What should I write about?

If you’re anything like I was, you’re very familiar with Blank Screen Syndrome. When it’s just you, your keyboard, and a blank page, you can be met with anxiety, uncertainty, and frustration.

Thankfully, there’s a solution, but it wasn’t what I was expecting.

I had always considered writing more art than science, requiring just the right mix of inspiration, creativity, and motivation. I’m here to tell you that I was dead wrong.

Turns out, writing is a lot more “science” than most of us realize. Let me explain.

Writing for business websites is less about writing the next great American novel and more about using proven formulas to drive potential customers down your sales funnel.

If I told you that you could save time on blogging while also increasing your leads, would you be interested?

I thought so (and no, this is no snake oil – it’s the real deal!)

In this article, I’ll walk you through exactly how I overcome Blank Screen Syndrome and write blog posts for my business that my audience actually wants to read.

Step 1: Create personas

Personas are composite sketches of segments of your target audience. Often referred to as “buyer personas” or “marketing personas,” these profiles help businesses create relevant content that their audience wants to read.

I’ll show you what I mean.

marketing persona for content

This example is from Soapboxly’s own buyer personas document.

“Brett” isn’t a real person. He’s a made-up person with the characteristics of a segment of my audience – startup entrepreneurs.

Because I have this persona built out, I have a much clearer direction when I say “Write a blog post Brett would find valuable” versus “Write a blog for startups or entrepreneurs.”

When you put a name and a face to one of your audience segments, it’s much easier to pick blog topics that will be relevant and useful to them. Hooray for less wheel-spinning!

How to create an audience persona

There are lots of ways you can create a buyer persona, such as:

  1. Evaluating your pool of current or past customers
  2. Viewing your website’s Google Analytics account and navigating to the Audience reports (demographics, interests, geography, etc.)
  3. Using LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media platforms to dive into who follows your company (or if you’re just getting started, see who’s following your competitors profiles)
  4. Conducting market research such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups

Keep in mind that you can (and probably will) have multiple audiences. I recommend keeping it to around 3, although anywhere in the 2-5 range is probably safe.

Information to include in an audience persona

From Soapboxly’s “Brett” persona, you’ll notice that there are six different sections. While you don’t have to create a persona that looks exactly like ours, I’ll walk you through what each of the different sections means.

1. Quick stats

persona element

This is where I give a high-level overview of my persona. I personally think it’s a good idea to include age and job description. “SEO maturity” here refers to the probable level of expertise my target customer has regarding my field of expertise. This can be helpful for determining whether your content should be advanced, for beginners, high-level, etc.

2. Goals

persona element

What would a [job title] need to accomplish? It can help to view the LinkedIn profiles, job postings, or BLS.gov overviews of certain jobs to determine what a person in that role needs to accomplish. You’ll want to create content that shows your target customer how your company can help them achieve their goals.

3. Challenges

persona element

What challenges do people in this person’s position often face? If you’re struggling with this one, try Google searching “Challenges [job title] face” – you might be surprised at how much insight you’ll get!

top 10 challenges entrepreneurs face

Knowing your audience’s challenges will help you write content that shows how your business’s solution (your product or service) can alleviate those burdens.

4. Values

persona element

Writing out your audience’s values might seem impossible at first. How are you supposed to know what someone else truly values? Thankfully, this section doesn’t require knowing the ins and outs of your customers’ personal values. Rather, you can think of the values section as the section that answers, “What driving principles motivate [job title]?”

Why should writers care about their audience’s values? Because it can play a huge role in creating the right tone. For example, if you know your target audience loves their job, you’d avoid writing about work as if it were a chore. The easiest way to lose your audience is by showing them that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of their values.

Again, if you’re struggling with this, try Google searching something like “What motivates [job title]?” or “what do [job title] value?”

5. Fears

persona element

An easy way to think about your audience’s fears is to invert the goals section. In other words, your audience likely fears not accomplishing their professional goals.

Why is this important? Because it allows you to be more empathetic in your writing, as well as create content that shows how your business can help alleviate their fears.

6. Examples

persona element

I personally think it’s incredibly helpful to include a sampling of real people who would fall into each persona category. Creating a persona is a great first step, but if you know “Brett” isn’t a real person, it might still be difficult to create really useful content for his segment.

If you know entrepreneurs (or whatever your persona category is), list them here! It’s especially helpful to list people who you’ve met and interacted with personally.

(I’ve left mine intentionally blank in consideration of their privacy).

Step 2: Find questions related to your service or products

Do you know what questions your audience is asking about what you offer?

Answering these questions with your business’s blog and other website content is a critical step in ensuring that you have a complete sales funnel.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a sales funnel, take a look at an example from the Soapboxly website.

sales funnel query intent

Because people research before they buy, you’re going to want to create content for people at all phases of their purchasing journey.

In this example, someone might first seek information about how to plan website content. After doing some research, they then might move onto the consideration / evaluation phase where they compare different options. Finally, after weighing their options, the person is ready to make a purchase.

The problem is, most people think about their website content in bottom-funnel, transactional terms and leave the blog to pure interest pieces.

When I started shifting my thinking about blog posts and began to view them as steps within a larger purchasing process, I couldn’t unsee it. After that, all my blogs had purpose.

That’s all great, but let’s get to the good stuff! Let me show you how to find those questions.

Free keyword research methods

  1. Answer the Public: I love Answer the Public (I do not, however, love it’s curmudgeonly mascot). Just type in a word related to your product or service (like “photography” or “web design”) and the tool will spit out queries related to that word. Bingo! — and if you really want to find the best topics, pair this with the Chrome plugin Keywords Everywhere and you can change the settings to highlight queries over a certain monthly search volume. This helps you choose terms people search for most often!
  2. People Also Ask Boxes: Instead of typing those product or service words into a tool, you can search them right in Google! In many cases, Google will return a “People also ask” box, which is an accordion-style list of questions related to that word. This is great learning what questions Google sees as related to your industry.
  3. Searches Related To: Before you leave the search engine results page (SERP), scroll to the bottom of the page and look for the “Searches related to” section, where you can see keywords related to your product or service. If you install the Keywords Everywhere plugin, you can also see the search volume of those related keywords.
  4. FAQ Fox: I’m a long-time fan of FAQ Fox. This free and easy-to-use tool scans forums like Reddit and Quora to find questions people are asking related to your keyword.
  5. Customer Conversations: Never underestimate the power of talking to your customers! Keyword research can reveal a lot, but there’s nothing quite like a quick chat with a customer to learn about the pain points they were dealing with before they found you.

Step 3: Pair pain points with personas

Now it’s time to start putting everything together!

You have your personas and you have your keyword lists, so the next step is to start grouping keywords by persona.

Again, to use an example from Soapboxly, I might cluster my keywords by persona like this:

Brett – The Startup Entrepreneur
“How to build brand awareness for new
company”

“Business development ideas for startups”

“Is content marketing a good investment for
entrepreneurs?”    
Kelly – The In-House Marketer “Should I outsource my content?”

“How to save time on blogging”

“How to increase traffic with limited
resources”
Sharon – The Small Business Owner “What are the risks of outsourcing content”

“Can digital marketing increase business?”

“Content marketing tips for local businesses”

(it’s OK for some keywords to span multiple persona categories!)

Aside from more quickly being able to identify which content to create for which segments of your audience, grouping your keywords by persona can also help when it comes time to shift your business priorities.

For example, you may decide to scale back your emphasis on entrepreneurs in lieu of a heavier emphasis on in-house marketers at enterprise organizations. Because you already have your topics bucketed, you’ll be more prepare to quickly make that pivot.  

Step 4: Use proven blog title formulas  

What makes a good blog title?

At Soapboxly, we believe the best blog headlines are those that are equal parts compelling, concise, and use well-researched, intent-matched keywords.  

elements of a good blog title

Without all three elements, blog titles usually fall flat in some area. I’ll show you what I mean:

  • Compelling Only: The “You won’t believe what happened next” titles amount only to click bait. While this might work for social media, people using search engines to find your content won’t have all the info they need to know that your content matches their query intent (what they were looking for). Non-descriptive titles also won’t rank as well anyway.
  • Concise Only: Brevity without substance is just confusing. It’d be like if I titled this blog post “Blog Topics” — you wouldn’t know from the title alone whether you’ll be getting a list of blog topics, an instructional on how to choose blog topics, or even an overview of why blog topics aren’t important.
  • Keywords Only: I think we’ve all seen these blog titles. They’re the keyword-stuffed “How to find the best plumber in Houston for plumbing services” (gross). While people might search this way (ex: “best plumber in Houston”), they certainly don’t expect Google to return a list of pages that match their text exactly. They expect content that matches their intent. That is to say, I want to see a list of the best plumbers in Houston and probably their reviews, not a page with the words “best plumber in Houston” repeated a bunch of times.  
  • Concise + Keywords: If you only focus on being concise and including keywords, you’ll end up with a title that gets to the point but one that might not captivate your audience’s attention.
  • Compelling + Concise: An attention-grabbing, concise headline might not provide enough substance to let your readers know that your article contains the information they were looking for.
  • Compelling + Keywords: This is probably the closest-to-great but incomplete blog title formula, but without being concise, the length of your title might exhaust readers and turn them away. (Admittedly, some of Soapboxly’s blog titles are fairly long. I wouldn’t go longer than that. I also make sure to shorten my URLs and page titles so that the actual page title length isn’t a barrier to search engine performance).

Now that I’ve beaten that point into the ground, I wanted to quickly cover fill-in-the-blank style formulas. These formulas are well-known and readily-available elsewhere online, so I won’t belabor the point here.

They’re things like:

How I [Did Something Amazing] in [Short Amount of Time] Without [Doing Something Hard]

If you’d like a list of these, I’d recommend checking out:

Just be careful not to rely on these too heavily though or your headlines will start to sound repetitive. Even exciting headlines can fail to be compelling if all other headlines are exciting in the same ways.

Step 5: Address the topic comprehensively

For the last and final step, you’ll need to learn how to figure out what constitutes “comprehensiveness” for any given topic.

You see, “comprehensiveness” is a subjective term. What comprehensive looks like for one topic isn’t necessarily what it would look like for another.

Here are some examples:

  • A page on “Complete Guide to Buying a House” will likely be long — possibly even paginated. To completely cover the stated topic to a satisfying degree, you’d need to cover finding a real estate agent, knowing when to buy, saving for a house, state-by-state differences, and so much more.
  • My page on “Content Strategy Services” only needs to cover what Soapboxly’s content strategy services entail. It’s only a few hundred words because that’s all I needed to cover what content strategy is, our process for content strategy, and how to contact us about getting our content strategy services.

Google counts the quality of comprehensiveness as one of the indicators of high-quality content. For example, in their Search Quality Rater Guidelines*, they say that “the highest rating may be justified for pages with a satisfying or comprehensive amount of very high quality main content.” In another one of Google’s resources, they say that one of the things that makes a page high quality is being able to answer “yes” when asked “Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?”  

*Google uses real people to rate real websites and uses that feedback to make changes to their algorithms for the purpose of improving search – pretty cool!

In order to create a blog post that your audience will actually want to read, you need to address their question fully, or they’ll be unsatisfied.

If you want more information on content comprehensiveness, I did a Whiteboard Friday video on this topic for Moz. Check it out!

content comprehensiveness

Putting it into practice

By now, I hope you have a much better idea of how to write an interesting blog.

When I learned all these things, it completely transformed not only the way I thought about blogging, but also the way I wrote content.

I have to admit something to you though.

While doing the legwork of creating personas, performing keyword research, and using proven blog title formulas can help you avoid the time spent staring at a blank screen, there’s still no way to automate this process. You still have to do the work, even if it means less brain power expended on your part.

So I have a proposition for you.

Even if you think you can do this on your own (in fact… I know you can), I encourage you to reach out to Soapboxly if you’re interested in scaling your business.

Your time is valuable, and you should be spending it on your specialty, not on content.  

So for all the “Bretts” out there feeling overwhelmed by the thought of having to do this yourself, and anyone else who wants to alleviate the stress of spending time on website content, Soapboxly is here for you.

Reach out and let us know how we can help. We’ll happily provide a free estimate.