Let’s start with a fun exercise. Right now, type “writing good web content” into your Google search.
This may be different for you because you use Google differently than I do. But if you scan the very first page of your search results, you might stumble across an article that says, “9 Simple Tips for Writing Persuasive Web Content.”
I’m not going to link to this article, and you will soon learn why. If you so choose to read it on your own, then feel free to do so. But the gist of the article is this:
- Treat your readers like they are salivating zoo animals, hungry for their next purchase.
- Write web copy like you’re writing for someone who is completely brainless.
- Don’t try to be cute or smart or clever. Remember you’re writing for nincompoops.
- Write for lazy people who don’t like to read.
- Remember that people don’t read anyway.
- KEYWORDS ARE KING
(Side note: They’re not entirely wrong about keywords, which is probably why this article has a comfy spot on the top page of Google’s results of “good” content writing. And though keywords are important, they’re not what creates actual value for your readers.)
What content writing is not
Regardless of your personal philosophy of the human race, it’s safe to say the writer of the article referenced above views the average reader as a baby whining for their binky, or as an animal that needs to be herded to buy something they don’t want or need.
This right here is what a lot of content writers get wrong over and over again. They don’t view their readers as remotely intelligent or capable of gaining anything of real substance from the content they consume like a rabid banshee.
It’s true that everyone appreciates a little simplicity, but the average reader is smarter than many people give them credit for. In our industry, for example, 10 years ago, we may have been speaking to clients who had never had a catering experience.
For many clients, though, we’ve learned that it’s not their first rodeo. It’s not to say that they’re all catering experts, but they certainly have a lot more tools and resources at their fingertips to access before picking up the phone. Instead of asking about what drop-off catering entails, now many of them want to know about seasonal soups, upscale platters and interactive stations.
Let’s face it—people are wary of marketing. That’s because everything is marketing. Literally every platform that they use is trying to sell them something or harvest their personal information to put in some mass spreadsheet.
Here’s another exercise.
Walk up to your typical young person—who is your biggest market now or will be at some point soon. Now, ask them what they do when an ad pops up in their Instagram feed. Ask them how many emails they avoid like the plague on a daily basis.
They know that the majority of marketing doesn’t care about them.
What “good” content looks like
It’s hard for a writer or any creative person who actually cares about the reader on the other side to come up with a grand, overarching statement about what “good” content is, but here’s the general consensus from some of the best content writers out there:
It addresses humans
Talk to people like they’re adults with actual thoughts and emotions. Like they matter. They’re made of flesh and blood, not metal.
It grabs their attention…and keeps it
There is beauty in a carefully crafted headline. But have you ever read an article with a misleading headline or a headline that doesn’t equate to the copy attached to the headline?
Tread lightly with click bait. It works for a little bit, but then it tends to anger readers who have thoughts and emotions like we talked about. Headlines that begin with “How to…” and “The Ultimate Guide to…” usually lead to articles that are lean in quality content. The majority of users on the internet have caught on to this.
Content writers who care about quality agree that you should be spending close to 50 percent of your time crafting good headlines, not lazy ones.
A headline should get your readers to read the first sentence of anything. This is why it’s important to distribute your energy throughout the entire piece of content. This stands for a blog, ad, email, web page—what have you. Reward your reader with a meaty first sentence. And the next. See where I’m going?
It doesn’t waste people’s time
Good content is short, concise, and it understands that people have other things they might want to do with their lives. The relevant information comes first. And there is urgency to it.
It listens to its audience
How well do you know the people you’re addressing? Have you sat down across from them and listened to them talk about what keeps them awake at night and what gets them excited in the morning (or any other time of day if they’re not a morning person)?
Consider polling a few of your top clients or even top prospects and ask them what they want to read about. Tempt them with a free lunch or send them a small gift for their participation.
It serves a purpose
How can you actually BETTER lives? Good content writing wants to be helpful. It wants to connect people to services and products that get them. It uses the language they use. It speaks their pains and frustrations. This only comes after listening to a client.
Your clients are looking for solutions. They want to lessen their stress, increase their time, save money, gain value and do things that not just make them happy, but get them to experience joy. What specific moments of joy have you created for an actual client? Let’s get that down in words. Their words.
At large, all the words you use should educate, motivate, entertain and get people excited about what they’re mindfully participating in.
The internet is clogged with bad, dishonest content. Stand out with content that has meaning.
It’s SEO-driven AND written well
Google is starting to catch on to keyword-bloated blogs that are only that. There are companies who spend a lot of time and energy trying to decipher Google’s most powerful algorithms, which change quite frequently.
All those fancy buzzwords will do you no good if your content reeks.
Remember the “humans with emotions and thoughts” thing we keep talking about? SEO-stuffed blogs aren’t written for people. And if a search engine can tell the difference, then your readers certainly can.
This is where a strong, consistent brand identity comes in handy. What is your why? Who is your team and what can they do that’s different? Why did you start this business in the first place? What does your audience need and care about?
The hard part is articulating all of this. But the harder part is being consistent with who you are as a brand. It has the same messaging, tone, feelings and language across all platforms.
A strong, consistent brand identity is the face behind REALLY good content. If you have a strong brand image, the content will spread like butter.
Who is your audience? Why are they important to you? What do you want to tell them? Maybe we can help. Seriously though, content writers are nothing without their readers, so any thoughts you have about this article or “good” content in general is worth our time.