Whether you begin writing your first piece of content, or next blog post, you need to have a solid foundation to build on. That’s why I strongly believe in the power of preparation.
The better your prep work for the piece of content you are about to write, the more comprehensive, authoritative and accurate your draft would be.
Here are the 9 things you must do, to give your blog post a purpose and make it more likely to achieve that purpose.
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Before you start writing content as part of a content marketing strategy to grow your business, you should have a clear picture of the audience you want to target.
Who do you want to reach? What’s their age and gender? What do they do and what’s a typical day like for them? What are their problems and pain points? What gives them happiness and satisfaction?
The better you know your target audience, the better you’ll be able to serve them. In fact, you need to know them so intimately that when reading your content, they should feel like you’re reading their mind.
This is not something you’ll need to do for each blog post. The idea is to define your target audience once, for all the content you plan in churn out as planned.
A great way to put your finger on the type of people you want to reach is to build audience personas. And then keep them handy for reference.
Here are some great resources on creating personas I found online:
- Buffer’s Complete, Actionable Guide to Marketing Personas
- Content Marketing Institute’s Guide for Creating Personas
- Hubspot’s Free Persona Creator
So when you’re brainstorming content topics that you’ll be writing about, you can always refer to this data and use it as a filter. This will ensure that your content production is aligned with what your audience want to read.
Before you begin writing an article, it’s a good idea to have a clear and specific topic, instead of something general. A concrete benefit promised in the headline, makes people more likely to click and look for a solution to their problem.
For example, look at the topic I chose for this post that you’re reading. Instead of a general topic (like writing content), or being a little specific (like writing a blog post), I went ultra specific and went only with things to take care of before writing a blog post.
A narrow topic not only helps you understand what exactly you need to cover, but also clarifies to the reader what they can expect to learn from the piece.
Content Marketing Strategy
Make sure the topic you chose is aligned with your overall content marketing strategy. If you are going directly to writing without clarifying your objectives and building a plan first, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Don’t wing it with a random topic. A custom made content strategy and calendar will tell you what kind of content you need to create, for whom, on what type of topics, how often and more.
In fact, I never write a standalone post. I always plan a series of blog posts on specific subtopics, centered around a main topic. So before I start writing on a topic, I have a clear idea on where this piece of content.
For example, I wrote this post because it’s part of my plan to write a series of posts which cover the entire content writing and optimizing process from start to finish.
I also plan to write on how to turn a draft into a high quality piece of content, and then how to optimize it for humans and search engines.
My point is, whatever topic you are going to write about, it should be in line with your objectives and relevant to your target audience.
If you care about SEO, then keyword research is a crucial component of your writing prep-work. Based on the topic of your content, pick one main keyword and 2-3 alternative keywords.
There are many keyword research tools, free and paid, which can help you brainstorm and discover keywords to target with your content.
My personal favorite is a premium tool known as KWFinder, for it’s great user experience, affordability and quality of data. But you can also go with a free tool such as UberSuggest or Answer The Public.
Input your main keyword in the tool of your choice and you’ll get hundreds of related keywords, and their associated data. You can also view on many searches happen for a keyword per month (also known as search volume).
If you’re using a premium tool, it will show another useful metric known as difficulty score. This score can give you a good general idea of how easy or difficult it is to rank for a keyword.
Ideally, you want to find and target keywords with high search volume and low difficulty score.
Also keep in mind that by targeting long tail keywords (keywords with 3 or more words), you’ll have a better chance at ranking quickly and easily to top of search engine results. Long-tail keywords are also more likely to turn into qualified leads.
Before you start writing content on a topic, you need to analyze the content available on the internet on similar or related topics. Analyze the search engine results, as well as competitor websites, for the keywords you’re targeting.
This is because you want to see what type of content is already available. You can then analyze things like its format, length, tone, keywords, outline, information covered and any gaps or weaknesses you can improve on.
This data will help inform your own decisions when writing content. You don’t want to write content that’s just a rehash of the same information already available online.
You want to make sure your content is 10X better than competitors. You need to give information and value in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Find your unique angle and ways to make your piece of content stand out. You should be able to add something valuable to the conversation with your intimate knowledge, long experience or extensive research on the topic.
Whether you know your topic intimately, or only have a vague idea, proper research is essential to be able to cover it thoroughly, accurately and authoritatively. That’s how you build trust with your target audience.
Just imagine what could happen if the information you covered is found to be false or fake. Your content is a reflection of your brand. A little sloppiness if not worth putting your reputation on the line.
There are a number of sources you can refer to for more information and data on a topic:
- Use search engines. Consult books and magazines. Take online courses. Read as much as you can about the topic so you can write about it with context and confidence.
- Run your own studies/tests and share performance data with your audience. For example, by using tools like Polldaddy and SurveyMonkey, you can run your own survey to collect useful data. Another option is Twitter polls, which help you get feedback from social media followers of your brand.
- Get industry research from professional organizations, research companies or reputable publications. Find relevant studies from reference websites online. Refer websites like Forrester Research and Statista. There are also brands writing content including their own research studies. Cite them to support your own claims, wherever applicable.
For most of the things you claim in your content, you need to have a credible source: a research study, real data, statistic or an anecdote from your personal experience to back it. Numbers coming from data make your content authoritative and trustworthy.
However, keep in mind that just numbers are not enough. The story behind the numbers is crucial. Data is of no use unless it tells a story.
Once the topic is ready to go, take some time to draft a scope and outline you will follow. Think about the context, the key points that readers should know about the topic, what angles or mistakes most people overlook, and how would you organize it all.
Come up with a structure that makes the most sense, rather than scattering points here and there. This will make your content easy to read and follow.
Having an outline is essential because it helps you stick to the scope and not get carried away while writing. Your headline and structure guides you like a map, letting you know which paths to take and which to ignore.
So you can be sure to get your readers to your intended destination in the best way possible.
All the aspects of design, including colors used in images and typography of your content, should be consistent with your brand assets. The look and feel of your content should match that of the rest of the website.
As humans, we are highly visual and easily notice discrepancies in such areas. If your images are low quality or irrelevant to your topic and brand, it will turn the readers off.
Keep all the elements of your content aligned to your brand’s theme, audience and personality.
A great way to ensure this is to create some image templates with consistent fonts, colors and overall design. Then use them to create new designs when needed. This will not just ensure consistency but also save time.
Similar to design, your brand’s voice should also be consistent throughout. For example, a consulting firm will want to stick to a professional and authoritative voice, while a theme park will want to write things in a fun, casual way.
How do you want your brand to sound? You should be clear on your tone in terms of qualities like casual or professional, fun or serious, conversational or dictatorial etc.
Once there are specific guidelines pertaining to your brand’s voice, all your content should be written according to these standards. MailChimp’s style guide is a great example of describing parameters associated with your brand tone and voice.
Some parameters will depend on the nature of your brand, while others remain true in any case. In most cases, for example, it’s best to have a conversational tone so the reader feels the author is talking with them.
Also, most of the experts agree that active voice is better than passive voice when writing.
There are many different types of articles, blog posts and other web content. From forming and researching your topic to writing your work, the above points will help you get to a solid first draft.
Did I miss anything? Did you try these tips? Do you have any questions or comments? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.