Structure of personal blogs 4. First things first

You are writing a blog post. There’s probably one point that you want people to grasp if they grasp nothing else. The most influential position in any document is right at the beginning, right at the top. That’s where your main point belongs.

The top of your blog post is like the entrance to a building. You can tell a lot from the entrance to a building; same with a blog post.

A door with illustration of a person reading a book, marked "Literature Media Lab" in English and Korean.

Entrance to Literature Media Lab at the Seoul Arts Space Yeonhui. Like a well constructed blog post, its function is obvious.

Now, personal blogs are often casual, and that’s fine, that’s wonderful. But think twice before spending the first 200 words apologising for not blogging lately if the main thing you want to say is that you broke your ankle. Get specific sooner rather than later.

This has always been true, whether for a presentation, a proposal, a novel, a non-fiction book, a business letter, a press release, a feature article or any other traditional, paper-based piece of writing. Often, it’s on the basis of the first part of a document that people decide whether to read it (or give it an A grade or publish it). Most people don’t have the patience to carry on reading something that at first sight looks to be irrelevant to them.

No use bewailing this fact: suck it up!

Top of the page matters even more online

Now that we are constantly reading online, this fact (the top of the page as a test of relevance) takes on even more significance. Why? Well, people read differently online.

Paper documents and printed books are usually read one at a time; you don’t hold ten books in your hands simultaneously while you decide which one to read. By contrast, information on a web page is always competing with many other web pages.

Never before in human history have headlines and titles and introductory paragraphs had to carry such weight! They not only summarise the contents but also play a significant role in virtually classifying and cataloguing the document on the Web.

For example, say you are searching for information about graduation speeches. Up comes a search engine results page and you choose one web page near the top of a list of 14 million results. You visit that page, you scan it rapidly and read a headline and a couple of lines, and your eye dances across a few images and links. But even as you scan that page, you are aware that the back arrow could instantly whisk you back to those other 13,999,999 search results. This is hugely distracting.

But what is the top of a blog post?

The headline (often called the title) of a blog post is at the top, obviously, and the first thing people see, whether they see it in search results, in WordPress Reader, or on your website. It might also be used as a link to that post. You know what I’m going to say:

Do take care with your headlines and sub-headlines: make them specific and accurate.

People read these bits of stand-out text if nothing else, and they don’t want to be tantalised with ambiguity unless they already trust you as a writer.

Here’s another issue with the structure of a blog post. It doesn’t consist only of the visible words and images that you publish. There’s more!

For some people the SEO Description is the first thing they see, after the headline. (Especially if they find your post through a search engine.) In WordPress Editing mode, notice that field marked SEO Description in the right hand column? Fill it with a brief description of the post you are writing. 

blog-post-SEO-description

When your blog shows Excerpts (for example in WordPress Reader), by default it will just show the first few words. But you can control what it shows by writing something in the Excerpt box on the right (under More Options). I find this handy for poems.

blog-post-excerpt

Examples of clear, precise blog post starters

Blog post start: A child's war 1 — Babyhood was a serious matter. The first photo I have of me, at two months, shows me open eyed and open mouthed

A clear headline and first sentence from Travel Past and Present: https://travelpastpresent.wordpress.com/

171: I have my likeness taken. After we heard the old Queen was dead, I believed the King of Scotland would come straightway to the Tower and Loose us.

A clear headline and starting text for a post on The Earl Of Southampton’s Cat. This is part of a longer story, and events are told in chronological order. From https://toutparmoi.com

I don’t mean to nag you. No need to obsess! But if this knowledge is new to you and you take it on board, you are likely to gain new readers, readers who are particularly interested in your topic. Because it’s not only humans who use the top of the page as a clue to the topic of your blog post: it’s also search engines.

Best of luck!


CC BY 2.0 Rachel McAlpine

 

13 thoughts on “Structure of personal blogs 4. First things first

  1. Claudette says:

    You are a smartypamts. 😛

    In all honesty, what you say is very true and helpful, and I don’t even do all of it. But the thing about the apologizing…omg. I never stay on those sites. Everyone is busy and has the same reasons anyway.

    I’ll think up a way to share your article soon, there’s a few of my followers who will no doubt think this advice will be very helpful to them. 😉

    1. Thanks Claudette for a top compliment 🌟

    2. Suzanne says:

      Now whom is the smartypants? Funny 😊

      1. Suzanne says:

        That reply was for Claudette regarding her comment that her followers would find the post helpful.

      2. I got it! And I eagerly accept the label smarty pants.

      3. Suzanne says:

        Yes I thought you might. My comment was written with a smile on my face.

  2. Cathy Cade says:

    I never knew that about the excerpts. Thanks for pointing it out.
    I can’t find the SEO box though. Maybe it disappeared with the last upgrade?
    Or maybe you have to pay more than I do for your WP account.

    1. Don’t worry if you can’t find it. Yes, different plans, different themes, different preferences and computers (mine is Mac with a business plan) and maybe even browsers all alter what you see when blogging. But the headline and first paragraph matter most. Fix those and see a difference right away. You may find another route to the SEO description via Admin.

  3. The Earl of Southampton’s Cat, by toutparmoi (aka Denise Keay), is one of my very favorite blogs. So I’m glad to see it used as a positive example of blog-writing in your own!

    1. I am also a fan:)

  4. Great advice! Now and then I find myself struggling to find a headline that is both intriguing and descriptive of the content. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes not. I wasn’t aware of the SEO Description option… good info!

    1. Surprise: I am human, so I’m often careless over headlines but I’m always aware. Keywords in the headline are gold.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I think people just stumble onto my blog. I like to come up with quirky titles, but beyond that a haven’t really attempted to make mine searchable. It’s just as well. I have trouble keeping up with comments the way it is.

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