Before you get to the publishing, before you get to the sharing, and way before you get to the marketing – the first step in content is writing.
The deluge of content on the web has not only given us information overload syndrome, it’s also lowered our expectations. Today, anything can pass for content. But it’s our responsibility as content marketers to evolve with the changing consumption habits of our audience and produce content that speaks to them – not just content for the sake of creating content.
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Here are 10 content writing basics to keep in mind the next time you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard):
1. Make content habitual, not just an occasional activity.
The “practice makes perfect” mantra has never lost meaning, especially when it comes to content. If you’re struggling with content creation, it’s possible that you simply don’t do it enough.
Carve out time every day to create a content piece to refine your writing skills. Write a story, explain a set of steps or summarize a long-form piece of content.
One of the biggest keys to being a habitual writer is to write about things you have a passionate for. So, if you’re assigned a topic that doesn’t spark inspiration and excitement, figure out how to tweak it in a way that gets your creative juices flowing.
2. Keep sharp focus on your topic while remaining succinct.
Each content piece you write should have a specific, defined goal. Solving a problem, telling a story, or getting someone to take further action are all examples of content-driven goals.
Make sure that your writing does its best to achieve your goal in a short amount of time while staying on topic, otherwise, your content may seem disjointed. Take too long to get to the point and you risk losing your reader.
3. Use out-of-the-box sources to gather better information.
Simply listening to conversations around you can help identify interesting questions that your content can answer. Reporters and bloggers often “eavesdrop” or listen to what people are saying while traveling to work on the bus, or digitally on social media.
Alternatively, think about conversations you’ve had in the past that piqued your interest and then follow up with those people. While writing about something you know solidifies your authority and expertise, sometimes it’s good to write about topics you’re less familiar with to create valuable research experience and learn new things.
4. Boredom is contagious.
If you’re not passionate about what you’re writing and are creating content for the sake of creating content, it will be apparent in your writing. Content that doesn’t excite or entertain the audience is certain to be victim to the back button or the trash bin.
5. Be conversational and cut the jargon.
If you were explaining something to someone for the very first time, would you use technical terms, or try to break it down to make it as easy as possible? I hope your answer is the latter. Take this approach in your content and be conversational to connect with readers and increase the likelihood that they’ll return for more.
6. An original is worth more than a copy.
It shouldn’t be difficult to create original work. Everything can be viewed in a different perspective or angle and it’s perfectly acceptable to write content that responds to or summarizes someone else’s work.
Just remember that the worst thing you can do is copy or borrow content without giving the original source credit. So either start from scratch, or take a journalistic mindset and include links and quotes of sources.
7. Use audience feedback to shape content.
If you’re looking for a place to start or to dig up some fresh ideas, simply ask your audience. They’ll tell you what they’re interested in, what they love, what they hate and more.
The best part? Sometimes you don’t even have to ask them; simply listening to their conversations (by searching for industry keywords) in social media can give you the fuel that you need.
8. Leave a footprint with visual storytelling.
In 2015, content isn’t content without multimedia such as photos or videos. According to Ekaterina Walter, visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text alone, and content that contains compelling imagery attracts 94 percent more total views than content without.
9. Focus on better headlines.
Headlines are an art that can take some time to master. After all, it depends on your audience’s attitude, preferences and more. A headline written for one blog might not work for the readers of another.
However, there are some universal truths that seem to work across industries and verticals: a good headline presents a mystery that can only be solved by reading further. It is personal, insightful, and shareable.
10. Make it an experience.
Why do people read content in the first place? If you attracted a reader with a great headline or a compelling image, you’re only halfway there. Now, you have to deliver on your promise.
Be descriptive, and offer entertainment as well as utility. What is going to be the differentiating factor that is going to keep your audience coming back for more?
Maybe it’s a series of GIFs that relate to your content that makes the reader chuckle. Maybe it’s the fact that every step you write is actionable and easy to follow. Either way, make it worthwhile.
For any type of content marketing, put the reader first to produce content that goes further in your campaigns. Once you’re sure you’ve created a content piece that will benefit your audience, you can then proceed with tactics for publishing, marketing and promoting.