So you have a website for your business. Now what?
Once you do have a website or blog, what do you put there? Contact information is a good start. And you might want to offer a few reasons why visitors should use your service or buy your product. But is that enough? Not according to content marketing experts. You also need solid informational articles and posts that engage readers and position your company as a primary source of expertise.
How do you create great content for your website? Well, unless you’ve hired someone to create those articles for you, that job falls to you. So whether you’re a writer by vocation or not, it’s time to brush up. Here are 10 tips on how to improve your writing skills.
Do Your SEO Work
Search engine optimization involves many on-page and off-page factors. However, it starts with the actual phrases people use in search engines. For example, if you have a landscaping business, a bit of keyword research will reveal an important detail. There are three times as many searches for “landscaping company” as “landscaping service.” So you might want to adjust that article title: “How to Choose the Right Landscaping Company” (rather than “Service“).
Alexis Grant is innovator-in-chief of Socialexis, a content marketing firm that specializes in blog management. She says her company uses the Google AdWords Keyword Planner for SEO research. Getting a monthly count of searches for various keywords is just the start, though.
“It also gives you ideas for keywords associated with the ones you suggested that you might not have thought of,” Grant tells Small Business Trends. “We also like Google Trends for comparing two specific keywords (for example, job search vs. job hunt) to see which one people are more likely to search for, and SEMrush if you’re willing to pay for a tool for insight.”
You have to open an AdWords account for access to the Google keyword tool. However, once you’ve done that you’re not required to spend any minimum on advertising to use it.
Write What They Want to Read
Keyword research helps you target the right words in titles and sub-headings. It also gives you clues about potentially good topics. Just look for the keywords with the most traffic. Keep it relevant, but you can stretch a bit on topics if you see a big interest in a specific phrase. For example, if (again) you’re a landscaper, and you see there is a lot of traffic for “increase the value of your home,” pay attention. You can put together an article titled, “The Best Landscaping Choices to Increase the Value of Your Home.”
Here are some other ways to determine what visitors might want to read about:
- Read comments from previous articles.
- Ask followers on your social media channels.
- See which topics have done well on competitors’ sites.
- Visit relevant online discussion forums.
To locate appropriate forums just search for your niche and the word “forums.” Once you discover where your target audience is hanging out, you can see what they’re talking about. More specifically you can learn what questions they want answered. And yes, even “landscaping forum” and “landscape forum” produce several good results. There are discussion forums for almost any topic.
Get That Headline Right
What should you say in the title? Naturally it has to be compelling.
“The first important element is clickability,” Grant says. “Will someone who sees that headline want to click and read the article? The headline — along with your feature image — is the first thing readers see, and it’s what they use to make the decision about whether your work is worth their time, so creating a headline they want to click on is highly important.”
Grant says she sometimes creates dozens of headline before choosing one. The selection is then made by balancing the attention-grabbing and SEO factors. Ideally you want something that includes a high-search volume keyword phrase and makes the reader want to read more. Grant says the right adjective can help with the latter.
“Adding an adjective is one way to make headlines more clickable,” she says. “So, for example, rather than saying “10 Ways to Write a Headline,” say “10 Awesome Ways to Write a Headline.” The addition of that one word makes the headline more exciting and clickable.”
Of course, a headline doesn’t always have to make big claims. Say the reader wants to know how to do something. They find your article, and the article has the words “how to” in it. Sometimes that’s all you need.
Make the First Paragraphs Sell the Article
Okay, so you have solid useful content and a catchy headline. And thanks to good SEO, readers are discovering your article months later in search results. Now you have to keep their attention. Grant says “After your headline, the first few sentences are what any reader looks at to decide whether the rest of the piece is worth their time.”
In other words, your introduction has to sell the reader on the value of the article. Tell them something about what they’re going to learn and why that’s important. Grant also suggests that you use the keyword you’re targeting in the first paragraph. That helps the search engines understand what the page is about.
Keep it Easy on the Eyes
Reading on a computer screen or smartphone can be hard on the eyes. Besides, Internet attention spans are short. As a result, you need to make your article easy to read. Keep paragraphs short, use bullet lists and numbered lists. Also, don’t set off large quotes. Avoid large blocks of uninterrupted text.
Have the Right Voice
The “voice” you use will depend on what you’re writing about and your audience. Sometimes a more professional approach is necessary. But Grant says that a conversational tone can be more compelling.
“One thing we try to include in the first few sentences is the YOU voice, where the author talks TO the reader, showing how whatever issue they’re about to discuss applies to YOU,” she explains. “This gives the post a conversational voice and makes the reader feel like it’s applicable to them, so they want to keep reading.”
If you are the face of your business, you might find it useful to talk about yourself and work your experiences into an article. Still only do this when relevant to the topic. For example, if you have a consulting business, a story about what you’ve done for a past client might be a great way to illustrate a point. Just be sure it doesn’t come off as a sales pitch.
Write for an Internet Audience
Writing online is not the same as writing for print media. Grant points out that much of the time online content consists of “shorter, more conversational pieces.” And, in addition to targeting keywords and keeping it easy on the eyes, links are expected. These can be to related useful content, whether on your own website or elsewhere. It’s also a good idea to link to sources when important factual claims are made.
Sell Your Expertise, Not Your Product or Service
Content marketing is not about having a hundred sales pitches on your website. It’s about providing useful information. If readers come to read articles and finds sales copy, you’ll lose credibility. Instead, if you sell wine coolers, write an article on how to choose the right wine and the right temperature at which to serve it. When they’re ready to buy a cooler, they’ll naturally turn to your company.
Write articles even if you aren’t sure you need them. The practice will improve your writing skills. And when you see a great response to an article or blog post, try to decipher what readers liked about it. Then you can practice using those elements in future articles. Perhaps practice doesn’t make perfect, but it always helps.
Use the Right Tools for Proper Grammar
Depending on your audience (and product or service), you might want a detached, professional style. On the other hand, a more informal tone in your online content might sometimes be appropriate. But whatever the style, good English that’s free of typos helps create a better impression. Use a word processing program that identifies both spelling and grammar mistakes. Grant has her writers upload posts to Google Documents for editing prior to putting them on clients’ websites and blogs. It’s free to open an account and use the tools that Google provides.
You might want to run your articles through more than one program, because each has strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you accidentally write “tool booth” instead of “toll booth,” MS Word will not flag the error. However, Google Documents will. Sometimes you’ll have to check other sources. “Nighttime” (versus “night time”) is also allowed by MS Word. However, it too gets flagged by Google Documents.
One Last Tip
You understand your readers. You provide easy-to-read articles full of useful information. You have a great headline, and write in a compelling style. But at the risk of sounding repetitive, did you do your research? Did you get a good keyword in the headline and body of the content?
“This will help your post gain traction over time, because people will continue to find it via search days, weeks, even months after the story has disappeared from the front page of your blog or publication,” Grant says. “Most big outlets get a lot of traffic this way, from posts that published months ago and continue to get read by people who find it through search — all because they optimized for SEO.”
To improve your writing skills and implement a content marketing strategy, you have to understand the differences between online and offline writing.
Writing Photo via Shutterstock
More in: Content Marketing
Some really well-made points here, Steve. I think above all, getting the tone of voice right is crucial. In my experience, a light and conversational rather than the more ubiquitous (and often stilted) copy you see around the web is far more engaging.
And definitely talking benefits and applying it to the customer is a big one. Nice article.
Thank Richard. I prefer a conversational tone too, as a reader and a writer, but you do see a lot of content that’s written in a detached (and often stilted) way.
Hey. These are really important tips on how one can improve their writing. An impressive first paragraph will definitely make a person enjoy what they read.Writing online,having a blog and adding content on a frequent basis will surely improve your writing skills. Great article!