Content Marketing, SEO Content Writing: 14 Rules for Creating Amazing Web ContentOctober 27, 2014Anna KaradzhovaReading time: Here at Hop Online, we train all of our writers in web-specific content creation.Writing for the web is different than writing for paper in that users interact with the content differently. Web users tend to scan the text prior to actually reading it (if at all), so this type of content needs to adhere to some unique guidelines.SEO rules, though primarily designed to serve the search engine bots, offer best practices in terms of content structuring, which help create better user experience and that’s why we integrate them into our content creation.The goal is to produce flawless, engaging, shareable content that adds real value to readers’ online and offline lives.Whether you’re a client seeking a peek into the way we work, or a content writer looking to brush up on your skills, check out our top content guidelines:1. Title/HeadlineThe title of a piece of content can make or break its chances for success completely. It’s more than fine to spend half the time working on a post just crafting the article title. We actually recommend it. With a killer title that grabs the reader’s attention and promises them a valuable incentive, you have the best chances of convincing your readers to click.Catchy? Well-worded?Addresses problem of persona?2. PersonaWho are you writing for? This should be clear right from the get-go. If you’re offering a great solution for a particular type of person, you need to (a) catch that person’s attention and (b) show that you understand their lifestyle and their needs. That’s how you’ll gain their trust. The best way to connect with them includes addressing them directly, using personal pronouns like “you.”Does the author write for a clearly-defined persona?How does the piece establish connection or affinity with this persona?3. Pain PointThis is the heart of your post. The whole point of writing original content is to provide your target persona with some great advice that will truly help them out. Making sure you’re addressing a significant pain point is the first step to creating a valuable, and hopefully viral, solution.Does the piece address a specific pain point of the target persona?Does the piece offer a fantastic resource solving a problem, that the reader will want to share and bookmark for later reference? 4. Inverted Pyramid StructureEven if you’ve crafted a great solution to a relevant problem, your content won’t rise to the top unless it’s easy to read, comprehend, and follow. This goes both for your human readers and the Google spiders that crawl your content. The formatting of the post should be optimized for skimming. That means providing the juicy goods at the very beginning, not the end, along with a great overview of what the reader can expect. The intro and headings are your best chance at persuading readers to slow down and read your post in its entirety.Does the post begin with an introduction that clearly states the main argument/idea?Does the introduction include an overview of the entire post?Is the text divided into logical sections with well-titled headings to guide the reader along?5. Conversion Funnel StageAs you think about how to structure your post and relate it to your target audience, always consider what buyer funnel stage you’re addressing. A reader who’s just been introduced to a product or service has very different expectations and needs from one who just needs a final push to complete the purchase. The funnel stage you’re addressing should be clearly recognizable from the introduction, the way you address the reader, and the format of the content.What stage is our target persona in? Is it clear?Top Funnel / Awareness stage: Clients are only just becoming aware of their need for the product.Middle Funnel / Consideration stage: They are comparing similar products.Bottom Funnel / Conversion stage: They are interested in learning more about the specific product in-depth and buying the product.6. Call-to-Action (CTA)The Call-to-Action is usually the very last thing in your post, following your conclusion. It’s where you can take advantage of the momentum you’ve been building throughout the post. Now that your readers has finished reading your solution, what should they do next? You could offer them another post they might find helpful, ask them to share their thoughts in the comments, or show them how to find out more about a relevant product or service. Whatever CTA you craft, make sure it’s engaging and useful for the reader, so that you’re building brand trust.Does the article contain a clear call-to-action, telling the reader what to do or where to go next?Is the CTA reasonable, given the funnel stage of the persona?7. KeywordsKeywords are your highlighter for Google and other search enginesGavinLi / Flickr / CC BY-NDOnline content is nothing without keywords. They’re crucial in letting both the reader and Google bots what you content is all about. The keyword you’re targeting, whether longtail or not, should be present in the article title, the introduction, some of the sub-headings, and in the SERP Snippet, which we’ll get to shortly. It’s a great idea to focus not only on one keyword, but on a cloud of semantically related terms, since this will give the search engines a better idea of the topic and the level of expertise. It’s important to note that you only want to include keywords naturally — if you’re including them too often, you may be penalized.Does the article target a specific keyword theme?Does the author avoid overstuffing the keyword(s) throughout the piece in ways that make it seem unnatural?8. GrammarTo err is human, but even though grammar and spelling may seem unimportant in light of everything else, they actually carry great weight. Sure, the odd misplaced comma won’t cause a rebellion, but a simple mistake may turn into a big problem if the meaning has inadvertently been transformed. And even if you don’t even up with a big gaff, simple mistakes may at the very least cost you readers who value intelligence and care.Is the article free of major punctuation, spelling and other grammatical errors?9. StyleNow that you’ve got the right format down, it’s time to unpack web content at the sentence level. Having the right topic and the right solution is important, but it’s in the details that you’ll win over your readers. You want the text to look good and sound good. Bullet lists, bold, and italics are a visual aid your readers will appreciate, when used well. Wordchoice and idiomatic expressions not only give a voice to the author, but help the reader better connect with and enjoy what they’re reading.Does the opening line pop?Do sentences naturally flow from one to the other, keeping the reader engaged and urging her to keep reading?Conversational style as opposed to wordy or academic?Short sentences / short paragraphs?Natural white space breaking up the text?Lists presented in bullet form or numbered lists rather than in long paragraph form?Conciseness, using as few words as possible to convey meaning?10. Authority & ResearchYou might be giving the best darn advice in the world, but if you’re just a freelancer writer, you might have trouble getting anybody to believe you. Even for those writers who have built an amazing reputation, citing sources is skill crucial to proving their authority. You want what you write to be backed up. This is also a great way to connect to industry influencers and other important players in the field.Does the piece appear to have been written by an expert?Are there other signals of authority (links, author authority, key statistics demonstrating deep research)?11. External LinksExternal links can be more than just a boost in SEO. They build partnerships.Flazingo Photos / Flickr / CC BY-SALinks are the lifeblood of your post. They show that it’s not a static piece of content existing independently in the ether, totally unconnected to our world. Links help embed your content in an already lively discussion, not only showing its relevance and but expanding its power. Links can be used to back up research, to share interesting related content, to offer more helpful resources for the reader, and much more.Does the article contain links to external sources that further support the article’s main objectives, enhancing the piece’s overall value as a key resource for the reader?Do these external links appear naturally within the article body?Does the anchor text help the reader understand where the link leads?12. Internal LinksJust like external links are important for connecting with the outside world, internal links are important for reminding the reader of your own existence. Internal links can redirect to a product or service page, a “Contact Us” page, or a previous blog post on your website. Writing your own content is a great way to redirect traffic back to your site. It’s important though, that you use internal links appropriately and don’t include them in promotional way unless your content is bottom funnel.Does the piece contain logical internal links to related pages on the client’s blog or website?Do these links appear naturally within the article body?13. ImagesVisuals naturally grab the reader’s attention much more powerfully than text. It’s key that your post starts with a stellar lead image which not only captures the viewer’s attention, but expands upon the article title to show the reader what the content is really about. You can also include images throughout your content to help break up the text and keep the reader engaged. More on the technical side, it’s also important to always include alt image tags, which help Google’s bots understand what the image is of and about.Will the leading image capture the reader’s eye if they see it in their social media feed?Does the image somehow convey the meaning of the piece, either directly or on a more subconscious level?Are there alt image tags present that contain the target keyword?Are there CC Attributions / Sources for all of the images?14. SEO SERP SnippetThis is the face of your article both to Google and the world. The Search Engine Results Page snippet should be Search Engine Optimized to help people find your content when they need it. This snippet includes your keyword, an SEO title (which is the title you see on the search results page), and a meta-description, which you’ll see beneath the title. Here, length restrictions and including the keyword are most important, but you also want to make the title and description human-friendly.Page Title:Is the page title unique, not repeating the article title?Is the page title fewer than 70 characters?Does the page title contain the target keyword?Would the page title entice our persona to click from a search result page?Meta Description Tag:Is there a uniquely written meta description tag?Is this tag fewer than 150 characters?Does the meta description tag complement the page title, serving as an effective call-to-action from the search result page? It’s a hefty list of guidelines, but it certainly helps us get the job done. We know that amazing content lies at the heart of every great business-client relationship, and that the care we put into content creation is not dissimilar from the care we all put into sustaining our real life friendships. It may be hard work, but the dividends are truly rewarding.Reading great content is a certainly a pleasure; writing great content is even better. It’s a creation process we love to see from beginning to end.Interested in writing for us? Contact us!