I’m a huge fan of processes. I believe anything you do on a regular basis can be broken down into actionable steps. Processes are the key to optimum efficiency and productivity. They reduce cognitive load, freeing up your brain power for those tasks that will actually benefit from it. Like being creative.
What is cognitive load?
In cognitive psychology, cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory [Wikipedia]. Much like the RAM in your computer, it dictates how quickly you’re able to accomplish something. The more memory you have at your disposal, the faster you’ll be.
Every time you have to make a decision – big or small – you’re using your working memory. This is why Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein opted to wear the same clothes every day. It’s also why a lot of people choose to eat the exact same thing for breakfast week in and week out. They don’t have to think, they simply grab the cereal out the cupboard, pour it in a bowl and add milk.
That’s a little extreme for me (I’m something of a fashionista and prefer mixing it up at mealtimes), but I get where they’re coming from. At TopLine, just about everything we do has a system or process in place to speed things up, and writing content is no different.
How to create good content again and again.
Initially you might balk at the idea of following a process for what is ultimately a creative endeavour. However, rather than removing creativity from the equation, having a process in place has the opposite effect. It provides the space to be even more creative by removing the need to think about what you have to do next.
Here’s the 5-step plan to create a really shareable piece of copy every single time.
1. Determine article’s purpose
Don’t even think about moving forward until you’re 100% clear on what the purpose of your article is. It could be anything from showcasing your client as a thought leader in their field, ranking for a keyword or highlighting a new offering.
Once identified, that purpose serves as the driving factor behind your content. It’s the ‘why’ your audience needs to convince them to read past the first paragraph. Without it, they’re not going to hang around.
Purpose also determines where your content will end up. It could be on your own website, in an industry publication, or as a guest post on an influential blog. This in turn will dictate your tone as well as the length of the article. All very necessary information that you need to know upfront.
2. Coming up with angles
Once the article’s purpose and destination has been identified, you can focus on coming up some really juicy angles, the kind that will draw your readers in and keep them riveted right up to the very last word.
Given the average human’s attention span, that’s probably not going to happen (unless you’re Steven Pressfield), but there’s no harm in aiming high. Look for unique angles, and if those prove elusive, then at least find a couple that haven’t been done to death.
Brainstorming is an excellent way of coming up with ideas. Whenever we land a new client, the first thing we do is host a brainstorming session with the company’s key players. More often than not, this results in a good year’s worth of material.
We also hold regular internal brainstorms with the team. One method that works especially well is to pair people up and let them work together ahead of the actual session. There’s less pressure to perform and it shows in the results.
Store all your angles in one place where everyone has access to them. Then, when it’s time to write something, it’s a simple matter of going through the available options and choosing one that’s best suited to your article’s purpose.
3. Draft an outline
It’s almost time to dive headlong into the creative land of writing, but before you do, it’s best to draw up an outline that includes an intro, the key points you want to cover, and finally, the call to action (CTA).
It’s also the perfect time to give some thought to on-page SEO. Because let’s face it, writing is fun, but there’s a lot more at stake here than a well turned phrase (as lovely as those are). You’re also in the business of marketing, which means you need Google to notice you.
These are the elements you need to include:
- State the problem you’re addressing, explain how you propose solving it and expand on the benefit the reader can expect.
- Make sure you do it all in a conversational manner that draws them in.
- Identify three key points you intend covering.
- Focus on creating as much practical value as possible.
- Make it ridiculously easy for the reader to take in what you’re saying by using a combination of sub-headings, bullet points, and bolding.
- In addition to answering the reader’s questions, you also need to make sure that you’re persuasive enough that they’ll actually implement what they learn.
- On-page SEO
- Whatever keyword you’re going after, make sure it’s included in the title tag, the main body copy, the URL and the image alt text.
- Call to action (CTA)
- Here’s where you ask the reader to do something: download an eBook, share your post, subscribe to your newsletter, etc.
Finally, it’s time to let those creative juices flow. Maybe you noticed that, as you have gone through this process, your brain is already thinking about what to write: the words, the segues from one thought to the next, opportunities for a little humour maybe, a clever turn of phrase (because yes, those are also important) and so on.
Now it’s time to let it flow. Just pour it all out onto the page. Try not to worry too much about getting it exactly right. We writers often have a tendency to edit as we go. It’s the perfectionist in us trying to assert itself. Don’t let it. That’ll come later when you’re on the hunt for typos and misplaced commas.
When you’re finished put the piece to one side to rest. Hopefully your deadline allows for this because your words need time to settle into themselves. Much like the dough needs time to rest when you’re baking bread.
A day is always a good amount of time to leave between writing and editing. In marketing, that’s not always possible, but if you can swing it you absolutely should. The break will allow you to view what you’ve written with fresh eyes.
You’ll notice what you can be cut, what you’ve left out, and where you need to elaborate. Once you’re done tweaking, it’s time to hand it over to the company’s resident grammarian for a thorough going over.
Accept their remarks gracefully. It’s not easy, but you need to follow Stephen King’s advice and kill your darlings. Do this and you’ll be left with something utterly compelling and highly readable.