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Neil Patel’s Guide to Writing Popular Blog Posts

Posted By Guest Blogger 18th of October 2011 Writing Content 0 Comments

This guest post is by Neil Patel of KISSmetrics.

Do you wish you knew the secret to writing popular blog posts? You know, the posts that get over 200 comments, 20 backlinks, and hundreds of shares on social networking sites?

Over the past five years I’ve started two blogs. The first one became a Technorati top 100 site, and now I’m working on Quick Sprout.

Post writing

Image copyright Yuri Arcurs - Fotolia.com

Fortunately I’ve learned a few lessons about writing popular posts while running these two blogs, and now I want to share those lessons with you.

Use simple words

The first thing you’ll probably notice when you look at popular blog posts is they’re really easy to understand. And it doesn’t matter what the content is about.

Why is that? The reason they are easy to read is because the writer chose to write with simple words.

I always write my posts using 5th grade vocabulary, rather than writing like a highly educated person. See, I’d rather you be able to read and understand quickly what I wrote, than to appear like an educated person who uses big, complex words, and ends up confusing people.

The interesting thing is you will still look like an expert. Also, people are more likely to share a post that they think other people will understand. So use simple words, not fancy ones.

Use the word “you”

Really great blog posts sound like they were written just for you. Do you know why that is? It’s because the writer probably used the word “you” instead of “we” or “them.”

When I write like this, what I’m doing is trying to make you feel like it’s just you and me, as if we were sitting down at a café for a cup of coffee.

Yes, my blog has thousands of readers, but my posts come across much more personal when I pretend like I’m just writing for one person.

A neat trick to help you do this is to think of somebody you know and write your blog post as if you are writing it just for them. I know some writers who even keep a picture of a person above their screens to remind them that they are writing for just one person.

Write “how-to” posts

One of the things I learned about writing popular blog posts is that people want useful information.

That blog content that I wrote for the Technorati Top 100 blog wasn’t very good, even though it was ranked high, and I think it was because I wasn’t trying to offer a solution to people’s problems. I wasn’t showing them how to do stuff. In this post, I’m pretty sure you want to write posts that people like and share, so that the traffic to your blog grows. I want to help you solve that problem.

The template for writing a “how-to” post is simple. Just sit down and write out all of the steps involved in doing something in particular.

Let’s say you want to show your audience how to subscribe to your blog with an RSS reader. Your headings might be “Choose a Reader,” “Sign Up,” “Click on the RSS button,” and “Subscribe.” Under each heading you would give more information, explaining what to look for, the pros and cons, and pointing out issues that might be confusing.

Write detailed posts

When I first started writing Quick Sprout, I got frustrated with how slowly it was growing. It seemed like it was taking forever! I was writing good posts and getting some comments, but not enough to really make people want to share and link back.

At one point I decided to experiment and write a really long, detailed post. It took me some time to write and I was wondering if it was worth all the effort.

Well, you know what? It was!

People commented and shared that post a lot, and from that point on I decided I was only going to write long posts with tons of good, specific information.

If you think about it, people love long, detailed posts because so much of what is offered on other blogs is short and light on details. This is not to knock other blogs, but simply to point out that this is an opportunity for you to make yourself different than other bloggers.

Another way to make your posts detailed is to add statistics and graphs. It’s been shown that posts with images, stats and graphs will get way more links than the very same post without visual appeal!

Hook your readers

I really learned a lot about hooking your reader by reading blogs by Brian Clark, Darren Rowse and Leo Babauta.

These writers use some great tricks to compell readers to stop and read every word they write, which I think is something we all want to do, right?

The first rule of hooking readers is to write a great headline. Great headlines have four qualities. They are:

  • Unique: Unique headlines can only be used for your blog post, like this post I’m writing right now. It’s unique because there is only one Neil Patel!
  • Useful: A headline is useful when it promises practical information. The reason “how-to” guides are popular is because it gives answers to problems.
  • Ultra-specific: Adding numbers or stats to a headline makes it ultra-specific. My article, 6 Advanced Ways to Improve Your Search Rankings, is a good example of ultra-specific, since I used both a number and the word “advanced.”
  • Urgent: The best way to create urgency is to put some kind of deadline into your headline. “6 Days until the Stock Market Crashes” or “Your Last Chance to Get a Free Copy of My Book” are good examples.

The best headlines have three or four of these features in them. This formula is called the Four Us.

After the headline, you hook readers by writing a great first sentence. How do you do that? Asking questions works really well. So does making a crazy statement that simply can’t be true, but then you promise to show your readers that it is. The point is to write a first sentence that people can’t resist. Quotes also make good first sentences, as do statistics.

Next, your reader will probably skim your post, especially if it is long, looking at all of your sub-headlines. This is why your sub-headlines need to also hook the reader.

Readers should be able to scan your sub-headlines and get a summary of what the post is about. I like to write my sub-headlines like normal headlines, trying to use the Four Us I showed you above. That way, you read them and say, “I got to read that!”

Create a conversation

One of the most important parts of writing popular blog posts is writing like it’s a conversation.

Have you noticed all the questions I’ve been asking? Or all of the phrases I’ve italicized? I’ve done that on purpose. People forget that blogging is social media, and being social means knowing how to carry on a good conversation.

The way to do that when you’re actually talking to someone is to listen and ask the other person questions. It shows that person that you care about what they are thinking, and that it’s not all about you—because it’s not.

The same is true about a blog.

Creating a conversation also means you exchange words with each other after the blog post is done, usually in the comments, though some people prefer to email, which is fine.

If there isn’t a dialog then you’re talking to yourself, and that’s no fun. So at the end of your post, always ask people what they think and tell them to leave their thoughts in the comments.

Prove your points

It’s really important in your post to prove any claims that you make. For example, in the section where I said that graphs and stats in a post get more backlinks, I actually linked to another blog post that backed up what I was saying.

If you don’t do this, you’re likely to lose credibility and people won’t believe what you say.

But another benefit to proving your points by linking to other posts is that you are sharing with your audience another good source of information. And the chances are that author will probably link back to your blog at some point.

Show you are an authority

Lots of bloggers can get uncomfortable with this one because they feel like they’re tooting their own horn.

See, to show you’re an authority on a subject means you have to get other people or organizations to say that you are an authority. Then you point out that they said those things.

If you do that, it’s not bragging, but just pointing out the truth. Of course, it matters how you say it, so stay humble.

One way I show that I have the authority to speak on the subject of writing popular blog posts is by mentioning that my blog was a Technorati top-100 blog. It shows that someone else with lots of credibility recognized me as an expert.

Another way I could do this is by telling you how many readers Quick Sprout has. There must be a reason so many people like the blog, right?

I also mention that I’m a successful entrepreneur, which I can back up by telling you about the two companies I own. It’s not usually seen as bragging if you don’t force it, so look for ways that feel natural.

You’ll see blogs with “As Seen In” sections displaying the logos of important companies and media sources, like the Wall Street Journal, underneath. This is an endorsement—another way of showing you have authority.

Testimonials from readers and clients are also a form of authority. If you’re interested, I wrote a post on how to effectively use testimonials that explains more on this topic.

Care about your readers

One of the biggest lessons I learned from starting two blogs, and several companies, is that you have to care about people, and show them you care.

I love reading blogs where I can feel the writer’s concern for me. I try to do that on Quick Sprout, too. One obvious way to do this is by bringing attention to the people who have helped you be successful.

I’ve discovered that if truly care about people—including your readers—you will naturally try to write a popular blog post, because you are always looking for ways to write better. In other words, you’ll constantly try to learn new ways to improve your posts so you help more people. And that’s certainly a good recipe for success!


There’s a lot of competition in the blogosphere, so it’s easy to get frustrated when your blog is not getting the attention it deserves.

Be patient and use the tips that I shared above. I’m certain that within time you’ll start writing popular blog posts on a frequent basis.

What advice do you have for people who want to write a popular blog post?

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
  1. Please delete all my posts except for the very last one(right before this!). Thanks.

  2. I ll be sure to apply some of your tips ;) thanks heaps

  3. That sure is a detailed post Neil! I am always confused about how long my posts should be. It seems that at the initial stages of a blog, it is a little frustrating to write really lengthy and well researched posts because no one is there to read it. I guess it is a common problem for everyone. If I am Problogger, then sure :) I try to keep them reasonably long though, many over 1000 words. I think I should now think about writing more pillar articles.

  4. Best popular posts are those which have a unique content. The headline too matters, the title should be interesting and leave the rest to people to make the post social.

  5. Hi Neil,

    You do have great points in this article though I have seen a couple of it in other sites. What’s interesting is how you explained it and gave examples. You’ve given these tips a new twist in it. Thanks!

    – Melvin

  6. This is the kind of blog am looking for, it answers everything I want to know about writing a very remarkable blogs…smart and very useful..it serves the purpose…Thank you, can I call you Neil also, even if I only came to know your name here?

  7. You wrote another one! Thanks for some great tips.

  8. Neil,Great tips.Thanks.

  9. Loved it :)
    and the best part was that , this particular blog u wrote is the best example of how to write a popular blog :)
    Thank you so much :)

  10. Very useful for me. the part about ‘hook you readers’ is something that seems obvious but that I haven’t been paying enough attention. Its also a good checklist for writing a post’. I also don’t include enough ‘how to articles’ Im goimg to start changing that now.

  11. I guess it is a common problem for everyone. If I am Problogger, then sure :) I try to keep them reasonably long though, many over 1000 words. I think I should now think about writing more pillar articles

  12. Neil, You have nail it exactly. Perfect description. I like about your YOU concept and Hook your readers. Clearly make sense and very practical. Thanks for sharing the terrific post.

  13. The Great and popular is Made by simple right, you focus on your own writing, unique thing is better than copy past, and must Take some time to writing a blog posts. its very usefull and am sure 200 comments and lot of backlinks guranty :)

    Thank you for writing this informative post for us.

  14. My biggest learning is the use of the word “you.” I used a lot of “we” in the past. I am making changes by using “I” and “you” instead of “we” or “them.” I still need to get used to it. And funny Neil you mention about a picture. I do have that beside me and act as if I am writing my post for this person only.

  15. Thanks so much Neil for putting together such a well thought out post, I particularly enjoyed reading the section on creating a conversation :)

    Thank you again and good luck for the future

  16. I liked your idea of keeping a photo of someone nearby to remind myself to write as though I am talking only to that person. I’ve been struggling to write posts that are directed to “you”.

    I’ve also been working on keeping my language simple. My husband has always told me my language is too complex and blogging has helped me fix that a bit.

    Thanks for all the helpful tips.

  17. Thanks Neil for great tips.

    From my (in)experience, headlines with “how-to” with a number is a great trick: 5 Ways Boost Your …

  18. Love the very obvious “use 2nd person” voice. Never thought of that, oddly enough.

    Also reminds me of Orwell’s advice: http://www.dailyblogtips.com/12-writing-tips-from-george-orwell/

    Thanks for sharing.

  19. Merish says: 10/26/2011 at 7:39 am

    Great work Neil ! I was looking for a great article which I can read to polish my skills and this one sure proved to be great ! Thanks for sharing your knowledge !

  20. The ideas you discussed here are extremely priceless. It was such a fun surprise to see that waiting for me once i woke up this very day. They are constantly to the point plus easy to interpret. Thank you for the useful ideas you’ve shared here.

  21. We should post as if we are talking to the readers even if there isn’t any readers (at the beginning)

  22. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for a great post. Most helpful info. I am grateful that I only know how to write in simple words. LOL

    Most of all I was surprised to learn that I didn’t have to work so hard to keep my blogs as short as possible.That was new information for me.

    Thank you, dawn

  23. Excellent article. Especially the advice about writing as if I was giving instructions to someone sitting right in front of me. Or, better yet, writing as if I am giving instructions to one of my technically challenged friends.

  24. Very nice – I didn’t even notice your use of the word “you” until you pointed it out. Then I realized that it did make things feel more natural.

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