The core of any publication’s content is always the writing. It’s cheaper to produce than videos, contains more detail than images or slideshows, and is both fast and accessible on every internet-connected device in the world. It’s also the foundation of a solid SEO strategy, making it arguably the most important part of your online business.
Knowing how to write words and actually being a good writer are two completely separate things, however. Skilled writing is a combination of precision and craft, especially when it comes to writing for the web. But what makes a good writer, and how can you find the top writers for your publication? That’s what we’re here to discuss today!
Good writing makes an instant connection to the reader. It evokes emotion and inspires new and imaginative thoughts, even if it’s discussing something as mundane as drywall techniques. It also tells a rich story with a clear beginning, middle, and an end.
Good writing does not mean elegant prose or expansive vocabularies. It’s simple, accessible, and punchy–it gets the job done efficiently, and leaves the reader satisfied, but still wanting more.
The most important thing about good writing is that you won’t always know it when you see it. The best writing is invisible, the kind of text that you enjoy but was scarcely aware you sat down to read it.
Two reasons: reader retention, and SEO rank.
When you’re writing for the web, you really have two separate audiences in mind. Readers are the most important, as they’re the ones that drive the success of a website. Engaging with them is key, and that can only be done through smart, well-crafted text, not through thin content.
Working on SEO is a different bag of hammers. Although there are a lot of great SEO tools out there, often giving search engines what they need to index and prioritize your content seems at odds with providing good quality content. A smart writer can walk this line by sprinkling in key phrases at just the right intervals, creating content that’s good for search engines without sacrificing readability.
In short, good writing can make or break your site’s success, from how long visitors stick around to how favorably search engines like Google rank each page.
A good writer produces good writing, that much is obvious. But there’s more to being a good writer than just making the words flow together smoothly. Below are some of the most important things good writers do on a regular basis.
1. Write for the Readers
The best writers write to be understood. They construct text for their audience and tailor every single line and sentence to their eyes. Complex topic designed for professionals? Break out the big vocabulary. Web writing about art supplies? Stay informal, stay fun. Good writers do this automatically when intuition allows, and study up on their target audience’s particular manner of speech when it doesn’t.
2. Follow the Rules and Break the Rules
There are a lot of rules to writing, especially in English. Don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Don’t use the same word twice in close proximity. Restrict your adjectives to an absolute minimum. And don’t start a sentence with the word “and” (haha!).
Good writers know these rules are often important for being understood. They also know the perfect time to break those rules to make a connection with the reader. Grammar and punctuation play an important role in writing, but they aren’t the ultimate factors in winning your audience’s engagement.
3. Write What They Know
Top-tier writers can gab on about any number of topics with a reasonable level of proficiency. But the best writers write about topics they’re already familiar with, and they write in their own voice. This one-two punch makes it easy to connect with like-minded folk and produces some of the best pieces of writing around.
4. Take Chances
What’s worse than writing the same type of content over and over again for months at a time? Well, nothing, really. Good writers know that rehashing what has already been said doesn’t do much in the way of attracting new readers. Instead, they take chances, they’re bold and imaginative. Sometimes those risks fall short of success, but when they land, they hit the target spot-on.
5. Are Focused
The best types of writing focus on one or two key issues. They don’t jump from topic to topic, they stick with the thesis and carry it through to the end. Writers who produce this type of content are generally focused themselves, though don’t be surprised if a scattered wordsmith creates pristine content from time to time.
6. Follow Directions
Do you need a 417-word article discussing the pros and cons of at-home paint mixing, making sure to mention DIY car repair at least twice? A good writer can pull that off, and they can do it while adhering to all of the above criteria, too.
7. Are Consistent
The most overlooked factor of what makes a writer “good” is consistency. Anyone who has written something in their life can work hard and create a respectable piece of writing. But can they do that twice a day, every day, for the duration of their contract?
Writing a technical manual and writing content for the web are two entirely different pursuits. They share a lot of common goals, of course, as good writing is good writing no matter how you look at it. Refining the details to perfection is what separates truly effective writing from a passable text, however. Below are the things you should look out for from a good writer who knows how to write for the web.
Place Important Information in the Front & Center
When writing essays, books, or print articles, the general rule of thumb is to start with an overview. Talk about what you’re going to discuss, summarize it, then get down to the details. At the end of the piece, you’ll bring it all home with the conclusion, wowing readers with the depth of your prose and thought.
Web writing is a little different. Instead of focusing on overviews and big concluding points, lead with the core of the article. This serves as an immediate hook for readers, and it’s excellent for SEO purposes, as well. By front-loading content with vital information, it’s easier to capture the fickle attention of web users. Also, don’t neglect the importance of optimized page titles, as they’re the first thing people see in search engine results, and the first piece of information they get from your article.
Straightforward and succinct, those are two of the most important rules for writing for the web. The content should be self-evident, not flowery and needlessly creative. Good writers know not to make readers think too much when they’re browsing websites for information. Just say what needs to be said, then call it a day.
Mind the Miscellaneous
Most people don’t sit and read an entire web article from beginning to end. They scan the contents, look at the headers and image captions, then pick and choose what information feels most relevant to them. This places a lot of importance on the phrasing and design of these miscellaneous bits of text.
Any writer worth their salt will keep the following in mind when structuring section headings:
- Does the headline communicate what the section is all about?
- Do the image captions focus on promoting good content?
- Do sub-headers summarize key points?
- Do bullet-points make it easy to see information at a glance?
Don’t Overdo SEO
Stuffing articles with keywords might sound like a good idea, but it doesn’t really pan out in practice. The practice of inserting more SEO phrases isn’t always rewarded by search engines, and it’s definitely frowned upon by readers. Instead of packing each paragraph full of SEO topics, stick to 2-3 in the main section, then sprinkle a few throughout the piece. This is enough to capture search spider attention without annoying readers.
Don’t Fret Over Style
Is it written email or e-mail? Is internet capitalized? Don’t worry about it. So many small things like this land on publications’ radars, but in the big picture, they honestly don’t matter. Good writers use consistent styles, and that’s what’s important.
Use Smart Hyperlinks
Hyperlinks aren’t just for increasing page clicks, they also provide valuable information for readers. If you’re talking about lawn mowers and have an article about sharpening blades, link to it where appropriate. Readers will appreciate the easy access to more detailed information, and search engines will give you a bump in SEO rank, as well.
Good web writers are naturally adept at SEO. They can weave keywords in and out of paragraphs in such a smooth manner that readers never know what hit them. Below are a few tips these writers should keep in mind to make SEO as strong as possible.
Focus on a Single Topic: Content ideas are hard to come by, especially ones with rich SEO potential. It’s usually the editor or site owner’s job to forge the SEO strategy, while the writer takes the suggestions and runs with them. To that end, it’s important to give good writers a well-defined topic so they can really flex their muscles. Refine your keywords, combine strategies, weed out the weaklings, then set your writer to work.
Give Time for Research: Good writers are awesome at their jobs, but they do not contain the sum of all human knowledge in their heads. Writers need to research before starting on a topic, even if it’s something they’re already familiar with. Build this into your writers’ schedules. Give them at least as much time to research as to write. This will produce deeper, more intriguing content, and it will prevent writer burnout.
Allow Structuring: Content is king, as they say, but kings need to sit on a throne in order to be impressive. Your web publication is one version of this throne, but so is the design of the article itself. Writing isn’t about laying a wall of text in front of the viewer. It’s about creating a healthy habitat that encourages further reading and discussion. This can only happen if the piece is attractive enough to draw in the eyes.
Writers do some structuring when they create, especially relating to headings, sub-headings, and category types. Outside of that, however, publication owners should keep an eye on the look and feel of a post, its basic design. After all, a shaky structure can make good writing fail.
Getting good writers to create content for an online publication is a matter of patience. They don’t hang out in secret clubs or anything like that, most haunt the same job boards as ordinary and upstart writers. The key to finding them is to be persistent.
Good Writers Have Portfolios. The longer a writer has been in the business, the more samples he or she is going to have. Experienced writers aren’t afraid to share these examples, either. They could be about similar topics that your site publishes about or something completely different. Either way, the quality will shine through. Don’t be afraid to ask for published work so you can get a feel for what the writer is capable of doing.
Good Writers Don’t Work for Free. Running an online publication is hard. Everything costs money, and revenue streams are few and far between. One of the first areas admins look to for cost-cutting is content. Pay a writer next to nothing and suddenly the accounting books don’t look too bad, do they?
The problem with this philosophy is that it doesn’t work in the long run. Poor writers who make poor wages won’t be able to put their all into every piece they create. The work will be sloppy and underperform with both readers and search engines, while site traffic will slowly decline. Content is not a place you should skimp on the funds.
Good writers know what they’re worth, and they won’t settle for less. Consider them a solid investment in your site’s future.