Anatomy of an Effective Blog Post

Recently, my friend Philip Rothschild asked if I would write a blog post on “the anatomy of a 500-word blog post.” He said that he sensed I used some kind of template. He thought it might be something that would be valuable to others, as well as something he could use with his students.

Someone Drawing Lightbulbs on a Chalkboard Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/aluxum, Image #14314309

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/aluxum

I do, in fact, use a blog post template. I don’t follow it slavishly, but I always start with it. It includes all the elements that I have learned make for an effective post. It also helps me write faster, because it provides me with a track to run on.

My blog post template consists of six components:

  1. Compelling Title. Advertising legend David Ogilvy once said, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” This is also true with blogging. If your title doesn’t lure them, they will never get to the rest of what you say.
  2. Lead Paragraph. This is key. If you take too long on the wind-up, you will lose readers. You have to get into the premise of the post and make it relevant to your readers. After the title, this is the second most important component of your post.
  3. Relevant Image. I use images for the same reasons magazines do: I want to pull my readers into the post itself. Pictures do that. I get 90 percent of mine from iStockPhoto. (Click here for a 20% discount.) Occasionally, I use a screenshot or an embedded video or slideshow.
  4. Personal Experience. I always try to share my personal experience. Why? Because readers connect with stories. The more honest and transparent I can be, the better. In fact, my most popular posts generally come out of some failure on my part.
  5. Main Body. Everything to this point has been an introduction. I always try to make my main content scannable. I use bullets, numbered lists—and often both. This makes the content more accessible to readers and more sharable via Twitter and Facebook.
  6. Discussion Question. For the past few years, I have ended every post with a question. I don’t intend my posts to be a monologue. Instead, I want to start a conversation. As a result, I measure my effectiveness at this by how many comments I get.

I also follow a few overall rules when writing my posts:

  • Make the posts short. This is my biggest personal challenge. I have a tendency to be too thorough. Consequently, I aim for 500 words. This usually means I have to write the post and then go back and tighten it up.
  • Use short paragraphs. I try to stick to 3–4 sentences. If it’s more than this, the content looks too dense. Readers will give up and move on. (Notice how newspapers usually follow this rule.)
  • Keep short sentences. As a general rule, I try avoid compound sentences. A period gives the reader a natural stop—and a sense of progress as they pass one milestone after another. To quote a common copywriting axion, short sentences make the copy read fast.
  • Use simple words. I love language, so I am often tempted to use big words. However, I have learned to avoid this. My goal is to communicate, not to impress my readers with my vocabulary.
  • Provide internal links. I can’t say everything in one post, so I link to other posts where I have developed a thought in more detail. This has the added vantage of increasing my pageviews and session times. I think it is also genuinely helpful to my readers.

While your template might be different, it is worth outlining and tweaking as you hone your writing skills. This will allow you to write faster and more effectively.

Question: What does your blog post template look like? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://LouisvilleGalsRealEstateBlog.com/ sharon Vornholt

    Excellent article. I have been blogging for a few years now and I am always trying to do a better job.

  • Natalia

    This post is exactly what I needed as I am new to blogging. Thank you!!

  • http://www.SteveWPate.com/ Steve Pate

    bare bones at this moment.

  • http://www.SevenMinuteScientist.com Amy Hollingsworth

    As someone who has written a dissertation, I think I’m too thorough also. I love your blog post template – it will help me cut my wordy, 1500-word count posts to 500 easier-to-digest posts.

    I also love @johnrichardson:disqus John Richardson’s four guidelines.

    1. Head: Make them think.
    2. Heart: Help them feel emotion
    3. Hands: Ask them to take action
    4. Humor: Make them laugh

    If I can do this in my posts, that’s great. If I can do them in my Biology Lectures, I think this would make me an even better professor!

  • Nadia McDonald

    I have not officially started my wordpress blog yet. However, as a newbie I have been doing my home-work studying, researching, and learning all I can with freelance writers and copy bloggers.
    As a teacher by profession, I have been away from the internet in recent weeks. Thus I am a bit rusty. Can someone please polish me up and tell me what a template is?

  • Joe

    I am a blogger wanna-be. Thanks for sharing your template. I came to this page from your article about how to blog if you don’t have time. These are very helpful tips for getting started.

  • http://www.themilitaryleader.com/ The Military Leader

    Does anyone know of a way to set a template in WordPress that will populate automatic HTML items like shortcode and text? I’m finding it inefficient to repaste HTML items text for every post. Thanks!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I would use a macro program like Typinator or Keyboard Maestro. You can then type a short code and it will expand to the text you want. I do this all the time.

      • http://www.themilitaryleader.com/ The Military Leader

        Thanks! I’ll check it out! Will certainly save time. Have a great weekend!

  • John Ramstead

    Michael, I am new to blogging and your just bought Platform. Great read!! Question: I have been writing posts in word. When I paste into my wordpress site the formatting disappears. Any suggestions on a good tool to author posts with?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      No formatting from any word processor will transfer to WordPress. I would just write in whatever processor you choose, then format it in WordPress. You could also write it directly in WordPress. Thanks.

  • John Ramstead

    Michael, thank you for sharing the template. I am now using this through evernote! One of your steps in your template is to ‘Insert relevant HTML code’. I just downloaded MarsEdit (Great suggestion) but am wondering what you use to insert the HTML code. Thank you Michael.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Actually, since writing that post, I now use Multimarkdown, which translates to the appropriate HTML code. Thanks.

    • John Ramstead

      Michael, thank you pointing me to MultiMarkdown to create the HTML codes for a quality blog post. I read their tutorial, it’s like learning a new language. I’ll keep at it. Thank you for your blog post on this! http://michaelhyatt.com/multimarkdown.html Thank you Michael!! Much appreciated.

  • http://vaughandustries.com Ken Vaughan

    This is a great tip and will definitely save time as I have just launched a new blog. I tend to have trouble wandering and this should help to keep me on task. The tip from John on the 4 H’s was great as well. I have both saved for quick reference now.