I’ve written a fair number of blog posts over the last two years. In fact, this is post number 150. This isn’t a whole lot, but it isn’t all too shabby either. Especially when you consider that this is a one-man operation. Anyways, over the course of writing the previous 149 posts, I’ve learned a lot about content writing. More specifically, I’ve learned how to write pretty awesome content.
In this post, we’re going to cover 13 best practices that you can reference in your own content writing.
What is Content Writing?
Content writing includes the planning, writing, editing, and publishing of content for digital marketing purposes. Content writing can take the shape of a blog post, video script, sales page…just about anything that you publish online.
Why is Content Writing Important?
There are a number of reasons why content writing is important. However, there is one reason that trumps the rest of the list. Content marketing, specifically content writing, has the power to attract and retain customers.
This is better known as content marketing. It’s the reason why you’re reading about content writing on my blog. On the surface, my primary goal is to educate you on the importance of content writing and a few of its best practices. However, I also hope to show that I am an effective and knowledgeable digital marketer.
Best Practices for Content Writing
Every digital marketer has a different opinion on how to go about writing the best content in town. The best practices that I’m about to share are by no means requirements that every digital marketer needs to follow. However, these are the guidelines that I follow in order to produce the content that I publish.
Use a Template
This may come as a surprise, but you don’t have to start your writing process from scratch every time. Most posts fall into a limited number of frameworks – listicles, how-to guides, reviews, etc. There are plenty of templates out there that you can adopt and employ when you start writing your next article. Remember, templates can serve as a foundation for your articles. However, you still need to do the grunt work and adequately research the topic you plan to cover.
How Do You Know Which Template to Use?
It all depends on your goal. If you want your content to stand out and rank high on the Google SERPs, you should choose one that aligns with what your audience is looking for.
Create a Strong Outline Before You Start Content Writing
A template is enough to get you off the ground. However, you likely don’t know exactly what you’re going to write about.
Odds are that I’d hit writers’ block pretty quickly if I tried to write this post from start to finish without developing a complete outline.
How do you figure out what to include? Well, it’s important that you develop a handful of unique ideas. However, there’s no shame in borrowing ideas from currently top-ranking articles.
More specifically, look for common themes and points from the top-ranking articles. Doing so will help you better understand what people want to know about and the kind of advice they seek.
Make Content Writing Share-Worthy
There are a plethora of reasons why people share content these days. Here is a small sampling of some of the more popular reasons:
- The content makes them look good or backs up a point they’re looking to make.
- Your content brings about some sort of emotion – anger, happiness, awe, etc.
- The content ties into current events.
- Your content provides practical value or utility.
- Your content has already been shared by a lot of people.
Hold up…let’s pump the brakes and take a closer look at #5.
Getting a few initial shares upfront is essential to setting the flywheel into motion. One way to make this happen is to incorporate “share triggers” into your content. You can find “share triggers” by looking for common link reasons in a similar page’s backlink profile. This is also an effective method since it can potentially create backlinks to your content.
Give Your Content a Unique Angle
As of Q1 2021, more than 5,000,000 new blog posts hit the web each day. Yes, you read that correctly – more than 5 million blog posts per day. That’s A LOT of blog posts no matter which way you spin it. Having shared that statistic, it should be self-evident that in order to stand out, you need to produce unique content. You can make this happen by approaching the topic of your choosing from a different angle than the rest of the crowd.
One of the best examples of tackling a topic from a different angle is Tim Urban’s article on procrastination. Rather than taking the standard self-help route, Urban opted to explain why people procrastinate via comical illustrations – Instant Gratification Monkey, Panic Monster, etc.
There are by no means any surefire ways to develop fresh “angles.” However, here are a few mental models that you should definitely consider:
- Personal Experience: Have you ever tried doing some new/different before? If so, talk about your experience and the lessons you learned along the way.
- Authority: Are you a legitimate expert in a specific field who can offer unique insights? If so, great! Don’t shy away from it and share your knowledge with the world! If you’re not a bonafide expert, fear not! You can always interview someone with the necessary credentials.
- Crowdsource: Get the opinions of a handful of experts and discuss them all in a single post.
- Data: Let’s be real, numbers don’t lie…99.9% of the time. Do a little old fashion research and provide evidence that either supports or debunks popular claims in your niche.
- Contrarian: What happens if you do the total opposite of what the rest of the crowd does?
Let’s be real…would you take medical advice from a random stranger on the subway? Didn’t think so. That being said, you simply cannot expect people to believe you right from the start. You need to tell them why they should believe you.
- Are you an expert in the industry? Do you have the credentials to prove it? Will big shots in your field vouch for you?
- Do you have data or sound evidence to back up your claims?
- Have you done the things you said before? Do you have first-hand experience?
As you can see, most of the above questions tie back to your angle. The angle you choose for your topic will help to establish the credibility you seek and/or need. However, you can’t stop there. Tell them.
If you scroll back to the introduction of this post, you’ll see that I provide two figures that pertain to my experience as a digital marketing blogger. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve been in the game for a semi-decent chunk of time.
Show What You Mean, Don’t Tell
Sharing advice is wicked easy. However, you don’t want to leave your audience in the lurch. Show them exactly what you mean and how they can go about making it happen. Always include examples of what you’re talking about.
For instance (again, see what I did there?), the team at ahrefs does a great job of providing examples of SEO goals. Follow the link I just provided and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Reel in Your Audience with a Catchy Headline
There’s no getting around it, people simply will not click on your post if you have a lame headline.
You need to craft headlines that leave them salivating and eager to read your entire post.
How can you make this happen? Easy – check out this 3-step process:
- Pick a format: The content format you choose (listicle, guide, review, etc.) dictates how your headline will look.
- Add a unique angle: If you’ve chosen your angle (step #3), make sure to tell your potential audience about it.
- Make it human: Use adjectives and figures of speech similar to how you’d casually describe the post to a good friend.
Electrify Your Intro with the PAS Formula
Catchy headlines are a great way to get people to click on your post. However, it’s all about the intro when it comes to getting them to read your post.
I’m a big fan of the Problem-Agitate-Solve (PAS) approach when it comes to writing great content. It’s insanely simple in all honesty. First, you introduce the problem and describe it in relatively deep detail. Next, you agitate the problem and dig deeper into the pain points rooted in the initial problem. Finally, you guide your audience to the promised land and provide them with a solution.
Make Your Posts Easy to Read with the ASMR Formula
There are few things more daunting than a massive wall of dense text. That being said, it’s a wicked good idea to break your text up into smaller chunks.
Strong content writing makes for effortless reading. If you employ the ASMR formula to mold your content in to easy to digest sections.
ASMR stands for:
- Annotate: include sidenotes, block quotes, call-out boxes, and other such elements.
- Short Sentences & Paragraphs: In most cases, less is more. Keep your eye on the price and avoid lengthy and complex sentences.
- Multimedia: Use videos, images, GIFs, and tweet embeds to illustrate your points.
- Read Your Content Out Loud: Doing so will help you identify where you’re writing is less than superb.
Write How You Talk
Online content is supposed to be friendly and personal, so write as if you’re talking to an old friend. There’s no need to throw in big words or write as if you’re hoping to with a Pulitzer.
Your goal is to communicate effectively, not impress people with your deep vocabulary. That being said, keep it casual and write how you talk.
Get Feedback on Your Writing
As the author, you’re naturally close to your content. This makes it difficult for you to spot mistakes, so it’s a wise idea to get a second set of unbiased eyes on your work whenever possible. Even if you’re a one-man operation, like I am, you can have your spouse, your family, or even a colleague from your 9-to-5 job look over your written work.
Answer Questions that People are Asking
If people are searching for answers to their questions, this is prime hunting for topics to cover.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Go to Ahref’s keyword generator tool (see link above)
- Enter a general topic related to your niche or website (lacrosse, hockey, etc.)
- Toggle the questions tab
When you toggle over to the questions tab, you’ll find a list of questions related to the topic you’ve entered. These questions are ranked in order of search volume (the average number of times a term is searched each month). The higher the search volume, the more people are searching for the given keyword.
Scan through the list and make note of all the relevant questions you could potentially answer with a blog post.
Keep a Commonplace Book
How do you constantly come up with unique angles and ideas for your content? This is a nagging question that plagues both novice and seasoned bloggers alike.
The simple answer is this – as a content writer, you should always be researching. Whether that b through reading books and articles, watching YouTube videos, or listening to podcasts. You should always be consuming content and increasing your knowledge in your field.
Then, you need to store your newfound knowledge in a commonplace book.
What’s a commonplace book you ask?
Well, according to Geek Dad, a commonplace book is
essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts. Each one is unique to its creator’s particular interests but they almost always include passages found in other texts, sometimes accompanied by the compiler’s responses.
In short, a commonplace book is an extremely valuable resource for content writers. It’s a place to jot down your raw ideas and thought nuggets with the idea that they’ll eventually develop and/or evolve into something worth writing about.
This should go without saying, but in order to write stellar content, you have to write. I mean, you need to write a lot. Writing is by no means an easy craft to master. It takes time, diligence, and persistence.
If you want for inspiration to strike before letting the ink flow from your pen onto paper – or from your keyboard to your screen – you’ll never actually publish anything. This is why I’m a big fan of developing and sticking to a content calendar. A content calendar is basically a schedule of when you want to publish new content and what content you want to publish.
Setting deadlines will keep you honest, limit procrastination, and casually force you to publish.