Writing Great Content: 4 Things We’ve Learned
Megan and Henry had already been working with this particular client for six months before it happened. Henry was handling the strategic end of things, identifying desirable keywords and topics for blog posts. Megan was busy writing, interviewing the company’s technical experts, and transforming complex information into readable, compelling content. Yep, inbound marketing was already hard at work for this innovative, Internet of Things tech company.
Megan and Henry knew that the blog had been doing its job, but it became clear how well it had been doing it on the day they heard the news—our client had just secured a million-dollar-plus contract with someone who first became aware of the company after reading one of Megan’s blog posts.
Now that’s inbound marketing at work.
Inbound marketing is made up of several moving parts—strategy, writing, collaboration, and more—and it simply won’t work if all the parts aren’t present and accounted for. Being a writer, though, I was curious as to what my writer-teammates think makes the kind of great written content that produces results like the one above, so we had some meaningful discussions over a series of our Nectafy writers’ meetings. Turns out, our ideas about creating great content are still evolving, but there are a few things that we can definitively say make it happen.
4 Things We’ve Learned About Writing Great Content
1. Nothing replaces talking to an expert.
Almost every article we write at Nectafy draws on the original thoughts and knowledge of experts—otherwise known as our clients. There’s a huge difference between Googling a topic to research secondary resources and picking the brain of someone with firsthand experience on the topic.
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For every article we write, we tap into that expertise by talking to our clients first. They act as subject matter experts (SMEs) for us, so, depending on the topic, we speak to whoever within the company is most knowledgeable. (Sometimes the topic is slightly outside their purview but relates to their main business; in that case, they connect us with an outside authority.) Our articles are more interesting, more authoritative, and more helpful as a result.
2. Interviews can make or break an article.
Talking to an SME is important, but how you talk to them is just as important. An interview that falls short of giving you a complete picture of the topic at hand won’t produce the kind of great content that keeps people coming back for more.
In our writers’ meetings, we talk a lot about interviews and how we can sharpen our skills. There’s always something we think we could do better or something that didn’t go quite right. Talking about those instances generates feedback and suggestions from the group—and encourages sharing when things go great! (Click here for the do’s and don’ts of a successful SME interview.)
Prepping for upcoming content interviews is a big part of our job, but some topics are harder to wrap our heads around than others. We think it’s important to share those feelings with our SMEs, who may think that their personas get it when that may not always be the case. Some questions that help us draw out an SME’s unique perspective and deep knowledge are:
- What are your experiences in relation to [the topic]? (Asking them to define the nature of their connection helps readers see where their knowledge comes from.)
- What mistakes do you see being made with regard to [the topic]? (This question comes at things from a different angle.)
- Do people disagree with your thoughts on [the topic]? (This question provides context and demonstrates the logic behind his or her reasoning.)
- Can you give me a specific example or hypothetical use case of [the topic] in action? (Always a great one—both because it adds interest to your writing and it helps you understand better!)
Keep in mind that your SME probably talks about the topic in the same way most of the time; consider what you might ask that will prompt them to say it a bit differently.
3. Writing with purpose is essential.
By now we’ve realized that when we’re not writing well (or we find ourselves putting off writing an article!), it’s usually because we don’t understand the subject well enough, or we don’t have a clear sense of purpose for what we’re writing. Before the writing even starts (and before the interview even takes place), it’s imperative to have a good understanding of the goal of the article and how it should be written.
As our strategic guru, Henry is our go-to resource for much of this information. There must be a synergy between the writing and the strategy to produce purposeful content. What information or point of view does our client need to share with the reader? What specific problem might it help people solve? Everything we write meets a need that the client has—knowing what it is helps us write faster and better.
4. Relationship-building is just as important as writing.
Talking to clients and showing a genuine interest in learning about their industries helps us build strong relationships with them. The more often we talk to them, the more comfortable we feel. These open lines of communication encourage a freer information exchange and honest feedback. And the more we learn, the more context we have to write insightful future articles. The end result is better—hopefully great!—writing.
Our writers’ meetings have produced lots of golden nuggets besides these, mostly about things related to our individual writing habits (like handling time constraints and motivational issues), the Nectafy editorial process, and writing ruts (i.e., “I’m stuck on this intro; can you take a look?”).
In fact, after several meetings spent discussing web copy, all of those nuggets put together were so weighty and detailed that we turned them into what has become one of our all-time best-performing offers, the 8-Part Guide To Writing Stellar Website Copy.