It’s easy to approach online writing the same way you would school papers.
Your first instinct may be to keep your language formal, professional, and terse. You want to sound like you know what you’re talking about and establish your credibility.
Mistake number one.
It’s equally as easy to approach writing online as if it’s your personal sounding board. You have a domain and a content platform – the world needs to know your opinions about your industry and anything else that rolls off the top of your head, gosh darn it.
Mistakes number two and three.
If you have fallen prey to these easy blunders, it’s time to get your head back in the game – the content marketing game. The above methods will not win you any ROI, so what will?
The online writing gods require certain things from you if you expect to get anywhere with your search rankings and traffic.
Follow these 10 commandments of online writing and you’ll get leaps and bounds closer to the ROI you need and want for your hard work.
The 10 Commandments of ROI-Worthy Online Writing
1. Thou Shalt Write for Humans, Not Search Engines
Yes, online writing needs to be optimized for search engines – but it needs to be written for humans.
If the people in your audience aren’t top-of-mind every single time you sit down to write, you’re breaking the most basic commandment of web content creation.
It’s really just simple logic: If you want to reach your target users, you must write for them. The rest should fall into place.
Why is this true?
David Risley for Search Engine Journal puts it like this, and he’s spot-on:
“If your focus is on helping, provoking or inspiring your reader, search will more or less take care of itself.”
- That means you’re not adding keywords wherever you can, or sneaking them in where they don’t belong.
- It means you’re not wondering “How can I make this more search-friendly?” while you’re writing.
- It means you’re setting out to write content that answers human questions or solves human problems.
- It means you’re striving to be informative, helpful, and logical.
Ironically, if you set out to write for search engines above all instead of humans, you’re going to get burned. Don’t do it.
2. Thou Shalt Use Keywords Strategically
Keywords – those magic words and phrases that search engines glom onto. If you use them correctly, you’ll probably look like this:
Without the strategic use of keywords, though, you’re going to be like the kid sitting alone in a crowded cafeteria. No one is going to join you at your content table and partake in your content feast.
Keywords are the little flags that let search engines understand your content and index it. Unless you use them strategically, you won’t draw the organic traffic that can be so vital to leads and conversions.
3. Thou Shalt Not Neglect Thy Meta Data
Metas, A.K.A. meta titles and meta descriptions, may seem inconsequential to your overall content strategy, but you’d be a fool to ignore them or gloss over their importance.
Here’s a big reason why they matter: They can encourage more click-throughs for your content in search results. This is because search engine results consist of nothing BUT metas:
Writing strong metas can persuade users to click. That’s powerful – ignore them at your peril.
4. Thou Shalt Proofread and Edit Thy Online Writing
Look at the two short paragraphs below. Which one looks more credible, trustworthy, and professional? Which one is easier to read and understand?
Proofreading your work and taking the time to edit is just one part of producing high-quality content. Neglect these steps, and you’ll not only hurt your chances of ranking – you’ll also inhibit your audience’s ability to understand you.
5. Thou Shalt Not Forget Thy Audience Niche
Speaking of your audience, are you remembering their specific needs, wants, desires, and preferences at all times while you write?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing what you think they want to hear versus what they actually want to hear. As a result, the content you write will be less relevant to them. This is something search engines will pick up on.
Avoid this by conducting regular target audience research, referring to your personas often, and writing directly to them in your content, like you’re having a conversation.
6. Thou Shalt Research Thy Online Writing Topics
For better content and online writing, research matters. A LOT.
To be blunt, making claims without backing them up with facts, data, studies, and sources destroys your authority and credibility.
Everyone’s knowledge depends on everyone else’s knowledge. When you add research to your online writing, you’re participating in this public conversation and showing you did your homework to come to your conclusions. You’re proving the accuracy of your work.
Even more importantly, you’re giving credit where it’s due and avoiding plagiarism. These things are huge online, where it’s incredibly easy to steal content.
7. Thou Shalt Publish Regularly
The most successful online writing, the kind that builds authority for a site and grows its search rankings, is published consistently, on the regular.
Google is hungry. It wants fresh helpings of your content on a constant basis. It doesn’t like stuff that’s stale, outdated, or served sporadically.
Read this Moz article about how content freshness affects Google rankings to learn more.
(Hint: The stuff you posted two weeks ago is decaying!)
Figure out the posting frequency that works for you to keep your content fresh, then stick to it. Your writing and content will benefit.
8. Thou Shalt Link Judiciously
Along with freshness, successful online writing also requires some juice to help build its clout in the SERPs.
To be more specific, it needs some link juice.
Link juice does a few things:
- It helps search engines crawl your site
- It helps your audience navigate/browse your pages
- It adds value to your content
This includes smart internal linking within your written content. What do I mean by that?
- Deep-link to relevant pages within your site in your content. Include links to older blog posts and pages that can’t be reached from your homepage.
- Don’t link to pages randomly. Make sure they always help the user in some way.
- Create the anchor text for your links on relevant keywords. Mix it up – do NOT use the same word or phrase to link to a specific page over and over.
9. Thou Shalt Not Write in Third Person
Unless you’re a bonafide academic who writes formal, scholarly articles, you should never use the third person in your online writing.
I repeat: Never.
In content marketing, the third person voice is a death sentence for your written content. Why?
- It’s too formal.
- It’s too stiff.
- It’s harder to read.
- It doesn’t talk directly to your reader/audience.
If you’re worried about sounding unprofessional in your writing, guess what? You can still maintain your clout and authority by writing in the second person (directly addressing the reader as “you”).
Want proof? Look at one of the most respected sites in the industry: Content Marketing Institute. All of their articles and posts are written in the second person.
Need I say more?
10. Thou Shalt Not Give Up Too Soon
If your online writing is going nowhere, you may be tempted to throw up your hands and quit.
In content marketing, this is probably the biggest mistake you can ever make.
The truth is, you’ll only get better (and see results) if you keep on keepin’ on.
Writing requires practice, just like any other skill. Writing online, in fact, takes a particular skill set that you can only develop and hone with practice, patience, and more practice.
As you keep working at it, pretty soon…
- Researching and using keywords strategically in your writing will get easier
- Your writing voice and perspective will flow more naturally
- You’ll find it easier to keep up with online writing musts, like interlinking and posting regularly, because you’ll see exactly how they work
- You’ll set up routines, strategies, and workflows that succeed in your lifestyle and writing style
- You’ll start seeing results like higher search engine rankings, more organic traffic, more leads, and more conversions – it’s proven!
Copyblogger sums it up perfectly in their article about why content marketing is a long game:
Your writing is nurturing leads over years, not minutes, hours, or days.
It’s a long-term game, and those with the patience to stick with it will succeed.
Keep working on your online writing, keep honing your content marketing, and you’ll soon begin finding pots of gold.