Content is king.
That’s true. But only till this king makes you want to pull out all your hair in frustration.
Six months into my internship as a Content writer at Appointy and I was ready to jump off a cliff instead of blogging.
Because it wasn’t working! I had been reading on and on about content writing. Even tried writing a couple of blogs. But none of them were good enough.
It was time for an intervention!
So, in August 2016, the three content writing interns of Appointy [including yours truly] locked themselves in a room with Nemesh and started talking about why their content strategy isn’t working. That afternoon all of us had a confession to make. It was a hard one. But someone had to say it so I stepped up.
“I don’t [swallowing hard] understand the industry. I can’t write a blog about something I don’t know. I’m not an expert.”
That was a dangerous admission, especially for someone who had been working as a content writer for six months and wanted a job in the company.
Nemesh simply smiled and said, “That’s true. You’re not experts. Let’s change that.”
While we didn’t know much at that time but one thing was clear: Locking ourselves up in a room and having candid discussions about our work helped. And since we were all beginners, none of us had anything to lose. So we decided to do the same for the rest of the week.
Why am I writing this post?
Let me just fast forward for a minute here and tell you what happened at the end of the week.
- We had identified the core drivers of our main problem: Why aren’t we able to deliver high-quality content in our blogs?
- We discovered the quintessential elements that make a piece of content ‘high-quality’
These two discoveries made us much more confident about writing our next blog post. The candid discussions transformed in a week-long drill that reinvented our content strategy for good. Fast forward to six more months, today I look back and realise that we have actually invented a framework that can enable businesses of all sizes, to begin with their own content plan.
While those new in the field (like me), could use it as a guide, the senior folk can use it to master a new style or just to induce some freshness in their writing.
DAY 1: Identifying the problems
It was the three of us, Nemesh, a marker, a whiteboard, and one question looming in the air:
Why aren’t we able to write good blog posts?
Our objective of the day was just to discover the answer to this question. So we started with a round of discussion about what problems we face while writing blog posts. Our answers were all common problems: deadlines, writer’s block, insufficient time, lack of knowledge, etc. We expanded on each of them and at the end of the session all our problems zeroed down to just two issues.
- Domain knowledge:
Well, actually the lack thereof. We were amateurs. We didn’t know anything about the service industry. While we were aware of all the statistics and growth parameters, none of us had ever been to the US. We had no idea how people think there or the way in which businesses function there. It was tough for us to abide by the first mantra of marketing: ‘Understanding the customers’.
- No organisation:
There was no order in our work. No story. No well-laid out objectives. No promotional strategy. It was all a random mess. Hence, even a blog post which was would take us days to write wouldn’t perform well.
That was all for day 1. It took two hours of discussion between Nemesh and Sarang and an additional two hours with the three of us to achieve this conclusion. TBH, I thought it was madness but somehow, Nemesh was convinced that we were already halfway through.
Take away from the day
Problem-solving lies at the heart of any successful endeavour. But identifying a problem is much more important. If something isn’t working out, you need to find out why is that so. From my days of volunteering at Make a Difference, I learnt the strategy of identifying core drivers for any problem. It involves asking the question ‘What is the cause of this?’ at every step until you can’t answer it anymore to reach a final reason that is the core driver of any problem.
DAY 2: The day of action
It was all very dramatic. We were ready with our laptops waiting anxiously for Nemesh to share his words of wisdom with us. We thought it was a life-altering day. Nemesh gave a very long pause before he started speaking. And then he said,
“So! Let’s read.”
That’s it? Read? That was the major mystery plan of action that would turn us into good bloggers? But wasn’t that the problem? That we just had theoretical knowledge from reading over the months?
But Nemesh insisted. So we gave in. Anyway, what harm could reading do? And it was all an experiment after all. So we decided to go for it. We were to read as much as 250 blog posts in a single day on relevant blogs [in the SaaS and content marketing field, of-course].
We also thought it would be a good idea to save the links to the blogs we had read in a Google Sheet.
Take away from the day
The need to change a process arises when something is wrong. And to make corrections, we always need to start from scratch. There’s nothing wrong with going back to basics and unlearning all you’ve learnt. At least that’s what Master Yoda says.
DAY 3: Revelations
As we gathered in our room the next day, all of us knew that the reading had helped. It was too soon to say exactly how, but it definitely had.
Here’s how our Google sheet looked like at the end of the day:
Our session started with all of us sharing the best five blog posts of all that we had read and why exactly we liked them. What started as a share on why we liked a particular post turned into a discussion about strategies that bloggers use in writing and promoting a successful blog post. It was a very insightful discussion and all of us were soon overwhelmed. So we decided to continue this exercise for another day.
For the next 250 blogs that we read on Day 3, we were more methodical and selective. We were only reading quality blogs and deliberately looking for a new and unique strategy that a company or blogger is using to promote their content.
Take away from the day
It’s alright if things don’t make sense in the beginning. If they always did, there would be no failed experiments. Have patience and pursue something at least for a little while. Sometimes persistence is the key to success.
DAY 4: Major Revelations
As our session kicked off, all of us were super excited to share our top five posts for the previous day. Surprisingly, a lot of blog posts on our lists matched. This made one thing clear: the perceivably good posts had some things in common. This followed an extensive discussion about what these things are.
Two days of extensive learning and we had finally understood the pattern.
We had discovered that every blog post is published with a clear objective. Moreover, the purpose is to be decided prior to creating the content.
Take away from the day
All successful blog posts are either one or more of these three types:
- Value-focussed-super-useful-for-customer content. [Example: How To Promote Your Blog: 101 (Free) Ways To Boost Traffic]
- Can-go-viral-on-social-media-curiosity content [Example: Marijuana Contains “Alien DNA” From Outside Of Our Solar System, NASA Confirms]
- Data-driven-useful-for-industry-research content [2017 Market Research Report on Beauty Salons Industry]
It’s crucial that we lay out the purpose of writing a blog post and then begin writing it in order to effectively fulfil its objective.
DAY 5: Understanding how SEO works
We had understood the various ways in which content makes a post successful. Next, we focused on understanding the role of keywords and SEO.
We decided to go back to the Google sheet which had the links to all the blog posts we had read. We re-visited about top 100 blog posts and did a very simple thing.
We imagined what on Earth someone might type in Google to get this blog post in the search results. Then we entered these search terms in Google for real and found out if the post appears in the search.
For posts that appeared among top 5-7 on the page, we closely examined the keywords used and their density. Repeating this for a number of posts gave us a very clear picture of why everyone fusses over SEO. We saw keywords at play live in action.
Here’s an example. Let’s say we picked up the following blog post: ‘The Proven Method to Ranking on the First Page of Google For Any Long-tail Keyword’. Now, what might be the search queries that lead to this post?
At the top of my head,
- How to rank for long-tail keywords?
- ranking for long-tail keywords
- rank on Google’s first page
- long-tail keyword ranking
- method to rank for long-tail keywords
When we put all these in the Google search bar, our original post appears at 3rd or 4th ranking on the Google ssearch result page. That suggests the post is SEO optimized and its eligible to be studied further for keyword density analysis. See for yourself:
Take away from the day
Common logic is at the heart of keyword analysis. All the algorithms sometimes make us forget how easy it is to optimise a blog post for our target audience. All we need to do is think like our audience.
DAY 6: Understanding storytelling
There was another pattern that we noticed in our blog posts. Subsequent posts on the all successful blogs seemed to tell a story. Each post was inter-linked with the other to form a web of resources on a particular topic. Think of it like a chain. One link directs you to the next and if we followed till the end, we found that it ultimately led you to a Call-to-action to try the brand’s product.
We were fascinated. And surprised at the same time too that so many bloggers employ this technique. This sparked a very brilliant idea. We like to call it the ‘Lego’ model
The ‘Lego’ model
We started looking at our blog posts in a different light. As ebooks, to be precise. Our strategy was to pick up a topic and create one master ebook instead of a writing a blog about it. Further we planned to break this ebook in chapters, just like small lego pieces (hence, the name). These chapters would then serve as topics for multiple blog posts.
These posts would be interlinked with one another with each one directing the user to a landing page to download the ebook. One of us while randomly going through Hubspot’s tutorials found a video explaining a strategy almost identical to our ‘Lego’ model.
We were thrilled. If we were thinking so close to the industry expert, we were definitely doing something right.
Take away from the day
Telling a story with your blog is the best way to engage readers and keep them coming back for more. A lot of bloggers write great blog posts but they lack the WOW factor due to the absence of storytelling in their writing. Interlinking your blog post is another way to tell a story in the big picture on your blog.
That was all about our 6-day long drill which turned out to be our own Content-writing tutorial course. Here are the links to two blog posts to give you an idea about how much my writing had changed after this drill.
Here’s a blog post from before this week.
And here’s one from after this week.
I bet you’ll see some difference there. While I was writing the second blog, my entire perspective about putting together a post had changed. I was taking care of SEO, my target audience, the curiosity factor, and providing value to the readers as well.
In fact, I just had a great idea. I’m going to whip up another post about how exactly I came up with a relatively better blog post right after this drill. I’ll share everything from where I got the idea from to my first draft of keywords for that article.
Stay tuned. Major revelations your way in the next blog!