Content Writing – A Comprehensive Guide
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For nearly two decades, internet advertising has been the hottest trend in marketing. Not only can the internet deliver information to your customers, it can gather useful data that can help you adjust to the needs of your customer-base as you improve the products and services that you offer. But internet advertising has been in a state of constant evolution as search engines and social media platforms began taking over the lion’s share of cyberspace and changing the way that we all use the web. And with so many changes, nowhere has the need for adaptation been more apparent than in content writing.
What is Online Content Writing and Why is it Important?
The simplest way to define content writing is that it refers to the words that go on webpages. Anytime you read an article, a review, a blog post, or a social media comment, you’re reading a form of writing content. While the internet couldn’t exist without code, it would have no reason to exist without content. In addition, keeping the internet fresh and interesting, content provides another very important purpose: it allows search engines to find the information on webpages that their users want. With this in mind, another content writing definition could be “the things that search engines read.” But in order to really understand how important online content writing is, you will need to learn how search engines work.
Search Engines and Content in Writing
Without search engines, you’d have to have the exact address of any site you visited. If you really search your memory, you may have entered an entire website’s address into a search bar at the top of your browser at one time or another, but it’s probably also been a while. Now you can just put a few words into Google or Bing, and the site your looking for comes up before you’re even finished typing. If it’s for a general search you might put in a phrase like “web content writing,” but if you’re looking for a specific web content agency that you’ve heard about, you’ll type in at least part of their name. What you don’t need is the full domain name (the www._______.com address).
Search Engines and Writing Content
But how do search engines know how to find websites that match your search terms and then prioritize those pages according to the ones most likely to fit your needs? Here is a very basic overview of how a search engine works and how content area writing helps them find the right pages for you:
- You enter a term in the search bar.
- The search engine reviews most of the internet with small bits of code called “web crawlers.”
- These web crawlers frisk each site, and any sites that are linked to the pages that they find.
- When the crawlers find words that either match or are closely related to the search term, the page is slated for listing.
- Once the crawlers have identified pages that are likely to have the information that you need, the search engine prioritizes them based on how closely they match the search term and displays them on the search engine results page (SERP).
This all occurs in a fraction of a second.
Content Writing Online and Keywords
Part of what the web crawlers do is a simple matching game. They want to find any important word that matches what a user has entered in their search query. The more specific the search query is, the fewer matches that the crawlers will find. Keywords are the important words in the search query. For example, if you were to enter “The Sun Also Rises” (but without quotation marks) into Google, the crawlers would first look for perfect matches to that phrase, but then it would also search for what it would deem as the important words or keywords: “sun” and “rises.” In this example, you’ll get dozens of pages about Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises before you ever got to something that’s unrelated to that book, like articles about the sun rising, other books that mention the sun or rising, “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, et cetera. In creative content writing, authors attempt to predict the terms that a member of a specific target audience might enter to find the information that they’re looking for. To continue with our example, if a content writer wanted to target an audience who would be interested in this particular Hemingway classic, in addition to listing the author and the title, they might produce a description of the book using keywords like “Spain,” “bullfighting,” and “Jake Barnes,” so that if someone couldn’t remember the title and entered “book with Jake Barnes watching bullfighting in Spain,” they’d still find the page about The Sun Also Rises.
Search Engine Optimization and Content Writing
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an online marketing concept that heavily relies on writing content objectives and principles. The goal of SEO is to make websites climb in specific search results. By using sophisticated content writing software, writers can determine which words would appeal to someone who’s searching for the information that their site offers. SEO requires a focused approach. It’s not enough to make a webpage show up in internet searches. If that was the only objective, a content producer could just find out what the most popular Google searches are in a given week and post them on their clients’ sites. And while that might grab the attention of some of the people in your target audience, you would probably not get all of them. Additionally, you’d have a lot of users coming to your site who have no interest in what you have to offer, which would also be undesirable. In order for content writing to be effective for search engine optimization, it must be:
- Clear in meaning – This reduces the occurrence of frustrated readers bouncing away from your page.
- Well organized – Users will stay on your page if they can find what they’re looking for and it’s easier for search engines to locate important keywords if the order is logical.
- Rich in keywords – This makes it easier for both search engines and potential customers to locate your business’s site and your information.
- Fresh – Google and Bing algorithms give preference to sites with updated and new pages.
- Valuable – The readers must find value in your pages or else they won’t stay on them. This will make it less likely that users will become customers and will increase your bounce rate, which will lower your search engine rankings.
Are Domain Names Still Important?
Most companies spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find the perfect domain name that hasn’t been taken by a competitor or a registry site. You may have experienced this when you selected your domain name and found that all of your good ideas had already been registered. SEO doesn’t depend on your site having the ideal domain name. In fact, your rankings are improved more by visitors finding your through search engines than if they go directly to your site. You should still find a good domain name that reflects your business or your product, but good content writing can overcome even the most awkward domain names.
Copywriting vs. Content Writing
As the “content” definition in writing becomes more focused and clearly defined in the universe of internet advertising, the term “copywriting” is losing its cachet. Copywriting attempts to sell a product or service to a reader. Copywriting may be very effective in some advertising mediums, but sales copy tends to be deprioritized by modern search engine algorithms and often pushes readers away as it distracts from the information that they’re seeking. Content writing, on the other hand, focuses more on the user’s experience. It provides information that the visitor wants and also attempts to inform them about the product you’re offering.
Tips for Content Writing
Because the algorithms that search engines like Google and Bing use to help you find information on the web are proprietary, they don’t share the exact methods that they use to separate good content writing from bad content writing. Experience and research, however, have given us enough information to establish a list of content writing tips. Here are a few of the methods that professional content writing agencies use to assist their SEO customers:
- Use clear, plain, and effective content wording – If your content is confusing, users will leave you page, increasing your bounce rate—the percentage of users who only view a single page on your site.
- Keep your information fresh – Customers and search engines can both tell when your content hasn’t been updated in a while. One way to ensure that you have a fresh supply of constant content is to maintain and update a blog.
- Use headers, footers, bulleted lists, and paragraph breaks – Search engines give priority to the words that you use in your headers and subheaders. By labeling your paragraphs, you let both the search engine and the user know what the content in that section is about. Breaks in text also make your content more readable to your site’s visitors as they scan the page for the information that they’re looking for.
- Keep your page organized – The easier it is to navigate your site, the longer visitors will remain on it. If you make it difficult to find information, your visitor will leave and try another website—maybe one belonging to a competitor.
- Use whitespace – cramming a bunch of material onto each page may seem like an effective use of the space you have available, but it’s unpleasant from a reader’s standpoint. Use appropriately sized margins and line spacing to make your page appear neat, well-organized, and readable.
- Use keywords appropriately – Content writing companies utilize search engine software and other resources to identify keywords, which they incorporate into the web content that they produce.
- Write for the user, not the search engine – The internet is full of poor-performing webpages with bad content writing examples from writers who were trying to trick search engines into favoring their pages. One favorite technique of inexperienced content writers is keyword stuffing: using a keyword or key phrase repeatedly and unnecessarily in your web content.
Things to Avoid in Content Writing
Just as there are recommended content writing practices, there are a number of things that you or your content writer should avoid. As a general rule, anything that causes a potential customer to leave your page without finding the information that they’re looking for is something that you should stay away from, but there are other practices that can get your page suspended or banned from search engines, like Google or Bing. Black hat techniques aren’t illegal, but as far as search engines are concerned, they should be. These techniques aim to trick search engines to send visitors to your page, even though your site may not be useful to them. Here are a few examples of shady content writing techniques:
- Cloaking – One page is created for users and one for the search engines. The search engine page attempts to direct users to the content page. It serves to circumvent the actual content writing, which is what the search engines are supposed to be viewing.
- Plagiarism – This isn’t exclusively a black-hat tactic, but content plagiarism can be used to mimic another site’s success. It’s highly unethical and often legally actionable.
- Hidden Text – By using a white font on a white background or reducing a font to a zero size, the text is invisible. This allows an unscrupulous content writer to include as many keywords as they desire on a website—until they’re caught.
- Keyword Stuffing – This is the practice of reiterating keywords throughout the content. A content writing sample of this technique might look something like this:
“When the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, went to Ford’s Theater, Abraham Lincoln took a seat in the box next to Mrs. Abraham Lincoln and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln’s guests.” Keyword stuffing is usually as obvious as it is annoying. Like all of these techniques, it’s counterproductive and should be avoided at all costs.
Content Writing Agencies and Jobs
If you have a strong grasp of the English language and you’re receptive to training, there is an enormous demand for web content and internet content writers. Some of the advantages to content writing jobs are:
- You can usually set your own hours.
- Most content writers telecommute, so you can work from home, coffee shops, or while you’re traveling.
- You are able to research and write about the topics that you find interesting.
- As you gain proficiency, you can increase your productivity and your pay.
With training and experience, you can produce a constant content flow to meet the growing demand from your clients. One note of caution: there are companies that have reputations for pushing their writers to pump out enormous volumes of content writing for little pay. If you work for one of these content writing mills, you will develop poor habits and probably burn out. Build a portfolio of content writing samples, and shop agencies that expect a reasonable volume at a fair wage.
Professional Content Writing Service for Internet Marketing
Most businesses don’t have the time or resources to produce effective content and monitor its performance. A professional SEO and content writing service can review your existing site and make recommendations that will improve your search engine rankings and convert site-visitors into strong leads for your business.
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Article by Kristaps Brencans
I started as a project manager at On The Map Marketing in 2015 and now run the day-to-day operations as the company’s chief executive officer. In the last few years, I have overseen thousands of successful SEO campaigns in numerous industries, including lawyers, contractors, E-commerce, and other markets. I am also a proud dad of three divas and take a keen interest in running and calisthenics.