There is a lot you have to consider when it comes to creating content. You need eye-catching headlines, research to back up your claims, relevant content ideas based on consumer research, targeted call-to-actions, and all the grammar and storytelling that goes into crafting something people actually want to read. In the effort to get out the amount of content needed to stay relevant and top-of-mind for your consumers, there is a tendency to rush the content creation process. This can lead to missed opportunities or overlooked key elements of your writing that would have been valuable for your reader. Or even worse, your rushed content ends up missing the mark and what was supposed to be a timesaver ended up being a time-waster. Every writer, copywriter, marketer, or just-for-fun content creator should use a checklist to keep track of all the important writing elements. The below checklist outlines a list of important things to keep in mind before, during, and after you write. While not every piece of content will require checking off every item from the list, it is a great general resource for many different types of content. This is not an all-inclusive list, so I encourage you to drop your must-have copywriting elements that I missed in the comments section below!
For further help, check out the resources at the bottom of this article.
Before you start writing
Ask yourself these questions:
Who am I writing this for?
Who is my reader?
Why are they reading this, what do they want to achieve?
What are their beliefs?
What are their pain points?
How can I help them? What problems am I solving for them?
What is it that I’m offering that will help them achieve their objective?
2. Identify a persona or avatar: Create a specific person in your mind who you are writing for and build a mini life story for this person. Maybe even print out a fake picture of them and post it in front of you! This keeps them top of mind as you write.
3. Research your audience and know what matters to them: This is where your avatar comes in handy — think about the language they use, the stories they relate to, and the places they hang out. Then dig in and learn as much as you can.
4. Make a list of words and questions your audience tends to use: Find your target audience on sites like Quora, Facebook groups, Reddit, or LinkedIn and read what they are saying. Use this consumer research to come up with content ideas and start to develop lingo or keywords they might identify with.
5. Think about the solution or offer you are making in your content: Ask yourself these questions:
What are you offering them?
What are they going to get?
What’s the benefit?
Why would they want this?
Why would they want this instead of a competitor’s offer?
Why is getting your product better than doing nothing?
6. Know your Call to Action (CTA): What specific action do you want your reader to take? (i.e. click a link, sign up for your newsletter, etc.). Make it obvious what you want your reader to do next.
7. Do your SEO research: If you are writing website copy, a blog, or an article, know what keywords and key phrases you want to use and rank for and list them out ahead of time.
While you write
8. Write in an active voice: Make sure the doer is at the start of your sentence. For example, say, “You had to write the story” instead of, “The story had to be written by you.”
9. Write in the present tense: Unless it is something that happened in the past, it is important to communicate to the reader that this is happening now.
10. Don’t nominalize: This is when a verb becomes a noun. When this happens frequently, your writing can start to sound too academic or hard to read. For example, “We entered into a partnership with another business.” vs. “We partnered with another business.” The second sentence sounds way less formal and puts the action front and center.
11. Be specific: Dive into the details with your reader and bring them so far into your story that they can taste, smell, touch, or feel your product or offer.
12. Use bulleted and numbered lists to break up your text: If your content looks like one giant block of text, not even your most interested reader will feel compelled to finish.
13. Watch out for third person: Never refer to your reader as “they,” and use “you,” “we,” and “I” as much as possible so it sounds like you are talking directly to your reader.
After you write
14. Proofread your copy: Don’t just rely on the computer (check proper nouns — names of people, businesses, addresses).
15. Read your work out loud to check for run-on sentences: Does your writing read smoothly? When in doubt, make the sentence shorter.
16. Check your formatting: Make sure your paragraphs are only one to three sentences long and your text is easy to read. Don’t forget bulleted and numbered lists!
17. Ask yourself: Did I capture the reader’s attention immediately? Make sure you aren’t burying the good stuff deep in your writing.
18. Remove unnecessary adverbs: Adverbs are often fluffy words that don’t add anything new to a sentence.
19. Remove industry-specific or complicated jargon: Keep your writing as simple and as easy to read as possible. Ask yourself, could this be said in a simpler way? There are exceptions to this including academic writing or writing for a very specific audience, but in general, most people don’t want to spend much brain power deciphering your meaning.
20. Get to the point: Make sure your writing is direct.
21. Back up any claims and numbers with credible sources: By credible I mean news sources, journals, government websites, and respected authorities in your industry. The blog post from your best friend Susie is not a credible source.
22. Check the length of your article: If you are writing a blog or article, your piece should be at least 1,000 words for best SEO results.
23. Add outbound and internal links: Google uses this information to determine the relevancy of your blog or article. Plus, don’t miss the opportunity to reshare old content by linking back out to it.
24. Check for your Call to Action (CTA): Is your CTA at the end of your copy and super clear?
25. Write out a list of title and subtitle options: Use your keywords to write out different options for your title and subtitle. Then use free tools like CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer to pick the best one.
26. Add in images and image alt attributes: Don’t forget to break up your content with graphics, photos, charts, etc., and include alt text.
27. Update your meta description: This is what pops up in search engine results under your link so it’s important that this accurately describes what your reader will get when they click.
This might seem like a LOT of things to consider and include as part of your content writing, so before you freak out and get overwhelmed, take a deep breath. A lot of the items on this list are things you might already be doing as part of your writing process — you might just need a reminder. The other items will become more familiar and easier to put in place the more you write.
My last piece of advice: Sleep on it! Fresh eyes on a piece of content can be a game-changer when it comes to spotting grammar or writing errors. So go on and write some amazing content, but don’t forget to check the list!
Some helpful resources:
http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/: Guidance on writing letters, emails, forms, etc.
https://www.oed.com/: Oxford English dictionary; includes thesaurus and grammar guide
http://hemingwayapp.com/: Hemingway app; will check your text for common writing errors
https://www.countingcharacters.com/: Counts your characters for you; shows all social media word counts on the site
Grammarly: Free online writing assistant that provides helpful edits and writing suggestions as you type
CoSchedule Headline Analyzer: Analyzes how powerful your headline is and provides suggestions to make it better
Quetext: While hopefully you aren’t actively stealing someone else’s work, sometimes it’s helpful to check to make sure your content is 100% you