Starting your company blog: Elements of a great post

Previously we explained how to plan the editorial strategy of your company blog. Today let’s break it down to the basics–specifically how to make a great blog  post.

Keep it short

Most readers spend less than four minutes reading a blog post. That means your blog posts should be under 1,000 words. Granted you can write longer posts, but you want to keep readers’ attention. If they drift away before finishing a post, chances are they will not return to your blog.

For posts that must be longer than 1,000 words, we recommend breaking the post up into two or more parts. What’s great about doing that is stretches your material and gives you a hook to get readers to return to your blog for part two.

Have a purpose

As we wrote yesterday, your blog posts must serve a purpose. You must always strive to inform and/or entertain your readers.

If you are writing to inform, be sure to include lots of links in your posts. The links can be to relevant websites and articles. We are big fans of how-to posts, especially because they are the kinds of posts that readers share with others and return to themselves for a refresher.

If you are writing to entertain, you must have a personality. Readers will get turned off by posts that sound like press releases. Your posts should make readers laugh, move them, cause them to feel emotion. It is the personal connection that will entice readers to return to your blog.

Watch your tone

Because you are writing a company blog, you want to remain professional.  Sure, you can be a bit edgy or informal, but it’s best to always stay near the middle of the road in your writing. You also don’t want to over-share information about yourself or your clients. If you can’t say it IRL (in real life), don’t say it online.

Follow an outline

Just like your English teacher taught you, your blog posts should have a beginning, middle and end.

The intro to your post should be something to hook people’s attention. This might be a funny anecdote, a statistic or quote. From the hook, you’ll transition into the meat of your post. This is where you might explain a how-to or share resources.

For ease of reading, keep paragraphs short. They should never be longer than four or five sentences long. Also take advantage of style elements like bullet points, numbered lists and subheadings.

The end of your blog post should be one of two things. If it’s an entertaining story, your ending can be a kicker–a phrase that’s funny or poignant. If the post is supposed to be helpful, then it should be a call-to-action. That call-to-action can be to contact you, but you should do that sparingly. Otherwise, readers will come to see your blog as a sales pitch and it will lose credibility.

Include a photo whenever possible

You don’t want to read a long block of text and neither do your readers. That’s why having at least one photo on every blog post is key. Photos also add professional polish to any blog post–that is, of course, if the photos are tasteful and relevant.

At ChicagoNow, the network of blogs we launched last year, the question new bloggers asked most often was “How do I find photos?”  Using copyrighted photos is illegal, and if the owner finds out that you’re using her photo without permission, she can make you take it down immediately.

The easiest way around this is obviously using your own photos. If you’re going to use your own photo for a post, make sure that you have the permission of every person in the photo to publish it online.

Chances are you’ll write a blog post that you do not have a photo for. We recommend Search.CreativeCommons.org, which is a search engine of content that have special copyrights for reuse. The photo for this post, for example, was found through Creative Commons.

When using an image you found through Creative Commons, be sure to check the copy right on the image. Some owners ask that you include their name and website when posting the image on your blog.

Headlines are no place to be cute

Be sure to keep your headlines literal. Why? Because literal headlines help you to rank in the search engines. They also help your readers to understand what your blog post is about when it is shared via social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Including the full names of people and places may also help your posts to rank higher and be shared more often.

These are the elements to a making a great blog post. Next we’ll talk about how to promote your blog posts using social media.

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Don’t miss our complete series, Starting Your Company Blog.

Part One: Planning your editorial strategy

Part Two: Elements of a great blog post

Part Three: How to promote your posts