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Not all marketers are writers by trade. Nearly all marketers, however, have to write.
If you’re not someone who loves the written word, writing might feel like a headache.
Then this post is for you.
There’s a lot of information packed into this post. So, we figured you could use some additional templates and other resources to help you put it all into practice. Here’s what you’ll get in this bundle:
We’ve rounded up some useful tools and apps to help you apply the tips in this post. Some are free, and others are paid, but all are options we’d recommend.
This seems basic. You just fire up Microsoft Word and call it a day, right? Well, depending on how you work, another option might help you be more productive. Here are some suggestions:
The Google Adwords Keyword Planner is ubiquitous with content marketers. If you’re ignoring keyword research right now, it’s time to change that. This tool is free and can give you an idea of what your audience is looking for before you start writing.
How do you know if your headlines are good? Practice writing them with our Headline Analyzer. It’s free to use on its own, and for CoSchedule customers, it’s also built directly into our product. Just type in a headline, get your score, and see if you can do better.
More than a simple spell checker, Grammarly can be a lifesaver for catching typos, errors, and wonky grammatical constructions in your writing. Plus, with their free Chrome extension, you can use it to clean up anything you’re writing, anywhere on the web.
Hemingway is somewhat similar to Grammarly, but more focused on ensuring your writing is clean, crisp, and readable. It also offers a full desktop app.
This fun gizmo has been around for a few years now. It’s still a useful writing prompt generator for when you’re feeling stuck, though. Type a keyword into the Portent Content Idea Generator, click the button, and instantly get theoretical headlines for content you could create.
BuzzSumo is the reigning champion of content research tools. Type in a keyword, and it’ll instantly show you all the most shared content for that topic. It makes doing competitive research exponentially easier.
UberSuggest can help you turn one idea into tons of topics, all based on actual searches people have done on Google. Enter a keyword, and it’ll automatically return all the Google autocomplete suggestions it can find for that term. This can also be helpful for identifying LSI keywords (secondary keywords related to your primary keyword).
If you’re worried about plagiarism, use CopyScape. Simply paste your text into the window, and it’ll tell you if that copy exists anywhere else on the web.
Concerned your content is crap? Unsuck It will tell you for sure. Type in a piece of jargon or a cliched industry term, and it’ll give you non-garbage alternatives.
Alright, let’s get to it.
Here at CoSchedule, we require prospective guest blog writers to provide a keyword in their pitch. 90% of the time, it’s evident they have no real idea what we’re asking them for. This is not only extremely disappointing for us, but it’s also shocking to think how their own stuff must be performing, whether that’s for their own company or their clients.
In simplest terms, keyword research entails:
For a more in-depth explanation, we have a couple posts you can check out:
Once you’ve got a grasp on basic keyword research, the next step is to dig into latent semantic indexing. It’s a term that describes the process search engines use to understand how words on web pages are related to one another.
In practical terms, it means it’s important to incorporate secondary keywords that are related to your primary keyword throughout your content. This can help your content rank for a wider array of longtail keywords, and thus drive more traffic back to your site.
Few things will help you save more time than writing strong outlines. They help you figure out what you’re going to say before you actually write your content.
Here’s what you should include in a basic outline (assuming you’re writing a blog post or web article):
Here’s an example of our own outline template:
[Insert Post Description + State the Problem This Post Will Solve]
[Insert Keywords Your Post Will Cover]
Subheader 1 (Subpoint 1)
Subheader 2 (Subpoint 2)
Subheader 3 (Subpoint 3)
Feel free to adjust this to suit your needs.
Competitive research is extremely important for any content writer to understand. Before you can write the best stuff possible on a given topic, you need to know what’s already out there. This is where BuzzSumo comes in handy.
Don’t let your competitive research stop there, though. Get your hands on as much of your competitor’s content as you can. Then, make note of the following:
If you want to get your thoughts out of your head and directly onto the screen, try narrating your outline instead. Google Docs makes this easy using its Speech to Text feature. Here’s how it works.
Open Google Docs and click Tools:
Then, click Voice Typing. You’ll then see this icon appear:
Click that guy, and you’ll be able to speak into your computer’s microphone to type. If you’d rather let your thoughts flow free before writing, this can be a great hands-free way to loosen up your creative muscles.
According to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands to fill the time available.” So, set deadlines that give you the time you need to finish your work, but not more than that.
How can you know how long a task will take, in order to set a realistic deadline? Start by timing yourself and keep a record of how long it takes to write an average piece of content. Then, set your deadline just a little bit shorter than that, in order to challenge yourself to work more efficiently. You’ll find you get more done, more quickly. The work will probably be higher quality, too.
The first draft of everything sucks. That includes everything your favorite writers have ever written, too. Worry about getting the words out first. Then, go back and refine your work before you publish it. If you’re editing your work on your own, Grammarly and Hemingway are indispensable tools to help you here.
Data shows emotional headlines get more shares. So, if you want your hard work to go viral, hit your audience right in the feels.
That doesn’t mean you have to get sappy on your readers. It also doesn’t mean you need to manipulate their feelings using cheap clickbait tactics. It does, however, mean that your best headlines are probably going to be ones that inspire readers to feel something that compels them to click.
Need some help working more emotive language into your headlines? Start with this sheet of emotional terms:
And of course, CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer takes emotional appeal into account when calculating your score:
Headline writing isn’t easy and getting them right is partially a numbers game. We recommend writing at least 25 at a minimum. However, sometimes you’ll burn through few dozen or more before you land on one that sticks.
Use our Headline Analyzer and tear through as many headline ideas as you can:
Then, review your work. Narrow your options down to anything that scores 70 or higher. These are your gold nuggets.
Once a visitor lands on your page, you don’t have a lot of time to hook their interest. If you want them to stay instead of bouncing back to Google, you need to nail your introduction.
Here are six quick ways to do just that:
*This stat is completely made up, but you get the point.
Your writing should sound like the organization you’re representing. So, if you’re marketing a law firm, you probably shouldn’t sound like you’re writing for Buzzfeed.
It isn’t always easy to write in a voice other than your own. However, it can help to define what your brand’s tone and voice actually are, so you have some concrete parameters to work within.
Here’s how we can define each:
MailChimp’s style guide offers an excellent description of what voice and tone of their voice and tone.
There’s a lot of talk about how long blog posts should be.
First, there were studies saying, “1,500 word blog posts rank best.”
Then, that became, “Hold up, 3,000 word posts are now even better.”
This has lead some marketers to believe that simply giving search engines more text to crawl will equal better results. That’s a backwards approach, though.
The real takeaway here is that comprehensive content (meaning content that thoroughly answers a searcher’s question) does best. Typically, that’s coincidentally going to mean posts that come in around 1,500 to 3,000 words, or more.
Include all the information your reader needs to know about your topic, and you’ll be more likely to succeed. That’s all there is to it.
There are times when it’s appropriate to use passive voice. Usually, it just makes your writing sound dull. Opt for active voice instead whenever possible.
If you’ve used a search engine, you’ve seen title tags and meta descriptions (even if you don’t know what either of those things are).
Title tags are the blue links that appear on search result pages. Meta descriptions are the snippets of text that appear beneath those links.
While Google experiments with how search results appear from time to time, you currently have approximately 70 characters for title tags, and 156 characters for meta descriptions. Use all the real estate you’ve got.
Beyond that though, how do you write these well? Here are the fundamentals:
An easy way to save time writing content is to repurpose copy from your blog posts elsewhere. Here are some ideas:
Those are just a few thoughts. For more, this post that goes in-depth on how you can repurpose content to make the most of your time.
In a lot of ways, people are inherently selfish. Your reader only cares about the value your content offers them.
As you’re writing your content, be mindful of how you can focus more on your reader than yourself. One easy way to do that is to focus on saying “you” and “your” more often than you say “I” or “we.”
Here’s an example of what we mean.
Our new 27” tires are made from durable rubber that makes them the best on the market.
Once your bike is outfitted with our durable new 27” tires, you’ll experience a smoother ride.
The first example is feature-focused and centered on the hypothetical bike tire company. The second example focuses on benefits to the reader.
If you don’t know a topic inside and out, don’t try to fake it until you make it. Instead, do your research and make yourself an expert. People can easily spot fakes, and it’s not worth putting your reputation on the line just to make life easier for yourself in the short term.
No more than three paragraphs.
20 words or less, if possible.
If you’ve said it once, you don’t need to say it again.
Do you have topics you frequently touch on in a lot of blog posts? Instead of repeating the same points over and over, create entire blog posts on topics you frequently reference. Then, link back to those posts in the future, instead of repeating yourself over and over.
This can help you save time while building up tons of quality, related content. And when that content is all linked together, it helps search engines understand that your site is full of unique, high-quality, and related content. That’s because search engines use links between pages to understand the relationships between different pages across your site.
For example, here at CoSchedule, we frequently mention editorial calendars in our content. That makes sense, because making marketing calendar software is what we do. Instead of going in-depth on what a marketing calendar is every time we mention the topic in a broader post, we’ll include a short description that links back to an existing post.
No one likes being talked to like they’re an idiot.
However, that’s exactly how your audience might feel if you use too much jargon they don’t understand.
Instead, use language you know your audience will understand. If you’re stuck trying to find a more common phrase for an overused cliche or piece of jargon, try using Unsuck It. Type in the offending phrase, and it’ll give you better options instantly:
It’s weird that we still have to talk about this one in 2017, but let’s make sure we get this out of the way.
You should absolutely avoid over-cramming keywords into your content.
It’s not going to help your content rank. In fact, it’s more likely to get your stuff de-indexed from Google.
This tip ties into our previous one. Write for people first, and search engines second. That means making sure your keywords are included in your content, but don’t force-fit them in a way that sounds unnatural.
It also means avoiding targeting keywords that aren’t relevant to your audience. Just because a term has high search volume, doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for your audience.
Use common sense and prioritize people over search bots.
You’re likely writing content because you want your readers to take some kind of action.
That’s going to require using language that motivates and inspires them to do something.
An easy way to do that is to incorporate action and power words into your copy. Use this cheat sheet:
This is easy to overlook, but it’s important to credit your sources. If you borrow a quote or piece of information from somewhere, link back to them. Aside from being the right thing to do, it also can yield some real benefits. Those include:
So, cite your sources.
You’re not creating content for its own sake. You want it to get read and deliver real results. That means you need to be measuring the impact of every piece you write. Here are some ways to do that:
If you’re using WordPress, you need to be using Yoast. In addition to adding useful SEO functionality to your site, it also gauges the readability of your content:
If your content scores poorly on the Fleisch Reading Ease test, use Grammarly and Hemingway to identify and correct issues. Keep at it until your content scores over 60%, which is considered okay to read.
When people have a problem, they search Google for a solution. The same applies when people want to learn how to do something.
Your job is to be there with the information they need when those searches happen.
Unfortunately, there’s too much how-to content out there that doesn’t actually show people how to do anything. That’s because it’s easier to simply tell people what to do without providing actionable follow-through.
So, what does “making content actionable” actually mean? In simplest terms, actionable content shows readers how to get stuff done. Here are some pointers:
Content upgrades are additional downloadable resources that add value to your post. When you’re writing, think about what kinds of content upgrades your readers would appreciate. These could include:
Few things are worse for a writer than not knowing what to write about. Fortunately, by developing an effective brainstorming process, you can eliminate that problem for good.
Here’s the three-step process we use here at Coschedule:
This process helps us generate a month’s worth of ideas in just half an hour. For a more detailed breakdown on how it works, we’ve got that for you here.
Once you have a ton of ideas, you’ll need somewhere to keep track of them. We recommend placing all your three’s directly on your editorial calendar (whether you’re using CoSchedule or another option).
For taking quick notes as you think of them though, we recommend using Evernote. It’s the perfect tool for storing notes and ideas for content you could write. Best of all, it integrates directly with CoSchedule, so you can easily access your notes directly in your calendar. You can even write entire blog posts in Evernote, and convert them into WordPress posts too.
If your writing feels like it’s going all over the place, you might need to narrow your angle. In simplest terms, an angle is the perspective you’re writing from, and the specific point you’re trying to make. This is something journalists know well.
For a content marketer, that could mean focusing on one specific benefit or task. Or, if you’re writing something more opinion-driven, it could mean focusing on just one specific point you want to get off your chest. The idea is to drill deep on a very narrow topic.
To get this right, we can borrow some tricks from the journalism world. A good angle has three things:
Too many content marketers pour their heart and soul into their blog posts, and then cut corners writing social posts to promote them.
Don’t be one of them. Follow these cheat sheets to better understand the optimal length for social media posts, and the types of messaging that work best on each network.
Authoritative content relies on facts and expertise, not inflated claims or bravado. If you feel like anything you’re saying sounds better than it really is, eliminate it. Let’s look at a couple examples:
Hyperbolic: “Our bike tires are the absolute best available on the market.”
Accurate: “Our bike tires offer 30% longer tread life than our top competitors.”
Provided the theoretical company in this example had data to support the second claim, you can see why leaning on stats and facts is better than talking yourself up. One is likely to turn readers off, and the other offers proof that their tires really are the best option.
Continuing off our previous example, people love seeing impressive stats and real data. So, incorporate it into your writing whenever possible. Hard numbers can yield several benefits, including:
Here are some examples of posts we’ve written with interesting stats in the headlines:
Where can you find stats and data when conducting research? Try these sources:
Content writers don’t need to be expert coders. However, you should learn some basic HTML (and maybe even some CSS, too). With a little bit of coding know-how, you can:
Unless you want people rolling their eyes when they read your posts, get rid of cliches. Common cliches include:
And we’re sure you can think of more tired phrases. So, what’s the problem with using cliches?
They’re aggravating and convey a sense of laziness.
If you’re concerned about cliches in your writing, use Cliche Finder. It’s a free tool that lets you copy and paste your content and uncover cliches in one click:
There are obvious reasons you shouldn’t copy people’s work without permission or citing sources. However, there are also some serious technical reasons to avoid copying other people’s stuff, too.
To check if your content sounds too similar to another web page, or to find out if someone has copied your work, use CopyScape. It’s a freemium tool that lets you enter a URL and quickly uncover copies.
We firmly believe all content writers should use an editorial calendar. Sure, we may be biased. But, if we didn’t think content calendars were an essential tool for marketers, we wouldn’t be here.
There are three main types of calendars you can choose from:
The key benefits to using a calendar include:
That’s just scratching the surface.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! As a rewward for your dedication to improving your content writing skills, here’s a free checklist to help you optimize every piece you write:
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations on making it through 5,000+ words worth of content writing tips. We won’t keep you here any longer though, because you’ve got work to do.
Best of luck.
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