Content consumers now go to the web for information, entertainment, and everything in between, and so do content producers. But what kind of content would you like to serve your visitors? On one hand, there is content that has many words to fill the page but nobody likes to read it. It is boring, confusing, and devoid of insights. It forces the reader to click on the close button—nobody wants to spend precocious time on boring and useless content when there is so much in life to do.
On the other hand, there is winning content that entices the reader to click on it, and when she does land on the page, the first sentence hooks her attention. It brings a smile to her face or curiosity to her mind to read more. When she starts reading, natural transitions from one point to the other make it easy to read—it glues her. She reads it until the end, or at least until she finds what she is looking for. During these few minutes, the article provides her with the answers to her questions in an interesting and easy-to-understand manner. We all love to read this type of content—don’t we?
Whether you are a writer or an entrepreneur, you need to create content for your online marketing efforts, and creating thumping good content can be the most valuable investment you do for your long-term success.
This is a short guide, and it aims to make you a better writer in the shortest possible time and with the least effort. This guide is primarily for entrepreneurs and aspiring writers who want to improve the quality and performance of their content, and if you work with people who write for you, you will agree that discerning good content from a mediocre one is your prime skill. This guide follows a relaxed, conversational style and I have tried to make it easy to read, grasp, and implement. Let’s get started on our journey towards winning content.
The Why of Quality Content
There is no place for low-quality content in today’s online world—period. With so much competition, you will not get the attention of either humans or search engines unless you create high-quality content—I mean really high-quality content. In addition to success as a writer and entrepreneur, writing high-quality content gives you the satisfaction that you have done something to be proud of. But what makes your content high quality and how do you do that?
The Single Guiding Principle of Quality Content
If you want a single guiding principle for creating winning content, ask yourself this question. Does this piece of content add value to the online community?
One obvious way to add value is to offer new information or ideas that are not already available on the web. But with a sea of information out there, it is not an easy feat. Fortunately, there are other ways to add value even if you don’t have groundbreaking ideas or primary research. You can add value to your content by:
- Making your content interesting
- Making it easy to understand
- Including updated information
- Improve content organization
- Making it complete by adding missing pieces of information
- Making it brief without eliminating essential information
Remember! The above isn’t just the background information you have to endure at the start of almost every article and guide on the web—it offers some essential pieces of knowledge that will work in your mind’s background when you read the rest of this guide and when you create content.
9 Points to Make Your Content Interesting, Informative, and Useful
Fortunately, making your content interesting, informative, and useful is not difficult at all—if you know how. Read the following points and try to apply them while you write until you naturally assimilate them into your writing style without the need to consciously remember them.
1. A Clear Central Idea
You can only reach your destination if you know where you want to go. This is true for content as well, and to make your articles interesting, useful, and customer-focused, you must have a clear idea of what you want to communicate.
2. Natural Transitions
Make natural transitions from one thought to the other and from one paragraph to the other. This transforms your articles from a collection of scattered points to a unified whole—an important step towards making your article easy to read, easy to understand, and interesting.
3. Write Succinctly
Write clean, active sentences. Crisp, snappy sentences attract and hold your readers’ attention. Unnecessary words and sentences distract the readers from the main point and make your content difficult to grasp. Too many unnecessary sentences and your reader will lose interest and leave the page!
When I say write succinctly, I do not suggest leaving out necessary information but to write it in as fewer words as possible—without affecting the meaning and tone of your content. Modern grammar and spelling tools like Grammarly can help, and I must admit that I do accept Grammarly’s suggestion of removing unnecessary words about 80% of the time.
4. Use a Conversational Style
The natural conversational style is engaging. Imagine you are sitting in front of a friend or a customer and talking to her. If your piece of writing does not feel real and natural, you will distance your reader from it. On the other hand, a light & conversational style relaxes your reader and helps forge a connection between you two.
Scientific and academic papers do encourage you to write plain and to the point—it won’t do to add witty sentences in a scientific paper. But even for such content, you should try to add as much interest as your target audience allows. After all, it is people that will read it, and you wouldn’t want to bore them to death with your content.
5. Use Plain Terms
Your readers should be able to read your article fluently, without a dictionary by their side. As Andrew Buck insists in his nice blog, your writing should be at or below the 8th-grade level. You can enable Microsoft Word’s readability and grade-level option or use online tools to calculate the readability score until you start writing at this level without consulting such tools. Always remember that you are writing content for an average web reader, not a paper for particle physicists.
6. Use Headings, Bullets, And Numbering
Remember! Most users scan the web pages for their required information before reading. Headings, bullets, and numbered lists make it easy to scan through and search for the required information.
On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely. Research by Nielsen Norman Group
7. The Inverted Pyramid
Start with the main points. Remember that if the start does not attract the reader, the reader will leave. Do not save your best points for a memorable ending. The ending should be memorable, no doubt, but not at the expense of the beginning. So, your inverted pyramid will look like this.
8. Remain Customer Focused
Be customer-focused at all times. Remember, the most important person in your life is you—of course—and the same is true for your reader. Your reader is not interested in how great you and your services are; she is only interested in the benefit she will get—and how quickly. Fulfill the need of your reader by making your content interesting, useful, and valuable, and she will remember you when it is time to like, share, or buy.
9. Get Help from Personas
You may be writing for undergraduate college girls at one time and retired persons at others. Construct an imaginary picture in your mind, or search for an appropriate image on the internet. Keeping the persona of your target audience will definitely help you in creating customer-focused and meaningful content.
SEO Considerations for Writing Quality Content
You do not need to be an SEO (search engine optimization) expert to write SEO-friendly content; knowing a few terms and a few concepts will do just fine. Let’s start with a few simple definitions.
Keywords & Their Tails
A keyword, or a keyphrase more likely, is the text you type in a search engine to find what you are looking for, and this is where the charming game of SEO starts. Searchers are searching for specific keywords and you want your content to show up in the search results. To rank for the keyphrases of interest, you must first know them. Keyword research can be brief taking a few minutes or deep taking hours.
Keyphrases can be short-tail or long-tail, and if you come across these terms, don’t worry; it’s just another effort of my SEO pals to sound things more technical than they are. A keyword, which consists of a single word, has the shortest tail, and as we add more words to it, its tail becomes longer and longer. There is an inverse relationship between the length and specificity of the keyphrases. Don’t be alarmed; there is nothing mathematical here. It simply means that short keywords are more general, have higher search volume, and are difficult to rank. As they grow longer tails, they become more specific, have lower search volume, and are relatively easy to rank.
Title & Headings
Interestingly, the title, or title meta tag as my SEO pals like to call it, does not appear anywhere on the web page. In HTML, the title tag is only visible in the browser tab, and heading level 1, simply called H1, is used as the title of the page, and in most cases, the title and H1 are the same or similar. The rest of the content is structured and organized using other heading levels like H2, H3, and so on.
Title and headings are the prime real estate for you to engage your readers and tell search engines what your content is about. Use your most important, also known as primary, keywords in the title and headings of your content—but naturally. Both your readers and search engines hate keyword stuffing.
Description meta tag—or let’s not be like our SEO friends and simply call it description—is another HTML tag that does not appear on your webpage. Instead, search engines use it to display in their SERP (search engine results page). Description used to be important for SEO, but it isn’t anymore. Write something that describes your content and entices your reader to click on your link in the SERP. Use keywords that make sense, and do it all within the limit of 120 – 158 characters. You can go beyond 158 characters and the search engine will truncate the text, which I often find enticing rather than annoying.
Keyword density is another nerdy-sounding but simple term; it tells us how many times a keyword is used in the text. If you use your keyword once in every 100 words, you have a keyword density of 1% and so on. Using keywords many times on your web page used to be a good way to rank your page in the bad old days of SEO. But things have changed since and now search engine algorithms prefer semantic analysis to establish relevancy to a specific topic rather than ranking pages with more keywords in them. in fact, using keywords more than necessary is known as keyword stuffing and is frowned upon by both readers and search engines. In summary, keep keyword density in your content around 1%, don’t force or stuff keywords, and let related keywords flow naturally throughout your text.
I would love to say that the length of the content does not matter and you should write as short or as long as it makes sense—but that would not be true. Search engines do prefer longer content over shorter one, at least for the present. The idea is that long-form content explains a topic thoroughly and that the visitor is more likely to find answers, hence a better user experience.
Indeed, longer articles are usually more insightful, but this preference for longer content by search engines has tempted many writers to write say 2,000 words when only 500 words could have answered the reader’s query perfectly well, hence decreased user experience.
If you want to go the extra mile to determine the ideal length of your content for SEO purposes, search the keywords and visit the first 5-10 search results, analyze the length of their content, and get an idea from that.
Links In – Links Out
Outbound or external links in your content point to other content on the web, often as a source or related information. As a writer, you can improve the user experience and authority of your articles by pointing to the reliable sources you used and related information you found; these are called outbound links. You can also create links pointing to related content on your own website, known as internal links. Please note that internal links are different from inbound links. Getting inbound links is the job of SEO experts and is out of the scope of this guide. As an example of an outbound link, you can visit this link explaining internal and external linking in a simple manner.
Creating content for landing pages of a website is called web copywriting. Copywriting is certainly more than this oversimplified definition of my own, but we will concern ourselves with landing pages, and we can apply the same concepts to other forms of copywriting.
Landing pages, or commercial pages, as Georgios Chasiotis puts in this detailed article, are focused on conversion rather than providing information. Common landing pages include the following.
- Pages explaining product/service features
- Pricing page
- About us
Before you start writing content for landing pages, ask yourself this question: who my target clients are, and what do I want my content to do to them. Every word you write for a landing page should move your potential clients toward the action you want them to take. Let’s illustrate the point with an example. By the way, I am not associated with the company in this example, and I haven’t selected it because it is the best homepage copywriting example in the world. I just performed an internet search for content companies and found this one, which, being a copywriting agency, turned out to be a good copywriting example.
Before we start examining verblio’s homepage, let’s ask ourselves the most important question, now in the context of verblio. Who the visitors of this site are and what is the most desirable action verblio wants them to take? A casual examination of their business model reveals that verblio is a platform for content writers to get jobs and for content buyers to buy quality content.
The first screen of the homepage is called prime real estate because this is what your visitor sees first when your site loads. This is also called ‘above the fold’ as you see it without scrolling the webpage. The primary two-part heading on verblio’s prime area tells the visitor what verblio is, and by the size and shape of both parts, it seems that both parts are equally important to the company. The subheading explains more explicitly what they do: they make blog and content creation happen, but there is more to it; you can watch a video of how it works and know more details in 133 seconds.
The second section, below the fold but still prime real estate, explains why verblio is different and tries to answer the common questions and concerns of their potential client through copywriting, and in this case in the form of a list.
You can see that copywriting is not about writing a lot of words—in fact, it’s the contrary. Copywriting is more about understanding your clients, understanding the business you are writing for, deciding how to organize your message into sections, incorporating media content, and writing some effective words, and all this with one goal in mind: to facilitate your visitors to take your desired action.
Let’s make one point clear again before moving on. What action you want your visitors to take and what content you use to achieve your goals will change from business to business, and even for the same business in different scenarios. However, the principle remains the same: know your clients and their needs and make sure that you optimize every piece of content on your landing page for conversion.
Falling short of copywriting ideas? Search the web and look at the samples of good copywriting inside and outside of your industry, appreciate their good work, get inspiration, find improvements, and come up with a copywriting masterpiece of your own.
Creating Media Content
If you are a content writer, you are not limited to creating only text content—and you shouldn’t be. Graphics, videos, and interactivity are some common examples of non-text content. To create media content, someone has to conceptualize and often write text, and this is where you as a writer come into play. Most of the points mentioned for text content are equally applicable to media content, but there is more to it. Take succinctness for example. When conceptualizing a graphic, try to avoid text at all. And when you do use text, try to use words instead of sentences. If a graphic you create is full of words and sentences, reconsider. A graphic full of text is difficult to read and grasp and might not be worth the effort. It might be better to describe the concept in text after all.
What about media SEO? Yes, media also needs to be optimized for search engines. With machine learning, search engines are a lot more sophisticated than they were a decade ago, but they still need your help to understand the content of the image. File name, alt text, and captions are the primary ways to tell search engines what your image is all about.
Though it is the responsibility of SEO experts or developers to implement file names, alt text, and captions, it is your responsibility as a content creator to provide them with this information. File names should provide the information about the image in a few words. If it is a picture of a cat, white cat, white cat on floor, and white cat climbing wall are all suitable file names.
Alt text, or alternative text, is text description shown in the browser when the image cannot be displayed. It is also used by screen readers to describe the image. Imagine that you are listening to an article, and thus are not able to see the image. If your image has appropriate alt text, the screen reader will read it and you will have a fair idea about the image without looking at it. Alt text ‘white cat chasing a mouse on the pavement’ gives some idea to you of what the image is about, and the same is true for search engines. Alt text gives a fair idea to search engines of what the image is about, and despite the increasing machine learning capabilities of search engines to guess the content of an image, it isn’t the time to leave it to them.
Captions are another piece of information attached to images and videos that help both the human audience and search engines to know more about the media. For images, captions appear alongside the image and can provide a little more detail than alt text.
Captions for videos are somewhat different. They act as subtitles and make it easier to understand the content of a video for certain audiences. By the way, most video hosting sites, YouTube and Facebook, for example, can use speech recognition technology to generate captions automatically, and it is often a lot more efficient to use this feature than adding captions manually to your videos. If you use this feature, however, remember to review the auto-generated captions to make sure that they are correct.
Is interactivity content? Interactivity is where your reader can interact with the content, instead of just viewing whatever is presented. Other than programming, steps to create interactivity are similar to creating other types of content. Who should conceptualize, determine the process, write text, create media, and code? If more than one person needs to work on it, how will they coordinate?
Remember the single guiding principle to make your content valuable? It adds value to the online community, and plagiarized content does not add any value. Thus, search engines penalize plagiarized content, and plagiarized content causes search engine ranking to drop—contrary to what we were looking for. If you are writing for someone else, you will often be required to keep the plagiarism score below a certain percentage. But what if you wrote something all by yourself and it is still labeled as plagiarized?
Plagiarism is detected using certain tools, which in turn use machine learning to detect similarities with existing web content. Turnitin is popular among academics while Quetext, Unicheck, and Grammarly are popular among SEO experts. These are called plagiarism detection tools, though, similarity detection tools would have been a more appropriate term. But calling them plagiarism detection tools sells more subscriptions and marketing wins, so here we are.
Currently, such tools often flag commonly used phrases and cited text as plagiarism. They also flag facts and figures because if you cite numbers, dates, and other such facts, they remain the same even if you describe them in your own words. If you write content without plagiarism, you should not be overly concerned with plagiarism scores. However, if the plagiarism, or similarity, score exceeds 10%, you can consider reviewing your content. If you are at your wit’s end, you can also convert some facts to a graphic to reduce similarity scores.
What About Grammar & Spelling?
You might have noticed that I haven’t said a word about correct spelling and grammar. Well, isn’t it obvious? Your content should be free of spelling and grammatical errors. Having your spellings right shouldn’t be a problem nowadays. Word processors, like Microsoft Word, will flag spelling mistakes in vivid red and grammatical mistakes in blue. You can also use other tools like Grammarly and QuillBot that will consider the context while checking spellings. These context-aware spell checking will even flag advise if what you really meant to write was advice.
Grammar, on the other hand, is a bit trickier. If your grammar is excellent, these tools can work extremely well for you. However, if you are not that confident in your grammar, you might consider taking help from a human editor.
I know that this guide is quite brief and you want to keep reading—a little pun intended—but it is just a starting point for an aspiring writer and entrepreneur like you. The primary purpose of this guide is to draw your attention to the most important points—not explain every point in intricate detail. You can have as much detail as you want on any point mentioned in this guide. Use the links provided in the guide or search the web. A pro tip in this regard! Instead of opening a new tab and typing text for search, just select the text on the webpage, right-click on it, and select “Search [Google/DuckDuckGo/Whatever] for [the word you selected]” Screenshot attached!