So You Wrote a Great Headline--Now What? Structuring the Rest of Your Blog Post

Here's a really quick rundown of how to structure a great blog post. This focuses on the parts that come after your headline, since writing great headlines already receives a ton of attention out there. (The info below was pulled from this blueprint for content marketing.)

BUT ... what's a post on this blog without at least a little ranting first? (Clears throat) Let's begin...

I'm a big believer in a little secret about content marketing.

That secret, whether the pundits want to admit it or not, is that this style of marketing favors creative types. The more naturally creative you are, the better you are at this stuff. That should be obvious, right? Being a better writer (or designer, or videographer, or podcaster, etc.) probably increases the odds of you being prolific and creating things that people actually care to consume. You enjoy it, so you do it more, you refine your skills, and you view content production as something to do for the sake of doing (it's intrinsic) versus an activity to efficiently move through to achieve an end result (extrinsic).  

It's also harder to be really creative than it is to be great at marketing. Whenever I've hired content marketers in the past, I've looked for candidates who can write or create really well over those who are super knowledgeable about marketing. Why? I can teach marketing in a much shorter span of time than I can teach writing or creativity -- if the latter can even be taught in an amount of time that aligns with business's frenetic pace today.

But you won't hear this idea proclaimed all that much in the industry.

That's because people who sell content marketing-related products or services can't really declare this to be a practice for the creative few. They're far better off selling to a broader audience, and so the dialogue runs that everyone can be great at content.

Maybe. I get why they say that. I'm just not sure I believe it.

What I definitely DO believe is that super creative individuals and teams are much, MUCH better at this than those who are trying to force the issue and simply cut corners to put a "thing" out the door. (The reasons why will make a great blog post for another day that I definitely need to write.)

Now, I'm not saying content marketing can't produce some results for your more traditional marketer types, but rather, that understanding creative production is important. Really focusing on the stuff that happens after your marketing falls away and all that's left is your creativity and your knowledge is the difference between someone who's great at content marketing ... and someone who's just great at generating empty pageviews.

In other words, conversions -- whether you define that conversion by looking at qualitative, positive sentiment or through marketing metrics like subscribers, leads, customers, and so forth -- happen AFTER THE CLICK. So where your audience spends time after the click (i.e. with your content) better be damn good.

So, um, can we start talking more about creativity and quality behind what we physically produce? And not just focus on distribution alone? Please?

Okay -- enough of the rant. Again, that's a bigger post for a bigger debate down the road.

The reason I started with that is to make it clear that the parts of a blog post that happen after the headline actually, truly, deeply matter. Like, a lot. A buttload. A metric crapton.

If we're being scientific.

Without further ado, here's a super quick look at the specific components that make up a coherent blog post...

How to Structure a Great Blog Post: A 2-Minute Rundown

(Really great writers may view this as a "duh" list -- but just in case there are folks out there struggling to piece together their paragraphs, since that can be horrifying, here we go...)

1. Hook

A statement or very brief paragraph that grabs people’s attention and starts your blog post off strong. In an age where everybody has millions of stimuli flying around them at all times, you have precious few seconds to get someone to focus and read the rest of your work. (For inspiration, simply look to your favorite blogs. They’re probably your favorite for a reason and wouldn’t be as memorable without their hooks to grab your attention.)

Why It Matters: The aforementioned hyper-distracted nature of our world. Also, people often share blog posts based on the intro alone, says Chartbeat via Slate.

Example: Everyone thinks blogging is about being a thought leader. They’re wrong.  

2. Nut Graf

This is a term that journalists use to describe a paragraph ("graf") that gives you the who-what-where-when-why of a story. For your marketing purposes, it could be a combination of these or simply the thesis or main takeaways that you’ll explore later in the post. The goal is to say to your reader early in your post that THIS is what I am about to prove or THIS is what you need to know, and let's dive in and learn more about that during the rest of the post.

Why It Matters: For you search rank lovers out there, I'm pretty sure there's a benefit to laying out the critical info and learning (i.e. keywords) up front. For you aspiring or established quality writers out there (my people!), you want to deliver value up front to the humans you're trying to reach ... since you're writing for them, not for bots.

Example: The best corporate blogs focus not on being thought leaders but on being simply but consistently helpful to their target buyers.

3. Body

The body should be a combination of stories, data, and other points and opinions to logically support whatever your nut graf/thesis said to be true. As a general rule, the longer the body, the more visual breaks or subheaders you should use to keep readers engaged. If you want to adopt a single approach, try to work in at least three points into the body of your post that support your thesis.

Why It Matters: Because this is, um, most of the content in your content.

Example (condensed): Helpful blog posts (1) rank well on Google, (2) drive traffic over time (instead of relying on viral luck), and (3) address the same problems as your product, helping you reel in qualified traffic. 

4. Conclusion 

This is where you add tons of value and showcase your expertise by adding a few key takeaways.

Why It Matters: To quote many people before me: "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. Tell 'em. Tell 'em what you told 'em."

Example: So the next time you blog, instead of being clever or trying to force brilliance or virality, just answer customer questions and offer practically useful advice.

5. Call-to-Action (CTA)

This is where a central, core resource comes into the picture. The classic B2B example is an ebook, but there are dozens of other options. (Shameless plug: That is the subject of my talk at Content Marketing World this fall on 9/10.) If you run the content marketing playbook properly, all your blog posts are inspired by and relevant to some kind of content that inspires an action from your audience, whether that's to engage further or to convert in some way (e.g. lead-gen or subscriber-gen). 

Why It Matters: This CTA is critical to proving your ROI. At best, you will hit your main goal, like leads, subscribers, demos, etc. -- but at very least, the content to which the CTA links will add way more value to the reader and thereby generate more sharing, more emotional affinity, and future readership.

Example: Ready to get started? Read more tips for great blogging (and for executing your content marketing when resources are tight) in this Content Marketing Growth Guide -- built to be less reading, more doing.

Posted on June 27, 2014 and filed under content marketing.