Big Fat Noob Guide To Writing A Solid Post (or “How To Steal Ideas”)

Wait, wait!.. Let me guess…

99% of your posts don’t get crazy viral.


We’ve all heard that “Content is King” but lately the majority of content that people procuce is more of a “bastard” at best.

I know there’s a ton of advice on “how to write great posts” but somehow none of them is worth bookmarking as a “one stop resource to refer noob writers to“.

So I decided to give it a shot and write the one of my own…

You might ask me:

Tim, what makes you think Noobs are capable of creating compelling content, anyways?

I have a great story to tell you :)

Once upon a time in a galaxy far-far away there was a noob who was just making his first baby steps online. He didn’t know much about online marketing, but he was very passionate about it. Day after day he was reading dozens of blogs and discovering lots of new stuff, that eventually led him to discovering even more new stuff.

Then, one day, by a fluke, he discovered a trendy new niche – “Facebook Marketing“. He tried to search for some information about it on his favorite online marketing resource – yet there was nothing.

And then he thought:

“Maybe I should write a guestpost about Facebook Marketing and submit it there? But how? I’m just a noob, I don’t have much experience in Facebook Marketing myself. And besides, I’ve never written a single guestpost in my life.”

Despite the overwhelming fear to fail, he decided to give it a try.

In fact, he was so afraid to fail that he decided he should go nap on it and work his ass out.

Did he eventually succeed? Oh yes, he did! Even more than he may have dreamed of…

His first ever guestpost was a sensation! It even got the award Top post of 2010 by the number of “Thumbs Up”, Unique Visits & Retweets that it received.

This was truly more than I could dream of at that time!

Yep, that’s my story. And I feel totally eligible now to claim that “Noobs can create killer content“!

One thing left to do is explain how:

Part 1: Picking a Topic for your future post

This is where it all starts.

In fact, there are only two approaches to generating topic ideas:

  1. You already know what you want to write about;
  2. The second one.

Noobs will always stick with the second option since they are not very familiar with any given niche. Nevertheless, all noobs are granted a personal “guardian angel” by the name St. Research.

Let’s see what you can do with his help:

#1. Dive deep into the niche

You can start from familiarizing yourself with the niche by exploring the blogs that represent it. In case you can’t name any of them, you should search Google for “list of INSERT_YOUR_NICHE_HERE blogs“.

*Alternatively you can try Google Blog Search and just feed it with your niche keywords. But if you ask me – I rarely use it. Can’t really explain why.*

Grab a spreadsheet and put all the blogs into one big list. What? Your list is not big enough? Well, you can always ask Google for some extra help.

related:” is one of my favorite Google search operators. Put any website URL next to it and Google will return a nice list of sites that it considers to be relevant.

Now your list of blogs should get twice as big, and besides, as you start exploring those blogs I’m sure you’ll find a few dozens more, since relevant blogs tend to link to each other.

Eventually your list will get big enough to say you know the niche, but who are the leaders?

Here is the list of metrics you may want to add to your spreadsheet to outline A-listers:

  • PageRank – do I really need to explain it? Just grab a handy extension for your Chrome and you’re all set.
  • Alexa – very popular metric among bloggers. Alexa estimates (roughly) the traffic of any given website and ranks it compared to others. is ranked #1, which means it has the highest traffic in the world. Grab the Chrome extension here.
  • “Subscribers” – quite often blogs will showcase the number of “subscribers” right on their front page, to show how big their audience is. Pay attention to these numbers. The most valuable are email subscribers, RSS subscribers are not THAT important to be honest, just like Facebook Fans and Twitter Followers.

#2. Find the germs

Your list of blogs is nice and clean and now you have a clear understanding of who are the leaders and who are the underdogs. It’s about time to explore what’s currently trending in the niche.

In case you’ve been using sites like Popurls, Alltop, Fark to keep up with the trends, I strongly encourage you to stop doing that.

These sites will only show you “who blogs about what right now” instead of showing you “what readers go crazy about right now“, while investigating the latter is actually a piece of cake.

Just explore the latest 10-15 posts on each of the blogs in your list and see how much comments, tweets, likes, plusones did they get. While doing that try to look for patterns. If a certain topic pops up on different blogs and consistently generates a nice amount of buzz – that’s exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Except for that, there’s always a number of “evergreen” topics that never seem to fade. Those like to hang out in a place called “Popular Articles” somewhere in the sidebar of the blog.

Picking one of these ALMOST guarantees you success.

Part 2: Generating Ideas

Until now my guide had a strong smell of plagiarism, but that’s not really so.

I believe you know this famous quotation by Pablo Picasso:

Good artists copy, great artists steal.

Well, as for me, “steal” means “make it your own” which in its turn means “put lots of work into it“.

I’m just trying to say that I don’t encourage you to “copy” a post or a topic that proved to be popular on a few blogs. If you want to succeed you need to improve it! No matter how perfect the original piece of content is – you can always do better! There’s nothing that can’t be improved, as they say.

(In fact, what I’m doing in this very post is trying to outperform all existing articles on writing outstanding posts.)

How about I give you a few cheats on “stealing ideas”?

#1: Quick Cheats:

  • Read all the comments – if there’s something unclear about the post, people will usually ask questions in comments. Your job is to adress all of them in your own article. But there’s more to it, actually! By reading comments you can get a clear understanding of which ideas “resonate” with the audience and use that knowledge later on to create that feeling that you’re on the same note with your readers – “Wow, this guy knows all the awesome tricks I love, he must be smart! Lets see what else he has to say…”.
  • Talk to people – want some “great ideas”? Ask a few questions to “great guys”! In case you know some people in the industry a quick conversation over Skype can be ten times more valuable than hours of googling. You should always work on expanding your network of great guys to discuss ideas with.
  • Know what they are searching for – this might seem more of an SEO tip, but still. Google Keyword Tool – is an amazing service that lets you explore what people around the world are searching for. In our case the most valuable feature would be the “Keyword Ideas“. Feed this tool with any phrase or keyword and it will generate you a large list of relevant phrases with estimated monthly search volume right next to them. What else do you need, ha?

  • Read, read, read – read other blogs until you feel there’s not a single thing on the topic that you don’t already know. This is the only way to make sure your own ideas are unique and weren’t published anywhere else. In fact, we tend to come up with great ideas while reading ones by others or being under the influence from them.

Actually the last tip is probably the most important. You should really know a ton of stuff before you even open your text editor to write a single line of text.

Now onto some extra tips:

#2: For overly ambitious guys only

Want to put some extra work into it? Not a problem:

  • Stalk ’em on social networks – you’ve outlined the A-list blogs, right? Go find their owners and stalk them everywhere you can – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, etc. All you have to do is spy on them! They will quite often share outstanding content that you might have missed. Or they may talk about ideas that weren’t decently covered anywhere yet.
  • Dig deep into “public bookmarks”Delicious, Diigo, Digg, Reddit, etc. You know these sites, right? Their awesome feature is that they will show you how many times a certain article was bookmarked, which is quite often an indicator of how much value it contains. With a few searches you’ll be able to find some killer articles to “steal” some ideas from.
  • Forums and Q&A boards – if there’s a niche, there’s most likely a forum dedicated to it somewhere around the internet. Your job is to find it and see what people are talking about. You can also use sites like Quora, Yahoo Answers, Mahalo, etc. where people ask questions they need answered.
  • “Alternative Content” – guys, this is really my power tip. I was hesitating whether to share it or not. But since I decided to do it, I really hope this will be at least a huge plus to my karma… :)
    What I oftentimes do when I’m writing a post is go to SlideShare and search for presentations on the topic… seriously guys, that’s a killer! People create AMAZING presentations with lots of visuals, statistics, quotes – all neatly packed waiting for you.

    Let’s see what we have on copywriting… How about this cool slide deck:

    How many stuff you can “steal” here? Tell me guys? And besides, presentations is not the single type of the so-called “alternative content” – you can also check free ebooks, YouTube (and Vimeo) videos, podcasts, webinars. I mean, guys… we are SURROUNDED by tons of awesome information neatly packed for you – just reach out and grab it!

  • Read Books – super-intuitive tip, right? Yet for those of you who don’t think that’s necessary – do you really think guys like Darren Rowse, Brian Clark, Sonia Simone, John Morrow (…and others) are the original authors of all the ideas they advocate? Hell No! And in fact they will quite often disclose that a specific idea was taken from a book. Did you see how much does this book cost btw? Or this? I bet if you buy them and “steal” ideas for your own blog – you’ll become a “guru” real fast.


Part 2.1: How to look like an expert

The thing is – most of us are not even close to the title “Expert“. Nevertheless we can pretty much LOOK like experts if we research our topic well enough.

Here’s the way I like to do it:

1. Start with general Google searches

You should start your research with a couple general Google searches on your topic. Google will return you pages that it considers to be the most valuable. Oftentimes there will be some really good materials at the top, but I will often check the first 15-20 pages just to make sure I’m not missing anything:

Get creative with your searches. Don?t limit yourself to a single search term because this way you won?t dig much valuable information.

Pay attention to what Google Auto Suggest is offering you – this is what lots of people are actually searching for:

2. Laser-Target Your Searches

Once you?ve done with regular searches it?s crucial to check what the most reputable blogs in your niche have written on this topic.

Use the advanced search operator ?site:? to limit your search to a specific website:

3. Searching For Specifics

Broad topic is not the only thing you should search for. Each topic has these little sub-topics that you will talk about. Well, you’ll have to research them as well.

In case of “responsive web design” we?re going to write about ?media queries? – why not to research this further? Do the “google thing”!

4. Rinse and Repeat

You should repeat the aforementioned steps till you feel you have enough information to write a well researched post.

Copy & paste pieces of information into a separate document. Save the links to the posts and resources you?d like to reference. Save some pictures that you want to include in your post. Note your own thoughts and ideas.

You should end up with a document full of ?copy-pasted information”, links to resources, images and, of course, your own thoughts.

Part 3: Define the structure

Once you?ve collected enough information it is suggested that you create a rough structure of your future post.

Sketch some ideas for your opener, define the logical parts, give them pilote subheadings. Check if the flow of information would be natural with this structure. People shouldn?t be lost in a pile of random tips. Everything should be at its own place.

Try to get an image or two for each logical part of your post; people love visual information, that’s a fact. And later on images may help your regular readers to navigate to a certain part of your post once they need it.

Defining the structure from the start is very important as this way you will be able to see which parts of your post are lacking information and which are overcrowded. This will lead to some further research till you get a perfect amount of detail for each part of your post.

Part 4: Writing a Headline for your post

This is actually an ongoing process and you should start thinking of possible headlines right when you start researching your topic.

But once the research is over and you have all the information structured neatly and ready to roll – it’s time to come up with a killer headline.

Headline is kinda a certain promise to your readers. And later on in your post you have to fulfill this promise. That?s why it?s crucial that you write your headline FIRST and address it later on in your post.

Headline of your post is OVERLY important! It can either motivate people to read your post or turn them down.

(If you ask me, I’ve toggled the title for this post four times before hitting “Publish”, and still I don’t think it’s perfect.)

I highly recommend you to read this invaluable ebook by Jon Morrow on writing viral headlines: “52 Headline Hacks: a cheat sheet for writing blog posts that go viral” – it really has all you need to know while you’re noob.

Part 5: Before you hit “Publish”

In this part I want to talk about some “blog post tuning” tips you should take into consideration before you put it online and it accelerates into the blogosphere.

  • Short sentences – make sure your sentences are not too long. To be honest, most people hate reading! If there was a choice between reading and “importing” the information right into the brain with cable or WiFi – they’d prefer the latter. Don’t make their reading tedious, write in short simple sentences.
  • Short Paragraphs – now this one is more of a psychological trick. When a huge chunk of text is broken down into small paragraphs (3-4 sentences) it really feels easier to read. This very post has about 100 paragraphs (I think) and it reads quite easily (I hope) – but imagine for a second that this post is a single chunk of text, would you ever read it?
  • Subheadings, lists, quotes – those things are used for easier skimming. Lots of people (including myself) will quickly skim through a post before reading it. This way they will determine how big it is and what’s in it. By using subheadings, lists, quotes & stuff – you’re feeding these guys with little bits of information that should make them want to read the whole stuff.
  • An “Opener” they can’t resist – once your post is done, scroll up and put some extra work into your opener. This is what people will see on the front page of your blog, this is what they will see in their RSS reader, this is the first thing they will see as they land from Twitter or Facebook. If you fail to grab their attention with the very first sentence of your post (see mine above for example) – there’s a good chance they won’t read your post. Ever!
  • Now forget it! – you should NEVER publish a post the same day it was written! I can bet that the next morning as you re-read it you’ll find lots of stuff that needs to be improved. Or, as it usually happens, a killer idea will strike you right at the time the “Publish” button was clicked.

    I’m a big advocate of re-reading posts numerous times before publishing. In fact, even when the post is not finished yet, as I start writing a new paragraph I will usually go back to the beginning to read it from the start, just to see how it flows. And every single time I do it (really guys, EVERY time) I will improve a little thing here and there.

    At the end of it all the post really makes me sick! I can hardly make myself read it one more time. Now it looks totally awful, every paragraph, every sentence. And THIS is the time I hit “Publish”.

And then people will email me and say: “I wish I could write as good as you.

You CAN!

And now You Know HOW!

So guys… tell me… how often do you put THAT much work into your writing? And what other tips can you add to it?

Tim Soulo is the Chief Marketing Officer and Product Advisor at Ahrefs, a leading tool trusted by hundreds of thousands of SEOs and marketers worldwide. His SEO-related data research studies have been cited by media giants, including Inc, TechCrunch, and VentureBeat. He's also a regular speaker at some of the largest industry conferences around the globe, such as PubCon (US), BrightonSEO (UK), and the Digital Marketers Australia Conference (AU).