A Brief Lesson in Content Writing From Ann Handley

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How to use Ann Handley's Goal - what-what method to write blog posts.
Recently, someone left a comment on one of my Medium stories saying that the hardest thing for them is building an audience. Or, in other words, building an email list of potential readers and buyers. So, today, I’m here to give you my “secret” sauce for building an engaging audience for your blog.

It’s simple: As a content creator, you have to give readers something they find super valuable.

Building an audience is one of the biggest worries for all new creators. It was mine when I started writing in 2018. Almost five years later, I have a thriving community of ~10k subscribers, thousands of monthly readers to my blog, and multiple six figures in total earnings.

If you ask me how I did it, I’ll have just this one thing to say to you:

Sincere service with my words.

I said I’d give you my “secret” sauce, but it’s nothing like that. I didn’t do it as quickly as some others did. I didn’t advertise my content. I just wrote the best content I could within my capacity, with quality and utility in mind, regularly and consistently.

So, if you’re curious, here’s a quick lesson on writing blog posts that readers find helpful. It’s not something I came up with, rather, I learned it from the awesome Ann Handley—the author of Everybody Writes—a book I sincerely recommend to all of my Blog Writing Workshop attendees.

Employ Ann Handley’s “Goal → So-what” method

I recommend Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes to all content creators. It should be your quick guide; a handbook for all online marketing.

In her book, Handley outlines a 17-step formula for writing a blog post/article. Each writer has their own method for writing content, so for me, the part that makes the most sense, that which is universal, is Handley’s Goal → So-what part.

What is Goal → So-what?

Before you start writing a blog post, do this exercise.

First, set a goal for your blog post.

For example, I may be writing a blog post about using Pinterest for blog traffic. My goal is this: I want new bloggers to start using Pinterest to drive traffic to their blogs.

Then, start asking “So what?”

At the core of content marketing is convincing your readers that your message (or product) is useful to them. And to convince them of this, you need to know what reservations your audience may have.

And that’s where so-what comes in.

As in:

“I want new bloggers to start using Pinterest to drive traffic to their blogs.” So what?

Once you’ve answered all the so-whats you possibly can, you’ll have the general wireframe for your blog post and you’ll be able to start working on an outline.

A lot of bloggers, especially new ones, start outlining even before they know what the end goal is and why their readers should care. The result is a lot of wasted effort and minimal reads with little to no action.

But if you know what your readers’ reservations are, you can be much more efficient in outlining and then writing an effective blog post.

How to work through Goal → So What

Your goal as a content marketer is always to convince your readers of something. Because before any action comes conviction. (Or at least curiosity, depending on the scale of your ask.)

In the example I shared above, my goal is for my readers to understand the power of Pinterest and then start using it.

Let’s get back to the example:

Goal: I want new bloggers to start using Pinterest to drive traffic to their blogs.

Now, start asking so-what and then answering them until you’ve exhausted yourself. That’s crucial, that you exhaust yourself by answering all the possible so-what questions until you’re running dry.

[Handley-tip: Your answers to so-what should start with a “Because.”]

So what?

Because bloggers need traffic to their blogs. Pinterest is a visual search engine, so it can get that traffic.

So what?

Because SEO takes time to take effect and bloggers shouldn’t have to wait weeks and months until they start getting traffic when they can use Pinterest!

So what?

Because getting traffic to a new blog is hard, and Pinterest can make that happen much faster with minimal effort!

So what?

Because with Pinterest, you’re simply adding your existing content, not creating new ones like you have to for Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media platforms.

So what?

Because people are busy! A lot of bloggers do this on the side after their full-time jobs, schools, taking care of family, etc. Creating new content for social media on top of their blogs takes up time.

So what?

Because bloggers need traffic and Pinterest can bring traffic easily with the least amount of time and effort!

So what?

I mean… because blogs need traffic and bloggers are busy and OMG can ya stop? You’re driving me crazy! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT???

OK. Now we can stop.

We have established with our repeated so-what questions that Pinterest is by far the best method for bloggers to start getting traffic to their blogs; better than all other social media platforms or SEO.

Once you’re don’t with this exercise, write your blog post, and then, when revising, ask yourself, have you addressed all the so-what talking points? Did you drive the nail home?

If we can convince our readers of these points and really drive them home, then there’s no way a reader won’t at least give Pinterest a try!

And that’s the Goal → So-what method I’ve learned from Ann Handley.

Try incorporating them into all the blog posts you write. Trust me, if you do that, you’re bound to see your audience grow.

Also, if you liked this little tip, trust me, Handley has much more to offer in her book Everybody Writes. Buy yourself a copy today!

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