It’s true. Some of the best lessons I’ve learned about how to write compelling blog content were tips I first encountered reading some of the advertising industry’s most influential texts. Books like John Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods and, really, any of David Ogivly’s books (affiliate links) laid this foundation. These lessons — some which were first applied to direct-response, mail-order marketing for everything from piano lessons to mattresses — are surprisingly relevant and applicable to creating attention-getting, compelling blog content for the distracted digital age.

So what are these lessons and how can you implement them in your blogging? It all starts with the first thing you see in a post …

Without a Good Headline, the Rest of the Ad/Post Is Irrelevant
Advertising best practices tell us to labor over the headline as its the hook that brings your reader into the ad and hopefully compels them to read the body copy (and eventually buy the product). You never get a second chance to make a first impression and that’s exactly what a headline is.

How does this apply to blogging? Well, the headline or blog title is still the first thing you see on the post. But why don’t you back it out a step further to the point where your audience decided to take the plunge and read your post. What were they looking at? Your post title in their RSS reader? In that tweet or retweet? You see where I’m headed with this? Even more so than an ad, a headline/post title for a blog appears much earlier and often on its own as a literal hook to bring the audience in. It deserves careful planning and consideration. I also like the advice from Marketing Profs’ Ann Handley during a recent #blogchat (Sundays at 8 PM Central on Twitter) when she suggested writing the headline first to focus your post content. I could stand to do this more.

So how do you construct a great headline? Again, consult masters like Caples and Ogilvy. “The headlines which work best are those that promise the reader a benefit,” Ogilvy tells us. Doesn’t this sound like something your blog post headline should do? To this day I keep a dog-eared copy of Caples by desk for sage reminders and headline starters like “Begin Your Headline with ‘How to'” (How I Improved My Memory in One Evening), “Ask a Question” (Got Milk?), “Include Numbers” (7 Easy Steps …), and more. Some of my favorite posts recently have had strong headlines — 4 Facebook Page Features You Need to Know About, Tips for Developing a Brand Name.

Subheadings Work Hard for the Money
Long copy sells. It’s a fact. But before you can sell them you have to reel-in your audience via a staged process. First is your headline. Once they take the bait they start in on your body copy. However, their eyes often do a quick scan to plan accordingly. Subheadings help direct this scanning. Look at any classic Ogilvy ad from Rolls Royce to Lever Soaps and you can see great examples of subheadings working hard for the money. Literally.

How does this apply to blogging? Often times, concerned new bloggers labor over the right post length when really — provided your topic is appropriately focused — it can be as long as it needs to be. In doing so, you must remember to give your audience subheadings to help them navigate. Think of them as mile markers. Case in point — the post you are reading right now!

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
The book Neuromarketing reminds us that the visual processors in our ‘old brain’ see images faster than we read words and process information. As such, great ads and great blog posts need great art. The headline and main image in concert provide that snapshot for your audience’s brain to quickly decide whether to stay and attend to your message or move on to the next shiny thing. Spend some time making sure these critical items are in place.

Finding the right post image can be a challenge. Often you’ve already written the post and are ready to publish. There’s alway a bevy of mediocre art or you could just post sans image (yikes!). This is where you need to take just a little bit more time and make your good post great. Search the Creative Commons on Flickr and look for a post image that tells a compelling story like Ogilvy’s Hathaway Shirt man. That’s what I tried to do here.

In Closing …
I could’ve simply called this post ‘The Importance of Art and Copy in Blogging’ but that’s not as good a headline. I’m pretty sure Caples and Ogivly would agree.

And like every good modern ad let me close my post with a quickly read disclaimer statement …

In addition to the blogging lessons learned above from classic advertising giants of the 20th century, the author would be remiss to not include the contributions of Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, and Mack Collier to his blogging education. You are encouraged to seek out their respective blogs and books.

Please seek medical attention for any post lasting over 1,500 words. No animals were harmed in the writing of this post.

Photo via Flickr user 1950sUnlimited