One of the most difficult (yet thrilling) challenges of being a content writer is learning how to be versatile. You have to be able to go from writing a 5,000+ word ebook to a 280-character tweet without letting your words lose their impact.
This is often easier said than done, but thankfully, the job does get a bit easier with time and practice. Here are notes that I've jotted down throughout my 6+ years of marketing. Consider these tips when writing for various types of marketing projects.
Blogs are unique in that you're not just writing for a human audience—you're writing for an algorithm as well (although the latter shouldn't take precedence over the former).
You, in essence, have to impress Google. Google, in turn, will reward your blog by giving it a high ranking on its search results pages. But bear in mind that there is a full-time job dedicated to search engine optimization (SEO). SEO can get very technical and stretches far beyond keywords, which many folks tend to obsess over.
With all that said, here is what you should keep in mind as you work on a blog:
Start your blog with a unique hook that speaks directly to your target audience. ("You" tends to be more effective than "he/she.")
Every blog should have a target audience. This will determine the angle of your blog and how in-depth you go with your research, advice, and technical language.
Don't waste time making obvious statements. Lots of writers use blanket statements as a crutch when they need to fill up word counts.
Illustrate concepts through examples and/or visuals. Sharing a personal anecdote cuts through the redundancy of long, lecture-like content.
Watch your keywords. Use primary and secondary keywords throughout your blog, and mention your primary keyword at least once in a header. There's so much that could be said about keywords—but in general, just be natural. Google looks for contextually relevant terms to determine the purpose of your blog, which is a fancy way of saying that it doesn't just look for primary keywords. It looks at the whole picture.
Don't forget about on-page SEO. Observe on-page SEO best practices, like adding links, providing alt tags for images, and customizing your meta titles and descriptions.
Use formatting to your advantage. Leverage headers, bolded words, bulleted lists, and more to keep your readers scrolling down your page.
Edit carefully and consistently. Keep your eyes peeled for inconsistent capitalization (this is a common issue that I see on blogs), spelling errors, and other grammar mistakes.
Engage, don't sell. This may sound counterintuitive for a marketing blog, but trust me, you won't get far if the purpose of every blog is to show off your product/service. People read blogs for education and entertainment. If you forget their main motivation for clicking on your blog and solely focus on you and your brand, then you're missing the point of a business blog. Blogs are a long-term strategy meant to regularly engage prospects, build your credibility, and earn your prospects' trust over time.
News Articles / Blogs
Thought I'd squeeze this in here because some companies choose to include news-like pieces in their content strategy. I'm not personally a fan of this approach because the shelf-life of these pieces is short. But if you're looking to put your journalist cap on, here are several tips to remember.
Lead with the most recent or urgent information first. Cut to the chase, rather than writing a long, creative intro.
Share more background details later on. Aim to equip readers with the most recent developments first, then provide older information.
Always name your sources directly in the blog. A tip from one of my old journalism professors: attribute your sources after sharing the information or quote. For example, "Content writers are 10x more successful when they've got chocolate in their systems, according to XYZ source" versus "According to XYZ source, content writers are..."
Edit using AP Style. AP Style is the most widely used style guide by U.S. newsrooms. (But, of course, there's a little bit more leniency when you're running a blog that primarily exists for marketing purposes.)
Webpages / Landing Pages
While there are subtle differences between webpages and landing pages, a lot of these notes can be applied to both. Many marketers these days also repurpose their webpages as landing pages for their ads (don't shoot the messenger here), making it extra important to follow the tips below.
Be empathetic. Speak to emotions, not just analytical or logical reasoning. Consider how many purchases are driven by impulse + want (in addition to logic + need).
Show, don't tell. As it pertains to the writing on the page—illustrate the benefits of your product by creating a scene, asking a question, or showing stats that resonate with your readers.
Focus on your reader, not your brand. Instead of droning on about why your brand is so great, think from the perspectives of your reader. Touch on the problems and solutions that they care about. Here's an example of a webpage that does this well.
(For landing pages) check that your copy aligns well with your ad copy. Ad platforms will score your landing page based on its relevance to your ads and keywords—and will suppress your ads if any part of the user experience is misaligned.
Think about the full customer journey. What information are consumers looking for when they first engage with your brand, ad, or email versus the time that they land on your page? Avoid being too redundant in your content, and aim to gradually share more info about your company as your readers express interest.
Email is a powerful tool when used properly. Forget all those stats about low open rates and poor engagement. On the contrary, I've seen open rates reach 40% or higher when emails are well-segmented and personalized. This is also highly dependent on the use case but, point is, emails are nowhere near dead.
I've tested many different theories to increase engagement. These have been the most successful:
Talk like a human. Even if you're sending a mass email, it's possible to make it feel like a personal outreach by warming up your tone and writing to your prospects like you would to a friend.
Cut out the "sincerely" or "best regards." You're not inviting your prospects to a tea party. "Best" or "see ya around" will do. You could even nix the signature altogether because what normal person actually ends every email or text with a formal signature?
Use plain text emails strategically. In my personal experience, plain text emails have generated the best results when it comes to nurture emails and drip campaigns. When emails are stripped of their branding, they tend to look more familiar and personalized than a mass automated email. I've noticed the biggest spikes in reply rates from employing this strategy. Some people have even written back, "Thank you for thinking of me!"
Send from a person, not the company. There are exceptions to this recommendation. However, when sending a nurture email that's meant to feel personal, you'd benefit from making the sender "Allison from [company]" over "[YourCompany]." Adding the "from [company]" reminds people who you are; it tells them that you're not a random person reaching out to them. At the same time, using your name humanizes the outreach.
Whether you're creating a deck for a webinar or a sales pitch, you'll want to use words somewhat sparingly (the exception being if your deck is meant to be delivered, not presented). Too often, people rely on written words to send their message; they more or less wind up reading their slides from top to bottom. If you're looking to keep the attention on your presenter, heed these tips.
Less is more. Your copy should highlight main concepts and takeaways without overwhelming your page. If 90% of your slide is just text, you've got a problem. Viewers will either ignore or focus too heavily on your text, and struggle to pay attention to what your speaker is saying.
Be concise. Your titles and subheaders shouldn't be horrendously long. Rather, the slide should look clean and easy to digest. Expand on headers via bullet points or the body copy below them.
Show, don't tell. You may remember this tip from earlier. Leverage charts, graphics, formatting, and other visual tools to enhance your content.
It's ok to write in incomplete sentences. Get to the point and try not to exhaust viewers with long-winded statements.
Tell a story. One of my favorite slide deck examples is this Zuora deck, which has received lots of praise over the years. The deck walks you through the evolution of Zuora's industry and leads people to a conclusion, rather than simply stating the problem and solution. It taps into the viewer's values, insecurities, and goals all at once without inundating them with walls of text.
Convince, don't insist. Similar to the note above, you don't want to spend your time pitching your brand to an audience that doesn't care. Don't just say "we're the best." Instead, help your audience visualize a world with and without your brand. If you're in a one-on-one sales conversation, set aside time during your presentation to get to know your prospect before proposing a solution.
A lot of what I know about scripting is from my experience in broadcast journalism. I'm not claiming to be expert at video scripting, but some lessons have stayed with me for a long time and continue to play a role in my job as a content marketer. Here is my humble take on video:
"Write like you're talking to your mom." I'm borrowing this tip from an old journalism professor, who was a sportscaster for a national news station. People too often write scripts like they would a college essay. They use lot of jargon, run-on sentences, and other copy that doesn't translate well on screen. If you're looking for inspiration, I would personally recommend watching YouTube videos and observing how YouTubes draw their audiences in by speaking naturally, yet authoritatively.
Try reading your script out loud. Does it sound natural? Are you struggling to read the script without losing your breath? How long does it take to read the full script? This exercise will help you to spot the differences between text that's written versus text that's vocalized.
Include ellipses (...) to remind your presenter to pause or take a breath. Remember that your scripts won't be seen by your audience, so you can/should use tricks like this to help the presenter know how to read your script.
Spell out the phonetics of a word that's easy to mispronounce. For instance, "EH-PI-DE-MEE" for "epitome." It may look ridiculous on paper, but it'll save your presenter from a lot of embarrassment and retakes when they're being recorded.
Attribute your source before providing your data point or quote so that it's clear where your information is coming from. Unlike a written piece where viewers can physically see and reference the source of your information, your video audience needs to be told upfront whom you're quoting.
Ads can span many different formats (text, video, display) and platforms, but for the purpose of this blog, we'll focus on Google Search ads. Note that there are copywriters (vs. content writers) who specialize in ad writing. However, in my opinion, it's useful for every content marketer to have this skill under his or her belt.
Include your primary keyword. You'll generally want to mention your primary keyword once in the headline and once in the ad copy to boost your ad relevancy scores. Google will also bold keywords within your descriptions that match a user's search query.
Keep copy short and sweet. Keep in mind that your ads will typically get cut off at some point (on mobile, word counts are especially short). Nowadays, Google frequently cuts off your copy after one line of description, too. You'll therefore want to include your most important and compelling stuff upfront.
Highlight your unique value prop. Mention what your company is best at and what separates you from your competitors. Try including proof points such as "trusted by 20,000+ business" or "Awarded #1 in [your category]" without making false, misleading, or unverifiable claims.
Create a sense of FOMO or urgency through emotive language. Let readers know what they're missing out on ("get more sleep" or "join thousands of successful brands") by choosing not to use your product or service now. Or, highlight "free trials" (when applicable) so readers feel like they have nothing to lose.
Speak directly to your target audience. Some ads will even call out their target audience within the ad copy to avoid any confusion or unqualified clicks.
Test, test, test. What works for one ad campaign may not work well for another. Spend lots of time testing your copy. I personally recommend setting up an A/B test whereby you only test headlines before creating a separate A/B test for testing descriptions.
Here's a CTA because it only seems right.
Need help with your content? Perhaps we can work together. Holler at me!