The Detail Principle For Writing Good Blog Posts
Posted: December 4 2020 by growandconvert.com
Lately I’ve been evaluating tons of freelance writers, reading more portfolio pieces than I can count, editing a bunch of client pieces, and helping multiple new writers understand how to write a good blog post.
This means I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts in the past few months.
First, I read candidates portfolio pieces. Then for writers who advance, I read their test outlines and test drafts.
Through all this reading, I’ve stumbled upon an important pattern that separates good marketing blog posts from bad:
Good blog posts have unique details to back up claims. Bad blog posts just make claim after claim. Most posts are bad.
Here’s what I mean.
Every blog article is made up of a series of claims. For example:
- Hey reader! You have these pain points! (claim)
- Here are some solutions to your pain points (claim)
Each claim usually has subclaims, for example:
- In solution 1, you should do the following things (claim)
What I’m noticing is that the best articles are good not because of the claims, but because of the details that prove, backup, or add color to the claims. The more details the better, and the more original the details the better.
These details that backup claims can be provided in many different ways:
- Explaining why
- Showing how
- Giving examples or a case study
- Providing data
- Showing that the claim is contrarian
- Showing that the claim is unique
It’s these details that make a post worth reading or linking to. They give it life.
In contrast, poor blog articles tend to just list claim after claim with little detail, explanation, or discussion behind each. This gives the reader a feeling that the entire article is simply stating the same thesis over and over with no added insight or color.
If you’re the business who owns this blog, this is a really bad outcome. It will reduce trust and ultimately the likelihood that readers will convert.
This article is going to be full of me dissecting examples of good and bad blog writing to help shed light on how to write a good blog post.
In addition, I’m going to outline an important second half of my “aha moment” around this topic, namely, answering the question: does slowing down to discuss the details behind each claim risk making your article too beginner level for business or advanced audiences?
Finally, we’ll also touch on how businesses can get around these problems even when their writers aren’t subject matter experts in their field.
Note: This “backup with details” principle is similar to the old writing advice “show don’t tell”. But the difference is that we’re talking about non-fiction marketing blog content, whereas “show don’t tell” is almost exclusively applied to fiction. For example, if you do a Google search for “show don’t tell writing” all of the first 10 results only give examples from fiction — the most famous being Chekov’s quote “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Second, many of the details for non-fiction blog posts can or should be told. For example, data should be told (e.g. “When we applied this method, our traffic doubled to 25,000 pageviews.”). Steps in a how-to often should be told (Don’t show me what it feels like to setup a Google Analytics report, just tell me how to set it up.). Lastly, unlike “show don’t tell”, we’re not asking you to eliminate claims, we’re just asking you to provide as much detail to back them up as possible. In our case the backup doesn’t make sense without the claim first being told.”
Example 1: Adding Detail to Back Up Claims
Let’s start with a simple example that anyone can understand to show the contrast between good and bad articles.
Say we’re writing a how-to article on content marketing and you want to make this claim:
You should measure conversions from content.
A poor article just makes that claim and moves on. Something like this: “Measuring conversions from content marketing is important.”
Poor articles also have a tendency to repeat the same sentence in different words, not actually adding anything else to it: “Measuring conversions from content marketing is important. If you’re serious about content marketing, you have to get serious about measuring conversions.”
That second sentence adds nothing new, but I see this all the time. It’s just stating the same claim as the first sentence (“measuring conversions is important”) in a different, more cutesy way. In my opinion, it clutters the writing, and you would be better off sticking with only the first sentence (initial claim) if you have nothing different to say in the second sentence.
Also, even if you did not include the second sentence, just stating the claim by itself is still poor blog writing because any reasonably smart reader will have a bunch of “why” questions that the article doesn’t answer:
- Should you measure conversions on all content or just bottom of funnel content?
- How? Using what tool?
- Last click conversions or first click? Actually, what’s the difference anyways?
- How do you define a conversion? A paid user? A signup? Or a newsletter opt-in?
- Why should you even worry about conversions? Isn’t content marketing about generating traffic anyways?
A strong article, in contrast, answers these questions. Those answers are the backup details we’re talking about. Just a few of these details immediately improve the credibility and usefulness of the article:
- Explaining how: “You can measure this with Google Analytics itself and get a fairly accurate read. Let’s walk through the steps for doing this.”
- Explaining why the claim is contrarian: “Most marketers consider content just a top of funnel strategy, but in our experience that’s a result of them not knowing how to attribute leads to individual articles. ”
- Giving examples or data: “For example, we worked with one client that had 100,000 monthly pageviews to their blog but were generating only 30 signups a month from it (a 0.03% conversion rate).”
See the difference? Any of the above options start to show the reader that this article is not some surface level fluff piece. It shows that there is going to be some real, unique, original, or contrarian ideas presented. It’s the details that do this.
The claim is cheap. Anyone can make the claim. The details will be what makes the piece memorable.
Example 2: Adding Details Behind Pain Points
In the above example, we looked at adding details to support a claim (e.g. “Measuring conversions from content marketing is important.”). Now, let’s look at adding detail to pain points, which have a different but equally important benefit: emotional connection and relatability.
A pain point in that article may be “Attributing conversions to individual blog articles is hard.” The intended audience of the article likely has felt this pain point, which is a great first step (as we’ve said many times, knowing your audiences pain points and making sure your topic aligns with it are foundational to effective content marketing). Most blog articles don’t even take the time to really dig into the pain points of the target customer, so just getting these right puts you ahead of the pack.
But a poor article just states the pain point and moves on. For example: “Measuring conversions accurately is hard!” Or it repeats it in different language (perhaps an attempt at some clever phrasing or a rhetorical question): “If only digital marketing were easy!”
Again, these are just useless filler sentences.
Instead, in a strong article, the author will often paint the details behind the pain point for the reader:
- Detailed example of the pain point: “For example, if a reader first sees a blog posts, then sees 2 ads, then watches a webinar, and finally converts, how do you know which channel to give credit to?”
- Detail the consequences of the pain point: “As a result, you end up not having clear numbers to show leadership and they subsequently devalue content marketing as a channel.”
See the difference? These two examples are not just a cutesy rephrasing of the main pain point — they actually describe real life scenarios and consequences that show the reader that the author actually knows the details behind the pain point. This is a critical distinction and if it’s not clear, you should read this over again.
By giving details behind the pain point, you connect with the reader emotionally. They feel like you really understand them. As a result, you get the readers’ attention.
Aside: Many bloggers tend to go with citing statistics to backup pain points- although this is subjective and a million exceptions exist. I think that, in general, this is not as effective as describing scenarios, behaviors, feelings, and other more relatable details to backup pain points. For example, what would be more emotionally resonant for the above example, the bullet points above or a stat like “86% of marketers say they’re not measuring conversions from content”? If I read that, I’d think “Who cares what percentage of marketers aren’t doing this? I want to know that you understand me and my problems.” Thus I just don’t think stats are as impactive for backing up pain points. They don’t make people feel like the author really understands their life.
And that brings me to my second aha moment behind this backup your claims principle.
Does Adding Lots of Detail Make Content Too Beginner Level?
We have long claimed that G&C articles distinguish themselves from other company blogs by talking to the customer at an advanced level (namely, they achieve Customer-Content Fit), while other blog posts are too beginner level (they are: Mirage Content).
I used to think this means you shouldn’t describe obvious things (e.g. details) too much in blog posts or you’ll risk coming across as too beginner level and therefore fall into the “mirage content” bucket. What I’m realizing now is that it seems this advanced vs. beginner distinction is done at the topic level, not in the writing.
When choosing topics, we still firmly stand by our strategy of making sure blog topics are as advanced as your target customer (as per the 2 articles linked to above). For example, if you are selling IT services to CTOs, writing blog posts like “9 Tips for IT professionals in 2019” or offering a “Free Guide for IT pros” isn’t going to grab their attention, because wanting to know 9 tips about their own job or to get a “free guide” about their own job from a freelance writer isn’t one of their pain points. (If you’re still chasing search volume to come up with blog post ideas, check out our Pain Point SEO post for a better method.)
Instead, as we’ve written about extensively, you should do thorough customer research, then choose topics related to their pain points instead of prioritizing search volume (which tends to favor beginner level keywords).
But, once the topic is carefully chosen, when writing the post, you shouldn’t be scared about adding details to back up the claims and pain points you introduce in the post itself.
Why? Because the details behind the pain points, or the details behind a claim or proposed solution, are indications that the author knows what they’re talking about (backing up claims) or knows what you’re going through (backing up pain points).
In other words, details are the sign of advanced knowledge. And, I’ve since come to realize that this is consistent with our Specificity Strategy, in that “specificity” in this case is synonymous with “details”. So we can, in fact, say that you should look to the details to guide both the topic and the writing. They’re the engine behind a great blog post.
We can illustrate this with more examples.
Example 3: “Content Marketing Hasn’t Become Harder, Readers Have Just Become Smarter”
In the Specificity Strategy post, Benji makes this claim in the intro:
The claim itself, in this case, is interesting because it contains a contrast. But still by itself, it’s not that impressive. There’s nothing noteworthy or memorable about it. Anyone could write it. It doesn’t show any expertise.
But instead of just saying that and moving on, Benji spends an entire section explaining that the underlying problem is that content is too broad in topic:
In that section he gives actual examples from students’ proposed blog topics:
Including giving examples of specific student post titles:
This is multiple layers of details: explaining why, backing that up with an example, showing more examples, dissecting more… all to back up one claim.
No wonder that Specificity Strategy article is one of the foundational pieces of our blog. According to Ahrefs, it has received 124 backlinks from 27 referring domains since being published, without any explicit link building or paid promotion to the article.
What if You Don’t Have Supporting Information For a Claim?
That means you likely don’t understand it enough to be writing about it.
If you interviewed subject matter experts for the piece, you need to flag this as something to follow up on, or you need to question whether the claim belongs in the article at all. If neither of those strategies solve the problem, it’s a sign that there may be more fundamental issues with the premise of the article.
Maybe the claim isn’t valid. Maybe the premise doesn’t make sense. Maybe no one (including you) knows enough about this topic to be writing about it.
Let’s walk through a final example to illustrate this expertise issue.
Example 4: Devesh Writing a “How to Surf” Article
Let’s say I am tasked with writing an article titled “Learn How to Surf.”
Here’s the problem: I don’t know how to surf. It’s a running joke because Benji is a former surf instructor from San Diego and I like to make fun of how terrible I am at it. Every time I’ve tried it, I think it’s going to be fun, but I just end up falling a lot and inhaling salt water. (But I like to pretend I’m good for the gram…)
But here’s the kicker: It’s not that I know absolutely zero on this topic. I’ve actually taken multiple surf lessons. I’ve been able to stand up on a board multiple times (after much pain). I’ve also Googled around and read articles and watched videos on how to surf.
Why am I telling you this? Because we’ve noticed that most companies ask freelance writers to write blog posts when they have roughly the same amount of knowledge on a topic as I do on surfing.
But these posts are meant to impress and attract customers who are often way more knowledgeable on a topic than a freelance writer with this mid-beginner level expertise.
For B2B companies, the customer is typically a professional who has been in their space for years, maybe decades. How is a writer supposed to impress an industry veteran after simply Googling around for a couple hours and blogging about it? They can’t.
To solve this problem in our content marketing agency, we use subject matter experts to guide entire pieces — not just to provide a few quotes, but literally to be the voice behind all of the ideas in an entire piece.
If you want to solve this problem as well, I suggest you do the same.
But, even if you use subject matter experts, the actual writing needs a sufficient level of detail in order to pass the target reader’s “smell test” of whether or not the article has anything useful to teach them. That means you, the writer, are not off the hook just by using an expert. You need to apply the detail principle from this article for your post to really impress anyone.
So, back to the surfing example, with my limited (but not zero) knowledge of the topic, I may make a claim like this:
“Once you see a wave coming, you should paddle as fast as possible.”
This is not wrong. Take a surf lesson and you’ll be told this. But if I was writing the article, that’s all I could possibly say on this step. I’d then move to the next step:
“Once you feel the wave pull you a bit, try to stand up quickly.”
Also, not wrong.
But, there is so much information lacking in these steps.
For example, on step 1, paddling:
- When is the wave “close enough”?
- Which direction should your board be facing?
- When do you turn your board?
- Where on the board should your body be placed?
- What if you don’t catch the wave? (This will happen to everyone learning to surf) How do you correct for next time?
- What common mistakes do people make at this step?
Any semi-qualified target reader will have these detailed questions when they reach your article. Unless you’re producing dictionary level “knowledge retrieval content” (i.e., “How many calories are in an apple?”) you’ll need detail to impress (and thus convert) your target customer.
So if you don’t know the answers to these multiple “why” or “how” questions, it means you shouldn’t be writing the blog post. Either you need to interview a subject matter expert (and you haven’t) or you need to ask follow up questions to the subject matter expert.
Details Matter More Than Other Blog Writing Tips
Finally, note that other advice on how to write a good blog post is full of the same beginner tips for new bloggers: avoid typos, use Grammarly, use the Yoast WordPress plugin, make sure you proofread, use short sentences, do on page SEO, optimize subheadings, optimize meta descriptions, on and on.
These things don’t matter if your piece is not memorable.
Details make your piece memorable.
Details get people to link to you so you can rank in search engines.
Details get you social media shares.
Details make target customers click your CTA and remember your brand.
Details build a successful blog long term.
Apply to be a Writer for Grow and Convert
If you feel that your writing already incorporates this detail principle and you’d like to write with a company that thinks this carefully about writing blog posts, we’d love for you to apply to be one of our contract business writers. Learn more here and submit your portfolio pieces that show this detail principle in action.
Questions or objections? We love discussing them in the comments.