An introduction might not be the most informative part of your blog article, but it might just be the most important.
An introduction might not be the most informative part of your inbound marketing blog article, but it might just be the most important.
On average, Americans spend just 15.6 minutes per day reading for leisure. Although some inbound marketing content might serve as more business-related reading, you’re still competing for your distracted persona’s attention. In fact, the average person spends just 37 seconds with an article—and good luck getting them to scroll down. On top of that, people are increasingly bombarded on their smartphones and desktops with notifications featuring articles from social media feeds, websites, apps, and a gazillion other channels.
The time put into researching, writing, optimizing, and promoting an inbound marketing blog article can pay dividends—but only if you get the reader to engage with the content. The introduction, or lead, to your article offers the best way to secure that engagement and keep readers on your page for more than 37 seconds.
Yet, many marketers struggle with leads, often ending up with an intro that isn’t compelling, talks down to the reader, or is just plain hokey. Mastering the lead helps ensure your thought leadership and marketing strategy shine throughout the rest of the article.
A good intro draws blog visitors in, so that even if they don’t read every word of the article, they’re scrolling further down the page, possibly experiencing more of your thought leadership, and being exposed to calls to action.
For marketers, the intro provides material to promote the article on other channels, from email and social media to paid media and pages on your own website. Consider what is more impactful in a social media posting: a few words rehashing the title or an attention-grabbing synopsis based on the lead of the article?
Finally, your blog article should be more than just a post—it should tell a story and entertain. If your article lacks a compelling introduction, it won’t feel as much like a story as it will a term paper. Starting strong sets up the rest of your story for success.
There’s no one right way to write an introduction to an inbound marketing blog, but I like using the following framework. I find that it provides a quick, thorough setup to get the reader to the guts of the narrative:
Of course, not every lead will need—or be able to follow—this framework. Consider:
How you get to a compelling lead isn’t as important as simply arriving at your destination.
I’m a big believer in supporting a blog article intro with an interesting fact, statistic, quote, news story, or any other external reference you can use to pique the reader’s interest and reinforce your message. For example, if you’re writing about cybersecurity for a non-IT persona, a stat about how many organizations are burned by phishing attacks may capture the reader’s attention, thus creating a sense of urgency and prompting the reader to continue reading in order to learn the solution to the problem.
How pertinent should your reference be? After all, you might not be able to find the exact stat or factoid that drives your argument home—but you might be able to get close enough to intrigue the reader and then tie it to the rest of your article.
In our cybersecurity example, if you can’t find a relevant, timely stat about phishing attacks, but you can find the number of people who use email daily, you might be able to deftly weave a narrative about how, out of all these users, a few are bound to open a phishing email. Making such a connection isn’t always easy, so if it’s not working, don’t force it. Also, be sure to properly cite and link your references.
A great introduction draws and immerses the reader into the world the blog article has built. Although you don’t need to be in a literary hurry to pull this off, you do need to take care not to go overboard with your word count. I’m the first to admit that I will occasionally go a little long with my intros; a challenge emerges when you want to get enough narrative in to launch the rest of the article, but then write so much that the launch fails.
The framework mentioned earlier keeps the intro to a few paragraphs, but you can easily write a shorter intro if necessary. If you have five great stats that are extending your intro, find room for some deeper into the article. And if you feel like you need an in-depth explanation to get the article going, consider revising your outline to shift that information to follow the intro.
Don’t make the reader put in a lot of work just to get to the first subheader. Be thorough, but choose wisely where you are thorough.
I started my professional career in the sports department of a big daily newspaper. If you’re familiar with sportswriting, creative leads are practically a requirement for all articles except the most basic recaps and short news items. This created a fair amount of pressure for a young journalist trying to be clever and entertaining for a couple hundred thousand potential readers (back when people still read newspapers …). Occasionally, my leads fell flat, one time leading one of my editors to give me advice I’ll never forget: Sometimes, you just need to be direct.
The assistant sports editor’s tip was meant to help on deadline—you can’t waste time on a lead that might suck anyway—but it also applies to inbound marketing blog articles. If you’re struggling to come up with a good intro, you’re better off getting to the point on what the article is about and why the reader should care than attempting a narrative or a statistic that you can’t support.
This doesn’t mean oversimplifying, such as, “We have thought leadership; here it is!” You can entice the reader by being direct and descriptive. Just don’t force the issue.
Blogging’s humble beginnings encouraged a stream-of-consciousness approach: You have something to say, and you’re going to say it—any sort of structure, narrative, or paragraph breaks be damned! With someone’s personal blog, that chaos is the unspoken charm, and though the best personal content often is the easiest to consume, there’s not much lost if people click away.
Inbound marketing blogs don’t have that luxury. You are providing information and thought leadership, representing your brand, and enabling the reader to feel smarter. Those goals won’t be achieved if someone gets lost in a thousand words of run-on sentences compacted into four gargantuan paragraphs.
Bullets and subheaders are a good start to making text reader-friendly, but every blog article should be written with structure, flow, and purpose. Ideally, you want readers to read the post from start to finish, but with good structure, they can pick out what they want and still come away feeling you delivered value.
The following popular blog examples provide frameworks for turning random thoughts and words into stories that appeal to and impress readers—and hopefully encourage them to subscribe.
Not every blog article must subscribe to a unique “type”—you can write a standard post that adheres to a basic title and still deliver great information that speaks to the reader and the persona. Don’t think of this kind of article as boring, but rather, stalwart, functional, and engaging. People are accustomed to reading straight news stories online; a standard blog article with a standard headline offers familiarity that readers embrace.
Also, a basic approach doesn’t need to remain basic—you can still introduce appealing bullets, charts, breakouts, images, and other elements to enhance the reader’s experience. Be sure to use subheaders to break up the text and logically contribute to the narrative of the article.
The list article is wildly popular in inbound marketing. Simply, this kind of post includes a number followed by the item that makes up the list: “5 Tips for Writing Better Blog Articles.”
People love lists, and this format allows them to read the title and quickly peruse what comprises the list. That may not seem conducive to encouraging visitors to actually read the article, but if you capture their attention, you’ll have a better chance of getting them to engage.
Some best practices for lists:
Most commonly, a Q&A blog post is an interview presented in a question-and-answer format. It is generally easy to consume (questions in bold or italics can be quickly picked out, thus giving the prospect the choice to read the answer), delivers interesting thought leadership by someone who often is from outside the organization, and is less complicated to write.
A second type of Q&A is more like an FAQ in which you answer common questions to a topic that your personas may have—for example, “Content Q&A: How to Write a Killer Blog Post.” In this case, the expert is you or the coworker you’re ghostwriting for, and the format is the same, but instead of quoting someone, you’re offering solid, swiftly accessible advice.
A rapidly crafted blog article in response to a recent news event in your industry may not hold much long-term inbound potential, but it can impress leads and customers who are interested in what you think and how your product or service is built to handle the development.
Buzzworthy posts promote your thought leadership, even if the news event is so bonkers that it doesn’t lend itself to immediate practical advice. These articles also encourage readers to subscribe to your blog, knowing that when something occurs that might affect them, they might see an interesting article about it appear in their inboxes.
Don’t sweat keywords when writing a buzzworthy post—including some basic ones will be fine, but these posts are less about SEO and more about engaging prospects and existing customers. Also, don’t feel like you must write a full-length post; 300-500 words will work fine, especially if that helps you write and publish the article faster.
An extension of the buzzworthy blog article is content that aggregates industry news—and offers a little bit of analysis—into a single post, published periodically (often weekly or monthly).
The key to this type of article is to not go overboard; use short summaries to describe the news, giving the lead the option to click on a link to read more. Your take doesn’t need to be too deep—you can always expand on the news in a later post, or link to past content that’s already covered the topic.
The word count for big topics may shoot beyond what you’re comfortable publishing—or what’s best practice. As much as the marketing industry says longer blogs perform better, 3,000-word posts are simply too daunting for the reader to read and (often) the writer to efficiently write in one sitting. You can turn the topic into an e-book, but then you need to involve design and other stakeholders when all you want to do is publish a high-performing blog article.
A solution to this dilemma is a blog series. Split your topic into manageable chunks, and write each chapter with an eye to the next (and links back and forth to each installment). You can take your time with this approach, and when you’ve completed the series, you’ll have most of the assets to turn your work into a high-performing pillar page.
Imagine an internet without hyperlinks. To quote John Lennon, “I wonder if you can.”
Invoking our favorite Beatle may be sacrilegious, but he challenged listeners to think about a world radically different than the one they know. Links made the internet accessible, navigable, functional, and, well, easy.
Search engines flourished because of hyperlinks. The online marketplace emerged thanks to links. Mobile internet access may never have exploded if users were typing in every single address instead of just tapping a link. Social media, fantasy football, employment websites—virtually any digital action that requires you to make a choice—would not exist without hyperlinks.
Oh, also, inbound marketing requires links in order to thrive. CTAs, page navigation, lead nurturing emails, and much, much more rely on links to move prospects down the funnel and create a user experience that keeps leads engaged.
Links are critical to fully realizing an article’s potential. Linking shouldn’t be an afterthought, but rather, approached as purposefully as every other part of the post—including the writing.
Educating, informing, and entertaining readers are the primary goals of an inbound marketing blog, as well as establishing thought leadership and, hopefully, advancing leads a little bit in their Buyer’s Journey. Strategic linking can improve the impact of your blog without people even clicking.
Internal links create authority—not the thought leadership kind of authority, but SEO authority. Search engines want to find your content when it’s teeming with internal links; this algorithmic reality compounds itself when you publish more blogs with more links. Add this benefit to the navigational possibilities, and you see why internal linking is so valuable.
External, or outbound, links are often necessary to properly credit and cite sources used in your article—which improves your reputation with the reader—but they also come with their own SEO advantages. When search engines detect high-quality external links to sites with good domain authority, they think your blog is legit. As a result, your blog article pulls up higher on search results and is recognized in searches with other similar and peripheral content.
Internal links are easy to add to blog articles while providing nice SEO and lead-nurturing benefits. Inbound marketing blogs generally shy away from directly selling or promoting the brand and its services; internal linking promotes in a way the writer can’t.
Although you don’t want to overstuff an article with internal links, you can be generous—and unless your company is just at the beginning of its marketing, you’ll enjoy an abundant supply of webpages to choose from. Some best practices to keep in mind:
That last best practice is especially important because you don’t want to bait-and-switch readers to a page that has nothing to do with what inspired them to click. In other words, don’t force internal links—let them flow naturally from the content. As you become a more proficient inbound marketing blogger, you’ll instinctively start crafting copy that lends itself to internal linking.
External links are fraught with more peril than you might expect, especially considering that citing references is a best practice to protect against plagiarism. Some pitfalls that must be avoided include:
So what are some good, reputable external links that will enhance your article, strengthen your reputation, and boost SEO? Here are some options:
Two other caveats with outbound links should be on your radar. First, Wikipedia is not a reputable source for information. The website is great for background, but because anyone can contribute, don’t cite anything from it and never link to it.
Second, if you are writing the rare article that doesn’t lend itself to external links, or you just can’t find a good stat or item to include—frustratingly, this happens, and it can waste a lot of time that would otherwise be spent writing a quality post—don’t include some random post because you think you have to. An absence of outbound links isn’t ideal, but links to websites that don’t make sense will just confuse the reader, and links to sites with poor domain authority will hurt your SEO. Move along without the links, and stay optimistic that you’ll go get ’em next time.
Some marketers make an argument that what’s in a blog article doesn’t matter—that its mere existence as a lead-generating, SEO-boosting element is enough, so you shouldn’t sweat the details about grammar, syntax, flow, narrative, facts, or logic.
Wrong. So wrong.
Your blog represents your brand, and the words within it speak to your commitment to excellence. If an article demonstrates intelligence, empathy, and inspiration, the reader will feel smarter, understood, and inspired. If an article is sloppy or just wrong, the reader may think your business is, at best, mediocre and click away from the blog—and from you.
We are not trying to scare you away from blogging, but rather, encourage you to deliver as much excellence as possible to make the reader stay longer and scroll down. Consistent, informative, well-written copy builds the foundation of this strategy. Great writing may not keep every reader enthralled, but it won’t send them running, thinking, “Ugh, I can’t read this drivel.”
With that in mind, here are some tips to succeeding with the guts of your article:
Are you writing about yourself, about your audience, or to your audience? Although inbound marketing blogs often combine all three points of view in one article, you should stick to one as much as possible:
Most news articles are written in third person; many personal blogs are written first person. Second person often is the perspective of choice for inbound marketing blogs.
Ultimately, much will depend on your company’s audience and brand. Are you a formal organization with serious buyers? Third person might be the smart choice. Is the brand all about one person or its employees, a la Peterman from Seinfeld or Trader Joe’s? First person does well with this more intimate branding.
That leaves second person for everything in between—and it is wildly effective in connecting with readers and showing that you understand their pain points. Focusing on second person with a little bit of first person sprinkled in is a popular choice with inbound marketers; just be sure to limit your point of view and keep the article all about the audience.
In the digital world, long paragraphs—particularly on mobile devices—can sap the energy of even the most enthusiastic reader. Naturally, you want sentences to connect, support, and build upon each other, but readers’ eyes need a break to process what they’ve just consumed, not to mention helping them simply follow along better.
Therefore, you should keep your paragraphs short: 2-4 sentences, and never more than 100 words. Watch the run-on sentences, use transition words, and if you’re struggling to break up a longer paragraph, consider bullets and bold lead-ins (more on that shortly).
That said, don’t overdo the short paragraphs. A blog full of one-sentence paragraphs doesn’t demonstrate authority. Instead, it looks like clickbait.
Big words and an expansive vocabulary may display knowledge and experience, but they may also, unfortunately, scare readers off. As much as we want to believe people appreciate rich, deep language, studies have shown that the simpler the copy, the more engaged and interested the reader.
The key to achieving copy that impresses readers but doesn’t make their brains bleed is straightforward writing. Resist the urge to load up your blog article with 50-cent words—outside of industry terms, of course, that your audience will expect you to use. You don’t have to write at a Dr. Seuss level, but find a happy medium between that and James Joyce. The more straightforward, readable, and interesting your prose is, the more likely the reader will come back for more.
There’s a scene in the movie A River Runs Through It that writers and editors appreciate: The patriarch of the family, trying to teach his son to be a good writer, instructed the boy to rewrite something “half as long.” Word economy doesn’t mean leaving stuff out, but rather, making an impact by keeping vital information streamlined, direct, and demonstrative.
Does that mean cutting everything in half, finishing the piece, and darting out of the house to go fly fishing? No, but it should guide you to concise copy that doesn’t waste the reader’s time. Some ways to achieve word economy include:
Word economy doesn’t always mean writing shorter but definitely means writing better. A 800-word blog post should pack 800 words of impact, not 500 words of information and 300 words of fluff.
USA Today may have pioneered the bullet point for newspapers back in the 1980s, but this display tool is perfectly suited for the modern digital age. Today’s webpage readers often don’t have the patience to consume everything you write and will be distracted by a barrage of other elements on the page. Bullets and other display type catch the reader’s eye and, more importantly, pause the scrolling!
Because display text is so easy to consume, it’s perceived as more important to readers, who may only look at bullets, thinking this is what they can learn quickly before moving to something else. Bold lead-ins offer a similar effect and often are used with bullets to form a base list that also offers further explanation of each item.
Bullets and lead-ins deliver incredible engagement in blog articles with minimal work. Strive to use this strategy as much as possible. Some best practices with bullets—of course, presented in a bulleted format—include:
The title of a blog article should be the obvious guide to the contents of the article. Yet, with keywords and SEO and suggestions for content thrown into the mix, deviating from the title becomes understandable. When that happens, think about ways to get back on track:
Title problems are best addressed before you start writing—with a smart outline and a plan of attack. Meandering away from the title is survivable, but publishing an article that doesn’t match the title is a bait-and-switch that can leave readers distrusting your message and your brand.
A core principle of inbound marketing is that people have a question and search the internet to get an answer. During their search, they may type in common terms related to their question. Your hope is that those terms and searches lead to your website and content.
Thus, keyword strategy is born.
Keywords drive just about every aspect of inbound marketing, and your blog is no exception. Incorporating keywords into your content increases the opportunity for articles to be found and read. Hopefully, readers will value the thought leadership you provide, but you need to get them there first.
Without delving into a long discussion about their role in modern inbound marketing content, keywords help SEO and rankings, thus increasing the probability that your blog articles are found by people turning to the internet for answers. The web is a busy place, and without judicious and intelligent keyword usage, someone else’s content will appear first in search results.
Plenty of tools are available for identifying keywords that will complement your blog article. Once you know your target keywords, the fun really begins.
Picking keywords that can drive people to your content won’t accomplish anything if you don’t insert those keywords into your copy. This often proves more challenging than expected, particularly with long-tail keywords that are great as search terms but not so hot as phrases incorporated into professional writing.
First, your title should have at least one of your chosen keywords within it. Also, if you’re writing the article’s meta description and image alt text, add keywords to provide additional SEO benefit.
From those two basics, you ideally want to incorporate a keyword 3-8 times in a typical blog article. Some tips to reach that goal:
Long-tail keywords stand out above their shorter counterparts for SEO. Key phrases provide less competition for search engines’ attention and remain distinct even when similar content is published.
Unfortunately, long-tail keywords can also be more difficult to incorporate into copy. However, they don’t need to appear as is—you can spread the words out over a sentence and still get the SEO benefit. Today’s search engine users rarely query for an exact phrase (in quotation marks), and the search engines are much better at extracting the parts of a long-tail keyword in close proximity.
Despite keywords’ ability to boost SEO, too much of a good thing can lead to diminishing returns. Google doesn’t like keyword stuffing and may decrease the article’s ranking if its algorithms believe you’re trying to pull a fast one.
However, some short keywords are so unavoidable you may find yourself using them 10, 20, or more times without much recourse. For example, if an article titled “How to Effectively Use Email” has a keyword of simply “email,” good luck finding synonyms for the term or not using it more than eight times in a thousand words.
This conundrum offers another reason why long-tail keywords are preferable. “Effective email usage” is far more unique than just “email” and lets you directly write about email without fear of killing your SEO.
Every inbound marketing article has an ending, but not every post knows how to finish gracefully.
Writers may struggle with conclusions, unable to figure out how to let readers know the post is ending without sounding sappy, confusing, or patronizing.
For such a small and relatively unimportant part of your article, conclusions can cause big headaches. Here are some strategies for ending your posts on a smart, logical note:
Basic storytelling and essay writing follow a common format that you probably learned in grade school: Introductory paragraph(s), supporting paragraphs, conclusion. In other words, set up the story, dig deep into the storytelling, and wrap it all up. Many marketers approach blog writing this way—and feel the absolute need to finish with a conclusion, because without one, the article seems incomplete.
Journalism—especially straight news writing—doesn’t put as much of a premium on conclusions. Sure, long-form feature articles may deliver an impactful and original ending, but for the most part, news stories follow an inverted pyramid approach, which starts with a lead that grabs the reader’s attention, then provides the most important details followed by less important details, and then there might be a conclusion but often there isn’t.
The inverted pyramid subscribes to the idea that readers might not read the entire article, so getting the vital news to them as quickly as possible engages them faster. Also, when story length becomes an issue, this approach allows editors to easily lop off paragraphs from the bottom without diminishing the article’s impact too much. In this latter sense, a conclusion isn’t necessary because it can be cut—and, in fact, is designed to be cut.
A debate then arises: Is an inbound blog article closer to traditional essay writing/storytelling or informative news journalism? Although that’s often dependent on the subject matter and the business publishing the blog, ideally, it should be a combination of both. As such, the conclusion should be integral to the article but not extraneous. It should serve a purpose and provide a wrap-up to the article, but it shouldn’t just fill space.
Unfortunately, many conclusions of inbound marketing blog articles are just filling space—written to say something because the author feels that something has to be said to wrap up the article. The conclusion may recap/summarize the article, similar to what you might have done when you learned how to write a five-paragraph essay in middle school. Besides wasting words and stopping readers dead in their tracks (who may think, “Didn’t I read this already?”), this conclusion is a bit insulting, insinuating that readers are so unintelligent that you need to repeat everything for them.
Even more insulting and painfully ineffective is this type of short-but-not-sweet conclusion: “Now you know everything about [insert subject matter here]!” This is just desperate, smug, and even a little fake enthusiastic …
A bit of summary isn’t necessarily bad, as long as it reinforces the message and story of your article—and doesn’t regurgitate what’s already been said. Reinforcement strengthens the marketing goals of the blog post and gives readers another “Eureka!” moment affirming that what they just read matters and provided something beneficial. This, in turn, may inspire them to subscribe to the blog or explore the website.
An inbound marketing blog should, among other goals, leave readers more knowledgeable than when they first clicked. The conclusion offers one last opportunity to educate before the article ends—and you shouldn’t waste the opportunity. Some ways to continue bringing new thought leadership to the article as it winds down include:
Over the years, an inbound marketing blog best practice was to stay as agnostic as possible throughout articles. In other words, deliver thought leadership and great content, but don’t directly promote your product or service—particularly in the awareness and consideration stages.
However, internal link CTAs—calls to action that appear as regular text within blog copy, as opposed to banner and anchor text CTAs—have become an exception to this rule. Perhaps the best place for this type of CTA is in the conclusion, where it’s not distracting people from the article’s thought leadership but gives the reader a clear and concise next step.
Conclusion CTAs shouldn’t be long: one or two sentences max. Also, the links they reference—just like other internal links in the article that aren’t directly promoting—should be relevant to the reader’s experience. Don’t just randomly throw in copy with a link that can’t be fluidly tied to the rest of the article.
Internal link CTAs as conclusions are helpful when you can’t come up with any other way to finish the article. Plus, they can be combined with other blog conclusion strategies to provide additional knowledge and send readers to another helpful link.
Even with these conclusion tactics, sometimes you may find no path to adequately and impactfully finish the article. What we propose is admittedly controversial with some marketers and writers: If you can’t come up with a good conclusion, don’t use one.
The modern news webpage is a jumbled collection of inline ads, random artwork, and other elements that often make it difficult to decipher when an article ends. We're not saying that your blog shouldn’t be carefully designed, but rather, that internet readers aren’t necessarily looking for the snappy conclusion as a signal that the article is ending. Moreover, most news articles end abruptly, so you likely won’t be offending readers by not saying what you have to say and ending it.
Of course, you want to deliver as much final impact as you can with a conclusion—but you shouldn’t force it. You’re better off getting out of the article quickly than writing something that’s confusing, redundant, insulting, or dull.