When you finally sit down to write that blog post you’ve had in mind for weeks, any of the following can happen:
You have forgotten half the points you wanted to make in it.
You aren’t quite sure the topic will appeal to your audience.
You can’t remember a specific example that sparked the topic in the first place.
And probably the worst one of them all: You end up creating something that nobody cares about.
The real challenge of content creation isn’t simply finding the time to do it or even finding the topics that matter to your audience. If your business has seen any success by this point, you probably have a solid idea about what your customers care about.
The true challenge is creating content that…
- Shifts someone’s perspective about a topic that matters to them (and you)
- Inspires someone to take action right now (real action: taking your blog post to their next team brainstorming session or implementing the process you taught them)
- Gets someone to share your ideas (beyond simply sharing links on social media)
When you remember that there are more than 4 million blog posts published each day, standing out and making someone care is anything but easy.
(Or your target topic may have 3 billion search results already. Tough luck.)
The good news is that creating outstanding content isn’t unachievable. In fact, I use a straightforward, 5-step process to get this done on a daily basis and create content that actually makes a difference (and brings results!).
This process consists of planning, research, writing, editing, and optimization. In this guide, I’m breaking each of them down into small, actionable tasks along with tools and productivity tips. Let’s go!
Step #1: Planning
Before you start creating your blog post, there are a few small steps you can take to ensure it strikes a chord with the readers you’re looking to reach.
Step 1.1: Map each piece of content to user intent
People look to answer different types of questions when consuming content. This can be defined as user intent. Your reader’s intent will vary significantly when they’re just starting to learn about something compared to when they’re ready to purchase solutions.
For your piece of content, define whether it’s providing:
- Information for beginners just entering the field (e.g. beginner’s guide)
- Deeper layers of knowledge for experts in the field (e.g. advanced strategies)
- Information that helps a reader make a buying decision (e.g. review, demo, pricing)
A great example is the beginner’s guide to SEO by Moz.
Will expert SEOs be looking for advice here? Probably not.
But will people starting out in SEO be assured that this is exactly what they’re looking for? Absolutely.
Step 1.2: Define the What’s in it for me?
“What’s in it for me?”, or WIIFM for short, has been around marketing, sales, and business for a while.
And for a good reason. When you define WIIFM, you essentially state what your goal is for a specific piece of content.
The most important element here is to define your goal of the piece for your audience and not for you!
In other words, the idea here isn’t to set a traffic or conversion goal for the blog post, but to identify a specific pain point you’re solving for your audience. This will then drive your call-to-action for the blog post, as well as the main KPI for you to measure from it!
Step 1.3: Use tools to narrow your topic
Luckily, the data for planning out your topic is freely available and simply requires you to look at it creatively. Use tools such as:
- Google search and its results
- Keywords Everywhere
- Related searches
- Past interactions with your audience
- Survey tools (SurveyMonkey, Typeform)
I’ve talked about using Google search, related searches, and Keywords Everywhere here already.
By analyzing various search queries one at a time and closely looking at the SERPs and related searches, you can notice patterns and trends in the formats used, questions that have been answered, and gaps that your competitors missed.
Check out this example of ‘people also ask’ section.
This showed up in a search for ‘how to edit videos for Instagram’. One of the questions is ‘what is the best video editing app?,’ but the featured answer lists only Android apps, which is a potential gap in the content that exists on the topic.
This part of the process can be as long or as short as you let it. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time and refine this process until you find what suits you and your content creation schedule.
Step #2: Research
After you’ve defined your topic, the next step is researching it so you can make it as rich and valuable as possible.
I find this the most fun part, but it’s also the one that takes me into endless rabbit holes and stops me from actually being productive. When this happens, it’s too easy to feel like you’re making progress even though you’re slowing yourself down.
That’s why I’ve divided research into steps with clear start and end points to avoid the challenges of over-researching.
Step 2.1: Identify key sections
First, do a braindump on main subtopics you find important when it comes to the topic you’ve selected. These are your preliminary blog post sections.
Then, refer to your earlier Google searches and see if there are any subtopics you can add that you haven’t thought of. If you decide to add anything, make sure it’s still related to the specific topic you’ve defined earlier or you won’t actually successfully answer the WIIFM question!
This is now your outline to work from.
Step 2.2: Add data to support your claims
This is a simple, but powerful way to add a layer of trustworthiness to your content: look into studies, reports, whitepapers, and other industry materials to back up your claims.
Making statements you believe in, but aren’t actually true, is a mistake that’s easy to slip into.
For example, you might want to say something like “Hiring marketers is one of the biggest challenges of startups today.” But is it? If there are stats that have analyzed startup challenges and hiring marketers isn’t even on the list, you’re at risk of coming across as unprofessional.
Step 2.3 Add value by using expert quotes
Often times, and especially if you’ve just started out building your content library, it’s difficult to earn trust from your target audience.
A strategy to expedite the trust-building process includes borrowing it from people who already have it.
To feature experts in your blog posts, you can:
- Reach out and ask for quotes from industry experts you’re connected to
- Feature public, well-known quotes from industry leaders (authors, speakers etc.)
This isn’t to say that your entire blog post should be made of quotes only. Ideally, you’ll have the meat of your blog post based on data and your expertise, but sprinkling expert quotes in key sections can be of huge help.
Here’s an example from A Better Lemonade Stand:
Step 2.4: Use examples, screenshots, and walkthroughs
If you can show something instead of just talking about it—do it!
When it comes to software or anything you can showcase by using screenshots, GIFs, or videos, taking the visual route is always a good choice.
For example, if your blog post was all about editing videos for social media, a visual walkthrough of the process isn’t just beneficial, it’s expected. Otherwise, your reader might not know what to do or how long the process might take.
Bonus productivity tip: When you’re going through these research steps, only go through one at a time! In other words, look for data, then for quotes, then for screenshot/walkthrough opportunities. Otherwise, you’ll end up in that same rabbit hole we’re trying to avoid!
Step #3: Writing
When all of your research is collected and sorted into your subsections and your original outline, it’s time to write out your first draft.
Here’s my favorite trick to reaching the goal of having an initial draft: write The Ugly First Draft, or TUFD.
This is an idea from Ann Handley’s book Everybody Writes, and it’s based on the premise that you will combat any form of writer’s block or writing paralysis by simply getting an ugly draft onto your screen. (You’ll edit it afterwards.)
The way to make this work is to simply come to peace with knowing that no one but you will see this first draft. Because, yes, it will most likely be a bad one.
Resist the urge to edit as you write. Just write!
Writing without editing will help you get everything out of your head and you’ll gain clarity on what needs extra work and what requires rewriting. You’ll get past a blank page extra quick and have something to work from.
A tool that can help: I say this hesitantly, but if the idea of writing ugly terrifies you, I challenge you to try The Most Dangerous Writing App.
It’s a writing app that destroys your writing if you stop typing for 5 seconds. While it sounds awful, it actually helped me get past writer’s block many times! Make sure you start with the shortest session length (3 minutes) and work your way up if it feels comfortable.
Step #4: Editing
Now that you have your draft ready, you can jump into editing. Editing is where you get to smooth everything out and turn a stream of information into a piece that a reader will flow through.
The best editing work comes from focusing on a single element of the blog post at a time, so here’s the order in which I do it.
Step 4.1: Is it bringing something new?
At your first read of your draft, analyze each paragraph and section and question its role in the order of information you’re working with.
This means that…
- You might need to reorder some parts
- Some sections might need to be removed altogether
- There might be gaps where you need to add more details to
Step 4.2: Big-picture editing
Next, try looking at your blog post as a whole.
Has it gone in the direction you hoped for? Is there too much focus on one section and too little on the others? Can the reader walk away with a complete picture on the specific pain point you’ve decided to address?
Step 4.3: Edit your introduction
One of the easiest and fastest way to make your blog post instantly more appealing and to the point is by editing its introduction.
In most cases, introductions are too long and sometimes even lead with one or two paragraphs that can be entirely removed without removing the point of the introduction.
What is the reason your reader should choose to continue reading your blog post? Have you hidden it in your introduction?
Try removing sentences from the beginning and see if the introduction still makes sense. Do so until you hit the pain point right in the first one or two sentences!
Step 4.4: Proofreading and formatting
Finally, when your blog post is looking good from a topic flow perspective and you’re confident it provides the answers your reader will be looking for, it’s time for the final editing round.
This is where you should:
- Ensure there are no spelling and grammar mistakes (having another pair of eyes on your blog post really helps with this!)
- Break up paragraphs that might be too long
- Emphasize key points with bold text
- Turn information-packed paragraphs into bullet points
Step #5: Final optimization
At this point, your blog post is pretty much ready to go. In this final step, you’ll simply want to ensure you have actually followed the ‘what’s in it for me?’ statement that you’ve identified in the beginning.
Confirmed? Awesome. Now make sure you:
- Include keywords that reflect the WIIFM in your title, URL, first paragraph, and image descriptions
- Check if you’ve missed out on any closely related keywords with the LSIGraph tool
- Adjust your call-to-action so that your blog post drives marketing and business goals you’ve intended it for
Execute, Rinse, Repeat
This might seem like too much work for a single blog post.
But look at it this way: if you don’t have a process behind your blog post creation, you will waste a lot of time and won’t see results from what you create.
If you plan and write your content strategically, though, you’ll know that all of your efforts are more focused and well thought out.
Over time, it will become easier, and if you decide to expand your team and have in-house or outsourced writers and editors to help you out, onboarding will be a piece of cake.