Writing is a skill everyone thinks they have.
Sure, most people can write. It’s easy enough to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboards and deliver something more than a blank page.
But there’s an art to writing well, particularly in the context of online marketing content.
People on the web have short attention spans and a wealth of other resources right under their noses. To grab their attention and keep them engaged, your words have to stand out and provide relevant, valuable information.
For me, consuming a piece of excellent writing is like eating a delicious cupcake. It’s a full-body experience that makes my mouth water when all the ingredients (or words) come together in just the right way. It’s kind of magical when you think about it.
But, while you don’t need the word-weaving skills of a best-selling novelist to write great content, you do need to know how to string together decent sentences that inspire action and build affinity with your readers.
In this guide, we’ll cover the basics—providing key writing pointers you can leverage today to improve your skills. Then, we’ll dive deeper into what writing well looks like for content marketing.
Writing Tactics to Take Your Content to the Next Level
If you’ve ever read something and thought, “Wow…,” chances are, the writer has incorporated several of these tactics to keep you engaged and in awe.
1. Use the active voice, not passive voice.
Consider these two sentences:
- Billy wrote the book.
- The book was written by Billy.
The first is punchy and to the point. The reader can put themselves in Billy’s shoes and imagine the action.
The second shares the same sentiment but uses more words to say the same thing. Also, the reader is likely focused on the book instead of Billy.
This is the difference between the active and passive voice.
Active sentences follow a subject + verb + object structure, while passive sentences flip it around to a murkier object + verb + subject construct. Using active sentences keeps readers amid the action and avoids potential confusion.
2. Keep sentences short.
Short is sweet.
The longer your sentences are, the harder it is for readers to keep up with what you’re saying. Extra, long-winded sentences can get convoluted and dilute your message. (This is especially important to remember for website copy and product-led content.
Here’s the kicker: You don’t want all your sentences to be ten words or less. That can get choppy and repetitive, so drop in a few 15-20 word sentences into the mix, just like Gary Provost illustrates below.
3. Cut adverbs and qualifying words.
Now, consider these two sentences:
- It was ridiculously, painfully hot outside.
- It was scorching outside.
Same sentiment, different outcome. It’s easy to sling a few -ly terms into a sentence—we’re all guilty of it, especially when trying to emphasize a certain detail.
However, with over 170,000 words in the English language, there are plenty of powerful alternatives to adverbs like “mostly,” “really,” and “very.”
- She sprinted versus She quickly ran
- The sandwich was really large versus The sandwich was massive
- The kitten quietly walked to the door versus The kitten crept to the door
Cutting out -ly adverbs keeps sentences short ‘n sweet (like we said in #2); it also encourages you to incorporate creative, novel verbs that spice up your writing.
4. Use simple words.
Purple prose belongs in the great American novels of the past—not today’s marketing or blog content. Readers today (especially online) don’t have time to read ostentatious, flowery paragraphs filled with complex sentences and big words.
Your content marketing should exude authority, but not at the expense of welcoming and relating to your audience. Consider the difference between:
“Crafting alluring and delicate passages will compel bibliophiles to pursue page after page of your gushing prose.”
“Writing engaging paragraphs will encourage your audience to read more.”
They say the same thing, but the second is way easier to read. Get to the point and use simple words that everyone can understand. This makes your content the focus rather than the words themselves.
5. Write, then edit ruthlessly.
The first draft is always a work-in-progress.
You’re not going to write the best piece ever written on the first try (not when it took J.K. Rowling 15 attempts to write the first chapter of The Sorcerer’s Stone).
But it’s much easier to work with a draft than a blank page. Before you start editing your work, focus on writing your first draft. Don’t worry about spelling, sentence structure, or the strength of your introductions or conclusions.
Then, once you’ve written a first draft from start to finish, put on your editing cap and ruthlessly review your work. Use the CTRL + F function to search for adverbs and qualifying words like “really,” “very,” and “only.” Turn passive sentences into active sentences. Rewrite lengthy paragraphs and cut unnecessary words to make sentences easy to digest.
Tip: Download a tool like Grammarly to catch some of these errors. Grammarly is one of our favorite content marketing tools.
6. Read others’ work.
Good writers are voracious readers.
They devour everything from literary novels to posters in the bodega and blog posts published by competitors. Understanding what makes good writing also means understanding what makes bad writing, and the more you read, the more you learn.
You’ll soon find writing styles that evoke that delicious cupcake feeling, so make a note of what you like and what you don’t like.
A swipe file can help here: pull sentences you love (or loathe) into a folder to reference when you’re writing your own stuff.
7. Practice makes perfect.
The fastest way to become a great writer is to write—when you’re motivated and tired, when you feel creative and when you feel like your tap has run dry.
You can’t learn to cook by only reading recipe books. The writing process is the same. Despite how much you read, you must put pen to paper to discover your writing style in action. Here are some writing practice tips:
- Schedule writing time. Block out 10 minutes a day to write, particularly in the morning. (Freewriting is a great way to kickstart your brain as you start your day.)
- Set writing goals. Commit to writing one paragraph a day, a blog post a week, or a certain amount of words each month. Every piece doesn’t need to be your best work; what matters more is that you honor your goal and learn how to write when you don’t feel like it.
- Reflect regularly. You can’t always see your progress when you’re in the midst of it. Take time to look back at your past writing efforts to see how far you’ve come. Rereading your old work may be cringeworthy, but it’s important to witness how much you’ve grown to appreciate where you are today (and to understand where you need to improve).
How to Write Well for Content Marketing
You’ve got the basics of writing down. Now, it’s time to combine them with best practices for content marketing and blogging.
Writing online content is quite different from writing a novel, but the foundations of writing still apply. Even as a marketer, a good sentence is a good sentence—regardless of where it’s published or how it’s consumed.
1. Structure your content wisely.
Online readers are after quick information.
If they don’t get what they want straight away, they’ll find somewhere they can. Content writing isn’t the same as creative writing, where you have the time and space to draw out a beginning, middle, and end.
Instead, a smart content structure is crucial to keep readers engaged and guide them from one section to the next.
A robust structure includes:
- A compelling headline. Use power words to grab readers’ attention in the midst of busy SERPs and social media feeds.
- An engaging hook. The opening needs to establish exactly what readers will get from your piece of content. Avoid cliche introductions or tired aphorisms.
- A valuable body. The main body of your content should continue to add value and provide a solution to a problem your readers have.
- An action-focused ending. Don’t let your piece fizzle out. Encourage readers to take action with a hard-to-ignore call-to-action.
2. Add value with every sentence.
Fluff is not welcome online. Every single sentence should add value in some way if you want your audience to continue reading.
Adding value goes beyond the foundations of writing and is informed by your initial audience research.
Add value to your content by:
- Using the same words your readers use.
- Having a deep understanding of your audience’s key pain points.
- Providing actionable takeaways that act as quick-wins.
3. Create a connection.
Forming a connection with your readers is crucial if you want them to come back for more.
According to Tommy Walker, “A lot of publications miss this in general. That feeling of something more is happening here is what brings people back. To me, return traffic is the most important thing. If you never get that return traffic, you are never going to get to the consideration point.”
One way to do this is by speaking to them like a friend and using first-person (“I”) and second-person (“you”) pronouns to build affinity.
Consider the following two sentences:
- Merchants can use payment methods their customers like best to create a better customer experience
- Create a better customer experience by using payment methods your customers feel most comfortable with
The first is impersonal and generic while the second is more informal, friendly, and trustworthy.
You can also create a deeper connection with readers by sharing personal anecdotes, experiential stories, and relatable analogies. Treat your content like a trust-building bridge, not a one-way bullhorn.
4. Eliminate jargon.
You might have an extensive understanding of your industry and all the relevant terms that go with it, but your audience probably doesn’t. Moreover, if you truly want to educate and convert your readers, you need to speak their language.
Avoid using unusual acronyms and industry-relevant jargon—especially if you want to appeal to a broader audience.
While it’s essential to establish your expertise and authority, incorporating jargon into your content can alienate readers and create a disconnect between you and them.
5. Use content writing formulas.
The explosion of online content has created an influx of writing methodologies and persuasive formulas that encourage readers through the sales cycle (which, let’s face it, is the ultimate goal of any content marketing strategy).
These are often used for copywriting purposes, but they can also be incorporated into certain content types.
They include formulas like:
- AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action). The goal of this formula is to hook readers with the first sentence, create interest to encourage them to keep reading, display a benefit that builds desire, and finish off with a powerful call-to-action
- PAS (Problem, Agitate, Solution). This formula starts by highlighting a problem your audience has, agitating it further, and then providing a solution through your product or service.
- Benefits vs. Features. This is a common content writing formula involves focusing on the benefits of a product or service rather than the features it has
While these formulas often work best for landing pages, web copy, and sales letters, they can also be sprinkled throughout blog posts, case studies, and other content types.
The Best Writing Tools to Give You a Helping Hand
Learning to write well takes time. Luckily, there are several tools available that will help you ramp up your efforts.
Here are some of our favorites:
- Grammarly. This AI-powered writing assistant identifies grammatical errors in your writing and provides feedback on your tone of voice.
- Hemingway Editor. Like Grammarly, Hemingway Editor helps you tighten up your writing skills by shortening long sentences, suggesting better word choices, and highlighting pesky adverbs.
- Thesaurus. An oldie but a goodie, the Thesaurus offers alternative word choices when your mind goes blank.
- CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer. Get better at writing headlines by including power words, numbers, and other engaging elements.
- Evernote. Sync your writing across all devices so you can practice on the go and store clippings of great (and bad!) writing you’ve come across around the web.
- Draft. Keep track of how much you write each day and get gentle reminders to keep up your writing habit.
- Notion. Write and store content ideas, outlines, and first drafts all in one place.
Good Writing Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Learning how to write well is an ongoing process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Even the best writers and bloggers are still learning, so don’t get frustrated if you struggle to write sentences that evoke that cupcake-eating feeling.
Instead, focus on practicing your craft, experimenting with different content writing formulas, and ensuring you’re providing continuous value to your audience throughout your content.
Join our content strategy course to unlock writing advice and techniques that convert readers into buyers.