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Web Copywriting From A to Z: How to Write a Post That Shines

3 November 2015 Dmitriy Dementiy
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You may say it’s bad when a cobbler bakes cookies. But let’s take a different angle. Sometimes it’s easier for laser focused tech specialists to write an article by themselves. It just takes too long for a copywriter or journalist to research a topic and craft an expert copy.

Unlike a copywriter, a specialist knows the most important ingredient of a successful copy. Yep, we are talking about expert knowledge. If you’re an expert, you can write a great article even if you’re messing “than” with “then” or don’t know what a comma is. Moreover, you’ll even manage to make it visible and readable. As you may have guessed, it’s a complete guide to writing a web copy. You’ll learn:

Patient, please be patient, I’m writing an article. And then I’ll optimize and code it Patient, please be patient, I’m writing an article. And then I’ll optimize and code it

How to write a good article: a step-by-step guide

An experienced author doesn’t care about best practices. They kill your writing freedom and make a copy formulaic. But best practices may help a programmer or engineer who have very little to no experience in writing. Even if you’ve been writing nothing but comments on Facebook, get creative with our recommendations. Change order, add new steps or ignore ones that you think are unnecessary. This recipe is not a rigid frame but a flexible construction of separate details.

Step 1: Set a goal for your article

A goal is a result you want to achieve. Imagine that you’re taking eggs, bacon, and frying pan and light a stove. The obvious goal here is to cook fried eggs.

To set a goal, ask yourself what you want to write for, and which problem you want to solve. Nope, get visitors, sell 10 products, or earn $10 are not goals. You have to define a predictable result on the back of interactions between a business or site and their audience. What will readers learn after reading your article? For example, the goal of our WordPress guide is to teach users to create site on this CMS by themselves.

No, don’t tell about specifics, scalability, and other achievabilities and realities. Leave them for your business goals – when you have to get 1000 unique visitors to your home page and convert 400 of them by all means. Today, we are speaking about an article’s goal from the point of view of your customers: what the value is, what they will learn or do.

What may serve as a goal for an article? For example, it may convince a reader to boil water or expose the harm of alcohol abuse. You can write an article to compare new Samsung and LG smartphones, review new A/B-testing software, or teach readers how to choose a bicycle. Specify a goal and write it down on paper.

Step 2: Write a headline

A headline must attract users’ attention and sell visits to your site. At the same time, it must describe a sense of an article. In case you’re not Guy Kawasaki or Robert Kiyosaki, your posts will be competing with other content on social media newsfeeds, RSS feeds, and content aggregators. Just look at the screenshot below.

How do users choose what to read? Exactly, they scan headlines

So, what makes a perfect headline? Here are some ideas:

  • It should arouse interest and describe benefits.
  • If possible, include a provocation, joke, or challenge.
  • It should confirm that an article fits users’ information needs.

Step 3: Research information needs of your audience

Use Google Keyword Planner or similar tools to do it. You must know what your prospecting customers are searching for. Pay attention to the screenshot below.

You don’t want to search for keywords. You want to search for content ideas

With keyword research tools, you should understand what customers want to know about a specific topic. Use different versions of search queries. Search valuable insights in related searches. Put content ideas in a spreadsheet or write them on paper.

Pay attention to how users search for information. Do you remember that a good headline must confirm that an article fits users’ information needs? Go back to your headline and change it if necessary.

Step 4: Make a plan of your future article

At the first stage, you have set a goal of an article. Now it’s time to come up with tasks that one must complete to achieve it. This will become your plan.

For example, the goal of the WordPress guide is to teach users to build websites on this CMS by themselves. Write down all stages of site development you’re going to describe. Always be checking information needs that you’ve identified with keyword research tools.

Basically, you have to lead readers through the following stages to teach them WordPress development:

  • WordPress installation
  • Configuration
  • Choosing templates
  • Choosing plugins
  • Publishing content

You can break these tasks into subtasks if necessary. For example, to configure WordPress, users should pay attention to the general setting, create a sitemap, and configure robots.txt. Now you can see that you should describe not only tasks but subtasks to achieve the goal:

  1. WordPress installation
    • Downloading the latest release
    • Uploading files on a server
    • Installing WordPress
  2. Configuring WordPress
    • General settings
    • Sitemap
    • Robots.txt
  3. Choosing a template
    • Where to search for templates
    • Installing a template
  4. Choosing plugins
    • SEO plugins
    • Security plugins
  5. Publishing content
    • Adding new pages
    • Adding new posts

Here’s your plan for the most of an article. All you have to do is to rewrite tasks as H2 and subtasks as H3.

An article consists of an introduction, body, and conclusion. Show it in your plan. An introduction may consist of two components: a hook and summary. A killer hook makes people read an article. A summary exposes a problem and ways to solve it.

A summary in the WordPress guide

Step 5: Do a research

This step requires the most time. You’ll have to go through dozens of sources, analyze and understand data. How to work with information? Check our recommendations:

  • Start with your favorite, trustworthy sources. For example, if you’re writing about all things SEO, go to Moz.com and use a site search.
You’ll find a lot of useful information on your favorite site
  • Use search engines. If you’re new to a topic, start with basics. Use a general query, like “how to create a site on wordpress”. Then go for more accurate ones. For example, “must have seo plugins for a wordpress blog”.
  • Listen to what experts say. Go to industry blogs and forums.
  • Talk to experts if necessary. Ask questions on forums, get extra details in comments, and interview specialists.
  • Research a view of consumers. Blogs, forums, and social media will help you.
  • Save all information you find. Write ideas on paper or use digital notes.

How do you understand that you’ve collected enough information? Well, you can’t. You’ll always be experiencing lack of data, so prepare yourself to search for extra sources. Start writing when you’ll understand that you can tell readers something they don’t know yet.

Step 6: Start writing

Writing is much easier then researching and analyzing information. You’re writing an article, not a new “Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes”, so don’t rush for beautiful words. If you’re giving your readers valuable insights, they will forgive you almost anything: stylistic imperfection, long phrases, and even a few mistakes. However, try to find a chance to hire an editor. If you can’t, then proofread a copy by yourself. Here’s the guide:

  • Use spelling and grammar checkers. If you’re using MS Word, then press F7 after you’ve finished writing. Make sure to check out Grammarly. Don’t believe tools and services blindly – they may make a mistake too.
I agree with “has”, it’s just me being inattentive. But why on Earth would I put “the” there, you stupid robot?
  • Improve your copy with the Hemingway App. Use it only if you have an experience in copywriting. Otherwise, you may get confused by correct and false suggestions.
  • Proofread a copy by yourself at least twice before publishing it. At the first time, search for typos and mistakes. At the second time, focus on information itself. Check if you have accomplished all tasks and subtasks.

Now, when you’ve written an article, don’t hurry to publish it. Take your time to make sure it will be visible on SERPs.

How to optimize an article for search engines

We are describing this step right after the copywriting tips to make it easier to understand and follow. In real life, you’ll have to optimize your copy while writing it, not after.

Before optimizing a specific article, make sure that your site follows search engines’ guidelines. Read the following posts to learn more:

Don’t have a time to read our blog and the interview with Rand Fishkin? Here’s a short summary of the modern search engine marketing. Nowadays, algorithms of Google and other search engines are so perfect that searching for loopholes is almost completely useless. It makes no sense to stuff keywords in 3,1415% density, try to hustle with paid-for links, or manipulate user experience. Robots are about to enslave the human race, so don’t even try. They keep finding more and more subtle ways to manipulate SERPs, so there are almost no loopholes.

It made a life of search engine marketers much easier. To make your content visible on SERPs, you just have to follow these two rules: make your site follow search engines’ guidelines and create content that gives value to your audience. All other things are no more than nuances. We’ll talk about them in this guide.

Step 1: Make sure that a headline confirms that an article fits users’ information needs

It’s one of the components of a great headline. Damn, just put a keyword in it naturally. If your audience searches for “cheap taxi in Portland”, then make “How to Get a Cheap Taxi in Portland” your headline. Search engines are good at understanding both “how to get a taxi in Portland cheap”, “how to get a cheap taxi in Portland”, and even “Portland cheap taxi”. The last one may confuse your living readers, so focus on a natural language.

Robots really don’t care how you write: “buy a cheap car in NY” or “buy a cheap car in New-York”. However, if your headlines and content are full of unnatural constructions, Google and colleagues may consider it a web spam. In this case, you run the risk of getting a penalty.

By the way, pay attention to an interesting research. Searchmetrics found that keywords are becoming increasingly obsolete. For example, they identified a negative correlation between keywords in headlines and ranking. We can’t say the same, but this research definitely deserves a lot of attention. One thing is clear – you must focus on content quality, not on stuffing keywords.

Step 3: Make sure that an introduction describes a problem and ways to solve it

What for? Well, because it’s not likely that you’ll manage to come up with a problem and ways to solve it without using a keyword phrase. Yes, with reference to SEO it should sound like, “make sure you’ve put a keyword in the beginning of your copy”. Don’t obsess over the definition of the “beginning”. Old school SEOs suggest using a keyword in the first paragraph, first three or four sentences, or first 800 or 1000 characters. You must think like a new school SEO: just use a keyword in the beginning. Believe us, search robots consider a “beginning” the same thing as you do.

A keyword phrase in the beginning

What do you a need keyword phrase in the beginning for? Firstly, you tell users and search engines that your post is actually about WordPress site development or anything else you’re writing about. Secondly, once you’ve used a keyword phrase in the beginning, feel free to completely forget about keywords. Read next to learn why.

Step 3: Develop a topic

Yep, it’s all about SEO. The deeper you dive into a problem, the more relevant your content gets. Thereby, you can totally forget about keyword phrases. Why would you waste your energy? You can’t write a great article about marketing and social media, country houses, or hypothermia without using necessary keywords.

Want some specific tips and tricks? Just see what happens when you give a lot of details:

  • You use a keyword phrase in a headline. Don’t you?
  • You use a keyword in the beginning of an article.
  • You put keywords in subheadings. It happens naturally and logically.
The keyword looks natural
  • You use keywords in name and alt tags of photos. You should care about users who prefer not to display images.
  • You create content so great that people link to it from sites and blogs and share it social media.
  • You use long-tail keywords. Here’s the thing – you don’t have to do anything special to find long-tail keywords. Just write a well-researched copy.

Step 4: Let search engines know that you are the original author

How to do it? Just share an article on social media right after you’ve published it. Matt Cutts recommends to do so. With help of shares, search engines find and index your content faster.

Announcements on social media give a bunch of extra opportunities:

  • You get traffic from social media.
  • People read and comment your content. They also read other posts on your site. It improves user experience.
  • Readers share your content with their followers and link to it from blogs and sites. You increase audience reach and get natural links.
  • Share count serves as a social proof.

Step 5: Link to your posts that give additional value to readers

Put hyperlinks right into a copy or place a “related posts” block. The main rule is that you need natural links that will actually help your readers. If you think that an anchor text should be keyword rich – do it. If you want to use words like “here” as an anchor – do it. If you want to put a simple URL with no anchor – do it.

Why should you link to related posts? You provide an audience with extra data, increase engagement, and improve user experience.

Step 6: Use multimedia content

These could be videos, audios, presentations, infographics, embeds from social media, and so on. With such content, you make your article more visually attractive, increase readability, and improve user experience.

Step 7: Write a description

A description doesn’t influence page’s ranking on SERPs. However, it may have a positive impact on a click-through rate. How to write a good description? Here are some recommendations:

  • Write it for humans.
  • Try to explain benefits that users get after visiting your site and reading an article in two or three short sentences.
  • Use CTAs. Your task is to make people click on a link.

What about keywords? Try to explain all benefits without using a single keyword.

Step 8: Use structured data

Just like descriptions, structured data has no direct impact on rankings but it may increase a CTR because of a rich snippet.

Displaying a rating in a snippet – one of the ways to use structured data

So, now when you’ve finished writing and optimizing an article, it’s time to make it readable.

Page formatting: how to make your content more readable

People judge a book by its cover – just deal with it. Even if you are Stephen King, readers will exit your website if it doesn’t look visually attractive. An audience is oversaturated with information, so you’ll have to catch and keep users’ attention. Use our recommendations to succeed with it.

Step 1: Choose a nice font

Consider the following things when choosing a font:

  • Use two or three different fonts on your site.

A single font is boring, while more than three are a sign of bad taste. Two fonts are enough to format an article. Use one for headlines and subheadings and one for the rest of content.

  • Identify which kind of font you need: serif or sans-serif.

A good example of a serif font is Times New Roman. Features of serif fonts:

  • They make separate characters look clear and legible.
  • They make people read instead of scanning visual patterns to transform them into syllables and words later. As a result, a reading speed slows down.
  • They visually stress horizontal text lines. As a result, it gets easier for readers to stay focused on lines.

A good example of a sans-serif font is Calibri. Features of sans-serif fonts:

  • They make it easier to scan visual patterns, which speed reading up.
  • They make it easier to read on a display.
  • They make content readable even in a small font size.

Use a serif font for a headline and subheadings. It makes articles visually structured and drives readers’ attention to certain blocks. Use a sans-serif font for the rest of content. It makes it easier to read and reduces eye fatigue when reading a long copy.

Serif for a headline, sans-serif for the rest

Step 3: Choose a proper font size

Depending on a page design, use 14, 16, or 18 font size for a body of your article. Use 11, 10, or even 9 font size for notes, terms of use, user agreements, and other technical information.

Choose a font size for headlines and subheadings depending on a design. If you’re in doubt, just take a font size you use for a regular text and multiply it by two. For example, if you’re using the 12 font size for a regular text, use the 24 font size for a headline. Accordingly, use a 16 or 18 font size for subheadings.

Step 3: Choose a proper letter-spacing

In typography, it is represented by two variables: kerning and tracking. The first one sets spacing between specific pairs of characters. The second one sets spacing between any characters.

Step 4: Make sure to choose a proper line length

The best line length is somewhere about 50-70 characters, plus or minus 10%. If a line is longer, it will be harder for users to stay focused on it. Very short lines also make your copy less readable because users get tired of glancing from one line to another.

Step 5: Choose a proper line spacing

In typography, the standard line spacing is 120% of a chosen font size. To make it easier to read, you can set line spacing to 130% or 140% or a font size. You can make line spacing lower for technical information.

Step 6: Check if there is enough space between paragraphs

It’s pretty self-explanatory: a copy without proper spacing between paragraphs looks like a brick on a display. It scares users away. So, what is proper paragraph spacing? It’s about 70-80% of line spacing.

Step 7: Align text to the left

This rule has some exceptions. For example, if you’re writing in Arabic, Hebrew, or any other right-to-left language, align text to the right. Don’t center or justify text. It makes perception harder and slows reading down. It also makes a page less visually attractive.

Is it worth saying that if your text is aligned to the left, you shouldn’t center images?

Step 8: Make a proper use of images

Use web images to make pages more visually attractive and improve readability. Follow our recommendations:

  • Images must stand out in a copy. Use frames, background, and spacing.
  • Write captions to images. It informs readers and makes images more visually attractive. Pay attention that captions should stand out. You can use a different font, italicize them, or place into a box.
An image and caption make a single structure
  • Use a zoom feature for large images. Users will be able to view full size images without opening a new tab. If your site is powered by WordPress, you can try special plugins, like Fancybox or Lightbox.

Pay attention to the fact that captions serve not only to make images more visually attractive. With captions, you give extra information to users and search robots. The latter ones analyze content clusters around images and give you traffic from image search.

Step 9: Highlight important parts with incuts

Help readers pay attention to terms, interesting facts, research data, or any other unusual information. What makes a good incut? Use a serif font, choose a bigger font size, pick a contrasting background, or use special characters. Incuts make webpages more structured, visually attractive, and easier to percept.

This is how we format incuts. You can find your own way

Step 10: Use visual content to make an article more readable

The primary task of visuals is to transfer information. Do you remember that people process images tens of thousands of times faster than text? Use it to make your content more informative.

At the same time, visuals make an article more attractive and readable. Do you want some specific ideas? Here they are:

  • Use interactive visual content. Examples: interactive images by Thinglink, interactive infographics, or image rotation on mouse hover like in the beginning of this post.
  • Let users not only read but watch as well. Publish videos together with transcripts. Such format can be comfortable for those who are seeing your content while cooking a breakfast or sitting in a bus.
  • With visuals, you can structure content, make navigation clear and comfortable, and help users take necessary actions.

Congratulations! You’ve made your article readable. Now you can publish it.

Work on a good copy never stops

If you’ve written a topical post, prepare to keep working with it for a couple of months or even years. You’ll have to promote an article, reply to comments, and refresh it. Search engines count content freshness as a ranking factor, so you can add new information or simply change a publishing date.

Remember that writing, optimization, and formatting of an article must be done all at the same time. Don’t try to optimize content after publishing it or write a copy for keywords. Think about users: make articles informative and experts, and try to make it easy to read your content on a display. Living readers and search robots will appreciate it for sure.

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Автор: Dmitriy Dementiy

Copyrighter at Texterra online marketing agency. He writes articles, searches for interesting information and offers practical ways to use it. Dmitriy believes that with help of top quality online marketing buyers find sellers, not vice versa. Do you agree? Then send him a friendship request on Facebook.

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