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Neil Patel’s Guide to Writing Popular Blog Posts

This guest post is by Neil Patel of KISSmetrics.

Do you wish you knew the secret to writing popular blog posts? You know, the posts that get over 200 comments, 20 backlinks, and hundreds of shares on social networking sites?

Over the past five years I’ve started two blogs. The first one became a Technorati top 100 site, and now I’m working on Quick Sprout.

Post writing

Image copyright Yuri Arcurs - Fotolia.com

Fortunately I’ve learned a few lessons about writing popular posts while running these two blogs, and now I want to share those lessons with you.

Use simple words

The first thing you’ll probably notice when you look at popular blog posts is they’re really easy to understand. And it doesn’t matter what the content is about.

Why is that? The reason they are easy to read is because the writer chose to write with simple words.

I always write my posts using 5th grade vocabulary, rather than writing like a highly educated person. See, I’d rather you be able to read and understand quickly what I wrote, than to appear like an educated person who uses big, complex words, and ends up confusing people.

The interesting thing is you will still look like an expert. Also, people are more likely to share a post that they think other people will understand. So use simple words, not fancy ones.

Use the word “you”

Really great blog posts sound like they were written just for you. Do you know why that is? It’s because the writer probably used the word “you” instead of “we” or “them.”

When I write like this, what I’m doing is trying to make you feel like it’s just you and me, as if we were sitting down at a café for a cup of coffee.

Yes, my blog has thousands of readers, but my posts come across much more personal when I pretend like I’m just writing for one person.

A neat trick to help you do this is to think of somebody you know and write your blog post as if you are writing it just for them. I know some writers who even keep a picture of a person above their screens to remind them that they are writing for just one person.

Write “how-to” posts

One of the things I learned about writing popular blog posts is that people want useful information.

That blog content that I wrote for the Technorati Top 100 blog wasn’t very good, even though it was ranked high, and I think it was because I wasn’t trying to offer a solution to people’s problems. I wasn’t showing them how to do stuff. In this post, I’m pretty sure you want to write posts that people like and share, so that the traffic to your blog grows. I want to help you solve that problem.

The template for writing a “how-to” post is simple. Just sit down and write out all of the steps involved in doing something in particular.

Let’s say you want to show your audience how to subscribe to your blog with an RSS reader. Your headings might be “Choose a Reader,” “Sign Up,” “Click on the RSS button,” and “Subscribe.” Under each heading you would give more information, explaining what to look for, the pros and cons, and pointing out issues that might be confusing.

Write detailed posts

When I first started writing Quick Sprout, I got frustrated with how slowly it was growing. It seemed like it was taking forever! I was writing good posts and getting some comments, but not enough to really make people want to share and link back.

At one point I decided to experiment and write a really long, detailed post. It took me some time to write and I was wondering if it was worth all the effort.

Well, you know what? It was!

People commented and shared that post a lot, and from that point on I decided I was only going to write long posts with tons of good, specific information.

If you think about it, people love long, detailed posts because so much of what is offered on other blogs is short and light on details. This is not to knock other blogs, but simply to point out that this is an opportunity for you to make yourself different than other bloggers.

Another way to make your posts detailed is to add statistics and graphs. It’s been shown that posts with images, stats and graphs will get way more links than the very same post without visual appeal!

Hook your readers

I really learned a lot about hooking your reader by reading blogs by Brian Clark, Darren Rowse and Leo Babauta.

These writers use some great tricks to compell readers to stop and read every word they write, which I think is something we all want to do, right?

The first rule of hooking readers is to write a great headline. Great headlines have four qualities. They are:

  • Unique: Unique headlines can only be used for your blog post, like this post I’m writing right now. It’s unique because there is only one Neil Patel!
  • Useful: A headline is useful when it promises practical information. The reason “how-to” guides are popular is because it gives answers to problems.
  • Ultra-specific: Adding numbers or stats to a headline makes it ultra-specific. My article, 6 Advanced Ways to Improve Your Search Rankings, is a good example of ultra-specific, since I used both a number and the word “advanced.”
  • Urgent: The best way to create urgency is to put some kind of deadline into your headline. “6 Days until the Stock Market Crashes” or “Your Last Chance to Get a Free Copy of My Book” are good examples.

The best headlines have three or four of these features in them. This formula is called the Four Us.

After the headline, you hook readers by writing a great first sentence. How do you do that? Asking questions works really well. So does making a crazy statement that simply can’t be true, but then you promise to show your readers that it is. The point is to write a first sentence that people can’t resist. Quotes also make good first sentences, as do statistics.

Next, your reader will probably skim your post, especially if it is long, looking at all of your sub-headlines. This is why your sub-headlines need to also hook the reader.

Readers should be able to scan your sub-headlines and get a summary of what the post is about. I like to write my sub-headlines like normal headlines, trying to use the Four Us I showed you above. That way, you read them and say, “I got to read that!”

Create a conversation

One of the most important parts of writing popular blog posts is writing like it’s a conversation.

Have you noticed all the questions I’ve been asking? Or all of the phrases I’ve italicized? I’ve done that on purpose. People forget that blogging is social media, and being social means knowing how to carry on a good conversation.

The way to do that when you’re actually talking to someone is to listen and ask the other person questions. It shows that person that you care about what they are thinking, and that it’s not all about you—because it’s not.

The same is true about a blog.

Creating a conversation also means you exchange words with each other after the blog post is done, usually in the comments, though some people prefer to email, which is fine.

If there isn’t a dialog then you’re talking to yourself, and that’s no fun. So at the end of your post, always ask people what they think and tell them to leave their thoughts in the comments.

Prove your points

It’s really important in your post to prove any claims that you make. For example, in the section where I said that graphs and stats in a post get more backlinks, I actually linked to another blog post that backed up what I was saying.

If you don’t do this, you’re likely to lose credibility and people won’t believe what you say.

But another benefit to proving your points by linking to other posts is that you are sharing with your audience another good source of information. And the chances are that author will probably link back to your blog at some point.

Show you are an authority

Lots of bloggers can get uncomfortable with this one because they feel like they’re tooting their own horn.

See, to show you’re an authority on a subject means you have to get other people or organizations to say that you are an authority. Then you point out that they said those things.

If you do that, it’s not bragging, but just pointing out the truth. Of course, it matters how you say it, so stay humble.

One way I show that I have the authority to speak on the subject of writing popular blog posts is by mentioning that my blog was a Technorati top-100 blog. It shows that someone else with lots of credibility recognized me as an expert.

Another way I could do this is by telling you how many readers Quick Sprout has. There must be a reason so many people like the blog, right?

I also mention that I’m a successful entrepreneur, which I can back up by telling you about the two companies I own. It’s not usually seen as bragging if you don’t force it, so look for ways that feel natural.

You’ll see blogs with “As Seen In” sections displaying the logos of important companies and media sources, like the Wall Street Journal, underneath. This is an endorsement—another way of showing you have authority.

Testimonials from readers and clients are also a form of authority. If you’re interested, I wrote a post on how to effectively use testimonials that explains more on this topic.

Care about your readers

One of the biggest lessons I learned from starting two blogs, and several companies, is that you have to care about people, and show them you care.

I love reading blogs where I can feel the writer’s concern for me. I try to do that on Quick Sprout, too. One obvious way to do this is by bringing attention to the people who have helped you be successful.

I’ve discovered that if truly care about people—including your readers—you will naturally try to write a popular blog post, because you are always looking for ways to write better. In other words, you’ll constantly try to learn new ways to improve your posts so you help more people. And that’s certainly a good recipe for success!

Conclusion

There’s a lot of competition in the blogosphere, so it’s easy to get frustrated when your blog is not getting the attention it deserves.

Be patient and use the tips that I shared above. I’m certain that within time you’ll start writing popular blog posts on a frequent basis.

What advice do you have for people who want to write a popular blog post?

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

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Comments

  1. Glad to see you on here Neil!

    For anyone who hasn’t heard of Neil, KISSmetrics is a damn fine company and Neil’s blog, QuickSprout, is full of real, actionable information.

    Guy definitely knows what he’s doing.

    In fact I’m cooking up a guest post for the KISSmetrics blog right now!

  2. Sriram Reddy says:

    These are a very important set of rules to write good content.

    Also, I would like to advocate a sense of charm, to make more fans.

  3. Jamie Harrop says:

    The advice about using ‘you’ is excellent, Neil. Relating your post to your audience, especially within the first sentence, is a great way to interact and capture the reader for the rest of the article.

    One thing I like to do at the end of every post is review the post for any facts or research that I have used. It may be a quote, it may be results of a poll etc. I note all these, then set out to draw attention to them through links or graphical displays (screenshots, graphs etc).

    Jamie

  4. naijadotcom says:

    That is what makes the difference you cant own a blog/site you expect traffic on and you aint a people person,does not work that way,Great post.

  5. Faizan says:

    A very informative and insightful post. I will try to implement these ideas in my writing.

  6. Irena says:

    true, true friend of the best posts is how we deliver post it in a language that is understandable every visitor, and simplicity are the main things convey complex information so that any interested visitors and be loyal to the blog and always wait for the next post.

  7. This is definitely very helpful and I am going to incorporate some of these tips into my video blog, as they definitely will work there as well!

    I especially like the point where you state “If there isn’t a dialog then you’re talking to yourself” which I just realized that I haven’t been asking for any thoughts or anything from my readers/viewers which explains a lot.

    Thank you for this post!
    -Gabriel Johansson

  8. Excellent points, Neil. Some nice links too–which I think is another possible point. Link to other good info if you can.

    Some blog posts, however, tend to link way too much in my opinion. A link every other sentence makes me start to ignore the links. … A few “quality” links are what I like to see.

  9. Paul Jun says:

    The How-to posts I found are extremely effective, and they attract the mind.

    This is the type of post you have to reread from time to time, to build that memory of understanding on how produce great content.

    Good stuff.

  10. Ivan says:

    Forget what you’re passionate about, focus on what you’re readers are passionate about instead :)

  11. Aniee Qasim says:

    nice points neil , i really enjoyed it :)

  12. Lori E says:

    Every tip helps. BTW I noticed you followed your own advice and ended your post with a question.

  13. Great post. One of the best pieces of advice I have heard about blogging is to write your blog as you normally would, then look back at your first paragraph and delete it. Most blogger feel like they need to give background information and ramp up into their blogs, but most blog readers want to get right to the point.

  14. some of my most popular blog posts have been those that contain stories/real life examples from my own experiences. there are many bloggers out there, so readers are careful about selecting whom to follow based on experience, credibility and transparency. it is one of the reasons i have been able to gain 5,000+ readers in just a year of blogging. a lot of those readers have come from guest posting initiatives, which also should be prepared with just as high level of diligence.

  15. Awesome tips for all bloggers, thanks for sharing. I do have some how-to guides on my blog and some interactive posts where I end with questions, but still need to see those high numbers like the ones mentioned by you!!!

  16. Fred Tracy says:

    There’s a lot of excellent information in this post.

    One of my favorite things you said is about using the word you in your blog posts. It helps a lot make the reader think it’s just a one-on-one conversation, as opposed to a speech given for many.

    I’ve seen a lot of traffic growth on my website just doing that.

  17. krissy knox says:

    @Neil, If a blogger wants to write a popular post, he should come up w fresh ideas. Often, in almost every niche, there is something I see a lot of — bloggers who are writing posts on identical topics as fellow bloggers. And sometimes the posts are not time sensitive, as to what is going on in the world or of any such nature as that. Which leads me to believe that some of these bloggers are blog surfing, taking an idea from the other bloggers, and just posting it also. Readers are wise about this — they are not stupid. If bloggers continue to write about what another blogger wrote the day before, and continue to do this EVERY DAY, readers are going to get bored, and leave the blogger who is constantly doing the unfresh work, and go to the original blogger(s). I know it is a personal choice — a blogger can blog about whatever he chooses, and no one owns the internet. However, if a blogger does not have ANY of his own ideas, his readers are going to get bored and eventually leave him! So I’d have to say that to write a popular post, a blogger would have to come up w some of his own, fresh ideas. What do you think, Neil?
    krissy knox :)

  18. Rakesh says:

    I am following you Neil on QuickSprout you.You are always awesome. – rakesh kumar

  19. Darren says:

    The ‘How To’ idea is great, except it sometimes seems like everyone has already written all of those that can be done. But it’s worth a try :)

  20. Very complete post about writing popular blog posts Neil, and I’m sure this will be one of those popular posts. If you can do all of that without showing you’re trying to write posts just for the sake of it going viral you should be able to do great.

  21. Thanks for the information! A lot of people try and make blogs too hard to read.. People need to realize how to make blogs more personal.

  22. Karel Jean says:

    Kudos for a great post! It is well written and very informative. The tips are very helpful especially to me since I want to be a good blogger. I will try to use simple words rather than technical and complicated terms (jargon) when I write a blog post. Thanks for this.

    Anyway, can you give an idea of an interesting topic for a blog post?

  23. LouBelcher says:

    Excellent post. And all practical information. Thanks I’ll put it to use today. I was surprised, however, that you found that longer posts receive more attention. I’ve always been told that posts should be no longer than 400 words… I’ll try a longer one or two and see what happens.

    Lou

  24. It makes sense to me that it helps to use the word, “you.” It also makes sense to me that showing that as writer, I have some authority. Used together, those seem to be two powerful tips. An expert talking to ME would feel great. My question though, is how about when I have very little authority as yet even though I have more than my fair share of insight, intelligence, and knowledge about the subject matter. Is it still advisable to use the word, “you?” I’m still pondering that, because it’s the reason why I have always tended to use the word, “we” whenever I could. This post has swayed me somewhat, but I’d appreciate your final thoughts on my thoughts.

  25. Nikki says:

    These are very good tips! Thanks for sharing…A good reference to keep handy.

  26. Mark Aylward says:

    Neil
    Although I’m a relative beginner online, I have a lot of offline experience selling and I would say that story telling whenever possible adds a certain humanity to a post that seems to resonate with people
    Thanks
    Mark

  27. Philip Allen says:

    Questions engage the mind/ super consciousness (or heart based mind) to come up with the answer because the ego fears it will be booted out of controlling your life if it does not come up with an answer.

    Keeping the paragraphs & sentences short aids skim readers to get the main points.
    Words should also be simple because your personal ego gets fixed by the age 7 or 8.
    Which is why the quote “Give me a man until he is 7 & he is mine for ever” is true unless you know how to re-frame your mind.

    Posts need to be written for the reader so you need to think about “what is in it for your reader?”

  28. Daniel says:

    Very well written post, Neil.

    I am going through your post again and finding quite a few pieces of practical information, much of which I often overlook myself.

    Often, Blogging can become quite overwhelming with so many different views on ” How to make improvements to your Blog “.

    This incredible spread of varying views, is both a Blessing and a curse at times.

  29. Another great post Neil, I have at least three take aways I can implement today in my blogs. Thank you!

  30. Hey Neil,
    Great points in your posts here for writing popular blog posts. I have been experimenting a lot lately with post length and different writing styles. I am curious to see what works the best.

  31. Great post! I agree on the how to posts and the fact that you need to use the word “you”. I always love that myself when I read a blog post. It’s an ongoing practice.

  32. I usually tell myself that I know the key to writing something people will want to read and as I saw each paragraph heading I was just shaking my head, thinking yes, of course, but once I actually started reading the whole post it was more of an “aha” moment for me. Thank you!

  33. Sean Davis says:

    I have to agree with you on just about everything… especially about the long detailed posts. My blog is new but my most popular posts are the long ones where I really dig deep into whatever I’m talking about. I won’t lie, I enjoy Seth Godin’s short blurbs. However, I read them and move on. They don’t stick with me for very long. That’s not the kind of affect I want to have on my readers. I want sticky content!

  34. Kelly says:

    Great advice – all but #1. Neil, are you suggesting that you dumb yourself down in an effort to appeal to a broader audience? What does that say about your readers? That they have the intelligence of a 5th grader? Or is it indicative of what this world is coming do vis-à-vis the English language?

  35. Json M says:

    How about a +1 button on your blog?

  36. Bob Garrett says:

    Hey Neil

    I like what “you” wrote. Lots of great tips and ideas. Now I just need to figure out how to “dummy down” for my audience.

    Keep crushing it!

  37. Neil,

    I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of a post you find helpful on adding rss feeds to you blog. You may have already made a post on this topic but I have not been able to find it. Any help would be great.

    Thanks
    Gabe.

  38. Powerful stuff Neil. Short and punchy, and simple works darn well. Think directness. As far as “you” what better way to address your audience?

    “Urgent”, “quickly”, “immediately” and “instantly” do darn well in the title field. Instant gratification.

    Thanks!

    Ryan

  39. Fahad says:

    It’s a great post but I differ a bit about using the word “you”. The reason is that we can’t always target our audience precisely. I may be wrong in grabbing the exact idea but to be very frank- this is what I have got. So can anyone give me a better version of using the word “you”.
    I will be grateful

  40. Great article ! I’ve been struggling with my blog posts and this will help a great deal ! Thanks !

  41. Very informative and interesting to read. I am still new to blogging and your post definitely will help me improve on my writing. Bookmarked this page, thanks Mr Neil Patel.

    • JoR says:

      Hi Rammesh Perumal,

      It is good to see you here. Let me take a guess. You checked out my blog and clicked on the link to Problogger in one of my most recent blog posts….):):

  42. naijadotcom says:

    Great piece of advice.

  43. All of the points are clear and very useful for newbie and established bloggers. Specially Four U’s can make your blog reliable source of information and hence drive more traffic.

  44. Michael Sussman says:

    Excellent information. Do you have a website and send out blogs I could receive weekly. i am new at this and will be starting writing with my RVRetirement shortly. Anything I can learn would be helpful, books blogs etc,

    Mike

  45. Neil,

    Thanks for sharing these blog *secrets* :)

    Using the word ‘you’ and writing long, informative articles and writing it in conversational style are some few takeways from this article.

  46. Sarah Harris says:

    This is a great post. I love the personal touch by speaking to you in stead of we.

    I don’t have time to read things that are not going to share something that will either teach me, or is directly related to my interests.

    I also like the format with bullet points that you used. I can scan/read it quickly and get the nuggets.

  47. Hi Neil,

    Thanks your words of advice came right on time for me.

    Sincerely,

    Patricia

  48. JoR says:

    Hi, Neil.Thanks for your excellent post. But, I have a question for you, Neil.When were you born? There are a few Neil Patels in the virtual world.One was born in 1985, another in 1964 and the list goes on….):):Sorry, I could not help myself!

  49. JoR says:

    Hi, Neil.Thanks for your excellent post. But, I have a question for you, Neil.When were you born? There are a few Neil Patels in the virtual world.One was born in 1985, another in 1964 and the list goes on….):):Sorry, I could not help myself.

    Sorry if I had been posted a few times. My broadband was disconnected all of a sudden. I am not spamming, plzzz!

  50. JoR says:

    Hi, Neil.Thanks for your excellent post. But, I have a question for you, Neil.When were you born? There are a few Neil Patels in the virtual world.One was born in 1985, another in 1964 and the list goes on….):):Sorry, I could not help myself.

    Sorry if I had posted a few times. My broadband was disconnected all of a sudden. I am not spamming, plzzz!