19 acclaimed journalists, leading bloggers and influential executives reveal their best content writing tips.
Writers want to create content that adds value, influences decision-making and breaks the mold—maybe even going viral.
In the world of content writing, perhaps there isn't just one right answer.
If it were as easy as that—well, there wouldn't be a whole lot of originality in the world of writing, would there?
We got as close as possible to discovering that "secret sauce."
We reached out to a hand-picked group of prominent journalists, ultra-successful bloggers and influential executives with the following question:
The answers we received were better than we could have possibly imagined (and we had high expectations!).
Every response is listed below, along with the amazing expert who provided it.
"When I started my career as a rookie newspaper reporter, I wanted to know: How do I write like these pros in the New York Times and the New Yorker? Then I realized that the answers were right in my hands. Writing may seem like magic, but it's not. It's structure and form and pattern. I started reading with an eye towards understanding, always thinking critically about how a writer had pulled off a particularly great lead, transition, description, and so on. When you read like this—when you pause every time you're impressed, go back and read it over and over, and think about why what you're reading is so compelling—you begin to understand. And once you understand, you can try to replicate. So, my advice for becoming a better writer: Read the best versions of the thing you're trying to do, and read it closely. Then read it again. Then write."
"My #1 most actionable content marketing tip is to use the APP Formula. What is it? It's a blog post introduction formula strategically designed to hook readers right away. You see, most content intros are LONG and BORING. And I've found that if you lose someone in your intro, you lose them for good. Enter: The APP formula. The APP Formula stands for: Agree - Promise - Preview. Here's how it works: First, you kick off your intro with something your readers can agree with. For example: "Isn't it insanely hard to keep your blog's from hitting their back button?". Then, it's time for the promise. Here's where you show your reader that you can solve their problem. For example: "There's good news: The APP Formula can help solve this thorny issue. In fact, the APP Formula reduced my bounce rate by 11%." Finally, Preview your content. Here's where you let your readers know what's in store for them. Is it a case study? An ultimate guide? A list post? Let them know here. For example: "And in this post you'll get access to a step-by-step case study that shows you exactly how I did it."
"Just write when you feel like you have something to say. And write a lot so you can practice."
"My most actionable content writing tip is to have a clear sense of who you are writing for. Who is your intended audience? What are their needs and how can you help? And where possible, be personable. Share something about yourself to connect."
"My most actionable content writing tip is this: look for inspiration everywhere you go, not just at your desk. John Lennon once said in a song, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I think the same thing is true with content. It happens while I'm busy living life, not when I sit down to write a Forbes post. By the time I sit down to write, I’ve already written the post (pretty much) in my head. Train yourself to always be aware of your world through your content filter (mine is my Forbes beat). You’d be amazed at how content ideas will find you... out there."
"98% of the content you produce are donkeys and go nowhere. If that's the case, the universe is basically telling you that your content is boring. The biggest mistake content marketers do is doubling down on their donkeys. Promoting and re-purposing their donkey-content hoping that perhaps it might do better if given a second or third chance. This never works. Instead find your unicorns. Your top 1-2% of top performing content ideas and make unicorn babies, such as follow-up stories, contributed articles on the same topic, email blast or social ads promoting that unicorn content, or re-purposing it into video or infographic format, etc. The key to success at content marketing in 2018 and beyond involves extracting more value from your unicorns and saving time & resources by killing your donkeys."
"I believe that good work is created in the process of throwing everything else away. When you generate a big pile of ideas then discard what you don't like, more often than not you're left with something interesting. At ClickHole, we read hundreds and hundreds of headlines each week, but we only run a handful of jokes. That process is key to the quality of the site. If I think it's always worthwhile to brainstorm every take or angle for what you are trying to create, then trust your taste and point of view to leave you with something good."
"Simplicity is key. Communicate your expertise with purposeful language."
"Focus on storytelling with a story arc and emotion. People don't remember facts, they remember feelings. Approach topics in a way that will move people and organizations to take an action, even if it's just to think about something in a different way. Don't let any words go to waste. Develop a Customer Advisory Board to review and frame your content marketing strategy."
"Obviously headline does matter - I read all day so I don’t generally know what will make it to my daily post the next day. Passion for the subject and building an audience is key. I don’t worry about day to day traffic."
"If you want to evoke an emotional response - and let's face it, that's why we create content - get yourself in the emotional state you want to produce. If you want the reader to feel inspired, read something inspirational before you write. If you want the reader to get angry, get angry before you write."
"1. Go for in-depth topic coverage. HubSpot's 2017 analysis of the top ranking pages shows the sweet spot for word count is around 2500 words. Write deeply, comprehensively and with expertise. 2. Find and fill your content gaps. We provide a service called a Content Gap Analysis where we crawl a site and than analyze and identify the themes covered in great depth and the themes that are thin on content. We then develop an SEO strategy around building content depth in all important site themes."
"When it comes to content creation, the most actionable thing you can do is to show up at the page consistently. - To the best of my knowledge there’s no writing fairy godmother that will magically appear on command when you need quality output. (But if you do happen to find her, please send her my way!) Waiting until the last minute rarely yields optimal results (although it may be necessary on occasion.) - Instead, I recommend the following 5 steps to building your writing muscles: 1. Think like a writer, 2. Create writing rituals, 3. Write morning papers, 4. Schedule time to write regularly, 5. Read, read, read including books and novels"
"1. If you don’t have actual experience or research that leads to a new perspective, it’s not content. It’s just another opinion. 2. If you don’t have a unique point of view, don’t write it. 3. Try to be provocative without being sensational or hyperbolic. 4. Challenge your audience to look at things differently than the status quo."
"Use Quora and Reddit to find topics that people are asking questions about, and then provide more in-depth answers than the ones that exist already. Both of these platforms have highly engaged users, and can be a wealth of great ideas to write about. The best part is, you get context to the topic that keyword research tools could never provide. Once you’ve got some good topics, use a tool like ahrefs to explore the keywords those pages rank for. From there you’ll have top notch subject matter and some of the best volume keywords to focus on."
"Talk to your readers. And I don’t mean 'interview them.' You can’t just ask people, 'What do you want to read about?' Just talk with them, like a human being. They’ll tell you about their challenges and what they need to fix those issues naturally. As a bonus, you’ll become more of a human being in their eyes too"
"No B.S., no slop. Good writing is straight-up communication foremost and first; it's art as a distant second-place. To communicate, you must be relevant, honest, urgent, and unabashedly to-the-point. Give full and immediate context; help your audience grasp and understand. Work to educate/inform and to inspire. Bonus? Offer a newsy/timely angle and never-heard-before information that a reader can't help but like and share."
We would like to thank every contributor to this post for their wonderful insight.
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