How to Write a Blog Post That Ranks High (high speed, 2 minute video)

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Andy Crestodina

While writing the last Orbit newsletter (and post for this blog), I turned on Screenflow, which recorded my screen as I researched, wrote, and then edited the blog. The final result was Blog Criteria: 3 Blogging Criteria for Writing Great Posts.

A few days after the post went live, it started ranking. Here is the current Google ranking and number of monthly searches for the three target keyphrases:

  • “blog criteria” ranking #1
  • “blogging criteria” ranking #3
  • “criteria for writing” ranking #11 (almost page one!)

I’ve sped up the recording into a video so that the entire two hour process is shown in two minutes. Each second of this video shows one minute of blogging. Watch the video and learn how to write a high ranking blog post.

Here are the step-by-step instructions…

It started with an idea. I had read a blog post and a book that both made similar blogging recommendations. For several days, I had this topic in the back of my mind. By the time I sat down to write it, I had a good idea what I would write and what phrase I might target. Here’s what I did next:

1. Copy and rename the template.

I use a Google Doc as a template for writing blog posts, so I’m doing everything within the browser. The template includes space to enter target keyphrases, social sharing info, email subject lines and teaser text, etc.

This template forces me to think about content promotion while I write, so when I use the template, I have SEO, social media and email marketing in mind.

2. Research Keyphrases.

I already have an idea for what phrases to target, so I enter them into the Google Keyword Planner to see how many people were searching for them each month (search volume). Here’s what I find:

  • “blog criteria” 480 searches/month
  • “blogging criteria” 16 searches/month
  • “criteria for writing” 5400 searches/month

If the phrase is too competitive, I won’t stand a chance of ranking. So, I search for each term in Google to check the competition.

I’m looking to see if the high ranking blog posts and websites include the target phrase in the beginning of their title tags. When they do, the links in the Google search results would begin with the target phrase. But in most cases for these phrases, they don’t.

In other words, the top sites in Google don’t appear to be heavily search optimized, so I’m starting to get confident about these phrases. When I’m not sure, I use Link Explorer to see if the high ranking sites have a higher domain authority than my site. If all the sites on page one have more authoritative domains than mine, my post is not likely to rank high in the results.

3. Start Writing.

As I write, I pay special attention to the following:

  • Structure and formatting: headers, short paragraphs, bullet lists, bolding, italics, etc. This makes it easier for readers to scan and gives me more places to use my target phrases. Here is an a list of SEO best practices  for reference.
  • Referencing others: adding links to sites I mention and quoting experts. I’ll share the blog post with people who are mentioned here.
  • Length: I’d like to keep the entire post to 600 words max.

4. Create (or Find) an Image.

All great posts have images. For this post, I create a venn diagram using OmniGraffle. It looks nice, but even with a stock photo, this still would be a high ranking blog post.

5. Finish Writing, Edit, & Polish.

As I finish the post, I make sure that the language is simple and direct. Sentences and paragraphs are short, concise and clear. The final length is 550 words. I also add a call-to-action for comments.

Lastly, I check keyword usage, making sure that the words from the target phrases appear at least three times and each target phrase appears together as a complete phrase at least once.

6. Plan Sharing and Social Promotion.

I list the people mentioned in the post, knowing that I will share the post with them by mentioning them in tweets. I write some of these tweets in advance.

7. Finalize the Title, Header, Meta Description, and URL.

The blog post title is all-important. It will be the <title> and the <h1> header, so it should be no longer than 55 characters. After careful consideration, I find a title that includes all three phrases I’m targeting:

Blog Criteria: 3 blogging criteria for writing great posts
Blog Criteria: 3 blogging criteria for writing great posts
Blog Criteria: 3 blogging criteria for writing great posts

The meta description should include each phrase once and be no longer than 155 characters: The 3 blog criteria that all posts should follow: actionable, proven, or strong opinion. If you don’t meet these blogging criteria for writing, don’t publish.

The URL (the address of the page) should be short and include a target phrase:

8. Plan for Email Marketing.

Next, I write the email subject line and email teaser text. These don’t have anything to do with ranking in Google, but they have everything to do with open rates and click-through rates.

  • The subject line summarizes the post:
    3 Blogging Criteria For Writing Great Posts
  • The email header is a bit provocative:
    Blog Criteria: If Your Post Isn’t One of These 3 Things, Don’t Publish It.
  • The teaser text tells you there’s a list of three things but doesn’t tell you what they are, so the recipient has to click to get the value of the post:
    I read a lot of blogs – some good, some bad. A few weeks ago, I read something that stuck with me. It was three criteria for writing. The author said that if the content doesn’t meet at least one of these three criteria, don’t publish it. Here are the three things…Read More>

9. Publish!

Once complete, I got some help from the other Orbiteers. Lauren edited it and Amanda set up the newsletter and scheduled the tweets. Thanks, everyone!

More fun ways to measure results

Aside from ranking well for several phrases, here’s what happened on email marketing, social media, and the post itself:

  • The email had a 33% open rate and 16% click-through rate. 48% of people who opened the email clicked through (click/unique open rate).
  • 16 comments (including my responses to reader comments)
  • 105 shares on Twitter (However, none of the people mentioned in the post actually commented or shared).
  • The post was mentioned (and linked to) by three other blogs and newsletters.
  • 759 visitors in the first week, averaging just under 4 minutes per visit

It was two hours of researching, writing and editing, followed by some basic promotion activity, and the high rankings may lead to months or years of traffic.

Easy, right? Well, not always. If you have questions about any of these steps, just ask us in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to help you write your own high ranking blog post.

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Comments (25)
  • Oh man. This is a great post. Seriously. Most people when writing about blogging or SEO include general fluffy stuff. Here you have specific best practices. I love your google docs. I really like the procedure you go through. This will really be impacting the blog posts I write in the future. So far in 2012, I would say this ranks in my top ten for most influential blog posts. Thank you! 

  • Great idea to give a fast-moving visual, plus documentation. May swipe this idea for writing lessons! What do you think jillwritergrrl?

    •  @bethsings  jillwritergrrl Do it! Steal this idea!

  • Great idea to give a fast-moving visual, plus documentation. May swipe this idea for writing lessons! What do you think jillwritergrrl?

  • That was awesome.  You might break the internet with this post.

    •  @JonathanBranca I think the internet is holding up. But I’ll keep trying. 🙂

  • I love this post and clever video, Andy! I’m a visual learner, so the video with the step by step instructions is super helpful! Kudos!

  • Thanks, Andy. I love the conciseness of the information here (beyond the compressed time video).  Creating content is daunting to say the least and too much energy is wasted on content that never gets seen by the people it was intended for.  

    •  @SeanDFrancis Thanks, Sean. Agreed. Short and concise is very important. But it’s almost harder to write something short. It takes more editing. Ever heard this quote from Pascal?
      “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
      Editing is key!

  • WOW! I like it. I’m going to print this out and follow step-by-step and see how it goes.
    Looks like a way to bring order to a haphazard process. Now … let’s try it.

  • So, I’m a little confused with one part. In your article template you mention Title and <h1> Header separately. What is the difference between the two? Looking at the source, I noticed that the title for the blog post you wrote is “Blog Criteria: 3 Blogging Criteria For Writing Great Posts” but the <h1> header is: “The Orbiter”. I would have thought that you would want the title and h1 to be the same. Am I missing something?

    •  @luckyskins Yes the title and the H1 are actually two different elements, although many people use the same text for both. It’s a minor flaw on this blog that “The Orbiter” is an H1 tag, since the headline for the post is also an H1. Regardless, here’s how I treat them separately….
      Title Tag: This is an extremely powerful indicator of relevance to search engines. I recommend using the target keyphrase in the beginning of the title tag. Because the title is typically used as the link if the post ranks in search engines, keep it under 70 characters (or it will get cut off) You may want to put your brand at the end of the title.
      Header / <H1> Tag: Although I recommend using the keyphrase at least once in the <h1>, it’s not as important that it appears at the beginning of the header. Headers are more about attracting the readers attention. There’s also no length limit. 
      So they’re very close but not necessarily the same. Make sense?

      •  @crestodina I think so. I’m just trying to figure out how I would distinguish the two in WordPress. I obviously have the post title which I’m assuming would correspond to the Title tag, right? But what about the H1? Where would that go? Would that just go in the body of the article and then I use the “Heading 1” styling to distinguish it? It seems like it would be tricky to have them close together and not have them seem redundant.

        •  @luckyskins  @crestodina  I think your problem here is semantics. Don’t think of the name of the blog post as going in the title tag, they don’t actually equal each other. Think of the name of the blog post as the header.
          The title tag is what will show up on top of the browser itself, not inside the page. It’s also what shows up in search results. For instance, if you google “chicago web design” you’ll see Orbit is the top result and the title of the result is “Chicago Web Design Company – Professional Website Designers – Chicago, IL | Orbit Media”. If you click on it and go to our homepage, you’ll again see that phrase on top your browser (well, unless you’re using Chrome which doesn’t show a title, haha). 
          The H1, or Header 1 if you will, should be the largest headline on top of the page. The name of the page to the reader/user. Most blog software, WordPress n such, automatically puts whatever you title the post as inside an H1 automatically.
          Hope this helps!

      •  @crestodina Or maybe that’s why you mention not necessarily having the H1 at the beginning of the header…

        •  @luckyskins I think that by default, WordPress is going to make the title and the H1 the same. It might take a bit of custom programming to separate them. For blog posts, it often makes sense to have these two elements be the same.
          But for web pages (as opposed to blog posts) it’s more common to use different text for titles and headers. If you compare the title and the H1 for the home page of this site, you can see they are very different from each other!

  • I’m new to all of this but I assume this applies to writing website copy as well correct?  Super informative!

    •  @redshiponline Absolutely. For web pages, the topics should be more “evergreen” and be more directly relevant to the problems your business solves. But the approach can be very similar.
      You may not do the social/email promotion for every web page, but the emphasis on editing and length is just as important!

  • Glad you liked it,  @Taran It was fun to make the video. I’m planning to make more videos soon. Check back soon!

  • Very informative. This should help me with a lot things am doing. Now a days, there is a lot of information about blogs and we can read many blogs as well.  The challenge is to make yours one of the highest ranking. Thanks  for all the info.

  • Great post by Andy.  Seriously. Most people when writing about blogging or SEO include general fluffy stuff. Here you have specific best practices. You even have links to the google doc with the template you use for writing blogs. Thank you!

    • @mattmaldre Glad you liked this one, Matt. Yes, that template is my prized possession …and I’m glad to share it with anyone who’s interested. I use it twice a week at least!

  • I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve met you several times or you’re just that good – but you are my go-to person for expand my knowledge of content marketing in quick digestible bits.

    • Thank you, Lisa! If you’d like to see us write something on a specific topic, just let us know. Happy to share all our best advice!

  • Rocking! Thanks for calling out the SEO strategy steps that needs to happen alongside the creative copywriting.

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