Basics of content writing – The beginner’s guide

Writing content, and writing content that works are two different things.

This is the first thing you need to keep deep in your mind if you are looking to make a career in the field of content writing. The Internet is a mysterious place where things change faster than you can imagine. How people consume content has changed drastically over the years and so the algorithms of search engines and social media platforms.

To be honest, there are no blueprints, there can not be. Everyone writes with a different objective, different viewpoints and for a different audience. Yet, there are a set of rules, which, if followed can make sure that your ‘content’ is indeed the ‘content that works’.

Here’s a step-by-step guide that can bring out the best of your content writing skills.

Understanding the type of content

What is it? A blog post, a news article, a tutorial or a web content?

Unless you understand the type of content that you are going to pen down, you won’t be able to structure it (the second step). When a reader lands on your content, he has a certain idea of what he is going to read. A user coming from a search engine or social media already gets to read the title, and that creates a presumption of what’s ahead. That presumption is needed to be honoured in order to deliver a flawless user experience.

For example, If I click on a news piece of certain product launch, I am expecting a short article with three major information – How did the launch happen?,  features of the product, and some expert’s overview of the product.

Similarly, for an analytical article (e.g. Should you buy the Xyz product?), I expect an introduction, followed by the expert’s analysis of the product and a conclusive paragraph at the end.

If I don’t see what I had expected, I will very quickly click the cross button and leave your website, disappointed.

Structuring the content

Many experts will tell you first to gather information and then structure the content. It was true until the advent of social media, but now, it should be the other way around. A user coming from a search engine is looking for more details on the information he searched for, whereas, a user coming from social media is looking for some interesting content related to the catchy title he clicked on his timeline to visit your page. In the first case (search engine traffic), you need to gather a lot of information, while in the second case (social traffic), less but interesting information is required.

When you are writing an article with a focus to get search engine traffic, there’s a lot of things you need keep in mind. Here are the few most important ones:

User friendliness: Ever thought how many (short or long) articles you read on the web per day? Or to be more precise, do you read all of those articles, or just skim them?

No matter how interesting your content is, the longer it is, the more chances it has of putting off the reader midway. The only way to avoid this is to make your content skimmable. You can do it by formatting the article properly. Use heading, subheadings (H1, H2, H3 and so on), bold highlights, bulleted list, images etc.

Sequence: An article should always start with an introduction, It creates a pitch for what’s ahead in the article and why it’s important for the readers to read them.

Once the introduction part is over, you need to provide the relevant information, divided into headings and subheadings in a proper sequence.

A sequence is an order in which the information is being provided.

For example, if you are writing a web content about Malaysia Tourism, Would you start talking about the cuisine just after the introduction? No, right?

You would talk about the destinations first, places to visit, activities to do, hotels to stay etc.

Most relevant information should come first. If you are confused about the sequence, put yourself in shoes of the reader and think what sequence would you have expected.

A proper sequence is very much important to maintain the flow of the article (More on it ahead).

Search engine optimisation: How can you forget it when you are writing an article specifically for the search engine traffic?

Search Engine Optimisation is an exhaustive topic, which deserves a separate article (in fact, a set of articles) altogether. However, in short, there’s one thing that always works i.e. well written, informative articles with long tail keywords.

Relevant long tail keywords, preferably with high search volume and low competition, can be found using the keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner etc. Shortlisted keywords should be integrated naturally into the article.

Besides, user-friendliness (already discussed above) is also a key ingredient of the search engine optimisation of an article. Search engines love what users love.

For articles more inclined towards social traffic, user friendliness is the most important aspect.

Unlike the user coming from a search engine, the user coming from a social media platform is not searching for an information, and hence, is very unlikely of putting any stress on the brain in order to grasp the information. The communication of information in such articles should be easy, which can be done by using more images and videos than text.

A well written social article should entice the mood of the reader in order to be shared. Articles which create humour or anger are shared the most.

Gathering the information

When you have finalised the structure (format, sequence, and keywords), it’s time to gather the required information.

If, for example, it’s going to be a news article, you need to know when it happened, what has happened, previous events related to it and how it’s going to make an impact on a certain thing.

For a tutorial article, you first need to know what you are going to teach others. Your article should cover all the aspects of the subject your tutorial is focussed on.

Similarly, if it’s a web-content, say Malaysia Tourism, you need to collect enough information to cover all the aspects, and how your website, or product will help.

Putting it all together

So when you have both the structure and information finalised, what’s left? putting them together.

This is where your creativity comes into the picture. How efficiently you can put the pieces together makes all the difference. Again, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

Crispiness: Avoid writing crap, write only what’s needed. If the information can be communicated in just a few lines, what’s the point of writing long and long paragraphs on it? It will not add any value but will compromise with the user-friendliness of the article, putting the reader off midway.

Flow: If you are reading this, congrats, you have read more than a thousand words. Did you realise it? If no, thank the flow.

A flawless flow plays a big role in making or breaking the overall user experience. Sequence (discussed above) plays a big role here. If a user needs to scroll up and down frequently to make sense out of the information, it results in a bad experience.

Subsequently, how you structure sentences also makes a difference. Avoid overusing too short or too long sentences.

Choices of words are all also important. You might be craving to show off your strong vocabulary, but imagine user reaching out to the dictionary for understanding every damn sentence, not good, right?

Summing up

As I said earlier, there are no blueprints, but sticking to the basics will make a lot of difference.

When you have put all the pieces together, don’t jump to publish, or deliver the article. Take a break, come back and read it again. Check it for grammatical errors, check it for plagiarism, make necessary edits, and here you have, an excellent piece of content.

Now since you have learnt the basics of content writing, move on to read how to write powerful headlines.

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