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Quality Content Part 1: How to improve your writing

‘Content marketing’ is the big buzz phrase at the moment and with good reason. Search engines use page and domain authority to rank your website favourably and quality content is a key component to ensuring that this happens. So, how can you improve your writing in order to produce quality content?

Have a plan

Have the ‘bigger picture’ in mind to frame your content i.e. your overall business strategy.  There should be an integrated approach to all of your marketing communications ensuring that everything is cohesively and single-mindedly working towards the same goal but with a specific objective set for each item.

The context of what you’re writing will determine how you need to write – the tone of voice, how long it needs to be, the format and so forth.

The table below is a useful guide for the ideal length for everything in your marketing.

 

It’s important to bear in mind that we read differently online than we do on paper.  Online we tend to scan read (this will be covered in greater detail in part II) whereas on paper we read more of the detail.

Think before you ink

Before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, there should be a separate task of idea generation.

Find something that works for you.  I, for example, use Evernote (www.evernote.com) and when I come across interesting, useful content on the web, I quickly ‘clip’ it. I also use it to make a note of any random ideas that come to me (often at the strangest moment which is why my iPhone is always within reach!)  Then, as a weekly task, I organise all my clippings and notes into relevant content headings; for example, social media, marketing strategy, branding, design etc.  When I come to create any content I scour Evernote to get the creative juices flowing, which helps me to focus rather than being daunted by an expanse of white, blank space staring back at me.

Who are you writing for?

Good writing anticipates the questions that readers might have as they’re reading and then goes on to answer those questions.  Who is this piece of writing for?  What value are you creating for them by writing this piece?  Is it of any use?  Content needs to please the reader, not you or your superiors but the end-user – the person who the content is intended for.

By defining who you are writing for you can more clearly determine the right tone of voice for a particular piece of copy.  Many writers suggest you write as though you addressing one particular person.

Generally speaking, content writing these days is informal and more conversational.  Don’t get too hung up on grammar.  That being said, here are some examples of the classic grammar faux pas that wind people up!

 

You don’t want your writing to be too formal but if it is full of mistakes the reader will be focusing on the errors rather than the subject that you’re writing about. www.grammarist.com is a useful online tool if there is something you’re unsure about.

The human factor

Human nature dictates that, despite what we may think, we lead with our heart not our head.  So, in order to make something ‘stick’ it is best to sandwich it between something more emotional.  Humour can be great way to make your point ‘stick’; think anecdotes, idioms and nuances to give things a more personal touch.

 

Bryony Thomas in her book ‘Watertight Marketing - delivering long-term sales results’ discusses the concept of the logic sandwich when delivering marketing messages; that is they start with emotion, lead onto logic and then return to emotion to seal the deal.

We’re all becoming immune and somewhat numb to marketing messages due to the sheer volume that we come into contact with on a daily basis.  In order to have more chance of getting through, be empathetic to your audience.  Put yourself in their shoes and try to think and feel as they would in order to engage them.

Utility x Inspiration x Empathy = Quality Content (Ann Handley)

The process of writing

Read lots - the more you read, the better your writing becomes.  For instance, if you need to write a blog post, read other blog posts; it’ll help you develop the right tone for the right medium and audience.

As with everything, the more you do something and the more habitual it becomes, the more natural and easier it is.  Get yourself in the habit of writing regularly, even if it’s not intended to be published (for example, a personal journal) and your own process for writing and tone of voice will fall into place.

Ann Handley suggests the following process in her excellent book ‘Everybody writes’:

  1. Goal
  2. Relate to readers
  3. Data/examples
  4. Organise
  5. Write to one person
  6. Produce rough first draft
  7. Walk away
  8. Rewrite
  9. Give it a great title
  10. Get someone else to read & edit it
  11. Final readability check
  12. Publish – answer ‘what now?’ – call to action

Once you’ve established what you are writing, why you are writing it and who you’re writing it for, just start by putting something onto paper. You can move it around, change it, add to it but don’t be afraid to just get your thoughts onto paper or screen.

Remember that writing is a process and rarely do writers sit down and complete a piece of finished content in one sitting.

Edit, edit then edit again

Editing is about quality over quantity.  Does each and every paragraph hold its own weight?  Are you repeating yourself but just using different words?  Perhaps by reordering the content and moving things around a better flow will form.

When re-visiting your writing, trim out any excess bloat such as overuse of adverbs.  Is your choice of words expressing the point you are making adequately? There is a balance between being conversational in style and just waffling.  You want your writing to be understood and, unless you’re writing a fictional novel, chances are the reader wants you to get to the point quickly.

Pay special attention to the opening & closing paragraphs – the opening paragraph needs to be the hook to entice the reader to want to carry on.  The closing paragraph should contain some form of ‘call to action’; going back to the objective you set yourself for writing the content in the first place.

If you’ve made reference to facts or quotes in your writing, double-check them for accuracy and remember to credit any other authors whose work you make reference too; don’t plagiarise!

Finally, always get someone else to read through your work before you hit ‘publish/post’. 

In the next instalment, quality content part II, we’ll be looking at how to make your content more visually appealing and easy to navigate for the reader.  In the meantime, if you simply don’t have the time or inclination to write your own copy, then get in touch and we can help you info@bluehorizonsmarketing.co.uk 01242 236600