This article is the fourth installment of a 6-part series. Read the first installment here.
Nearly every person who has ever been in charge of a content production team knows the pain of bad drafts, writer turnover, and endless revisions.
What if I told you this is very often not the fault of the copywriter?
Usually, it’s a result of unclear expectations and a failure to equip the writer with the tools they need to perform well for you. This leads to frustration for you, and for the writer, and very often a failed relationship.
The good news is that this means you can get better, easier performance out of your writing team, and build better relationships, simply by equipping them effectively from the outset.
1. Make Key Documents Available
Just as you need to know what your audience and purpose is for your blog, so do your writers.
Assemble your key strategic documents, and make them easily accessible in one location for your writers. At minimum, those documents should include:
- Audience Profiles
- Blog Purpose Statement
- List of Desired Content Types
- A Style Guide
The Style Guide should include:
- Your desired tone (authoritative, humorous, light-hearted, peer-to-peer, etc.)
- Correct spelling and abbreviations for your company, products, and other branding
- Stylistic preferences, such as when to capitalize headings, whether to use the Oxford comma, whether you adhere to a major style guide such as MLA, Chicago, etc.
Provide your writers with an orientation and walk them through the documents so that they not only know they’re there, but understand what is contained in them and why they’re important.
2. Provide Content Samples, Templates and Checklists
Whenever possible, point writers to samples from your own blog of existing content that is especially effective and on target. If it doesn’t exist on your site yet, then point them at competitive content that you admire.
It can also be helpful to provide them with templates and/or checklists for the types of content you want produced.
Here’s a basic checklist we give our writers, which can be customized based on the type of content and the client’s specific needs.
A Compelling Headline
“When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar,” says David Ogilvy (the legendary ad man). If you’re not already a master of the headline, take the time to study it. A great headline is NOT usually clever or complicated—often, the best headlines are concrete, direct, specific… yet leave a “curiosity gap” that drives the reader to want to click through.
Headline tools we love: Cosmopolitan and Business Insider (we use their headlines as continuously updated swipe files); Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer.
Subheadings keep the reader alert and help them skim the content for what is most useful to them. They also break up the text so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. They should occur at logical breaking points in the text and be crafted to hold the reader’s attention.
Write with the human reader in mind, even if the goal is SEO. Provide data and information that isn’t readily accessible everywhere, and strengthen it with data, stats, research, and stories. Talk to subject matter experts to get an inside view and flavor your copy with quotes. DON’T simply rewrite what everyone else has written on the subject.
Good copywriting isn’t just about word crafting. Structure is the backbone that gives a piece its shape and keeps a reader reading. A basic blog structure will include:
The Foundation. The first few paragraphs should grab the reader’s attention with stats, stories, or other interesting content, then lay out the purpose of the piece and the general context the reader needs.
The Problem or Challenge. Once the foundation is laid, introduce the problem or challenge the piece will solve.
Why The Reader Should Care. Establish why the piece matters, and how it answers one of the audience’s pains, fears, or hopes.
The Story. Nothing is quite as compelling to the human psyche as a good story. You can use stories as a frame, or as evidence, or to illuminate a point. Be careful to choose stories that are relevant and compelling to your audience, and remember that they can be as a metaphor (which is a super condensed story) or as long as the entire blog entry.
The Meat. What is the key point of the piece? What do you want to say? Make sure it contains enough information or “meat” to make it worth the reader’s time. For instance, point the reader to resources or tips or steps to solve the problem.
The Wrap-Up. If the piece tells a story, this is a great time to tell the “rest of the story.” Or return to the beginning and show how the information presented relates to the foundation.
Call to Action (CTA). Where should the reader go from here? The CTA should directly point them in a direction that aligns with your goals for the blog.
3. SEO Cheat Sheet
As we’ll discuss in the next section of this series, it’s a mistake to expect your writers to be SEO experts. That’s a whole other job. But, you can expect them to skillfully prepare SEO-ready copy to your specifications.
If SEO is a goal of your blog, create a simple SEO cheat sheet for your writers and share it with them. It should include guidance such as where to include keywords, desired keyword density, whether they are expected to incorporate multiple keyword phrases, and so on.
If you want a private peek at our basic SEO cheat sheet for writers, reach out to me on LinkedIn and let me know where you heard about it, and I’ll send you a copy.
4. Guidance for Each and Every Assignment
Providing your writers with a solid foundation before they begin working on your blog is critical. But don’t stop there. A highly effective blogging system includes a mechanism for communicating key criteria to your writers for every piece they produce.
This does not have to be complicated. We use a checklist for each assignment to make sure the writer has everything they need before they begin. Here’s what’s on our checklist:
- Purpose for This Piece. While the blog has an overall purpose, each piece may have a slightly more targeted purpose. Examples include driving traffic to a piece of premium content; improving SEO for a specific keyword; establishing a team member as a subject matter expert. Make sure they know what type of content it is as well.
- Audience for This Piece. Your blog may have multiple audiences. For each piece, determine who the primary audience is and communicate that.
- Keywords List. If SEO is one of your goals, make sure each piece is associated with one or more keywords and/or keyword phrases. Providing this information up front rather than after the piece is drafted will reduce your cost to produce (fewer revisions) and result in a better product with the keywords “baked in.”
- Key Success Criteria. This will depend on your goals and other factors. It will include details such as the desired word count, the tone of the piece, whether images and/or GIFs should be incorporated, etc.
- Desired CTA. Where should the reader go when they’re done? Let the writer know, so they can guide the reader that direction and craft an effective Call To Action (CTA).
- Specific Links to Incorporate. Internal links are good. End of story. If you know there are existing content pieces you want to link from the new piece, make sure the writer knows so they can bake those links in. If you have a writer who has been working with you a while, it’s also appropriate to ask them to look for internal linking opportunities.
5. Interview Guidance
If your writers will be conducting interviews as part of the writing process, make sure they’re well equipped to handle it.
A great interview will yield valuable information for the blog, and will leave a positive impression with the interviewee.
Create a standard list of questions for writers to ask, provide them with interview cheat sheets, and encourage them to shadow someone on the team with great interview skills.
We also encourage our writers to continually hone their interview skills by listening to celebrity interviewers they admire, and learning from them. My personal favorite is Terry Gross, but there are many to choose from.
Writers who are well-equipped to succeed on your blog are, unsurprisingly, more likely to succeed. You’ll enjoy lower turnover, better performance against goals, fewer rewrites, and better quality overall.
Your writers will view you as a partner and you’ll top their “favorite clients” list (you do know we all have favorite clients, right?). That means you’ll be the one they hang on to after they hit it big and start cutting their low-performing clients.
You won’t be sorry you invested the time.
Next up, we’ll take a look at how to assemble the right team and process to make blogging practically hands-free, and definitely hassle-free.
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- Why Throwing a Person at the Content Problem Is a Problem - October 14, 2019
- How to Equip Writers to Succeed on Your Blog - September 30, 2019
- How to Assemble a Blog Topic Planning Kit That Will Lead to Killer Results - September 16, 2019