How to Create Great Content
Your content is terrible.
No, that line is not something inserted by a hacker, I wrote that. To be fair, it might not apply to some of you (can't say I know everybody who is reading this post), but I'm sure some of you might have thought to yourself "I know". Others, and these are the ones who are likely the best writers, immediately identified that first sentence as an easy, somewhat hackneyed attempt to grab attention and this sentence you're reading now an obvious attempt to hold that attention, mixed with some self-deprecation to not appear arrogant. Regardless of how you interpreted the first line, you are not here to be analyzed: you want to know how to write great content. That content may be for a website, a case-study, a guest post, or any number of other purposes. Hopefully, the following points will help you understand how great content is created.
Note that writing goes beyond a simple list of ingredients, and if that is all you want I can refer you to a number of other websites. This post will explore how the creative process works and how certain people can transform a blank page into written gold. Anybody can throw text on a page and call it content; it takes talent and hard work to create something people want to read.
To understand writing, you must first acquaint yourself with the writer's greatest foe. This foe has stalked wordsmiths for centuries, living only to hear their cries of anguish and the lamentations of their women. That foe is the blank page. After assaulting humanity's best authors for centuries, it partnered up with an abomination born of the digital age – the blinking cursor. Writers will often stare at a blank screen for hours trying to figure out what to write before finally breaking through.
Inspiration is the only defense against a blank page, but inspiration does not come when it is wanted or even needed. It seems to come by its own will, often when you stop seeking it out. However, inspiration is how a writer, even a copywriter, can craft something great. That is the first step to writing: accepting that until you are inspired, you are not going to churn out something great. If you are talented, you might be able to write something GOOD, but you need inspiration to do better.
However, if you are writing content then you have a deadline, you are part of a business and businesses want results and will not wait around for inspiration to deign grace you with her presence. Fortunately, there are ways to bait inspiration. A great infographic by CopyBlogger highlights some great ways to gain that inspiration. Once you grasp it, set all else aside and work. Inspiration is fleeting, and it is far easier to edit than it is to create.
Inject Your Personality…
…or your company's personality. While proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation are all important, great content would give clues as to the writer's personality. Much of what was written previously was based on my personality, so you know a little bit about me, the writer. The fact that I am comfortable with projecting such an image also speaks to who our company is: we work hard, we strive to be informative, but we still have a little fun.
One good practice for injecting personality into your writing is to write how you talk for your first draft. You can make it look clean and professional after your first draft is written (and let's be honest – you are not going to be using the first copy you create, more on that later). Using colloquialisms and limited slang is a fantastic way to show personality in your work. Don't imagine this as just words you are throwing out there, imagine you are writing this for somebody else: because that is exactly what you are doing.
Even if the content is being written for SEO purposes, on your first copy the best advice I can offer is to ignore the search engines. On that first draft forget Google, Bing, and Yahoo even exist and just assume you are writing the content for another person – because you are. Sure, lots of content created on a web page is done for the benefit of a search algorithm, but somebody is going to take the time to read that content, and you want them to understand what kind of company they are dealing with.
Speaking of people reading your content…
Know Your Audience
Every reader is different, and when considering the personality you project you need to make sure the readers you are targeting like whoever wrote the content and like what is being said. Note that algorithms are not an audience: while it is important to make sure they are considered for SEO purposes, you should never write content for the search engine at the expense of the end user. When writing, have a clear image of the kind of person who will be reading it in mind. For example, I'm guessing that you (the reader) own or manage a website, and you know the content you're writing for the site itself or the content you are marketing elsewhere could be far better than it is. You are wondering how to make it better, and are reading this article because you plan to write it yourself, or you are trying to figure out how to help your writing staff do better...