We’ve all been there: the blank page, the pressure to write, the inevitable brain freeze. When you’re writing for a website, it seems twice as hard to get right, because you’re thinking about SEO as well as your audience.
So here’s some advice from us on overcoming the panic and writing effective, purposeful digital content.
Take time to prepare
The worst thing you can do is launch yourself straight into writing. That’s because writing itself is only a small part of great content – first you need to prepare.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” - Abraham Lincoln
1. Write down the purpose of your content
Why are you writing it; what’s it for? It may sound obvious but it’s amazing how often people start writing without really pinning down the job that the content is meant to be doing. This could be as simple as knowing whether your content is informative or persuasive, for example, so you’re clear on whether the focus is to impart knowledge or to convince your audience to do or think a certain thing.
2. Note your audience
If you’re not clear who you’re talking to, you’ll find it a lot harder to connect with them and achieve what you need to. What are you trying to get them to do, think or feel?
3. Check there are no holes in your knowledge before you start writing
Are you missing any facts or figures? Is the detail a bit sketchy in some areas? Do you need to ask someone else for clarification first?
4. Outline your content structure
This can be as simple as a few bullet points. For example, my outline for this post was: intro common challenge / preparation steps / writing flow / editing steps / get in touch. By outlining the structure of your content, you’re signalling where your headers will go and making sure the whole thing flows well. This is great for search engines AND real people!
5. Jot down some keywords
Now you have your sections, quickly jot down your keywords for each section. Think about what people will be searching for, what answers they want, and what sort of language they would use. This will help you stay relevant with your tone of voice, and will help your content be found. You can also use these keywords to determine your H1 and H2 headers.
Now you’re ready to write!
This is where you firmly put your secret critic away in a box. Now isn’t the time to obsess over a particular sentence structure, get lost in synonyms, or spend time making sure your grammar is 100% correct. If you edit as you go, you’ll quickly lose your flow and your content won’t tell as clear a story.
So let go of all your concerns, get in the moment, and write. Use your keywords as you go and follow your content structure so you’re not losing track. If you get stuck, remind yourself why you’re writing and who you’re writing for.
Take time to check
And breathe! Now is the time to optimise your content, both for SEO and for those lovely people you’re talking to.
1. Check structure
Your headings are key in terms of findability. Have you broken down your content into sections with clear headings? Is your main heading marked with the H1 tag, and subheadings with the H2 tag? Would someone be able to scan your content at a glance and get a good sense of what’s included by the headings alone? Is there a clear call to action or ending point?
2. Look at sentence lengths
It’s all too easy to get a bit comma-happy and write very long sentences. Too many long sentences is bad news for SEO and for your readability in general, so break up long sentences in two and use punctuation to your advantage. It can help to read your content out loud – you’ll notice points where you need to take a breath.
3. Check paragraph lengths
Paragraph lengths can make or break a piece of content. People will see a huge chunk of content and be put off reading it, especially if they’re reading on a mobile device. So limit your paragraphs to 4 or 5 sentences where possible, and make sure they flow logically. Transition words can help: but, because, so, therefore, for example, however… are all useful in weaving your paragraph together.
4. Get some variety in there
Have you used images to illustrate your points or to break up the page visually? How about bullet points or a list? If you’ve used quotes, are there any ways in which you can highlight them to create visual interest on the page? Of course, this all depends on the purpose of your content.
5. Ask for feedback
We try to make a point of sending each other content to check before it goes live. It’s not that we don’t trust each other, it’s simply a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look over your work. They’ll see things you don’t.
These tips should help you create purposeful content that works for SEO and for your real life readers. Still left staring at a blank page? Wondering if someone else could just take it off your hands altogether?
Help is at hand. We don’t just build websites, we write content for them too – we’ve got a whole heap of SEO and content writing experience between us. So whether it’s product pages or blog posts you’re struggling with, Unicorn. may be just the help you need.