How to Write a Blog Post: A Full Breakdown of How We Do it at Buffer
In my experience, one of the best ways to write great content is to make time to write great content.
I’m grateful that the team at Buffer emphasizes the blog as a means of helping others, spreading the word about Buffer, and sharing our learnings and improvements. This allows me to spend the time writing.
And how do I spend that time?
I’d love to show you.
We publish four posts per week on the Buffer blog, each post at least 1,500 words (and typically over 2,000). I write three of these posts. And for the past two weeks, I tracked every minute I spent on a blog post from research through promotion. Here’s how it all breaks down.
How Much Time It Takes to Write a Buffer Blog Post
I write a Buffer blog post in an average of 2 hours, 58 minutes.
The longest post took 3 hours, 33 minutes.
The shortest post took 2 hours, 23 minutes.
The post I’m writing right now took 2 hours, 42 minutes (I added it all up once I finished).
In total, I tracked six different blog posts. Here’s a breakdown of the word count and the time involved in each of the six posts from the past two weeks.
The times were really interesting to see as they’ve improved quite a bit from when I started with Buffer. Much like Belle’s post on how she cut her writing time from 2 days to 4 hours, I’d say that my writing time has decreased significantly also.
Previously, I would spend 8 to 12 hours per post. It’s amazing to see how that time has shrunk as I’ve gained experience and confidence in writing for the Buffer blog.
How I Spend My Time Writing Blog Posts
From a bird’s-eye view, here’s a quick overview of how the three hours of time break down specifically, according to the different stages of my writing process. I’d love to get into even more detail on each of these stages below.
And a tip of the hat to the free time-tracking tool Toggl for helping me easily track and compile all these stats.
Research – 40 minutes per post
One of the hallmarks of the blog posts on the Buffer blog is the fact that they are research-backed, scientific, data-oriented articles with specific, actionable takeaways.
Because of this, it’s key to spend as much time as possible to come up with the research, science, and data to share.
My research process has sped up quite a bit as I’ve gained experience with social media and with the Buffer way of things. I’m able to pull from the past to write good chunks of articles now, with less switching back and forth between old articles and old threads.
To quickly find an article we’ve written about in the past, I do a site: search in Google.
To find resources to quote and dig into for social media stats or strategies, I do a lot of custom Google searches, both at google.com and at Google Scholar (tons of great research papers and scientific studies).
- I’ll start with a series of keywords, entering each into a Google search.
- I’ll refine the search terms, based on autofill suggestions and suggested searches at the bottom of the page
- I’ll change the date settings to only show results from the past year
In addition to these workflows, I also find that a lot of research can be done before you even start researching a blog post.
Seems a bit counterintuitive, right? Well, the way this has worked at Buffer is that we collect and store any interesting research in personal Evernote files or in our team Trello blog post board. I’ve used a method of highlighting and tagging articles in Pocket, or favoriting tweets that I might want to reference later for information.
However you choose to do it, this pre-research phase can be a great time saver when it comes to starting a fresh blog post.
Outline – 4 minutes per post
Some posts—not all posts—go through an outline stage where I’ll take the research and organize it into a loose flow. It’s all very tentative and guess-heavy; I expect the final product to change a lot from the initial outline.
The outline is as simple as jotting down the sections that I’ll end up writing and the order in which I think they’ll appear, then moving the research, stats, and quotables into each section.
It helps to move things along for the writing stage (next).
Writing – 59 minutes per post
WordPress used to have this cool Easter egg when you switched to the distraction-free editor. The bottom of the editor would say, “Just Write.”
And this is such good advice. At this stage of my writing process, just writing is the most valuable thing I can do. I close everything off, hop into the distraction-free WordPress editor, and let fly whatever comes to mind.
I always write the intro first, as it helps me focus on where the article is headed and makes it a bit easier psychologically to get stuck into writing the post since I’m not working from an entirely blank page.
As I write, I’ll keep in mind things like:
- Varying sentence length
- Varying paragraph size
- Adding space for images (I use a placeholder text of “//pic”)
- Reminders to come back and add stats or specifics (I leave an “xx” for missing info)
And beyond that, there’s not a whole lot else I’ll do. Just write. Even if it’s terrible. (Terrible is better than zilch.)
By the end of the writing stage, I’ll often have 2,000 or more words to work with.
Editing – 26 minutes per post
I give myself the freedom to throw a bunch of ideas, thoughts, and rambles into the post during the writing stage because I know the editing stage is coming. I’ll have a chance to clean things up.
And in a lot of ways, editing is quite a bit like Writing: Part II. There are times when I’ll cut out huge portions of what I’ve written before and start from scratch.
And one of the most helpful ways I’ve found to edit is to give the article some time to simmer, a couple hours or preferably a day. When I can come back to something with fresh eyes, I’m often able to see things from a better perspective.
During the actual editing process, I’ll do the following:
- Tighten up the intro and make sure it includes a copywriting formula or hook
- Double-check that the headings are descriptive and noticeable
- Double-check that the headings are the proper sizes (in our case, H2 vs H3 vs bold)
- Add links to past Buffer articles in the intro and throughout the story where appropriate
- Add any missing info like stats or source attribution
- Remove sections that don’t add value to the article; trim down super long sections
- Add formatting like bold, italics, blockquote, indent, bullet lists, numbered lists
Creating images – 30 minutes per post
Content with visuals gets 94 percent more views.
So we aim to be quite purposeful in finding and creating great visuals for each and every post.
I’ll typically find or create the following images for each new article:
- A title image made in Pablo, featuring the keyword of the post, a subhead, and an icon
- A main image to serve as the background for the article heading
- Pinterest-sized graphic, vertical and 735 x 1102
- Miscellaneous graphics, as needed
For creating all this cool stuff, I’ve found a pretty solid go-to list of tools and websites. Here are the ones I visit most often:
- Pablo, for title images and quote images
- Canva, for miscellaneous graphics and Pinterest-sized graphics
- Skitch, for annotated screenshots
- Cloud App, for animated GIFs
- Compressor.io, for compressing large images into smaller file sizes
- IconFinder and The Noun Project, for icons
- UnSplash and Death to the Stock Photo, for free images (there’re are tons of other great, free image sources as well)
Real quick, here’s a sample of what I do when creating the title image for blog posts. I’ve got this down to about two minutes of time.
- Enter the headline, set the headline to Open Sans font, Extra Large, Bold
- Click to add secondary text, set the text to Satisfy font, Large
- Find an image on UnSplash, abstract yet perhaps somewhat related to the post, e.g. a car dashboard for a post about metrics or an airplane for a post about growth
- Upload the image, set to Blur
- Find an icon at IconFinder, set the search to Flat Icons only
- Download the icon and upload to Pablo as the “Add a logo” option, resize as needed
- Center all elements
- Download to my computer
SEO – 4 minutes per blog post
For SEO, a lot of it comes into place early on in our blogging process. In fact, it often happens before the process even begins.
The idea stage is sometimes the best time to consider the keyword you’ll be focusing on in the story. When you have a keyword in mind from the start, the SEO part of the writing process goes pretty quick.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the privilege of writing posts with clear keywords like “content promotion,” “collaboration tools,” and “social media checklist.”
Of course, there are times when the keyword isn’t quite as crystal clear. When I’m in doubt about which keyword to focus on, I’ll do a quick search in Google.
I go to trends.google.com and type in the keywords I’m considering. Here’s what Google Trends had to say about this post on how to spend your time writing a blog post.
Also, another method is to open an incognito browser window, go to Google, and begin typing potential keywords and noticing the Autofill results that come up.
For the Buffer blog, we use a WordPress plugin, Yoast SEO, to handle the specifics of implementing SEO strategy into each post.This makes it so that we have just a few small tasks to do on each post in order to set the SEO.
- Choose a focus keyword
- Write an SEO headline—used on Google, Facebook, etc.
- Write a description
- Edit the article URL
Occasionally, to make sure that the content is focused on that keyword or phrase, I’ll do a quick search inside the article (CTRL+F) to see how many times the keyword is mentioned or to rewrite any phrases that are perhaps similar.
Headlines – 6 minutes per post
Recently, I began an attempt at a sort of Upworthy headline challenge.
The writers at Upworthy write 25 headlines for every post and then choose the best ones from the list to share on social media and test as the winning headline.
I’ve been able to do 15 headlines per post so far, and it’s been a really awesome exercise.
Perhaps what’s helped me most with this is being able to reference a couple of articles on the Buffer blog that talk about headlines:
Having these close by is really useful for brainstorming the different options for headlines, and it’s helped me expand my creativity and openness to new headline ideas.
And not all of the headlines are winners! (In my experience so far, about 1/3 of them might be worth keeping.) For example, here is the list of headlines I brainstormed for the post that eventually was titled The Delightfully Short Guide to Social Media ROI.
Promotion – 7 minutes per post
There are so many cool tips and techniques for promoting your content. I’m keen to explore a lot of them further; at this stage, we do just a couple of things for Buffer blog posts.
What I’ll do is share each new post multiple times to social media, according to a sharing schedule we’ve iterated on here at Buffer: multiple times over the first few days to Twitter, once today and once later in the week to Facebook and Google+, once to LinkedIn.
And then each new post also goes out to our RSS email list (you can sign up here if you’re interested). And this process happens automatically. Each new post is grabbed by MailChimp and sent out at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time.
How my process has changed over time
One thing I’ve found about my writing process is that it routinely seems to change.
Things happen during the week that allow me to adjust the schedule and I’ll stumble upon a new system of writing—and keep that system until a new one falls into place.
I particularly enjoyed a system I used when starting out at Buffer: The 3-day Blogpost Process. It worked like this:
- Day one: Research
- Day two: Writing
- Day three: Editing
And the idea is to stagger the schedule so that you’re doing one of each stage for three different blog posts each day.
In this way, I was able to write up to five blog posts per week and felt great about the extra time to focus and reflect on the content that I was publishing.
(My schedule has shifted slightly to more of a one-day method of writing where I’ll get the majority done in one day and then do a final read-over on the day of publish.)
What does your blogging process look like?
It’d be awesome to hear how you blog, how you spend your time, and any tips you’ve picked up.
Feel free to share your experience in the comments or ask any follow-up about the way I do things at Buffer.