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The advanced content marketing principles basic guides won't tell you

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"Not another content marketing guide focused on elementary principles."

That's how I felt when I searched for advanced content writing tips a few years back.

I wanted to provide more value on draft one, reduce feedback loops, and feel assured my work was first-rate. 

Fast forward, and the SERPs still aren't very helpful.

So I've taken matters into my own hands.

In this article, I go beyond content writing basics and cover the content marketing principles behind articles that have a high average time on page and drive conversions.

I also share actual before and after examples of copy that I've edited, and why I made those changes.

Table of contents

  • Consider the psychology behind your content 
  • Drive your points home with relatable examples
  • Declutter your copy and avoid redundancy
  • Key takeaways

Consider the psychology behind your content 

Before you put pen to paper, even to write a comprehensive brief and outline, you need to know why you’re writing this content in the first place. 

Your content is an asset that will help you achieve a goal (e.g. increase conversions, drive more traffic to your website, become a thought-leader in your space, etc.).

But what job will it help your audience complete? How can you strategically motivate, empower, and influence decision-making?

To uncover the psychological “why”, you need to go beyond goals, personas, and even data-driven research. 

Make your content unique and emotion-driven

In the process of trying to rank for the same keywords or trends as everyone else, it’s easy to lose touch with your personality (brand or individual). That's why so many blog posts sound the same. 

The best content marketers know how to produce unique content while also keeping business and marketing goals top of mind. 

In practice, it helps to think of your content more as a conversation between yourself (the narrator) and your audience (the reader). 

Deloitte studied the value of emotion-driven engagement and found that consumers feel most aligned with their favorite brands when they experience trustworthiness (83%), integrity (79%), and honesty (77%). Further, 62% of consumers feel they have a relationship with a brand.

Emotional connections play a big part in engagement, loyalty, and retention. Attempting to persuade readers with matter-of-fact data completely ignores the emotions behind intent and purchase decisions.

Inject storytelling into your data-driven narrative

A clever way to tap into emotions is through storytelling.

Consider how effective storytelling is all too often left out of a data-driven narrative. As my colleague Christina Carè writes: 

“Content that relies only on data to tell your story can end up falling flat. Worse, it can overtake the heart of the matter—creating stories that align with your strategy and speak on behalf of your brand.” 

To get to the heart of the matter, consider:

  • What keeps your audience up at night? 
  • What do they dream about doing/achieving?
  • What makes them trust information and what makes them wary?
  • What kind of content do they find compelling, and why?

As you build your story, continuously confront your readers' pain points or desires. This will create a personalized experience that makes them understand, connect with, and trust your solutions.

You can't do this if you don't understand the motivation behind your content. 

Understand the motivation behind your content above all else

Let’s get meta and look at what motivates my target audience (you) and how the narrator (me) is confronting pain points and providing personalized solutions.

Based on personal experience, research, and conversations, I’ve deduced that my target audience is searching for detailed tips and tricks in order to become better content writers. 

You’ve likely been working for years in the content marketing industry, have a steady stream of clients and/or work for a well-established brand, and write good content every day. 

Pleasing your clients and creating meaningful posts matters to you. Not simply because you get paid for it, but because you are passionate about writing, care about connecting with others, and keen to explain complex topics. 

But, you sometimes struggle to get past some sticking points, and in general, want to continuously improve your craft.

You don’t need basic advice—you’re well past that. You’re looking for detailed examples of how to improve your content so you that feel confident in your work every single time

This shouldn’t be hard, but the majority of articles on how to up your content marketing game focus on the absolute basics, which isn't helpful.

You're motivated to find actionable advice, and annoyed at the lack of it. Sound about right?

This is why in the next few sections, I’m going to give you tons of examples that you won’t find in most content marketing guides. 

But so far, I've been talking about psychology and storytelling. Why not get straight to the examples?

Because the advice below means nothing without that crucial emotional connection I discussed above. You have to nail the structure and story while also keeping the following tips in mind. They're not mutually exclusive.

Now, let's get prescriptive.

Drive your points home with relatable examples

Too many content marketers make a point or generalization and then leave the reader hanging. Where's the takeaway, example, or actionable advice?

Yes, blogs need to be skimmable (that’s a basic we won’t cover here). Still, even if your reader is lazy or in a rush, you shouldn’t be. 

Explain the “why” behind the “what” to remove guesswork and add value

Never miss a chance to explain your point further. That could leave the reader guessing and motivate them to find the "why" somewhere else.

For example, if you write a sentence like, “X is especially true because of Y”, you need to explain why Y matters. 

Take this before and after as a case in point. 

Before: “It's clear that the user experience [insert app name] facilitates is hugely valuable, particularly in a mid-pandemic world." 

Ok, but why?

After: “It's clear that the user experience [insert app] facilitates is hugely valuable, particularly in a mid-pandemic world where people have extra time, a desire to learn something new, and an impulse to connect with others in this unparalleled time of isolation."

The outcome: Most people can relate to feeling isolated and yearning to connect during a pandemic. Now, you’ve not only explained why, but you’ve connected with your audience on that crucial emotional level. 

This adds a human element to your content. It’s what helps you go beyond the role of a robotic business trying to sell something to make a profit. It makes you real. It shows that you understand because you feel it too

Nobody wants to feel like they're being sold to. Everybody wants to feel seen and heard. 

Similar to how sales superstars master the art of connecting with their prospects on a personal level, you should aspire to make your content relatable and authentic. 

Show, don’t tell to prove authenticity 

These days, “take my word for it” doesn't fly. Not when social proof and word of mouth influence buying behavior, purchasing decisions, and brand loyalty above all.

Another Deloitte study finds that, in order to bring authenticity into the digital age, you need to lead with purpose and center the human experience. They write:

“Purpose answers an all-important question, ‘Why does a company exist?’—and the answer can serve as the beacon for all organizational decision-making.”

To prove authenticity, make sure to demonstrate exactly how you are accomplishing your goals. If you have permission, inject social proof into these stats and statements by centering a real customer story to personalize your data. 

To do just that, here’s some recent feedback I got after editing a writer’s work. As an aside, I make a point to show, not just tell, content writers why I’ve made certain changes or why I’d like them to edit further.

This has been consistently appreciated and has really helped them up their game:

“I've just finished going through and comparing your edits with mine there, Erica. As always - thank you so much for your time and feedback. The time and effort you're putting into helping me improve my writing is substantial, and I appreciate it.”

Nobody's perfect and collaboration makes all of us better writers. I often send my work to my colleagues for final edits and am constantly refining my craft based on feedback. 

Similar to optimizing blog posts or landing pages after they go live, take in new data, considerations, and trends, and adjust your content writing accordingly.

How to declutter your copy and avoid redundancy

This may seem basic, but even advanced content writers struggle with wordiness and redundancy. 

This isn’t an anecdotal point: Almost every single blog post that I edit has wordy sentences.

Perhaps as you become more experienced, you forget to follow your own advice and training from time to time. Or, you’re in a rush to make a deadline and skip the self-edit. 

We all have publishing deadlines breathing down our necks. But if you’re starting to feel like you’re prioritizing quantity over quality, catch yourself.

Figure out why your sentences are averaging 20+ words and set up a strategy to reset and refocus. 

Create a process for self-accountability to stay on track

I write a detailed outline before I get started to make sure I don’t waffle. If you have a comprehensive outline, the copy really does end up writing itself.

But if you’re a short-outline, write-as-you-research kind of creator, catch yourself at the end. Take a few hours away from your draft and revisit it before you hit send.

Ultimately, your message needs to be simple, clear, interesting, and skimmable. Complexity and wordiness do you no favors and certainly don’t give you an intellectual upper hand. 

Blog posts are not intended to be dissertations, argumentative essays, workflow documentation, or anything else that calls for longer prose.

To declutter your copy, focus on these key copywriting principles: 

Use active not passive voice to empower your reader to take action

Active voice is easier to skim and empowers the reader to take action. 

Why? Because we're putting the power in their hands. 

Rather than telling the reader that something can happen to them, we want them to feel like they can take charge and make it happen for themselves. 

This ideally leads to the reader clicking a CTA or internal link, which works to build a stronger connection and gets them closer to becoming a customer.

For example:

Passive voice: “If you don’t have a mathematics or computer science degree, gaining professional qualifications like these is likely to boost your career prospects.

Active voice: “If you don’t have a mathematics or computer science degree, consider pursuing relevant professional qualifications to boost your career prospects."

The outcome: The language is more actionable and likely to inspire and energize the reader.

Another example:

Passive voice: “To truly optimize the time of your sales team, utilizing a data-driven marketing automation approach is key.”

Active voice:
“To truly optimize your sales team’s time, it’s key to utilize a data-driven marketing automation approach.”

The outcome: It’s cleaner, easier to read, and tells the target audience (in this case, sales managers) exactly what to do (i.e. learn from data and automate repeatable tasks). 

Rather than a solution that reads like half-baked advice, active voice empowers the reader to take matters into their own hands.

Trim the fat to get to the point

Never use more words than you need to. To quote William Strunk Jr., co-author of “The Elements of Style”: 

“Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!”

People skim, but when they do land on a section of interest, they need to be engaged. 

If your sentences twist and turn and are full of words that don’t really need to be there just to further make a point that you feel is important then you’ll lose them in a heartbeat. 

See what I did there?

Let’s try that again. If your sentences are redundant and wordy, your readers will leave.

Here are a few examples of how to trim the fat:

Before: “To start making a plan, sit down and ask yourself the following questions:”

After:
“To formulate a plan, ask yourself:”
Before: “Affiliate marketing is often paid out by getting a free product or service.”

After:
“Affiliate marketing is often paid via product or service payouts.”
Before: “To get more likes on Instagram than you’re currently getting; to squeeze everything you can out of a post, you need to approach content tactically."

After:
“To get more likes on Instagram you need to approach content tactically.”

The outcome: The reader gets the same point, faster. Cutting superfluous words is not about cutting value. Quite the opposite. It creates more value because it’s easier to understand. 

Avoid redundancy to preempt boredom and cultivate your character

I think of redundancy in two buckets: 

  1. Repeated words or phrases that are overused and thus redundant
  2. Repeated ideas that are unnecessary because you’ve already made your point

Avoid both types.

Here’s an example of redundant words:

Before: “The roles begin to diverge once you take technical skills into account. Sales engineers have technical skills that allow them to identify patterns that someone without technical expertise may miss.”

See how the phrase technical expertise is starting to sound like a tongue twister?

After: “The roles begin to diverge once you take technical skills into account. Sales engineers have the industry expertise to identify patterns that an untrained eye may miss.”

That’s a lot easier to get through.

Let’s look at one more example.

Before: “When working with potential customers, technical sales engineers can explain complex concepts in a customer-friendly way. They use their knowledge to explain to potential clients how the product works and its unique selling point.”

After:
“When working with prospects and leads, technical sales engineers can explain complex concepts in a customer-friendly way. As they're experts, they can demonstrate exactly how your solution will produce desired results and what makes it unique.”

The outcome: Variety makes copy more compelling. Nobody wants to read the same word over and over. At best, it will make your copy look sloppy. At worst, it will look like keyword stuffing, which is the fastest way to appear robotic instead of a relatable, human narrator.  

Redundant ideas are harder to neatly demonstrate as they often pop up throughout content rather than in the same sentence or paragraph. 

For example purposes, I’ve condensed redundant ideas into one paragraph:

Before: “When pitching to investors, use data to dial up the pain and show how trends in digital adoption could cause them to go out of business if they don’t act fast. As an example, [insert company name] outlined the opportunity investing in digital transformation presents. They hit stakeholders with some pain, and then showed them how they can turn it into an opportunity.”

After:
“When pitching to investors, use data to dial up the pain and show how trends in digital adoption could cause them to go out of business if they don’t act fast. Then, immediately use examples to outline the opportunity on the other side of these pain points. As an example, [insert company name] used qualitative and quantitative data to both demonstrate risk and showcase beneficial outcomes.”  

The outcome: The difference is nuanced but important. The first is slightly repetitive, and the second makes the same point without any repetition. 

In the first example, the writer makes a point that you should ‘dial up the pain’ then ‘outline the opportunity’ this pain presents. They wrap up the paragraph with the same exact point, stated differently. It’s still effective, but ever so slightly repetitive, which we don’t want.

The second example wraps the ‘use pain to then outline opportunities’ point into the entire paragraph. Thus, they make the same point, but in a uniquely different way. It flows smoother and fit better into a seamless storytelling narrative.

It’s impossible not to repeat your ideas throughout a piece of content writing, but in doing so, make sure they flow seamlessly and aren’t obvious repetitions of one another. 

This way, by the time your reader gets to the end, you’ve driven your point home so smoothly that they fully understand your argument but don’t feel exhausted or bored by repetition. 

Key takeaways

Content writing, like any other type of art, benefits from consistent up-skilling. 

But going from beginner to intermediate is easier than intermediate to advanced.

To gain confidence and ensure you’re hitting your targets with every piece of content, remember to:

  • Focus on making an emotional connection with your reader (this stems from truly understanding the motivation and psychology behind your content and your audience)
  • Drive your points home with relatable examples and always explain the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ (doing so will lift your content above the fluff and regurgitation in the SERPs)
  • Create a process for self-accountability to ensure you’re giving each and every piece of content the self-edit and read through it deserves
  • Declutter your copy by consistently returning to basic copywriting principles we sometimes overlook

If you’re interested in learning more about my own writing and editing processes, check out the Grizzle Content Operations Playbook where Grizzle’s founder, Tom Whatley, and myself outline the end-to-end processes that we use to plan, create, and distribute content for dozens of clients every month.

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