There is no secret recipe for excellent writing. You just need to have the right content writing process that works for you.
I have been writing daily for at least four years, professionally for two.
There are a few tricks you learn here and there. But if I am being honest, writing for the web isn’t a fancy skill that only the talented can perform.
No one is looking for content written by Hemingway. (Unless you’re a certain classmate of mine, in which case, do we have any homework? Follow-up question: Can we not?)
Content for internet users is very simple. You have a question, and you need an answer.
You type in the question on Google search bar, and you hope that the first couple links your search brings up have the answer you need.
As a writer, I always aim to answer your questions.
Therefore, the process for online readers become reasonably comfortable: Write it, publish it, and that’s it.
Only, that’s not it.
While the essence is to answer a question, the work before, during and afterward is much more exciting and complex.
I was going to write a complete step-by-step writing process for your eyes only, but then I figured that you might not be interested in reading it.
(I’m now considering making it a course. I’m still working on the details, but let me know if you’d like that.)
As for now, here’s a quick rundown of the four main steps that I follow for my own content writing process (otherwise known as the Soldier Framework).
The Soldier Framework Content Writing Process
Red Phase: Pre-Writing
Everyone knows that you can’t just type in random words on a blank page. Writing content for the web isn’t a free writing contest. You need to be ready before you type your first word.
Select Your Topic
Before I write anything, I need to know what I am writing about. If this is your first blog post, then you are probably already hitting a writer’s block.
It’s okay if you are.
To find your first (or next) topic to write about, all you need to do is see what questions your target audience is trying to answer.
While this may sound similar to keyword research (insert definition for keyword research), it is not. That comes next.
As for now, you need to find forums, groups, blogs, and any other place where your audience hangs out. My favorite places are Facebook groups, Quora, AnswerThePublic and the comment section on the authority blogs.
A quick look there and you’ll notice a series of topics that keep coming up. Select those and let’s move on to the next part.
Here are a few articles to help you out:
- 150+ Blog Ideas That Will Absolutely Kill Writer’s’ Block
- How to Come Up with 50 Content Ideas in 30 Minutes or Less
- 17 Secrets to Creating Awesome Blog Topics
Research Your Keywords
Now that you have a couple of topics selected, your writing process should follow. But before that, you need to know what question to tackle first.
That’s where keyword research comes into play (although that’s not its only benefit).
The topics you select are the seed keywords for your articles. For example, using one my favorite tools, Ahrefs, I type in keywords and see its search volume, traffic and difficulty.
My selection process from here on is pretty basic: I organize the topics I will write about based on who has the highest search volume and the lowest difficulty.
When that’s settled, you need to find out which keywords to target.
In a world where SEOs are competing against each other day-in-day-out, deciding to go after the seed keyword is a suicide mission, especially when your blog is still growing. But if you’re already a big player, what’s taking you so long?
Back to Ahrefs, the keyword suggestion tool will give you hundreds of keywords to pick from. While many SEOs will suggest choosing keywords with the lowest difficulty, I recommend you select more than one keyword.
More specifically, pick keywords that will make up the outline of your article. That way, instead of targeting one big keyword, you’ll find yourself tackling the whole topic from all its angles.
With enough research (not to be confused with keyword research), you’ll be able to produce the best content out there.
Research Your Topic
Instead of assuming that you are an expert on your topic, I would ask you with all due respect to read about your subject as if you are completely ignorant.
As a master’s student, no matter how knowledgeable I may be about a topic, I’m always asked to research arguments that’ll give my thesis strength. I can have endless assumptions, but if I can’t back them up, they are meaningless.
The same thing happens online.
If your content isn’t backed up by relevant data, who cares about what you have to say? After all, you’re still speculating.
That’s why when I am writing a new piece of content; I take a couple of days to read as much as I can about it.
I read everything accessible to me and I don’t hold back.
Yes, after a while, I start skimming content, but that’s because, at a certain point, every post has the same information as the previous one.
And that’s what I am (and you should be) looking for: that sweet spot where content becomes repetitive or stops providing real value.
It’s then that you will find your opportunity to write content from a perspective not like what’s already out there.
White Phase: Writing
Now that I know my topic, my keywords and my angle, it’s time to fill that blank page… Or is it?
Actually, before I do that, I still need one more thing: an outline.
Outline Your Article
If you’re having major problems, it’s because you don’t have a set outline for your article.
Without organization, the content won’t hold. You need to keep your thoughts organized so that your content writing process is organized as well.
Quick note: an outline is flexible, not a once-and-for-all decision.
While reading about the topic, sections of the article can tackle come to mind. The same thing happens during the keyword research process.
Instead of writing a five page academic essay, content for the web is written in sections and parts. Each small section is no longer than 300 words. (Ain’t that right, Yoast plugin users?)
Actually, a small section is as long as it has to be. But if one idea needs more than 300 words to be developed, are you sure it is only one idea?
I mean, you’re not writing about rocket science or Foucault’s philosophy, are you?
Outlining is fairly simple. At first, you need to have your main points. Three to five points are usually enough unless your topic requires more.
Then, each of these points can be divided into smaller points. One to three is more than enough in my experience.
And each smaller point can be tackled in 300 words, which is also enough.
From word-count fanatics: 300 x 3 x 5 = 4500 words, excluding the introduction and conclusion.
So if your article requires more than 5000 words, you should really consider writing it in chapters.
Also, I know this outline does not represent the usual list of item articles found on the internet, but that’s because each item is most likely a small point that you can write about in less than 300 words.
Nonetheless, if your article is a list type, then by all means, write down the items you need to mention before jumping in and writing about one of them.
Speaking from experience, I used to be very repetitive until I started outlining articles before writing them.
Write It All Down
Well, what can I say here?
You’ve done the research, you’ve outlined the piece. Now go ahead and write your article.
(In case you’re wondering, the last thing I write is the title of the article.)
While I used to write the introduction last, now I start with the introduction even though I always end up editing most of it.
Still, I think it’s better as the editing process will come either way.
For list-type articles, depending on how independent the items on the list are, I start writing about what I am confident about first, and double check the information for what I am less confident about.
(Again, fact-checking will come up soon, so don’t worry.)
Edit and Proofread
If you can afford an editor, then by all means, have them check your writing.
Otherwise, do as I do and let your piece settle down for a couple of days before looking over it again.
I use a simple Word plugin called Grammarly that helps identify about 80% of my mistakes; anything from wrong spacing to completely wrong sentences, it detects and provides alternatives to most writing mistakes.
The rest needs a more hands-on process.
You’ll need to carefully read your article, sentence by sentence, stopping at everything that sounds confusing.
While you may be tempted to skim through (because you are that good of a writer), you don’t even know how horrible your article could be without going through proper editing channels.
I’ve recently started working with an editor to help save time, and my writing has immensely improved.
Here is a quick checklist of what you need to be careful for:
– Spelling mistakes
– Wrong tenses
– Repetition (a.k.a keyword stuffing)
– Reading difficulty.
Yes, you read that right.
Writing for the average internet user requires an average level of writing. Unless your article is supposed to be published on an academic website, your article more than likely will end up on the screen of your average Joe and Jill.
So, those five syllable words you learned in school or while reading Shakespeare has no place your online content written.
They shall not pass!
Blue Phase: Publishing
Now that the content is in front of you, it is ready to go into the wilderness.
You’ve made sure it has better value than what’s already out there.
You think the writing process is done.
Let’s hit the Publish button in
Optimize Your Content
Your content is great and all, but if the search engines can’t understand it, then it is meaningless.
You need to make sure the keywords that came from your outline are prevalent in your writing as well.
No, I don’t mean that they need to appear multiple times. But you need your keywords written at least once.
As you get better at writing online, this part will become easier to do. However, main keywords are still necessary, just as it is crucial to have co-occurring keywords in your article.
Google is slowly moving away (if they haven’t moved by the time you read this) from their keyword-based (to some extent) ranking system to a more context-based ranking system.
In other words, make sure you write the same way you’d talk about a topic.
Not only that, but using On-page optimization means you need a few more important aspects to worry about:
- Break your paragraphs into small chunks. 3-4 sentences, based on your audience’s reading levels.
- Include images and videos when necessary, and based on what your audience expects.
- Include external links to authority sources you used to support your article.
- Include internal links to allow your readers (and bots) to discover more of your content.
- Have your keyword in your main title, in your URL, and your meta-description.
These are a few aspects of optimization that you need to consider. A more comprehensive on-page SEO guide should give you more ideas. I have selected this one for you: On-Page SEO: Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page (2017 Update)
Alright, let’s hit the Publish button in
Ask For Feedback
Here is something you never read online: ask for feedback before publishing.
No doubt in your writing process, when you were researching and optimizing your article, you referred to some bloggers.
In my case, I like to send them a request to give me feedback on the article before it goes live.
There is a lot to gain from doing this.
First, you get the feedback you explicitly ask for. You should edit and modify the content of your article according to that input, and according to your own research as well.
If the feedback and the research contradict each other, however, always go with your research. Unless the blogger gives you substantial research done on their part, trust yourself.
Second, you already have an audience ready to read, share and maybe link to your content. When you reach out for feedback, you implicitly let bloggers know that you have a fantastic piece of material that they can refer to in the future.
Three, you establish a good relationship. While you are asking for a favor, you are still giving something in return. If you’ve mentioned the blogger’s previous work, then that’s a well-welcomed backlink. If not, then you have just acknowledged them as experts in their field.
Either way, they should be happy to help you out.
Alright, now, we’re ready to go live in
And that’s it…
If you were me 2 years ago, that is.
Graduation Phase: Promoting
At the beginning of my blogging career, I used to write and publish content like a machine.
I wrote thousands upon thousands of words. In fact, I had a couple of my friends help me write and publish 72 articles in 2 months. Each piece is as little as 1200 words, and the longest is 6000 words… In 2 months!!
The result, no damn visitor ever saw or read a word!
Oh, the horror!
Let me save you the depression that comes from such an experience.
Do Some Blogger and Influencer Outreach
If you’ve followed the last step of publishing a new article, then you already did the initial outreach phase. You already have a few bloggers ready to boost the launch of your article.
But that’s not enough.
You need more than that handful of influencers. You need more bloggers to share and link to your content.
And I know, it is hard to get bloggers to do either, let alone both. But there are two ways this works:
One way is the old way, which is via emails. The process is relatively straightforward:
- Find a blogger
- Find their email
- Write a personalized email
- Hit send
And that’s it. The rest is out of your hand. Should they choose to respond, you’ll have to answer accordingly. If they ignore your email, you can send another reminder or two.
The new way is to interact on a social platform. The process is just as simple:
- Find a blogger
- Find their social media accounts
- Determine where they are most active
- Reach out to them directly
It’s all up to them whether they think your content is worth sharing or linking back to. All you can do is write the best content possible, and let them be the judge of it.
Guest Post on Other Blogs
Writing content for your own blog is never enough to get the traffic you desire. You need to follow the same content writing process in articles that you’d write for other blogs.
When getting direct backlinks fails, you can get some of them by publishing guest posts on other bloggers’ websites. That is, of course, if they allow them.
You don’t only get a backlink, but you gain some referral traffic that you wouldn’t get otherwise. AND you start building a good relationship with the bloggers in your niche.
All you have to do is find a blog that allows for guest posts, pitch them a great article, include your link naturally and make sure they publish it.
Inform Your Email List
Supposing you have a list of email subscribers, they should be the first to know about any content going live.
The first group of readers is always my close and immediate network, both friends and acquaintances and my list of subscribers.
Anyone that has given me permission to share my content with them will receive an email, a tweet or a message letting them know about the new content.
If you aren’t sure how to grow your list of subscribers yet, then this article should give you some quick hints.
Go Back to Where You Started
Remember early in the article when you had no idea what topic to write about and suddenly you had more than you can handle?
Well, that should be where you promote your content as well.
Social media communities offer you the ability to reach thousands of people who need the answers you have. A quick permission request from the admins and you are set to share your links whenever appropriate.
Quora and other Q&A forums are also an excellent space for you to share your articles. Many people are waiting for someone to reply to their questions. Your answer is always more than welcome.
Blog comments are a bit trickier. It is considered spam if you start sharing your links there.
The best way to do it, though, is to simply mention that you have an article about the topic on your blog. Whoever is actually interested would certainly look for your blog article.
Repurpose Your Content
And last but not least, whatever content you create is worth being repurposed in the future.
As you wait for a couple of months to see what content gets more attention, you can turn it into videos, presentations, eBooks and infographics.
You can use these new forms of content to restart the promoting process from the get-go.
This is it, everyone!
That is my complete content writing process that has helped me excel professionally.
It’s simple, logical and efficient.
There are no shortcuts to success, and definitely no shortcuts to writing a great piece.
The research phase is just as critical as the optimization, and publishing content without promoting it is useless.
My writing process is an organic system that cannot function properly if one of the elements is missing. That is how I make sure all my content writing and marketing efforts have a promising return over investment (ROI).
If you are a content writer, please let me know what your content writing process is. Also, let me know if you’d be interested in the complete Soldier Framework Course.