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Marketing Practices

20 Secrets for Writing Content that Attracts and Engages

July 3, 2018 | 7:22 AM
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By now you realize that the old method of marketing doesn't work. Buyers now hold all the power. Chasing them down and begging them to buy is a waste of time and money. They want to find you—and your main job is to be found. You need to switch from an outbound approach to an inbound one. That means sharing content—blog posts, white papers, newsletters, social media posts—and plenty of it.

"When your content is consistently helpful, relevant, and compelling, people will connect with you and your business," says Justin Champion, author of Inbound Content: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing Content Marketing the Inbound Way (Wiley, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-119-48895-8, $25.00). "They'll come to trust you, and from there you can convert them to leads and close them into customers."

To get to this point, of course, you must be able to write content that's engaging and persuasive enough to pull readers in and keep them hooked. That's easier said than done. But in his new book, Champion—HubSpot Academy's content marketing professor—offers a wealth of information to help readers get started.

Here, excerpted from the book, are 20 ways to write more effective content:

Start with an attention-grabbing headline. This is one of the best ways to improve the performance of your content. Great headlines are specific, make a promise, and prompt the reader to read the piece now. You might try the how-to format ("How to Use Excel: 14 Excel Tips, Tricks, and Shortcuts")...or the list format ("30 Call-to-Action Examples You Can't Help But Click")...or the negative-angle format ("Why You Should Never Email a Proposal").

Make sure the tone is relevant to your readers. Ask yourself if it should be serious, fun and personable, uplifting, quirky, humorous, or authoritative. Simple, a company reinventing online banking, has a blog on finance and money. The writing is human, inspiring, and warm, which perfectly aligns with its goal of taking the frustration and difficulty out of dealing with a bank.

Educate the reader. Your blog posts, ebooks, white papers, and other content formats should be made with the purpose of teaching your audiences to do something better or better understand a topic. This is why it's crucial to create a detailed buyer persona; it helps you better understand the challenges your reader faces, their pain points, how they learn, and their goals.

Add to the conversation, DON'T rehash it. To cut through the clutter, your content should add something new, be of higher quality or more comprehensive than what already exists, answer all the reader's questions about the subject, and include the most recent and relevant data for support. Before you write, research what already exists on the subject and ask yourself, What's missing?

Write the way people search. What words do people actually use to search and communicate? If your target reader searches for financial planning rather than wealth management, you'll naturally want to use the former in your headline and content. Use keyword research to guide you, but always default to what sounds natural and interesting to your audience.

Settle on one core idea. A clear piece of writing should have one main idea, and everything else should tie back to it. When you begin, identify the main object and how the reader will benefit, and add it to the top of your draft.

Support your brand messaging, values, and strategy. In every piece of content you create and distribute, think carefully about the words you use, the tone, the subject matter, and the details you provide. Every aspect should reinforce the reader's view of who your brand is and why they should want to know you better.

Give it a relevant call to action. You might ask them to share the content or leave a comment, to subscribe to your newsletter, or to download a related piece of content to take with them. This encourages people to keep interacting with your company. Ask for it directly and make the conversion process as seamless as possible. (Don't make them jump through too many hoops.)

Comb through it for errors and poor grammar. The final stage of writing—the editing process—is often rushed. Take time to refine your content pieces. This will ensure that you correct any errors that could damage your credibility and the trust you've built with the reader.

Use contractions. Contractions help you sound more conversational and more human in your writing, so be sure to change worlds like "do not" to "don't" and "would not" to "wouldn't."

Write with simple language. DON'T write: The proliferation of social and digital channels has created a catalyst whereby a shift in the production methods by marketers is required to connect with the audience. Instead, write: The increase in the number of social and digital channels now requires marketers to create content that's not only platform specific but also appeals to the unique audience and their behaviors on that platform.

Use the active voice. Passive voice makes your writing seem flat and boring. Here's an example of passive voice: The campaign was launched by the marketer. Here's the same sentence written with active voice: The marketer launched a new campaign. See the difference?

Be clear and concise. This is the ultimate goal of editing—to refine the words until the point of each section, paragraph, and sentence is clear. Be relentless in removing extra words, irrelevant ideas and rants, and obvious details.

Use short sentences and paragraphs. Break up long, dense sentences and paragraphs whenever possible. This makes your content easier to read and comprehend. Breaks in paragraphs create space around the writing to give readers' eyes a rest. These breaks, along with varying the structure and lengths of your sentences, create a rhythm that is more pleasing to read.

Cut fluffy words. Words like "very," "really," "actually," "just," "incredibly," and "in order to" add nothing to your sentences. Also be careful of relying on adverbs—words ending in -ly—to describe an action, or including too many adjectives in your work. These mistakes all make for overly long, complex, and weak sentences. Run your writing through a tool like Grammarly or the Hemingway Editor to see if you can cut words or further simplify your language.

Adhere to a style guide. Whether it's AP Style, the Chicago Manual of Style, or an internal style guide, use a standard set of rules to create consistency in all your communications—from your product copy to emails to ebooks to advertising. Anyone who writes on behalf of your company should know how to handle punctuation, grammar, voice and tone, industry-specific terms, common mistakes, and any brand-specific guidelines.

Use you and your in your writing. This helps you sound more conversational. Instead of writing like you're creating something for an "audience," write like you're addressing your favorite customer or ideal reader and you want to bring them into a discussion. This simple tweak prevents you from sounding like you're writing an instruction manual.

Avoid jargon and use acronyms sparingly. Jargon plagues the business and marketing worlds with words like ideation, paradigm, uplevel, holistic, disruptive, and so on. Remember that not everyone understands the jargon or acronyms you rely on. Spell out acronyms at least once and try to avoid littering your content with abbreviations.

Don't be snarky. Critical and sarcastic writing has its place, but for most businesses, this type of tone comes off negatively. Be confident and showcase your expertise, but above all, be friendly and straightforward. Sarcasm can make you look petty.

Finally, use spell-check. It's always a good idea to double-check for spelling mistakes. Even small errors can have a negative impact on readers' perception of your brand.

"Words are the currency of the web, and that's not changing anytime soon," concludes Champion. "These skills will help your words cut through the noise and stand out, minus the legwork and headache of chasing down customers. If you can sharpen your writing so it speaks clearly to your intended audience, you'll get their attention, earn their trust, and, finally, win their business."

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About the Author: Justin Champion has been a digital marketer for nine years, working with clients like Majestic Athletic, Wrangler Jeans, and Pendleton Whisky. He has always enjoyed building brands that consumers can relate to by creating compelling content. He now works as HubSpot Academy's content marketing professor, which has brought this passion full circle, because he is now able to teach anyone how to grow a successful business through content marketing best practices. Justin is the creator of HubSpot Academy's Content Marketing Certification, which is a globally recognized course. Justin is a digital nomad—a full-time remote worker who lives and works from the road in his Airstream and DIYed truck camper. This book was written during Justin's 2017 U.S. inbound content workshop roadshow. Follow him and his journeys at instagram.com/wildwewander.

About the Book: Inbound Content: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing Content Marketing the Inbound Way (Wiley, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-119-48895-8, $25.00) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more information, please visit the book's page on www.wiley.com.

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