Writing Great Content

There is no formula to great writing. At least I am not able to define a set of easy steps to follow to create great content for a site as I am still learning the ropes. I do know that the act of writing is very intimidating to many owners of small business and personal websites. Before ever putting a pen to paper, they face writers’ block. Obtaining the confidence to get started involves understanding what you are looking for in the result. Setting a framework of what you want to say allows you to start filling in the holes easily.

A recent issue of A List Apart contained two articles on content and writing. The first, on anorexic writing, reinforces some important points.

  • A site’s heart is in the content and you need the heart before you can build the body (design).
  • Avoid “copy”, marketing speak full of buzzwords. Give your content a personal touch with emotion and spirit to connect with your reader.
  • Use alt text for images that describes the image in an emotional context instead of impersonal descriptions of the image.
  • Speak to the individual, not to a mass crowd.

After reading this article, you may be even more paralysed to start writing. It can be difficult writing for a small business, non-profit or small civic organization site when it lacks a personal connection for the writer. The tendency is to eliminate any personal connection in the words and stick to an adjective-ridden listing of what we already know, or worse, political speak to answer the question without actually answering it. We fall into this tendency because a vast majority of what we see in any marketing material follows this methodology.

So why should flowery adjectives and pats on your own back that your “products are the best” be avoided in your content? Because they do not answer your visitors’ questions. How many times have you gone to a site wanting to find specific information about a product or service, ready to commit if you could only confirm a compatibility or price or size option only to be unable to do so? For me it has been plenty. Small organizations cannot afford salaries to staff call centres to support customer queries, so your web site is your competitive advantage. Making sure all information is easily available on your site is how your exploit that competitive advantage.

Instead of trying to convince visitors of your goal with self-proclaimed greatness, why not show them? Think about the differences you would like to highlight between you and your competitors. Then explain it. Maybe it is your service and after-sales care. Maybe it is your location. Focus on whatever is your differentiating factor; a small town may highlight lifestyle and economic factors versus the big city. Avoid explaining you are great in these respects (a relative and biased opinion), but explain indirectly with examples and commentary. The easiest way to accomplish this is to create a personal connection with the reader.

Writing personable content that is intended for strangers is a difficult thing to do for non-writers. It can be very uncomfortable exposing yourself that way. But a personal, emotional style connects the reader with you, allowing them to feel and identify with you and your writing, opening them up to trust what you are saying when it does not read like the standard marketing mis-truths they are used to.

Accomplishing a personal connection does not require you to write a personal journal or blog. Your site copy can contain that personal touch. First, speak to the reader. Explain your passion, your successes and where you are heading. This may be the reason for starting your crafts store and your plans and dreams for the future or community news and changes. Let the visitor feel your passion and excitement about new endeavours such as new products, goals reached or events. This is further explained in Copywriting for eCommerce on vitamin.com.

The second A List Apart article on better writing brings up the key questions about your visitors: who are they, what do they want to know and what do they want to do. This will help you decide what content is required and what the personality of your site should be. A site for men will have a different personal connection than a site for women. Expanding your questions list to ask how you want visitors to feel and how you would converse with them face-to-face allows to define further your style and goals for your content. Once this framework is established, it becomes much easier to fill in the holes.

Finally, nothing is a substitute for practice. You may throw away your first draft completely. As you write more and firm up the voice for your site, your writing will improve and the connections you make through the web will be the result.