but it’s not going to get you anywhere until you focus first on the content.
Good content and good headlines drive traffic.
Focus on the things you can do to improve your content and headlines, and ignore the rest, for now. Once you’ve built up some good content, you can worry about those other things. The most productive use of your time is spent doing the things that will get you the most benefits.
Here’s 12 things you can do right now to your post to make it into one that will drive traffic to your site:
1. Bold ideas.
You start every post with an idea. Well, take the idea you come up with for your post, and see if you can make it bolder. Be daring — aim for a big post, not just a regular one. Aim to say something huge, not just what everyone else is saying. Aim for a post that a major blog would link to, and that people will talk about. Get noticed!
2. Bold headlines.
Once you have your idea, start with your headline. As much as I like to flatter myself about my amazing writing (I’m humble, I know), people would never read a word of it if their interest weren’t caught by the headline. There are so many posts on so many blogs, that your headline has to grab the reader’s attention and want them to find out more. For more on how to write a great headline, see The Sexy Art of Writing Headlines That Kill at FreelanceSwitch.
A reader will only give you a few seconds of scanning a post (either on your blog or in his feed reader) before deciding whether to move on or keep reading. That means that your post cannot be a bunch of long, plain paragraphs. You need to highlight key points through bolding, through bullet points, and other design elements. The reader should be able to find out what your key points are in 10 seconds or less — otherwise, he’ll move on and you’ll lose readers.
How will your post be useful to the reader? What problem does it help him to solve or what skill does it teach him? If your post is kinda interesting but has very little practical use to the reader, it won’t mean much. But if you teach the reader something he really wants to know (how to lose weight! make money! become attractive! become a hacker! be more productive!), you will get their attention and have them wanting to read more. Step-by-step guides are always extremely useful.
5. Create a resource.
Related to usefulness, this point tells you to find a bunch of useful things on the Internet, and put them all together to create an extremely useful resource for your reader. You’ve just saved a huge amount of time for the reader, and for that, she will bookmark your post for future reference. Get enough people to bookmark you on delicious, and suddenly you’ve got a popular post. Take whatever topic you’re thinking of writing about and find a way to create a resource — a list of 100 tools to lose weight, 50 ways to make money online, 5 ways to be instantly more attractive to your hot co-worker, and 60 tips from celebrities teaching you to be better in bed.
6. Link to others.
This should be obvious, but if you create a resource, you will most likely have a collection of links. This is very useful to the reader, but it has added benefits for you: the blogs you link to will be grateful for your link. And this could get you some link love in return. Don’t go overboard, but in providing useful links to your readers you are helping out a fellow blogger — and that will come back to you, either immediately or eventually.
7. Focus on the lead.
What’s the most important part of a post after the headline? The first paragraph. The first sentence, actually. If you don’t grab the reader’s attention with that first sentence (known as the “lead” paragraph, or “lede” in journalese), you will lose him. He will go on to the next post in his feed reader, and read someone else’s tips for being better in bed (”Get a bigger bed!”). After you craft your headline, really craft your first sentence. Get it as concise and catchy as possible, and explain why the reader should continue reading. After the first sentence, the next few are also very important. Now, you shouldn’t get so caught up in the lede that you don’t write the rest of the post … write the whole thing, then go back and revise the lede until you’re reasonably satisfied that it does its job.
8. Be different.
This is easier said than done, I know. But it’s useful to know what others have written on a topic, and find a way to provide new information, a twist on what’s been done, or a fresh perspective. If you’re just doing what everyone else has done, in exactly the same way, people will yawn at your post.
9. Be concise.
After you’ve written your post, go over it for a few minutes. It’s tempting to just press “Publish” and be done with it, but it’s actually very useful to trim your post down a little where you’ve been wordy. See if there are unnecessary words or even sentences or paragraphs that can be cut out, or reworded in a less awkward or confusing way. Write simply, with force, and people will enjoy reading you. Write in a convoluted, fumbling way, and people will move on.
10. Give practical tips.
This is very related to the usefulness tip, but extends it a bit: Instead of just being useful, provide a list of practical tips. Not general or vague tips, but ones that can actually be implemented by the reader without further research. For example, if you’re going to write about how to write a good headline, don’t just say “be catchy” but give some actual examples and methods for doing so. Your reader will be eternally grateful.
11. Know what you’re talking about.
I’ve made some mistakes here myself, but it’s best if you write about something you really know about, that you’ve experienced yourself, and can give some real-world advice about what works and what doesn’t. It’s easy to give diet or exercise advice, but unless you’ve actually lost 50 lbs. or run a marathon, you are just talking about vague concepts. If you haven’t actually done what you’re talking about, find another topic.
12. Don’t make it all about you.
Sure, you know what you’re talking about and you’ve gone through it yourself. And it’s good to share your experiences and make your post personal. However, you are writing for a very general readership, not for your mom, and they are more interested in how the information will help them than they are in the personal details of your life. It’s good to put yourself in your posts, because readers can identify with it, but be sure that what you’re writing about is of general interest to many people, not just your personal stalkers.