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By Allison Smith

Planning a blog post

Do you ever sit down to start writing that brilliant blog post and…nothing happens? Your mind goes blank, and you end up staring at the cursor until you give up in utter frustration.

It doesn’t have to be this way! Did you know the secret to writing a great blog post is mostly in the planning? It’s true – even professional marketers follow their own process every time they write a blog, and I’m going to share mine with you today.

And it’s worth learning, since businesses who blog produce 67% more leads per month than those who don’t. Write a great post and you’ll build trust, beat your competitors who still use advertising exclusively, and help drive traffic to your website. But you have to hit publish to reap the benefits.

8 steps to planning your first blog post

By the time you’re done reading this piece, you’ll be ready to join the millions of business owners online. To get there, you have to:

  1. Know your audience.
  2. Define your goal.
  3. Brainstorm topics.
  4. Narrow down your list and assign goals.
  5. Research keywords.
  6. Choose a format for your post.
  7. Write a working title.
  8. Make an outline.

1. Know your audience

Sometimes we get so caught up in what we’re doing that we forget why we’re doing it. But when it comes to creating high-quality content, your audience should be priority number 1. The success of any post depends on how well you know your audience, how deeply you understand their search intent, and how much value they feel they get from reading your blog.

Before you write one word, think about your ideal customer. Who are they? What do they want to learn? What confuses, scares, frustrates, or annoys them? What brings them joy? Why would they need your product or service? When you know your customer, you’ll discover what sparks their interest, and ideas will come easier.

For instance, maybe you own a local bike shop. Your customers are middle-class individuals and families who value the excellent customer service, personalized advice, and selection you can provide that the larger department stores can’t match. They range from the uninitiated to experienced cyclists who relish the chance to explore the area on two wheels. Already, you’ve got lots of opportunities to create helpful, interesting content.

Not sure where to start or which questions to ask your ideal customer? Start by creating an empathy map, and use that to help build your buyer persona.

2. Define your goal.

Football player kicking ball to goal

Now that you know a bit more about your customer, identify your goal for this first post. An effective blog offers a range of content designed to hook readers and guide them down your sales funnel, from raising awareness of your business to selling your products or services.

You don’t want to scare your readers away by publishing content that’s too sales-y right off the bat. Understanding how to create content for each stage of your sales funnel is important. At the top of any sales funnel is the Consideration (Awareness stage), where customers are just becoming aware of your business. At the bottom of the funnel is that coveted Purchase and Retention of your customer. What content can you create that guides your reader through each step as they get to know you and consider you as a contender?

Maybe you decide that spring is around the corner, so your goal is to educate readers about the importance of bike safety.

3. Brainstorm topics.

This is the fun part! Here’s where you get to brainstorm as many topic ideas as you can. Don’t worry about how good they are , how you should format the posts, or where they fit in your sales funnel; we’ll sort that out later.

Pro tip: I strongly recommend using an old-school notebook and pen for this exercise. For some reason, I find the ideas come fast and furious once I’m writing; if I’m on my laptop, I’m more likely to end up watching cat videos.

For your bike shop, bike safety is one potential topic, but other possibilities might include the different types of bikes and how to pick one based on riders’ needs; local bike trails, bike accessories, etc.

Your post about bike safety might be a 10-point checklist for what the average cyclist needs to do to prepare for the first ride of the season. You could write a post about local bike-friendly shops and events as a way to connect with other local businesses and community members. Do you offer repairs or run tours? Post before and after shots of the repairs, and maybe even share case studies (if you have customers’ permission) of the repairs you perform, or post photos of riders enjoying the bike tours you offer, with an interactive map and links to the destinations.

Still stumped about topics for your own business? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Set yourself a timer with 15 minutes on the clock. You’d be surprised how easily you’ll come up with 30 (or more) ideas.
  • Narrow down your topic list.
  • Research keywords.
  • Choose a format for your post.
  • Write a working title.
  • Make an outline.

4. Narrow down your list and assign goals.

Review the list you created. Which topics can be turned into high-quality posts that offer value to your readers and help you achieve the goals you set earlier? Assign a goal to each topic, and decide where they fit within your sales funnel.

5. Research keywords.

For years, if you wanted to rank in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), your blog content had to revolve around keywords. The result: we ended up with a lot of keyword-stuffed, poorly written, low-quality content that didn’t satisfy readers’ desires or intent. Often, it didn’t even make sense!

That’s gradually changed over the past two decades and as content has flooded the Internet, Google’s ranking algorithm has gotten much smarter and more sophisticated. Keyword research is still a crucial step in the content creation process, but the algorithm is more focused on showing readers the content that’s most relevant to their search. Content that ranks well is current and high-quality. It’s informational, educational, or helps your reader solve a problem.

The goal now is to write for humans, not search engines.

You want to identify long-tail keywords that are relevant to your niche, and use them judiciously. They’re meant to serve as a roadmap. You’ll use your keywords in your title, at least one sub-head, and naturally throughout the rest of your copy.

Editor’s note: We can’t possibly cover all there is to know about keyword research in this article, but you can find resources here and here.

6. Choose a format for your post.

Man writing on white board

Don’t think you have to stick with just one format for every post. Blogging in 2018 is all about publishing rich, high-quality content your readers will love! By repurposing your content and ideas, you can get more mileage out of your pieces, and reach more potential customers. You might start with a checklist about Top 10 Tips for Bike Safety, but here are four other blog post ideas you could use for that topic:

  • How-to Article: How to ride a bike safely
  • Video blog: The top 5 best bike helmets (tested and rated out of five stars)
  • News post: Putting reflective leggings to the test
  • Curated Collection Post: 10 safety accessories you need before you hit the road
  • Slideshare presentation: 10 bike safety rules of the road (with pictures)

7. Write a working title.

The goal here isn’t to get to a final title right away, but to move on to writing your actual content as soon as possible. A working title for your list of bike safety tips might be “Top 10 essential bike maintenance tips for a safe ride”.

8. Make an outline.

Jot down the main points you’ll cover in your post, the long-tail keywords you’ll use, and links to credible sources. Doing this prep work will help keep you on-task and laser-focused on your topic.

That’s it (at least for planning)! In this post, you’ve learned the importance of knowing your audience, defining your goals, and fleshing out your topic. You’ve got your keywords and a format for your post, and have come up with a working title. You even have a solid roadmap to guide you in writing your first post.

Now it’s time to actually write your content! Look for our piece on how to write your first blog post next week.

In the meantime, subscribe to my newsletter and get marketing tips in your inbox!

Allison Smith is a copywriter and content creator who works with small and medium-sized businesses and non-profits to tell their stories in a way that makes readers want to engage. She’s helped businesses and organizations in the consulting, health, manufacturing, tech and tourism industries generate compelling content and improve their online presence. Connect with her at