How to Write Epic Blog Posts that Rank Well
I started writing for Income Diary one year ago.
Through 34 posts, I’ve learned a lot about writing great online content – particularly content that ranks well with search engines. I’m proud to say that many of my articles show up on Google’s front page (for terms like “great thoughts” and “Steve Jobs life lessons”).
This type of content is the engine driving Income Diary’s success. I’m not privy to the exact statistics, but I know that Income Diary gets a huge monthly traffic stream from Google.
As more and more articles are published online every day, the competition to earn Google’s top spot gets ever-fiercer. If you want to rank well in 2012 and beyond, you’ll have to write truly extraordinary content.
I’m here to share with you what I know about doing just that. You too can write epic blog posts that rank on Google’s front page for popular keywords.
Table of Contents
- What You’ll Learn:
- What Makes a Blog Post Epic?
- A “One-Stop” Destination
- Types of Epic Posts
- Step-by-Step Guides
- What to Include in an Epic Blog Post
- Eye Candy
- Bullet Points
- How to Format a Block Quote for your Blog
- Putting it All Together
- Ready to Get on Google’s Front Page?
What You’ll Learn:
- What a good post has in common with Walmart
- The three types of epic posts I write
- Why quotations are your best friend
- Why I use two separate Word documents to write epic posts
What Makes a Blog Post Epic?
A “One-Stop” Destination
The Super Walmart in my town is the ultimate one-stop-shopping locale. You can buy clothes, groceries, bicycles, electronics, get your hair cut, have your eyes inspected, and get your car’s oil changed – all in one place.
People love Walmart because they can get almost anything without having to go all over town.
Google loves web pages for the same reason. They want to deliver search results that provide their customers with everything they need, without having to follow a bunch of links. So be thorough. Before you click ‘Publish’, ask yourself if there’s anything else that you could provide the audience of post.
Now personally, I don’t love Walmart. I would rather shop at a smaller, local store with a bit of character (by lawrence). But I do love thorough web content that save me time by giving me all of the information I could possibly need in one place.
All of my posts on Income Diary are at least 2,000 words long.
It’s not because I think longer is better. Sometimes less is more. Seth Godin is one of the world’s most successful bloggers and he rarely writes posts longer than 300 words. Short posts are easy to read – and therefore easy to comment on and share.
But don’t count on your short posts ranking well with search engines.
You’ll have a better chance of getting on the front page of Google if your post is at least 2,000 words. Longer posts have more keywords, more often, and in more combinations. Search engines also see them as being more likely to fulfill their users’ needs because they contain more information.
Types of Epic Posts
There’s no strict format that your post needs to adhere to in order to be epic and rank well, but it does help to have a loose template so that things stay organized.
Last December, Josh Dunlop published a post called Top 20 Blog Posts of 2011. You can probably tell by the title that this post adopted a list format, but what may surprise you is that of the 20 top Income Diary posts in 2011, 15 of them were list posts!
Readers love top list posts because they’re easy to read and they rank the best of the best. Income Diary loves list posts because they’re its greatest source of traffic. I like writing list posts because the format is so simple.
The remaining most successful Income Diary posts of 2011 were mostly step-by-step guides. Guides always make for great blog content because they provide enormous value to readers and they’re search-engine friendly.
You can format your guide by breaking the process down into its essential steps and then breaking those steps down further into sub-steps, if necessary.
The goal of a guide is to make the task easy to complete for your readers. So most good guides won’t be particularly lengthy. But when you need to guide your reader through an especially nuanced process, like making a successful Kickstarter campaign, a guide can become very epic indeed.
Not every subject fits snuggly into a list or guide.
Take for example the “Blogger Profiles” I’ve been writing lately, like this one about Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal. The goal of these posts is to give an overview of what makes each top blogger successful – and that’s a pretty broad topic.
In order to make it digestible, I organize each post into four categories: content, driving traffic, design, and monetization. Then I break down each category into three lessons. It’s not just better organized; it also allows readers to self-select which areas they want to learn about.
What to Include in an Epic Blog Post
The web is so full of flashy graphics, high-res photos, and animated videos… it’s asking a lot of your audience to get through 2,000 words without a little bit of eye candy.
A few images go a long way to break up the text and attract the attention of people who may just be skimming through. Images can also help to clarify the composition of longer articles. You’ve probably already noticed that there’s a new image for each new category in this post.
The same goes for video. It only takes a couple of minutes to search YouTube and embed a video into your post.
I’ve recently started adding some “What You’ll Learn” bullet points near the beginning of all of my Income Diary articles. This is the last thing that I write and it only takes me a minute, but it serves a couple of really important purposes.
First of all, it gives the reader a bit of a roadmap for the post; he or she can take in a few bullet points and immediately know if the content below contains what they’re looking for. This is especially important on these longer posts.
The bullet points also give the reader some benefits for reading on. Usually, a benefit is apparent in my headline or introduction, but it doesn’t hurt to toss in a few more reasons why you’ll be better off after getting to the bottom of the page.
Finally, bullet points can create a curiosity gap. If you make your bullet points truly fascinating, they’ll function like cliffhangers at the end of a chapter in a novel: your readers will be compelled to read on just so they can satisfy their curiosity.
As an online writer, quotations are your best friend. I’ve never written an article for Income Diary without at least one quotation and most of my posts have at least five.
So why am I so in love with using quotations? I’ll give you three good reasons.
#1 Block Quotes Create Space
A block quote is a quotation that’s set apart from the main text. Like this:
“I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking.”
Dorothy L. Sayers
Since it’s indented, italicized, and on a gray background, the block quote really stands out visually. It’s a welcome break from paragraphs of text.
But block quotes create more than just visual space. Since they pull the reader away from the main text, they also create temporal space. A reader is more likely to take an extra moment to reflect after reading a block quote. In this way, they serve as powerful points of emphasis or transition within your writing.
Not all quotes have to be block quotes, however. Sometimes the best way to use a quotation is to incorporate it directly into your paragraph text.
#2 Quotations are Authoritative
“A quotation in a speech, article or book is like a rifle in the hands of an infantryman. It speaks with authority.”
Good writing establishes authority and quotations offer one way to make your writing more authoritative by “borrowing” the authority of the original speaker. If you implement a quote from a well-respected expert, your reader will trust that it’s true because they trust the source.
Some of this trust bleeds through to rest of your article. Your reader will recognize that you’ve done some research and that your views align with those of experts.
#3 Quotations are Powerful
“An apt quotation is like a lamp which flings its light over the whole sentence.”
Letitia Elizabeth Landon
Letitia Elizabeth Landon is an English writer who died in 1838. Why am I repeating her quote here over 170 years later?
It’s because she’s already said what I want to say better than I can. Her statement above “flings its light” on what makes quotations so powerful.
A good quote injects your writing with energy because it’s evocative, impactful, and gets right to the heart of its subject. If you’re thinking about using that doesn’t have these qualities, then you probably just shouldn’t use it.
How to Find Relevant Quotations
There’s a plethora of quote databases online that archive quotes based both on category and author. BrainyQuote (Alexa Rank: 1,486) is a good place to start.
To find the two quotes above, I literally just Googled “quotes about quotations” and ended up on BrainyQuote.
If you’re an avid reader of books in the same niche as your blog, then you should consider keeping a reader’s journal. Whenever you’re reading, have it with you so that if you stumble upon a winning sentence you can transcribe it, along with the author name and page number.
Consult your reader’s journal before writing a blog post and see if any of those powerful expressions are relevant to your article.
How to Format a Block Quote for your Blog
When you’re formatting your post in the visual editor, just highlight your quote and press “ALT + SHIFT + Q”. You can also just click the icon that looks like a quotation mark.
If you’re formatting in html, the tag is “<blockquote>”.
Putting it All Together
When I start writing a long article like this one, I’ve got about a thousand different ideas running through my head… possible angles, sections, and sentences. I need a place to start hashing all these ideas out and refining them.
So I start a “draft” Word document where I can brainstorm, pre-write, and otherwise scrawl down every thought that comes into my head.
Eventually, these ideas start coming to form. When that happens, I start a new “final” document and begin copy-and-pasting the polished writing into it from the draft.
From then on, I keep both of these documents open. The “draft” document gives my scattered, creative mind a place to roam free. The “final” document gives me a structured place to reign in the chaos and set my writing in stone.
The longer your post is the more important formatting becomes. Images and block quotes will go a long way towards making your content more digestible, but there’s no substitute for headings and sub-headings.
If you expect someone to sit down and read 2,000+ words, you owe it to them to write those 2,000 words very well. That means giving yourself plenty of time writing about something that you actually know a lot about.
If you want some writing advice, you can check out my article of tips on how to become a better online writer.
Ready to Get on Google’s Front Page?
Writing valuable, thorough, and otherwise epic content is the single most important thing you can do to rank well with search engines. But you won’t get to the top for competitive keywords unless you take additional optimization techniques into account.
To learn more about how to optimize for search, I recommend you check out these two Income Diary articles from Nicholas Tart:
9 Reasons Why You’re Not Getting Search Engine Traffic
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