With the expanded use of content marketing, every business needs to generate a steady stream of strong content.
While it’s easy to say that you should write compelling content, the problem is how to actually develop great content on a consistent basis that stands out in the sea of information available on social media, tablets, smartphones, computers and other devices, new and old.
Here are 10 steps to help you produce strong content that reaches out and engages readers. (You may want to read “5 writing principles your third-grade teacher botched for some more tips.)
1. Know your audience. Look beyond the basics of your audience’s demographics, psychographics and past behaviors to understand what they’re seeking from your content. Marketing personas, a composite of reader attributes, enable writers to visualize the person for whom they’re writing. If you’re writing for an established online outlet such as a blog or a website, past content performance can serve as an interest indicator. Alternatively, use comments and social media actions for insights. Lastly, ask readers what they want.
2. Start with a powerful headline. This is the hook that lures readers in and gets them to read the article. It must be consistent with the information you’re presenting or they’re gone. Use one or two relevant keywords, preferably at the beginning. While you don’t have to start with the title, revisit your title and revise it once your content is finished to ensure it’s as strong as it can be.
3. State your case in the first paragraph. The initial paragraph is the workhorse of your piece. It has to follow through on your title’s promise and draw readers further in to keep them engaged enough to find out more. Additionally, it must support your search optimization.
4. Tell a story. You can’t jump into your piece with setting the stage nor can you stop writing when you hit your word count. Your writing needs a beginning, middle and end. The easiest formula is to state the issue you’re examining, give the evidence to support the problem’s answer, and finish by clearly showing how you answered the issue.
5. Speak your readers’ language. Sound like a real person and don’t use corporate gibberish. It helps to use your audience’s way of talking and vocabulary. This validates that you know what you’re talking about.
6. Provide useful information. Readers are time-crunched. Unlike your boss, they don’t care how much work you put into the article. All that matters to them is “what’s in it for me?” The content must help, educate, inform or entertain them.
7. Show your readers. Give readers concrete facts to illustrate your points. Use your nursery school show-and-tell experience to demonstrate your points with examples. Go a step further and use photographs, illustrations and/or videos to make your point.
8. Make your writing quick to read. Remember your audience is most likely consuming your content on-the-go, in short spurts of time between other activities, or while they’re doing something else, so they’re not fully focused on your content. So make it easy to scan quickly. Less is more. Use simple words so readers don’t skip them (or your column). Write short, direct sentences. Where possible, use the active voice and keep paragraphs short with three to five sentences since blocks of text are intimidating.
9. Guide readers with bolding and lists. Highlight or italicize important phrases. Create lists to help readers quickly consume your content. This makes your information visually inviting.
10. Edit, edit, edit. Go through your finished piece to check for misspelling and poor grammar. Nothing takes away from your content faster than poor writing, including foul language. Get a copy editor to help and give your writing a fresh set of eyes. This is particularly important for businesses where these errors reflect poorly on your brand.
Producing strong content consistently takes practice and work. These 10 steps will help ensure your writing is aligned with your audience so it has a fighting chance to break through the clutter and get attention.