Imagine you’re setting off on a cross continent hike on your bicycle.
It's an epic journey, so you want to prepare properly.
You dig up your old bicycle from storage, wipe off a few cobwebs and start assessing the situation.
The tires need inflating, the seat cushion is torn, the handlebars need adjusting... However adept you are at riding a bike, you simply won't make it with this heap.
Similarly, your content needs to be in top notch condition to survive its journey all the way to your readers.
Here's a checklist to go through before publishing anything.
Before Publishing Checklist
All of these points contribute to a blog post's success (or failure). Check them off one by one before considering publishing your post.
1. Check Your Headline
Your headline is the most important part of your article. Without a great headline, whatever content you have will never be seen by anyone.
Let's take a look at the most common pitfalls of headlines, as seen in this post.
1. Promise a Tangible and Irresistible BENEFIT
Here's a lazy headline:
"Five Ways To Put $50 Into Savings Each Month"
At first glance, it looks good. A fine idea for an article, but it's missing the reward completely. Why should I put $50 into savings each month? Let's insert a tangible reward, a benefit, into this headline.
"How to Save $50 Each Month Without Giving Up Your Daily Comforts"
It's not perfect, but now I know why I should read this particular article.
2. Avoid Cleverness, Aim For Clarity
Sometimes you see overly clever headlines that only make sense to the writer:
"Via Fortuna: The Pet Peeve Generation of a Modern Impressario"
A common symptom of being overly clever is using fancy words in a conceptual way. As writers, we love what we write, and this is an easy ego-trap.
This headline tells me nothing about what I'll see when I click, so I probably won't. Let's see if we can make it clearer without losing the charm.
"How to Be a Lucky Entrepreneur: Are You Developing These 7 Habits?"
This headline from Problogger instantly tells us what the article is about, and what we will learn from reading. It's still captivating and interesting without using overly pretentious wording.
Always go for clarity over cleverness.
3. Don't Be Boring!
While you should avoid cleverness, you should also try to add some spark to your headlines. Here's a fine, if forgettable, headline:
"5 Leadership Qualities Only Women Have"
Perhaps we can add a bit of spark to it without losing the clarity?
"5 Ways Women Are Better Bosses Than Men"
Boom! Feel that whiff of sexism? What are they insinuating here? You feel compelled to find out, and clicks go through the roof.
This headline is a click magnet not because of the sexism, but because of the controversy it creates. Adding a controversial or provocative edge to your headline is a surefire way to get people interested.
4. Quick Headline Templates:
You shouldn’t try to come up with a new headline template every time. It’s just not worth the time.
Here are 14 headline templates that work every time.
The "How to-Headline"
- How to [Blank]
- How to Be [Desirable Quality]
- How to [Blank] (Even if [Common Obstacle])
- How to [Blank] Without [Objectionable Action]
- How to [Do Something] While You [Do Something Else]
- How to [Blank] and [Blank]
- How to Use [Blank] to [Blank]
The "List Headline"
- [X] Ways to [Do Something]
- [X] Surprising Reasons [Blank]
- [X] Steps to [Goal or Achievement]
- [X] Tips for [Doing Something]
- [X] Resources for [Audience/Process]
- [X] [Blanks] for [Blanks]
- [X] [Blank] Secrets Every [Target Audience] Should Know
For even more headline templates, check out this headline swipe file.
2. Check Your Article Introduction
The purpose of your article's introduction is to engage your reader emotionally.
This introductory section is called "the hook" or "the lede". We'll use "hook", since it so accurately illustrates the action of capturing and holding your reader's attention.
There are endless ways to write a good hook, but all of them have one thing in common - they make you feel.
So when you start your text, forget about informing. Forget about teaching. Empathize with your reader and make them the main focus of your story. We can break it down to a simple process.
1. Understand Your Reader’s Plight
Focus on one single reader of your article. What are they struggling with?
Why are they reading it? What is their life situation? What are their interests and dreams? What are their fears, and frustrations?
Finish these sentences to describe your reader:
“You’re afraid that…”
“You wish that…”
When you start feeling sympathy for your reader, it’s a good sign. These are the building blocks of your empathetic opening.
2. Paint a Moment of Daily Frustration
Imagine this person living their daily life.
What would they have for breakfast? Would they be in a hurry in the morning? Would they stop to smell the wet grass and enjoy the sound of trees in the wind, or would they run to catch the bus, only to see it driving off the station seconds before they made it?
Focus on a moment when that capitalizes on their struggle.
Use the building blocks from the previous step to finish these thoughts:
“Every time you do <topic>, you feel like <symptom>…”“
"If you soon don’t <benefit>, you will never be able to <topic>…”
“You’re afraid you might never <dream goal>...”
3. Reassure Your Reader
You’ve painted a picture and your reader is nodding their head, happy that you understand their struggle.
Now you need to reassure your reader that your article will provide the answer they’re looking for. Use phrases like
“I assure you, there is a way to get past your struggle.”
“Know what? You aren’t alone.”
“This may feel frustrating/a faraway dream, but it is closer than you think. Let me show you how.”
Essentially you’re writing a bridge between your introduction and article content to show your reader that their answer lies ahead.
3. Check Your Article's Visual Layout
When you make your content easy and logical to read, you won't have to fight to keep your reader's attention.
Pay attention to three main points:
1. Write With a Clear Structure
Your content structure needs to communicate the beginnings and ends of sections to your reader.
When writing an article, you can use a structure similar to this example:
- Article featured image
- Beginning of content - Title (H1)
- Content introduction / Hook - Normal text
- Small image
- Subheading (H2)
- Introducing the cause of the problem
- Subheading (H2)
- How to solve your problem
- First list point to solving the problem (H3)
- Second list point to solving your problem (H3)
- Small image
- Subheading (H2)
As you see, every section opens with a heading. The deeper we go into the subheadings, the deeper the Heading-number.
Every section you speak of one topic. When you start a new topic, start a new section.
You don't need to use this exact structure. For example, your article might not have images or list points.
Essentially, everything you write needs to be in boxes. The biggest box holds the whole article. Inside that box, you should place medium sized boxes to hold the different sections of the article. Inside those medium sized boxes, place different list points or sections of the article.
Be careful to only place boxes inside each other if they relate to each other!
2. Aim for Readability, Not Design
It’s impossible to focus on reading a post, if the text layout is disruptive or downright unreadable. To avoid this problem, remember to:
- Use the preset heading sizes in your editor (H1,H2,H3,....)
- Use common default fonts to minimize compatibility issues between devices
- Use at most two different font sizes for regular paragraph content
- Do not overuse light text on dark background, it's tiring to read
- Avoid radically contrasting colors
This creates a simple, yet pleasing bit of content.
3. Help Your Reader Understand
Knowledge works in a strange way.
Imagine learning something completely new. Let's say you just learned the capital of Assyria.
You just learned something new, congratulations!
Here's where your brain does something interesting: it automatically assumes that most other people know it as well. Even though, obviously, the knowledge of other people hasn't changed just because you read something.
Fact is - most people don't know. You are now an expert in what the capital of Assyria is. (It was called Ashur, by the way.)
The problem is, now you can't speak of Ashur to just anyone without telling them what it is first.
You must be mindful of this in your text. When you introduce an idea or term, make sure that your reader already knows what you're talking about.
You might not even notice these "mindleaps" when proofreading, so it's a good idea to have others read your article before publishing.
4. Missing a Call to Action?
Every bit of content you publish must have a goal. Your call to action is the bit where you urge your reader towards that goal.
Your goal for a single post can be:
- Sign up to our mailing list
- Check out this free content upgrade
- Check out another related post
- Try out this free course
- Affiliate link to related product
Remember to have a call to action at the end of every bit of content, so your visitors have somewhere to go to. If your content simply ends, your reader will simply stop browsing your content.
Your Turn - Check Your Content!
Run through this checklist every time you publish something. It's the best way to ensure your content is ready to meet the wider public.
In the next lesson, you'll find out how to create a roadmap for your content pieces and place them accordingly.