How to Write Better Content
Writing daily or weekly content can be daunting for business professionals. Learning how to write better content? Well, that’s downright overwhelming. Especially if you aren’t necessarily a “writer.”
The concept of being a writer is subjective. In my opinion, every marketer is a writer. We use words to sell products, educate our readers and build relationships with our followers.
So why does writing get a bad rap? Why don’t we enjoy it more?
When we hold the perspective that writing is a task – something we have to get done – it takes all the fun out of the experience. And when we believe we’re not good at it, well, why should we even try?
Anyone can be a writer, and everyone can learn to improve their skills.
Here are 6 ways to write better content now:
Use simple, common grammar
This one seems like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read that have mixed up things like “they’re” and “their.” People will not take you seriously if you continue to confuse homophones.
One trick that takes your copy to the next level is avoiding passive tense. Not only does it add to your overall word count, but passive tense makes you seem, well, passive. The reader sees a lack of confidence, uncertainty and hesitation. Here’s an example:
Our handmade, vegan soap was given five stars by over two-thirds of survey respondents. OR:
Over two-thirds of survey respondents give our handmade, vegan soap five stars.
Which sounds better, more believable? The second sentence is more direct, and you can almost feel the sense of pride and excitement from the writer. If you’re unsure of the difference between passive and active voice, check out Purdue’s Online Writing Lab.
Finally, the Oxford comma. What is it and should you use it? The Oxford, or serial, comma is the final comma in a list of items:
We offer gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free options.
So, should you adopt it in your writing style? Well, that’s up to you. The Oxford comma is required in some style guides, like academic or professional publications. However, the AP style, which journalists and reporters use, does not require it. Go with your gut here. If it makes sense in a sentence, use it; especially if omitting it will confuse the list you wrote.
Write like you talk
Marketing guru, Seth Godin, suggests we write like we talk because, “no one ever gets talker’s block.”
[Tweetable: “No one ever get’s talker’s block. Write like you talk. Often.” @thisissethsblog]
No one wants to read an academic paper about the myriad benefits of essential oils. If we take Seth’s advice, we should write like we’re having a conversation with someone. We can share a personal story about how essential oils healed our migraines or improved our focus. We can connect with a potential customer who suffers from the same ailments.
Writing like we talk means that certain grammatical errors can be overlooked. It’s okay to start a sentence with the word “and” if that’s how you speak normally. You can even add extra exclamation points if you like. Writing like we talk helps us become more relatable, more human, even if we’re selling the most technical of products. People want to know there’s a human being behind the company. That breeds trust, respect and future sales.
Finally, some style tips on writing like you talk: keep paragraphs short. Aim for three to four sentences per paragraph. Keep your sentences short, too. Sentences should be 20 words or less, on average. Another good rule of thumb is no more than 300 words under each subheadings. Oh yeah, make sure to break up a lot of text with subheadings.
Speak to one person
In keeping your copy conversational, write like you’re speaking to a single person. When people search the internet for answers to their questions or solutions to their problems, they want to feel like they are important. Using words like “you” and “your” help your potential customers feel like you care about them and want to help them, specifically, with their problems.
This is easier when you have an idea of who your ideal customer is. Think broadly about who you’re trying to reach. Are they millennials? Moms? Retirees? Executives? Now, distill that group into a single person. Is it a male or female? Age? Where do they live? What are their hobbies?
Now, go deeper. Use these questions to really understand your single, ideal customer and how you can best serve them:
- What problem can you help them solve?
- What is the one worry keeping them up at night?
- What are their biggest fears?
- What are their hopes and dreams?
- What goal have they set for their life?
- What do they want to make easier in their life/work?
Once you have a clear picture of your ideal customer in mind, write to this one person. It will help you attract more of the customers you want and deter those you don’t want. Other people outside of your ideal customer may still read your article and love what you have to say, but that’s a bonus. Don’t try to be all things to all people.
Craft a compelling headline
Even the most valuable, interesting content will be ignored if the title doesn’t connect with readers. Your headline’s one job is to create interest and forecast the information people will find when they click through. Here’s an Z to Z Guide to help you do that.
You can also use a free tool like CoSchedule Headline Analyzer to grade your headlines. Are they compelling enough to attract readers? Do they have the right mix of words? Do they tell readers what the article is about? This free tool helps you create better headlines by showing you what works and what doesn’t.
Here are some tried and true headlines to grab your readers:
- # ways to [something the reader wants to do/learn]: 6 Ways to Write Better Headlines
- Top #: Top 10 Digital Marketing Conferences of 2018
- How to [do something the reader wants to do/learn]: How to Make Irresistible Gluten-Free Brownies
- How [Brand Name or Celebrity] [does something the reader wants to do/learn]: How Southwest Exceeds Customer Expectations
- Best of [Category or Product or Topic]: Best Websites of 2018
- Why [something] is [the way it is]: Why People Aren’t Reading Your Blog
- Interview with [Celebrity or Influencer]: [topic of interview]: The Case Against Video Marketing: Interview with Kate Bradley Chernis
- Secrets of [something your reader wants to do/learn]: The Secret to Keeping Your Desk Organized
Remember to capitalize all proper nouns in your headlines, but not transition words like “and,” “the,” or “to.”
Grab and keep their attention
Make your introductory paragraph captivating without being overly long. It should tease about what’s to come without giving away the gold.
Here are some ways you can hold your readers’ attention in your introduction:
- Tell a fascinating or interesting story: It doesn’t have to be a tearjerker about how you rescued a puppy from a well (or was it the other way around?). It can be a story about your morning commute, the people you noticed at the coffee shop that morning, or an anecdote about something funny you did as a child. Anything that the reader can relate to.
- Reveal a little-known fact: “Did you know…” articles pique interest because the reader will start by asking themselves the question you posed. If they didn’t know the fact, they will want to keep reading to learn more about it, and if they did know the answer, they’ll keep reading to see if they know more than you do. Win-win.
- Share a contrarian viewpoint: There’s nothing humans love more than a little controversy. A great way to do this is to reference a recent pop culture phenomenon or a deeply-held myth in your niche. Write an article about your personal opinion on the matter and invite your readers to share their opinions in the comments. Be careful of getting too one-sided, however. You don’t want to alienate new readers who don’t yet know you.
You also want to make your closing just as juicy as the intro. Here’s where you can summarize what your reader learned in the article, ask them to leave you a comment, or drop a cliffhanger that encourages the reader to check back for the next article.
Proofread, proofread, proofread
This one should go without saying. Even readers who are there to skim an article will pick up a spelling mistake like nobody’s business.
Take a few moments to reread and edit your article for grammar, spelling mistakes and clarity. Better yet, ask a friend or colleague to read it before you hit publish. An extra set of eyes is invaluable.
Bonus tip: write every day
The best way to write better content is to write every day. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. It’s important to hone your writing skills just as you would when learning to play an instrument or sport.
Schedule writing time in your calendar. You can write about things related to your niche, write from a journal prompt, or write about your day. The key is to make writing a consistent habit.
Anyone can be a writer, and anyone can improve their skills with these tips.
Remember who you’re writing for: your ideal customer. Always keep this person in mind when writing your articles. Think about how you can best serve them, or how you can solve their biggest pain point.
Make writing a consistent part of your daily routine, and you’ll improve in no time.