I’ve said it time and time again. I’m a huge f-Ann girl.
I adore Ann Handley and practically everything she does in content.
As a best-selling author, speaker, and Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, Ann is one of the leading voices in writing for the digital age.
Her latest book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide To Creating Ridiculously Good Content is the first I read as moved into this role at IMPACT and it remains one of the highest on my list of favorites.
From your grammar and writing process to storytelling, the book sets you up with all of the tools to need to start creating powerful content for your organization.
Now, a summary couldn't really do this book justice, as every page is overflowing with useful insights, but in this piece, I’m going to cover six of its biggest takeaways to help put you on the road to creating "ridiculously good content."
1. Have a Strategy
Simply put, your content strategy is determined by answering five questions: what, who, when, where, and why.
What’s your goal? What are you trying to achieve with your content?
You’re not writing for the sake of writing; you’re writing with a purpose. That’s what separates general writing from content marketing. Figure out what your company want to achieve from its content.
Who are you writing for? Do you have buyer personas?
Writing for everyone that’s willing to read isn’t strategic. You need to write specifically for your ideal buyer persona in mind.
When can you provide the most value to your prospects?
Prospects have a purchasing cycle that starts with researching your industry, product, and company. Handley stresses the point of identifying the right time in their purchasing cycle when you can provide the most value with your content and creating unique content for each point in the cycle.
Where do you want prospects to go from one piece of content to the next?
You should provide many paths to conversion for your prospects because they will find your content from a variety of sources and at different stages of the purchasing cycle. Make it clear to your readers where you want them to go with calls-to-action.
Why does your content matter? Why is it needed?
According to Handley, you must find the story that only you can tell. Give your readers a reason to care.
She gives the tip of repeatedly asking “so what?” over and over until you’ve drilled down exactly why your message is important.
2. Think of the Big Picture
Emails, blog posts, and tweets aren’t one-off pieces of content -- they are small strokes of a larger painting.
Inbound marketing gives you the power to control the conversation about your brand, everywhere online. However, it’s your responsibility to make this intentional by delivering a consistent message.
In addition to controlling the conversation, you always want to become the authority on a particular topic.
As a thought leader in your niche, your brand automatically has a higher perceived value and you become the go-to source.
3. Use Flexible Storytelling
According to Handley, you need a brand story to build a great brand. That story is the heart and soul of your content.
You’re constantly telling and retelling the story of your brand. The challenge is finding new ways to tell the same story. Handley suggests you steal ideas from yourself by turning a tweet into a blog post or taking the message of an old eBook and adapting it to an email campaign.
Storytelling builds a relationship with your readers (customers). Your content should reflect the values of your brand and be presented in a voice that’s unique from your competitors, while being relatable to your buyer personas.
4. Help and Inspire Your Readers
Handley provides a simple equation for quality content:
Utility x Inspiration x Empathy = Quality Content
Your content should teach your prospects something, help them solve a problem, or make their life easier in some way. That’s what we mean when we, inbound marketers, say “provide value.”
Quality content provides value.
You add inspiration to your content by showing off your creativity, by providing data (or social proof) of your accomplishments or what your customers have accomplished, or by simply making your content interesting in some way.
Give them a reason to believe in the value your content provides.
To have empathy in your writing, you must understand your reader on a deeper level.
This is where the importance of having buyer personas plays a key role in writing the best content possible. Your message should always be empathetic to their point-of-view.
5. Write to One Person
Speaking of buyer personas, Handley stresses the importance of writing for one person at a time and writing directly to them with words like "you" and "yours."
Great content sparks conversation and resonates with the reader on a more personal level.
So, write as if you are talking them one-on-one. No matter how much traffic your website gets, always speak to the single reader and not the crowd.
6. Always Be Improving
Great content relies on great writing, but let's face it, not all of us are gifted in that area.
Writing is a skill that improves with practice and Handley provides more than enough advice to turn bad writers into good ones in a short amount time.
As you continue to improve your writing, you will find that refining the small details makes the biggest difference.
To help you get started, she put together a step-by-step guide to "navigating" your next piece of content she calls her writing GPS.
Ann Handley’s Writing GPS:
1. Goal: Figure out the purpose of the piece of content you are creating and how it fits into the big picture of your company’s marketing strategy.
2. Reframe: Look at the idea behind your content and ask “so what?” Then answer that question to make it clearer and ask “so what?” again. Repeat this until your message is crystal clear and your buyer persona has a reason to care.
3. Seek out data and examples: If you can, find credible sources of data that support your idea and cite them in your content. Use yourself as a source whenever you are writing on your own experience.
4. Organize: Decide on the most appropriate format for your idea. Would it be presented best as a case study or how-to article? Create an outline.
5. Write to one person: Put yourself in the shoes of your buyer persona and write as if you are having a conversation with them.
6. Produce the ugly first draft: Start writing and keep writing. Don’t worry about anyone else seeing it, because they won’t see this version anyway.
7. Walk away: Give yourself some time and space away from the ugly first draft.
8. Rewrite: Return to your draft in your reader’s shoes. What matters most to them? Write with your buyer persona in mind and clean up the mess from your first draft.
9. Give it a great headline: The headline is crucial and will impact the number of people that read your content. Take your time to get it right.
10. Have someone edit: Have someone go in and edit your content for grammar, style, punctuation, and usage.
11. One final look for readability: Make sure your piece is inviting, easy to scan and read, and has a nice presentation overall.
12. Publish: You did it! Now get started on the next piece.