The most powerful content writing tips can be distilled into a simple formula: Become an expert on the topic, choose a great angle, weave in narrative, connect one-on-one with your readers, and then hit hard with your headline and intro.
To see great business gains from your content marketing, you need to master this formula. All the great technical SEO in the world won’t mean much if you’re doing a poor job connecting with your readers through your content.
But while this formula looks simple — it’s only five elements — simple doesn’t mean easy. So we asked a handful of content marketers who write effective, engaging blog posts to give us their writing tips and show us their best examples. Refresh your tired blog and help inject life into your articles by following their lead.
Tip 1: Dig Deeper in Your Research
If your content is feeling uninspired, try digging deeper.
It takes immersing yourself in the topic fully before you can write about it like an expert. This tip alone can make for a much more powerful piece.
You might even uncover data that you can present in a way that no one else in your industry has done before. We recently reported on how one website gained a foothold in a competitive industry by highlighting a new angle with existing data.
Or, you might decide that you need to gather your own data.
Dominic Kent, Director of Content Marketing at Mio, is a big fan of conducting independent research to gather data that no one else has access to. Earlier this year, his team collected survey data from over 200 folks in IT to pull together their own research on workplace messaging apps. Thanks to good timing, they were able to piggyback the publicity around the release of the data off of the Slack IPO.
Undoubtedly, industry reports can help a business gain traction. Dominic tells us, “Since published, this post became our second most-viewed piece of content, with almost 10,000 views in three months.” In addition, 312 people filled out the form to gain access to the report — that’s 312 potential customer relationships.Since published, this post became our second most-viewed piece of content, with almost 10,000 views in three months. @DomKent Click To Tweet
But you don’t have to conduct surveys to benefit from deeper research. You just need to immerse yourself in a topic until you’ve built a rich understanding. When you do, you’ll be much better positioned to find an angle that matters to your readers.
Tip 2: Find an Angle That Hits a Nerve
Great writers look for a new angle or perspective that no one else has put into words yet.
This content writing tip can surface in various formats. An example is Paul Graham’s Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. He introduces a concept regarding the effect of meetings on people in various roles, making it clear how costly meetings are for those who do deep work, like programmers and writers. His concept is backed by his personal experience operating in the “maker’s schedule,” and his ultimate goal with this content is to spread this concept so that makers and managers alike better understand the cost. This article has amassed links from over 2,000 different domains, and it ranks for more than 800 keywords in 60+ countries. If he had approached the topic from the angle of “how meetings kill productivity,” like so many others have, it’s unlikely the article would have seen so much success.
How do you find the right angle? For starters, you can check what’s trending in the industry with the help of tools. Our Content Exploration tool shows you content that’s popular on social media when you search by topic or website. (You can try this out plus all the tools included in Alexa’s Advanced Plan free for 14 days.)
Once you have your angle, start thinking about how you can support it with narrative.
Tip 3: Illustrate with Narrative
Content marketers have long tapped into storytelling to help paint a vivid picture. Including narrative is still one of the most effective content writing tips you’ll hear from seasoned writers.
Derek Gleason, Content Lead at CXL, points to a guest post by Lars Lofgren on the CXL blog as an example of narrative done right.
In the article, Lars includes narratives from his own experiences building growth teams, each key to supporting his point. “As a result, the narratives make sense and turn an otherwise banal listicle into an engaging read,” Derek points out. And he said it resonated with readers, “getting near the top of Hacker News and driving more than 15,000 users to the site in just a couple of days.”
However, Derek cautions to include narrative or entertaining asides only when they help illustrate the key point. He notes the popular format of recipe blogs as the perfect example of what not to do. (In case you’ve never Googled a recipe, the typical format includes an agonizing number of paragraphs about how popular the recipe is at potluck parties, for example, before you get to anything remotely connected to actually making the recipe.)Include narrative or entertaining asides only when they help illustrate the key point. @derek_gleason Click To Tweet
“Too often, those aspects are layered on top—cluttering rather than highlighting the information you’re trying to share,” he says. “Compare that to articles from Cook’s Illustrated, which dedicate 1,000 words to explaining why each recipe works and why alternative versions fail.”
The beauty of narrative is that it sets you up to build a strong connection with your reader.
Tip 4: Connect with Your Readers as Human Beings
No matter what products you’re marketing and who buys them, there’s one trait you’ll always share with your readers: you’re both humans. And that’s something you can leverage to make your writing more powerful.
Marie Prokopets, co-founder of FYI and Product Habits, advises content marketers to infuse their writing with personal stories and tips. She points out that this lets her add a unique flavor and depth. She says that “People will relate more to your writing when you get personal. You’ll develop a deeper connection with your reader, and they, in turn, can empathize even more with you and what you’ve written.”People will relate more to your writing when you get personal. You’ll develop a deeper connection with your reader, and they, in turn, can empathize even more with you and what you’ve written @MarieProkopets Click To Tweet
To see what she means, we can look to her recent post on How to Use Marie Kondo’s Konmari Method for Your Digital Work Life.
Readers learn about Marie’s personal experiences with the Konmari Method, but it never overwhelms or narrows the applicability of the lessons that ground the article. The article is not about Marie, but her examples help her readers understand how they can apply the lessons themselves.
And that peek into her personal space has proven to help her engage readers in the way she hoped. Marie explains, “Although this post generated a lot of traffic for us and had an average time on page of 5 minutes and 27 seconds, that wasn’t the top reason we wrote it. We wanted to get people talking about it on social media. And we did.”
Write for Just One Person
Buyer personas can help content marketers understand who they’re writing for. But Janessa Lantz, Head of Marketing at Fishtown Analytics (the makers of dbt), takes it one step further. She recommends writing for just one person.
“Personas are important for designing your content strategy, but when you’re writing a single piece, you need more specificity,” she explains. “Thinking about the individual you can’t wait to send the piece to when it’s live helps make a million little trade-offs that come up during the work: do I need to define this term? should I go deeper on this point? should I explain these three caveats?”Thinking about the individual you can't wait to send the piece to when it's live helps make a million little trade-offs that come up during the work @janessalantz Click To Tweet
Take, for example, this article, How to Write for Medium, which Janessa posted nearly three years ago when she was managing HubSpot’s Medium publication.
Her approach to the article matches the channel, Medium. In fact, she wrote it specifically for the writers on her team who were all writing for Medium. But she knew it would strike a chord with a larger audience. “I had about 10 pitches in my queue and the same set of feedback for all the writers, so I knew it was time to get this piece into the world and I wrote it for them.” She tells us the piece continues to get around 100 views per day, and now has over 30,000 views total.
Once you’ve got a solid foundation, make sure your introduction is as strong as it can be.
Tip 5: Get Right to the Point in Your Intro
Writing a strong headline is the first hurdle you must overcome. Then, you need to seduce them with your opening — the introduction.
We spoke with Jan-Erik Asplund, author of an article that took Hacker News by storm recently about a technique for writing powerful introductions: BLUF, or bottom line up front. His advice: “Don’t bury the meat of a post somewhere in the middle—put it at the beginning. Your intro is the only part of your article that most people will read. Give away the best parts early, and your chances of keeping people reading increase exponentially.”
As an editor at content marketing agency Animalz, Jan sees a lot of content come across his desk. In fact, this particular piece started out as an internal memo, he said.Your intro is the only part of your article that most people will read. Give away the best parts early, and your chances of keeping people reading increase exponentially @janerikasplund Click To Tweet
To be clear, BLUF is not the only way to frame a successful introduction. But it’s an approach that today’s time-strapped audiences are often thankful for. Showing the value upfront helps to create shareable content by immediately giving the audience confidence to share it with their networks. In its first two weeks on the Animalz blog, Jan’s article had already racked up 26,000 views, many of which came from the post being shared on Hacker News and Twitter.
First Master These Content Writing Tips — Then Revisit SEO
Even starting out with one or two of these content writing tips — deep expertise, a unique angle and narrative, human connection, and a strong intro — can make a difference in your material. Together they spell a formula that, when mastered, can energize your content marketing. You’ll know you’re there when you see your audience react with more shares, mentions, and links.
Then, revisit content writing tips for SEO. And this time, as your content reaches people, it will be more likely to get a reaction.
You can use Alexa’s powerful suite of tools to find content marketing ideas, research competitors’ content, and improve your SEO efforts. Try Alexa’s Advanced Plan for free today!