I have been frustrated by the vanishing quality of blog posts, which either are nothing more than marketing drivel, self-promotion passing as intelligence. I can understand that, but I can’t seem to comprehend the laziness of news posts that seem to have the nutritional value of a TacoBell meal. It seems no one remembers or knows what makes a great blog post and how to write them.
I don’t think what makes a great post has changed. And when cleaning out an old folder on Google Drive, I came across the draft of this email I would send to all new writers and reporters who came to work for us at GigaOm. I thought I would share this – it isn’t doing anyone any good sitting there in a drive.
In this new new media world, we have to live on one single assumption: every blog post is an American Idol audition. And like Simon Cowell, the reader is merciless and is going to vote you down, if you don’t inform, entertain and amuse the reader in less than a couple of minutes. Whether we like it or we don’t this is the reality of our modern media landscape. From Facebook to Twitter to Snapchat, the attention is getting so fractionalized that one has to fight hard to get a few seconds. So how do you write a good blog post?
You start with the basic premise: respecting your reader’s time. Can they find the story somewhere else, and if yes, then WHY should they read you? What makes what you want to publish so special? Remember, readers have a million choices, to find information. They are better equipped than you. So why should they come to you? What is it that you got that others don’t? Ask that question, and you come to a conclusion.
So the trick is to write posts that are more informed, more insightful, and more respectful of the readers. In my opinion, you are informed not just by talking to people but by being able to take the time to learn about things you like to write about. Reading a variety of material, listening to a diversity of opinions and finding ways to develop your thesis is key to being informed. It is true for reporters, as much as it is true for investors or readers.
How do we have insights? Precisely the same way – listening to our sources, weighing the options, and coming to a conclusion. One doesn’t need to be a pundit, one needs to read more, and have the ability to learn from every conversation. And what helps in being better informed – common sense! It is something we all should do, even if we are not writers, or bloggers.
My trick of gleaning and developing insights is using just plain common sense. Listen to everyone, learn as much as possible, and then politely argue with them, perhaps challenge them. The trick is to not accept conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is well, conventional and doesn’t reflect our opinions.
So how does one write a good blog post? It is not that different from writing a classic news story, though the only difference is that no editor is going to decide what you should write. You have to develop a mental filter for good story selection.
Ask yourself the question – every single time – do you want to read about this; if yes, why, and what do you want to know.
In the classic news story, you have Who, Where, What, When, Why. In the blog-styled news story, the where and when lose the importance but we still adhere to who, what and why which become the driving forces. In fact, the big “W” is WHY!!! _Why is the pivot around which the whole post revolves! _Unfortunately fewer and fewer people ask the question why. It is the single most important question you need to ask in order to piece together the complete picture.
A good blog post starts with a clever lead, or an anecdote, and in very short space, makes a case for what you are trying to say.
If you are reporting news, then it should be the second line, and should tell the story. It should have as many relevant details as possible, if not the complete story. Sometimes, a photo or a video makes a better argument than words, so use those tools to enhance the post. I mean who can resist a Giphy!
A quick analysis, a quote or a supporting or dismissing the argument follows this. Analysis can include things like the number of competitors, stats from a research firm, or even basic history about the start-ups’ founders, venture capitals, etc which tell the reader, look these are guys who are serious enough for us to take them seriously, and hence we are justifying writing about this company or event.
Then you add in details, which are important enough to be included, but don’t necessarily need to go up in the front page. An ideal blog post is the one, which has a kicker that is as strong as the lead, or elicits a reaction from the reader, encouraging them to keep talking about the subject.
The 3Cs of a good blog post
- Clever – thought, analysis or just the quote.
Some parting thoughts:
- The best posts come from the heart, not from the wallet. Write what you feel passionate about, because then you can sway the readers with your writing.
- Difference between hype and boring is mild surrealism.
- Headlines make or break a post.