Although content marketing is making its way to the forefront of advertising, it's important as a marketing writer to make sure that the content still sounds genuine because consumers don't want to read plain old advertising copy. As a marketing writer, your job is to make sure that you write good copy that also grabs a reader's attention.
Blog posts such as "6 Ways to Relieve Stress With Exercise" and "14 Reasons to Exercise Daily" can both easily conceal a sales pitch from a gym while also giving readers an opportunity to learn something new or get inspired.
When writing content like this, you must always be careful that you don't end up sounding like a salesman. Follow these tips for writing marketing content that is still authentic and real.
1. Tell a story.
You may not realize that your tone is coming off as sales-pitch-y during your call to action, but your readers automatically will. One good way to keep your tone sounding natural is to tell your readers a story. It doesn't have to be a long story--it can just be a quick paragraph, or maybe even a sentence or two, that emphasizes a point. Something that your reader can relate to. Something that can be drawn into the point you're trying to make and will help you and your article sound more real.
2. Read your content out loud.
How does it sound? If it sounds like you're holding a normal conversation with your potential reader, then you've got a winner. But if you sound stiff and like you're trying to sell something, you need to do some editing.
Write your content like you speak. Write like a human and not like a robot or a crappy old radio commercial. Imagine yourself having a conversation with someone as you write. Then read your content out loud again to see if you've solved the problem.
3. Be funny.
Not only will this help your writing to be more natural and much less sales-y, you'll be able to win trust more easily by implementing humor. Don't try too hard to incorporate a joke into your article, but if it comes, by all means, let it come.
4. Help your audience.
As a marketing writer, you will know exactly who the audience you're writing for is. Think to yourself, why do they care about what I'm trying to say? When you've asked yourself this question enough times and have come up with a real, genuine answer for why your readers care, you've got yourself the perfect start.
Advertising used to be about making a sale. The switch to content marketing is simply making it more important to build a relationship with your audience. Write content that will help them solve a problem or answer a question they may have about the product. Don't sell. Help and solve problems.
5. End with a call-to-action.
Don't write your entire post centered around a call-to-action. Your post should be your story, your jokes, or your problem-solving. Other than interlinks, you shouldn't relate your content back to the product or other aspects of the business at all. This should be saved for the end, when you should have a strong one- or two-sentence call-to-action.
For example, if you wrote an article on decorating for Christmas for a craft store, you could end with, "If you want to make a puff-paint Santa Claus, we'll help you find everything you need." Or if your article is about the top five ab workouts for a gym, end with something similar to, "Our personal trainers would love to help with your quest for ab definition. Contact us today!"
Be specific with your call-to-action, keep it relevant to your article, and tell your readers exactly what you want them to do.
A job as a marketing writer can be tough when you're faced with the challenge of writing marketing content without actually trying to market. But by keeping a conversational tone and telling a story to your audience, you will write great content and you won't sound like a salesman.
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Business blog writing is something that companies in all kinds of fields are embracing. With a successful approach to blogging, companies can improve their exposure to prospective customers, reinforce relationships with existing customers, and establish an expert presence in their industry. A skilled blog writer needs to add value in order to provide the most benefit to the company running the blog. That being said, there is some confusion over the best way to do this.
What Does Adding Value Mean?
Internet marketers have a tendency to use buzzwords about digital marketing techniques that are not fully understood by mainstream business professionals. Adding value is a term that simply means providing marketing content that potential customers will choose to engage.
In an article on Entrepreneur, marketing executive Bob Gilbreath does an excellent job of explaining the idea of adding value. Gilbreath says that the old “interruptive” model of advertising is dead, because people have learned to ignore the thousands of advertising messages they see on a daily basis. Instead of using these antiquated techniques, Gilbreath recommends that marketers deliver information and services that will help customers make smart decisions about the things they are thinking about purchasing.
How Today's Blog Writers Are Adding Value
Simply understanding what value means to the modern customer is not enough for businesses today. Those responsible for coming up with blog posts have to know some of the common ways that companies add value with business blog writing so that they can think about how to create value in their own work. A few common techniques used for adding value to a blog post are:
Guides and other helpful information: many companies are coming out with buying guides that help advise consumers about things they want to purchase. Providing information is especially important for businesses that operate in complex fields: the Zillow Blog is a good example of a blog that helps consumers in the real estate world, which is constantly changing and can be difficult to navigate
Leveraging their customer base: testimonials are a very powerful tool for winning business. People are interested in hearing what other people like them have to say. What are customers of your client saying about trends in their industry? Providing a platform for people to talk on a blog will be very helpful to your efforts to provide value for clients
Stay current: providing the latest breaking news for people to read can be especially important in an industry where things happen quickly and news developments have a huge impact on the way industry professionals operate. Even if you cannot be the first one to report a new story, adding a comment or new tidbit can still provide value for your readers
Don’t Be Afraid Of Being Creative
Remember that you do not have to model your value adding techniques after existing templates. Marcus Sheridan at The Sales Lion raises a good point about adding value: it is a fluid term that is defined only by the people that use it. Sheridan goes on to point out that the art of communication is in itself a valuable endeavor, and that you should never be dissuaded from creating content just because you are concerned about whether or not it adds enough value. With some careful thought and a willingness to try new things, you can use value adding techniques as a secret weapon to take your business blog writing to the next level and thoroughly impress your clients.
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Most content writing tasks are focused on a specific keyword or term. However, it’s essential to ensure you don’t simply weave a narrative that successfully incorporates that word or words into a grammatically correct text. Individuals decide in microseconds if they are going to read a piece, and you title and first words have to convince them you’re presenting something worth their time.
Get a Nibble
I have found it useful to consider a successful content writing strategy similar to my favorite hobby of fishing. If you want to land the big ones, you have to plan exactly what you’re going after. That determines the bait you are going to use and how you are going to get it in front of your potential catch. If you cast the wrong bait, it will sail on by that fish without a glimmer of interest.
Similarly, the title you select will serve as the initial point of interest for your reader, and you only get one chance to get a nibble. Sometimes that perfect title is humorous, other times it is best to be informative, such as offering a certain number of tips or hints. And, other times, the title can be a bit curious, just as long as it is on point enough to pique some initial interest.
Set the Hook
If you succeed in getting that first flash of interest, you have to provide enough content in the first few lines to get your target to actually try the bait. Make it clear that you are offering something enticing dealing with the keyword, but not focused on the word itself. Remember the purpose of bait is to camouflage the hook and replace it with an irresistible morsel or treat.
Fishermen will tell you that the right bait will get a solid nibble, but if you don’t set that hook quickly, the interested fish will simply move on to other, more interesting opportunities. The browsing internet reader has more than enough possible baits being dangled before them, and they won’t waste time trying to figure out if your information is worthwhile beyond that first nibble.
Reel Them In
Even when you get that bite from your target, you have to deliver on what you promise. The entire article must build on that first enticing promise and deliver worthwhile content throughout the process. Readers are notorious for leaving an article before completing it if they discover this is just an effort to deliver a keyword message.
Remember, those readers are searching for something they can digest and from which they can get real value. If you deliver that in each paragraph, they will keep reading through the article to then end. If you land them, you increase the chance of getting a click through, a share, or a like. At any rate, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you did your job with a successful content writing strategy.
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When you start a blog, you have to commit to it. You need to write a set amount of days a week and have your blog post published by a set time--and you need to stick with it. In order to keep up a successful blog, your readers need to know what to expect from you and when.
Although blogs that post 3-5 (or more) times each week generate much more traffic than blogs that blog only once or twice a week, you also need to be able to keep up with your blogging schedule. But not only that, you need to be able to produce quality content each time you publish a new blog post so that you can keep your readers coming back as well as gain new ones. Follow these seven steps in order to write great blog content every time.
1. Keep a list of blog post ideas.
Whenever an idea for a great blog post strikes you, be sure to write it down immediately. It could be just seconds before it's gone again. This way, whenever you're running low on inspiration, you have your blog topic list to fall back on.
2. Don't just stop at post topics.
I like to use the Notes app that comes on my iPhone to outline my blog posts. I have one note just for post topics and then I'll start another note when I begin brainstorming what I want to write about. Although I may not get the entire blog content outlined, I'll at least have enough sections to have a good start. It's really helpful--not to mention a real stress-reliever--to keep a consistent list of blog posts going rather than writing from scratch each night.
3. Write your blog content ahead of time.
Write up your blog post then set it aside. Look at it a day or two later--chances are, you'll find at least one thing that you'll be able to improve that will make your writing even better.
4. Include links in your blog post.
Link to your own old blog posts and link to posts by other bloggers. Do the former to drive traffic to other posts that you've written and do the latter to give credit and to draw others into the conversation.
5. Research your topic.
Of course you should be familiar enough about your topic to write a good bit of it on your own, but it's important to see what others are saying. There are many ways to do research, depending on the type of blog post that you're writing, but it's still important to gather further information for your blog post. You want your blog content to be factual, useful, and informative to your readers.
6. Avoid the wall of text.
A couple of things that Internet writing and reading requires are short paragraphs and concise ideas. People reading your blog posts are typically doing this while also doing something else--drinking their coffee, working at their desk, or on their lunch break--and they want to be able to quickly scan your post and be able to understand your main ideas quickly. You need to make sure that you are getting straight to the point in all of your blog posts.
7. Write what your readers want to read.
I'm sure you've chosen your blog's niche by now. You should have just a handful of categories that readers can expect to see blog topics fall under. This means that your readers know what to expect from you and this is why they keep coming back. Don't suddenly switch blog niches or write something that is completely different from your typical blog content. You should know by now what your readers like--stick with that.
It is important to keep quality content on your blog in order to keep your readers coming back. Create your blogging schedule, stick to it, and consistently generate well written blog content in order to maintain a successful blog.
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Content marketing often seems like a very modern concept: now that the digital age is in full swing and people have volumes of content at their fingertips thanks to the Internet, every company seems to be jumping on the content marketing bandwagon.
Despite content marketing's strong roots in the 21st century, though, modern writers would be remiss to ignore the wise words of writing greats from centuries past. Even though they might have never known what a blog was or how to write in a way that is sensitive to the principles of SEO, there is still much that we can learn about the art of content writing from these important historical writers.
“Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club” – Jack London, from “Getting Into Print” in The Editor Magazine, 1903
In this quote, London addresses the dreaded concept of “writer’s block," something every writer faces: sitting down at their computer, a blank page staring back, and not having any idea where to begin. London encourages writers to aggressively seek out ideas to write instead of sitting back and waiting for them to come around. For content writers, going after inspiration could mean reading similar works by other writers, researching their assigned topic, or learning more about their clients.
“You’ve got to be able to look at your thoughts on paper and discover what a fool you were” – Ray Bradbury, from a 2001 interview with Salon
Although Bradbury lived to see the dawn of the Internet era, much of his most well-known work was produced in the middle of the 20th century, and he often shunned new-age technology like video games and computers. In this quote, Bradbury speaks to the importance of being humble and willing to concede that your past work might not have been perfect. Not every piece of content that you produce will be brilliant, but by recognizing this fact and coming to terms with it you can improve your writing for the future.
“Le secret d’ennuyer est celui de tout dire (The secret of being a bore is to tell everything)” – Voltaire, from Sept Discours en Vers sur l’Homme
This quote by the famous French writer Voltaire expresses the importance of leaving things unsaid. As writers of content marketing, it is certainly our job to thoroughly cover the topics that we write about. However, it is also important that we leave our readers wanting to learn more about the clients that we write for or the products they offer. Leaving some things unsaid in our content, as Voltaire suggests, will build intrigue and entice readers to take action to get more information about the companies we write for.
“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write” – Saul Bellow, from The #1 New York Times Bestseller by John Bear (1992)
Although edits and changes are commonplace for content marketing writers, the thrust of this quote from Nobel prize winner Saul Bellow is that our best ideas often come to us when we least expect it. If you are really struggling with an assignment, put it down and focus on something else for some time. Even the most mundane household acts might bring you some inspiration that you didn’t know you had: the ideas we get when we aren’t trying to find them are often the best ones.
“I have only made this letter shorter because I have not had the time to make it longer” – Blaise Pascal, from “Letter XVI” of the Lettres Provinciales
In this quote, 17th-century French writer Blaise Pascal touches on the importance of being concise. In content marketing there is a tremendous amount of competition: not just from other marketers, but from anything that vies for the attention of readers. To have a better chance of achieving success with the content that you write, you need to be brief so that you do not bore your readers and run the risk of losing their attention.
Even web writers can learn things about their craft by heeding the words of famous historical figures. With a little help from these great authors, novelists, and philosophers of the past, you can provide your modern-day clients with highly effective content marketing.
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So you're a blogger. I'm a blogger too. Walk into a single coffee shop and I'm sure you would find a handful of more bloggers. With all of the hundreds of thousands of blogs on the Internet, how can any of us expect readers to find ours?
It's not enough for us to simply write content and then share it on our personal Facebooks or Twitters. We need to create quality, engaging content that makes our readers want to share it for us. That is how we can expect people to find our blog. It's not that hard to do, either--just follow these steps for writing content that basically shares itself.
1. Create an eye-catching headline.
Your first step is to create a headline that someone is going to see and immediately think, "I have to read what this article is about!" Create a headline that draws people in so much that they couldn't even imagine life going on without reading your article first.
How can you do that? Well first, forget about the search engines. Forcing keywords to fit into your headline can cause it to become drab and boring. Think only of your audience and what kind of headline will make them need to click to your article. Good headlines trigger emotion and curiosity in the reader. Including the words "How To" or a number in the headline also tends to provoke readers to click over to your article. No one can resist a good how-to or a list.
2. Write what people want to read.
No offense, but you're not going to attract many readers with a 10,000 word chronicle of what your cat did this morning. People want to read something that is relevant to their lives. More precisely, people want to read something that is useful or helpful to them in some way. People want solutions. They want to read something entertaining. They want to laugh and they want to relate to what you're writing. Bring your writing to life. Be funny and be engaging.
3. When in doubt, make a list.
As I mentioned previously, no one can resist a good list. Write about "5 Ways to Brush Your Hair" or "10 Tips to Taking Your Cat to the Vet Without Getting a Single Scratch." Why do we love lists so much? The New Yorker says, "lists tap into our preferred way of receiving and organizing information at a subconscious level; from an information-processing standpoint, they often hit our attentional sweet spot."
Our brains process lists easily, so we like to read them. Who can argue with that logic?
4. 1,500 is the magic number.
While conducting research on how to write the perfect blog post, Buffer found that the most shared content are articles of 1,500 words or more. So contrary to popular belief that the Internet has made our brains lazy and we don't want to read anything other than short, sweet, and skimmable blog posts, it's quite possible that longer blog posts actually have the upper hand. As long as your information is useful, important, and of quality substance, you can write as much as you need in order to get your point across.
5. Make it easy for your readers to share your content.
There are several different plugins that you can choose from to offer buttons for your readers to click and instantly share your blog post. Although you don't want to include share buttons for every single social media website out there (stick with the two or three that are most important to you), it makes it easy for your readers when you give them an option to share your post right from the source.
Ending your post with a call to action, such as, "If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends!" is a popular way of asking readers to share your content as well. If someone stuck around to the end of your post, chances are they enjoyed it and will have no problem posting it to their Facebook or Twitter.
6. Be conscious of what time you publish posts.
Many people have done studies on what time of day web content gets the most views, and posting during those prime times can really help your blog traffic. This infographic will give you all of the information you need to know about when your audience is reading blogs.
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To help your clients succeed in digital marketing, it’s crucial that your content works in the mobile world. Since I started writing for content marketing purposes two years ago, I’ve seen the consumption—and the demand—for content of every type growing in leaps and bounds. One of the fastest-growing methods of consumption is through mobile devices, with usage expanding at an astronomical 400% between 2013 and 2014. If users aren’t reading your copy when it hits their mobiles, your client isn’t generating leads.
Recognize User Differences
Mobile users might be the same people as web users, but their mobile habits and expectations are different in a number of ways:
They’re on the go: Mobile users have short attention spans and limited time to read lengthy blocks of copy, so content needs to be brief and easy to absorb. Twitter is popular with mobile users, particularly because the 140-character limit tweets are quick to read and get straight to the point.
The screen size is limited. Even using a tablet such as an iPad, the screen is smaller than a laptop or computer. Smartphone screens are even smaller and users typically scroll vertically, not horizontally, which limits the width available.
It’s harder to read: Reading text on a mobile device, particularly a smartphone, takes more concentration and better eyesight than a computer. If you want the user to read it through, it needs to be enticing enough to get him to do so.
Download size matters. To make your content marketing work on mobile devices, users need to be able to view it. Anything that takes more than a few seconds to load is bound to lose your reader’s attention. Neither does the average person want to use up a precious data allocation downloading content that’s not optimized for size and speed.
Animated content is out. If you’ve ever checked your phone during a boring meeting only to have a video clip start playing unexpectedly, you’ll know how awkward it can be. Users don’t want animated content that embarrasses them.
Simplicity is paramount. You just can’t fit the same content that you’d have on a computer onto a mobile device. Besides, the user might be walking and talking when they view your material, so simplify it to eliminate on-screen noise and interference. By displaying one thing at a time, you can present the single most important message you want the reader to take away with them.
Tips for Mobile Content Marketing Success
So, how do you deliver on expectations so that your client gets the desired mileage from your marketing content? By implementing these crucial criteria:
Keep your copy concise: This doesn’t have to mean short. It means presenting the content in a digestible, reader-friendly format that enables users to scan-read using headings, bulleted and numbered lists so they can easily identify what they want to consume.
Get to the point quickly: Tell the reader what you’re talking about in the first 100 words. That’s about all the time you have in which to capture their attention and avoid losing them to the next bright shiny thing.
Use imaginative headlines: It’s harder to read content marketing on a mobile than it is on a computer, so give your headlines and subheads a life of their own and a chance to tell the story. Users typically scan-read, and subheads are one of the first things they scan to decide whether a piece is worth reading in full.
Be clear on the purpose of the content: Say what you’re going to say, say it and then say what you’ve said. It’s an old maxim for writing anything but it still works in the digital world. Don’t leave your reader wondering what you’re trying to tell him and keep the piece focused on your primary point.
Use a clear call to action (CTA): Make sure your copy includes clear instructions for the reader on how to take the next step. I recently came across content that was very interesting and informative, but after hunting uselessly for half an hour through the piece (and the rest of the website) looking for a way to contact the company, I gave up and went to their competition. State your call to action near the beginning of the text, again in the middle and at the end of the piece. Just word it differently each time so your client doesn’t get hit by Google for duplicate content.
When writing web content for today's marketers, remember: keep it short, keep it sweet and keep mobile in mind!
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As the former editor of an online news portal, I’ve edited a lot of web writing in my time and seen the same mistakes occur time and again from writers on different continents. These 7 mistakes are the most common, and seeing them creates the sense that your writing is less than authoritative and readable. To get an editor to choose your content over another writer’s work, use these tips to deliver well-written copy that avoids typical problems:
Mistake #1: Not Creating a Draft Outline
“Just do it” might work for Nike, but it’s not the way to go about web writing if you want to make it a career. You’ll find yourself losing focus and rambling, unsure of what you’re trying to achieve with the piece, going off on tangents and not fulfilling the topic or title.
Fix this by:
Listing the key points you want to cover
Identifying who your target audience is for the specific piece of writing
Defining your purpose for writing it, i.e. what do you want the reader to do as a result of reading.
Mistake #2: Taking Too Long to Get to the Point
Good web writing needs to get to the point immediately. Never mind that long lede that comes to mind when you sit down to write without an outline (see Mistake #). Unless you tell the reader what to expect, he has no good reason to make the effort to read your piece.
Fix this by:
Outlining succinctly for the reader what you are going to write about, in the first 100 words
Stating in the first one-third of the piece what its promise is and what the content can do for the reader
Establishing your authority on the topic, i.e why you or your client are qualified to write it.
Mistake #3: Not Staying on Topic
When you try to cover too many aspects of an issue you risk going off topic. I often come across web writing that starts out on one topic and ends up on another—or so it seems to the reader. The writer might have intended to create a relationship between the two issues, but failed to make that clear enough along the way.
Fix this by:
Creating your draft outline before you begin to write
Checking what you write against your title every step of the way
Breaking up complex topics into two or more posts, instead of trying to cover them in a single piece
Mistake #4: Using Unfriendly Formatting
Big bad blocks of text are enough to put most readers off your web writing. I’ve lost count of how often I’ve landed on pages that don’t guide readers, and therefore they miss good opportunities for engaging their attention.
Fix this by:
Using subheads, bullet and numbered lists
Separating aspects of the topic into different sections to avoid confusion
Mistake #5: Being Long-Winded and Wordy
There’s nothing wrong with writing a long piece if it makes sense, but the moment your reader has to go back and re-read to understand something you’ve lost his interest.
Fix this by:
Using plain, everyday language instead of jargon
Keeping sentences to less than three lines of text, with not more than one comma in each
Writing paragraphs with a maximum of four sentences in them
Employing direct, active voice wherever possible
Mistake #6: Missing the Call-to-Action (CTA)
No matter how good your web writing is, unless you tell readers clearly what their next step is and how to take it you’ve wasted their time reading your post.
Fix this by:
Including a clear CTA at various points in the copy, not just at the end
Using banner CTAs rather than text hyperlinks. They are less likely to appear as duplicate content in search, which could result in penalization.
Mistake #7: Not Proofreading Before Delivery
It’s so easy to make a mistake and not see it yourself, which is why so many clients employ editors to review all web writing content before publishing it. Editors don’t want to have to fix typos, however, so make sure that when you submit copy it’s been checked carefully for obvious mistakes.
Fix this by:
Letting your work “rest” for a few hours before re-reading it to check for typos and errors
Making corrections before submitting it, instead of having to send hasty emails to the editor with revisions attached.
Avoid all these mistakes by taking the time to plan your writing beforehand and then executing it in a steady, logical manner.
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Hitting all the main points of an article, incorporating keywords properly and sticking to the requested word counts is a good start to creating content, but it's not all you need to do. With an increasing focus on quality content over other SEO practices, your words need to be better than ever if they're going to be effective.
Is your content really the best that it can be? Before you fire your next finished piece off to the client, ask yourself these five questions to make sure you're meeting the mark.
1. Will This Web Content Educate or Help Others?
The most important goal of web content is to be informative or helpful. People on the web have pretty thick skin when it comes to marketing and they don't have any patience for being sold to. What they do want, however, is to learn something new and to have their problems solved.
Before considering any piece of content complete, ask yourself what problem it solves or what question it answers. If you can identify a clear purpose for your content, then the biggest hurdle has been overcome.
2. Will This Content Showcase My Client's Expertise?
On the other hand, while solving all of life's problems is a fine goal, you want to make sure that the problems you're solving are helpful to the client, too. Your content should either showcase the client's expertise in some way or lend some credibility to the client to help establish them as a thought leader in their industry.
For example, a dentist would probably pass on an article about improving a home's curb appeal. He might, however, like an article on debunking home teeth-whitening tricks. Even though it doesn't directly promote dental services, the content lets people know that the dentist is interested in everyone's dental health whether they make an appointment or not.
3. Will This Content Increase Brand Awareness?
Increasing brand awareness means developing a voice and an image for a company that is recognizable and familiar to customers. When it comes to web content, building brand awareness means addressing the right audience with a consistent message that supports the goals of the brand. Seems like a pretty tall order for one bit of content you're charged with writing.
To make your content fit in with the rest, review existing blog posts and articles to get an idea of the audience the client is marketing to and the preferred style of writing they use. Keep your perspective consistent; don't jump in with a first-person narrative when everything else is in third-person formal. Lastly, make a note of any lingo or buzz words to make sure your language fits in with theirs.
4. Will This Help the Search Engines Find My Client?
Effectively incorporating keywords, phrases, and target ideas is essential to making sure your web content is optimized for search engines. The good news is that Google is pretty smart these days so you don't have to awkwardly work in an exact keyword a dozen times into the same piece.
Feel free to add a few words between keyword phrases to make them sit nicely in a sentence, and use slight variables or close synonyms to get the job done. And, if you can work the main keywords into the title and at least one subheading without risking quality, then you've done everything you can to help search engines find the content.
5. Will This Encourage Reader Engagement?
Writing engaging content is one thing, but writing content that encourages reader involvement is a whole different ballgame. Content that encourages engagement makes the reader want to comment, share, tweet, click that call to action, or otherwise do something because of what you wrote. It's no easy task but it's something you should strive for with everything you create.
Provide helpful tips that someone might want to share with a coworker, ask a question that begs to be answered, bring up a controversial subject and ask for opinions (although stay away from those hot-button issues that cause a little too much controversy), or include interesting statistics or facts that are easily shared.
Quality is King
All these points check and double check to make sure what you created focuses on producing quality content that not only meets the client's marketing goals, but is also useful to the reader. If you're able to answer all these questions with "yes," then you can be confident that your content is achieving its goals.
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The whole point of content is to have it read, right? As a web writer, it’s my job to produce quality website copy that reduces bounce rates, so what does it say when reliable research shows that 55% of website visitors hang around for less than 15 seconds before moving on?
But the user clicked through to the page, you say. Surely s/he read the content when they got there? Apparently not, because there’s just so much information available online that the user is overwhelmed with choice. I generally evaluate copy I write against this 7-point checklist to determine whether I’ve missed the boat anywhere:
#1: Is it Current? A survey by Chartbeat of 2 billion pageviews of more than half a million articles identified that the articles that got the most attention time were those that were the most newsworthy. The theory of “evergreen content” is that it’s timeless, but in fact readers want to see when something was published and use the publishing date as a yardstick to determine its relevance. In the absence of a date, the user goes by how current the subject matter is. Something that mentions Obama, for example, is more likely to be relevant today than a piece about George Bush (either father or son).
#2: Does it Look Clean and Uncluttered? Busy pages don’t work. Some of the common website copy mistakes that contribute to bounce rates are:
Solid blocks of text
Too many images
The cleaner and less cluttered the page, the more likely readers are to stay long enough to engage with the content.
#3: Are the Headings Self-Explanatory? There’s been a trend for sometime towards “clever” headlines and subheads, with words such as warning, shocking, secret and other sensationalist terms considered effective. Well, somebody sold us a crock with that idea. Way back in 1997 already, Jakob Nielsen proved that when users read on the web they prefer scannable text, including meaningful subheadings as opposed to clever ones! The shift back to this fundamental principle is gaining ground as readers tire of trying to decipher metaphorically-exciting headings that essentially say nothing.
#4: Is the Length Right? Long blocks of website copy put readers off. Nielsen’s studies revealed that users were three times more likely to read a brief instead of a full article, and that they preferred to “forage” for the facts rather than read lengthy information to get them. Bounce-proof copy needs to provide a short synopsis at the beginning of the article that tells readers whether the piece contains the answers they want and that balances with the overall length.
#5: Does it Get to the Point Quickly? Following on from #4, good website copy uses the inverted pyramid style to get to the point quickly. If you have 15 seconds to capture the reader’s attention and you know s/he will read the synopsis or lede first, it makes sense that it needs to contain the point of the piece. Stick to the old idea of “say what you’re going to say, say it and then say what you said.”
#6: Have You Used Images Appropriately? Research in May 2000 by the Poynter Institute confirmed the findings of Nielsen’s 1997 study and highlighted others, such as the fact that text attracts attention before graphics do. Text accounted for 78% of the first three things users looked at on a webpage, and only 22% for the graphic elements. In many cases, readers only looked at the images on their second or third visit to the page. So if your website copy relies heavily on images to make the point, you could be potentially encouraging readers to “bounce” off to a site that’s easier to read.
#7: Is Interlaced Browsing Supported? Chances are you never thought of this one before! Well, it turns out that readers like to jump around between pages and your website copy needs to:
Encourage their return by offering an information-rich experience;
Make it easy for them to continue reading where they left off, which goes back to the whole “scannability” thing;
Use plain language and standard terminology so the user isn’t required to switch context or have difficulty remembering what you called things.
Producing content that delivers everything it needs to isn’t for the faint-hearted, but by compiling a checklist of things to watch out for you’ll get as close as possible to doing so. Analyzing your clients’ bounce rates will show whether you’re on the right track.
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