When I was in middle and high school, I filled my schedule with math and science classes and just enough English and language classes to meet the graduation requirements. I was a numbers person who found little enjoyment in words. I thought I was an adequate communicator, but I never challenged myself to write.
Then came my first desk job. I’ll never forget one of the first emails I sent to my boss, or the look on her face as she approached my cubicle clutching the printed version in her hands. Let’s just say that I thought punctuation, capitalization, and sentence structure were only suggestions, and not rules for clear writing. Thankfully, she worked with me to bring my skills up to par.
Fast forward to the present where I now have a degree in Communication and over a decade of professional experience under my belt. It would be impossible to count the number of research papers, emails, blog articles, web pages, and social media status updates I’ve written at this point. However, I am certain of one thing – my writing noticeably improved when I started writing for social media and search engine optimization.
Let me explain. When writing for SEO and social media, every word counts. Content needs to be easy to read, well structured, and in most cases brief because of people's extremely short attention spans when consuming online content. In the past, if the words were on the page I counted them as good enough. However, my writing lacked the concise delivery of information or the persuasive power needed to prove my point of view. Character limits, consumer behaviors, and the desire for my voice to be heard among many changed all of that.
Below I've outlined a few writing lessons that I've learned along the way. Hopefully these lessons will guide you to improve your writing - whatever it is you're writing for.
Keep It Simple
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned - and you can apply this to any writing - is to keep it simple. Be as clear as possible in telling your story or sharing whatever it is you’re sharing. If you have too much information for one post, article, or status update, divide the information into multiple posts. Be sure to link everything together so search engines and site visitors can find everything.
Take advantage of online writing tools like the Hemingway App to see if you can simplify your content even further. The Hemingway App suggests keeping your content's readability on a 10th grade reading level or lower, but don’t get too hung up on achieving a perfect score every time. As it turns out, the master writer himself scored a 15. As with most things, the tool can be helpful but don't use it as a crutch.
Use the Inverted Pyramid
When writing longer content, especially blog articles, think like a journalist and use the inverted pyramid writing structure. Write a compelling headline that catches people’s attention and then present the information in order of priority from top to bottom. Start with the most important or most newsworthy information, followed by the supporting details, and finish up with any extra specifics. Keep in mind that attention spans are short on the web, and you only have a couple of seconds to capture your audience.
The Challenge of Condensed Writing
My favorite social network, Twitter, is a completely different animal when it comes to writing. With Twitter, there are no articles, only headlines. I love the challenge of trying to say everything I need to say in 140 characters or less. This forces me to focus on every word to create as much impact as possible. Use Tweets to captivate and capture your audience, and be sure to include a link in the Tweet to the full piece of content you're promoting. Use the Google URL builder to track your clicks. Also, to save space and make the links a little more attractive, use a URL shortener like bit.ly or ow.ly.
If you’ve done a lot of Tweeting, you can agree that the condensed format writing is much more difficult than it sounds. One way to help you make every word count is to define and focus on the audience you are trying to reach and the primary action you want that audience to take. Test multiple Tweets, perhaps with a unique Call to Action (CTA) in each one, to see what yields the best results. When conducting a test like this, pay attention to the time of day and day of week you Tweet. Buffer has a great deal of knowledge to share when it comes to the best time to share content. Again, nothing beats testing to determine what works best for the content you create.
Practice & Consistency
The best way to improve at something is to practice. Writing is no exception. I spend a large majority of my day writing for my SEO and social media clients, and I know there is still plenty of room to improve my writing. Write often and don’t be afraid to have your peers proofread your work and offer suggestions. Create a content calendar with due dates to keep you on track and focused on creating content consistently. Hubspot even has a free content calendar template to help you organize and schedule your ideas. Publish content, analyze the results, and repeat. Use that information to improve your next Tweet, Facebook status update, or blog article.
To get started, focus first on your personal brand - your own Tweets, Facebook posts, blog articles, etc. Before you sit down to write something, think about your target audience, remember to keep it simple, put the good stuff first, and keep it focused. Keep these guides in mind, you're sure to see your writing improve over time and reap the benefits of more impactful writing.
Like Hemingway himself said, “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”