Do you know the hardest thing about being a writer?
It’s writing itself.
Writing every day, writing stuff people actually read, writing that makes people take action.
It’s not just me, most writers feel that way.
A study by Zazzle Media found that creating engaging content is the number one challenge for 65% of writers.
Source: Zazzle Media
I’ve been a freelance blogger for 6+ years but I still have days when my mind goes blank and I can’t write a word.
Again, it’s nothing unusual for bloggers (as this Twitter interaction between two writers shows).
But such days occur less frequently when you have a formula, a standard template or a fixed process that you follow every time you’re writing a blog post.
It not only helps you write quicker but also to create immensely engaging and valuable content
A lot of you have been asking in the Private NicheHacks Facebook Mastermind how we consistently create in-depth content.
It’s a lot of hard work of course but I have developed a process over the years (through trial and error) which you can also follow to speed up your writing.
And this is what today’s article is about.
I’ll tell you exactly what I do before, during, and after writing a blog post, how I research data for my content, and all the other things you want to know about writing a blog post.
So let’s dive in.
What You’ll Learn In This Post
- How to mentally prepare yourself for writing amazing content
- The simple formula to create eye-catching headlines and engaging introductions
- How to WOW your readers with visual content
- The simple editing practices to turn an ordinary piece of writing into a masterpiece
The Pre-Writing Phase – Strategically Planning Your Article
Writing great content demands time.
But it also requires a lot of preparation before you actually write a single word.
The quality and the success of your content depends heavily on the pre-writing phase where you actually chalk out a plan for your article.
More specifically, you’ll need to identify the questions your article will target and gather the information required to answer them.
Let me describe the exact steps I follow.
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1. Determine the Scope and the Primary Objective of Your Blog Post
Every blog article you write should answer one specific question or a group of closely related questions.
Your content should solve your readers’ problems, help them take action, and get them closer to their objectives.
For this, you need to clearly define the scope of your article before you start writing it.
Here are the things you need to determine
1.1 Your Primary Objective for Writing The Article
Who’re you writing this article for?
Why are you writing this article?
What do you want your readers to do when they read it?
What do you hope to achieve with this article?
These are simple but crucial questions you need to answer before writing an article because they’ll determine the direction of your blog post and the angle from which it targets a certain topic.
For this particular blog post, my objective is to tell readers exactly how they should go about writing a blog article. I want to show them how I do it for NicheHacks so that they can model their writing process on mine.
I’ll limit my content to these objectives.
If I don’t, I can keep going on and on without creating any value for my readers.
If an affiliate site is publishing a product review, the objective is to share information about a product, connect it with the needs of the audience, and convince readers to buy it.
1.2 The Question(s) Your Article Will Answer
Be clear about the questions you plan to answer with your article.
Don’t try to cover too many different topics in one article. Focus on just one or multiple closely related questions of your audience and try to answer them in a comprehensive manner.
This NicheHacks article, for example, targets just one question “Finding and Hiring Content Writers” in extreme detail.
Here’s an example of a title that’s covering too many questions.
“How To Build Your Email List, Grow Traffic and Increase Website Conversions”
The better approach is to break this down into three different articles and go deeper into each topic.
“17 Proven Ways To Exponentially Grow Your Email List”
“The Simple Content Strategy To Grow Your Traffic by 783% in 30 Days”
“7 Tips To Increase Website Conversion Rate by 287%”
Getting my point?
Trying to answer too many questions in one article will not only confuse your readers but also limit you to sharing surface level information instead of covering each topic in detail.
1.3 Word Count of Your Article
Several studies have proved the relationship between content length and search rankings. Longer articles also tend to get more backlinks and social shares.
HubSpot found that the longer articles on their blog (2500+ words) received more backlinks on average.
However, word count itself should never be an objective when you’re writing an article.
You should write as many words as necessary to answer the questions you’re targeting in a blog post.
But you should still have a vague word count range in mind before you start writing.
This helps you structure the article and divide it into different segments
For example, Stuart and I have agreed on an average word count range of 2500-3500 words for all NicheHacks articles because with time we’ve learned that it’s the least number of words we need to cover a topic in detail.
I have this range in mind when I start writing.
But I don’t follow it religiously and can exceed it if there’s a genuine need.
This is why many articles on NicehHacks have 4000, 5000, and even 8000+ words.
But generally, we try to shoot for the 2500-3500 word range.
2. Create a Distraction-Free Environment to Maximize Your Productivity
When you sit down to write an article it’s crucial that you block off all distractions and create an environment where you can focus on work only.
Because you can’t write great content without doing so.
Personally, I struggled with online distractions a lot when I started freelancing (most writers do)
I’d sit down to write an article but spend hours on Facebook or Twitter without actually doing any work. I’d miss deadlines and take 3x more time to complete projects because I just couldn’t block off distractions.
With time, though, I learned to focus on work by using a few tools and techniques.
So here’s my quick advice to you.
- Fix Your Writing Time: Whether you’re an early riser or a night owl, fix your writing time and block off everything else during that time. Just write. Doing so has helped me 10x my writing speed and productivity.
- Track Your Time: I use RescueTime to track my activities and it has helped me stay focused on work.
- Shut Off Social Media: Sign out of Facebook, Twitter, and any other social networks and turn off smartphone notifications while you’re writing.
3. Have All the Necessary Blogging and Writing Tools Ready
One last thing before you actually start the content research and creation process is to make sure you have the right tools for content creation.
There are hundreds of free and premium content marketing tools you can use. But let me share the ones I use.
- Google Docs: Free and easy word processor for writing your articles.
- Grammarly: This one’s a real lifesaver because it checks your content for any grammar mistakes, typos, incorrect sentence structure, and spelling mistakes. I don’t know where I’d be without Grammarly.
- Evernote Web Clipper/Skitch: Great tool for creating annotated screenshots.
- CloudApp: This is a paid tool for creating animated GIFs. Instead of explaining everything in text, I like to use GIFs because they not only help me demonstrate processes better but also do a better job at engaging readers.
- Cliche Finder: It’s a useful tool that’ll help you cut short longer sentences and avoid being cheesy.
- Power Thesaurus: Using the same words repeatedly can take the shine of your writing. This crowdsourced thesaurus shows you synonyms for the words bloggers commonly use.
- Canva: The best online tool for creating high-quality custom images for your blog and social media posts.
4. Perform Initial Research To Understand the Topic
No one, including your favorite bloggers, can write a detailed, actionable, and high-quality blog post without research.
So even when I’m familiar with a topic, I still spend 30-45 minutes exploring the latest content, forum discussions, and any relevant research or case studies on my topic.
My initial research starts with some pretty broad Google searches to see what’s already published on the topic.
For example, when I wrote this article about hiring freelance writers, I simply searched “how to hire freelance writers”.
I then spend 15-20 minutes looking at the top ranked posts on the topic to see what they’ve written.
I often go till page 3 of Google Search to find any relevant posts.
While reviewing those articles, I note down any unique points, things that I didn’t know about the topic or any particular examples that I like.
Here are the things that I focus on while researching articles
- The main argument of the writer and the angle used to approach it
- Article word count and content depth
- Titles and sub-headings used by the writer and the emotions he’s tried to evoke.
- The type of article and its formatting (list post, how to etc. and the number of sections/parts in the article)
- Visuals used in the article
And the most important thing.
I always read the comments on an article to find any unanswered questions or feedback from the readers. This gives me additional points to create a more valuable and in-depth article.
To give you an idea, this is how my browser looks when I’m exploring different articles on a topic
Next, I head over to BuzzSumo to find the most frequently shared articles on my topic. This gives me a good idea of the kind of content that resonates with my target audience.
Pay special attention to the formatting and the headlines of the most frequently shared articles because those are two of the main driving factors behind audience engagement.
As usual, I’m taking notes and bookmarking articles during this research.
Then I go to one of the most useful research platforms that always gives me a ton of information about a topic and helps me understand exactly what my target audience wants to know.
I’m talking about NicheHacks Facebook Mastermind, a community of 50,000+ seasoned marketers, aspiring entrepreneurs, and complete newbies with lots of questions.
I’ve used insights from it in almost all the posts I’ve written for NicheHacks in the last 4 years.
To find relevant discussions, I simply search the group for my topic and look for interesting questions or comments by different group members.
I’ve created this animated GIF to show you exactly how I do it.
This helps me uncover unique questions that are hard to find otherwise.
But you probably don’t have your own Facebook Group so you’ll need to look for other popular Facebook Groups on your target topic.
Spend a little time exploring different groups and I’m sure you’ll get lots of ideas about your topic.
Usually, I gather enough insights with these methods to start writing.
But sometimes, I also explore Quora threads and relevant online forums if I feel I need to know more about the topic.
The objective of this initial research is to get an understanding of your topic and to see what’s working for your competitors.
But don’t overthink.
You don’t need to know everything about your topic just yet.
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5. Perform Basic Keyword Research
Before moving to the writing phase, I spend 10-15 minutes researching relevant keywords to use in my content.
This is different from the detailed keyword research that you’re supposed to do when you start a new blog and develop its content strategy.
When writing an article, I simply search Google for the main topic and study the following.
- Google autosuggest keywords
- Related search queries for my main topic keyword
- Related queries in Google Trends for my main topic keyword.
I note down the keywords that are relevant to my topic and get their search volumes using Ubersuggest
At this point, I don’t put too much effort into SEO or keyword research because I already know what I need to write about.
Plus, I hold off the on-page SEO activities until the editing phase so that I remain focused on the needs of my readers when I’m writing an article.
With this, we can now move to the writing phase.
The Writing Phase – Creating High-Quality and Actionable Content
This is the part where you’ll create the skeleton of your post and then fill it with high-quality content.
Here’s how I do it.
6. Give Your Draft a Title (Not the Final Headline)
No one will read your article unless they click on the title.
And no one will click your title if it doesn’t stand out from the other content on their newsfeeds, Twitter timelines, and email inboxes.
In short, without creating a compelling headline, all your content can go to waste.
Research shows that 80% of people only look at article headlines and only 20% actually click the title to read the complete article.
I start my writing process by using a vague title for my article draft.
It’s not the final title but it does capture the overall idea of the post.
For example, here’s the headline I used when I started writing this article.
Pretty simple, right?
The objective of this title is just to give me direction while I’m writing the post.
Once I finish writing and editing my article, I go back and rewrite the headline until I’m satisfied with it.
On average, I write 5-7 headlines before coming to the final headlines after discussion with Stuart.
Upworthy, one of the world’s leading viral news sites, is known for its catchy headlines.
It requires all its writers to draft a minimum of 25 headlines before choosing one.
Here’s a screenshot from an Upworthy presentation about headlines.
Source: Upworthy Presentation
NicheHacks Insider has some really useful execution plans with step by step details to help you create powerful headlines for your articles.
But I’ll quickly give you the factors that I keep in mind when creating blog post titles.
6.1 Clarity: People are lazy and they don’t have time to think about vague and unclear titles. So be clear and specific in your headlines.
“How To Lose Weight” – Bad Headline
“11 Proven Steps To Lose Belly Fat After Pregnancy in 5 Weeks” – Clear and Specific Headline
6.2 Emotion: Our feelings and emotions can make us do weird things. Things that don’t make sense, things that aren’t even right. This is why emotional headlines always work well.
“How To Heal Acne Scars” – Bad Headline
“Acne Scar Treatment: 3 Tips Regain Your Lost Beauty and Love Yourself Again” – Makes the reader dream
6.3 Numbers: Like them or not, list posts with numbers get more clicks than other headlines.
6.4 Urgency: I’ve found that headlines that create urgency tend to drive more clicks.
“7 Ways To Skyrocket Your Blog’s Organic Traffic” – Average Headline
“7 Ways To Increase Website Traffic by 247% in 37 Days” – Good Headline
You’ll find many other time-tested headline creation tips in this detailed post.
Once you have a workable title, it’s time to create the article outline.
7. Create an Article Outline to Structure Your Thought Process
This is the first step of actually writing your article.
The objective of an outline is to tell you exactly how your article would look like once it’s ready.
I try not to make it too complicated though.
I start by creating the headings for the main parts of my post.
For this article, the three main parts were Pre-Writing, Writing, and Post-Writing Phases.
After that, I break down each part into several sub-headings as I’ve done in this post.
Here’s how the skeleton looked like when I first created it for this post.
Nothing fancy, I know.
The next step is to fill each of those headings and sub-heading with high-quality content.
8. Write Drunk, Edit Sober
After all that preparation, you’re finally ready to write.
This is the step where you can spend hours staring at the blinking cursor without writing a single word.
But with all pre-requisites, I’ve described above, it shouldn’t be that hard to get your creative juices flowing.
Here’s the number one rule for writing your draft.
Forget about spelling mistakes, typos, sentence structures, attributions, images, links, SEO and everything else in this world.
This infographic sums up my argument quite well.
Source: Custom Writing
Start penning down your thoughts without any interruptions.
This is what the famous saying “Write drunk, edit sober” means.
It’s not literally asking you to get drunk.
Just write without caring about anything else.
This one piece of advice dramatically changed my writing style.
I used to stop after every few sentences to fine tune my copy or to add images or links which used to break my writing flow.
But once I stopped caring about everything else and just wrote, my writing speed increased by 2x-3x.
The real challenge is to control the perfectionist inside you who’ll keep reminding you of your errors.
Ignore him until you reach the editing phase.
Till then, just write.
Here are a few things you must pay special attention to while writing your draft.
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8.1 Use Short Paragraphs, Active Voice, and a Conversational Tone To
Look at the snapshot below and tell me which format looks more reader-friendly
The one on the left, of course.
Its content is divided into multiple sub-headings, short sentences, short paragraphs, and lists.
Which is why it’s much easier to scan.
Because that’s what people do – they scan, don’t read, content.
I follow the same rules.
All my articles for NicheHacks have lots of sub-headings and I rarely write more than 3 lines in a paragraph. Similarly, I avoid using longer sentences and generally try to break them down into shorter chunks.
Also ensure that your article directly talks with the reader by frequently using “I”, “You, and “Me”.
Remember, you’re not addressing a huge gathering. You’re writing for a single person who’s reading your post. So talk directly to him in singular form.
8.2 Nail the Introduction Paragraph to Hook Readers
Headlines get you clicks, but introduction paragraphs make readers stay (or leave immediately)
So writing a compelling introduction is imperative to your article’s success.
But is there a formula for writing introductions? Yes, there is!
Here’s what works for me.
8.3 Start with a question to evoke curiosity
I often start my articles with a question because it immediately gets the reader thinking and engaged with my article.
Like I’ve done in this post.
Many other popular bloggers use the same technique.
For example, here’s Matthew Woodward opening an article with a question
Here’s Neil Patel doing the same
In short, opening your article with a question keeps the readers hooked longer.
But there are other ways to open your article as well.
8.4 Make a Bold Statement
Say something so bold that it makes your readers stop and read further.
Here’s a good example
8.5 Make a comparison
This type of opening really gets the reader hooked to your article.
I’ve used it several times on NicheHacks and it always works well.
Stuart has shared several other proven ways to start your articles in NicheHacks Insider.
Once you’re done with the opening part of your introduction paragraph, come straight to the point and clearly tell the reader what your article is about.
If your opening becomes too long, you can easily bore the readers and ultimately lose them.
This is why I generally try to limit my introductions to 150-200 words.
After the introduction, move on to the sub-headings you created in the article outline.
8.6 Back Your Arguments With Relevant Data, Quotes, and Case Studies
You must’ve noticed that all the articles on NicheHacks have a lot of data references, examples, and expert quotes.
We don’t say things out of thin air.
Our content isn’t dominated by our opinions.
Instead, all the NicheHacks writers, including me, try to back our arguments with undeniable proofs.
In fact, our editorial guideline specifically requires us to back our claims with numbers and examples.
The reason is obvious.
Data and case studies add weight to your content, make it more credible, and do a great job at keeping readers engaged.
They’re also great for getting more backlinks as this study shows.
Source: SEO PowerSuite
Since data and examples are so useful, I try to include at least one reference for every sub-heading of my article.
So for instance, if an article has 12 sub-headings, it usually has at least 12 data or case study references which add a lot of credibility to it.
How do I find data?
Here are my top sources
- Statista: A seemingly never-ending database of stats and research
- Pew Research Institute: Another well-known research database
- Google Search: Use these search terms to find relevant data and case studies
“your topic + research”, “topic + survey”, “topic + study”, “topic + case study”, “topic + examples”, “topic + statistics”, “topic + stats”
You can also use Google Scholar to look specifically for case studies and research papers on your topic.
Easy isn’t it?
Just make sure you don’t overdo it.
Use stats to back your claims, but don’t bombard your readers with stats all the time otherwise it becomes a bit too dry.
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8.7 Use Screenshots, Images, GIFs, and Infographic Clippings
Okay, I’m sure you’ve already seen a dozen screenshots and a couple of GIFs in this post.
Like stats, I try to add at least one image, screenshot or GIF to every sub-heading of my article.
My favorite technique is to find relevant infographics and use segments from them in my content.
For example, I really liked this infographic by Venngage about visual content. So I used Evernote Web Clipper to use a segment from it in my content.
Such visuals not only add the wow factor to your content but also help retain your readers longer.
And it can all be done quite easily with the tools I’ve mentioned.
8.8 Leave White Spaces
All NicheHacks writers use double spacing after sub-headings, quotes, and images/GIFs
This creates a cleaner look and makes it easier for the reader to understand the content.
That’s it as far as writing my articles is concerned.
With all the pre-writing research I usually have enough information to write a good article. Plus, I perform additional research to find stats and visual for every sub-heading as I’ve shown you.
Once I’m done with writing the article, I move on to the editing phase.
The Post Writing Phase – Editing and Fine Tuning Your Content
New bloggers and writers think they’re ready to publish as soon as they finish their first draft.
I can understand the urge.
But don’t do it.
You’ve spent hours creating a well-researched article.
The editing phase will help you turn it into a flawless resource.
Relax, I won’t push you into anything overly complex.
You’re a blogger, not a novelist. You just need to make your content reader-friendly. That’s the only objective of the editing phase for bloggers and affiliate marketers.
Here are the things I do to fine-tune and polish my content.
9. Read Your Article Aloud
Like you, I don’t read content, I scan it.
But you can’t do that with your own articles. You have to read every single word again.
And not just with your eyes (like most people do)
Read it aloud.
It’s amazing how many typos, punctuation, and grammatical mistakes you can overlook when you read with your eyes only.
Reading aloud makes you look closer at your content and tells you how it sounds to the readers.
Seasoned journalist and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean seems to agree with me
I read my articles at least 3 times during the editing phase to check the usual things like spellings and grammar mistakes.
But I also look at how I can improve sentences, make them shorter and more compelling, and also pay special attention to the voice of my content – should always be active.
Your first draft will likely have a lot of unnecessary words and repetitions.
Use the editing phase to rephrase or completely remove them.
The following infographic shares quick and easy editing tips you can apply to your content.
My primary concern in the editing phase is to make my content reader-friendly.
But I don’t obsess over crafting the finest piece of writing ever published.
That’s not what my audience wants.
They want actionable information in a reader-friendly manner.
And I make sure I give them what they want.
10. Add Missing Links and References
While you’re reading your article aloud, you’ll find instances where you’ve mentioned a brand or cited a study without linking to it.
Now’s the time to fix it.
Make sure all your images, data citations, case studies or any other external content is properly sourced.
Don’t take this lightly because using someone else’s content with attribution can get your site into trouble.
11. Add Relevant Internal and External Links
I’ve written extensively about internal linking and how it helps improve user experience and your search rankings in one of my previous posts on NicheHacks.
Let me give you a quick recap.
Use internal links frequently to expose your site’s older content to your readers and to help search spiders crawl your content faster. Internal linking improves both the user experience and the SEO prospects of your site by transferring link juice from the higher authority pages of your site to the weaker ones.
Similarly, add outgoing links to other high authority sites wherever it makes sense. Outbound links are not harmful to your site unless they’re pointing to a shady or low-quality website.
In fact, a study by Search Engine Journal found that linking out to the more established sites in your industry actually improves your rankings.
This is why we’re never shy to link out to the higher authority sites in your niche (as long as it makes sense to do so).
Before publishing your post, just quickly see if you can and a few internal and external links to make your post more comprehensive.
12. Look for Any Additional On-Page SEO Opportunities
Remember the keywords I researched in the pre-writing phase?
Well, it’s time to use them.
This is usually the last thing I do before submitting a post to Stuart.
However, I don’t add keywords just because I need to. I only do it if it makes sense in the context of my post and it doesn’t hurt user-experience.
Here are the things I do
- Add the primary keyword to the article title
- Use it in the article URL
- Use the keyword in at least a couple of sub-headings
- Use variations of the keyword in 1-2 sub-headings
- Use Related Keywords in 1-2 sub-headings
- Use the main topic keyword in the introduction paragraph.
- Use variations of the main keyword throughout the body text
- Use the keyword towards the end of the post (ideally, but not always, in the conclusion paragraph)
- Use keywords in the Alt-Text of all the images used in the post
Plus, I always create a short and compelling meta-description for my articles (we use Yoast SEO plugin for NicheHacks).
Meta descriptions have no direct impact on your search ranking, but they play a key role in attracting the searcher’s attention and driving more clicks to your title.
With this, I save the draft and send it over to Stuart for review.
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Ready To Write Your Next Blog Post?
I’ve spilled the beans in this post and told you everything I do behind the scenes.
From research and writing to image creation and editing, I’ve shared my whole process for writing a well-researched blog post for NicheHacks.
If you were confused before, what’s stopping you now from publishing great content on your blog?
It’s time to take action.
Follow the steps I’ve shared in this post and there’s no reason why you can’t create even better content than NicheHacks.
If you still have questions feel free to ask in NicheHacks Facebook Mastermind.
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