There’s more content published today than could ever be read. Good content doesn’t get the same results that it used to. Content that gets results needs to be better than good.
Everyone has their own ideas about what makes a perfect blog post. It’s not too hard to imagine great blog posts—posts that are engaging and solve real problems—that look totally different from each other.
That’s to be expected. Not every audience is the same, and not every brand uses the same style.
But even though individual posts look different, every perfect blog post has a few characteristics that are the same.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- Business goals of creating a perfect blog post
- Two key rules that the very best blog posts follow
- The single most important element of a perfect blog post
- How to format your blog so that it looks perfect for readers
The business goals of blogging
Before you set out to create a perfect blog post, it’s important to understand the specific goal of the post.
A lot of businesses—and even professional bloggers—start blogging because someone comes along and tells them that “they really should be blogging.”
I agree—blogging and content marketing can have amazing results—but there’s a difference between “content marketing” and “publishing blog posts.”
The way you manage your content strategy depends on your ultimate business goals. I’ll save an in-depth analysis of content strategy for another post, because content marketing can actually pull a variety of different business levers.
In most cases, though, you’re going to be creating a blog post with one of these four goals in mind:
- Lead generation/conversion
- Brand awareness/thought leadership
- Customer retention
Understanding the specific goals of your blog before you start writing or outlining helps you craft the perfect blog post—the blog post that perfectly meets its goals.
- A blog post for lead generation needs to ramp up to a strong, relevant call to action
- A blog post for shares will probably do better with some added emotion and scannability
- Brand awareness and thought leadership posts should take a strong stance, and need to spread to new audiences
- A blog for customer retention needs to address a problem, ask for a referral, or push for another sale.
The perfect blog post is useful and emotional
People don’t read blogs posts just because.
When someone reads a blog post, they’re looking for something in particular.
- An answer to a question
- The solution to a problem
The most successful blog posts are some combination of useful and emotional.
In an analysis of 7000 articles from The New York Times, Wharton professor Jonah Berger found that the most shared posts activate a motivating emotion and/or provide useful information.
Copywriters have long known that emotion leads to an increase in conversions. This quote from The Robert Collier Letter Book illustrates the point well:
“Appeal to the reason, by all means. Give people a logical excuse for buying that they can tell to their friends and use to salve their own consciences. But if you want to sell goods, if you want action of any kind, base your real urge upon some primary emotion!”
For brand awareness, too, emotion is important. You don’t need people sobbing over your blog posts, but activating any motivating emotion (e.g. awe, surprise, thoughtfulness, anger) helps people remember you.
As NYU professor Elizabeth Phelps stated in a review article on the relationship between emotion and memory: “There is abundant evidence that memories for emotional events have a persistence and vividness that other memories seem to lack.”
Some blog posts are more emotional than useful. Some are more useful than emotional. The balance you choose depends on the goals of the post. But make no mistake—the presence of emotion and utility is powerful and essential.
The most important element of a perfect blog post is…
Despite the subhead for this section, the most important element of a blog post isn’t curiosity. The curiosity gap can help you keep your readers’ attention, but it can’t make a post great on its own.
You might think, then, that the answer is emotion or utility. After all, I just spent a few hundred words arguing that every perfect blog post strikes a balance between those two.
But the most important element isn’t either of those either. This is the element that creates emotion. This is the element that lets you demonstrate usefulness.
It’s a deep, abiding relevance to your audience.
The advice to “know your audience” is common. What I’m talking about goes deeper than knowing your audience. To write content that’s deeply relevant to your audience’s needs, you need to understand your audience beyond the level of demographics.
A profile like “35 year old manager who lives in the suburbs and is a mother” is helpful for some things, but it isn’t (on its own) enough to create the perfect blog post.
To add emotion and utility to your blog posts, you need to really understand the heavy, emotional problems that your audience is dealing with.
Maybe the 35 year old manager struggles because she’s exhausted by the time she gets home. Maybe she can’t wait to get home and see her children, and that’s what gets her through the day. You won’t know unless you do research—the right kind of research.
Conversion copywriter Joanna Wiebe uses customer research to write engaging copy that converts. She organizes her customer research in tables.
This table was created during research on rehab and alcohol recovery(Source: Copy Hackers)
This is the secret to producing perfect blog posts. When you use the language that your audience uses to describe their problems, your content becomes much more relatable, emotional, and useful.
People love to read posts that they can relate to—especially if those posts solve their problems.
We’ve written before about ways that you can do this type of market research on a budget. Here’s a quick rundown of our eight favorite techniques to find the language your audience uses:
- Quora answers and questions
- Reddit comments on your topic
- Relevant online reviews (from Amazon and other sources)
- Surveys, especially qualitative surveys
- Facebook group discussions
- Your analytics and data
- Interviews with your audience
Nail down your audience’s language, and watch the success of your content marketing skyrocket.
The perfect blog post is formatted so that people read it
Even after you’ve done the work to nail down your audience’s language, establish your goals, and add utility and emotion, there are still reasons people might not read what you write.
That’s why the perfect blog post is formatted in a way that makes it easy for people to read.
The easier it is for people to read your content, the more likely they are to actually read it! If you can make your content scannable, so that even non-readers take away value, you’ll be able to get even more engagement and results.
With that in mind, here are eight formatting adjustments that will help you make readable, scannable blog posts.
- Strong headlines
- Compelling introduction
- Featured image
- Body copy
- Call to action
1. Strong headlines
Your headline is your first chance to grab attention.
A compelling headline can make or break your blog post. If your headline:
- Sounds vague
- Doesn’t tell people what they can expect
- Is just plain boring
Why should anyone keep reading your post?
In general, marketers put a lot of pressure on their headlines. When you’re writing your perfect blog post, your headline needs to do one thing first.
Get people to keep reading.
If you can do that, you can rely on the body copy, the images, the rich audience language—all the other elements of a perfect blog post—to actually get conversions and achieve goals.
But none of that will happen if readers stop at your headline.
If you do want to get more mileage out of your headlines, you can help your posts spread by:
- Including a relevant keyword, for SEO
- Including a strong emotion, for sharing on social media
Headlines that are clear and interesting are the first step in formatting your blog post.
How can you write a great headline?
Will Hoekenga of Copygrad wrote a fantastically detailed breakdown of writing headlines for every medium (blog posts, Facebook ads, email subject lines, and more).
When you sit down to write headlines, brainstorm! Write out a list of at least 20 headlines, and you’ll find that your best ideas come towards the end.
When he completed his “Headline Project,” copywriter Justin Blackman set an ambitious goal—write 10,000 headlines in 100 days. He wrote 100 headlines a day, and the best headlines often came at the end.
Here are the last 10 headlines he wrote for Dumore Improv, a group that uses improv comedy for corporate training. (Source:PrettyFlyCopy)
Great headlines don’t always come right away. But if I saw a tagline like “after you learn to think on your feet, it doesn’t matter where you’re standing,” (number 97) I’d definitely think about getting some corporate improv training.
2. Compelling introduction
Since the dawn of time, humankind has told stories. From the very first cave painting to the texts of the Enlightenment…
Have I put you to sleep yet?
Too many blog posts start with irrelevant details and “context.”
The job of your introduction is to build on the attention you got with your headline. A lot of the “introduction” that people add to the beginning of their blog posts is actually fluff.
Note: some content marketers will advise you to get to your point immediately—but I’m not necessarily advocating that position either.
As long as your introduction builds curiosity and keeps people reading, it can work. You can do that in a few different ways:
- Tell an interesting story, without revealing the conclusion until the body of the post
- Hint at the answer to a compelling problem
- Use audience language to reflect the pain of the reader, which signals relevance and understanding
- Broadcast exactly what your reader will learn by finishing your post
Does it build curiosity or tell people what’s coming? Keep the introduction. But if you find yourself doing multiple paragraphs of context building—ask if the context is really necessary, and try to weave it into the piece through other means.
3. Featured image
Images are critical for social media. If you don’t add an image to your blog post, it will be much less prominent in the noisy feeds of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The most scannable blog posts will have about one image for every scroll of the mouse. Whether you decide to go that route or not, a great blog post will have a featured image at a minimum.
When you think about your featured image, consider what makes images compelling and shareable in a crowded news feed. According to Buffer, key factors include:
Break up your text with subheadings.
Subheadings serve two major major purposes:
- For readers, they signal what to expect from a particular section of the post
- For scanners, they help grab attention and get people to slow down
Your subheads should follow many of the same guidelines as your headlines. Be descriptive, but also introduce an element of curiosity that gets people to keep reading
5. Body copy
Your body copy is where you actually solve problems.
We’ve already discussed the importance of using audience language in writing your blog posts. When you use the words of your audience, you make your post more interesting to read.
Beyond using audience language, you can make your body copy more readable by using short sentences and paragraphs.
A good rule of thumb—try to keep your paragraphs to under four lines.
“I don’t want to use the stat unless I have three sources” – Sam Seaborn, The West Wing
Sam Seaborn might be a fictional character, but he’s also the fictional deputy communications director for the White House.
Sources and data make your arguments and perspective more compelling.
It’s one thing for me to say “it’s good to add emotions to your blog posts.” It’s another to say that an analysis of 7000 New York Times articles, a top copywriter, and a wealth of psychological research all agree on the power of emotion.
Research from Nielsen shows that numbers are compelling. In his landmark text Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, psychologist Robert Cialdini demonstrates that authority is a key factor in persuasiveness.
Numbers and strong sources are good ways to add authority to your blogs.
If you want to take your blog posts to the next level, you can even consider doing original research. Original research makes for extremely compelling blog posts because it’s exclusive—everyone wants numbers, and when you do original research you make people come to you to get them.
If no one has done the research you want to cite in your blog post, there may be an opportunity to do it yourself.
Not every blog post needs a conclusion, but most can benefit from one. A conclusion is a nice way to wrap up your post and segue into a call to action. It’s also an easy way to toss in an extra keyword for SEO purposes.
At the least, a conclusion will almost never hurt the quality of your post. So it’s a good idea to add one.
8. Call to action
Quick! Grab your readers before they click away!
A perfect blog post has a related call to action that entices people to stay in touch.
The specific call to action you choose—be it a lead magnet, prompt to share, or some other CTA—depends on the goals of your blog post.
Conclusion: how to write a perfect blog post
“Perfect” is a lofty standard. It calls to mind literary genius and a level of effort and skill that are difficult to achieve.
But, really, a perfect blog post is one that solves a useful problem for your audience in a way that contributes to your business goals—a perfect blog post helps you make money.
Understanding how to format blog posts, how to do audience research, your business goals, and the balance between utility and emotion can help you write the perfect post.