By Sharon Lapkin
Never before have writers known so much about their online readers.
As I write this I have Google Analytics open on my second monitor. I’m watching somebody like you in ‘real time’ on my website. They’ve morphed into a narrow blue line in a graph on my screen.
I can see what country they’re in, what post they’re reading—and how long they’re taking to read it.
I know if this active user is on a mobile, tablet or desktop. I look further and see what network and browser they’re using, and then zoom in on their gender, age bracket and interests.
This info is a gift for writers because it enables us to match a blog post perfectly to the interests of those most likely to read it.
In order to write a blog post that users want to read and share, it’s essential to focus your efforts on topics that pique their interest.
Don’t fall into the trap of writing about a topic you’ve been dying to tackle because topic choice shouldn’t be about your writing preferences. It’s 100% about your users’ reading interests and preferences.
Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter or Pinterest: why it matters where your readers come from
Social media referrals constitute a lot of blog traffic, so knowing on what channel your readers are hanging out helps you target your content appropriately.
A post shared on Facebook, for example, may reap thousands of shares. But the same post on Linkedin and Twitter might garner very few.
Let’s look more closely at the outcomes of topic choice across different social media channels.
I searched for ‘leadership’ as a keyword on Buzzsumo’s Content Research app, and found it had in excess of 100,000 more shares on Linkedin than Facebook for the top four stories. The difference between Linkedin, and Twitter and Pinterest was even more significant for this keyword.
So what does this tell us?
Something we might have guessed—that topics about leadership are demonstrably more popular on Linkedin that on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
‘Travel’ as a search term is a different story. It’s generated an explosion of shares on Facebook, and more on Twitter than it did on Linkedin.
This doesn’t mean you wouldn’t write about travel for a Linkedin audience, but that you’d need to make it relevant to their professional lives.
The importance of ranking factors
Global marketing guru SEMrush recently released the second edition of its Ranking Factors study.
In order of importance they found the most important ranking factors were:
- direct website visits
- time on site
- pages per session
- bounce rate
- total referring domains
- total backlinks
- total referring IPs
- total follow-backlinks
- content length
- website security (HTTPS)
- total anchors
- keyword in anchor
- keyword in body
- keyword density
- keyword in title
- keyword in meta
- video on page.
The most influential ranking factor, according to SEMrush’s research, is direct website traffic.
This is followed by behaviour signals such as the time on site, pages read per session and bounce rate (percentage of visitors who leave after viewing one page).
In order to look more closely at backlinks (incoming links to webpages), SEMrush added new criteria to their ranking factors since their first study. As a result, they found that the ‘more backlinks a domain has the higher is its position on the SERP [search engine results page]’.
Backlinking is clearly important for rankings, and inserting meaningful text into your anchors (clickable text in a link), rather than using ‘here’ is important too.
The length of posts is another significant ranking factor. SEMrush’s research confirmed what we all know about long-tail keywords. When users search using a long-tail keyword they expect to see a ‘comprehensive deep-dive long-read’.
Conversely, when they use a short-head keyword to search they expect a ‘concise summary of the topic’.
The least important factors are keywords in the anchors, title, meta and body. Keyword density, however, is important to get right because Google will penalise you for overusing them.
To calculate your keyword density count how many times you used the keyword and divide it by the number of words in the post and multiply the result by 100.
So your working formula would be:
(number of keywords divided by total number of words) x 100
Do you plan your blog post?
Now that we have the technical aspects sorted, lets talk about how to write the perfect blog post.
Do you plan the different components of your blog post first, or do you jump straight in?
If you’re writing a long-form post of 2000 words or more, it really is best to have a plan. This will maintain clarity and consistency, and avoid repetitive text.
A working title and subheadings
The first thing you need to do, though, is to write a punchy title that will stop people in their tracks and make them want to read further.
There are two things to consider when writing your title—insert your keyword into it, and do not write a title that you can’t deliver on. By this I mean that your title must accurately represent the content that follows it.
If you can’t generate a witty title just yet, write a provisional one and go back to it after you’ve written some content.
Next make a list of subheadings. This can also be amended as you write, so don’t dillydally too long on it. Once completed it will serve as a solid, but flexible framework for your content.
Whatever you do, don’t skip on subheadings. It’s essential that your ideas are broken up and grouped into sequential sections. Your readers aren’t likely to stay around too long if they have to wade through lines of text without a break.
The other reason you need subheadings is because almost half your users will be reading your blog post on their mobile phones.
Optimise for mobile phones too
On my website I have a consistent breakdown of 45% using mobiles and 55% using desktops and tablets. This percentage is pretty much the norm, and it’s not likely to change.
How does this affect you as a writer? It means you should consistently break your content up into meaningful segments so your mobile users can read comfortably on their small screens.
One sentence per paragraph is advisable for optimal reading on a mobile but, as I have done here, you can use two sentences if necessary for clarity.
Go back to the primary source for research
When you’re conducting research for your blog post and come across a study or data that is exactly what you need don’t immediately jump in and use it.
This is because you’re likely reading it from a secondary source and you need to get a version of the study from the primary source. Otherwise, you’ll be copying research analysed and interpreted by another writer.
You don’t want to be quoting another writer’s work when you could have read it yourself and quoted the research. This will also make you appear more professional.
How do you find the primary source of research in an article?
Often it’s easy because the writer citing the study will tell you its source.
It will look like either of these:
‘A recent study by Dr Peter Emerald from Cambridge University found that …’
‘The latest research from the Murdoch Institute found that children …’
Sometimes it’s a little more difficult to find the primary research, and if this happens you should do keyword searches using closely aligned terms.
Images and graphics are non-negotiable
A perfect blog post needs photos, illustrations and graphics. These are essential for visual readers, as well as for the aesthetics of your blog post.
The size of a photograph or graphic is measured in pixels that make up the number of dots per inch. To fill the space properly the image must have the exact number of pixels in its length and width required for that space.
If you upload an image that does not have the correct dimensions it may mess up the layout of your page.
All photos and images should also be 72 or 96 dpi because this low resolution, together with the physical size of the image, takes the least time to download. Users won’t wait around if images take too long to download.
The best layout for good visibility is full width. Small images with wrap-around text look crowded on a screen—and even worse when viewed on a mobile. Search Engine Land found that ‘over half of mobile users will leave a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load’.
If you’re using a WordPress website or blog then optimal image size and quality is specified on its site.
Textshop’s image dimensions need to be 726 px x 600 px with a resolution of 72 dpi. I always save my files as PNG because it supports transparency, doesn’t lose pixels every time you open and save the images (lossless compression) and handle screenshots better than JPEG.
Don’t shun your copyright responsibilities
We’ve already discussed the importance of using images and graphics in blog posts, but there’s a responsibility that goes along with this.
If you’re copying other people’s text, or reposting a graph or photo from their website, you should ask their permission first. Many writers and bloggers don’t do this, and it’s both bad manners and a potential copyright infringement.
To find out more about the content you want to reproduce, go to the Terms and Conditions at the bottom of the copyright owner’s homepage. Open it and look for a statement about copyright. Read it carefully.
Some websites state that you are free to use their content providing you attribute them. This means you need to add a source line under the content specifying the name of the content owner, a date and sometimes a link to it.
If you find a strongly worded copyright statement then you know they take intellectual property infringement seriously, and you absolutely should contact them and ask permission to reproduce their content.
When you write to seek permission to reproduce content in your blog post always include a link to the website you want to publish the content on. Send a screen clip of that content and explain what you’re using it for.
If I know I’m likely to want to regularly use content from a particular website I’ll ask for a blanket permission, so I don’t need to go back to them over and over.
The majority of people will happily grant you permission and they’ll be very grateful that you asked. They will respect you for being professional.
Insert your keywords last
Researching and selecting keywords should always be undertaken at the beginning of your writing because this will inform the way you work. However, I’ve found the actual placement of keywords works better if I go back through my content and insert them after I’ve completed the writing.
This minimises stilted, awkward text flow and gives me the opportunity to review the entire blog post in conjunction with keywords, rather than adding them as I write.
♥ To write a perfect blog post you need to wear many different hats at the same time. You’ve got to create content in a crowded market and make it irresistible to potential readers who are 50% likely to be reading it on their mobiles.
Your perfect blog post needs to be optimised so Google notices it. You must also read the trends, watch and interpret Google Analytics, and work harder and harder on knowing your readers.