Why do some people’s blogs get noticed and yours doesn’t?
How do you make the jump from being a nobody to being an expert (and making money like an expert)?
The answer might be hiding in plain sight—and it might defy everything you’ve been taught about writing.
There’s a good chance your blog posts and Web pages are just too short. Here’s why:
You need amazing content to stand out.
And “hustling” 500 words isn’t amazing anymore.
To become an expert, you’ll need to write. A lot.
Writing doesn’t make you an expert on a topic (duh).
But it is the way you’ll share your expertise with the world.
Here’s the problem: you’re not the only one trying to be an expert. Some of your competitors already are experts. Others are vying for that attention.
Everyone’s writing. And it’s on you to find a way to stand out.
My team and I have helped several new organizations stand out and get attention—even in crowded spaces with incumbents who have been in the game for decades.
You know how I did it?
By writing authoritative, best-in-class content.
And authoritative, best-in-class content tends to be really long.
Like, 2,500+ words long.
In fact, Neil Patel ran one of my favorite articles to date back in 2012 on how content length affects its performance. Here’s what he found:
- Google favors longer content. The top 10 Google results for most keywords are at least 2,000 words long.
- VIPs favor longer content. Longer articles tends to get more links from other blogs.
- Longer content gets shared across social media. In Neil’s case, longer content (>1,500 words) got 68.1% more tweets and 22.6% more Facebook likes than his shorter posts.
- Longer content converts better, too.
But that’s a great deal of content. And if you’re trying to start a business as an expert in anything but writing, that might just sound impossible. After all, if you’re a home gardening guru, why should you need to be a prolific writer, too?
Because if you’re producing the most informative, most helpful, most comprehensive materials, you’re going to have a hard time doing so in just 500 words. In fact, you know what they call a 500-word Wikipedia article? A stub.
Sure, Wikipedia’s rules are a lot more nuanced than that. But you get the idea.
Of course, I’m not talking about inflating content, either. Word count alone isn’t the measure of content. But 2,500 words of great content is a lot more impressive than 500 words of great content.
And yes, there is a place for those high-value, low–word-count articles . . . but I’ll cover that in a later blog post.
It’s a tall order, but it’s not impossible. In fact, I’m going to walk you through my exact process for writing long-form, authoritative content.
I’m going to show you how to write 2,500 words about anything you want.
(And just in case you’re wondering: Yes, this post is more than 2,500 words long. It took me about five solid hours to write. ‘Cuz I’m pretty dang slow.)
Here’s the 3-point summary:
- If you want to be seen as an expert, you’ll need to write content.
- The content you write will need to be in-depth—probably 2,500 words long.
- To consistently write 2,500 words or more, you’ll need to outline.
“Sheesh, Jeffrey. What’s the big deal about outlining? Writing a blog post is hard enough. Now I need to do MORE work?”
Writing isn’t easy. Neither is outlining, really. But when you outline first, the writing comes a lot more smoothly.
The trick to writing 2,500 words about anything: awesome outlines
Outlines are your ticket to writing more (and much, much better) content.
I know because, believe it or not, outlining is one of the key skills I’ve used to build my business.
- I outlined my guest posts, which boosted my audience.
- I outlined my first book, which boosted my confidence.
- I outlined my proposal templates, which brought in $300,000 within six months of launching my business.
In fact, while I only do a fraction of the writing for Overthink Group’s clients, I am responsible for outlining almost everything we produce. And because we outline our content ahead of time, we get a lot more done. (For example, our main writer creates about four blog posts, one ebook, and several miscellaneous assets every week.)
And of course, I outlined this piece, too.
Here’s why outlines work:
Outlines make writing easier
I know this first hand, because I’m a pitifully slow writer.
My typing speed is ~55 words per minute. (That’s not super slow, but not very fast, either.)
My free-form sentence-crafting speed is a lot slower than that. (I will spend 10 minutes trying to caption an Instagram photo. I am not exaggerating.)
I realized that I needed to write more, and I needed to write a lot faster. So I started outlining my pieces ahead of time. And then, it was like magic.
Suddenly, I could sit down and power through 1,000 words—no problem.
In fact, I wrote my first book (~34,000 words) in 30 days.
Why? Because outlines are like railroad tracks. You lay them down ahead of time, so that when it’s time to write, you’re never asking, “What do I write next?” You just follow the outline and let the words flow. (And edit later, of course.)
Outlines also make your work easier to read
Have you ever been stuck in a conference session or classroom lecture or church service and thought, “Where the heck is this even going?”
That’s probably because the speaker went on and on and on—without giving you an idea of where you were in the structure of the message.
This is NOT what you want to do to your readers.
An outline helps you avoid this kind of attention-abuse. You can frame expectations ahead of time and structure your writing in a way that makes it clear to your readers what they’re reading and where they’re going.
But enough about why outlines are essential—let’s look at how to make those outlines.
How to outline a 2,500-word article about anything
When you write, you’re building a bridge between your readers and some new piece of information. An outline makes sure that bridge is structurally sound.
Here’s how it’s done!
Step 1: Write your first outline by instinct
Start with your preferred canvas—like a scrap of paper, or a whiteboard, or an empty Google doc—and free-form the flow of your article.
At this point, just stick with the basics. Where are you going? Where are your readers beginning? What ground do you need to cover? What are the big points you need to hit?
The key to this step is to think of your piece as a journey you’re taking your readers on. That journey may be like a pilgrimage into wild, unknown territory—especially if you’re explaining an entirely new concept to your audience. Or the journey could just be a dime tour of a new facility—such as explaining a new set of features for a commonly-used tool.
In either case, you’re the one leading people on this trip, and you’ll need to map out the steps ahead of time. (Nobody likes an ad-hoc guide.)
You should come up with a list of points in the order that you’ll be writing about them—and you may have some sub-points, too.
Having trouble coming up with a structure? There are two ways to make this step incredibly easy:
1. Make a list
There’s a reason so many articles out there are “[Number] facts about [breathtaking celebrity politics].” They’re some of the easiest posts to write. It’s easy to write a list of things, and it’s far, far easier to outline a list!
Lists take the mystery out of structuring your article. All you need to do is come up with the right amount of list items and you’re golden.
(But remember, this is about writing authoritative content. So if you’re writing a list, make sure it’s a comprehensive one—don’t expect a tiny list of three items to turn too many heads.)
2. Document a process
This is another way to fast-track your outline. If you can’t break your piece down into an unordered list, make a step-by-step list.
Once again, you have an advantage because your post concept has a built-in structure—all you need to do is map it out.
(Obviously, that’s what I did with this article.)
It’s not always easy
Of course, not every post is going to fit these simple formats. Posts in which you’re explaining very new concepts, telling nuanced stories, or framing a new point of view are going to be tougher to structure.
The good news is, your outline process doesn’t stop here. This step simply builds the skeleton of your article. Step 2 is when we hang some meat on the bones.
Step 2: Ask, “How do I move them from one point to another?”
The first step can turn a 300-word idea into a 1,000-word idea. But we need to go deeper.
This is where it gets fun.
Go through your outline in Step 1, and for every point, answer the questions:
- What do your readers need to know before reading this point in order to understand it?
- What do your readers need to know before moving on?
These questions are the keys to unlocking all those words we’re after.
Want to know why?
Because when we write, we often end up whisking over things that our readers really want (or need!) to know more about. I’ve found these bits of information to be content goldmines: there are thousands of words hiding in our brains when we’re writing, but they don’t come out unless we slow down and draw them out with these questions.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a post about how to grow prize-winning pumpkins. You might have an outline like this after Step 1:
- Find soil with the right pH
- Add fertilizer twice a day
- Keep birds from getting into your pumpkin patch
- Teach pumpkin some entertaining tricks
(Obvious disclaimer: I have no idea how to grow pumpkins.)
You could write about those steps, but there are a bunch of questions that someone who may be interested in growing pumpkins may still have. A few that come to mind:
- Find soil with the right pH
- How do you test the pH?
- What are some common features of the right soil?
- Add fertilizer twice a day
- What kind of fertilizer works best?
- What times of day are best for fertilizing the pumpkins?
- Keep birds from getting into your pumpkin patch
- What kind of birds love pumpkins?
- Do scarecrows frighten birds besides crows?
- What happens if a bird gets into my patch?
- Teach pumpkin some entertaining tricks
- What kind of tricks can pumpkins do that other fruits cannot?
- Can a pumpkin change into an orange and back?
And just like that, we’ve made room for lots more helpful content to this article. (I think.)
This step adds plenty of substance to your outline, but just a heads-up: you’ll probably find yourself restructuring your original outline.
But what if you can’t come up with any rich subpoints?
Sometimes you just draw a blank on this sort of stuff. And when that happens to me, I have an ace up my sleeve for that, too.
Cheat: add examples
If you don’t feel like your outline has enough material to work with, there’s always a fallback: examples.
You can add an example from real life. You can add a hypothetical example. You could even use an analogy.
Just pull in some examples that demonstrate what you’re talking about. It makes your post a lot more practical to your readers—which goes a long way in establishing your expertise in an area.
Now, let’s move on to Step 3.
Step 3: Polish your outline
Now it’s time to turn that stack of points and subpoints into a gameplan for writing awesome content. The goal in this step is to eliminate as many distractions ahead of time as you can, so that when you sit down to write, you’re able to open your laptop and just start writing.
Here’s how I do this:
- Add the article’s working headline/title
- List and organize the headers and subheaders
- Add some notes on how the piece will transition from one point to the next (this is only necessary if the jump between two points isn’t immediately apparent)
- Add sources and examples (grab links to other sites that you plan to reference)
- Add the next step or call to action
There’s a lot more prep you should do, depending on what kind of piece you’re writing. I’m keeping this list focused on the kind of stuff that would help any writer: whether they’re managing a multimillion-dollar corporate blog or a Pinterest board.
Once you have this step done, it’s time to . . .
Step 4: Write
You’ve mapped out the journey: now take it!
If you’ve thoroughly followed this process, you’ll find yourself reaching 2,500 words sooner than you ever thought possible.
Before you start writing
You’ll need to know three things ahead of time before you start writing:
1. What do your readers want?
Determine what benefit you’re going to give your readers with this piece. It could be that they’ll walk away knowing how to safely pick up a rattlesnake. It could be that they’ll completely understand the whole story of a recent newsworthy event. Or you may just be keeping them entertained. (This process works on satire, too!)
2. What do you want?
You know what your reader’s going to get out of this article. Now, what do you want? Do you want them to feel like what you’re describing is easy or insanely difficult? Do you want them to drop what they’re doing and take a certain action, or do you want them to mull this blog post over for a while?
I find it easy to ask a few questions before I begin writing to help me define my desired response:
What do you want the reader to think?
What logical, objective arguments are you walking them through? What’s the line of reasoning? What new information do you want your reader to walk away with?
For example, before I started writing this piece, I wanted you to take away a few vital pieces of information:
- You’ll be perceived as an authority a lot sooner if you’re writing meatier content.
- You’ll stand a better chance of increasing your blog traffic if your posts are longer than 2,500 words.
- There’s a proven process for writing long-form content that anyone can follow.
This is probably the easiest thing to determine before you write a blog post.
What do you want your readers to feel?
This is where you take your article’s “flavor” into account. When people read your piece, what emotions do you want to evoke?
For example, when you’re reading this, I want you to feel like writing 2,500 words on whatever you want is entirely within your reach.
What do you want your readers to do?
What are the next steps your readers should take? This is pretty easy, too. You probably want them to either contact you, join your email list, or buy something from you.
“Hold up!” You may say. “I’m not writing as a marketer—I just want to get my fiction out there! I’m not looking to sell anything.”
Here’s a freebie: if you don’t know what you want people to do, just plan to have people sign up for your email list. This way you can keep them coming back until you figure out a more material next step for them.
Curious as to what I had in mind while I wrote this? I’ll tell you at the end of this post. 😉
What do you want your readers to remember?
Let’s say someone reads your post. They can’t remember the whole thing—so what should be their main takeaway? What’s going to stick in their brains?
For example, I mostly want you to remember the title of this post. I want “2,500 words” to stick to you—so that whenever you think “I should write a blog post,” you think of it as a 2,500 word project that you can totally pull off.
That’s why I’m using that number all over this article!
Why are these two questions important?
I’ve already told you that outlines are the most important thing to nail down if you’re going to write a hefty piece. You might be wondering, “Why waste time asking what I and my readers want?”
Because this frames your entire outline. When you know what your readers want, you know how to structure your outline so that every single point and subpoint helps your readers get it.
And when you know what you want, you can keep the post focused on helping both you and your reader.
In short, asking what readers want helps save you from wasting their time. Asking what you want saves you from wasting yours.
Now, once you know what your readers want and what you want, you’re ready to start outlining.
Want more tidbits like this?
I promised I’d tell you what I hope to get out of this article. Well, here it is:
I want you to join my email newsletter so I can let you know about the next 2,500 word post I write. =)
Why? Because I want to find the scrappy, brilliant, determined content marketers of the world. And I want to share everything I’m learning with you so you can either get promoted, land your dream job, or start your own company.
^ If that sounds good, you really ought to sign up. =)