A Scorecard on the 7 Blogging Essentials

This corporate blogging question was submitted to me by our good {grow} friend Brent Pohlman:

On a scale of 1-to-5, with 5 being a requirement, which items are most critical to a great blog post?

  • Great Title
  • Image
  • Introductory Paragraph
  • Content with facts, figures and links,
  • Call to Action,
  • RSS Feed,
  • Social sharing options

Boy that is a tough one … and my answer might surprise you.

First, any company blog should be aligned with your marketing objectives and those will vary company to company. But to keep things simple, let’s say the over-arching goal of every post is to get the thing read!

Here is my take on it, more or less in order …

1. Great headline (Rating: 5.0) — You are fighting through a lot of noise, a ton of competing content and SEO tricksters trying to push you to the bottom of the reading list. Sometimes the only thing that will save a blog post is a great headline. Bloggers agonize over headlines and still rarely get them right. They have to be accurate, descriptive, attention-grabbing, and short enough to tweet.  Many people will never get to your content unless you grab them by the throat with your headline.

2. Insanely great content (5.0) — You want people to return to your blog over and over. Fight to never disappoint them. Being original, consistent, and compelling is hard work. An acronym I use with students is RITE — Your blog posts should be Relevant, Interesting, Timely and Entertaining.

3. Social sharing (4.0) — I know this will surprise a lot of people, but hear me out! After the headline, the next thing that usually grabs attention is the number of times it has been tweeted. So of course having a sharing option is important if you want your post to be read widely, but the social validation of having a few tweets at the top is also a crucial psychological reinforcement that says: “this is a post that should be read!”

4. Introductory Paragraph (3.5) — I am a big believer in stating what you have to say and get on with it. Don’t waste people’s time or make them work to find the value in the article. Overall, keep your articles short.

5. RSS feed (3.0) — I learned a painful lesson last year. Most people don’t even know what an RSS feed is!  I was confounded why my subscriptions weren’t increasing at a faster rate. Once I changed the prompt to “email subscription,” instead of RSS feed, it took off like a rocket.

6. Image (3.0) — There are plenty of great blogs that don’t have images. There are plenty of great blogs that also diminish their appeal through a poor use of over-used stock photos. I use illustrations as a way to capture attention and entertain but I don’t think it trumps content.

7. Call to Action (1.0) — This low rating may also surprise some folks. Here is my logic. Your readers are absolutely sick of being sold to and marketed to. Certainly it is OK to discuss new products and services in a helpful way but if readers feel they are being pushed into something every time they come by, they’ll stop coming. Give them content that is useful and helpful and the business relationships will take care of themselves.

Now here’s the FUN part!  What do the {grow} readers think?  What would YOUR scorecard look like?

Brent Pohlman oversees the blogging duties at http://blogmidwestlabs.com and submitted this question through the recent B2B blogging webinar I provided through MLT Creative.

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  • Boy oh Boy! I love questions like these.
    I agree with you Mark on your ratings except I would rate the lead paragraph as as a 4.5
    An old copywriters maxim says – The goal of the headline is to get the first sentence read. The goal of the first sentence is to get the second sentence read and so on…

    The headline and lead has to do their job before the other items become important.

  • This is a great article – thanks for the tips!

  • Well said. I like that! Thanks Stanford!

  • Thanks for your comment

  • I would put Call To Action up there near Social Sharing. The single greatest feeling is when people interact with your post – via comments. The second single greatest feeling is when they share it. Those things happen together much of the time. Both of them can be considered a “call to action,” but ultimately are what validate that you have a great headline and great content.

  • Anonymous

    Great Post. I totally agree with #1 Great headline (Rating: 5.0) – “Many people will never get to your content unless you grab them by the throat with your headline.” You can let someone read your blog if your headline is very catchy and unique. 🙂 Thanks for posting!

  • Love it Mark! Absolutely agree that the headline should grab you by uhhhh “the throat?” – (rubbing my neck as I type) I’d also throw conversational/readability into the mix. Many times the content is good but the delivery makes me cringe.

    I think a great image is just as important as a good close. So not necessarily a call to action but something to make you go hmmm… Many of us are skimmers – intro, scan middle, read close. If the close is compelling enough we just may read the entire thing.

    And we can’t forget the KISS still works! Short, sweet and succinct please!

  • Mark

    Great post! I really like the RITE acronym with respect to content. Thank you for taking the time to address these different topics. Losts of great information in this post. I will use this post as a checklist for future posts. I also like the comments. Great insights and opinions from your readers.

  • OK, I’ll buy that. A legitimate point Paul.

  • Many thanks for your kind comment Aurelius.

  • Yes. You are SO RIGHT! And I do love a good image. I love coming up with funny ideas for my images. Sometimes it’s more fun than writing the post! If I come up with funny one, I am thinking, I can;t wait until they see this. I just crack myself up doing blog posts. : )

  • As you know, the comments are always better than the posts around here. Always. Love it too! Thanks for the great question Brent!

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  • I agree that the first paragraph would be a 5.0 for me too. My boss still says I “bury the lead” about four sentences down in my writing.

    I am glad to see artwork as not so important. I am not artistic, and don’t know how I will deal with that challenge of adding artwork to the blog.

    Social sharing would have been higher for me, because isn’t that the whole point for one’s blog to be shared and seen by as many people as possible?

    This is a great post to read first thing in the morning Mark, and really helps me set the tone for my day’s writing.

  • I do think art plays an important role. Kind of grabs attention like the headline. One idea is to think of the theme of the piece. Let’s say it is “vision.” Then go to a photo service (I generally use iStockphoto but am also trying some cheaper ones) and do a search for “vision” and you will get some interesting options. For a blog, you really only need the low-res image, which is the cheapest price. You then own the license to this picture so it can be used in other presentations too. Thanks, Nancy!

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  • Alf Andersen

    Thanx! This really improves the Blog strategies !

  • Your blogging scorecard is essential Mark! Moving forward my plan is to keep being motivated taking each requirement seriously while staying in the moment with appreciation and gratitude. Thank you…

  • Mark,

    This is my first comment on your blog and I must say that you are putting out some A+ content. Thanks!

    I have also noticed that a great headline is the key to not only getting your post read, but also making it more likely to be shared.

  • Thanks Chris. I have seen you lurking about in your tweets! : ) Glad you decided to jump in. Thanks for your very kind comment!

  • So are you starting a blog? : )

  • Glad it was useful Alf!

  • Mark, i’ve been blogging since 2001 http://yourstressmatters.blogspot.com/ ; )

  • One of my comments was not to discount the image. People do scan: they read bullets, subheads, bolded text, look at the pictures and maybe the photo caption. Plus there are times when a compelling image or infographic may really enhance the story, make it better. Little things, FWIW.

  • Good rating scale Mark. I think the value of the CTA will vary, per the focus and intent of the blog, what the call is (sales or comments or something else). Content, headlines, yes to all that.

    #3, Do you think there is a downside? Or backlash? I don’t use the tweet counter buttons because of my delicate, baby ego and right now, not getting many RTs. 😉 The flip side, I sometimes – not always – won’t RT a post that’s been shared hundreds of times already; If I see lots of familiar names/faces in comments, then odds are I’m not really adding value to the stream. IDK.. just typing out loud.

    One thing I missed in here was SEO or getting it found; the best headline in the world won’t get a blog post read if no one looks for it, no one finds it. Another thing is comments, interaction. Akin to people seeing the RTs and social validation, some credibility comes from comments, when readers see interaction and engagement on the blog. FWIW.

  • Mark, I feel like I’m still “in the lab” and don’t yet have clarity–which is why I so appreciate you taking a stand and offering your insights. Will take to heart.

    Cheers, Ken

  • Nice one, Mark. One thing I would add is SEO, as Davina mentions – so maybe that would be an eighth item to add to the list, and I’d rate it high – a 4.5 or 5. We all read/hear all the time about this, and it is quite the balancing act to marry good content with relevant keywords in a way that doesn’t make the reader barf.

    One of the WordPress features I find most useful is the manual excerpts, and I notice a lot of fairly big name bloggers don’t use this. They’ll use All in One SEO or a similar plugin, but the manual excerpt box is incredibly useful. Why? Because you can craft a brief excerpt that uses relevant keywords AND is readable, and that is what folks see when posts are indexed in Google, etc. If the manual excerpt is not filled out, then an excerpt is automatically generated (as you know), which may/may not be compelling enough for readers/searchers to click through. The same goes for when posts are published to Facebook, etc. – the manual excerpt makes a huge difference.

    My $0.02. 🙂

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  • Anonymous

    Mark,

    I’m not in complete agreement with your list but not far off. The marketer in me would nudge the call to action to number four and lower the RSS Feed to number five.

    I’m actually basing this on what you point out: “Give them content that is useful and helpful and the business relationships will take care of themselves”.

    I think that relates more to the “Subscribe Now” button or option than a thought provoking or enticing call-to-action. Most of your excellent articles (including this one) include a question at the end that invites engagement. In my opinion, that IS a call to action and probably better than a link to a white paper or eBook if it results in a comment or at least conveys that you are interested in feedback, accessible and listening.

    By the way, your point about an email subscription option along with and RSS Feed option is helpful too. I just checked above our blog to see if we offer the email option and I couldn’t find it.

    I learn something new everyday.

    Thanks Mark! And thanks also to Brent Pohlman for the excellent question.

  • I’m one of those blogger who don’t use that, so thanks for the great tip!

  • Glad it was helpful, Ken!

  • You make some brilliant points here. It is a two-edged sword. People don’t RT (or comment) if there are lot of them and they also don’t if there is a bunch of them. Good addition on SEO, although I’m not sure what that means these days for bloggers. SM is better way to build a community, I believe.

  • I am so glad to have the disagreement. Hurray for that. The RSS thing was kind of a revelation to me. I was talking about RSS ina class and nobody knew what it was. I realized that this is not a well-understood term by the general population so email is a better option : )

    Thanks Billy!

  • Whoops. My bad. I;ll get right over there!

  • Hey, Mark, my pleasure. At least I came up with something useful for a change. :p

  • Hello Mark, I am new to the world of blogging and you were referred to me by Shafik Mansur of Redberry Atlanta Website Designs. Excellent information and I will look at my posts and use your scorecard. Thank you for sharing.

  • and you are successful so does it (SEO) really matter?

  • I’d agree, your photos are one of the best! One of my fav was Barbie on twitter…great content and great photo. I’d follow that twitter handle for the laughs 😉

  • Thanks Danielle. I have fun dreaming them up!

  • My blog is a bit of an enigma. I only focus on content and naturally connect with people on social media. However, I have a sinking feeling that if I don’t pay some sort of attention to SEO I will lose momentum. If you look at the top AdAge blogs, it seems like a disproportionate number are related to SEO. Probably somewhere between doing nothing and obsessing with SEO is the truth.

    I think the myth for bloggers (and I’m working on a post for this) is that traffic = community. It doesn’t. I don’t think there is an SEO shortcut to buidling community. Typically, the traffic that comes from search bump on to your site and don’t stick around. That has very little interest to me.

    Thanks for the question Danielle!

  • Welcome to the {grow} community. I’m glad you found this helpful! Also, I would encourage you to read the community comments on subjects like this. I’m still learning like everyone else and this community attracts a lot of very experienced thought leaders. Thanks!

  • Oh I always LOVE it when you comment Shonali. I know I’m going to learn something when I see you in the comment stream!

  • To me, the content has to be #1. None of the other stuff matters, or will matter for long, if you aren’t keeping your readers enamored of your content. Few things are more disappointing than seeing a really tantalizing headline or tweet, running to the post, and then thinking, “Ugh.”

    Well, few things are more disappointing in the blogosphere. I should clarify.

    I’d actually rank RSS last because everything I’m hearing from people who have RSS feeds to keep track of goes something like this, “ahhhhhh too much too much too much!”

    This leads me to believe that they might be getting too much content to keep track of.

    Interesting topic!

  • Some interesting points here Margie. I think you are pointing out a few things that are perhaps turning into myths about blogging. RSS feeds, role of headlines. Somebody else mentioned here SEO. Blogging is maturing. It’s time to question some of these standard truths. Very little data around this stuff, BTW. Thanks!

  • Great job Brent.

    The RSS feed is extremely important. I’d put it at 6. No, you can’t call it RSS. A lot of people say even “subscribe” ticks people off because they think it costs money or something. “Free updates” or “join us” seems to work even better. The money is in the mailing list, and you’ve got to convert or die.

    You’re right on about the image. A bad image is far, far worse then none at all. And I think the more “fancy” a blog is, the more tricky it gets using images. Look at the Twist Image blog – Mitch gets by with no images because there’s so much elegance and color already there.

    Seth Godin on the other hand? I think a few iStockPhoto placed strategically around his B&W typepad would work wonders. Course, he’s so big it hardly matters.

    Oh, and the sidebar’s where you want to push the calls to action. That doesn’t mean you want to end a powerful post on a weak note though. Guess there’s a juicy middle ground? Brent, you ended this post with a call to action, whether you realized it or not. 🙂

  • I think I’m with Billy on this. I recently showed the RSS button to a group of 32 18 year olds who are outstanding students. The kind who will go on to study medicine and dentistry. Not a single one of them knew what it was.

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  • I’ve learned you can’t take that stuff for granted. But it also give you a glimpse of the POTENTIAL for social media, doesn;t it?

  • Very good points, especially about effectively using the sidebars.

  • Most impressive thing about this post? The comments, and particularly the one by Billy Mitchell where he says he read the post and then TOOK ACTION to check his own blog to see if he was offering the Subscribe by Email option.

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  • Mark

    This reinforces my view that the REAL influence on the social web is taking place in these small blog communities. People come here to learn from each other, support each other, and ultimately take action. Ironic that the “social scoring” measures of influence overlook blogs. I know that is a vital subject for you too, Trey. Thanks for this great insight!

  • This reinforces my view that the REAL influence on the social web is taking place in these small blog communities. People come here to learn from each other, support each other, and ultimately take action. Ironic that the “social scoring” measures of influence overlook blogs. I know that is a vital subject for you too, Trey. Thanks for this great insight!

  • One blogging tip 9via @pushingsocial) I’ve been trying to use is to delete the first couple of lines if not the first paragraph once its written. By at least going through this exercise my key point moves up.

  • Easy social sharing buttons are crucial. One thing that annoys me is reading a blog post I really like and having to search high and low for the share buttons. I would say about 30 percent don’t even have one…

    I don’t (didn’t) understand this, but after reading this post, it certainly is possible that folks just don’t know any better.

    Overall, a great list Mark, thank you.

  • Excellent point. It drives me nuts when you have to work for the point of the article. : ) And i think you lose readers if you have to work for that nugget! Great advice from Stanford and Natasha. Thank you!

  • Oh yes! That is a BIG aggravation! And another one is when they have a share button but it doesn’t shorten the link! What’s the point?

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