What’s the latest term du jour going around? Content marketing? Content development? Content writing?
Personally, I prefer to use content development because it covers a wider scope. But, let’s agree that content development and content writing are aspects of content marketing.
Okay, clear now? Phew!
“Content — and therefore content marketing — sits at the center of the next phase of marketing technology, and offers a massive opportunity.” —Noah Brier, recodeSpeaking of which, ever thought about content writing as a career? Sounds interesting, right? Picture it now — working from home, slippers on, cat curled up in your lap, no commute, peaceful lunches at the local café …
Reality is, it’s quite a lot of work and doesn’t always include a steady paycheck. Content writing can require a range of business skills as well; marketing, strategy, SEO, WordPress, HTML, social media, and the ability to parse Google Analytics results, to name a few.
Let’s not forget a working knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator. You might not normally associate Adobe Creative Suite skills with writing. But design tools enable you explain ideas visually. The ability to generate complementary visuals greatly enhance your skill set.
In any case, here are seven simple steps toward achieving high-quality content writing:
1. Set Clear Objectives
Most effective content writing will follow a targeted content strategy. If you’re working for a client, their brief should guide you on the objective. When it’s a piece for your own site, carefully outline what you want to accomplish and how that will serve the higher level strategy.
“Craft your message based on the objectives that you want to reach.” —Julia McCoy, Kissmetrics
2. Select Good Keywords
Before actual research can begin, identify SEO keywords that will work best for your topic. Many tools – including Google Adwords Keyword Planner – will help you do this. Once you’ve settled on the topic and keywords, you are better positioned to dig up suitable sources.
“For brands to be successful in reaching consumers, they will need to create engaging and on-brand content.” —Noah Brier, recode
3. Build a Strong Foundation Based On Research
Many writers are called upon to elaborate on topics they specialize in. But, content writing often requires you to research topics you have limited experience with.
Thus, strong research is the foundation on which good content writing is built. There’s always a limit to how much you can devote toward each piece, so aim to work efficiently.
Gather as much intel from the client as possible. When you dive into research mode, paste unformatted notes and source links into a bare-bones text file. Once you finish up a decent first draft, hand it off to a colleague or client stakeholder to confirm the case you’ve laid out.
Review their comments, apply improvements, and repeat. With each iteration of this process, your content writing will improve.
4. Simplify Complex Ideas
Content writing often requires you to explain complex challenges and solutions in ways almost anyone would understand.
Persuasion is enhanced by simplification. So, break complex ideas down into smaller pieces. Employ simple words and active language.
“Keep your message short and clean. Studies have shown that some of the best calls-to-action are under 150 characters.” —Julia McCoy, Kissmetrics
Assume you need to communicate the entire solution on one small brochure panel. Another tactic is to imagine you need to explain the concept to a 12-year-old.
Certainly, content writing doesn’t have to be limited to text alone. Carefully arranged visual elements can be transformed into powerful infographics and workflow diagrams to help readers parse complex concepts quickly.
5. Apply Your Unique Voice
Though you want to get your ideas across quickly, sometimes it’s okay to entertain and engage with humor. Don’t be afraid to let your unique voice shine through. Remember, you’re writing directly to one person. Have fun with it.
6. Listen to the Copywriter Inside
Though content writing often requires you to explain a topic in a straightforward, engaging manner, it pays to think like a copywriter.
Content writing actually has a lot in common with copywriting. On a blog post, you may have more license to incorporate humor and use a storytelling approach. But, key copywriting traits like active voice, positive tone, and clear benefits will help your work shine.
Remember, from the moment someone arrives at your site or web page, they begin judging: “How will this make my day easier?” “Can these ideas really help me bring in more revenue?” “Exactly how will this reduce annual costs?”
If your content writing doesn’t address those issues, they may lose interest.
Writing a persuasive Call-to-Action (CTA) is a fascinating topic we should certainly spend more time on. What motivates us to click links and submit information through web forms?
“Small Business Trends indicates that 70% of most B2B websites lack a call to action. This rookie mistake is automatically affecting that website’s relationship with clients and ultimately, their competitiveness and profit margins.” —Julia McCoy, Kissmetrics
Just remember to ask your reader for an action. Whether it’s a simple request to click, purchase, or submit their email address — if it was worth investing time on content writing, surely it’s worth asking your visitor to take a specific action.
Speaking of a Call-to-Action, don’t forget to claim your free Business Writing Guide, below.
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Sources may include:
What’s Content Marketing Again?, Noah Brier, recode
5 Ways to Write Magnetic Call-to-Actions in Just 5 Minutes, Julia McCoy, Kissmetrics Blog
10 Content Marketing Trends Every Leader Needs to Know for 2015, John Hall, Inc. Magazine