If you’re not a natural writer, having to create content can be stressful. That’s where a content creation checklist can help.
Do you ever feel like it’s become an arms race to create more content? Blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates, Google+ updates, and more. Now you can even publish articles directly on LinkedIn. (Oh goody, yet another place to feed content to.)
Content is a red-hot area of marketing today. According to Google Trends, search volume on the phrase “content marketing” has more than quadrupled in the past three years.
If you’re not a natural writer, having to create content can be stressful. That’s where a content creation checklist can help. A checklist makes it easier and faster to create a piece of content that furthers your marketing needs. A checklist can guide staff and help them improve, because writing is a learnable skill. And a checklist helps maintain consistent quality in your content.
Below is an adaptation of the checklist we use in my organization for creating articles and long-form social media updates:
“Speak” to the right person
Create content for your intended audience. Too often I see company blogs or Facebook pages that focus on the company’s industry, rather than anything the company’s customers or prospects are interested in. This problem usually stems from not having a clear vision of why you are creating content in the first place. If you’re familiar with the concept of marketing personas, develop a persona or personas to write articles for.
Give them content THEY can use.
Not This: A real estate broker’s Facebook page that contains articles about the financial challenges of running a brokerage.
This: That same Facebook page with tips on how the homeowner can stage a home for fast sale.
Talk “one to one”
Usually you will connect better if you phrase your words as if you are speaking to a single reader. Avoid speaking to or about the entire world.
Not this: “Consumers interested in light coffee will enjoy the new mild roast.”
This: “If you think some coffee is too strong, you will love our new mild roast.”
Write like a newspaper reporter
In other words, get to the point. Fast.
Newspaper reporters are good at this. They capture the key points early in the first sentences or paragraphs. Consider how a typical news story might start out: “A five vehicle pile-up on the interstate sent six people to the hospital today. All were treated and released.” Then they fill in with details and background information further down. The point of the article is clear right away.
Avoid starting articles with super-obvious fluff like “Everyone knows the sun rises in the east.” Or: “Small business owners are interested in profitability.” I mean, do you know many who aren’t interested in being profitable? Statements like that will lose the reader before you’ve had a chance to pull them into the article.
Define acronyms and avoid jargon
Acronyms may not be as clear as you think. Yes, everyone knows acronyms like “IRS.”
But what about the internal acronyms you use? Just because people in your company refer to that green widget you sell as “GWIDG,” doesn’t mean prospects and customers have a clue what you’re talking about. A good practice is to define every acronym or use the full phrase.
As for industry jargon – eradicate it. Customers probably don’t understand it.
Keep sentences short
Reading on a screen is harder than reading in print. One easy way to make content more readable is to break up long sentences into two or three shorter ones. If you use WordPress to create content, you can install a plugin that will automatically check your content for the Flesch readability test.
Let your voice come through
People want to hear from you in YOUR style. Try to write like you talk.
Use concrete and colorful words
Some topics, such as business and technology, can be dry and conceptual. A good way to fix this is to add in words for concrete things, (i.e., anything you can see, touch, smell, taste, or hear). It makes your writing come to life.
Use an unusual word in a surprising way. Take, for example, the word “goody” that I used above. As in: “oh goody, yet another place to feed content to.” This injects personality into your content. It adds to your unique voice.
Optimize your article for one keyword
A good way to get extra visibility for your content is to make sure your article gets found via search engines. Use one keyword in the article a few times, and work it in naturally. A keyword is a single word (or a phrase) that someone might search for in a search engine.
Just don’t let the tail wag the dog. Some people think optimizing an article is about stuffing it with a slew of keywords. Then the article sounds awkward.
Write for human beings first, search engines second.
Check for grammar and spelling – twice
You can never proofread too much. A spellchecker is essential, but human proofreading is also important.
Spend a lot of time on the headline
This is the most important point of all. If I had to weigh the impact of the headline compared to the article body, I’d put it 50-50.
Think about the link to your article being shared on Twitter. Unless the headline is interesting, the reader won’t click on it in the first place. Check out Copyblogger’s resources on creating magnetic headlines. We consider headlines so important that we actually created the Article Title Generator tool.
Bottom line: Article writing is a skill that, with practice, can be learned and improved on. Use this checklist, and in no time you and your team will be writing like pros.
This article originally appeared on www.inc.com/comcast.