Words on a Page Writings about writing

How to make your blog posts lean and useful

Sign with the word 'BLOG' on it

In late 2015, a friend sent me a link to a blog post on writing that he described as great. He thought I’d be interested in reading that post and was convinced that I would learn something from it.

I did learn a lot from that post. But what I learned wasn’t what my friend expected me to learn. While the information in the post wasn’t bad, that post illustrated a lot of what I find wrong with a number of blog posts these days.

The post was way too long. Not in a TL;DR way, but in a let’s stretch this out as far as we can way. On top of that, it wasn’t particularly well written. Which is ironic, since a central argument of the post was that good writing is a key to effective content marketing.

The post was also packed with keywords. Just about every paragraph started with the words content writing, content writer, or content writers. That post’s biggest sin in my eyes was all the useful information was buried under that bulk.

Sadly, that post could have been useful. It might have been if it was half the length and better written.

Once again, my belief that blog posts don’t have to be long to be effective was reinforced. Blog posts can be lean and useful at the same time. Here are some thoughts about how to make your posts both lean and useful.

Forget about the so-called ideal length of a post

I’m sure you’ve heard 1,200 to 1,500 words bandied about as being the ideal length of a blog post. I don’t believe that. I believe that the ideal length of a post is whatever needs to be. That could be 400 words or it could be 2,000.

Not every idea, not every topic will fit into that 1,200 to 1,500 word ideal. What’s the point of stretching and padding a post to reach that length? All those extra words aren’t adding anything, except unneeded bulk, to the post. On top of that, some people don’t always have time or patience or attention span to read long post.

Shorter posts can be as good as longer ones. In some cases, they’re better. As I keep advising writers, if you only need a few hundred words, then that’s ideal length of that post.

Don’t bother telling a story

For years, I’ve heard countless people exhort writers to tell a story with whatever they pen. THey have a point: telling a story humanizes what you’re writing.

But a story isn’t suitable for everything. Trying to shoehorn something you’re writing into the framework of a story can make it look like you’re trying to shoehorn it into the framework of a story. The writing becomes awkward, forced, unconvincing.

Don’t bother trying to tell a story if it doesn’t fit in with what you’re writing. Instead, use a scenario as framing device — let the scenario introduce the problem you want to solve with the blog post.

Once you’ve done that …

Get to the heart of the matter

Immediately.

Jump into a procedure, a how-to, your idea or opinion. Don’t waste words going into detail or adding background. Offer your key insights or the solution immediately.

If you need to add detail or background, link out other sources of information. Remember that the hyperlinking was one of the foundations of the web in its early days. Hyperlinking is what makes the web what it is. Use it.

Write short

Strip your writing down to the basics. Use short sentences. Short paragraphs. Use simple words.

Curb your urge to stretch your literary wings. Focus on the problem you’re trying to solve, the information you want to impart, the argument you want to make. And nothing else.

Edit and re-write mercilessly. Carve out all excess words and sentences and paragraphs. Find ways make your writing more compact. That could mean using bullets or writing in a clipped, conversational tone.

A short post can be as good as, or better than, a long post. Don’t worry about the SEO ramifications, the post’s search page ranking, or anything like that. None of that’s important.

What’s important is helping your readers. You can do that by, when necessary, making your blog posts lean and useful. Your readers will appreciate it.

Thoughts? Let's start a conversation on Twitter.

Did you enjoy this post or find it useful? Then please consider supporting this blog with a micropayment via PayPal. Thanks!