Make your Blog Invaluable!


As someone who worked in usability and technical writing for many years, I’ve developed a mantra: make your content actionable.  For technical writing, that means doing everything you can to make the Help or user assistance actually aid the user in completing whatever task they are trying to complete–going so far as to add interactive tools to the Help topics.  fire alarm

More and more, I’m applying this same principle to my blog posts. While there are plenty of posts that are meant just to be read and enjoyed, creating actionable posts serves to make them more useful for your readers–and make your readers more likely to share the post with others.

In this post, I’m going to define actionable blog posts, give you some ideas of the types of articles that can be made actionable, and explain some of the benefits. In a follow-up, I’ll talk about how to structure actionable posts.

What are actionable posts?

An actionable post is one that enables a reader to take concrete steps to solve a problem or reach a goal. Content that is actionable is:

  • Specific–It contains specific instructions for actions to take, rather than a general discussion.
  • Complete–It provides a full solution for the problem it addresses, so it doesn’t leave the reader hanging.
  • Easy to use–The layout of the information and the text itself make it easy for the user to follow the instructions.

Let’s say that you’re blogging about how to use a WordPress plug-in. To make the content actionable, you would be specific and complete, giving the user information such as: the name of the plug-in, what circumstances or scenarios it’s helpful for, where to download it from (with a link), how to install it (or a link to very good instructions), and how to use it, step-by-step. You’d probably break the post up into sections for downloading, installing, and using it. And you’d use the HTML ol element to create a numbered list with instructions.

What posts are good candidates?

Some posts are obvious candidates for actionable content. They are about how to improve your blog, your relationship with our kids, your marketing plan, etc. The whole post can be one big action plan.

Others are not so obvious. A lot of the posts that I do are presenting research results or analyzing industry information and trends. You might think that presenting research results or analysis aren’t good candidates for being actionable blog posts. Actually, they are. After all, while I like research for research’s sake, I find it even better if I can draw conclusions from the research about how to improve my business or life.

Ask yourself these questions to determine if your post could be made more useful:

Can I draw conclusions from the information I’ve provided?

You’ve distilled information from a study and presented it. Can you link that to your readers’ everyday lives or work? Maybe it was a study on mobile marketing trends or how viruses spread globally. Are there implications for what readers should do to improve their business, protect their health, etc.?

Are there specific actions I can suggest people take, to leverage this information?

Ask yourself what specific actions you can recommend people take, based on the information you’ve provided. Maybe your blog post is about taking life’s curve balls with a sense of humor. Can you provide specific suggestions for what to do in order to get in a humorous mood when life throws you a wild one? Or how to kick yourself mentally into funny mode? If your post is about how illness spreads through schools and the workplace, can you create a checklist for your readers of actions they can take to prevent illness?

Can I give people guidelines to help them make a decision based on this information?

Another way to make content actionable is to give people a set of questions they can ask themselves, to make a decision relevant to your post. For example, say you frequently do product reviews. For each review, add a new section “Is X for you?” In that section, put a bulleted list of questions the reader can answer to decide if the product is right for them.

“Is the Flip right for you?” might include questions like: Do you have a limited budget? Do you find you rarely video because you always forget your camera or it’s too cumbersome to lug around? Do you have to film a lot of events at night or in darkened areas? And so on.

Benefits of actionable posts

For your readers, the benefits of actionable posts are obvious: they can use them to make a real difference in their lives, now. There are some benefits for you, as well:

  • You can create better headlines and tweets. Actionable posts give you great fodder for headlines. “What three steps will improve your affiliate strategy?” “How your marketing plan should change, based in light of the latest research” and so on.
  • Actionable headlines will get a better click-through. Aren’t you more likely to click on headlines and tweets that suggest the content will give you concrete information?
  • Your content is more likely to be shared, and you may get better SEO results, too. Your post actually answers a question or solves a specific problem. That’s the kind of content people share and also the kind of content they hope to get back in Search results.
  • It positions you as an expert. Information that actually gives people specific instructions for how to do something is expert information. When you provide it, you are seen as more of an expert.

Actionable content is more valuable to your readers and is more valuable to you. So, next time you write a post, ask yourself, “Can I make this actionable?”

Neicole M. Crepeau

Creator of TweetPackage.com, I'm a tech industry veteran with 25 year in the industry. I've done technical writing, usability testing, user interface design, and product and program management work. Most recently I've been applying a research and marketing perspective to social media and blogging about that on my personal blog, http://nmc.itdevworks.com. I'm also a mother of four wonderful children and wife of a terrific man--who also happens to be a fantastic software developer. 

  5 comments for “Make your Blog Invaluable!

  1. November 19, 2009 at 7:34 am

    Neicole, excellent post! I woke up this morning consumed by this topic. It’s easy to get into the habit of writing about what “might be” helpful or what we (the blogger) finds interesting. It’s quite another to complete a final edit asking the question: Does my post compel the reader to act?
    Have a wonderful day.
    Steve

  2. November 19, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Thanks, Steve. I’m glad you found it useful. Sounds like this one aligned nicely with your own thinking. Happy blogging!

  3. November 19, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Yes, this is a really instructive post, Neicole! I am not going to mention any names (Chris Franklin) but there’s somebody on here who could definitely work on making some of his posts much more actionable. Personally I think a blogger starts to get his/her hands full when multi-media comes in to play, also. I think its going to increasingly be necessary for some bloggers to team up or outsource audio/video editing and production work so they can focus on writing (heck, “producing” –given the multi-media angle) actionable posts in a timely fashion.

  4. November 19, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Yes. I have some vids that I’m way, way late in posting. How long is the editing taking you per post? Are you doing a lot of cutting stuff out and splicing?

  5. November 19, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Not so much cutting and splicing. But you get bogged-down by HD Camera file uploading times to your desktop (actually fairly short), uploading times to YouTube (fairly long: hours and hours with GBs of HD video). Also, upload internet connection speeds are typically significantly lower than download speeds regardless of connection type. Then you have have to edit the video using software that has been — for me — stubborn as a smart mule (Hours, if not days, entailed getting editing software issues corrected. I’ve used desktop editing gear for a while but its an off and on thing and I am no virtuoso like pro editors I’ve seen make a living at it; I finally defaulted to QuickTime Pro and its worked fine). But the audio/video, for me, adds a dimension that compounds the efforts involved in a typical blog post. So, in the end, you may find yourself, at best, news-reporting (which is fine provided it’s timely!) more than following through with writing/producing actionable posts. And like you said, Neicole, actionable content is where it’s at. (PS — I am sure time and practice will improve performance when one is making these kinds of a/v posts under self-imposed dead-lines)

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