According to The State of Content Marketing Global Report released by Semrush, the biggest content marketing challenge that marketing teams face is to create content that generates quality leads. Make no mistake, there’s no shortage of content and, perhaps, therein lies the rub. There are millions of pieces of content that you need to compete against!
Whether it’s a landing page or simply subject lines for email newsletters, your words should move your readers to action. In this article, we’ll explain how you can do just that. Continue reading to find out which 11 best practices for content writing you should implement in 2023 to keep both your human readers and the search engines happy.
What Is Content Writing and How to Excel at It in 2023:
What’s Content Writing?
In a nutshell, content writing refers to the process of creating content for the web. From blog posts to email newsletters to landing pages to podcast scripts to social media posts, content writing is generally used to create different types of material that can be used for digital marketing. In essence, it involves a three-step process: planning, writing, and editing.
Content Writing Vs. Copywriting: What’s the Difference?
The lines between content writing and copywriting are often blurred. Plus, many label themselves as both a content writer as well as a copywriter.
While very similar, there’s one key difference between these two roles. Content writers are usually responsible for creating longer types of content with the aim of informing readers. On the other hand, copywriters typically create shorter pieces that concentrate more on promotional purposes than simply educating its audience.
Which Skills Do You Need?
Needless to say, you need to be a wordsmith to some degree, or at least be comfortable with a pen in hand so to speak. Just like with any profession, there’s a long list of skills you need to be a good content writer (not solely writing skills). So, the following are just two of the key skills that deserve special mention and not the only expertise that content writers need.
Sure, you’ll have your own style, but you’ll need to be willing and able to adjust it so that it fits the different types of texts. For example, adverts need to be more persuasive, while blog posts are longer and more personal.
Writing for the web is a bit different than writing for print publications. Content writers also need to know how to conduct keyword research. Luckily there are several online tools that can help you to identify keywords, but it does take some skill to implement these keywords in a manner that’s natural. For example, you might have to change your title or headings slightly so that more keywords are included.
In addition to keyword research, you’ll also have to research your target audience. If you’ve written for offline sources before, you’ll most likely be familiar with this process. This can be a time-consuming step as you’ll need to create a couple of different user personas (aka buyer personas) that your copy will target.
In short, you’ll need to know their wants, wishes, and the type of language that will resonate with them. It’s only once you know who your target audience is that you’ll be able to write something that they’ll actually want to read. After all, you’re writing for them
11 Content Writing Best Practices
1. Don’t skip the planning phase
As mentioned earlier, content writing is more than simply writing. Planning and editing are integral to the process. As a matter of fact, if you take the time to plan your writing by creating a type of outline, you’ll spend less time on writing the actual content. Not only will you save time, but the final copy will also be higher quality as it will ensure that nothing important gets left out and that it’s well-structured with a logical flow.
Let’s be clear, a creative brief is no replacement for planning. Your brief will basically just share an overview of the project’s requirements and goals. You’ll still need to find resources and create a framework for your piece of content.
2. Research the competition
During the planning process, you should also devote some time to checking out the competition. Not only will you get a lot of valuable information about what type of content your competition is sharing, but also the type of audience it attracts.
3. Topics matter, but angles matter more
According to WordPress data, more than 70 million new blog posts get created each month. If you want your content to get seen and read, identifying trending topics isn’t good enough. You’ll also need to think of a unique angle that you can use.
Depending on your target audience, you can, for instance, dare to go controversial. If not, sharing a personal story is a safer way to let your content stand out.
4. Pay attention to your heading and intro
While you shouldn’t neglect any part or element of your content (that’s not what we’re suggesting at all), your heading and intro need extra TLC. The majority of people make up their mind about whether or not it would be worthwhile to continue reading a blog post in a matter of seconds.
So, if your headline and first few paragraphs aren’t going to hook them, they’ll simply leave the page. When you’re writing for the web, you don’t want your content to be a page-turner. Instead, you want them to stay on the page for as long as possible.
Here, length will matter too. Your heading should offer specific details without revealing the whole plot. According to a study completed by BuzzSumo in which they analyzed millions of headlines, your headline should be about 11 words (or 65 characters). As for your introduction, ideally, it should be about no more than eight sentences.
With regards to what content to include, in your intro, focus on why people should continue reading. What benefits will the piece offer them?
Your heading probably also hinted at what they’ll discover by reading your text. So, make sure that there’s a clear link between your headline and the introduction.
5. Make it useful
For content to be effective, it needs to offer more than entertainment. Your target audience needs to find it helpful and by target audience we’re not referring to everyone. If you try to write for too many people at the same time, there’s the risk that no one will find it useful.
Step-by-step how-to guides are popular, but not the only type of format you can use to offer valuable information. Whatever format you decide to use, narrow down the focus of your article, add actionable tips, and make sure that you include examples and only current information.
6. Make it relatable
Not only should content be useful, but your audience must be able to relate to it. Basically, you want your audience to feel like you get them and they’re seen.
You can do this with word choice. Content that uses the second-person point of view (words such as you, your, yours, and yourself) is more direct and personal, making it easier for your readers to relate to you.
High-quality content also appeals to your readers’ emotions. You can, for example, appeal to their sense of desire or annoyance.
How can your brand and its products help them? How will it make their lives better?
7. Focus on readability
Just because your heading and introduction have an important role to play doesn’t let you off the hook when it comes to the rest of your content. Useful content can only be useful to your readers if it’s easy to digest it.
The content on the web that gets the best results is simple to read. Not only should it be able to grab people’s attention, but it should also be able to maintain it. In other words, it should be engaging.
Generally, shorter sentences and paragraphs work better (like this one).
When you’re writing for the web, effective copy will get visitors to complete some sort of action. If you have big chunks of text and long sentences that flow into one another, it becomes harder for your visitors to know what that action is.
So, avoid using too many words if there’s a simpler way to write something. In short, every single word that you use should be picked for a reason.
In the case of written content, you can also break up your paragraphs by adding visuals and several subheadings. Truth be told, when reading content on the web, people prefer to scan a text. So, don’t take offense. Instead, make it easier for your target audience to scan your content.
Plus, not only will subheadings make it easier to scan, but it actually makes it easier to remember information (even though they might not have read it word for word).
8. Call attention to your calls to action
There’s another element that you can use to make your text more readable and that’s call-to-action prompts. Even if you tried your best to keep your sentences and paragraphs short, readers might still get lost along the way.
Effective calls to action are clear and compelling. While they should be short, they should be longer than a word. Typically, you’ll start with a verb that’s followed by a relevant phrase. Readers should always know precisely where they’ll get redirected to when they click on a link.
9. Be credible
Your content will only be useful to your audience if it comes across as credible and convincing. You’ll need to do your research (and it needs to show).
That’s why the planning phase is so critical. For example, statistics can help to support arguments. So, to let your readers know that you’ve researched the topic, be sure to include references. It’s only the right thing to do, after all.
Probably the best way to include references when writing for an online audience is to include hyperlinks. To substantiate your points, you can create external links that go to other authoritative sources. By linking to well-known brands, you’ll boost the credibility of your own content.
Internal links, on the other hand, are also useful for improving the bounce rate (in other words, helping to keep visitors longer on your site). Though, when inserting this type of link, it should be to create a better user experience by making it easier for your visitors to find the info that they’re searching for.
There’s also a third type of linking that you should focus on and that’s ultimately to get credible sources to link back to the content that you’ve created. Not only can it communicate to readers that your content is trustworthy, but it’s also great for organic search.
Secondly, to ensure your content is credible, you’ll need to edit it (remember, content writing is a three-step process). Grammar gremlins and silly spelling mistakes can hurt your credibility and overall image. If this is not your strong suit, there are online writing tools available like Grammarly that you can use for a quick grammar check.
10. Identify a brand voice (and stick to it)
You want your content to stand out, right? While you should be writing for your target audience, it doesn’t mean that it has to be at the expense of your own brand identity.
Not only does a brand voice help your brand to become more memorable, but from a logical point of view it makes content writing much easier. Without an established brand voice, it becomes a major challenge for different content writers to present your brand in a consistent way. The one text might be casual, while the next piece is too formal. This will only end up confusing your readers.
All things considered, it’s best to keep your brand voice as positive as possible. In short, you should communicate to your readers that your goal is to offer solutions for their issues. Fear and urgency can be used effectively, but this shouldn’t be your go-to tone when communicating with your audience. Also, while you can opt for a more serious, formal brand voice, it’s better to keep it conversational if it will be in line with your industry.
At the very least, you’ll want to specify:
- the values and mission statement of your brand
- a description of your target audience and examples of their language usage
- examples of words and phrases that your brand uses.
This information, along with other digital design assets like the company logo, color palettes, etc., should be included in a brand style guide. It’s the simplest way to make sure that all your content aligns with your brand identity.
11. Complete A/B testing
So, you’ve tried your best to implement these 10 best content writing practices, but how do you know if it has worked? Plus, often content creators come up with multiple headings, CTAs, sentence structures, etc. While this is a good problem to have, knowing which to use might not be as clear-cut.
With the help of A/B testing, you’ll be able to see how different texts and messages compare. For this important step, you need to create two texts, such as two landing pages and change one element like the headline. Then, you split the traffic between them to see which one drives the best traffic.
The very least you should do is implement some type of system for quality assurance. Even the most experienced content creators need a second pair of eyes to check for broken links, typos, grammar mistakes, meaning, and overall readability.
Wrapping Things Up
While similar to copywriting, content writing tends to include more long-form content. Most of the time, your goal will be to inform and educate your readers and not so much to promote your brand and its products.
As its primary purpose is to be informative, whatever you write should be grounded in research. Not only should you research your topic, but also your target audience and the competition. What content does your target audience need? And, what content has your competition already created? Perhaps there’s a gap that you can fill – a topic that you can cover from a different point of view? This way, you’ll ensure that whatever you create is credible, relatable, and useful.
Then, to make sure that you keep your target audience engaged till the last word, focus on readability. Writing content for the web is slightly different than writing for offline sources. Sure, word choice and good grammar still matter, but the type of content that gets the most clicks is easy to read. After all, you actually have two audiences – your potential customers and the search engines.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can you monetize your content?
If it’s a blog that doesn’t get a lot of traffic yet, you can, for example, check out a blog advertising network such as Media.net that doesn’t have a minimum traffic requirement. This makes them a good alternative for smaller or newer blogs. According to their website, they’re the second biggest contextual advertising business across the globe based on revenue. If you have a newsletter that you want to monetize, you can, for example, sell space in your newsletter to make additional income.
What is a call to action?
A call to action (or simply CTA) is a message that encourages visitors or readers to take a specific action. It’s typically a short phrase on buttons, but can also be leading sentences ahead of a link. Some of the most common calls to action are simple phrases like “sign up for a free trial”, “find out more”, and “buy now”. CTAs are an important piece of your marketing funnel and are usually found on home pages, landing pages as well as in blog posts and emails.
How can you create a good name for an email newsletter?
To help you pick a good name for your email newsletter, begin by writing down words that summarize your unique selling proposition and niche. If you run out of words, you can use an online dictionary to search alternative phrases and possible synonyms. Once you have a list of words, you can, for example, use alliteration, puns, a reference to time, or even just your own brand name to come up with a creative name that will capture subscribers’ attention.
What are some good ideas for blog posts?
Interviews are one of the top blog post ideas. A well-written interview can have the power to make the reader feel like he/she is having an intimate conversation with the subject. Plus, you can also capture the attention of your interviewee’s target audience. Other popular ideas for blog posts include how-to posts, listicles, 30-day challenges, case studies, book and product reviews, opinion roundups, and product updates.
What is a blog advertising network?
In short, a blog advertising network works with popular brands and businesses. They help you to benefit from their relationship with these brands by selling the empty space on your blog or site to advertisers in their network. If the blog advertising network is good, they’ll do most of the work for you. With regards to getting paid (after all, that’s what it’s all about), there are a couple of different pricing models that they can use such as CPM, CPC, and CPA.