In the beginning itself I would like to say that content writing is not taught in schools, at least not in normal, conventional schools. What I’m writing here is about “writing” and not necessarily about content writing. But, since content writing is mostly writing, they can be interchanged without losing the meaning.
I was just out of college and my first article was just published in a local newspaper. It was a humorous piece on how I kept falling at very odd times.
My early schooling was done in a special school for children with disabilities (I have cerebral palsy) and due to the emotional and social connections that I had made over there with other students and teachers, I regularly visited my school even when I had started my business after completing my college.
When I bumped into my old English class teacher, she exclaimed, “Hey Amrit! This is not the English I taught you. Where did you learn to write like this?”
There was a look of pride in her eyes. One of her students was writing for a newspaper.
Ever since then I have come across expressions such as, people saying that the stuff they are writing, they never learnt in school.
Though, this can be applied to any field. Unless it is a professional course, the schooling never teaches you things that can actually make you money. Can you mention something that you learned in school and now it helps you make money? I guess not.
So, what is there in content writing that you never learned in school. I can think of 7 things. I explain below.
1. Avoid using difficult words when writing content
It is difficult to define difficult words. It depends on what is the state of your vocabulary.
For example, a word that is difficult for you may not be difficult for me. Maybe the word you have never used I come across it daily. That’s a different issue.
In school they always liked it when I used words that are not used in day-to-day language.
I remember whenever I used a new word that nobody else in the class knew, my teacher, knowing quite well that it was a new word I had used, would draw a smiley nearby. I felt more encouraged.
In real-world, difficult words, or the words that are not used frequently, put people off. Using difficult words can be counter-productive when you are writing commercial content.
The purpose of commercial content is to make people understand what you are writing as clearly as possible. They shouldn’t have to refer to a dictionary to understand your copy or the content you have written.
Though, I don’t completely agree, it is recommended that you should write for grade 6 kids when writing content for business websites.
2. Come to the point as fast as possible
In school you are encouraged to go on and on about a subject.
Something that you can express in one sentence, they expect you to express in 10 sentences. If you can express something in 10 sentences that you could have expressed in a single sentence, you attract praises, and your grades improve.
This is not good when you are writing content for websites and blogs. Although you are advised to publish very long blog posts and web pages, this length is regarding the content and the coverage of the topic, and not about prevaricating on the main message.
When people read web content, they are in a hurry. Yes, even if they are luxuriously lying on a couch, they are in a hurry. They may not be running around doing their chores, it’s just that there is so much content on the Internet that they want to browse through as much as possible.
Hence, by the time you come to your main point, they may already leave your web page or blog post and the entire purpose of writing that web page or blog post is wasted.
This is more important when you are writing sales copy or website content for business websites. Yes, to entice people to read further, you don’t show all your cards but as far as your message goes, come to the main point as fast as possible.
This is good for people, and this is also good for search engine crawlers.
3. Write search engine friendly content
Search engines were unheard of when I was in school. The only engines we knew of were the rail engines, and that too, steam engines.
Even if you belong to generation Z, it is highly unlikely that your schoolteacher taught you how to write essays and reports so that they rank well on Google.
As a content writer you need to write content that is search engine friendly. Your content is supposed to help your clients improve your search engine rankings and get them targeted traffic.
Writing search engine friendly content isn’t a separate form of writing. It is just that you need to be able to write in the language people use when they use search engines.
You need to be able to strategically use the keywords without overly using them or without seeming as if you are trying to “optimize”.
Most importantly, you need to write relevant content in a friendly language that is easily readable on all devices.
Every word you use, every sentence form, must make it easier for search engine crawlers to make sense of what you are saying.
4. Write short sentences and shorter paragraphs
Shorter sentences and paragraphs are not just easier to read, they are also easier to interpret by search engine algorithms.
Though, I have seen that on many blogs and web pages, people get carried away with the concept of writing shorter paragraphs, but however much possible, use simple sentences. Express one thought in one sentence, and just a couple of thoughts in a paragraph.
In school you were taught totally the opposite, although, this might not be the case with all the teachers. In school you were taught to write complicated sentences. Therefore, there is a concept of compound and complex sentences in which, multiple thoughts or multiple inferences are included in a single sentence with lots of conjunctions.
A complicated sentence may have lots of “ands”, “ors”, “buts”, and other types of conjunctions. I’m not saying avoid them altogether, but use them only when they are unavoidable.
5. Write to convince, not to impress
In school, you are supposed to impress your teacher with your writing. When you are writing content for your website or blog, you need to convince the readers into taking an action.
When people come to your website or blog, they don’t come to be impressed or to be blown away by your writing prowess. For that they would rather read the New Yorker or a novel by their favorite author.
They are reading the web page or the blog post to get informed, to get educated, and to get convinced. Yes, they are looking for you to convince them into acting.
How do you do that? There are many emotional triggers that you can use. You can use a sense of urgency. You can use the fear of missing out. You can cater to the lazy or greedy sides.
The moot point is, when you are writing professional content, you need to sell. Hence, avoid words and expressions that may confuse people or prevent them from understanding the advantages of buying that product or service.
6. When writing professional content, you need to fight for people’s attention
Isn’t it totally the opposite of your schoolteacher who may had been chasing you around to submit your assignments?
People hardly care about you on the Internet unless you are an influencer, or a celebrity, and people read you just to get associated with you. You need to fight for people’s attention.
How do you get their attention? By using attention-grabbing headlines. By making sure that every sentence they read encourages them to read the next sentence and every paragraph they read, encourages them to read the next paragraph.
You want people to open your email marketing campaign? You must come up with a compelling subject line. Most of the email messages are lost because the subject lines fail to inspire them.
Hence, when you are writing content as a professional content writer, you are not just writing, you are writing in a manner that people are drawn to your writing, and they are captivated by its style and content.
Also, as explained above, people are always in a hurry when they are reading your web page or blog post. They are either in the middle of something – watching a Nyan cat rip off – or hundreds of notifications are distracting them away from you. If despite all these distractions and stimulation if you are able to hook them to your writing, you are a talented content writer.
7. Write in a conversational style
When you are writing content, you are talking to people. When they read your web page or blog post, they must get a feeling that someone is talking to them.
In schools, this is often discouraged. Your writing must sound pedantic. It must sound “scholarly”. It must contain long-winded jargon, phrases, and expressions that are difficult to pronounce if you need to read them aloud. People don’t hold conversations in such language, and those who do, are often ridiculed.
You must be easily able to read aloud web pages and blog posts.
The best way to find out whether your content writing is easy to read is to read it aloud and see if you can read it smoothly or you need to halt repeatedly. If you need to halt repeatedly, rewrite it.
Over the years, I have learned to adapt my writing according to different industry needs. I can write conversational, market-side language, and I can also write pedantic language.
As I have often written on my blog, more than a content writer, I am a writer, and most of my clients appreciate this.
It doesn’t mean I always do my own thing and don’t care about the concerns that my clients have. Their websites need to convert. They need to improve their search engine rankings. I deliver on both the fronts.
Other than that, whether it is web content or scholarly content, I think as a writer, you should write in your own style. Yes, cater to the conventions as per required by the institution for which you are writing (web or otherwise), but ultimately, once you have mastered the art, stick to doing your own thing.