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How to Create Stronger, More Professional Content by Using Templates

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]

For some great thoughts on creating compelling titles, check out Cosette Jarrett’s post Is Your Blog Title Worth the Click?

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].

Tweet Templates

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.

Newsletter Templates

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?

About Ali Luke

Ali Luke blogs about the art, craft and business of writing at Aliventures and runs Writers' Huddle, a teaching/community site for writers. If you\'re struggling to get started or keep up your momentum on a big writing project, take her six-week ecourse, On Track, absolutely free here.

41 comments

  1. My day job consists mainly of writing in the corporate world where templates are king. Although I have seen and been aware of template use in emails I received regularly from writers/bloggers, I failed to recognize it as a technique that might work in my own development as a freelance writer. I’m going to give templates a try and see if they help me stay organized and consistent. I’m betting I’ll find them as useful as many have. Thanks for the timely post.

  2. I agree that using templates can save time and effort. I also like to challenge the “what is” so I use templates as a starting point and use them to help me be intentional about what and how I write. Instead of just copying what I am “told” to write, I think about what I am trying to achieve, and then either follow, improve upon or break the rules. The element of surprise that resulted from breaking the rules has helped me to get attention (in a good way)

    1. Starting with “what am I trying to achieve?” is an excellent way to write. I think too many writers (especially bloggers) get caught in the trap of writing a post for the sake of writing a post, without much thought about what they want that post to *do* (e.g. build engagement, get subscribers onto their email list, gently promote a product).

      I’m all for challenging and indeed breaking the rules — and templates are a great way to ensure you have a solid base beneath you when you do that. 🙂

  3. Ali, thanks so much for this post. I have this weird thing against taking any kind of “shortcut”, even when it will help me. But, after reading your post (and all the comments), I totally see the value of using templates – and I have a better understanding of what they are. I am going to create some for my own use and look at them as tools rather than shortcuts. Honestly, semantics gets me in so much trouble sometimes! 😉 Thanks again!

  4. Ali , great post. It made me see that templates are like someone else has taken the time and effort to build the foundations, thereby allowing you to spend time on your message and serving people. thanks

    1. Thanks Mark! I think that’s a great way to explain templates: the foundations are all in place so you know your headline / tweet / email / blog post will stand strong. 🙂

  5. Hello Ali, I have to say that after reading your post on Templates, I am already contemplating different strategies to incorporate in the newsletters/tweets/posts for myself and my clients. Thanks for the tips on being a more effective writer! 🙂

  6. Hi Ali, I like your post because it is practical so it is workable. Would you believe that I have started to put together templates for my writing? So I have grasped the concepts that you are conveying. I particularly like how you used Sid’s post as an example, this is commendable. I will be visiting your blog today. Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome, Marlene, and thanks so much for your kind words — I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post and that you’re creating templates for your own writing.

  7. damn my spellchecker has hard times choosing between Dutch and English.
    want is not the UK want.. but the Dutch moffin… I typed: wasn’t

  8. Helo!

    nice refreshment of the working brain in action..
    I have checked my mails and Tweet templates accordingly, want too far off… thanks !!

    Happy writing!

  9. Without templates, I’d still be working on that training course I wrote last year. 😉 With templates in a spreadsheet, I created 28 lessons in a matter of days. They’re a lifesaver!

    1. Very true, Sophie! I think courses are a brilliant chance to use templates — and I’m sure that your course itself will be easier for people to engage with because of the systematic, consistent way you created it.

  10. Hi Ali, Krithika, and all,

    I am honored that you used me as example of someone who creates & uses templates. Yes, when Danny taught me to write the Daily Q&A last spring, I created this template, and I use it for every Daily Q&A email I write. It helps me be consistent.

    And Krithika is right, also. I open my heart and write to the One Person who represents my audience so – I hope – template or no, my writing is authentic. The result is I can get a lot more caring and thought into each email in less time.

    For me, a template is a guide that asks the right questions so I line up my heart & mind in the right way. It helps me do my best.

    1. Sid, thanks for the lovely comment. Your emails truly are authentic, and the fact they’re well-structured makes them easy for me to digest! I also like knowing what to expect when I open them (I’m not big on surprises). 😉

      I’ve often been impressed by the way you offer honest advice (even if it means giving someone a not-so-easy-to-hear answer) — but you always do so in a gentle and respectful way.

  11. Brilliant! I do use templates, though I haven’t necessarily labeled it as such. I never thought of writing down the template I use for blog posts and providing it to guest bloggers! I have someone writing a post for me right now, and I’m sure ‘ll be editing it. Next time, I’ll think ahead! Thanks a million.

    1. Glad this helped, Louise! It took me a while to really see the power of templates, too — I hope you find they make working with guest bloggers a much more efficient process (with a bit less editing involved)!

  12. I enjoyed your tips and explanations. Very wise and informative. I had the idea when I clicked to read this blog that you were going to offer resources for templates. Are there downloadable templates? Maybe I am not sure what templates are exactly.
    Thanks for the info
    Ruby

    1. Thanks Ruby! We might have slightly different definitions of “template” — perhaps you were thinking of a design template, for a website / webpage or email?

      Here, I was focusing on templates for the structure of content itself. I gave some example ones in the post which you’re welcome to build on — the headline templates are the best place to begin.

      I hope that helps clarify things; do comment again if not!

  13. Hey Ali

    Honestly, I have not been a fan of templates, but you make some fine points. I might have to rethink my ‘bias’ against using them.

    Sid’s emails don’t read like templates – even though he uses them – because he always writes for his audience. It’s not an impersonal email dashed out at the last minute. He puts in time, thought and tenderness into his every piece of content, which just works! <3

    Thank you so much
    Kitto

    1. Thanks for being so receptive to this post, Kitto! Of course templates can be misused, and I’m certainly no fan of lazy content. I completely agree with you about Sid’s emails — they’re one of my very few “must reads” and they always come across as thoughtful and knowledgeable, as well as friendly and personable.

  14. I worked for a time as a technical writer as well, Marylyn. It always frustrated me that customers didn’t want to think that their documents were created using templates, and would ask us accusatorily whether we used them. However, the final product is always better for having used them, with nothing omitted and perfect and consistent formatting every time. I think people hear “template” and think “cheap shortcut”, when it just isn’t true.

    1. That is frustrating, Nicole, and I completely agree with you about a template-based final product being better. Personally, I’m always reassured to think that I’m getting something tried-and-tested without any bits accidentally left off, rather than whatever someone’s cobbled together off the top of their head!

  15. Fantastic post! I’ve been on a hiatus from writing anything (social media, blogs, newsletters) and have been slowly thinking about how I want to jump back in and if I want to change anything so this post is *extremely* timely for me to read! It’s got me thinking about what I’ve done in the past and what I do (& don’t) want to change in my writing style and why!

    1. Thanks Araida, so pleased this came at a good time for you. I think every writer needs some fallow time to let new seeds start to sprout … hope that you have a good time getting back into things, and that you’ll find lots of new ideas just ready to grow. 🙂

  16. Great ideas! I am just now in the process of writing blog posts for my blog tour over on HFVBT for my new book, The Loyalist’s Luck. And I’ve developed a template which is working well. Ali, your post takes my ideas much further. Thanks for giving that old envelope a good shove!

  17. Great post, Ali! I love templates/checklist. They save SO much time, and make my life easier. Thanks for tips on using templates for tweets and headlines!

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