How to come up with an exceptional blog post

Published January 31st, 2020Updated July 20th, 2020 • ☕☕ 8 min read

This blog desperately needed a new article. And although I have a large and list full of intriguing article ideas, none of them can be written right now. They all require specific prerequisites, which I haven't manifested yet. So I thought about what else I could write about. And then I asked: How do I even find a good topic to write about?

I am sure there are lots of resources that will try to answer that question, but I wanted to have my own take on this. I hope this will become a fundamental resource for myself and others, which I will update perpetually with new strategies and insights. And if, as a bonus, I can inspire only one author to thrive with his / her blog, I am happy.

What makes a blog post great?

First things first, so I want to answer what actually makes a good blog post, in my opinion. We need to know the destination to point in a direction.

1. It should be enjoyable

In the first place, a great piece of writing should be an entertaining read. That's pretty obvious, but you need to be painfully aware of this. Otherwise, you might just write down a dry, unbeloved composition, created solely for the purpose of being created instead of being consumed.

The good news is that you can create something enjoyable on any topic. The bad (or best, depending on how you look at things) news is that you probably need to become good at the act of writing itself. And there is no shortcut here, that I am aware of: Only practice, failure, and learning from mistakes will make you a master.

2. It should be concise

Note: I distinguish between a short and concise writing. You can write concisely and still end up with a lot of content. I just literally mean, that you actively wish every word and sentence that you wrote to be in the article, and do not fill it with passages solely to bloat it.

An article usually has a purpose other than to be enjoyed. It's created to inspire, to inform, to describe, to share ideas, to take a stand in a discussion. It's not a science fiction book or a fantasy story.

Although this seems to contradict my first point, I want to make sure the following distinction: Writing something to be enjoyed and writing something enjoyable is not the same. And while most readers won't like something that they didn't enjoy, they might not read something that's for enjoyment only, plainly for this very reason.

So it should be concise. Get to the point and cut the fluff. For this, I am using the whitelist approach. It's very similar to the Marie Kondo method. Every word, every sentence that I write needs to have a purpose. If I am not absolutely sure, if I should include something, that's a sign for removing it.

3. It should resonate with the reader

Note: I am distinguishing between one reader and an audience. The assumption here is that someone is already reading your article. And the question is how to make the writing connect to that one person. How to get your blog post to resonate with a group of people (audience) is a different question and mainly about finding the right audience and delivering your content.

I believe there is only one way to connect to the reader: You need to make him relive his / her actual experience. Make the reader remember a feeling, an emotion, an insight of some past.

Do you remember the run in the park, when you had to push through? That moment, when you wanted to stop running and walk a few meters to snatch some oxygen? And then, somehow, the saying "No pain no gain" came up in your mind. That moment you truly understood the meaning of the saying, while most other people run around citing it, not having a glimpse of the idea, what it actually means.

This, that thought process, those emotions, that experience, even if not 100% accurate, is what instantly connects. Maybe you didn't feel anything while reading that passage, but perhaps I just hit a nerve with you. And now, this article makes a little more sense. We feel more like we know each other because we went through the same. It made this piece resonate with you.

How to come up with a striking topic

Funny enough, none of the points in the top lock in the subject. You can write a great blog post about virtually everything. If you have a personal blog, you have an even broader range to choose from than if you have a blog on a locked theme.

As paradoxical as it sounds, although the points above are disconnected from the topic, you need to come up with a good content idea to create a good blog post. Why? Because it will determine how much effort you put into your blog post. It will likely set your future blog posts in a more foreseeable direction, and it will interact with your current and future readers at all times.

Here are some actionable strategies to always have a great blog article idea in the sleeve:

1. Be actively and continuously on the lookout for ideas

Put your mind into that mode, in which you are actively looking for ideas. You probably are doing it already with something else. Maybe you are currently totally into Fortnite, and whenever you hear or read something, you are transferring it into something that you want to try out in your next game. Or maybe you are in the process of relocating to a new place, and wherever you go, everything you see inspires you with ideas about how to furnish your lounge or kitchen.

"Most people think it's enough to think once every two weeks for an hour about the next article (or really anything). That's not how it works. You need to get your brain into that creative mode, in which it constantly thinks about your case. Then, every once in a while, it will spill you over with a stream of creativity, and you better have a pen ready to write it down."

Get yourself to think the same way about your blog. You can probably achieve it by becoming really excited about your blogging career and pursuing this excitement actively for an extended range of time.

I want to give you an example of this, which really happened: A friend, with whom I took the IT course in college, asked me recently on the phone: "Would you say, learning to program is going to be easier or harder in the future?"

I wanted to give an immediate answer, but I couldn't. It got me to think about what programming actually is and means, which led me through the (recent) #nocode hype. I tried to grasp the change history of languages like Python, Java, and JavaScript and what those changes meant for beginners. Eventually, I just surrendered by answering very vaguely and let my instinct speak, but more importantly, I told my friend, "This is an excellent question!" and mentally noted it as a blog post idea. After the call had ended, I wrote it down into my digital list of blog post ideas.

The learning lesson here is, and I won't get tired to repeat: Be actively on the lookout for blog post ideas (and really whatever you want to attract), and they will come to you at all times naturally.

2. Actively maintain a list of post ideas

This is insanely simple, practical, and critical advice altogether. I suggest you use some sort of digital app with cloud synchronization, so no matter which device you are using at the moment, you have access to the list and can add a new point. Something will be next to you, and if you are one of the rare beings that take screen-free time, write it down on a paper and transfer it later to the app. My personal choice is Trello.

This will do a few things for you: It will give you peace of mind, because you don't have to keep those ideas in your mind, in fear of forgetting them. It will also give you an extensive list of ideas, ready to be picked from whenever you need one.

3. Brainstorming

Yes, this is an obvious one, so I will keep it (really) short. If nothing else works, there is still brainstorming. There are one million specific approaches on how to design your brainstorm sprint, and I won't describe a single one. Just don't neglect this option and have it in mind at all times when you are desperate for an article idea.

4. Read other blogs and sources to feel the pulse of your niche

I think it is crucial to dedicate time to consume other people's content regularly. What you are doing here is mostly feeding yourself with information, and the more information you have, the more connections you can draw between. Although knowledge isn't creativity, you need it to become more creative and build on that.

While the platform and type of content don't matter too much, I still feel like there are specific pros and cons for some content types:

  • Twitter is perfect for grasping the sentiment of a discussion, and it will toss you across a bunch of those in record time.
  • YouTube will let you pick up upcoming trends and hypes. When the algorithm starts to suggest you a specific subject over and over again (I remember hearing about Flutter from YouTube the first time) you know, something is up
  • Blogs are great to follow people's ideas and industry news in depth. They are my personal favorite source of inspiration, as they will also build some valuable knowledge as a bonus, and I sincerely enjoy reading the few that I hand-picked and curated.
  • Niche-specific communities help you to understand the specific and very real-life, practical problems that people are battling with. Facebook and LinkedIn groups are what I consider most condensed and up-to-date here.

I didn't forget Instagram. I just found it way too shallow and crowded with useless distractions than I would considerate it a real inspiration source for quality blog posts.

5. Listen to your community and discussion hubs

If you have a community of some sort, whether people write you emails, comment on your other blog posts, or send you messages on Instagram, listen.

Maybe you don't have a community yet, or you don't provide it with universal ways to interact with you. Then you could go to all those mystical places, where people exchange experiences, help each other, and ask questions. Those places used to be mainly IRC and bulletin boards in the earlier days, now it's Slack or Discord communities, Reddit obviously. For specific industries, like digital tech, there are hubs like Spectrum. You might have to search those hubs if you don't know about them yet. But they exist, I guarantee you. And then again, you want to listen.

What are people asking, what are they saying? What are their problems, their issues? Where is a disconnect in understanding? Find the questions, and you find your answer.

Bonus tip: If the community does not prohibit self-advertising, give people a heads up that you've done a writeup on their issue. If you did a valuable job with your article and helped them, they will become loyal followers and readers.

Maxim Zubarev Avatar

A personal publication by Maxim Zubarev.
I use software as a leverage for business.

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