Your content is terrible.
No, that line is not something inserted by a hacker, I wrote that. To be fair, it might not apply to some of you (can’t say I know everybody who is reading this post), but I’m sure some of you might have thought to yourself “I know”. Others, and these are the ones who are likely the best writers, immediately identified that first sentence as an easy, somewhat hackneyed attempt to grab attention and this sentence you’re reading now an obvious attempt to hold that attention, mixed with some self-deprecation to not appear arrogant. Regardless of how you interpreted the first line, you are not here to be analyzed: you want to know how to write great content. That content may be for a website, a case-study, a guest post, or any number of other purposes. Hopefully, the following points will help you understand how great content is created.
Note that writing goes beyond a simple list of ingredients, and if that is all you want I can refer you to a number of other websites. This post will explore how the creative process works and how certain people can transform a blank page into written gold. Anybody can throw text on a page and call it content; it takes talent and hard work to create something people want to read.
To understand writing, you must first acquaint yourself with the writer’s greatest foe. This foe has stalked wordsmiths for centuries, living only to hear their cries of anguish and the lamentations of their women. That foe is the blank page. After assaulting humanity’s best authors for centuries, it partnered up with an abomination born of the digital age – the blinking cursor. Writers will often stare at a blank screen for hours trying to figure out what to write before finally breaking through.
Inspiration is the only defense against a blank page, but inspiration does not come when it is wanted or even needed. It seems to come by its own will, often when you stop seeking it out. However, inspiration is how a writer, even a copywriter, can craft something great. That is the first step to writing: accepting that until you are inspired, you are not going to churn out something great. If you are talented, you might be able to write something GOOD, but you need inspiration to do better.
However, if you are writing content then you have a deadline, you are part of a business and businesses want results and will not wait around for inspiration to deign grace you with her presence. Fortunately, there are ways to bait inspiration. A great infographic by CopyBlogger highlights some great ways to gain that inspiration. Once you grasp it, set all else aside and work. Inspiration is fleeting, and it is far easier to edit than it is to create.
Inject Your Personality…
…or your company’s personality. While proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation are all important, great content would give clues as to the writer’s personality. Much of what was written previously was based on my personality, so you know a little bit about me, the writer. The fact that I am comfortable with projecting such an image also speaks to who our company is: we work hard, we strive to be informative, but we still have a little fun.
One good practice for injecting personality into your writing is to write how you talk for your first draft. You can make it look clean and professional after your first draft is written (and let’s be honest – you are not going to be using the first copy you create, more on that later). Using colloquialisms and limited slang is a fantastic way to show personality in your work. Don’t imagine this as just words you are throwing out there, imagine you are writing this for somebody else: because that is exactly what you are doing.
Even if the content is being written for SEO purposes, on your first copy the best advice I can offer is to ignore the search engines. On that first draft forget Google, Bing, and Yahoo even exist and just assume you are writing the content for another person – because you are. Sure, lots of content created on a web page is done for the benefit of a search algorithm, but somebody is going to take the time to read that content, and you want them to understand what kind of company they are dealing with.
Speaking of people reading your content…
Know Your Audience
Every reader is different, and when considering the personality you project you need to make sure the readers you are targeting like whoever wrote the content and like what is being said. Note that algorithms are not an audience: while it is important to make sure they are considered for SEO purposes, you should never write content for the search engine at the expense of the end user. When writing, have a clear image of the kind of person who will be reading it in mind. For example, I’m guessing that you (the reader) own or manage a website, and you know the content you’re writing for the site itself or the content you are marketing elsewhere could be far better than it is. You are wondering how to make it better, and are reading this article because you plan to write it yourself, or you are trying to figure out how to help your writing staff do better.
If I did my job right, I probably hit close to the mark. If I am completely wrong, then I have written this article for the wrong audience. Ultimately, content creation for a website carries with it a business objective, and if your writing fails to draw in potential customers then the time and money invested in creating that content is wasted.
Remember that writing, speaking, and any other form of communication are purely social acts. There is a reason “you just like to hear yourself talk” is considered an insult. When you communicate, your objective is to convey meaning to a particular group, thus you must ALWAYS put yourself in the mindset of your audience and ask yourself how they interpret your messages, and how to craft your message in such a way that they interpret it in the manner you desire. Your pride in your work is irrelevant in any creative endeavor: only the way the audience receives it counts.
Great content does not come all at once: ultimately you have to set a manageable pace for yourself. Admittedly this is something where producing quality and business objectives may conflict, but trying to produce high-end content at your tested typing speed is just going to result in substandard work. Plan out your content creation, and work at a pace that is comfortable for you. This is creative work, and creative work tends to drain mental energy rapidly. If you do not give yourself time to recharge by either stepping away from your computer or diving into other, less taxing tasks, then the quality of your work will suffer.
This also ties into what I mentioned above about needing inspiration in order to write: when that burst of creativity runs dry you need to give it time to recharge before you can dive back into your work. It is understandable that you might be tempted to rush: we all have deadlines to meet. However, unless you are the sort of person who is more creative under pressure, it is best to forget about the deadline (within reason) and just write. Again: do not try to force creativity, let it flow naturally. Otherwise, you will never produce quality.
Edit Edit Edit!
All of the above will get you through your first draft, but when you get that first draft written, your work is only half done. Okay, not half: maybe a quarter done. The most essential part of producing great content is editing, lots of editing. Many writers, both the novices and the most experienced, neglect their editing, but just ignoring the editing is like eating a double-chocolate cake. You know it is bad for you, but sometimes you just can’t help yourself, requiring much willpower to overcome temptation. Your first draft might be passable, it might even be good, but to make your content great you must go through and fix all the mistakes you missed on the first run through.
It is also highly recommended that you find a colleague to go through your work as well before submitting the final version. Having another person go through helps to identify errors you may have overlooked, and is much better at identifying awkward wordings and phrasings. You may know what you meant by a certain expression, but remember what I said about communication being a social exercise? You are not writing this content for you, but for your audience, and a third party is a fantastic way to make sure the message you intend gets through.
Ultimately, the production of great content comes down to time and effort. While it is understandable that you may desire the fast solution to producing great content: you DO have deadlines to meet after all, the reality is great content does NOT come quickly. It is a careful and considered effort requiring utmost dedication to quality. Many businesses like ours have come to acknowledge this reality, which is why we use a dedicated team of writers whose only task is to create content. This allows the time to create fantastic content. While this does make the content expensive to produce, we feel the quality will speak for itself.