A HotCopy Editor Reveals: 7 Questions That Will Help You Write Stellar Content
My dear writers, I get it. Writing content for the big, bad web is tough. According to MarketingProfs, 2 million blog posts are written every single day. With that much competition, how can you possibly stand out? Whatever you write now will just be a drop in the ocean. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Just produce content that matters.
By giving them the kind of content they want and need, you’re making content that matters to your audience. You’re making your articles relevant.
And relevance is where it all begins.
To help you out, I came up with 7 questions you should ask yourselves every time you start writing.
By asking yourself these questions, you can make your articles more competitive, more visible, and more substantial. You will write stellar content that catches attention.
Most importantly, you can give your readers what they’re looking for.
7 Questions to Ask before writing content
1. How would this content help my readers?
Before anything else, put yourself in your readers’ shoes.
People always want to get something out of their investments. In the case of the internet, people want to get value out of their time. Don’t let your article be a waste of time.
Reward your readers.
Useful information, sources of inspiration, or a good laugh are powerful currencies in the World Wide Web. So if your article gives little to no added value, prepare for it to be overlooked.
To make sure your content has value:
- Research, research, research. The more you know the more relevant insights you have. Not just about your topic either. Research is also crucial when getting to know your audience. The better you know them, the better you can answer their needs.
- Be analytical. Ask as many questions as possible. Anticipate what your readers want to see and be prepared to provide the answers.
- Don’t scrimp on the details. Even if you think it’s useless information, your readers may not. By being generous with content and substance, they’ll find you more helpful, useful, and more credible.
2. Is this topic interesting?
Anything and everything under the sun has probably been written about at this point. But that’s no excuse to sound like a broken record and not even try.
This means that content writers like you need to tap deep into the well of creativity to produce something fresh.
Give your article a fresh voice, a fresh angle, or a fresh spin. That way, you can keep your readers entertained and not sound like another run-of-the-mill content robot.
To help you spice things up:
- Make a list of topics to write about and run them off Google. If the results are sparse or outdated, then it’s high time you created new and updated content.
- Find another angle from which you'll tell your story. Writing about boring and technical gadget reviews? Make it sharp and witty. Give your readers something more than equipment specs. Writing about health and fitness? Why not write about balance and moderation instead of the usual “How to Lose 50 lbs in One Week”? Be creative. Think outside the box.
- Write with your voice. Whatever topic or whatever tone, don’t copy. Find your writing style and create your own sentences. Whether it’s as innocent as imitation or as illegal as plagiarism, copied content comes across as forced, shallow, and insubstantial. Or in other words: bad.
3. Am I giving accurate information?
Credibility is one of the keys to SEO success. But credibility is not just about spewing statements and making claims. It's about proven facts, backed up by real data.
Thousands - if not hundreds of thousands of people will go through your blog. Thus it becomes your responsibility not to promote misinformation. It's one of the duties of content writers to provide information that is truly useful and enriching to readers.
To help you fact check:
- Go on free fact-checking websites. There's an abundance of websites to double check real information depending on the type of content. FactCheck.org is a good source for politics; Snopes.com is a good source for myths and urban legends; SBrowning.com's WhoWhatWhen is a good database for famous and influential people; and Google Scholar is the go-to place for academic facts.
- Research until you close the loop. Google Search might lead you to a bottomless well of differing opinions and varying statements. But with enough work, you're also sure to find the truth.
- Only use credible websites as sources. Established names with significant followings are extra careful and conscientious about their statements. Thus it's safer to use these as sources rather than non-institutional companies.
4. Is my title good, great, or boring me to death?
For most people, titles are the deciding factor whether an article is worth reading or not. This is why your title better be great.
Give it some thought – or a lot.
If you come up with an “okay” title, your readers will probably find it “meh”. Instead, make it intriguing, informative, and catchy at the same time. If substantial content is what keeps readers, it’s hardworking titles that bring them in, in the first place. Check out this in-depth guide to creating eye-catching headlines.
To make sure you have a strong title:
- Be as precise as possible, avoid generality. (Instead of “Business Travel Guide”, why not: “The Tried and Tested Guide for Zero-Fuss Business Travel”?)
- Tickle your readers' curiosity, but leave some things to their imagination. (“Things You’ll Find in This Indonesian Bird Market Will Leave You Speechless”)
- Engage your readers, make it about them. (“Easy Saving Tips That Will Keep You Out of Debt”).
- Exaggerate, but make sure you can deliver in your content. (“The Most Epic Things to Do in Bangkok”)
5. Can my readers ‘scan’ the article and find what they’re looking for?
Let’s be honest, most readers will only scan your article. They’ll quickly scroll down and decide from the snippets they see whether they’re curious enough to read or not. This is why standout subheadings are important. They tease the readers with a preview of contents, without giving too much away.
To make sure you have effective subheadings:
- They should summarize the content of the following paragraphs. This way, readers have an idea what they can expect if they read on.
- They should be precise and relevant to your sections. Now that you’ve set your readers’ expectations, you better meet them by providing the information you promised. Don’t follow a subheading saying “Best Beaches in Bali” with a rundown of hotels, because obviously, those are not the same things.
- They should be succinct. Keep it down to a few short, descriptive words. “Kuta restaurants for every budget and every kind of traveler” reads more like a lame title than a subheading. Remember, short and sweet is the way to go.
6. Is this an effortless read?
Try this. Before tapping that ‘send’ button, go make yourself a cup of coffee, go out for a walk, or make a phone call. When you return to your screen and reread what you’ve written, you’re sure to find a dozen things to fix. This is the best time to edit.
And editing is half the work.
Sure, you’ve made your points, given information, and maybe even injected some humor. But do they work together? Editing is the key to a concise, easy-to-read, and ultimately enjoyable article.
To keep in mind when editing:
- Simple sentences are the best. Long sentences don't always mean fanciness. Instead, many readers get lost in winding words and lose the point.
- Avoid redundancy. Be on point. Don’t use “very”, “really”, or similar words when describing an adjective. Instead of “very good”, you can use “excellent”. Instead of “really nice”, you can say “kind”. This is what separates real writers from people who can just string words together. Don’t be the latter.
- Mind your flow and structure. Don’t leap from one unrelated point to another. Organize the thoughts in your piece and make sure to connect them. Articles with no structure or organization are confusing and annoying.
- Double-check your spelling and grammar. We highly recommend installing Grammarly's browser extension - it's free and it'll cut your editing time in half! If you read an article full of typos and bad grammar, would you still find that article believable? Would you think the person who wrote it is credible? Spelling and grammar are foundations for professionalism. This should be reflected in all your work at all times.
- If you need more help, the internet offers many great tools to help you take your writing to another level. We have put together a list in this blog post. That said, online editing tools tend to read like robots, and human editors should still have the final say.
7. What are my readers' takeaway?
In the same way that you started by thinking about your readers, you should also end with your readers in mind.
Think about it. Every reader who goes online has purpose. Are they looking for information? Are they looking to purchase? Or maybe they’re looking for entertainment. Whatever it is they type on that search bar, they’re typing it for a reason.
And it’s your job to give them the answer.
To know what to give your readers:
- Get to know your readers. What's their age, gender, demographic, psychographic? How do they think? By familiarizing with their thought process, you can get an insight on how they think and what they think about.
- Think about what they want from you. Is your article meant to sell, inform, or entertain? If they came to your page looking for information, then be sure to give them that. If they're looking to buy, make sure to lead them easily to the purchase page.
- Readers are led to your page by the title and meta tag they see on the search engine results page. These by themselves are little promises to readers, telling them what to expect. Make sure to fulfill this promise by giving them what they came for.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to this: don’t be a lazy writer. It’s so easy to fall into this trap, especially with your natural skill. You sit down, type in words without thinking about it because it comes naturally to you. You meet your required minimum word count. Then call it done.
But the real work of writing is in fine-tuning what you’ve written.
It’s in asking these 7 questions and finding ways to improve your finished piece. After all with the millions, if not billions, of blog posts you’re competing with, you want to stand out. And you won’t stand out with poor grammar, repetitive words, useless information, bad structure, and a lame headline.
So do the extra work. Put in the extra thought. Write stellar content that won’t only make your editors happy, or your readers coming back for more. But also stand out from the crowd.