The rise of content marketing has made content creation a key focus for businesses, and the issue of how to improve their content and its performance is at the forefront of many marketers’ minds.
At the Summit on Content Marketing earlier this summer, I gave a presentation on “15 ways to improve your content writing”. In Part 1 of this article, we covered eight of those tips, including creative brainstorming, grabbing the reader’s attention, content length, layout and formatting.
Here are seven more ways that you can improve your content creation and see better performance from your content marketing.
Pick the best headline
A headline is probably the first thing that someone notices about your content. Whether people discover your content in search results, social media, or a homepage, a title contributes to their decision to click on the link.
What are the elements of a great title?
- Clarity: Your headline should be clear and descriptive. Any confusion can only keep the readers away from it.
- Brevity: A headline doesn’t have to be long to offer the right context. From an SEO perspective, a title doesn’t have to be more than 60 characters. Thus, you only have up to 60 characters to offer the right preview to your topic. That’s even half the limit to what Twitter allows you!
- Relevance: Not everyone is aiming for relevance when crafting a title and this may be part of an attempt to entice people to click on a post. “Clickbait” techniques are usually not helpful in a long term basis, especially if your actual content has nothing to do with the headline. Be as relevant as possible.
- Emotional appeal: How does emotional appeal affect the click rate on a headline? We are all human beings and this makes us susceptible to powerful language that offers an emotional appeal.
You don’t have to create an exaggerated headline to convey the right emotional element, but you can still think of how words can facilitate a reader’s decision towards your content.
My favorite tool to analyze the possible performance of different headlines is CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer. This is a free tool that grades your headlines, while it also offers useful tips on how to improve them.
Its analysis of word balance and the use of words gives the user insights into the science of an effective headline, and it has been a useful ally for me when thinking of my next topic.
Aim for simplicity
It’s good to aim for simplicity in your content writing, as this will make your content accessible to a wider audience and improve its ease of readability and parsing. There’s no need to use overly complicated words to make a point.
Here are some examples on how to simplify your writing:
in order to –> to
ways by which –> which
despite the fact –> although
leverage –> use
Proper spelling and grammar, of course, are still important in any type of content.
Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:
Avoid passive voice
Your copy gets stronger when focusing on the subject. Passive voice can create a distance between your message and the readers, while an active voice is direct and clear. It can engage and motivate your readers, making your copy interesting and stronger.
Avoid using unnecessary adverbs
Adverbs don’t always contribute to the clarity of your content. It’s better to use them only when they make sense. Think of removing the ones you’ve already used, and test whether your copy can still stand out without them.
Write what comes naturally
There’s no need to shoehorn in buzzwords to impress your audience. It’s common in marketing content to think that jargon enhances your message, but in fact, it only makes your content seem trite and predictable. Think like your readers, and create content that they’ll enjoy reading.
Be consistent with verb tenses
Longer sentences can end up confusing your readers. There are also more chances to mess up the tenses that you’re using. Pay attention to each sentence, and you’ll find the consistency of the tenses that will improve your copy.
Don’t ignore SEO
Search traffic can be a powerful ally in your bid to increase your audience through content writing. While it might seem like a lot of extra work to think about SEO as you’re creating content, it actually fits fairly naturally into the content creation process.
Here are some things to bear in mind:
The title helps search engines understand what your content is about. There needs to be a combination of relevance and brevity. It has to be useful, both for readers, but also for search crawlers.
Keywords can be very useful as part of your text, provided that they are added naturally in the right context. There’s no need to overuse a keyword simply to make sure that a crawler discovers your topic (an old tactic known as ‘keyword stuffing’). In fact, this may lead to negative results.
As we covered in the previous part of this article, headings are a key part of clear content structure and formatting. They’re also important to SEO, as they give search engine crawlers an idea of what you’re covering.
A good rule of thumb can be to add your focus keyword at least once in a heading, as this makes it easier for search engines to understand the main topic.
A meta description is a short summary of a topic. It’s the text that shows up right after the title in search results. This makes it the second most important part after your headline, and it may affect whether users click on your page.
For an SEO-focused guide on how to write good meta descriptions, check out ‘How to write meta descriptions for SEO (with good and bad examples)‘.
Readability refers to the level of comprehension for your text. This encompasses things like language, the writing style, the use of sentences, or even the words that you choose.
In a more scientific explanation, the measurement of readability takes into account: the speed of perception, the visibility, the effort required for reading speed, the eye movements and the fatigue in reading.
How can you increase the readability of your content?
- Pay attention to the font. Pick a clean and simple font and make sure that the size makes your text legible without further effort.
- Allow enough space for your content. Whether it’s the number of paragraphs you’re using or the line height, they all contribute to the concept of readability
- Use simple writing, avoid jargon or complicated words. It’s tempting to use an improved vocabulary, but it’s also important to ensure that the content is still understood by your audience.
- Avoid long sentences. Aim for clear and simple structure. As with the use of words, simplicity is appreciated. Moreover, it also reduces the chances of getting your readers tired while reading.
Think of social optimization
A good indication of content success is its performance on social media, the number of likes, shares, or comments it receives.
The chances of social success can be improved by working on social optimization. Social optimization is the process that reminds you the importance of social media in a content’s journey. If you want to reach a wider audience, then you need to make sure that your content is as optimized as possible for social media.
Here are 5 quick tips on how to focus on social optimization:
Think of the headline
As with SEO optimization, your headline will determine whether social users find your content interesting enough to click on. However, beware of employing clickbait techniques such as withholding key information from the headline in order to attract clicks – it may see your content penalized by social platforms, and your readers won’t thank you either.
Pay attention to the images you’re adding
Use a featured image that’s large enough to be shared on all social networks. Every social platform has its own dimensions, so a large image will still be clear and eye-catching regardless of the platform. Moreover, an image may be the first thing that someone notices about your social post.
Adjust the description
As with SEO, the description helps readers get an overview of your post. Optimizing both for search engines and social media requires the right balance between keyword optimization and personal appeal. Be creative and spend some time devising the best way to describe your content in just a couple of sentences.
Add sharing buttons
It may sound obvious nowadays that we need to include sharing buttons in our content. However, it’s still a good reminder when we’re thinking of social optimization to consider that readers will be more likely to to share our content if we make it easier for them to do so. Make sure you’re including the sharing buttons in the right place on your page.
Encourage likes and shares
Except for the default sharing buttons, there are many plugins and tools that encourage readers to show their social approval for a post. For example, a Facebook like button can be more appealing than a “share to Facebook” button, as it involves a faster process to show your social approval.
Think like a user
This is a combination of blending user experience with psychology, in an attempt to produce the right content for the right audience.
Google Analytics can help you monitor your readers’ habits. From the length of their visits to the most popular posts, or even the pages with the highest bounce rate, you can start understanding which pieces of content are most effective.
What made these pages more effective? Was it the value, the language, or even the images that you used? How about the content that wasn’t effective?
This is where user experience can offer very interesting insights.
You don’t need technical knowledge to understand how user experience affects your content.
For example, here are three quick ways to test whether your content has a user-centric design:
As smartphones dominate our lives, content tends to get more consumed in mobile devices. Not everyone creates content with mobile users in mind, and this may be a good opportunity to start thinking of it.
Your content and your pages have to be responsive enough to allow readers to use them as much as possible. An error or a non-functional plugin may lead to a missed opportunity of converting a new reader. Usability, accessibility and page performance are three key areas for your readers and the way they see your content.
The user experience has to be smooth enough to help readers move through your pages. This increases the chance of turning them into loyal readers and even customers. A combination of design and content strategy can improve your content appeal to your new readers.
The user experience honeycomb by Peter Morville shows us seven facets of a good user experience. A good user experience then has to be useful, desirable, accessible, credible, findable, usable, and valuable.
Using free tools
There are so many tools out there to help improve our writing, and luckily many of them are free, so here are a few to try out.
- Hemingway: Hemingway App helps you improve the clarity in your text by identifying long, complex sentences and common errors. It makes your writing bold and clear by suggesting the parts of text you need to improve.
- Grammarly: Grammarly is another useful tool to instantly check for more than two hundred types of grammatical, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. I find very handy the Chrome plugin when creating online content, as it may even turn out useful when adding additional spaces or unknown words.
- Buzzsumo: Buzzsumo helps you analyse what content performs best for any topic or competitor. It’s one of my favourite tools to test the “virality” (if that’s the proper term in that case) of my content, as it offers an insight on the most shared posts. For example, I can search for my name as an author, or the most popular posts in the sites that I’m writing on, and I can get a great overview of the content that got the highest number of shares on social media.
- Readable: Readable is one of the apps that help you monitor your content’s readability score, along with keyword density, sentiment analysis. Time to cut out the noise.
- CoSchedule’s Headline Analyser: This is my favourite tool to explore the art of an effective headline. You even get a score for the suggested headlines you’re adding. It’s useful when you’re trying to understand the overall headline quality and its ability to result in social shares, increased traffic, and SEO value.
- Writefull: Writefull is an app that gives feedback on your writing by checking your text against databases of correct language. Did you use the right phrase? Should you change it? You may be surprised with the results.
- StayFocusd: StayFocusd is a productivity extension for Google Chrome that helps you stay focused on work by restricting the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites. Yes, this mainly refers to social media and it’s a very useful plugin for every writer.
You don’t have to be a professional writer to create online content. What’s important is to set clear goals for the reasons you’re creating content, while considering your target audience.
Improve your content by focusing on:
- the writing process
- different content types you can create
- the length of your content
- its structure and
- the language you’re using
- along with SEO
- social optimization
- user experience
It’s all about understanding how content works and what opportunities it can unlock for your business.
After all, if the goal is to create content that your readers will love, you’re the only person who knows the best way to achieve it.
This is Part 2 of a two-part series on how to improve your content creation. For a recap of Part 1, read ‘8 tips for improving your content creation‘.
For the full presentation on ’15 ways to improve your content writing’ from the Summit on Content Marketing, check out the slides on SlideShare.