Planning your posts

Are you as good a writer as you want to be?

With content marketing, you’re accomplishing the bulk of the sales process without overtly “selling” – getting people to know, like, and trust you, and educating them so they can do business with you.

(Brian Clark, in How to Create Content That Converts, available free from My Copyblogger)

Content wins readers – and customers. Content is the biggest factor in your search engine rankings. Great content will be read, shared, and linked to.

In Google’s words:

Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do. If your pages contain useful information, their content will attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site.

What content marketing isn’t

Content marketing is not a crafty way to get lots of links. If you (or your company, or agency) are churning out articles stuffed with keywords, or if you’re “spinning” the same article for multiple sites, then you’re doing it very, very wrong.

Those tactics might have worked five years ago – but they’re not working today.

To succeed with content marketing, you need to write something that people want to read. Google (and other search engines) want to reward truly useful content. Instead of looking for tricks to temporarily beat their algorithms, spend your time crafting blog posts and web pages that they’ll want to rank highly.

What great writing means online

The good news is that you definitely don’t need an English Literature degree and a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary in order to write well online. The best web writing is simple, direct and conversational.

The tips in this guide will help you improve your writing – whatever stage you’re at.

How to brush up your skills

A great starting point is to read plenty of well-written online content. Sites like Copyblogger and Social Media Examiner publish high-quality posts on a daily basis – and as well as picking up some great writing ideas, you’ll learn a lot about content marketing along the way.

When you’re ready to produce content of your own, imagine that each post or article is the first piece of content that a potential customer sees relating to your company (or your client’s company). You want it to reflect well on your company – and you certainly don’t want your potential customer to get the impression that the content was only written with search engines in mind.

These techniques will make any piece of online writing stronger and more engaging:

#1: Plan before you begin

However well you know your topic, don’t simply start writing. Create a plan that includes:

  • An introduction
  • Key points, in a logical order
  • A conclusion

If you’re struggling for ideas on how best to structure your posts, check out our 8 Under-Used Blog Post Structures (with examples).

#2: Write to “you”

In school, you probably learned to avoid using personal pronouns (“I” and “you”) in your writing. When you’re producing blog posts or website copy, though, it’s a good idea to make your words personal and conversational.

Look at any post on a major blog and count the number of times they use the words “you” and “your” – you might be surprised how frequently these come up. (Headlines will often use “you” and “your” too – take a look at the title of this guide for an example.)

One important tip here is to always use the singular “you”, as though you’re writing to an individual reader. Avoid writing “Some of you may know” or similar; instead, make your reader feel that you’re talking directly to them. (After all, while your piece will hopefully have more than one reader, each person will be experiencing it individually.)

#3: Use “I” and “we” when appropriate

It’s usually a good rule of thumb to focus on the reader, not on you, your company, or your client. Even so, it’s perfectly appropriate to use the words “I” and “we” from time to time.

This could mean:

  • Telling a quick story about something that happened (“When we moved into our new offices…”)
  • Highlighting some of the company’s values, awards, achievements, or similar. (“We were thrilled to win…”)
  • Making yourself (not the reader) the target of anything that might seem negative. (“When I started out in this business, I didn’t even know…” rather than “If you’re new to this business, you might not even know…”)

#4: Include formatting to break up your piece

Readers are often in a hurry online. They might be looking for a specific piece of information, or they could be skimming several articles at once. Make it easy for them by formatting your post or page well.

You can:

  • Use subheadings to break up any post over 300 words. These act as signposts to the reader – and to search engines – so make them clear rather than clever.
  • Use bold text to highlight key points. This can look choppy if overdone, so try to highlight whole phrases or sentences. If you want to emphasise a single word, italics are usually better.
  • Split long paragraphs into shorter ones, and turn lists within a paragraph into bullet points. The extra “white space” on the right-hand side helps make your piece look more inviting to read.

#4: Start strongly

Your post or webpage should begin with a hook to draw the reader in. This could be a quotation that makes them smile, a question that gets them thinking, or a provocative statement that invites a response.

(Next time you’re reading a blog post or web page, pay close attention to the first few lines. Do they grab your attention? If so, how?)

#5: End Strongly

Invite a response from the reader at the end of your piece or post. Don’t just sum up what you’ve said – use your conclusion to get them to take action. This might mean:

  • Asking for comments. (“Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.”)
  • Encouraging them to click on a link. (“Just click here for more information.”)
  • Prompting them to buy a product. (“Get the newest version of our software by instant download today.”)

The percentage of time you spent planning, writing, and editing will vary depending on your confidence levels and the type of post you’re writing: to begin with, allow for spending around 15% of your time on planning, 60% on writing, and 25% on editing.

Great writing matters – and however confident (or not!) you are about writing, you can use the above tips to produce engaging content that will help you toward your goals.

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