Time for a little trivia. What will make:
- Content creation easier for you?
- Content consumption more enjoyable for your readers?
- And outstanding results more likely for your clients?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to content writing. But having a repeatable way to create relevant, effective, and engaging content is smart. (When you make a habit of winging it, you’re more likely to be inefficient, inconsistent, or leave out important project details.)
So, if you don’t yet have a process for quality control and efficiency, mine may give you some inspiration. Here’s how I approach three common content formats: Blog posts, website content, and case studies.
Optimized 3X: The foundation for each piece of content
My processes vary based on the type of content writing I’m doing. However, the common thread is my Optimized 3X framework. It’s based on my observation that the most effective web content and copy is always:
- Tailored to attract and persuade a specific audience
- Designed to highlight all the best things about the unique brand it’s for
- And optimized for visibility and easy consumption online
So, learning the target audience and brand I’ll be writing for is essential at the start of every project. (The third type of optimization I mentioned will come a little later on.)
Blog content writing step by step
Writing blog posts is my fave thing and also my most requested service. Here’s how I approach content development for blogs.
1. First outline
Once a client assigns or approves a topic and before I start Googling and such, I start an outline. My goal at this stage? Set the tone and find the angle before existing content or opinions on the topic influence me.
Of course, nothing’s set in stone at this point. It’d be silly not to allow research and the natural evolution of the blog post to inform my plans. But starting here is a good way to avoid regurgitating what’s on page one of Google.
Note: If you’re battling writer’s block, don’t tax yourself with this step. Same if you’re writing about a new-to-you topic. Skip to the next step.
2. Keyword research and SERP analysis
If you write content that’s meant to drive organic traffic like I often do, keyword research and SERP analysis are next.
My clients are pro marketers, so they provide at least a primary keyword for each piece. Often, they mention a few secondary keywords too. But, I still like to do a little research myself. By looking at the search engine results pages (SERPs), I can:
- Identify related keywords worth using or keeping in mind as I write
- Confirm the search intent behind the focus keyword phrase
- Learn about what kind of content Google considers worthy of the first page of search results
SERP analysis also goes a long way in finding ways to make the blog posts I write stand out. And that makes them more valuable to my client’s audiences.
3. Content brief
Some clients give me more leeway than others and don’t create formal content briefs. In those cases, I plug the info they share into my content brief template and fill in the rest myself. (To see that template, learn about what’s worth including, and why, check out my post on how to create a brief.)
For example, some clients give me:
- A target keyword
- A brief topic description
- Any out-of-the-ordinary notes on the audience I’ll be writing for
From there, especially if I know the client well, I can easily:
- Pick the best call-to-action
- Find internal content to link to
- Determine what will give my content an edge over competing pages
Same goes for the rest of the details my brief template calls for.
4. Outline, question gen, and research
With the brief done, I revisit my initial outline to:
- Add any other subtopics, ideas or angles that have come to mind since creating the first outline
- Identify important questions, either for the audience or to expand or clarify my topic knowledge
Various sources are part of this stage. I often:
- Look at the SERPs again and jot down relevant info from:
- Google autocomplete
- People Also Asked
- Related Searches
- The headlines and subheadings of competing pages
- Ask around my network or send out quote requests via HARO, Qwoted or Elise Dopson’s Help a B2B Writer
- Use The Juice, Marijana Kostelac’s Data Vault or other data sources
- Use Answer Socrates (a free alternative to Answer the Public) to understand what people want to know about my topic
Once done, I move on to writing the first draft.
Mostly, I write posts top to bottom: Intro to body to conclusion. But I write my final title last. Along with revisiting my intro to make sure it’s not trash and aligns with the final direction of the post.
During this stage, I keep in mind that high-quality content isn’t just well-written. Sad to say, that’s a common misconception many content writers have.
Besides being able to write fluently, you must write with:
- Business goals and content strategy in mind, which you can’t do if don’t understand (or are in the dark about) those things on client projects
- An understanding of the overall audience you’re writing for and its subgroups
- Good user experience as a priority, which includes relevance, logical progression, readability, etc.
- Concern for your and your client’s credibility, working to build up as much trust with readers as you can
- Search engine optimization best practices in mind (if that’s part of your client’s digital marketing strategy)
For each piece I write, I mentally run through this content writing checklist. Doing this makes it more likely that I’ll write great content on the first try and reduces the need for revisions.
6. Out loud read-through and edit
With my draft done, I pop it into a text-to-speech reader. Hearing it out loud helps me catch and correct more errors and awkward sentences than reading alone. The same is true of writing and editing on different days.
By allowing myself a break before editing, my mind is fresher when I start. That makes it easier to spot spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Plus, I’m less likely to rush the process just because I’m sick of looking at the content and want to be done with it.
But the editing doesn’t stop here.
7. Hemingway Editor
I run my content through Hemingway Editor to visualize opportunities for improvement. Especially if I suspect the content has a high reading grade level, too much passive voice or several complex sentences.
While I don’t implement all of Hemingway’s suggestions, they do make self-editing easier.
8. Grammarly and ProWritingAid
I catch errors with the Grammarly and ProWritingAid extensions during drafting. But, for good measure, I also paste my content in a Grammarly or ProWritingAid doc to see if there are any last things I missed.
As with Hemingway, I don’t take all of these tool’s recommendations as law. They and similar artificial intelligence tools make spotting opportunities and potential errors easier. But they aren’t meant to think and do the work for us.
Finally, I do a last read-through of the content to make sure I didn’t accidentally edit any errors in (it happens sometimes!). Plus, I check that everything reads well and makes sense.
Note: This 4-step editing process might sound like overkill. But it goes quicker than you think.
For example, I use the text-to-speech reader at above-normal speed. So I get through the out-loud reading fast. With Hemingway, I’m not necessarily reading through the content in full. I’m just addressing problem areas the tool has pointed out. Same with Grammarly. The final read-through is where I take the most time.
The website content writing process
How does my process differ for website content or, more accurately, website copy such as landing pages?
1. Company analysis
Of course, I familiarize myself with the company when writing blog posts for a client as well. But, in that case, it’s more of a project setup step than part of the writing process. Here, it forms the foundation of the copy I write.
So I make it a point to learn about:
- The solution the client offers
- Who it’s built for
- What differentiates it
- What alternatives potential customers consider*
- How the company communicates those things
*Service businesses aren’t the only competitors of a service business. And product businesses aren’t the only competitors of a product business. Don’t forget about researching indirect competitors, including DIY solutions or even indifference.
2. Audience analysis
For each buyer persona, I find out:
- What challenges or problems they’re trying to solve (and how severe each one is)
- What their end goals are in order of importance
- What solutions they’ve tried before and what their experiences were
- What solutions they’ve looked into but haven’t tried (and what’s holding them back)
- Burning questions they’d need answered to feel comfortable taking a next step
- Fears, uncertainties, and doubts (FUDs) that could prevent them from converting
Plus, I note how they communicate the above, writing down the exact wording they use. That way, I can emulate it and make my copy resonate more strongly with the right audience. How do I get all this info, though? By:
- Assessing what my clients know and reviewing any buyer personas and related materials they have
- Surveying customers if possible
- Confirming client info via sources like Reddit, Quora, blog comments, social media posts, and review websites
- Asking questions within relevant communities if I can’t find existing, recent info
But the research part of the process doesn’t end here.
3. Competitor analysis
I also look at similarities and differences between my clients and their competitors. Here are some questions worth asking:
- How do their products or services differ and overlap? In both cases, what opportunities are there to stand out?
- Does the writing style, brand personality or voice of competitors resonate with the shared audience? If so, what can I learn from it? If not, how could I do better?
- Have competitors placed too much emphasis on features over benefits? Or on secondary benefits of their solutions rather than the main wins potential customers are after?
- Is competitors’ messaging unclear or not transparent?
- Does the shared audience distrust the industry because of how competitors do business? If so, how can I overcome that?
4. Keyword research
At this point, I understand what my client’s message is, who it’s meant for, and how it will stand out. Next, I move on to analyzing keywords. The same process I use for blogging applies here. Whenever possible, I opt for long-tail and/or location-specific keywords to cut down on competition.
5. Page outline
Moving on, I jot down the biggest questions, selling points, objections, etc. I’ll need to address. The 5 Ws come into play here—who, what, when, why, where. How is important too. So, for example, my thought process often looks this way:
- Headline, subheadline, and subtext: “First, I need to let my target customer know they’re in the right place and that this site holds the solution to their problem/the key to their goal.”
- Social proof: “I need to give some early indication that this is a trusted solution, so this would be a good place for a testimonial or some other social proof.”
- Problem overview: “Next, I should briefly clarify the problem to show an understanding of the challenge and its consequences, as well as a desire to help. This section should end with another nod to the solution I’m promoting.”
- Solution overview: “Next, it’ll be time to dive deeper into the features and benefits mentioned briefly in previous sections, ordering them by importance.”
- Social proof: “I’ll need to provide more social proof here to give evidence that the offer really does solve the audience’s problem or help them reach their goal.”
- Call-to-action: “Besides the other call-to-action buttons on this page, I’ll need to close with a strong call-to-action that reiterates the top benefits of taking the next step in the customer journey.”
Of course, the elements and their order vary depending on the specific web page they’re for, the audience, and offer. But organizing my main talking points from a bird’s-eye view ensures a logical flow and a more persuasive argument once I start writing.
Based on my page outlines and the info I gathered, I draft the copy. I pay close attention to the framing of my points. For example, two of the biggest reframes I make are:
- Company-focused to customer-focused. Even when talking about a client’s business, you can often make it relevant to the audience and, so, more persuasive. For example, rather than just talking about how passionate my client’s team is, I shift to how that passion benefits customers. Same topic (passion) but much more engaging and motivational.
- Disadvantage to advantage (or neutral issue). This isn’t about misleading people and insisting that your offer is perfect. But, you can often highlight a positive flip side of perceived disadvantages. Or, at least, cut down on causes for concern that could prevent conversions.
Sometimes, as the copy comes to life, sections need to be moved or adjusted to make the greatest impact. So, I also keep an eye out for opportunities to improve the structure outlined in the last step.
Last, I go through the various rounds of editing described previously for each page.
Especially if I made any edits to the page structure during drafting, I do one last high-level check. This is to make sure each section of the copy builds on the last. (They should progressively make a stronger case for signing up, requesting a quote or otherwise converting.)
Case study writing step by step
Last up is another project I enjoy—writing case studies. Here’s how I approach case study content creation.
1. Info collection
First things first, I need to understand:
- The goal of the case study
- Who the target audience is including their pains, fears, uncertainties and doubts (FUDs), goals, etc.
- The context of the project
For project context, I want to know things like:
- How the business relationship started. (E.g. if my client was highly recommended, mentioning that would be a subtle way to build credibility and trust.)
- What the client’s problem was and its impact.
- What the client’s goal was and any struggles they had before working with my client to reach that objective.
- What services, techniques, and methodologies my client used on the project, and why? (The logic behind custom solutions is especially valuable.)
- What challenges my client faced during the project, what the odds against them were, and how they overcame.
- The results of the project. (The more specific, the better, of course.)
- What feedback the client gave on the project, including any direct quotes I could use.
- What makes my client’s solutions different from or better than others.
I collect any project notes or interview recordings my client has and review those. Then, I use a custom questionnaire to gather remaining info that’d make the content more intriguing and impactful or provide helpful context for me.
2. Page outline
From there, I create a page outline. I have a template structure in mind:
- Project overview
- Needs or goals
- Solutions provided
- Challenges overcome
- Project results
- Call-to-action section (optional)
However, it’s not a rigid structure. Whenever it makes sense, I tweak this outline so that:
- The information most likely to grab a reader’s attention is front-loaded
- Each section holds attention and builds on the impact of the last one
I also plan the placement of quotes from my client or their customer. They’re just as important as main sections so their placement shouldn’t be an afterthought.
Based on the project details and page outline, I place the rough info in the appropriate sections. After that, I worry about proper writing and finessing the content.
Part of that finesse is remembering that case studies shouldn’t just recount facts. Those are important. But, as I mentioned in Momina’s Asif’s copy.ai article on B2B case study writing, you have to appeal to emotion as well. After all, emotion is a major driver of decision-making, so you can’t rely on logic alone to drive results.
Speaking of results, and on the flip side, case study writing is more than telling stories for fun. The goal is to build trust with my client’s potential customers and help turn them into actual customers. That involves framing every section in a way that shows what happened in the case I’m discussing and how:
- My client and their team think on a greater, strategic level
- The company minimizes risk (or doesn’t hesitate to tackle challenges) for future clients
- The case mirrors the needs, wants, and challenges of potential customers
- How the same solutions described can benefit potential customers
It’s about striking the right balance between facts/data and emotional triggers. Between explaining past cases and how those experiences and skills help future customers.
As with blog posts and site content, I take case study content through the same 4-step editing process. An out-loud read-through first, Hemingway next, Grammarly after that, and a final read-through.
Does your content writing process have room for improvement?
Now that you’ve got the low-down on how I work, I’m curious. How many of these steps are also part of your process for writing content? If you noticed quite a few missing, it’d be worth re-evaluating the way you work.
Of course, the goal isn’t to have the longest workflow possible. But it is important to have a well-rounded process that:
- Challenges your writing skills in a healthy, sustainable way
- Maintains consistent quality, which is good for readers, clients, and, as a result, your content writing business
- Has the power to attract readers and, ultimately, lead to conversions
- Help you work efficiently thanks to solid habits
And I’m not saying you should or have to use my process either. There are plenty of other content writing tips and workflows to try. In any case, to be a successful content writer, you must find what works for you and gets the best outcomes for your readers and clients. If you need a little extra help figuring that out, check out my free SEO content writing checklist. Together with this post, it should give you a great headstart!