The Writer's Resource: Tips, Tricks & Strategies for Becoming a Better Writer

Quality Content and Why it Matters

Posted by Nancy M Ruff

shutterstock_113445967.jpgQuality content. The two words appear hand-in-hand in nearly every piece of advice given to marketers and writers who attempt to create content that consistently delivers. But what does the word quality actually mean, and why does quality content matter? The answer to the second part is simple: because Google says it does. The first part is a little more difficult, but the answer may be found in the ranking factors Google (and other search engines like Bing and Yahoo) uses.

Search Engines & Content Quality

All search engines have ranking criteria they use, with quality content at the top of their lists. Google, the world’s primary search engine, determines quality by analyzing your site’s positive signals. For example, it measures the amount of time spent on a site’s landing or home page and gives “points” for longer visits, with the reasoning being that you are delivering content that keeps your audience engaged.

You won’t find many specific, useful pointers if you go looking to Google for help in creating quality content, as their basically unhelpful list of tips reads more like a checklist of what not to do. While the definition of quality is fluid depending on type, niche, industry or target audience, there are a certain number of common elements that are reliable indicators of quality. Take a look at this list of proven characteristics which will help you consistently hit the quality content mark.

  • Help your Audience Complete a Specific Task. Design content that leads a reader quickly and efficiently to the next step. Do this by creating content that is geared toward a clearly defined keyword and user intent combo; in other words, avoid using arbitrary keywords.
  • Pay Attention to Word Count. While nothing is set in concrete, longer content generally seems to be favored, but that flies in the face of mobile users wanting “quick reads.” Searchmetrics found in their 2014 ranking factors study that an ideal word court was about 1,000 words, but user experience must always be priority #1. Longer content will help you rank highly and attract links, but the proper use of headings, bullet points, lists and long-tail keywords can help you format your content for easy mobile access.
  • Stop Keyword Stuffing. Lackadaisical content writing often leads to unintentional keyword stuff, especially in headers. When finished writing, do a search for your primary keyword to make sure you haven’t overused it, and if you have, rewrite or use synonyms as needed.
  • Start Linking. Search engines judge a site’s credibility in large part by its internal and external links. Google tends to frown on too many internal links, so the most important indicator of a page’s quality is the number and quality of inbound links to the page. The more well-known and reputable sites you have linking to your site, the higher Google ranks your site’s trustworthiness and credibility.
  • Grammar, Spelling and Layout do Matter. Proofreading and checking your facts does, too. Your site won’t gain trust and credibility from readers or Google if it’s filled with misspelled words, grammatical errors, and/or mistruths. High quality content should be pleasing to look at and easy to read, as the majority of visitors to your site will skim and scan the content. Make proper use of bolds and italics, bullet points and numbered lists, concise sentences and paragraphs, and leave plenty of white space. If possible, have your content proofread by someone else, and if you’re stating something as fact, be sure you have the current data to back it up.
  • Inspire, Educate and Entertain. Search engines want to reward and highly rank content that provides real value for readers, so they look for things like whether the content solves a problem or answers a question. They also look for intangibles like whether it entertains people or makes them laugh. Identify and define the primary purpose of your content and be faithful to it across your site. Content should always be relevant to your brand’s niche or your website’s topic, so keep that in mind and don’t sacrifice relevancy to entertainment.

Conclusion

Much of the content out there has quality, but if it’s misguided or poorly aligned with today’s changing content marketing environment, you run the risk of losing ground to those who have made the adjustment. “Quality content” is not a buzzword—it’s what Google and your audience are looking for. Savvy marketers will do their utmost to deliver.

Be Your Own Editor: Tips and Tools to Make it Easier

Posted by Laura Holton

shutterstock_299256572.jpgInstead of relying on an editor to neaten up your writing, submit content to your client already in top form. If you have no experience editing, the best place to learn is with your own writing. Once you have an initial draft, use these simple tips and tricks to turn your writing into a great piece of content.

1. Eliminate Filler Words

Be as concise as possible. As there is always more than one way to express an idea, check to see if you’ve use the most direct route. “In order,” “here,” and “quite” are all common examples of unnecessary words that lengthen sentences. Also check for long constructions with many prepositions and determine if there’s a way to shorten phrases.

2. Split Sentences

If after you’ve removed all the fillers your sentences are still too long, break them in half. Long sentences usually contain more than one idea. This can be identified by a heavy use of commas. Cutting sentences in half will help avoid rambling, and will also help readers keep their focus.

3. Remove Adjectives and Adverbs

Improve your writing without losing sentiment by cutting out unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. In particular, look out for weak adjectives, such as “very” and “really,” and replace them with a stronger adjective. For instance, “elated” sounds better than “very happy.”

4. Switch to the Active Voice

The passive voice sounds weak, distances your audience, and leads to ineffective content. On rare occasions, it may be necessary to use the passive voice to avoid roundabout sentences, but most of the time, the active voice is more powerful.

5. Be Positive

Change negative constructions to positive ones. In some cases, the change is obvious—such as “not relevant” to “irrelevant.” For words where there is no obvious positive, this will require a little more thinking.

6. Simplify

Content writing is no place to show off your knowledge of long words. Stick to words everyone can understand without reaching for the dictionary.

7. Cut “That”

Remove “that” from as many phrases as possible. Often you’ll find meaning stays the same, but flow improves and sentences shorten. Also note: to describe a person you need “who,” never “that.”

With practice, editing will become easier and your writing will improve. Next time you complete your first draft, spend some time editing. It’s an ideal way to impress clients and gain more work in the future.

Balancing a Busy Schedule: Success Tips for Freelancers

shutterstock_246927916.jpgEffectively balancing a busy schedule is essential for success as a freelancer. Without a strong commitment and proper time management, it isn’t possible to take advantage of all the benefits that working from home as a freelancer has to offer. By properly balancing your busy schedule you can expect some extra time in the day to use as you please, the opportunity to quickly identify and effectively manage your priorities, and the ability to optimize your overall productivity. Try implementing one or more of the following success tips into your busy schedule, and you’re likely to experience impressive results:

Schedule a Few Timed Breaks

One of the most important things you can do to keep a balanced frame of mind throughout your work day is to schedule timed breaks on a regular basis. It is essential to free your mind from the nitty-gritty for at least five minutes once every two or three hours so you can unwind a bit, stretch your muscles, and put away any stress you have until it’s time to get back to work.

Write out your break schedule on a chalkboard or dry-erase board and hang in on the wall near your work station as a reminder of your commitment to a balanced work day. Spend your breaks reading a magazine, doing a crossword puzzle, taking a walk, or having a snack—the idea is to nourish your body and mind so you are more effective and productive while you’re actually working.

Create a Daily To-do Short List

Another effective way to manage your busy day is to sit down at the end of the day to create a to-do short list for the next day you plan to work. This will help keep you focused on what’s most important so the little tasks and challenges don’t overwhelm your work flow. Keep your list limited to five or six tasks at most so you have time left in the day to tend to the smaller issues at hand. Tasks with the shortest deadlines or toughest research requirements should be listed first, while tasks with a little shelf life and those of small consequence should be listed as space and time allows.

Delegate Tasks When Possible

You’ll find that delegating tasks whenever possible is sure to take a lot of responsibility off your plate so that you're able to stay focused on your tasks at hand and minimize wasted time throughout the day. Making use of delegation techniques doesn’t mean that you have to hire an assistant. Instead get creative and ask a family member to take over garbage duty on days you’d normally do it, get a friend or relative to pick the kids up from school a couple of times a week, or pay a trusted colleague a small percentage of your profits to proofread all your content so you don’t have to spend time doing it.

Separate Personal and Work Life

If your personal and work life are compiled into one schedule for the day, you may find it tough to differentiate your priorities to ensure that no part of your work or personal life suffers long term. An easy way to keep everything going on the right track is to separate your work and personal life, just as you would if you worked outside of your home in a brick and mortar building. Start by scheduling work hours for your days and focusing on nothing but career tasks during those hours. You can then simply plan personal tasks and events outside of your work hours. The trick is to stick to your committed schedules!

Use a Timer for those Dreaded Jobs

As a freelancer, you will undoubtedly be faced with your fair share of tasks that are dreaded due to the amount of work that has to go into them or their exceptional difficulty level—these are the tasks that can get you behind on your schedule overall if you don’t stay on top of them. To make sure that you move productively through these types of tasks, use a timer and commit to giving them your full focus until the timer goes off. Projects that are notably stressful should be limited to work sessions of about 30 minutes each so you don’t get burned out before your work day officially ends.

With the help of these scheduling success tips, your entrepreneurial venture as a freelancer is sure to be a liberating and empowering experience.

Make Your Content More Exciting to Read

shutterstock_294148979.jpgThere’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours on a piece of content that you hope shines after publication, only for its message to be overlooked by your readers. To optimize your reach and ensure that readers really connect with the messages you have to offer, your content has to be fresh and exciting to read.

Like a novel that’s hard to put down or an engaging piece published in a trendy magazine, your content should pull readers in so they want to follow through with their read to the end. Luckily, you don’t have to have any special training or experience in order to make your content exciting enough for your readers to stay engaged through the last word. Here are a few tips and tricks to consider implementing for maximized success:

Be Conversational

Whether you are offering insight into a technical topic, providing your opinion about new software, explaining a how-to project, or putting together an informational piece, it’s always best to structure the content in a conversational way so that it’s easy to absorb and retain for the average reader. Use everyday language that reads as if you were speaking to your audience in person.

Ask open ended questions of your readers that inspire them and encourage them to think outside the box. Pretend like you’re talking to a friend as you piece together your outline, and put yourself in the shoes of your audience to gain some insight into what follow-up questions might be asked so that you can address them in your initial piece.

Implement Calls-to-Action

An awesome way to create more engagement and make your content more exciting for readers is to implement calls-to-action once or twice within most of your pieces. A call-to-action doesn’t have to be treated as a sales tactic. In fact, your calls-to-action should spark thought and interest in your readers.

Asking your readers to try a specific technique at home, referring them to books they can check out at the library for extra information, and offering invitations to sign up for free online seminars are all effective ways to encourage action and engagement among your audience. Don’t save your calls-to-action for the end of your content. Engage readers with actionable communication throughout to enrich the overall reading experience and ensure that those who start reading your content are enthralled enough to stay tuned and keep learning until the last word is read.

However, be sure to consider how often you steer your audience away from the basis of your content in order to find further information or complete a project, as this can actually drive potential customers away from your words. A good rule to follow is to use question-based calls-to-action throughout the heart of your content that don’t encourage readers to steer away from what they’re reading, and to use verbiage that requires taking action not associated with the article itself near the close.

Make use of Visuals

Visuals are an extremely useful tool when it comes to making content more exciting for readers and ensuring that the whole story you’re trying to get across is thoroughly told and absorbed. Statistics say that roughly 40 percent of online users respond more positively to content with visuals as opposed to plain text, and posts with videos embedded in them receive about three times the inbound link exposure that posts without videos do.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to include at least one high quality photo in each piece of content you produce. Any videos you can find to correspond with your topic will really help to enrich the piece and establish yourself as a knowledgeable brand that knows where to find valuable information and doesn’t mind sharing it. You’ll find that you can significantly increase your profit margins by including review videos for products you are promoting within pieces too.

You should find that these techniques are easy to implement and won’t interfere too much with the fluidity or insight that you want to leave behind within each piece of content you create.

Captivate Your Audience with These Mobile Content Writing Best Practices

Posted by Laura Holton

shutterstock_206052859.jpgMost advice about ensuring that websites are mobile-ready is aimed at designers, involves aspects such as coding and loading speed, and is of little concern to writers. However, with mobile usage at an all-time high—accounting for 51 percent of daily Internet access, according to Smart Insights—mobile content writing is no longer something writers can ignore. Here are a few ways to gain optimal engagement from your posts.

1. Cut the Fluff

Eliminating fluff is important for creating quality posts for any audience, but it is essential for mobile content writing where distractions reign. Start your posts with a snappy introduction explaining exactly what your audience can expect to find in the content, and continue with concise, to-the-point information throughout. This by no means suggests you should create only short posts; mobile-friendly content can still be long-form, provided it is free from words and sentences that add no value.

2. Focus on Layout

Small screen sizes demand appropriate layout. Keep your paragraphs concise, with plenty of whitespace as users scroll down. You can also enhance layout with subheadings in bold font, bullet points, and images.

3. Cater to the Busy Lifestyle

Every piece of content you write is competing with a huge amount of other information for attention. Encourage readers to consume your content immediately by writing on topics that target people on the go. To ensure your audience stays engaged, create pieces that users can benefit from instantly.

4. Think About Your Links

Including links in content is a great way to boost SEO; however, these, too, need to be mobile-friendly. Firstly, always check that links lead to a mobile-responsive site to avoid frustrating users, who may otherwise navigate away from your site. Secondly, ensure that links are easy to click by creating hyperlinks that consist of at least two words.

Even when you are writing blog posts that are not necessarily intended for mobile consumption, it is likely that a high percentage of your readers will access the content on their cellphones and tablets. For this reason, whenever you write, it’s best to keep these mobile content writing tips in mind.

5 Ways to Make Your Copywriting Services Shine

shutterstock_325899821.jpgAs a successful copywriter you have an opportunity to tap into a 2.6 trillion dollar industry that is thriving worldwide. But if you want to ensure that you get your fair share of the profits pie, you’ll need to set your copywriting services apart from the competition and build a continuously growing client base. It’s really all about getting your services noticed and establishing consumer recognition as an authority within your industry. Here are five awesome techniques you can implement to help make your copywriting services shine:

Create a Catchy Online Portfolio

One of the most important things you can do for your copywriting career is create an online portfolio that shows off your education, experience, and skills for potential clients to peruse. Never post content directly on your website that has been published elsewhere—instead, post fresh unique content as writing samples, or include links to content that has been published on another website.

Your online portfolio should be colorful to grab the eye’s attention upon first glance, yet clean so visitors can maneuver the pages and sections easily. Use the homepage of your portfolio to introduce yourself and outline any specific copywriting services that you offer, and include hyperlinks to those services so clients can skip straight to the order page.

Use Social Media to Show Your Skills Off

Social media is an extremely potent way to connect with potential clients and maintain long term relationships with those who rely on your industrial expertise. Whether through Twitter, Facebook, Google +, YouTube, or a combination of them all, you can make your presence known 24 hours a day by scheduling catchy phrases, slogans, and informational data to be published on a periodic basis.

By offering quick tips, links to in-depth interviews and statistical content, and providing short samples of your copywriting skills, you can expect to grow a database of contacts in the thousands that will help you get the word out about the services you offer. For the best results, keep your door open to communication with your contacts by hosting Q&A sessions and providing customer support through various online programs such as email, newsletters, and copywriting blog posts.

Get Promotional with the Process

Another effective way to set yourself apart from the competition and to gain free word-of-mouth advertising is to implement promotional events into your overall advertising campaign. In addition to applying for work, networking on forums, making use of social media, and investing in various online advertising options, create some promotional items to give away.

You can host a contest on your website or a social media account, or offer free promotional products with every order for a specific period of time. The idea is to get a pen, mug, t-shirt, hat, or keychain with your logo, name, or website address printed on it in order to generate ongoing sales and encourage word-of-mouth advertising.

Cooperate with Your Colleagues

Cooperating with colleagues in the writing industry can result in increased business, improved consumer recognition, and business opportunities that you may not otherwise have an opportunity to tap into. Get together with other writers who specialize in areas other than copywriting services (such as blog writing and product description creation) and put together a promotional plan that enables you to pool your leads and distribute the work amongst each other based on each writers’ specific experience and skills.

But you don’t have to get so involved in order to get results if you’re not so inclined—consider exchanging links on each other’s websites, including the services of one another in your newsletters, or simply promoting each other’s services on social media. It’s always a good idea to start slow and ensure that a collaborative working relationship is effective before agreeing to any long term or in depth plans.

With the help of these tips and tricks, you should find that you’ll be able to spend more time actually working with clients rather than trying to obtain them.

How to Improve Your Writing for Content Marketing

Posted by Laura Holton

Writing for content marketing requires a careful balance between providing your audience with new information and encouraging readers to turn to your client for a purchase. This is completely unlike article writing (where your primary intent is to inform) and copy writing (where you are overtly pushing for a sale). With content writing, you need to present your client as an expert in the field, offer users information they will be unable to find elsewhere, and speak directly to your target audience. To succeed on all counts, you need to take action that enables you to stand out from the crowd.

1. Develop an Expert Voice

Beyond ensuring that your content contains no factual errors, write in a voice that reflects your deep understanding of the subject matter. In many cases, this may call for in-depth research. If you specialize in a particular area of content marketing writing, stay up to date in the field by reading other blogs and following industry trends.

2. Get to the Point

Readers interact with web content very differently from other types of writing, such as printed media. For instance, only 16 percent of users read every word of blog posts, according to a study by the Nielsen Norman Group. Grab your readers’ attention before they have even encountered your first sentence by using a strong headline. Follow up by presenting the most important information in your initial paragraph and go into greater detail in the body of the post.

3. Know Your Audience

For any content marketing efforts to be effective, posts need to target specific readers. Your clients should be able to provide you with buyer personas that detail the characteristics, demographics, and psychographics of readers. This will tell you what tone to use, how much explanation users will need about a particular subject, and what angle to take with your content.

4. Use SEO Tactics

SEO is essential for content marketing and is actually quite easy, involving little extra effort on your part. You will automatically optimize your content by writing to high quality, addressing just a single point, and avoiding jargon. You can improve your chances of receiving a high search engine ranking further by using (but not overusing) keywords naturally within the text.

5. Create an Appropriate Call-to-Action

For a post to become an active part of a content marketing strategy, it needs to end by telling readers what to do next. The most appropriate type of call-to-action (CTA) will depend on where users are in the buying cycle. If they are in the initial stages, you may like to just suggest engaging with content, such as by sharing or commenting. If they are ready to make a purchase, however, a better CTA would send readers to the products page on your client’s website.

Every time you write a piece of content, try to make it better than the last. By constantly seeking tips to improve your writing, you will enhance your clients’ content marketing strategy.

7 Press Release Content Writing Tips

Posted by Laura Holton

Press release content writing requires a completely different approach from creating other types of content, such as blog posts, white papers, and articles. With a press release, you have a short space in which to convey just the most essential information to ensure that readers take notice. A well-written press release will have lasting effects, including greater media coverage, whereas a poorly-constructed press release may lead to a lack of sales. This is a huge responsibility for press release writers, who must use all the means at their disposal to gain the attention their announcement deserves.

1. Pull Readers In From the Start

As with all content, an intriguing headline is key to gaining readers. Offer something new and exciting through your title and then go on to summarize the main points in your first paragraph.

2. Make It Interesting

Whereas the reason for a press release may be of great excitement within a company, you need to remember that it is far less compelling for those on the outside. Help your press release to compete with numerous others by keeping your audience’s perspective in mind as you write.

3. Keep It Short

There is nothing more off-putting than a press release that rambles on, full of self-praise. You should limit yourself to no more than 400 words, according to The Guardian. If you find you have written much more, cut out the back story and supplementary information.

4. Back Up Claims with Statistics

Vague promises are of no use to anyone. Avoid descriptive language, instead using facts and statistics to demonstrate value. Ideally, your press release should feature at least one quote from a reputable source.

5. Think About Layout

A central aspect of press release content writing is format. Break up the page with plenty of white space from subheadings, short paragraphs, and bullet points.

6. Proofread

A press release is a reflection of your company as a whole. Even if you are experienced in press release content writing, proofread the final copy carefully and ask one or two other people to read it, too. When you send out your announcement, it must be free of grammatical errors, typos, and factual mistakes.

7. Include a Link to Further Information

Give readers the chance to find out more about the subject of your press release with a link to further information. In this additional content, you can include all the details you had to omit from the press release itself.

As you can see from the above tips, press release content writing is no easy task, but it’s crucial that you get it right. Make sure whoever writes your press releases is capable of creating succinct and engaging copy that will heighten your chances of success.

The Art of Writing Advanced Content

Posted by Laura Holton

Using basic content writing techniques will only get you so far. If you’re serious about using your content to yield conversions, you need to compete with a huge amount of distractions fighting for your audience’s attention. This requires mastering the art of creating advanced content, where every piece is high-quality and engaging.

1. Stay Alert for New Ideas

If you’ve been writing content for some time, you’ll likely be familiar with that sinking feeling writers often experience when sitting down in front of a blank document with no fresh ideas. To avoid this sensation, you should always be gathering possibilities for your content, jotting down notes, collaborating with industry experts in your business, and seeking articles outside of the blogs you frequent.

2. Present Information Readers Cannot Find Elsewhere

Be unique by presenting your own ideas or taking a new angle on a popular topic. This will show off your expertise on the subject and provide visitors with information that would not appear on an average Google search.

3. Prioritize Your Time

There is no need to divide your time equally across every aspect of your content creation. In fact, certain features require more attention than others — namely the title, opening sentence, and closing paragraph.

  • Title. Although 80 percent of people read titles, only 20 percent go on to read the content, according to Copyblogger. Be descriptive, explaining in as few words possible why readers need the information that follows.
  • Opening sentence. Once you have grabbed your audience’s attention with the title, you can ensure they keep reading by including a gripping opening line. This will make clear the value readers can expect to receive by reading your content and convince them that is worthwhile to continue.
  • Closing paragraph. The last crucial aspect of your content is your closing paragraph. This is your chance to summarize what your audience has learned and emphasize its significance. Indicate how readers can utilize the information to benefit their lives or what action they should take next. A strong closing paragraph will increase conversions and the number of repeat visitors to your blog.

4. Exceed Expectations

A common strategy to create new content is to find out what your audience, prospects, or customers want to know. You can take this to the next level by providing readers with supplementary information. Show your audience that you know them better than they know themselves by clearing up doubts and answering questions that have, so far, gone unspoken.

For your content to see success, you must utilize the above tips every time you write a post, no matter whether it is long-form, short-form, a blog post, or premium content.

3 Professional Writing Tips to Make Your Life Easier

Posted by Robin Kastengren

shutterstock_113471797Coming up with new, interesting, and useful things to write can be difficult to accomplish every day, especially if you are writing about similar topics and industries all day long. If you are searching for a few professional writing tips that will make your job a little easier, check out these three ideas.

1. Pocket

Content writing often involves a lot of research on the web. While you are searching for information about the piece you are writing, have you ever come across an article or page that you know would be useful in the future? Pocket is a great way to save and organize links so you can hang on to those useful pages.

There are plenty of apps that have similar features, but Pocket is nice because you can add tags to your links to make them more searchable. You can also save Facebook updates, Tweets, and Pins from your phone with an app that stays synced to your desktop browser app. You can use basic features for free, or upgrade for advanced searching capabilities and automatic backups.

2. Google Trends

Are you having a hard time coming up with something to write about? Or do you need to find a way to connect a topic to something current? Google trends is a great way to discover what people are searching for and to learn about related topics. You can start by getting a look at the top trending topics overall or sort by categories such as Business, Entertainment, and Health to get those top stories.

You can also pop in your keyword into the "Explore Topics" bar and see if Google can make some connections for you that might get your mind moving in the right direction. For example, if you type in "furnace repair," you can see that people are also looking for "furnace repair service" and "gas furnace repair." This might help you find a focus for your article or blog post.

3. Speaking of Google...

We all know how to type in a few words to perform a search, but did you know that this seemingly simple search engine has a bunch of built-in features to make your searches more accurate? For example, you can use a minus or hyphen to exclude words from your search. If you are trying to learn more about bears, but everything you find keeps returning a football team, try typing in "bears -Chicago," and see if you get better results. Here are a few more:

  • site: This helpful addition to your search term lets you define a particular site for Google to search. Or, if you are looking for authoritative sources and all you seem to find are blogs or competitor sites, try using "site:.gov" or "site:.edu" to find only government or educational institutions.
  • related: If you have a go-to source for interesting topics or helpful facts, but you are starting to feel like you've used up everything it has to offer, this search tool will help you find websites that are similar. For example, The Family Handyman website offers up tons of information on furnace repair. A search of "related:familyhandyman.com" returns This Old House, The Home Handyman Magazine, and other useful sites.
  • define: Use this to quickly find the meaning of words. It is also a fast way to find synonyms and other information about a particular word instead of jumping over to another site like Dictionary.com or Thesaurus.com.

Work Smarter

Many people may not be aware of all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into writing professional content. There are topics to be discovered, facts to verify, and ideas to try not to forget. Use these professional writing tips to work smarter so you can focus more of your time on the writing, not the legwork.