Estimated reading time: 19 minutes
Table of contents
- Copywriting vs. Content Development
- Gathering Essential Knowledge
- Did You Know? Your Target Audience Needs Your Content
- Content Development Like a Pro: Phase 1
- Copywriting Like A Pro: Phase Two
- Content Production: Tips for Great Content
- Fill In The Blanks
Content Creation 101: The Complete Guide to Quality Content Development is a comprehensive guide to honing your copywriting and content development skills. It includes easy-to-follow steps on understanding user intent, crafting attention-grabbing headlines, and creating content that aligns with strategic goals. With this guide, you can quickly learn how to write effective copy for your business—and make sure it resonates with your target audience.
Many business owners hire copywriters and content strategists (shameless plug: we do this) to create content that brings in visitors and helps convert them into paying customers. The copy can include landing page copy, informative articles, interesting blog posts, and other pieces.
Other business owners want to write their copy – and we applaud that. It’s a good idea if you have the time to invest. -And, if you have the time to invest, you want to ensure it’s not wasted. While you can’t shove all the training that an experienced copywriter has into a single guide, or gather all the goods on content strategies, you can learn the basics.
Copywriting vs. Content Development
What’s the difference between copywriting and content creation?
Strong content development and copywriting strategies help define your company and brand as the company/brand to trust. Every strategy should have an underlying goal of developing trust in your products/services and brand.
Copywriting and content development are often used interchangeably as if they mean the same thing. However, although they’re both part of a package, they deal with separate issues. Knowing the differences between the two can save you a lot of frustration and time.
The biggest difference between the two is the level at which they’re used in a strategy. This is an important distinction and one we’re going to use to separate the steps of getting your content out like a professional.
Content development deals with the strategy of a set of documents:
- Blog series
- Newsletter series
- Article series
Within the content development process, you decide what information you’re going to share for a particular document set. In addition, you decide how that information will come, and how it will be linked together if the documents will be posted on several sites.
Copywriting deals with the tone and strategy of a single document:
- One blog
- One newsletter
- One article
Within the copywriting process, you decide how you’ll write each document of the set. What tone will you use? How will you lay out the information? (i.e. with subheadings, bullets, etc.)
Learn more: Copywriting 101: The Ins & Outs Of Great Copy
Gathering Essential Knowledge
What content development and copywriting have in common in the content creation process is the need to gather two essential pieces of knowledge:
Understanding the business…
The content developer and copywriter both have to understand the business they’re working for. If you’re developing strategies for your own business, this may sound easy, but it isn’t. You may find yourself having to think a lot more deeply about your business than you ever have before:
- What are your company’s beliefs? Not your beliefs, per se, but beliefs you want your company to stand for.
- What is the background of your company? Where did it come from? What has it done to be considered an authority in the business (this could be the company or you if you’re the face of your company)?
- What products/services do you offer?
- What image do you want to portray? What do you want your brand to stand for?
All of this is important. What image and feeling your company invokes becomes your brand.
Understanding the consumer…
We’ll talk more about this later, but you must also understand your potential customers. This is your target market, whether you deal with B2B or B2C. Again, once you start to dig into the information, you may find out a lot more about your audience than you knew:
- What are your consumer’s long-term goals?
- What reason do they have for buying your product/services?
- What problems will your product/services solve?
- What pain can your company address?
Both of these essential pieces of knowledge go into developing strong copywriting skills, as well as strong content development strategies.
Developing Strong Content Marketing Strategies On Both Levels
Whatever part you play in the content creation process, follow these six points for an excellent strategy:
- Listen to the consumer – Gather information from the horse’s mouth. Read blog comments about similar products. Read forum and social media postings. Take polls and use other forms of engagement to get a real understanding of how the consumer sees products/services like yours.
- Stay focused on the consumer – Sure, sure, talk about yourself. However, when you do, talk about how you can help them. They’ll discover how wonderful you are when they use your services or products.
- Ask the right questions – which leads to great things like helpful answers, better information to complete the buying process, and a successful sale.
- Build strong buyer/seller relationships – Make sure you make it a point to get to know your buyers and the people behind them. Ask questions about their interests and preferences, as well as their needs and wants.
- Keep relationships active and growing – Once a relationship is established, make sure to keep it going. Send regular updates and industry or company news that may be of interest. Nurture those relationships over time and make sure you are top-of-mind for the customer.
- Maintain two-way conversations – Keep the dialogue going by responding to comments, questions, and suggestions on time. Make sure that you are open to feedback as this can help you to improve your service and your content offerings, and build stronger relationships with customers.
Sometimes, as a business owner, you need to have some huge motivation to put a lot of time and effort into something. Every bit of time and money is precious. Here’s your motivation:
- It costs more to attract and sell a new customer than it does to retain one you already have
- More money is spent on various marketing techniques if content strategy/copywriting is weak
Strong content development strategies and good copywriting skills help define your company and brand as the company/brand to trust. Every strategy should have an underlying goal of developing trust in your products/services and brand.
Build a recognized, trusted brand. Build a strong foundation. With strong strategies, you essentially create a foundation of loyal, growing, buying customers.
Did You Know? Your Target Audience Needs Your Content
It’s easy to think about your target audience and how you need them to respond to your content. After all, if they don’t respond, you don’t get traffic, authority, sales, or a cookie. However, have you considered the flip side of that coin? Your target audience needs your content, as well.
You’re not just writing into a vast blank space and hoping someone will see it. If you have a service or products, there is someone out there who needs them. And if they need them, they need the content you have to offer.
Good content creation is more than developing content marketing strategies. It takes a seamless blend of marketing, knowledge, and emotion wrapped into an interesting piece of content.
The Business Goal for Your Content: Become Their Expert
Establishing yourself as an expert, connecting with your audience, and offering unique solutions are vital to gaining a measurable level of success with marketing. You can achieve this goal by crafting content that is both useful and engaging to your prospects. However, many marketers make the mistake of speaking from their perspective, ignoring the needs of their audience.
If you make the same error, you won’t be able to get the most from your business, and you’ll end up wasting a lot of time in the process. So how do you become the content creator your audience needs?
Define Your Audience
Before any of this awesome information can be of some use, you have to define your audience. Otherwise, how can you create content that appeals to them?
Seems logical, yet you’d be amazed by how many clients we get that have been… writing into the nether regions of Internet space. You can’t have just a vague idea of your target audience. You have to know the answers to the following questions:
- What terms do they use to search?
- What related questions do they have?
- What solutions are they coming to you for?
Until the day comes when people use search engines without using words, then words matter. Intent matters, and so does relevance.
Speak To Their Knowledge Level
Your target audience has a demographic. All women, all men, between the ages of 25 – 40, married, divorced… Whatever it is, there are commonalities surrounding your visitors. You can see some of these in your Google Analytics, by viewing the demographic section.
However far up the food chain they are in their business, they may not know the same terms as you. Toilet paper is an excellent example, I think.
Everybody uses toilet paper, but that doesn’t make everybody an expert on how toilet paper is made. Perhaps writing blogs using industry terminology isn’t the best way to entice people into believing you’re an expert – unless you want to write a blog about the difference between your virgin paper and another guy’s recycled stuff. That might be interesting. And potentially gross.
At any rate, you have to capture their attention without talking down to them, but without overwhelming them with terms and processes they don’t understand. Talk with them, not to them.
When you can capture attention and offer real value, you will notice more people than ever before will come to you for advice. If you want to take your business to the next level, use this opportunity to transition to your products and services.
Use Familiar, Searchable Words
You not only have to use words your audience understands, but you also should use the words they use.
When creating content for the web, many business owners make the mistake of trying to sound too professional. In their effort to impress their prospective clients, these business owners often use terms with lower search value, simply because those are the “proper” ones. Use target terms that help you get your content in front of the people who need it rather than those that make you look smart. (What exactly does “virgin” toilet paper mean, anyway?)
Speak To Emotional Needs
This section covers the most crucial aspect of content creation: focusing on the emotional needs of your prospects. Although people might seem to have a diverse set of motivating factors, everything can be reduced to features and benefits.
- Feature: Small ridges on the toilet paper for maximum absorbency
- Benefit: A dry rear end
When you interact with your customers, try to look between the lines, searching for their biggest needs. When you find their strongest emotional drive, focusing your content around it will work wonders for your profitability.
Examples of emotional triggers:
- Fear (ex: Don’t get left behind)
- Competition (ex: Be the envy of your neighbors)
- Desire to be a leader (ex: Everyone in your neighborhood will want to try YOUR new gas grill)
- Desire to be trendy or cool (ex: Now you too can get the hottest car in Hollywood)
- Need for instant gratification (ex: Drive home TODAY in your new car)
- A desire for more free time (ex: Now you can wash your car in half the time)
- Feelings of guilt (ex: For the cost of one cup of coffee per day, you could feed a hungry child for a year)
- A desire for trust (ex: You’ll get an honest estimate with no hidden charges)
- Desire to belong (ex: You’re part of the family as Mama’s Diner)
- Desire to get a good deal and sufficient value in return for money spent (ex: If you find a better price for the same product, we’ll match it)
Inability to identify your audience, understand their needs and speak to their emotions will cause you to fail. Those who don’t invest the time or effort to understand their prospects are always leaving money on the table. Developing content that speaks to your audience and – here’s the important part – produces results, requires time, hard data, and well-thought-out strategies.
You want your business to grow. You want your content to go the maximum distance it can, right? “The devil’s in the details,” as the saying goes, and writing the content your audience needs to see is the biggest detail of all.
Content Development Like a Pro: Phase 1
Phew! That’s a lot to read, but it’s worth it if you want to have a grasp of the basics before getting into the nitty gritty. Now you understand the basics, it’s time to put them to work with 2 phases, 7 steps, and a partridge in a pear tree.
You have to have your strategy in place before you start content creation. Otherwise, you’re just spewing content into the Internet’s highways and byways. That’s never pretty, and it seldom turns out well. Let’s look at the steps:
Step 1: Define Your Goals.
What are you doing this for? Supposedly, you aren’t just writing to be writing. Therefore, step two is to define your goals so you’re not just throwing content at the walls to see what’ll stick. You’re a busy individual; you can’t afford to waste time on unplanned, useless content.
The average goals of content include:
- To gain authority
- To gain publicity
- To gain traffic
- To build fans
- To build trust
Once you know what the purpose is, it becomes easier to form a strategy and apply it.
Step 2: Learn About Your Business And Consumer.
You are your client. You may think you have a pretty darn good idea of what it is you want to accomplish with your site and content, but it never hurts to make sure, right? Right (see how we conveniently answered this for you? You can thank us later)!
You have to understand your business, which may take a lot more work than you think. Answer these questions:
- What has your company done to be considered an authority in the business?
- What do you offer consumers?
- What image do you want to portray? What do you want your brand to stand for?
You also have to understand your consumer, whether you deal with B2B or B2C. Again, you may find out a lot about your audience:
- Why are they buying this product? What will it solve?
- Why are they buying my product specifically?
- What are their pain points?
- How can I focus the copywriting to target and answer the readers’ questions?
- Build a demographic profile by noting: Gender, Age, Ethnicity, Family Status, Income, Occupation, and Interests.
- What characteristics do your customers share that you can use to specifically target them?
- You may need to segment different users of products into groups based on their needs or how they use the product/service (ex: house cleaning service could appeal to the elderly who can’t do it, busy/working moms who need help, single men who don’t have the time/knowledge, etc)
- Consider new segments that could be introduced to the product/service.
- Know the “Four Rights Of Advertising”: Right Message to the Right Audience at Right Time in the Right Place.
Step 3: Identify your Product’s Benefits
If you don’t know your product’s features and benefits, how can you pass knowledge on to your potential customers? Questions to ask yourself:
- Who will my product help?
- What will my product do for customers?
- Where does my product help customers? (saves time in the kitchen, grows business, etc)
- When will it help? What other time factors are involved?
- Why should they care about my product or service?
- How will it impact their lives?
- How is my product better than the competition?
Action Tips: List features and break them down into benefits.
- They need to instantly know how the product/service will help them: save time/money, feel better, make their lives easier, etc.
- Don’t make them guess, clearly tell them in a catchy headline what they will get if they buy a product/service.
- Example of conveying strong W.I.I.F.M. “Our frying pan has an innovative nonstick coating” – this talks about a feature and not what it’s in it for them. Instead, use “You’ll never have to scrub a frying pan again”
Step 4: Form Your Plan.
Forming a plan is easier said than done. It’s not just saying, “I’m going to write some blogs and post them on my site.” You didn’t start your business this way (probably); you shouldn’t start projects that build your business this way, either.
Your content calendar should include:
- Where your content will be posted. (blog, an industry site, newsletter, etc)
- How often your content will be going out. (daily, 2xs a week, once a week, once a month)
- What main topic are you going to cover? If you have several topics like we do (see the category navigation links at the top of this blog), you’ll need to define a strategy for each of them.
- What subtopics you’re going to cover.
- How many articles, blog posts, etc, will you use to cover this topic and subtopics?
- How you’ll link the series together.
- How many sites will you use to publish the series?
- How you’ll publicize the series. (Social, Word of Mouth, PR sites)
Copywriting Like A Pro: Phase Two
Now you know your business. You know your consumer, and your consumer should also be your readership. Remember, readers don’t buy; consumers buy, and you’re writing to consumers. Therefore, every piece of copy you write should address the questions you answered in phase one of this process.
For example, the consumer’s long-term goal is to live a more comfortable life. To do this, they want to find a way to clean the air so they don’t cough so much. If you sold cleaning products or dealt with anything “home maintenance” or “home care”, writing a blog entitled “Top 10 Ways That WORK! To Purify the Air in Your House” may be exactly what they want to read.
Step 5: Define Your Copywriting Strategy
Now that you have your content development strategy in place, it’s time to move on to the details and out of the big picture. You have the main topic, the sub-topic, and your audience. Now it’s time to define your copywriting strategy.
Your copywriting strategy will answer questions like:
- What posts will I write for this sub-topic?
- What titles will I use to attract readers?
- What tone will I use for these posts?
- How will I lay the information out (i.e. with subheadings, bullets, etc)?
Step 6: Develop Your Writing Outline
At this point, you have enough information (or should have) to create at least a one-month writing outline. To do this, you simply go back through the steps and fill in the sections below:
- Main Topic
- Post Title
- Section 1
- Bullet points?
- Section 2
- Bullet points?
- Section 3
- Bullet points?
- Post Title
- Post Title
- Post Title
Step 7: Prepare Your Content
You’re finally there. You have all the information necessary to start implementing your content development strategy. The key here is follow-through.
Follow the outline you created in the last step. Once the content is written, read it aloud. Preferably, have someone willing to read it first and offer constructive criticism.
Content Production: Tips for Great Content
Copywriting is one of the most important elements of your marketing. Without strong text that compels people to take action, you are sunk.
Not everyone has formal training in how to write sizzling copy that sells and not everyone can afford to hire a professional to produce the sizzle they need. With that in mind, here are a few of the major tips professional content creators and content strategists know about crafting powerful copy:
Focus on “You” Not “We”
The majority of copy should be written in Second Person. (ex: “Through our first-rate sales department we can deliver cars within 24 hours” = not good, instead use “You can drive your new car tomorrow”) 80% of pronouns should be in the second person (“you”) and 20% should be in the first person (“we”).
- Check your copy after you’ve written the first draft: Have I used “you” more than “we” in my copy?
- Make sure every word adds value to the message.
- Copy should speak more about customers and less about you.
- Speak to the target audience and not at them.
Avoid T.M.I. (Too Much Information)
Have you added too much information and overwhelmed the reader? Too much information can be a risk, in that you could lose the interest of the reader. A good rule of thumb is the Red Pen Rule: once you have written the final copy and feel it’s compelling and tight, get your red pen and delete at least 30% of it.
- What information is important to me but not helpful in an ad or on webpage copy? (but may be useful in a news article or brochure in the future)
- How can I keep my copy from being cluttered?
- Have I deleted filler words?
- Have I deleted extraneous information?
- If I were a customer, what info would I have to see to buy?
- Avoid filler words like: very, really, that.
- Don’t use $10 words when $1 words will be more clear and strong.
- Hook with the headline, tease with the subhead, deliver key selling points, and call to action with a sense of urgency.
- Be action-oriented, concise, to the point, and clear.
Include a Call to Action
No matter what type of content creation you’re aiming for – whether it’s an ad for Google or a blog post for XYZ guest site-, always include a call to action. CTAs are essential to make it easy for prospects to understand what you want them to do, and for them to do it. A few key points:
- Drive to action now, don’t make them think about acting now.
- Use an active, not passive voice.
- Don’t suggest action, demand it.
- Sample words: Act Now, Don’t Delay, Hurry In, Call Today, For A Limited Time, Don’t Miss It, While Supplies Last, Call Now, This Weekend Only, Don’t Wait Any Longer, One-time Offer, Get Yours Today.
- Ex: Younger-Looking Skin In A Week? Why Wait? How About In An Instant? (from CoverGirl)
And a BONUS Punch List
- Every word and phrase should help move people to action.
- Four Actions Of Effective Copy: Drive your customers to act through your copy, Motivate your customers to act through your copy, Compel your customers to act through your copy, and Persuade your customers to act through your copy.
- Elements of copy: Headline, Subhead, Key selling points, Special offer, Call to action, Tracking mechanism, Additional info, disclaimers
- Appeal to the 5 senses (touch, taste, see, hear, smell) – create experiences for them using the 5 senses.
- Use descriptive words but don’t oversell or sacrifice the integrity of copy.
- Fear of loss and the desire to save money are the greatest motivators.
- Most people don’t read brochures cover to cover, so treat each page like a new ad with headlines, callouts, pull quotes, etc. Keep hooking and reeling in over and over.
- Use design to create visual cues for readers to follow your copy.
- Be persuasive, don’t just list benefits. Make sure customers believe they can’t live without a product/service.
Fill In The Blanks
Now, this is just an overview of the process we go through to develop quality content and strong content strategies. However, we’ve written a lot of articles through the years about content development. While you can find all the posts under our Content Development category, we’ve collected a few of the more pertinent, in-depth articles below:
On Search Engine Journal
- Get Your Own Content Development Process With This 4-Step Action Plan
- 4 Common Copywriting Mistakes Everyone Makes
- Give Your Content That White-Glove Treatment – Repurpose for the Good of Humanity
- How to Build Content for SEO Without Bombarding Readers
- Dominating With Content and the Fight to the Top
- How to Boost the Success of Your Link Bait BEFORE You Publish
From outlining the basics of copywriting to providing detailed instructions on how to craft persuasive messages and improve engagement, this guide gives marketers the knowledge they need to create content that drives results. With a better understanding of your customer base, you can create compelling messaging that resonates with your target audience while staying true to your brand’s values and identity.
These strategies enable marketers to stand out from the competition by providing customers with content that is both informative and entertaining – something all successful businesses strive for!
Editor’s Note: This article is a compilation of previously published articles through the years. It’s been updated to adhere to today’s standards.