So, you’re a new content writer. You’ve spent a few hours perfecting your latest blog post, and you finally hit the publish button, thinking to yourself, “This is a good one!” Satisfied with your efforts, you go out and have yourself a nice dinner, and when you come home several hours later, a depressingly barren inbox awaits you. No comments, no likes, no re-tweets, no shares? What happened? You may even sleep on it, only to discover the next morning that your results are still abysmal. What have you done wrong? Why are other bloggers doing so well, while your arguably superior work sits unnoticed in the annals of the Web? Well, let’s take a look at some of the secrets every content writer should know about getting the most out of every post.
1. Write a short, clear, keyword-enabled headline
We see this happen all the time: Someone who is otherwise a fantastic writer is losing out on readers simply because he or she is writing witty, punny, or overlong headlines that may be very entertaining, but have no actual relevance as to what the article’s about. When you’re writing a headline, keep it as short as you can – 65 characters is all a search engine will index, so make sure your keywords and the gist fits in that space. If you must make your headline longer, 120 characters should be the absolute maximum length. Why? That’s the most characters that will make a “tweet” with enough room left over for a link back. No one will re-tweet you if your title won’t fit in a tweet! Writing social media– and SEO-friendly headlines will also help you write headlines that more directly inform potential readers what they’ll find in your content, earning you more traffic from Google and other Web searches.
2. Hook the reader early
If the purpose of your headline is to get someone to read your work, the purpose of the first sentence is to keep them reading. Keep your opening statements short and compelling. “How many times have you done this?” is great and engaging, as is “Grocery shopping on a budget isn’t easy,” and at only two words, “Dieting sucks” says it all.
Using a short and compelling statement or question right up front hooks your readers, and keeps them for the rest of your first paragraph, which should illustrate the crux of your article. Keep paragraphs light, no more than 2-3 sentences each, and when you’ve covered an idea in one paragraph, move on.
Also, single-sentence paragraphs make for easier reading.
(See what I did there?)
3. Cater to the Skimmer
Speaking of easier reading, if you’re a Web user you already know that you don’t read everything you stumble across. When you’re looking for information fast, you don’t read; you skim. Using methods that make your articles easily skimmable will ensure that you keep more readers looking for a quick fix of info. A strong opening, short paragraphs, and standalone sentences are some great ways to write for the skimmer, but also consider adding subheads to break up your article. These items help to break your content down into easily digestible chunks, and the larger subheadings should generally summarize your work, making it easy to find the answer to a question in a hurry.
Another great tactic is to make a list post. By making a numbered list of ideas in bold, with explanations after, you’ve taken what may have started as a complex idea and broken it down into easy-to-understand steps. These methods will make a longer post seem shorter, quickly summarize the topics the article covers, and most of all it makes your content look easy. Easy solutions win over complex ones every time.
4. Write for one person
As a content writer, I have literally argued with a small company over this one. This person wanted their company to seem larger than it actually was, and they were convinced that writing as if we had thousands of readers was the key to actually gaining those numbers, in sort of the literary equivalent of “dress for the job you want.” However, if you look at the blogs and websites that actually do have readers in the thousands, they will almost always write their content as if speaking directly to a single person. It’s easy to forget that thousands of readers means thousands of individuals, and each one must be independently engaged by your content. The use of second-person pronouns like you, your, and yours and minimizing the use of I, we, and our will help with this, as will a casual, conversational voice. Writing that is full of business-speak and jargon may be fine in the conference room, but as Web content it fails. A good content writer is the one who has mastered the art of writing as if speaking to just one person.