A few weeks ago, I looked at six aspects of writing SEO content that make SEO writing more effective. With this post, I’m taking a step back and looking at some content writing tips that will enhance most marketing writing, but are particularly valuable online.

Use them with your SEO content to make it even better.

1. Understand your audience

You must have a clear picture of who you’re writing for. What kind of information are they looking for? Are they likely to respond to humour? Do they want straight-down-the-line facts?

Are you writing for a business audience? Or a hobbyist one? Are they experts? Do they need to be explained to?

Write in the way you know they’d want you to. Be on the level. Keep them engaged.

In many ways, the most challenging audience is the one that doesn’t know too much. One that isn’t too familiar with the topic.

You need to be on their level but not by sacrificing your expertise or experience. That’s why they’re reading your words – that’s where a good slice of the value is.

Don’t even dilute what you have to communicate. Your challenge is to simplify the way you communicate, yet still do full justice to the subject.

2. Make your writing easily digestible

While you can write using the ideas above, there’s something else you can do. You can help the reader through the structure of your writing – that’s not structure as in its logical flow, but the layout and typographical emphasis.

Break your copy up with frequent subheads, shorter paragraphs and lists. For most people, this makes for easier reading. Personally, I like to write short paragraphs of just two to four sentences.

Or maybe just a single sentence if an idea stands on its own, or I want extra emphasis.

3. Don’t cut corners

don't cut cornersYour content should be 100% original and great quality. Spend time to research and get it right. And if you feel you want to curate content, gathering together material from several sources and making a post from them, make sure you provide value by writing the great majority of the post from scratch.

Otherwise, aren’t you just copying content from other places? Do that too much, and fail to add a good dose of your own original contribution to the piece and Google will gleefully identify your content as duplicate and fail to feature it prominently in the SERPS.

I’ve also written some thoughts about content curation for newsletters.

4. Use Evernote for a ‘swipe’ file

A swipe file is the place where you swipe good ideas to. Was it Picasso who said ‘…great artists steal’? Maybe, but that won’t wash in the Internet age, where duplicate content is A BAD THING. But the point is, if you see a great headline or blog entry, fresh approach or idea, don’t let it pass you by.

Traditionally, advertising copywriters swiped advertisements and put them in a file when they thought they’d found a great ad, headline, body copy, offer or call-to-action.

On the web, some people bookmark inspiring pages. Others make PDFs and drop them in a folder on their computer. I capture the page (or section of the page) and file it away in Evernote. I have a Notebook called WFS Ideas that contains ideas that are specific to Writing For SEO.

But the key thing is to tag each of the records – ‘headline’, ‘approach’ etc – so that you can find them again. When I’m looking for ideas, I either open my WFS Ideas Notebook or filter on an appropriate tag.

Or, if I have a spare 15 minutes, I have a scan of my swiped examples. They will gently bubble away on the back burner and spring to mind when I need them.

Evernote was made for this kind of stuff.

5. Be 100% clear why you’re writing a piece

This is key.

DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT write copy as content to fill the gaps on your site and/or your publishing calendar. Copy does more than just occupy space.

Write your content for your readers. Understand how it provides value; why they’d want – need – to read it. Yet don’t forget to include the key phrases you’re targeting.

Your content strategy must work for:

  • your readers
  • your company
  • Google

If the piece doesn’t do all three, you’ve not done your job.

6. Publish often

One of the things I’ve noticed this year is that Google seems to be rewarding fresh content more than it did during 2013. On several sites, I’ve seen a definite dip in traffic some two to three weeks after the latest content was published.

It’s not true for every site, but you should look out for it happening if you’re publishing less than once a week, say. If you’re seeing a pattern like this, try to increase posting frequency.

7. Publish longLong

In the old days of SEO Copywriting, we used to say a page needed to have at least 250 words, preferably 300. Posts on Writing for SEO average around 500 or so words.

I’m now experimenting with longer posts of 1200 words or more because some respected sites have published evidence that Google is preferring long-form content. In particular, I like this post from Neil Patel on the effect of content length.

If you’re going to try out longer pieces, you should realise that one 1200 word piece can take longer to write than two 600 word pieces because you need to have real depth and quality. You also have the challenge of structuring your writing – the longer the post, the more you have to carefully guide your readers through, ordering your ideas understandably.

Remember to keep your quality up. Waffling and padding will lose you your audience as your quality fails.

8. Publish Great English

Write, read, edit – that’s fix the bad grammar and the unclear writing. Editing is tough, so respect it as a key part of the process. It often takes longer than the initial draft.

It’s always best if you can get someone else to read your finished draft. That’s simply because it’s so easy to see what you think you’ve written, not what you’ve actually written.

Consequently, the odd typo finds its way through. As does the occasional rambling sentence. A fresh pair of eyes will see them almost immediately.

If you’re writing your own blog, get a friend or family member to read it. If you’re writing in a corporate context, get a colleague to review your work.

And then read it one more time.

9. Return to the scene of the crime

Publishing on the web is never the end, so never worry about making changes to published content. If you see a typo you’ve missed, put it right. If you see a better way to express a point, tweak the copy. Your piece will be better appreciated by all your future readers.

It’s so much easier and cheaper than with printed material, when someone notices a typo after 20,000 glossy brochures have been delivered.

But, just to reiterate, don’t skimp on editing before you click Publish.

10. Measure performance and make changes

PerformanceWith content published, you can measure its performance.

If the Organic traffic is disappointing, think about reworking the content to be more explicitly about your chosen topic – don’t get caught out throwing loads of key phrases at the page. You’ll only make things worse.

If you’ve been publicising the post on social media (and if not, why not?), don’t make the mistake of just posting your headline. Try some alternatives, and if you find something that grabs attention on social media, consider replacing the headline on your page with the line that worked on social media. But don’t forget to measure the effect 😉

11. Never forget the Call To Action

In #5, above, I said you should know why you’re writing a piece. One of the questions you should ask yourself is ‘What do I want my reader to do now?’.

So at the end of your copy, and maybe at intervals throughout, insert a call to action (CTA). I’ve written twice on this blog about CTAs, and they’ve been very popular ever since I published the posts.

If you haven’t read them before, they’re certainly worth a read:

Please let me know what you think of my content writing tips by leaving a comment below.

Thanks to flattop341Orin Zebesthairfreaky long hair and Jesslee Cuizon for making their images available through Creative Commons.