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Last modified by Justin Stern on March 23rd, 2020 at 01:57 am.

So you want to write a blog post

Writing is an important part of SkyVerge culture. Content is one of the main ways we tell the world about our products, and as a remote company, it’s important for everyone on the team to continue to improve their written communication skills. 

So, as you might expect, we love it when people on the team want to contribute blog posts to our company blogs: Upsell on the Jilt side, and the SkyVerge blog

Typically, there are a few different types of posts people write:

  • Process – These posts talk about a specific way of doing things at SkyVerge, such as our approach to prioritizing projects or how we conduct a certain type of meeting.
  • Culture – These are posts about what it’s like to work at SkyVerge. Here’s a good example from Lindsey about what it’s like to go on one of our company retreats.
  • Expertise – While we usually use in-house or contract writers to create content for our users about running their eCommerce store, if there’s something you’re particularly passionate about sharing, let’s talk!

Audience and voice

“Expertise” posts are written for our customers and potential customers, which means our target audience is store owners and managers at eCommerce shops doing $10k – $1M+ per month in sales. 

The audience for other stories is our peers. The goal is really to paint a picture of what life is like at SkyVerge in order to help attract high quality folks to our team. So when you’re writing a “process” or “culture” post, think about what you’d like to read or about what your coworkers might enjoy reading. 

All SkyVerge stories are authoritative, but accessible. We try to use plain language wherever possible, but never talk down to readers. Our writing strives to be precise and clear, even when discussing complex or sophisticated issue, and wherever possible, we back up any factual claims with data from trusted sources.

Our tone is approachable and never stuffy or old fashioned. We avoid abject silliness or sophomoric humor, but our writing does have humor and personality. We often speak directly to the reader, use modern language, and the use of personal anecdotes or metaphors to make stories relatable is always encouraged (that’s especially true for culture posts—show, don’t tell!). 

Pitching

The first step in writing a blog post for SkyVerge is to create a pitch. This is a short document (a couple hundred words), explaining what you plan to write and why. The following is a basic structure you can follow.

Post title – This is a placeholder; something to focus your thoughts about the idea, but will likely change before publication.

Description – Write out a short distillation of what the post will be about. What are the main points you’ll discuss? What is the main question or questions you’ll answer? Who is the intended reader and what should they learn from this? E.g., let’s say you’re planning to write a post about how the engineering team designed and deployed our feature flag system. In a paragraph or two, explain why this was important to build, what research you did / questions you set out to answer, and what decision you made.

Keywords – If someone were to search for this post, what might they put into Google? This need not be exhaustive keyword research, just offer your best guess at the words, phases, or questions someone might use to find this post. (The content team will think more deeply about keywords for your post, but it’s a helpful exercise to focus your writing around a few key concepts.)

Competition – When you do those searches, what’s out there? What posts exist that we’ll try to surpass in terms of quality? Take some time to read the top few results and include a handful of links here. (This is less important for posts about specific aspects of SkyVerge’s culture.) 

Write up your pitch in a Google doc and share it with Josh. You may be asked for more information or to clarify parts of your pitch, or we’ll move directly into writing…

Drafting

Here’s what makes a good story for our blogs:

  • It’s clear – Stories on our blogs are easy to understand.
  • It’s concise – As William Strunk and E.B. White write in The Elements of Style: “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should contain no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
  • It’s useful – People come to our blogs to learn, so each post is expected to deliver some actionable information they can apply to their store, business, or lives.
  • It’s interesting – Boring stories don’t holder readers’ attention. Include anecdotes and examples to bring your points to life. Write to readers, not at them.
  • It’s unique – One of the reasons we ask writers to do a search of the competition during the pitching phase is so you get a sense of what has already been said. What can you add to the discussion? How can your story be different?

Outlining

Writing an outline isn’t necessary, but it’s certainly recommended. Outlines help you focus your ideas and organize your thoughts and research. Creating an outline before you start writing can help identify issues early, so you don’t waste time going down a path that doesn’t work.

How you structure your outline and how detailed you get is up to you. Some writers prefer to sketch out just a simplistic skeletal structure of the piece, laying out section headers with a few details about what will be written under each. Other writers like to map out each paragraph with detail and decide where stats and quotes from their research will go before writing.

Use whichever style works for you.

The lede

The first part of every post is a lede. The lede is the bait that lures the reader in convinces them to stick around for the entire post. A good lede does two things:

  1. It makes a clear statement about the value of the piece. In other words: it signals to the reader what they can expect to learn if they keep reading.
  2. It distinguishes the story from others. It argues to the reader why they should spend their time on this story.

How you structure your lede depends on the type of story you’re telling, and some story types can bend the rules a bit. But in general, ledes get to the point quickly. (If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “don’t bury the lede,” that’s what this means. A buried lede is a story that takes too long telling readers why they should keep reading.)

While you need to get the point, you shouldn’t be so direct your lose personality. Boring is just as bad as long winded or chaotic. Readers need to know why they should keep reading, but they’ll usually give you a paragraph or two, provided you’re giving them something interesting (like a relatable anecdote) to pull them in. 

The body

The intro hooks the reader and draws them in, but the body is where you deliver on the promises you’ve made. The body makes up the bulk of your post and includes all the lessons, information, and examples you want to impart.

The structure of your body can take on many forms, from step-by-step instructions, to a list of examples, to a story-like narrative walking the reader through a specific circumstance. Each of these structures serves different purposes and the SkyVerge content team can help you choose the best structure for your post.

That said, there are some basic “rules” that we like to follow:

  • Posts should be readable, which means you should strive to break up big blocks of text. That means short paragraphs, frequent headers and subheaders, pull quotes or bullet lists where appropriate, images, examples, etc.
  • Posts should be relatable, which means including clear examples or anecdotes to illustrate your points whenever possible. It also means choosing the right words to set a proper tone. Making your post relatable and understandable means using words that match the situation you’re describing and the feeling you want to convey. Trip, voyage, trek, and jaunt are all roughly interchangeable by definition, but you wouldn’t use them interchangeably because they evoke different tones. 
  • Posts should be actionable, which means the reader should come away with a clear understanding of what the post intended to teach. Readers should be able to take what they just read, and put it into practice immediately.

The conclusion

Every post needs a conclusion. Your conclusion should recap key points from your post and offer readers a roadmap to put it into practice. For most posts on our blogs we use a format for our conclusions called “Key takeaways,” which offers a one to two sentence wrap up followed by a set of bullet points recapping main lessons. Sometimes this is followed by another bullet list offering “next steps” for implementing those lessons.

This format works well for most posts, but not all. Just remember you conclusion is meant to tie up your post for the reader and remind them of what they’ve learned.

Style

STYLE GUIDE COMING SOON! FOR NOW, THE CONTENT TEAM CAN SEND YOU OUR DRAFT STYLE GUIDE IN GOOGLE DOCS.

Submission and editing

When you’re done with your draft, send it as a Google doc to the content team for editorial review.

Ideally, we’ve worked out any major structural issues during the pitching or outlining phase (or you’ve been in communication with the content team while writing to work through issues as you wrote). That said, your post will likely require a couple of rounds of editing. 

An editor will leave specific notes and suggested edits on your draft directly. You may also receive broader notes about your piece via email or in Slack. Don’t be intimidated! Suggested edits and comments in Google Docs can look overwhelming, but we’re on your side. Editing isn’t meant to be a comment on your writing ability, but a process to get us to the best possible product for our readers. The reason we may add suggestions and requested changes rather than just implementing those changes is to help you improve your writing.

Pro-tip: Before you submit your draft for review, give it a thorough read—out loud. One of the best ways to identify mistakes or issues with your writing is to read it aloud. You’ll notice errors your brain autocorrected when you read to yourself, and you’ll hear places where your word choice or sentence structure is “off.” 

As the late Boston Globe columnist Don Murray once said, “I read aloud so I can hear every word, can discover where the little words bump into each other and destroy the rhythm.”

Technical edit

For highly technical posts, like those from the engineering and product teams, your post might also go through a technical edit phase. Another person on the team (e.g., another engineer) will read over your post from a technical perspective to make sure everything you’re saying makes sense (code snippets work, technical advice is sound, etc.). This will come after we have the prose to a basically publishable state.

Publication

That’s it! Once your draft is in a publish-ready state, we’ll get it loaded up in WordPress and scheduled. After it goes live, you’re definitely encouraged it share it with family and friends, post it on social media, or print it out and hang it on the fridge.

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