How To Structure a Blog Post
This is the the blog post structure that Google likes and readers love.
I have written the content for over three hundred blog posts, and for a long time and the vast majority of those posts, the way I wrote them had no chance to rank in Google. Not only that, but readers weren’t interested because I wasn’t writing what they were looking for. I realized there is a right way and a wrong way to structure a blog post, and I was probably doing it wrong. I swallowed my pride and learned how to do it right.
Now I understand how to write in a way that works for both the reader and Google. I have now written articles that rank in the top ten results for over 750 commonly searched phrases. I have increased my traffic by 1500%
You do not need to be a professional writer or an SEO expert to write a good blog post. This article teaches you how to write an engaging blog post that people love to read, reduce bounce rates, and rank in Google’s top ten search results.
How do you write a good blog post? To write a good blog post, you have to use the search engine results pages (SERPs) for clues to understand what searchers want, get straight to the point, establish your credibility, use headings properly, and have a conclusion.
I will take you through how to structure your blog post from the feature image to the conclusion. We will learn how to format an intro section to reduce pogo-sticking and increase dwell time so you can rank highly with Google. I show you how to use the Google auto-fill feature to find a search phrase that is commonly searched and low competition. Also, how to choose whether a guide, list post, product page, or article would match what searchers are looking for.
If you are still looking for more, I share some of my favorite sites and YouTube channels about content marketing and SEO.
Blog Post Structure
The best way to structure your blog post.
There is a specific, optimal way of laying out the first few headlines, images, and paragraphs that allow you to have success with Google. The reason the search engine likes this format because it makes the searcher happy.
If the searcher clicks your blog post link, and they see that the article will have the information they are looking for, then they will stick around and spend some time reading. The time they spend is called dwell time, and Google keeps track of it. We cover this more in-depth later in the article.
On the other hand, if a person searching is not confident that your article has the goods, then they will click the back button and go to a different article in the search rankings. That behavior is called pogo-sticking, and the Google algorithm lowers the rankings of pages with a high amount of it.
So we are going to go top to bottom of all the elements that make readers confident in the blog post.
1) Header Image
A feature image can be helpful, but do not go crazy with the size.
An image that is related to the content of the post will inspire confidence for the reader. It is a quick hint that they have found the right page.
Put an image in the header that is related to your topic. For example, if you are talking about camera settings, a photo of someone adjusting the settings on the back of a camera is ideal.
If your topic does not lend itself well to visuals, then you can use stock photography. Ideally, the image you choose will be of someone seeing the benefit of what you are teaching. For example, if I was choosing a photo for a post called “Avoiding The 7 Most Common Bugs When Coding a WordPress Theme”, then I would prefer someone typing on a laptop looking content or even happy.
I use Pexels for free stock photography because the average quality of the photo is high, and it does not have the standard, cheesy images we associate with stock photos website. If they don’t have something appropriate, I purchase a photo with Adobe Stock.
Big note: The image cannot be so big that it obscures the content. If it does, then people will hit the back button.
It is very trendy for blogs to have a vast, beautiful image or graphic covering the entire screen when someone loads an article. Large, new media outlets like Quartz and The Verge do this, but they play by a different set of rules than you and I. They have strong brands and users will put up with the disruption.
Your feature image needs to be only a few hundred pixels tall. Your image is too tall if you cannot see the headline, subhead, and first few paragraphs of text.
You need to adjust your theme if the size of your feature image is large and set by your blog theme. I changed my theme last year and instantly saw my bounce rate go down.
Your H1 line needs to state the topic plainly.
There should be only one line of text that has the H1 tag, and that line should be a clear and straightforward statement of the topic. The title headline should be a 2-6 word phrase stating the subject.
You do not need to get fancy with it; you will have the opportunity to sell the topic with the subheadline, and the title tag of your SEO code.
Give the people what they are looking for in the H2 line, or promise it.
First to the facts wins. Your sub-headline should either give people the answer they are looking for or promise that you will provide the solution if it is too complicated a topic.
Naturally, writers want to bury the lead when they write blog posts; they want people to have to read the full article. However, in a competitive environment such as search, a piece with the bottom-line-up-front will win rankings over one that hides the goods.
Trust me; people will dig into the nuance of the topic once you have established, you know the answer. For example, if you are writing a definition post such as “What is a Viral Coefficient?” and you state the definition plainly in the sub-headline, then people will dive into the rest of the post because they would also like a better understanding and examples.
4) The First Paragraph
Establish yourself as an authority on the topic.
The first piece of text should say something to the effect of: “as an X professional” or “I have been an owner of an XX for X years.” There needs to be something that establishes you, the writer, as a credible expert on the topic.
A little bit of internet history: Google initially used hyperlinks as the number one ranking factor. They assumed an article that people linked to was of highly authoritative. Content farms figured out that they could win hyperlinks, and thus rankings, purely through writing tons and tons of garbage articles. That narrow scoring resulted in Google distributing a lot of questionable advice from sketchy websites.
Now, Google is very concerned about authority. They now rely on many factors, one of which is human quality checkers. These are employees who will spot check the top results on high-volume search terms. One of the things they are looking for is if the writer is an expert. Particularly: health advice should come from doctors, and financial advice should come from certified financial planners or chartered accountants. No one should give legal advice over the web.
With the exceptions of health, finances, and legal, you do not need your lack of credentials to stop you from helping people by writing about a common problem. You need something to say showing that you have had the challenge yourself or have sorted it out for other people in the past. If you are reviewing something, you need to establish that you have actually used the product; sadly, many people write reviews without having any experience with what they are talking about.
5) Second Paragraph
A meaty paragraph that should be worthy of a Google snippet.
A Google snippet is a small piece of writing that they pull from an article to display at the top of their search results page. It can be a definition, a set of steps, a brief explanation, or other things. It is commonly called “rank 0” because it appears above all different results. It can drive a lot of traffic to an article.
You can win the Google snippet much of the time if you state the search term you are going for as a question in bold, then have a 100-150 word answer with very “clinical” language. If the answer is a set of step, then it should be a numbered list (coded correctly in HTML). If the answer is a list of things, then it should be a bulleted list (coded correctly in HTML).
Even if you do not win the snippet, it will still help you rise in the rankings because the reader will appreciate that the answer is stated upfront. It will keep them from backing out into the search engine results page and finding another article.
6) Third and Fourth Paragraphs
A summary before you go deep.
The remaining paragraphs in the intro section should be an overview of what people can expect in the rest of the article. People read these paragraphs to get a taste and determine if they will enjoy reading the full article.
I write these paragraphs after I have written the rest of the article. An easy way of doing it is to write a line summarizing every paragraph or section in a longer piece.
Again, don’t hide the facts or “tease” the answers. People will still read for a better understanding if you hook them with the high-level points.
7) The Rest of the Article
Now you are unshackled and can write as you see fit.
The bulk of the article is yours to do what you will with. As long as your goal is to help the reader out, you can write in whatever way you feel will get the job done.
A few guidelines:
Write in short, easy to understand paragraphs.
Respect your reader. They may have a lower education level than you or are just skimming. Don’t write in long, fancifully written paragraphs like you are writing the next great novel. Don’t dumb it down, but do not make the writing more complicated than it needs to be.
Use your H2 and H3 tags properly.
You can win high rankings in Google for adjacent keywords if you use your heading tags appropriately. Every sub-topic should be headlined in an H2 tag, and sub-topics in those should be in H3 tags.
Don’t worry about going too long.
Article’s need to be 2000+ words: It seems crazy, but you need to write a small eBook nowadays to rank. AHREFs, Backlinko, and HubSpot all have data saying that exceptionally long posts win first page rankings and more backlinks. However, you can’t pad your article; as soon as you get off-topic, Google punishes you because people will back out of the content and into the SERP.
Spelling and grammar matter.
Both the readers and the human quality checkers employed by Google will ding you if you have apparent typos, misspellings, and unclear paragraphs. You might climb up the rankings, but you will hit a brick wall at page one if your content is poorly written (don’t ask me how I know this.) Use an AI-powered editor like Grammarly, and a human editor if you can. You should read and edit your own article top to bottom at least once.
8) Conclusion Paragraphs
You last few paragraphs should build to a concluding statement.
You should have a line with “Conclusion: … ” in an H2 tag, followed by a couple of paragraphs with a takeaway from the article.
Some people read articles by scrolling to the bottom of an article, reading the conclusion, seeing if they agree with it, and then reading the rest of the material to know how you came to that conclusion. Not my style, but to each there own.
I usually try to end an article on a friendly tone, link it back to my blog’s topic, and link to some other piece that I have written that people may like.
Pogo Sticking and Dwell Time in SEO
You will rise in the search rankings if you can keep the searchers from hitting the back button.
A searcher is on the search engine results page (SERP), and they click one of the links, maybe to your article. They will click the back button within a few seconds if they do not find the answer they are looking for or feel confident the article contains the answer.
Dwell time is the length of time between when a searcher clicks a link and backs out into the search engine results page. Pogo sticking is when dwell time is very low: one to ten seconds.
Google’s algorithm keeps track of dwell time and uses it as a metric to order rankings. The longer the dwell time, the more Google assumes that the post was good enough for the person searching. Google reorders its search results continuously, and pages will get bumped up if they are showing more average dwell time than the current results.
Keeping track of dwell time and pogo-sticking makes total sense; Google cares about its users’ satisfaction with the pages they feature. Users would stop using Google search if it returned garbage pages. Readers bounce off of poor pages.
Long story short: if you can “hook” the reader and keep them from hitting the back button, then you can rise in the search engines. Hooking them means making them confident what they are looking for is on your page.
All of the guidance in this post is to reduce pogo-sticking behavior and increase dwell time.
Picking a Search Phrase
Use your brand, common sense, and Google auto-fill to pick a phrase.
The first step to any excellent blog post is choosing your topic.
You need to pick a phrase that:
- A significant number of people search for
- You can help by improving the quality of information
- Your brand is uniquely qualified to talk about.
You are looking for a topic that many people regularly need help in. The best tool to do this is Google auto-fill: the list of suggestions Google provides below the search bar. If you want to go deeper and work with numbers on search volume, I would recommend AHREFs.
If you do a test search for a phrase you are interested in writing about, you can see if the quality of the articles people have written. There is probably nothing to be contributed if the phrase has experts in the space or mainstream media writing about it. There may be an opportunity if you see the search results populated with pages from forums, social media posts, or amateur content creators.
If the competition is high, you can always narrow down the topic into a more niche topic by adding words to your topic phrase. For example, I had a hard time getting an article I wrote about “brand extension,” but I wrote an article about “brand extension examples” that did rank.
It would be best if you also considered your brand when picking to topics to write about. Your core competency, your locale, and your authority level should be taken into account. People don’t care what a Tesla mechanic’s recipe for blueberry pancakes is, but Model 3 owners do care about his advice on regular maintenance routine should be for brakes. Most people don’t care about what a Los Angeles resident’s experience is with an internet service provider (ISP), but they do care if they live in Los Angeles.
Your brand also needs a level of authority to rank for the broad, high volume search terms. You only build up an authority (i.e., PageRank) over time if Google sees you consistently help their users.
A rule of thumb is that the newer your blog or company is, the more narrow subjects you have to write about. You will not be able to rank for “The Best Headphones” because sites with high authority in electronics reviews (like The Wirecutter, Cnet and Tech Radar) will take the top spots. However, a new blog may be able to rank for “The Best Headphones for Playing CS Go Competitively.”
Are you matching searcher intends to see?
When you type something into Google, you have a rough idea of what you are looking for. You don’t know the details because you are seeking some information, but you know what type of article you expect to find that information.
- If someone searches for “vegetable lasagna,” they are looking for a recipe and not an essay history of vegetables in lasagna.
- If someone searches for “gym socks,” they are looking for a product to buy and not a gallery of fashionable socks for the gym.
- If someone searches for “social media marketing,” they are looking for an article that explains the concept and not a marketing company that does social media.
If your content matches the search intent, then you have something to work with. If it does not, there is no amount of SEO that is going to help you rank. Searchers will pogo stick out, and Google will presume your post is of poor quality.
The people at Google are pretty smart. You have to assume that Google’s algorithm has some sense of what people are looking for, even if you think you can write better content than it is currently. For example: If you search for something, and the SERP all list posts, then you need to write a list post. An essay won’t rank no matter how insightful it is.
Types of blog posts:
- How-To / Guide / Recipe: ordered steps on how to accomplish something.
- List Post / Examples: an unordered list of example of something, typically with pictures of each item.
- Product: a sales page where someone can learn more and buy a product.
- Definition / Explanation: an article defines a term and explains the concepts and/or history behind it.
- Essay / Scientific Journal: an article that gives an expert on a topic a more in-depth understanding.
There are more types of posts online, like news articles and opinion pieces. When people type of phrase in Google, they are looking for one of those five structures. Being too creative about the structure of your blog post will just land you on page three of a Google search because people will pogo stick out when they don’t see what they are looking for.
Use the SERP snippets and suggestions as your headings: Google essentially tells you how to structure your post by giving you all the tangential topics to a search term. For example, I am writing about “brand promise” right now, and all over the SERP is “brand promise vs. tag line” so I have a whole section of the article which states the difference.
How do you learn more about SEO?
I have been reading SEO blog and watching SEO YouTube channels for years.
As a blogger, I know that I need to hone my craft. I get better at blogging and figuring out this whole content-marketing channel by reading a couple of blogs and watching a couple of YouTube channels.
These work for me, but you might find others that teach in a way that is better for your learning style. Just be wary of any site that says some technical tweak will double or triple your traffic from Google. All advice should be reader-centered. Anything else is cheating, in my opinion.
Best SEO Blogs
I love this series because the format of reviewing content that was sketched out on a whiteboard is straightforward to follow. Their format makes any topic approachable, even the more technical ones.
Rand Fiskin was the main host of the aforementioned Whiteboard Fridays until he left Moz to pursue a new venture, Sparktoro. He now has a credible voice as an ex-industry-insider telling you the straight goods. His Twitter profile is filled with actionable insights too.
Best SEO YouTube Channels
Jim and Ricky from Income School are very forthright about what they have learned and what they have achieved with reader-centric SEO. They are the only guys in the biz who share their Google Analytic data directly. They make no staggering claims; just hard work and a thoughtful approach will bring enough traffic to make a decent income off of.
AHREFs YouTube channel, hosted by Sam Oh, is another very approachable way into SEO. While AHREFs is a paid tool, let’s you explore data related to a search term, Sam goes through their the approach using their tool and alternative ways to achieve similar results even if you do not subscribe to AHREFs.
Conclusion. Content marketing that is reader-focused can be great for a brand.
Content marketing can be an excellent exercise for a brand. It establishes the brand as an authority within their domain, both in the eyes of Google and the readers. You can grow both your brand recognition and your brand depth with content marketing. Your brand can stay top of mind by sending your existing customers fun and insightful articles.
You need to keep two things in mind, or your efforts will be wasted.
Number one, you are writing for the benefit of the reader. Blogging is no longer is not about stroking a blogger’s ego or documenting his or her life. Moreover, a blog post can’t just be a corporate keyword mine that points people to a sales page to solve their problems. That content doesn’t go anywhere.
Content needs to make a tangible difference in someone’s life. The article should be the missing knowledge that unlocks a new opportunity for someone.
Number two, you have to acknowledge that blog posts marketing channel is Google. People aren’t just randomly browsing the internet. Your website may get a sprinkling of people who type in your URL from a business card, pamphlet or your sign. Most people are coming to your site using Google.
So it is no different from any other communication channel: you have to make accommodations so your message can be appropriately distributed. Just as you would write a billboard differently than a Facebook status update, you need to write a blog post in a way that works for Google searchers.
Hopefully, I have taught you how to do that in this article. Now get writing!