There are dozens of blogging goals, strategies and styles. No two content strategies are the same. But if you ask enough bloggers how they do things (and if it’s working) you’ll see some correlations.
Bloggers who do things a certain way are more likely to report success. There are patterns.
Put these patterns together and you have a set of best practices for blogging. Put those best practices together and you have a fun headline: “The Perfect Blog Post.”
Here are the elements of blogging and content creation that have the strongest correlation with “strong results” as reported by 1,279 bloggers in the 2020 Blogger Survey by Orbit Media.
Blogging tips for 2020 (jump ahead):
- Post should be 3,000+ words
- Most effective format: interview, guide or roundup
- Update an old blog post for 2x the results
- (Almost) always do keyword research
- Draft your headline 11-19 times
- Include at least 10 images
- Include statistics and original research
- Always add a video
- Work with more than one editor
- Influencer outreach is best for promotion
- Always check Google Analytics post-launch
Content experts weigh in
Since this post is titled “The Anatomy of the Perfect Blog Post” it got us thinking: if a blog post was a human body, what would be its most important part and why?
We turned to content experts in tech and beyond. They gamely took on our slightly strange prompt and answered it in (what else?) creative and beautiful ways. Look for their quotes throughout this post.
1. Height: Post is 3,000+ words
The perfect blog post is long.
The correlation between content length and blogging success is obvious. The taller the typical article, the more likely that blogger is to report success.
Don’t seek to write a long article. Seek to write a detailed article that covers the topic completely.
If you find yourself counting words and coming up short, consider any of these approaches.
- Search for the topic (or a related subtopic in Google). See a “People also ask” box? Add some of those questions and answers to your article.
- Post a related question on social media. See if the responses trigger ideas for subtopics to include.
- Is there relevant content in other channels and formats? Research the topic in YouTube. Add any new insights you find to your article. You might even embed a video.
- Reach out to a relevant expert. Ask them to provide some input. Include their insights in the article. More on collaboration in a minute.
The goal is not 3,000 words. The goal is to make the best page on the internet for the topic.
Although it’s tough to argue that hands are the most important part of the human body, I do believe they’re incredibly hard to do without. The same goes for the “hands” of a blog post–its ability to give something to your readers. How does your blog provide information, education and unique, actionable advice? People read your blog to learn something, challenge themselves, and better their lives in some way. If your blog can’t hand them something, they won’t be back for more.
The big toe: It provides the necessary balance every piece needs (facts, links, empathy, humour). Without it, you might reach your destination, but it would be a more painful, lengthy journey, for sure.
– Jodi Schechter, Content Marketing Manager at DocuSign
Resource: 23 Questions to Inspire Your Content
2. Shape: The most effective type of post is an interview, guide or roundup
The perfect blog post is collaborative.
Some formats are far more likely to correlate with strong results. They are the collaborative formats of interviews, roundups and posts with contributions from others.
These posts have a different shape than the straight line of a how-to post. They are rounded out with different points of view.
There are basically three styles of collaborative content. They all add shapes that a single author cannot provide in a solo mission:
- The Interview
One expert, many questions. It’s a deep dive into the mind of someone who has had the experience and is willing to share. The good and the bad, successes and failures, stories and insights.
- Contributor Quotes
You have only one voice. Everything you say comes from that single point of view. But it takes little effort and time to add more perspectives to your next article. A journalist wouldn’t publish a post without a source. Why do bloggers publish without contributor quotes? You can also try visualizing these quotes to break up the text.
- The Roundup
Many experts, one (or few) questions. Gather a group of experts. Ask them for their input. Let them disagree. Combine them into a post that covers an interesting topic from many angles. Help a Reporter is one resource you can use to find experts.
Before you hit publish on a roundup, ask yourself if you, as the editor, have added as much value as you can. Did you provide your own analysis? Did you organize the contributions in a meaningful way? Or did you just copy and paste 65 blurbs into WordPress?
Work harder on your roundups and they’ll work harder for you. And the more collaborative your content in general, the better your content, your social reach and your professional network.
The content itself. You can write a snazzy headline, you can optimize the piece as much as you want for SEO … but at the end of the day:
If people don’t stick around on the page long enough your rankings will fall
If they don’t take the action you’re intending them to, you don’t hit your blog goals
If they don’t see enough value in the piece, they won’t share it
Headlines might bring people in but great content, from the copy to the visuals, is the most important “body” part of any blog post.
The heart because you want the flow of information to pump through the post and give life into the narrative thrust of the post.
3. Cells: Update an old blog post for 2x the results
The perfect blog post is updated again and again.
More and more bloggers are updating old content–70 percent in 2020 compared to 53 percent in 2017.
Why? Because bloggers who update old content are more than twice as likely to report strong results.
Here at Venngage we update old blog posts on a weekly basis. In fact, a recent update to our mind map post saw the registration rate increase from 7 to 14 percent (USA), four weeks post update.
Here’s how we choose which old posts to update:
- Post has a high-volume keyword that’s seen declining organic sessions, registrations and/or upgrades.
- Post has a high-intent keyword (may be low volume but high CPC) that’s seeing declining registrations and/or upgrades.
- Post is performing well but needs an update to cater to new target audiences.
- Post’s copy and/or visuals is out of date and needs a refresh.
We have a specific process for updating our blog posts which we recently outlined in a Twitter thread.
Venngage’s foolproof** blog update process:
**Nothing is foolproof in content marketing, but I wish it was.
1. Get baselines
Get baselines from the past four weeks in your target country. At Venngage, we look at the post’s performance over the past four weeks in the USA, using Google Analytics and Mixpanel to get the data.
Baselines you could use for a blog post:
- Organic sessions
- Registration rate
- Upgrade rate
- Registration/upgrade rate segmented by your target audience for this post.
- Average session duration
- Bounce rate
2. Diagnose the problem
You can’t update a blog post without knowing why it’s not working and/or what parts are working. Look at your baselines and analyze the results.
- Low sessions: Not ranking high enough on relevant keywords
- Low registration rate: Content doesn’t adequately address the needs and pain points of your target audience
- Low upgrade rate: Same as above, though some may argue it’s hard to influence upgrade rate so soon in the buyer journey.
- Short session duration: Visitors are not engaged by your content. Could be a lot wrong here: blocks of text early in the post with no visuals, no clear value proposition in the introduction, visuals are confusing or irrelevant, headings and/or jump links aren’t descriptive or are confusing.
- Bounce rate is high: Your content probably isn’t hitting search intent, as well as the problems just listed.
3. Do keyword research
Use a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to see what keywords you’re already ranking for.
Make a list of high volume and/or high intent keywords you’re not ranking #1 on. Add them to your headers (or make new headers) and body copy.
Use Keyword Planner to research new potential keywords. (see section 4 below for details).
4. Do user experience research
Use a heatmap tool like Hotjar to see where visitors typically drop off in a post to see where you need to make the copy/visuals more enticing.
Hotjar is also great to see what jump links visitors click on often. Consider moving the corresponding sections to the top of the post and building out these sections more, with additional keywords.
5. Check search intent
Analyze the top three results in the SERP for your primary keyword. Does your post address the same topics? Have similar headings? Add anything new to the conversation? Your post should both meet the reader’s expectations and add extra value.
Hands. The most important part of a blog post is delivering the information or experience a reader is searching for. This doesn’t mean a post has to be full of facts and data – in fact, most aren’t. But if a post doesn’t meet reader intent, it’s not likely to get much traction.
– Katrina Dalao, Content Manager at Referral Rock
6. Use better visuals
Nothing is more boring than walls of text, bad visuals like tired stock photos or confusing visuals that fail to explain data or clarify an argument.
Infographics are perfect to tell a story, make boring topics engaging, clearly position your product as the solution or make technical information accessible
Not sure where to start with infographics? This video primer on the nine types of infographics will help you choose the right one for your content:
7. Speak to the reader, in the reader’s language
Refer to user calls, customer chat logs and conversations on relevant sites such as Quora or Reddit. Use the terms your customers use.
You should also be addressing the problems your target audience has and positioning your product as the solution.
8. Also please don’t forget to…
- Check for broken links or if you can link to newer, more authoritative studies.
Typos. There are always typos.
- Do interlinking. You want to link back from posts on your own site to this post, since it’s a ranking factor for Google.
- Publish and promote, promote, promote. Jump to section 11 for details.
Fingerprints: the single unique aspect of a post that makes it special, worth reading and offers some aspect of differentiation. Far too often content is a sea of similitude.
Daniel Reiter, Editor-in-Chief at FreshBooks
4. Connective joints: Do keyword research
The perfect blog post targets a keyphrase.
It targets a high-volume, high-value keyphrase and it ranks like a champion. Right? So every post should be keyphrase-focused, at least that’s what the research suggests. Bloggers who research keyphrases for every post are far more likely to report success.
Not so fast.
This is a best practice that can get you in trouble. Or at least it can get you so frustrated that you’ll give up on Google and take up Tik Tok.
The best SEOs know when SEO isn’t relevant at all.
After inspiration strikes and you’re ready to write, ask yourself a few quick questions:
Is anyone looking for this topic?
If it’s an opinion piece, probably not. If it’s news, not likely. If it’s something unexpected or doesn’t align well with a popular research topic, it’s possible that no one is looking for it. If that’s the case, fine. Write it anyway and promote it in other channels: social, email, outreach, paid, influencers, etc.
If someone is searching for it (maybe it’s a how-to article) then ask this next question:
People looking for this article would likely search for what phrase?
Ok. You’re ready to do a little keyphrase research. This is a blog post so you’re likely thinking of an “information intent” keyphrase. Your post is going to answer a question that people search for.
Do I have a reasonable chance of ranking for this phrase?
Search is partly about credibility. Your page and your site need to have sufficient levels of credibility to target the phrase, or you’ll never rank. This is why only very famous websites rank for very valuable keyphrases.
So you’ll need to understand how much credibility your website has (as measured by SEO software with metrics such as Domain Authority, Authority Score, URL Rating, etc.) and avoid phrases if the other high ranking pages are out of your league.
Here’s a little trick. If you have low authority, just target longer keyphrases. They’re less competitive and easier to rank for. They’re also more specific and more likely to attract visitors who are delighted to have found you.
Far better to have a trickle of traffic from highly-engaged readers than a flood of visitors who just pop in and out.
So yes, the perfect post ranks. But lots of perfectly good content isn’t keyphrase focused at all. There is more to life than search.
The guts! Look – it’s important to have a pretty face (great appearance; headline, visuals and everything) but just that and you’re clickbait. What *really* matters is what’s on the inside. This is the inner workings of the post; the things even your most astute reader may not even notice—except when you get it wrong.
Like how you’ve optimized the post for search without being heavy-handed. Or, how you’ve structured and laid out the post to keep the reader moving, like a healthy digestion system. We all know what it’s like to have indigestion, gas, or worse! Badly structured and written blog posts are similarly upsetting. Your reader shouldn’t need an antacid to get through your post! It should feel like a light, balanced meal; easy to digest, nutritious, delicious.
Jane Flanagan, Content & Brand Director, OwntheAddress.com
Resource: How to Improve Your Google Rankings Fast
5. Head: Draft your headline 11-19 times for better results
The perfect blog post has a carefully considered headline.
Some of us work hard on our headlines. Others, not so much. The data shows the difference. Bloggers who write lots of draft headlines are more likely to succeed.
The headline is the face of the article.
Wherever the page will compete — search results, social streams, the inbox — it will win or lose based on the headline. In that brief moment, when the reader’s eyes pass over those words, they’ll do a quick ROI calculation in their mind. Is this worth the click?
If yes, you’ve won a visitor!
If no, they’ll dismiss your article and continue to scan or scroll…
Knowing just how competitive the attention game can be, and how important that first impression is, a lot of us are working a lot harder than ever on our headlines.
- A headline is a promise. Make it specific.
- Long headlines tend to perform better in social media
- Try numbers and questions
- Adapt your headline for its specific location.
That last point is the most important. In fact, there is no such thing as a headline, really. There are title tags, headers, email subject lines and social media posts. And these can all be tailor made for performance in their respective channels.
The head by which I mean the combination between a title and an introduction.
Everybody is good at writing interesting headlines by now and most readers now know that the title might be misleading.
So writing a very strong introduction that captures the reader’s attention and keeps them tied down is the new battleground. There are some “magic formulas” that you can use here as well, but this is a lot more about knowing what and how to write.
6. Skin: Include at least 10 images
The perfect blog post has a lot of images in it.
The more visuals, the more likely it is to succeed. The survey data shows this clearly.
What types of images work best? Our 2020 visual content marketing survey found that marketers mostly relied on stock images and original graphics.
That said, 40 percent of marketers said it was original graphics, such as infographics and illustrations, that helped them reach their marketing goals.
Only 13 percent of marketers said that stock photos were actually impactful.
What can infographics help with?
- Making boring topics and/or “boring” industries engaging.
- Making technical information accessible.
- Encouraging your audience to think about a subject in a new way.
- Better positioning the value of your product or service.
For example, let’s return to Venngage’s visual marketing survey. We do it every year and always produce an infographic to visualize our findings. We then split up the infographic into individual graphics that complement each written section, such as this one:
Not only does this visual make the survey results crystal clear, but it perfectly positions Venngage’s product (simple graphic design software for business) as the solution to achieving your marketing goals.
Infographics are only one place to start. Other options include blog header images, process diagrams, flow charts, roadmaps, mind maps, charts and graphs–depending on the information you want to visualize.
Interestingly, charts and data visualizations performed best for only nine percent of marketers.
But, since statistics and original research are powerful blogging strategies, charts and graphs definitely have their place–as we discuss in the next section.
If a blog post was a human body, its most important part would be the eyes. The truth is, an image is worth a thousand words and many content marketers forget to pay attention to their content’s preview image (or unfurl image). Having an eye-catching image (and title!) will grab your audience’s attention when you share that content on social media. Just like YouTubers spend a lot of time on their video thumbnails, you should spend a bit of time thinking about what preview image and title will attract your readers.
7. Bones: Include statistics and original research
The perfect blog post features research.
Is the post well supported? Is there data to back up the assertions? Are there examples, statistics and research?
More and more bloggers are building their content on a backbone of research. The last three years have seen a 68 percent jump in original research as a blogging strategy.
Data makes a post more credible. But original data does more. It makes the post the primary source for new information.
Conducting research is definitely a bigger lift. It takes time to plan and execute a research piece. Data collection is hard work. It’s easier with partners, but coordination takes time too. And don’t forget promotion.
Get it right and you’re golden:
- The insights can be used throughout your content
You can add it to articles from the past, present and future. It’s an interlinking bonanza that often makes the research piece a new content hub.
- Press pitches get easier
Editors are always looking for new data. When you have a new study coming out, the outreach is easy, especially if you offer them a specific angle.
- You can create unique data visualizations
Visualizing data is a great way to make your original research engaging and easily digestible. It’ll help with your press and guest post pitches and help you rank on Google, since SERPs are becoming increasingly visual. Just make sure you optimize your images for SEO.
- The visuals make amazing social media content
At Venngage, we regularly repurpose blog content as visuals for social media. It’s proven to be a sustainable, scalable way to grow our social media traffic. We now get 3x more traffic a week from Pinterest than we used to in one month. Our post on social media strategy shows how you can do the same.
- Headlines almost write themselves
Put the number together with the most unexpected insight. Or allude to the big finding. Try several on social media before picking your final email subject line.
Statistics make everything more clickable. When the team at LinkedIn added a data point to the front of a social media post, the click through rate jumped 37 percent.
The humble feet are important, because they hold up the rest of the body. For a blog post, the feet would be the facts, i.e., making sure your post has correct information and journalistic integrity. People WILL fact-check you, and this goes double for our audience specifically (lawyers). If the information you provide can’t be trusted, you’ve broken a promise, no matter how catchy or search-engine-optimized your title and copy is—and that’s harmful for your brand.
8. Eyes: Use video
The perfect blog post has a video in it.
All kinds of stuff gets added to blog posts. Some of it correlates with success more than others. The one format that seems to push results the most, according to the 1,200+ survey respondents? Video.
Embedding a video into a post can have a big impact on engagement. That impact is measurable. If you add event tracking to video player interactions, you can track engagement with the video in Analytics.
Better yet, create segments in Analytics to see the difference between visitors who watch and those who do not. Here’s what the report may look like for a specific page.
Test and measure embedded videos in your content. If you don’t have your own videos, you can test using anything relevant you find on YouTube. If it works, you can record and use your own instead.
Before long, you’ll know what kinds of videos, posted in which locations make the biggest impact with your visitors.
Resource: The Ultimate Guide to Video Marketing
9. Checkup time: Work with an editor for better results
The perfect blog post is edited by a professional.
That “second set of eyes” often catch errors that the writer does not. A lot of bloggers have learned this the hard way. The survey data shows that 60 percent of bloggers work with editors, at least in an informal way.
It also shows that the more serious the process for editing the more likely that blogger is to report success.
At Venngage, we try to always have two sets of eyes on our content: a member of the content team and our stalwart leader, Sara McGuire.
We also have a weekly Content Jam meeting (virtual, of course). We submit our works in progress in a Slack channel the day before and then give feedback during the meeting. It’s been a great way to get different perspectives, distill them and decide on next steps quickly and efficiently.
The heart. Good content needs a reason and purpose. A heart helps ensure the rest of the body is able to do their part. Without a clear goal for a piece of content, it will likely struggle.
Hair (the kind on your head). Because it’s not mission-critical to your survival – if you shave your head, you’ll still be a beautiful, effective human – however you can do so much with your hair to add appeal and function. You can grow it, cut it, style and color it a million different ways. It just adds so many more possibilities to differentiate you from the crowds and appeal to your ideal audience. And on the days where you just aren’t feelin’ it, you can throw on a hat (or a toque, eh!), and call it a day.
10. Clothes: The most effective promotion strategies are influencer outreach, paid or SEO
The perfect blog post is promoted in multiple channels.
Think of it as coverage. A single piece of content can be promoted in multiple channels. The better the coverage, the more chance for success.
Which promotion channels tend to correlate with blogging success? It’s exactly the channels least likely to be used by most bloggers: SEO, paid and influencer outreach.
The smart blogger creates the content with promotion in mind.
- Is there a keyword opportunity? Is that a keyphrase we can realistically target?
If so, indicate relevance for the keyphrase.
- Is the takeaway unexpected? Or are there compelling visuals?
If so, plan to boost the post with a bit of paid social and social friendly images
- Are there experts who can contribute to the post? Do they have engaged social followings?
If so, reach out for a quote. After it’s live, send a gentle nudge encouraging them to share.
Success depends as much on the quality of the promotion as the quality of the content. In other words, the best content doesn’t win. The best promoted content wins.
The clothing it wears. How we package our blog posts and how we package (clothe) ourselves really affects people’s interpretation or perception of us as a whole.
If you have dedicated readers, they may care more about the contents beyond the “packaging,” or clothing of your blog post. But to reel in a new audience, you need to be concerned with the title, header image, and blog headings to entice a new audience – or the hat, the dress, and the accessories.
Perfect these “most important” external elements, and you’ll intrigue people into reading through and exploring the contents (or the body, the soul) beyond the exterior packaging of a well-dressed blog post.
Rebecca Reynoso, Lead Editor at G2
11. Monitor your post’s vitals on Google Analytics 100% of the time
The perfect blog post is measured.
Checking Analytics correlates with results. No surprise. If you don’t use Analytics, how would you even know if you’re getting results? Amazingly, 15 percent of bloggers never or rarely check Analytics. Five percent of bloggers have no access to Analytics at all.
Every blog post has a job to do. And every job can be measured. Here are some examples of the ways in which content can be held accountable:
Top of Funnel, awareness building content
- Format / Channel: search optimized how-to content
- Metrics: Search rankings, traffic from search, social metrics, email subscribe conversion rate
Middle of Funnel, keeping in touch content
- Format / Channel: infographic, emailed to subscribers
- Metrics: Open rate, click through rate, time on page, pages per visit, social metrics
Bottom of Funnel, sales enablement content
- Format / Channel: buying guide, emailed to current prospects
- Metrics: Pipeline, scheduled meetings
Legs. Can the post stand on its own? Long-term content marketing success requires content that provides value independent of other factors.
In Summary: Act on the blogging tips you can easily leverage right now
When it comes to blogging, more effort means better results. Taking more time to write longer, more authoritative content is the ultimate blogging strategy.
That said, not every blogger has the time or resources to consistently write 3,000+ word blog posts that are SEO optimized, chock full of visuals, checked by two editors and complemented by a robust promotion strategy.
After all, 52 percent of bloggers said that finding the time to create and promote content was their biggest challenge.
The key is to choose which blogging tips and best practices are most available to you. Do you have time to update an old post instead of writing a new one? Make a simple infographic instead of using the same old stock images? Pick what seems doable, evaluate the results and go from there.
A blog post is akin to the soul, offering insight into an organization’s emotional core and fosters opportunities to connect around a shared purpose.
– Melissa Macchiavelli, Director of Content Strategy