Every website needs great content.
Why? Because getting to the top of Google is an art, and to do so requires commitment and skill. Writing great content that promotes a website’s brand isn’t just about cramming as many keywords into every article as you can: it’s about combining SEO skills with genuine, original content that people want to read.
Just saying this isn’t very original as it’s been said so many times before. In fact, odds are you’ve already been told how important originality is. But it’s worth repeating. Original content doesn’t just mean jamming out a few reworked sentences from some articles you read as research… it means actually coming up with original ideas that haven’t been done to death already.
This might sound difficult. Coming up with brand new ideas that are still interesting isn’t exactly a cakewalk. To do so, you have to get crafty. You don’t have to come up with a completely new idea; instead, try putting a new spin on something that’s already been done. Provide a different perspective, write in a different genre, do anything you can think of to make a topic that’s already been done feel fresh.
Some people try to do this, they get lazy, and they end up just spewing out the same stuff someone else has done just in a different order, or with different headings, or vaguely reworked sentences. Not good enough! You don’t necessarily have to write harder, just smarter. Think about the route you’re going to take on an article before you start it, and why it will be better than what’s come before.
Grab the Audience’s Attention
You don’t have to be a pain to grab someone’s focus. You don’t need to rely on ostentatious fonts, huge pictures or unrelated but eye catching subheadings to suck people in. People respond to things that they’re interested in so, even if the topic you’re writing about is a bit dull, take the time to ensure your opening sentence or two are as interesting as you can make them.
Ask a question, provide a hypothetical scenario for the reader to stew on or tell them an interesting anecdote. Any of these techniques will help you grasp, and hopefully keep, your audience’s attention.
Put the Thesaurus Away
The thing about web writing is that people don’t read most of it. People skim, people want to get to the point. People want to get what they came for and then move on to the next thing on their mind.
This is great for you, the content writer, because it means you don’t have to worry about coming up with complex or convoluted ways of saying what you need to. Your writing doesn’t have to read like a PHD thesis: it has to read like something people can scan through while sitting on the toilet or lying in bed.
Too many people rely on that wonderful, but terribly overused tool in Word: “right click – synonyms”. No-one wants to read about ‘agriculture industry’s interminable and belligerent precipitation deficiency’ when they could read about ‘drought stricken farmers’ instead. Using big words on the internet is a good way to ensure people don’t read what you have to say. Even if they do, the odds are pretty good they won’t know what on Earth you’re talking about.
Everyone loves pictures, which is why good articles will include them. If you’re writing about the world’s worst skin diseases for example, people will want to know what they look like. People want to know what makes them the worst, and why. Gross yes, but hey, people like gross stuff and a smart writer gives people what they want. Images are no guarantee that your article will do well, but at the same time they can’t hurt its chances, and they can definitely help.
It should go without saying, but we’re going to mention it anyway: pictures are great, but only if they’re relevant! Writing an article about dogs and including nothing but pictures of cats is a great way to go nowhere. Be sensible about which pictures you put in: if you can’t find a good one, leave it out.
Of course, copyright laws prevent you from just hopping onto Google and picking out any picture you want, so make sure you have permission to reuse an image in your article. Most search engines have tools which can help you filter which pictures are okay to use and which aren’t, so use them!
Big Headings! Interesting Headings!
Headings break up your article, provide instant information to the reader about whether or not it’s useful to them and help them find the section they’re interested in.
We mentioned it before: people don’t read internet content, they scan it. No one is going to wade through a 1000 word article just to locate that one paragraph they need, so throw in some subheadings to easily identify the different topics you’re covering.
Headings that are much bigger than their accompanying text are surprisingly effective. They make the article look smaller which can encourage a user to start reading since they don’t feel like they have so much to trawl through.
Being big isn’t the be all and end all though. Interesting, thought provoking headlines that ask a question and encourage further reading are critical to engagement. For example, “Mittens and the Escape From the Killer Washing Machine!” will encourage further reading more than, “Cat Escapes Washing Machine.” Making the heading more personal and colloquial is a good method to invite interest.
Long is Okay, Filler is Not
If you’ve got heaps to say, and all of it is important and interesting, then put it in! You don’t have to edit down just to keep your article of a digestible length if that edit means deleting content people might want to read.
Long articles won’t feel long to the reader as long as the entire thing is interesting. Indeed, no matter how much time they’ve just wasted reading your article on 1001 Hilarious Cat Stories, they’ll probably get to the end wishing there were more. As long as all those cat stories actually were hilarious, of course.
Long articles can be made to appear and feel much shorter by breaking up the content. This goes back to the point of big headings. Divide your content up into sections, place meaningful headings throughout and don’t be afraid to wear out your enter key: short paragraphs are essential.
Long articles might be fine, but generally the shorter they are the better. Short articles chock full of information are the best of the bunch when it comes to effective content. So break out the red pen and don’t be afraid to be brutal with your own work.
If you find yourself checking the word count constantly, desperately trying to get those extra few hundred words you need, then stop and take a deep breath. Read through what you’ve already written, making sure you aren’t just repeating the same information in different ways. Saying the same things over and over never works. Audiences hate being told the same information more than once. Don’t repeat yourself again and again.
See what I did there?
See why it sucked?
Don’t Self Edit
Oh, you can self edit, certainly, just don’t. Why? Because when you’ve just spent several hours writing something, your brain doesn’t want to hear that it’s actually no good. It will fill in gaps and smooth over awkwardness automatically, and you’ll be left with an article that could be a whole lot better if you just let someone else read through it. This doesn’t make you a bad writer, it just makes you an ordinary person.
But maybe you have to self edit. Maybe you’re the only person at work who knows the difference between an adverb and a preposition. If so, put the article away for a little while, preferable a day or so, and then do your edit. Your brain will have cooled down by then, and you’ll be able to look over your work with a more unbiased eye. Sentences you thought yesterday were works of literary genius will just sound pretentious with a days reflection. Obvious methods you could have taken to trim down your writing will become clear, etc etc.
Why Are You Writing?
Before you even put pen to paper or, more likely, touch a key, ask yourself this question: why am I going to write this? A simply question, but one well worth asking. Before you start an article, think about what you’re hoping to achieve with it. What are your goals? How is it going to help you achieve them? Is it the best option for helping achieve them?
Once you’ve answered the question of what you want to do with the article, think about its audience. Who are they? What do you want to make them feel? Do you want to make them hopeful? Happy? Sad? Depressed? Invigorated? Why do you want them to feel this way? What will that achieve?
And finally, what do you want your audience to do, once they’ve finished reading? Most likely you’ll want them to share the article so that it can spread and perhaps even go viral. But what will make them share it? A call to arms? An message they haven’t heard before? Fresh information? Controversial content?
Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all those question marks? Fair enough. After all, this is meant to be a guide, not a questionnaire. However, all those questions are important ones to consider when you’re working out what you want your message to be and what you want your reader to do with it.
But what if I don’t know what I want them to do with it, you ask?
You do. You know what you want your audience to do with your words, even if you haven’t thought about it yet. Working out exactly what you want them to do before you start writing will help you focus your words and get your message across as bluntly as possible. Nothing hurts your message more than a lack of focus.
Keep Outreach in Mind
Writing awesome, interesting content is the most important thing, but if you can’t get that content to generate activity then really, what was the point? While you’re writing your article, consider who will want to read it, and who will want to share it. Consider where it will be posted, and whether your style of writing is appropriate for that site.
Posting links to reputable, relevant sites in your article can be a wise strategy with big payoffs later. Posting these links will help the other site’s rankings, and the gratitude you receive could result in a little payback later on. Building contacts and allies with your content is never a bad idea. If you want to learn more about how to optimise your content for SEO then check out our in house SEO courses.
Keep Rankings in Mind
When you’re writing web content for SEO, you’re writing in order to improve search rankings. That means a lot of people become tempted to write solely in order to improve rankings, rather than in order to provide the reader with the best information possible. Don’t do this!
Keywords are critical to search optimisation. If you’re writing an article that you think will be found by people googling ‘funny cats’, then putting the phrase ‘funny cats’ strategically throughout the text is a good idea.
See where this is going?
Too many people become tempted to cram ‘funny cats’ into every nook and cranny of their article, until the reader gives a cry of frustration and simply gives up trying to read the gibberish. Placing the keywords once or twice in the article is smart: spamming it enough to be noticeable and annoying is a very bad idea. Google and other engines will notice if you do this and you will eventually be punished.
What Have We Learned?
Hopefully, something useful. The thing about writing web content is that you’re writing for the everyman. So you might have a degree in English literature from Harvard, so what? Your readers don’t care, and if you try to tell them about it through your writing, no matter how subtle you think you’re being, they’ll quickly get bored with your pretension.
Keep your sentences short. Keep your words simple. Keep your content interesting.
Most importantly, write for your audience, not for yourself, and keep in mind why you’re writing what you are.