You may think you’re ready to start writing your next blog post—but are you really? In my last blog post I shared my 11-point blog post checklist, full of how-to advice for each aspect of your blog articles, such as the title, subheads, and call-to-action. But something was missing. My checklist for writing a high-quality article was right on target, except for one thing—some pre-checklist homework.
Homework creates the foundation of a strong blog article.
OK, we all hate homework, but there are some good reasons for it. In the end, good preparation helps you set goals, improve quality, and engage your audience. While there are many articles about pre-planning your overall blog website, there are almost none about pre-planning for individual articles—which is the writer’s primary concern.
You can think of the following homework assignment as the “prequel” to my 11-point blog post checklist. If you can answer the four questions below prior to writing each article, you’ll produce high-quality, meaningful content for your readers, which is your primary job—and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. In the end, while an article’s role in SEO can be helpful, it’s the audience’s perception of value that drives readership, subscriptions, and click-throughs. It’s how you not only get a passing grade, but the highest grade in the class.
This four-step assignment will walk you through the foundational planning elements of (1) goal setting, (2) audience selection, (3) topic development, and (4) writing criteria. Now, get your pencils and paper ready…and begin!
1. What is your blog article’s goal?
Without a doubt, your top homework priority is to set clear goals for your article. Without vision and tactics, you’ll just be taking a shot in the dark. Different goals require different writing styles, topics, subtopics, data, and other important details. If you are writing for a client, or if you report to an in-house marketer, you’ll need to discuss exactly what they want the blog to accomplish and then keep these goals top-of-mind during the writing process.
One way to set your goals is with the well-known SMART framework. The letters of this acronym stand for:
- Specific: To attract high-quality leads, set specific, narrow, well-defined article parameters rather than larger generic ones. Often, the “who, what, where, when, and why” factors will point you in the right direction.
- Measurable/Metrics: Define the metrics and key indicators you will use to track the progress of your blog articles over time. How many blogs will you do a month? Where will you post them? How many people have subscribed to your blog? How many likes and shares do your articles get? How successful are your calls-to-action (calling you, clicking on a link, registering for a webinar)?
- Assigned/Agreed Upon: All stakeholders (managers, clients, designers) should agree on the blogging goals, including deadlines and responsibilities. Many people define the “A” as attainable, achievable, or action-oriented—but these words can be easily confused with the “R” in SMART (see below).
- Realistic: Set realistic goals that take into account your resources and how much time you can devote to blogging. Do you have creative personnel or freelancers available? Do you have the budget? Are there competing projects? Note that some organizations replace the word “realistic” with relevant, results-oriented, or reasonable.
- Timeline: Set a specific end-date for achieving the goals, and include a timeline for all steps in the planning, publishing, analysis and reporting stages. Again, take into consideration your other responsibilities, available resources, and competing priorities. Alternative terms for the letter “T” are time-bound, time-frame, or trackable.
As shown above, bloggers and marketers may use alternative words for each of the five SMART terms. If you Google SMART goals, you’ll see the variations I included above and probably some others. The ones in bold are my preferences, but my advice would be to use the ones that are most relevant and helpful to you and your organization.
Regardless of your own definition of SMART, this framework is a great way to plan, write, and measure an article’s performance. Your SMART goals can be used to analyze an individual article or a group of articles (such as all those on a similar topic or those posted on a particular day of the week) to see which ones performed the best (and the worst). You can then re-evaluate and refine your blog writing strategies as indicated, and ultimately you may find you need to adjust your metrics if they are unrealistic or unhelpful.
How to Turn Loose, Poorly Defined Goals into SMART Goals:
Nixing undefined (DUMB) goals for your articles in favor of SMART goals might look something like this:
DUMB Article Goals:
- Goal 1—Subscriptions: Increase subscriptions to the blog.
- Goal 2—Leads: Get more leads for the sales force.
- Goal 3—Likes: Increase “Likes” on social media.
- Goal 4—Click-Throughs: Improve click-through rates.
SMART Article Goals:
- Goal 1—Subscriptions: Increase blog subscriptions 5% by August 1.
- Goal 2—Leads: Get 20 highly qualified leads each month.
- Goal 3—Likes: Get 100 likes each month.
- Goal 4—Click-Throughs: Increase click-through rates by 20% by October 30.
2. Who are you writing for?
Digital marketing is all about creating a positive user experience and building relationships with customers. But what does that mean to a blog writer? We know that our customers are not monolithic and that different audience segments care about different things. Still, bloggers often define their target readership too broadly; targeting an article to a narrower group, we will get fewer leads—but they will be higher quality leads.
Establishing several narrow, well-defined profiles of key groups that are important to your organization will guide your choice of topics and how you write your stories. Developing an article that hits the sweet spot for a more focused segment makes it easier to attract the right people, keep them engaged while reading, and encourage them to take the next step toward purchase.
The easiest way to illustrate the benefits of narrowing your target audience is with an example.
COMPANY EXAMPLE: Caring Diagnostics
For this discussion about narrowing your target audience, let’s look at a fictional company, Caring Diagnostics, a mid-sized manufacturer that sells two different lines of medical diagnostic equipment, one used by labs and the other used by point-of-care providers:
EXAMPLE: Caring Diagnostics Products and Audiences
Care Diagnostics Product/Audience One: “LabCare” is a 60-pound table-top machine that performs a wide variety of tests and is used by both hospitals and independent labs. The sales process includes discussions with lab supervisors (influencers or decision-makers) and technicians (influencers and end-users), higher-level managers (decision-makers), and the purchasing department (final review). The sales process typically takes six months to a year and is considered a capital expense in the lab’s annual budget. Selling maintenance agreements and disposable parts are other important revenue streams.
Care Diagnostics Product/Audience Two: “PointCare” is a lightweight, portable, point-of-care device used by nurses and other medical staff at the bedside. The selling process relies on communicating with nurse managers (primary decision-maker), nursing staff (influencers), and the purchasing department (final review). Your buyers are hospitals (especially acute care departments) and clinics. Lead time for sales is usually less than six months. There are no “upsales” for maintenance and parts, but disposables (one-time-use products) represent another revenue stream.
How could you talk the same way, about the same things, to people in all of the relevant groups—in a way that interests and engages them all? The answer is that you can’t. If you try, you’ll end up with a watered down article that isn’t really interesting or suitable for anyone. Each of these audience segments has different work responsibilities, professional interests, pain points, demographics, and questions to be answered. What is valuable information for one segment is unlikely to be valuable for all.
Use “buyer personas” to clearly define high-priority audience segments.
Successful blogging requires that articles be published to specific target groups on a fairly frequent basis—at least weekly or bi-weekly. Some say daily. However, creating ongoing blog articles requires a certain amount of time, expertise, and budget. There’s no way a typical SMB company such as Caring Diagnostics could keep up with that kind of schedule for its many different audiences.
The best path for a company like Caring Diagnostics is to choose key audiences, each of which will be the basis of a “buying persona.” Each persona is a semi-fictional representation of an ideal customer based on market research, data about your existing customers, and some educated assumptions. The end result is that you won’t be creating stories for everyone you could possibly sell to. Instead, you’ll focus on a few choice audience segments that have been selected based on your company’s marketing and revenue goals.
It’s important to note that a persona should not be based on one specific customer. Instead, your persona is a combined portrait that reflects, in general, the population you want to reach. In addressing each article to a specific persona, you can better understand and relate to your audience’s thoughts and behaviors—and write accordingly.
In building out your personas, your sales force can give you insightful information about key customers, such as the questions they ask, their challenges, what they value about your company, criteria for choosing products like yours, and even what they think about your competitors.
EXAMPLE: Creating Buyer Personas for Caring Diagnostics
It’s up to you to determine how many defining qualities you will assign each persona. Some common characteristics are in the examples below. I’ve chosen to create one Caring Diagnostics persona who is the decision-maker for the LabCare product, and another persona that represents the decision-maker for PointCare:
Caring Diagnostics Buyer Persona 1—Matthew, Medical Laboratory Manager at an independent laboratory:
- Product: LabCare
- Demographics: Matthew is 55 years old with a bachelor’s degree in medical technology.
- Relevant responsibilities: Matthew coordinates the day-to-day activities in the lab; ensures the quality of data; purchases lab supplies; recommends capital (and automated) equipment to higher-level decision-makers.
- Professional Values: Matthew values attention to detail and the department’s capacity to function smoothly in a stressful, high-paced environment.
- Frustrations: Inefficient processes; dealing with equipment that isn’t reliable or requires a high degree of maintenance.
- Priorities: Quality of data; consistent results; data reporting capabilities. Quick answers to technical questions about equipment and rapid response to maintenance issues.
Caring Diagnostics Buyer Persona 2—Joan, Nurse Manager at a mid-sized hospital:
- Product: PointCare
- Demographics: Joan is a 40 year old with a Master’s of Science in Nursing.
- Relevant responsibilities: Joan supervises nursing staff and oversees patient care; makes management and budgetary decisions; evaluates and recommends point-of-care equipment.
- Professional values: Nursing expertise, patient management and ability to communicate with physicians and other medical professionals.
- Frustrations: Outdated equipment that hampers patient care and is de-motivational for nursing staff; inability to get diagnostic results quickly.
- Priorities: Quality of patient care; speed, ease-of-use, and reliability of point-of-care equipment; the ability to easily restock one-time-use items as needed.
As you can see from above, Joan and Matthew have different responsibilities, values, frustrations and priorities. You can try to write a broad article that speaks to the needs of both Joan and Matthew, but it’s probably more effective to write one for Joan and a separate one for Matthew. Now that you have a picture in your mind of your two personas, you have more clues for effectively choosing topics, data, tone, presentation, and calls-to-action that will be relevant to each of them.
As mentioned earlier, each persona should from hear from you consistently. Staying with the example of Care Diagnostics, they may decide that they can realistically do two blogs per week, one “LabCare Blog” for Matthew’s persona, and one “PointCare Blog” for Joan’s persona. If they can realistically do one article a week they would have several options, such as:
- Alternate the LabCare Blog and PointCare Blog, writing for each audience every other week.
- Select just one persona and do either a weekly LabCare Blog or a weekly PointCare Blog.
- Create a single “Care Diagnostics Blog” that alternates between publishing articles for Matt and for Joan. This might be less focused but more flexible.
3. What relevant question should your topic address?
The process of selecting an article topic dovetails nicely with the items we’ve already discussed: First, it should support the SMART goals identified by you and your marketing team (or client). Second, it should address a specific, narrowly defined issue that is relevant to your reader, as represented by a buyer persona. Timeliness is important, too; any data you present should be current and from a reliable source.
You can get more in-depth information about choosing your topic by reading When you have a blog but no content]. For now, here are a few quick ideas for how to come up with relevant topics. The main thing is to provide high-quality information and insights that will improve their lives, their work, and their professional satisfaction.
- Get inspired by scanning your favorite industry blogs.
- Read comments and questions posed by readers in popular blogs.
- Keep a running brainstorm list—I keep a pad of paper on my desk just to jot down my ideas.
- Interview a sales person to find out the questions customers are asking.
- Find out what topics have been success for you in the past for this audience.
- Enter a possible topic in your Google search bar and see what’s in the “People also ask” box (in the search results).
- Survey your existing blog subscribers.
- Find out what’s on people mind in relevant LinkedIn groups.
- Sign up on Quora to ask a question or read join a conversation.
4. What are the guidelines?
Even if you know the answers to the questions above, do not under any circumstances agree to anything unless you have crystal clear definition on the items below. Whether you are writing the article for your own business or writing a blog for a client, certain points must set right from the start. I personally have experienced the horror of unclear guidelines and feel compelled to shield you from that pain. Guidelines must be understood and agreed upon by everyone involved. If not, you will be editing copy over and over again, possibly missing deadlines, getting frustrated, and generally wasting your most precious commodity—time.
Before I write a blog for any client, I insist on knowing all the items discussed above plus the following:
- Due date
- Person responsible for final approval
- Keywords or keyword phrases
- Word count
- Specific information that must be included
- Points to cover (sometimes I get an outline)
- Tone or “voice”
- Resources to use for any data points
Do Your Homework and Get an A+ on Your Next Post.
Now that I have provided the prequel to my 11-point blog writing checklist I can move forward to my next blog with a clear conscience. But this isn’t about me…it’s about how you can create high-quality blog articles that are valuable to your audience and meet your marketing goals.
If your organization is too stretched to create quality blog articles, reach out to an agency or experienced freelancer who can deliver the highest quality content. Boston-based Westebbe Marketing can provide personalized services that deliver great results. Contact us at (617) 699-4462 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get original articles that works for you.