Most businesses understand that they need to up their content game — that’s why our last post about web content writing tips was one of the most popular we’ve ever written. But just wanting to do better won’t make you a great website content writer, and the differences between strong and weak content marketers can make a significant difference in brand perception, web traffic and conversions.
You don’t want hours of researching and writing content to go to waste. You want ROI. So bookmark this list of content writing tips and keep it handy any time you create content for the web.
Here are Practical Tips for Writing Web Content
1. Always start with keyword research for SEO.
Before you even start to write content, you need to know what you’re writing about — and you can kill two birds with one stone if you combine search engine optimization with your editorial calendar planning. New York Times Bestselling author and top marketer Neil Patel calls keyword research “the most important part of digital marketing” and “how we keep our ears to the ground,” and for good reason.
SEO keyword research tells you what topics Google (and your target audience) finds relevant.
It illuminates your competitors content strategy, and highlights the strengths and weaknesses in your own. And it allows you to optimize individual articles and your content strategy as a whole to bring in more traffic.
The ROI is unbeatable. TCF’s site generates over $400,000 worth of organic traffic each year (as in, we’d have to spend more than $400,000 dollars in AdWords to get the same number of site visits). And all it takes is a little extra research time, and occasional tweaks to update the content and keyword targeting.
2. Keyword stuffing is never okay
Keywords are a means to make your content valuable, readable and search-friendly. But when you start cramming in keywords, it does the exact opposite.
A web page stuffed with keywords looks dubious and untrustworthy — to both Google and human readers. Your conversion rate and SERPs rankings go down, along with your pageviews. Readers start to see it as a low quality page and bounce quickly, and over time search engines slap down your domain.
Search engines are smart these days. You don’t have to work in grammatically incorrect keyword phrase just because searchers use it. You don’t need to work in every conceivable variation of a search term for Google to understand what your page is about.
3. Drive toward powerful calls to action (CTAs)
What do you want readers to do with the content you create? If your only answer is, “Well, read it, I guess,” you need to go back to the drawing board. Before you even start writing, you need to know what your call to action will be, and you need to make it compelling enough that readers can’t help but click. That’s how you connect content writing to marketing goals and prove ROI.
Which calls to action should businesses use in their content?
Here are some examples of calls to action you can incorporate in just about any blog post or landing page:
- Desired user action: download resource. Download our free guide for more expert tips about [topic].
- Desired user action: subscribe to newsletter. Sign up for exclusive resources in your inbox each week.
- Desired user action: get a demo. Schedule a free demo of [software/ app name] to see how many hours you can save each day.
- Desired user action: share content on social media. Know somebody who could use these tips? Share this article and tag your colleague!
- Desired user action: make a purchase. Click here and use offer code “CONTENT” to save 30% on the purchase of [product or service].
When writing calls to action, put yourself in the reader’s shoes: what would it take for a company you’ve never heard of to convince you to do something, even something as simple as sharing the article with a friend? Now, connect it to your goals: how can you craft a CTA and content specific to your company’s marketing and sales KPIs that actually persuades readers to take action?
4. Email vs. e-mail, Internet vs. internet and other style debates
Language always changes, and web writers need to be hip to the trends to appeal to modern audiences. For example, many organizations would never use the singular, gender-neutral “they” as recently as the early 2000s. Now, the only language authorities that make you write out “he or she” are middle school English teachers.
Similarly, “e-mail” was considered the correct term for a long time by major authorities like the AP and The New York Times, but one by one they gave in. The same goes with the lowercase “internet.” There are people that still treat it as a proper noun, but none of them work as editors in The Guardian, The Economist or the BBC.
The bottom line is, whatever your language pet peeves are, your online writing is for your audience, not for you.
Play it safe by following the conventions of the AP or another respected style guide, or creating your own house style guide that adheres to modern usage rules. Be consistent, and be modern.
5. Always hyperlink to your sources
When you reference another website’s content, make sure you hyperlink back to that site. It’s good internet etiquette, and you’d want the same courtesy. Always cite your sources, even if you’re afraid it’ll send your web traffic to another site — and you can always choose the “open link in another window” option if you’re that concerned about keeping your traffic.
Besides being the right thing to do, citations can also help you get backlinks.
Frequently, the sites you link to will see your effort and thank you for it with a reciprocal link or quote
6. Make the reader feel something.
There are a lot of factors that go into viral content. Promotion is a huge factor, and brand identity, timing and plain luck all play a role.
But almost all viral writing shares one thing in common: emotional impact..
7. Keep the action in your content writing
Writing for the web should be powerful, direct and punchy. To do that, your sentence structure, word choice and style need to emphasize action.
For example, let’s take the common writing tip, “don’t use the passive voice.”
The passive voice happens when you switch the subject and object in a sentence. Instead of “the lion attacked the village” you have “the village was attacked by a lion.”
Notice how the second sentence is somehow less exciting (even though it contains a killer lion?) That;s because the active voice emphasizes the action with “the lion attacked.” In the passive voice, the village is the subject. The agent (the lion that performed the action) is only mentioned afterwards using the prepositional phrase “by the lion.” It’s almost an afterthought.
As a web content writer, you should also use unique and exciting verbs to impact the reader. Try swapping out “sales climbed” for “sales rocketed.” Instead of “we cut costs” try “we slashed costs.”
Finally, remember to vary your sentence style.
Try using short simple sentences get attention, then longer more complex ones to flesh out ideas. Use interesting verbs to highlight important actions, then more conventional ones for variety. Even passive voice has a place sometimes — for example, to share background information or highlight whom a particular action affected.
These small changes won’t add to your word count, but they will make your content writing more exciting and engaging.
8. When writing for the web, chop it up.
If you’re writing the next Great American Novel, it’s okay to end paragraphs when pauses seem natural. Writing for the web, however, is a whole different world. Attention spans online are a LOT shorter than they are in Oprah’s Book Club, and your paragraphs need to reflect that.
Put simply: keep it short! A five-line paragraph is great, but a three-line paragraph is even better. Content kings like Derek Halpern even let single sentences fly solo.
Don’t worry if an idea doesn’t seem to be fully “complete” before hitting that enter key. Err on the side of short paragraphs and chop it up!
9. Update your links
Most website content writers know the importance of internal links. Linking to other pages on your site boosts SEO, gives readers useful info, and increases page views and time on site. However, it’s not enough.
You need to revisit older posts and pages to update them with new links. This boosts your search results, makes your pages more useful and relevant to users and helps your content stays fresh.
10. Invest in a good SEO suite
You can do SEO keyword analysis with nothing but a Google spreadsheet and some free tools,but there’s a lot of data to crunch. And digging through all the keywords and traffic data makes it easy to get lost in the analytics.
Not all SEO suites solve the problem. Some bombard you with too much data, without providing the tools you need to sort through it and tweak your content strategy. Other SEO tools break everything down into their own proprietary system, without giving you the enough data to draw your own conclusions. And when they get it wrong, you’ll have no way of knowing until your traffic starts to crash.
One SEO tool that gets the balance right is SEMrush — in fact, we’re such fans, we’ve even become an affiliate!
With SEMrush, you’re given a lot of data, but all of that data is easy to understand (and even easier to export, if you need to analyze it in another program).
11. Don’t forget SEO best practices
Repeating your targeted keywords a couple times isn’t enough — you need to use your keyword (and related phrases) anywhere it fits: in the url, H2 headers, meta description and even in the alt tags of your images.
If you’re using WordPress, Yoast can help you nail the SEO.
Once you’re finished inputting your content, expand the Yoast box and check out the Content Analysis portion for some helpful hints about what you should improve before you publish.
Not only does Yoast nail big problems like missing keywords in the meta description, it can also help you zoom in on granular issues like low keyword density to gie your site an extra SEO boost:
12. Give your readers a reason to care from the first sentence
Good intros are hard. It can feel unnatural to skip right to the point. You want to provide some background, warm the reader up and then work your way to the main topic when you feel ready.
But by that point, your reader is long gone.
Your website isn’t literature. Site visitors aren’t there for your nuanced language or slow, measured flow. They’re there to get information or solve a problem (ideally by buying your product or service.)
13. Paint a picture
Give this paragraph a read:
“Is it just us, or do some people talk about gay dating like it’s an elaborate magic trick? Even unexperienced gay or queer persons may approach the idea of dating with the kind of abject fear one feels when opening the instructions for a new piece of IKEA furniture. ‘Am I doing this right?’ they may ask themselves, months, years and even decades into their dating careers.”
That point is this — creating web content writing is a lot different than writing a 7th grade book report.
Your audience isn’t an overworked and underpaid teacher with no choice but to read your reworded Cliffs Notes on Lord of the Flies. Your audience is choosing to read your content (or to head elsewhere on the web). Imagery is a great way to capture their attention.
14. “Do’s and Don’t’s” vs. “Dos and Don’ts” — which is correct?
The latter! Nothing drives us crazier than people putting apostrophes in pluralized words.
When in doubt about spelling, capitalization or grammar, Google it! Which brings us to…
15. If you’re not sure, look it up
There’s never been a better time to learn as you go. Double checking the words/grammar/spelling/etc. you don’t know about can help you catch mistakes and internalize the rules, so you can write correctly without looking it up next time.
If the finer points of grammar elude you, you can always download the Grammarly browser extension to catch issues in real time.
Don’t stop with language mechanics, either. Look up content marketing strategy, read industry blogs, study successful online social media marketing campaigns. The more time you spent thinking and picking up new information, the better you’ll get.
Soon, you’ll be writing your own blog posts about web content writing tips!
16. Dictionary.com is your friend — so visit the site often.
You’d be amazed at how many words people misuse on a regular basis. For instance, peruse probably doesn’t mean what you think it does (in fact, it’s probably the opposite). Never use words unless you’re absolutely certain of their meaning.
Bonus: follow Merriam-Webster on Twitter to level up your vocab and get the linguistic side of news.
Following a dictionary on Twitter might not seem all that exciting, but trust us: it’s a quality follow.
17. Don’t call a banana an elongated yellow fruit
Don’t use a $3 word when a 10 cent word will suffice, unless you’re going for the “most pretentious web content writer” award.
Overuse of meaningless buzzwords is a good way to show that you have an MBA, but a bad way to keep the interest of your readers (and it actually makes you look bad).
At the same time, you’ve got to write for your audience.
Industry terminology is often important for SEO, and in some cases it can make your content clearer and more authoritative for your audience.
So how can you tell when to use jargon? Look at it from your audience’s perspective. If you were the reader, would a certain technical term make your web writing more readable, or less? Would it clarify the article or read as meaningless ornamentation? Would plain language work just as well or better?
18. Revamp posts for maximum value
Good web content gains value over time. Social media accounts share it, blogs link to it, and Google boosts its ranking as the traffic comes in. At the same time, that content also ages. Information goes out of date, the market changes and user interests change.
That means there is no such thing as a “set it and forget it” content strategy (well, not if you’re good at what you do).
To get the most value out of your content, you need to watch how it performs, prioritize the blogs that do well, and revamp them to bring in new visitors.
In addition to constantly analyzing social shares, pingbacks and web traffic, you should monitor your web shares for the keywords it’s currently ranking for.
Often, you’ll get great results with the longer, more informative piece, but a shorter piece of content might surprise you and go viral, and start ranking for keywords you weren’t even targeting!
Revamp your most valuable posts with added content, updated info and a strengthened keyword strategy and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your page climbs in the search engine rankings.
19. Web site vs. website vs. web site
Which one is it? For the love of all things awesome, it’s website (at least, so says the AP Stylebook, which is sort of like a web content writer’s bible). Not Web site, not web site and not any other variation you can think of.
Although “Web site” was once acceptable, it’s sort of like referring to your Blackberry as a “cellular phone” — it makes you look just as out of touch with technology.
20. Keep the reading level low
In general, the easier your article is to read, the better. Sophisticated content doesn’t Do you know the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease score for your piece of content? There are plenty of free tools to help you find it. These tools crawl through your content, analyze your vocabulary level, and rate your readability by grade level.
Unless your topic is extremely niche and technical, you should aim for a middle school reading level or lower.
If your score is too high, it doesn’t mean you need to dumb things down for your readers — it just means you might need to make simpler word choices or cut down your complex sentences. This ensures that visitors of varying education levels can get value from your content, and that readers who may speak English as a second language will understand it too. It also just helps keep your tone clear and relatable which should always be a goal when you’re creating web content.
21. Provide added value
Your content writing should always offer value to the reader in terms of insightful ideas and actionable tips. But if you really want your content to earn repeat traffic and rise in search engine rankings, give your readers a parting gift.
It doesn’t have to cost you anything. It can be a link to a free webinar (like our webinar on earning free media coverage), a Google Drive Template, or even a worksheet. Give your readers a valuable takeaway and they won’t just view your site as a great resource — they’ll refer their friends too!
22. Never self edit your work (at least, not right away)
Ideally, you’ll have somebody to edit your writing. If you’re responsible for writing and editing your web content, don’t do both in the same day. When the writing is still fresh, your mind will automatically make up the gaps in your copy and your editing will be subpar. Instead, put it away and come back to it another day — or at least several hours later.
That’s only if you, for whatever reason, don’t have another person to edit your work. Even with a great spell check, there will be things you miss. Make sure there’s somebody in your organization with great writing and editing chops who can give your work a second set of eyes. Remember that behind every good writer — whether it’s a best-selling author, a Washington Post journalist or a copywriter for a viral marketing campaign — is a great editor.
The quiz takes grammar and style errors that made it to print and challenges readers to identify the errors. It sounds much easier than it actually is. I’ll give you an answer I got right on the first try to show you how nuanced it gets — this is one of the easier questions, a simple dangling modifier issue.
23. Level up your skills with online content writing & SEO training
With enough discipline, solid web content writing skills are within anyone’s reach. Having excellent copy on your website is one of the easiest ways to grab the attention of new visitors (and keep them coming back for more — or better yet, sharing your links).