How to Create Stronger, More Professional Content by Using Templates
- Ali Luke
It’s a safe bet that you spend quite a bit of time creating content: not just blog posts, but also email newsletters, downloadable guides or in-depth pillar posts, and of course tweets, Facebook posts and other social media updates.
That’s a lot of writing… and a lot of time invested.
Are you really using that time effectively?
Or do you feel a bit like this:
- Overwhelmed by the amount you need to create.
- Challenged that however often you try to “get organized”, you’re always falling behind.
- Disappointed that the posts you write never get as much traffic and attention as you hoped.
- Torn between rushing out your email newsletter and skipping writing it altogether.
- Stuck on what to tweet about or put on your Facebook page – so you don’t post anything.
- Frustrated that you keep on forgetting things when you’re producing new content – maybe you left out the call to action again.
All the content you create needs to show you at your best. If you’re honest with yourself, and you know you’re not managing that yet, then you need to start using templates for your content.
(And I’m not just talking about blog posts here. Templates work brilliantly for everything from tweets to whole ebooks.)
Create Stronger Content Using Templates
Using templates for your content means you’ll:
- Save time. Ever spent twenty minutes struggling over a blog post’s structure, or trying to remember what you normally include in your monthly round-up email?
- Remember everything. Ever had to update a blog post in a hurry after hitting publish? Ever cringed over an email you sent out with the wrong header or teaser text?
Templates will help.
But maybe you’ve got some doubts. Perhaps you feel that templates will stop you being spontaneous in your content, and that your posts and emails will end up being bland and boring.
That’s simply not true. Many of the online entrepreneurs I love learning from use templates for their posts and podcasts. (Michael Hyatt is a great example – listen to a few of his podcasts and you’ll notice they start and end the same way; all his posts follow a consistent format too.)
Templates don’t have to be complicated, either. I’m going to run through some examples, starting small and working up to slightly more involved ones.
Headline (Title) Templates
You’ve probably come across some great lists of headline (or post title) templates before now. These are a fantastic resource for coming up with headlines that grab attention and get clicked.
Here are a handful of all-purpose ones you can use:
- How to [do something] in [number] [adjective, e.g. easy] Steps
- [Number] Can’t-Miss Resources for [type of person, e.g. writers]
- What I Learned About [subject] From [person, event, or film/book/character]
- Case Study: How [person/company] [achieved result]
You may also want to develop a “house style” for headlines, where you consistently use certain conventions. For instance, some bloggers will add words in square parenthesis to the end of titles to indicate the post type, e.g. [Guest Post] or [Case Study] or [Podcast].
Just a little longer than a headline, tweets are an easy type of content to use templates for. If you send out five tweets a day, and you can save one minute composing each one, you’ll be netting yourself an extra 35 minutes per week for content creation.
Here are a few very simple but effective templates you can use:
- Reading [title] by [@name] – [link] [#hashtag]
- “[quote]” – [name] [#hashtag]
- Great advice. RT [@name] [their tweet]
Sure, there’s no rocket science here, and you may well be using very similar templates already – but by consciously deciding how to tweet different types of content, and by writing down your templates, you’re much less likely to forget to include the @name (or even the link).
If you want a bit more help with Twitter, plus ideas of the types of content you might tweet, check out Carol Mason Mortarotti’s The Ultimate Twitter Guide to Crush Your Competition.
You can use similar templates for posts on Facebook, Google+, and other social networks.
Some blogs have highly designed, image-rich layouts for their email newsletters. If that suits you, your budget, and (crucially) your audience – great!
But any email newsletter can be based on a template, even if it’s plain text (or close to plain text).
For instance, Firepole Marketing Daily Q&A emails used to follow a standard pattern:
- The subject line refers to the most recent blog post.
- The first half of the email introduces that blog post, then gives the link.
- Next, it brings in a question from a reader, quoting them in italics.
- The question is answered, making sure the advice is applicable both to the individual who asked it, and to a wider audience.
- Next, it gives a quick reminder of the blog post, adding the link again.
- There’s a “P.S.” and “P.P.S” at the end of the email that are the same each time. (Encouraging readers to forward the email to a friend, and explaining how to unsubscribe.)
It’s a very consistent format, and either the writer has it memorized incredibly well, or he’s using a template.
As you put together your own newsletter template, think about:
- How you’ll greet people and sign off (I start all my emails “Hello!” and finish with “Happy writing”).
- What content you’ll include and in what order (perhaps you’ll have a short feature article, then links to recent blog posts).
- What formatting you’ll include. Even in plain text, you can use lines, asterisks, or other features to help add more interest to your email.
By being consistent, you’ll help readers to recognize your emails and feel comfortable with them. You’ll also be more likely to produce a great newsletter every time, because you won’t be struggling to remember all the little details.
Blog Post Templates
You may already be using a template for your blog posts, even if you don’t think about it that way. For instance, perhaps:
- You always (or almost always) start off with an image.
- You often end with a question designed to encourage comments.
Your template can be very basic, or it can be more involved. You might choose to have several different templates for different types of post. For instance, if you publish a round-up every Friday of what’s happening in your industry, that’s probably going to look quite different from an in-depth “how to” post.
As with email newsletters, a consistent template for your posts makes it easy for readers to feel comfortable. It brands your blog content as uniquely “you”. It can also act as a checklist for you, to help you make your posts as high-quality as possible.
For instance, your template might include:
- An attention-grabbing title.
- An eye-catching photo.
- A question or quote to open the post.
- Several subheadings to break the post into sections.
- A short conclusion summing up.
- A call to action, e.g. a question or two that invite readers to comment.
When you’re reading blogs, pay attention to what works for you as a reader: which posts are easy to engage with? See if there are any elements in their structure and design that you could use in your blog post template(s).
Tip: If you take guest posts, you may want to share your template as part of your guest post guidelines. By getting authors to use this up front, you’ll save a lot of time editing and tweaking their posts to fit your blog.
You might want to go even further with templates, potentially using them for reaching out to influencers by email, for creating longer projects like ebooks or downloadable guides, and for structuring non-written content like podcasts and videos.
Pick Your Template and Go
If you’ve not used templates before, I hope that you’ll give them a try over the next couple of weeks. A great place to start is by creating a short list of headline templates and/or tweet templates. If you’re struggling to write your email newsletter or blog posts, then give one of the newsletter or blog post templates a try. Start with one template that you need right now, and then work your way up to the rest.
Drop a comment below to let me know how you get on. What are your favorite template tips?