The Advanced Content Marketing Principles Basic Guides Won't Tell You
If you’re a content marketer, you already know how to string ideas together to achieve a predetermined goal.
That said, as an editor, I’ve met many content marketers that are looking to elevate their craft. They don’t need to know what content marketing is, why it’s important, and the basic skills that a content writer should retain.
Rather, they’re looking to provide more value on draft one, reduce feedback loops, and feel more assured that their work is first-rate.
But most content marketing guides only tell you the obvious and focus on elementary principles.
In this article, I’ll go beyond content writing basics and cover the content marketing principles that make up killer blog posts. Ideally, this guide will help you hone your craft and build confidence in your work.
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 (which is crucial to producing a successful draft), you need to know why you’re writing this piece of content in the first place.
Of course, your blog post is an asset that will help you achieve a specific goal. Whether that’s to increase conversions, drive more traffic to your website, become a thought-leader in your space, or so on.
But to uncover the psychological “why” behind your content, you need to go beyond goals, personas, and even your data-driven research.
Make your content unique and emotion-driven
So many of today’s blog posts are regurgitations of each other.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t write on the same topics and try to rank for the same keywords. But in doing so, it’s easy to lose your personality (brand or individual) among search results that all look the same.
The best content marketers, therefore, understand how to make their content unique while still keeping business and marketing goals top of mind.
Peep the similar headlines and meta descriptions in the SERPs when we search for “guide to content writing”:
The easiest way to stand out from the crowd and get people to click on your result is to write a killer page title and meta description. Of course, that only gets you so far. Once on your page, you have to keep them there.
In practice, it helps to think of your content more as a conversation between yourself (the narrator) and your customer (the reader).
This helps you to connect with your readers on an emotional level—which is a much harder feat than ranking in the SERPs. And it’s more valuable, too.
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.
In essence, 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 accelerate desire and 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.”
In order 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?
From there, you need to make your copy relatable to these pain points, desires, and goals. But don’t stop at a captivating introduction; rather, focus on building your story from start to finish.
Throughout your content, continuously confront your reader’s pain points or desires and create a personalized experience that makes them understand, connect with, and trust your solutions.
To do this, you really have to dig deep to understand the motivation behind your content.
Understand the motivation behind your content above all else
Let’s get meta and take a look at the motivation behind my target audience (you) and how the narrator (me) is confronting pain points and providing personalized solutions through this piece of content.
Based on personal experience, research, and conversations that I’ve peripherally paid attention to, 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 all of the time.
Pleasing your clients and creating meaningful posts for your audience matters to you. Not simply because you get paid for it, but because you chose this profession out of a passion for writing, a desire to connect with others, and a drive to explain complex topics.
In short, you care about doing a good job, but sometimes struggle to get past some sticking points, and in general, want to continuously improve your craft.
So, as I mentioned in the intro, you don’t need basic advice—you’re well past that. Rather, you’re looking for detailed examples and explanations of how to elevate your content so that you feel confident in your work every single time.
It shouldn’t be difficult to find advice on how to improve once you’re already considered an expert. Yet, the majority of articles on how to up your content marketing game focus on the absolute basics, which doesn’t help your cause.
Hence, in the next few sections, I’m going to dive into how to get past some of these common sticking points with tons of examples that you won’t find in most content marketing guides.
Drive your points home with relatable examples
Too many content marketers make a point and then leave their readers hanging. In other words, they don’t follow through with meaningful examples to back up their statements.
Yes, many people skim blog posts, and thus you should ensure they’re 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, as that could leave the reader guessing, and ultimately click away to go find the why.
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 and learn new things during this pandemic. So now, you’ve not only explained why, but you’ve connected with your audience on that crucial emotional level.
Connecting with your audience like this adds a human element to your content. It’s what helps you go beyond the role of a lackluster 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 be 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
Similarly, audiences want to see that you know what you’re talking about. And the best way to do that is with data that proves you’re being authentic.
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 organisational decision-making.”
So, in order to show real impact and prove authenticity, make sure to demonstrate exactly how you are accomplishing your goals. Then, 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.”
Of course, I’m not perfect, either. I often send my work to our content marketers for final edits and am constantly refining my craft based on feedback.
Similar to optimizing blog posts or landing pages after they go live, you should consistently aim to 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 here and there.
Perhaps it’s because 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
My personal process is to write a detailed outline before I get started to make sure I stay on track and 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, then catch yourself at the end. Take a few hours away from your draft and revisit it before you hit send. Taking a step back makes it much easier to objectively self-edit and trim the fat.
Ultimately, your message needs to be simple, clear, interesting, and skimmable. Complexity and wordiness do you no favors in the world of content writing, 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.
In order to declutter your copy, it’s crucial that you 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.
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.
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 injects confidence into your statements and allows you to connect on that key personal level.
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!”
As we’ve discussed, people that read blog posts are often skimming. 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
When I think of redundancy, I think of it in two buckets:
- Repeated words or phrases that are overused and thus redundant
- Repeated ideas that are unnecessary because you’ve already made your point
You should avoid both types of redundancy.
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. They tap into their knowledge base to clarify the unique selling proposition and demonstrate why their solution will produce the desired results.”
The outcome: Variety preempts boredom and makes your copy more compelling. Nobody wants to read the same word over and over again. 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.
As for redundant ideas, those are harder to neatly demonstrate as they often pop up throughout a piece of content rather than in the same sentence or paragraph.
For example purposes, I’ve condensed redundant ideas into a 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 then wrap up the paragraph with the same exact point, just 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 a bit smoother and fits a bit better into a seamless storytelling narrative.
Again, redundant ideas are harder to showcase as examples. The takeaway is this:
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.
Content writing, like any other type of art, benefits from consistent up-skilling.
That said, it’s difficult to find advanced content writing principles that give you specific examples of how to elevate your craft. So many articles focus on basic content skills aimed at new writers looking to get some skin in the game.
In order to gain confidence and ensure you’re hitting the target with every single piece of content you produce, 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 that we all strive to avoid writing and reading)
- 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 the 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.