Starving to Successful: How to Become a Full-Time Writer

Lesson 8/22 - 4 Elements of a Blog Post

 

Starving to Successful: How to Become a Full-Time Writer

 

Lesson Info

4 Elements of a Blog Post

The four things that make up a great blog post are, remember, we're not trying to be good, we're trying to be effective, are this: First, you need to start with a headline. The headline is the very first thing that people see on a blog post and it is the title. It is the thing that catches their attention. It's what people tweet and 80% of a reader's attention is spent on the headline, so if you have a bad headline, they're not going to read it. And this is something we can all work on getting better and you can have your own style of writing headlines, but at the end of the day, that headline is that front door and if it doesn't look pretty, nobody is going to step through. So this is the first part: You have to write a great headline. This takes practice. This takes time. Who here is, for those of you who have blogs, is somebody working on a blog post right now? Are you working on a piece right now? Yes? Uh-huh. Maya, what are you working on? I've started to do some research on the...

Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK. Interesting. Yeah. OK. Because of what's going on in the news. Sure. Yeah, yeah. I've only just begun, so I haven't gotten to that yet, or anything really, but that's like my big idea. Yeah, yeah. Cool Do you have a headline or anything. Nuh-uh. Okay. Alright. Well, this summer my husband and I traveled for a month in Asia, Singapore, excuse me, Seoul, Korea, Singapore and Indonesia and we wrote as we were traveling, but we were also very busy and so there's a lot of notes from that trip, and so I'm synthesizing some of that. Some of the pieces are his, because we share the postings. I probably am about 80% of it and he's about 20%, but an example ... I'm sorry I don't have the headline memorized. No, it's okay. I kind of want to workshop something. But an example was we found the experience driving in Jakarta, we had a driver, but I think I gave the title, I can pull it. I don't have my phone here. "Jakarta Dance," because, you know, I've been in several countries where the driving is quite different from in the US, but there was this, almost like, it was very poetic actually, just this movement where people could intuit what was coming next. I was talking with some of my Indonesian friends and their accident rate is really low. Part of it is because they drive much more slowly, because they have more people on the road and everything, but we felt it. It was just this, kind of, you know, watching our driver do this, I did not feel scared at all, whereas when I lived in China, I felt pretty scared. It was more abrupt. So, I wrote a blog post on that. And it's called "Jakarta Dance"? Yeah, I believe so. I'd have to look it up, maybe at the break or something, but I'm always looking for a way to take that experience and then apply it to a life principal. So what's the point of the post? What's the lesson? Well, the point of the post is sharing from an experience, but also, just how we move through life. Are we, you know, kind of moving like this or are we flowing with how life goes? It's a metaphor. Yeah. Is it a why post or a how post? Gosh, I really hadn't thought of that. This is actually a new thing to me. I think it's more of a why post, in this case, because I don't think I gave a list or anything like that. So can I sort of mess with that a little bit? Sure. Because it's good to have an example. It's already up there on the blog. Yeah. I mean, that's fine. So, a good headline needs to be attractive, interesting and descriptive, okay? It needs to have some sort of pizzazz to it that catches your attention. Read Buzzfeed or something and you know what I'm talking about. It doesn't have to be click bait, but it has to have a little bit of that hook to it. It needs to be interesting. There needs to be something in it for the reader that is maybe even a little bit counterintuitive. This is especially popular today on the internet. You know, 13 reasons why your kids can't afford college. You won't believe number three, that kind of thing. It needs to be descriptive. This is the thing that all of you artists are going to struggle with, right? Because the meaning, the metaphor, the idea is implied. The problem with that is Google isn't very good at figuring out metaphors. I would argue that most people aren't either. If it's not plain to me what this means, I'm not going to read it. So if I see a headline like "Jakarta Dance"- What I actually said, I'm remembering it now, something like "Jakarta Dance" and then there's a colon "Driving through the streets" "What I learned on the streets of Jakarta", It's something like that, there's something That's good. That's good. That takes the reader to this is what I can learn. Great. So, what I would do with that post, based on what I've heard, is I would think really hard, what do I want to say? And there's a why in there, so it's a why post. I'm trying to persuade my reader of something. Probably trying to persuade them to slow down and how, what I learned, metaphorically, from driving on the roads of Jakarta, which kind of felt like more of a dance than just, kind of, going straighforward, and then I learned that their accident rates were really low and I thought that this is a better way to live. It's a safer way to live, right? And so it's a great lesson. You could say something like, why, like, the surprising truth behind why the Jakarta accident rates are so low. Or something like that; it's kind of a little bit clunky. Now that would attract, I mean, if you're just kind of trying to write for new readers, on search engines, that's going to attract people who are specifically Googling stuff about Jakarta accident rates. That's kind of interesting, but it's not necessarily descriptive of the actual problem you're trying to solve. Something that might be a little bit more along those lines are, and because you're a star, it's okay to talk about yourself, like what driving on the roads of Jakarta taught me about slowing down. Yeah, that's great. The point is, and we're just wanted to use an example, so thanks for that, Caroline, is a headline needs to be attractive, interesting, descriptive. It is super important to your readers and its very important to search engines, so don't gloss past this. Yes, Jay. I manage ChooseSantaCruz.com, which is economic development, business portal and I work with a team of three of us. One exercise I do is, "Okay, you've got 10 minutes, come up with 10 headlines." Explore rhymes, explore puns, explore genres. So the most recent blog post, someone else wrote, but I manage the style guide, was a story about three women entrepreneurs that started a kitchen incubator and they met through a marathon, so I came up with something and I said, "How about this one: Mix three marathoners, one commercial kitchen and watch the business grow." It's a how, it gets into the story. It gets to the marathon, the lifestyle portion and the fact that it's a commercial kitchen and it's incubating other businesses. That's great. It's a great example. Thanks. Headline. Let's move to the second out of four elements of an effective blog post. The lead. What is the lead? Do you know what the lead is? Also, it's spelled l-e-d-e. It is the first paragraph of your article, your blog post. This is basically an introduction where you're going to summarize what you're saying, and then kind of tease out some of the things that you're going to share. It could be the beginning of a story. If you Google "Famous First Lines", you read all these first lines of famous novels, like "Call me Ishmael." What is that? "Moby Dick." There's the one where he says, "Earlier in my life, my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over and over again." What is that? "Great Gatsby." Fiction writer's like, "Oh, I knew that." So, I mean, first lines matter, especially in literature. Open up the beginning of all these famous novels and you can tell that the writers deliberated over the first things they were going to say. It's important. Headline, very important. Almost as important is the lead paragraph. This is typically three to five sentences, where you, if you do not grab the reader here, even though they clicked that link, they are not going to hang out. This is important for a lot of reasons. Somebody goes to your blog and they go, "This isn't interesting." And they hit the back button. That's called bounce, very bad for long-term traffic. Google will see that. They'll discount you on search engines. Not a good thing. Also, just like you want people to stay there and read your stuff. And so a good lead needs to, again, be kind of an extension of the headline. So, if your headline is about what driving through the streets of Jakarta taught you about slowing down, you might want to begin with "I am really bad at slowing down, but I recently had an overseas experience that changed that." That's a good hook, right? You've grabbed your reader and you pulled them in. That's all you need to do. Yes, Maya. Quick question about leads. I found myself, especially when I'm writing tributes, having my lead be a question that I then answer though the course of the article. What is your take, or what's your understanding of how a search engine like Google treats that? Very well. I'm not an SEO expert. A friend of mine is and he said if you want to rank really highly for a particular term, what you could do ... When you say you're writing tributes, what does that mean? So like, the prince example again. Like writing a tribute to a- To a famous person. What I do is, I want to tell the truth of their life story and so I take the theme or the lesson, one of the biggest ones that their life represented and I phrase that as a question, and then by the end of the tribute, I, essentially, answer the question and I've told the lesson. So is that a how or a why piece, just to go back to one of your earlier- Two questions now. It can be either. It's like a lot of things. You just have to decide where you're going to go. Let's take Prince for an example. Maybe the headline is like, "What the artist Prince can teach us about world peace." And then, if you wanted to, and you really wanted to rank really high for Prince world peace or something, you could start the blog post with "What can Prince teach us about world peace? "It turns out, quite a lot." That would be a pretty good lead. And then from there, you can, I mean, it could be a how and if it were going to be a how, the implication is in the body, you are going to be fleshing out your argument. So, step three is the body, where you're either going to be persuading and teaching us why this is the way it is and if you're telling a story, this is the story. This is the meat of the content. In case of your piece, Caroline, this is the story, and the point of the story, even though you're just telling a story, is you're getting somewhere, right? You're getting to some lesson. It could be, if it's a humor story, it could be don't take life so seriously. It could be as simple as that or it could be as deep as if we lived more like Prince lived, or whatever, then we could affect world peace. In which case, that would be a how. Here's what he did and here's how we could replicate it. Or, it could be why Prince was so effective at whatever, creating a huge movement of people and if we could learn from some of the things he did, here's why we could, sort of, follow in his footsteps. You'd be persuading them to kind of do these things. I see the confusion, because it could kind of be either. But if it's how, you're basically saying these are the things learn from it and here's what you're going to do. If it's why, you're spending the majority of your argument trying to convince them of something. So, three is the body and this will help us understand where we can spend our time. This is where you tell the story. This is where you have your five points. This is where you flesh it out. This is 70-80% of the article. Then we get to the call to action. This is the end. This could be a sentence. It could be, "Leave a comment." "Buy my product." "Think more about this or go and do likewise." In your case, Maya, you could do the Prince thing and tell some story about him, or whatever, and there's these lessons about world peace. Then, at the end, you could kind of decide, is this how or why? If it's how, go do this stuff. If it's why, well, now you know kind of what it takes to be an advocate of world peace. You've got to make that decision. If you're persuading somebody, you're trying to get them to a point where they're going to make a decision. If you're enabling somebody, you have to begin with a little bit of why and lead into a how. What that looks like is, if I'm writing a how article, I'm going to start with the why. You always start with the why, because you have to convince them that this is something that you can teach them and it's going to be in the first chunk of the body, the first 20% of so is, here's why Prince was so effective at advocating for world peace. And then it would be all of these ways to do it and here's what we can learn from it. Step one, step two, step three. If it were a why, you just want to spend a lot of time talking about the reasons why. Then you would, essentially, invert it. You'd still start with the why, but then you would spend 80% of your time saying reason one, reason two, reason three. And then, in the call to action, you would say, "Okay, now that I've convinced you of this, here's how you can go and do likewise." Here's what it looks like. Thank you so much. So if we've got a why article, we're trying to persuade somebody, right? And so, it's going to look kind of like this. You are going to start with your headline, of course. And then you're going to write your lead. And then you're going to have your body. And then, down here, you're going to have your CTA. So, if this is a why, it's going to look like this. 80% is going to be your reasoning. This is going to be the why part. And then the last little bit, 10-20%, is going to be how. So I've got my why article. I'm going to write my headline. I'm going to write my lead. And then, this is my body. This is going to be whatever, five, ten paragraphs, however long it's going to be. I'm going to spend most of my time saying reason one, because Prince is so dashing, reason two, he's really sensitive, reason three, and on. This is going to be my why. This is why he was so effective at being an advocate of peace. And then, you may end with one or two take-aways. Implicit or explicit, you can come out and say it, like "So, here's what you should do." "You should do these things." Or, you know, go and figure it out. If you're persuading somebody why, you're still going to end with how. The chunk of it is going to be why and then there's going to be a little bit of how. Lots of why, little bit of how. Make sense? If we do the opposite, we kind of invert it. Let's do how. So, I am going to do this. Still going to have my headline. Still going to have my lead. I wish I could outsource handwriting. I'm horrible at it. You know how Babe Ruth, he got so good, he just hit it and he would have runners for him. I wish I had handwriters. So, we've got how, so it's going to look like this. You're still going to have why at the top. This is your body. But then, the rest is going to be how. And, you're still going to have your CTA. So, this is going to be, obviously, 80% and this is going to be about 20%. So, 80% of your body is going to be on how, but you're going to start with the why and then move into the how. Does that make sense? Okay. Good. So that's how you write a blog post.

Class Description

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