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What Is Content Writing? 13 Tips for Creating Amazing Content

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What Is Content Writing? 13 Tips for Creating Amazing Content

At Ahrefs, we write a lot of content. We have over 320 blog posts and more than 200 videos published on our YouTube channel—most of which are scripted.

Needless to say, we know a thing or two about creating awesome content that your audience wants to consume.

In this post, we’ll cover 13 best practices you can apply to your own content writing. But first, some basics:

Content writing is the process of researching, planning, writing, editing, and publishing content for the web. It may be a blog post, video script, sales page—anything that gets published online.

Why is content writing important?

Content writing is important because content has the power to help you attract and retain customers.

This is called content marketing, and it’s why you’re reading about content writing on the Ahrefs blog. By educating you on the importance of and best practices for content writing, we hope to increase your awareness, interest, and demand for our product.

Best practices for content writing

Everyone has their own opinion on how to write the best content. The best practices I share below are merely the ones we’ve found to be true over the years and have helped us to thrive in our content creation efforts.

1. Use a template

You don’t have to start content writing from scratch. Most fall into a few types—listicles, how-to guides, reviews, and so on. Because of that, templates for them exist. You can use them as your foundation and fill in your research.

In fact, we’re using a template for this very post.

Infographic showing 4 sections: title, intro, list items, conclusion

How do you know which template to use?

It depends on your goal. But if you want your written content to stand the best chance of ranking high in Google and attracting organic traffic, choose one that aligns with what searchers are looking for.

For example, if you Google “content writing” (which you probably did), you’ll see that there are quite a few list posts ranking.

SERP overview results for keyword "content writing"

That’s why we went with this angle—because the top-ranking results are a good proxy for what searchers want to see and, as a result, what Google is most likely to rank.

2. Create a proven outline

While a template is enough to get you off the ground, you may not precisely know what you’re going to write about.

For example, we’d hit writers’ block pretty quickly if we tried to write this post from start to finish without fleshing out an outline.

Here’s what it looked like for this article:

Bullet points of key things article should cover

How did we figure out what points to include? Some of the points are our unique ideas, but we also took inspiration from the top-ranking pages.

More specifically, we looked for common themes and points among them to better understand the kinds of questions people wanted answers to and the kinds of advice they were looking for.

For example, using the free on-page report in Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar, we can see a couple of common themes in the subheadings of top-ranking pages.

SEO Toolbar showing list of subheadings

You’ll notice as you read through this post that we included similar points.

3. Make it share-worthy

People share content for all kinds of reasons. Jonah Berger highlights a few in his bestselling book, “Contagious.” People share things because it:

  1. Makes them look good or helps back up their own point of view/narrative.
  2. Makes them feel some kind of emotion, e.g., anger, awe, happiness, etc.
  3. Is related to current events.
  4. Offers practical value or utility.
  5. Has already been shared by many others.

Let’s focus our attention on #5.

Getting some initial shares is the key to setting this flywheel into motion, and one way to do that is to build “share triggers” into your content.

You can find “share triggers” by looking for common link reasons in a similar page’s backlink profile—as links are a form of sharing.

Here’s how:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Search for a topic you’re writing about
  3. Look at the SERP overview
  4. Find a similar article with lots of referring domains
  5. Click on the number in the Backlinks column
  6. Skim the Anchor and target URL column for commonalities
SERP overview for keyword "affiliate marketing"

For example, if we do this for Big Commerce’s post on affiliate marketing, we see quite a few people are linking because of mentioned stats (probably due to principal #1).

In "backlinks," Big Commerce's website appears a lot under "anchor and target URL" section

If you’re writing about the same topic, mentioning these or similar stats will likely boost shares.

4. Give your post a unique angle

More than 3.5 million blog posts are published every day. If you want to compete, you have to stand out. Differentiate yourself by tackling your chosen topic from a unique angle.

Here’s an example. Procrastination is not a new topic. Yet Tim Urban’s post on procrastination is one of the most popular on his site (or perhaps even the internet). Why? It’s because he tackled it from an angle that no one has seen before.

Rather than a self-help rant about the perils of procrastination, he decided to explain why it happens using cute illustrations: the Instant Gratification Monkey, Panic Monster, etc.

Drawing of inside of procrastinator's brain. Rational Decision-maker Man is "driving" the brain. Instant Gratification Monkey standing nearby

While there are no surefire ways to come up with “angles,” here are a few mental models you can consider:

  • Personal experience – Tried doing something before? Tell them about your experience and your lessons learned. We did that with our post on email outreach and SEO certifications.
  • Authority – Are you an expert in the field who can offer unique insights? Then don’t shy away from it. Alternatively, if you’re not an expert, can you interview one? We did that with our post on Google penalties.
  • Crowdsource – Get the opinions of a few experts, like what we did in our SEO job description post.
  • Data Give evidence and numbers behind popular claims in your niche. See our studies on reciprocal link building and blog post length.
  • Contrarian – What happens if you do the opposite of what others did?

5. Establish credibility

Don’t expect people to believe you right from the get-go. Tell them why they should believe you. Why you of all people?

  • Are you an expert in the industry? Do you have the credentials to prove it? Can people vouch for you?
  • Do you have data or evidence backing up your claims?
  • Have you done the thing you said before? Did you experience or try it?

As you can see, most of the questions relate to your angle. The angle you choose for your topic will help to establish the credibility you need. But don’t stop there. Tell them.

Scroll back up to the introduction of this post. I told you we have tons of experience creating and publishing content—hundreds of them, in fact.

See what I did there? 😉

6. Show, don’t tell

Giving advice is easy. But don’t leave your audience in the lurch. Show them exactly what you mean and how it can be done. Always include examples of what you’re talking about.

For example (notice what I did there?), when we talk about creating SEO goals, we don’t just give you the framework. We provide three examples of different goals and how they look in the wild.

Excerpt of blog post about SEO goals

7. Craft a captivating headline

People won’t click on your post if the headline is dull and uninspiring.

You’ll need to craft irresistible headlines that capture people’s attention and make them want to learn more.

How? Use our three-step formula:

  1. Pick a format –The content format you choose (listicle, guide, review, etc.) will determine how your headline will look.
  2. Add a winning angle – If you’ve chosen your angle (from point #3), make sure to tell the potential reader about it.
  3. Make it human – Use adjectives or figures of speech similar to how you’d casually describe the article to your best friend.

Recommended reading: How to Write an Irresistible Headline in 3 Easy Steps

8. Kickstart your intro with the PAS formula

Headlines convince people to click. Intros convince people to read.

Use the Problem-Agitate-Solve (PAS) formula to create a compelling intro. We use this fairly regularly on our blog.

Infographic showing 3 sections: problem, agitate, solve

How does it work? You begin by describing the problem:

1st section, "problem," highlighted, and explanation of it provided

Then, you agitate the problem by digging deeper into their pain:

2nd section, "agitate," highlighted, and explanation of it provided

Finally, you show them the way by giving them a solution:

3rd section, "solve," highlighted, and explanation of it provided

9. Make your post easy to read with the ASMR formula

There’s nothing more daunting than a wall of text.

Very long paragraph

If your article looks like this, you’ll drive people away. Break it up.

Good content writing creates effortless reading. Use the ASMR formula to design your content for easier reading:

  • Annotate Include sidenotes, blockquotes, call-out boxes, and other elements.
  • Short sentences and paragraphs Use the Hemingway editor to find lengthy, complex sentences and shorten them.
  • Multimedia Use videos, images, GIFs, and tweet embeds to illustrate your points.
  • Read your content out loud Discover areas where your writing doesn’t flow smoothly.

10. Write how you talk

Web content writing is friendly and personal. It’s like talking to a friend. There’s no need to pepper big words or write as if you were publishing in Nature.

Your goal is to communicate, not impress people with your extensive vocabulary. So keep it casual and write like how you talk.

11. Get feedback on your writing

As the creator, you’re too close to your work. You won’t be able to spot your mistakes. That’s why a second person’s opinion can be invaluable.

In fact, at Ahrefs, every blog post and script we write is subjected to that scrutiny. We take turns to read each other’s drafts and offer feedback. We point out things like logical loopholes, choppy flow, unclear points, poorly phrased sentences, and so on.

We even let our readers know that each article is not the work of one person. Rather, it is the effort of many people working together to make it great.

Bio of Michal, featuring Joshua as contributor in top right-hand corner

Even if you’re working alone, you can get input from another person. It could be your spouse, your family, or even your co-workers. If need be, join writing communities.

Their input will make your work much better.

12. Answer questions people are asking

If people are searching for answers to their questions, that’s how you know those questions are good topics to write about.

The easiest way to find these questions is to use a free keyword research tool. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ free keyword generator tool
  2. Enter a broad topic related to your niche or website (e.g., coffee, tea)
  3. Toggle the Questions tab
List of keyword ideas for "coffee"

You’ll see a list of questions related to the topic you’ve entered. These questions are listed in the order of search volume, i.e., on average, how many times per month people search for your target keyword.

The higher the search volume, the more people are searching for it.

Look through the list and make a note of all the relevant questions you could potentially answer with a blog post.

Recommended reading: Keyword Research: The Beginner’s Guide by Ahrefs

13. Keep a commonplace book

How do you constantly come up with unique angles and ideas for your content?

The simple answer is that as a content writer, you should always be researching. Be it books, YouTube videos, articles, or podcasts, you should be consuming content and leveling up your knowledge in your field.

Then, store your newfound knowledge in a commonplace book.

What is a commonplace book?

According to Ryan Holiday, a commonplace book is:

… a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do. 

With this resource by your side, you don’t have to look for ideas when it’s time to write. Just pull them out from your commonplace book.

Personally, I keep my commonplace book on Notion. Here’s a glimpse into how it looks:

List of resources about marketing

This is my first port of call before I draft any of my blog posts.

Final thoughts

To write amazing content, you have to write.

But if you wait for inspiration to strike before putting pen to paper, you’ll never publish anything. Instead, I recommend committing to a content calendar. This is basically a schedule of when you want to publish new content and what content you want to publish.

Setting deadlines will keep you honest, prevent procrastination, and obligate you to publish.

As the famous playwright Somerset Maugham once said:

I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp. 

Did I miss out on any important content writing tips? Let me know on Twitter.




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Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It’s Unlikely.

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Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It's Unlikely.

I studied the correlation between rankings and content scores from four popular content optimization tools: Clearscope, Surfer, MarketMuse, and Frase. The result? Weak correlations all around.

This suggests (correlation does not necessarily imply causation!) that obsessing over your content score is unlikely to lead to significantly higher Google rankings.

Does that mean content optimization scores are pointless?

No. You just need to know how best to use them and understand their flaws.

Most tools’ content scores are based on keywords. If top-ranking pages mention keywords your page doesn’t, your score will be low. If it does, your score will be high.

While this has its obvious flaws (having more keyword mentions doesn’t always mean better topic coverage), content scores can at least give some indication of how comprehensively you’re covering the topic. This is something Google is looking for.

Google says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality contentGoogle says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality content

If your page’s score is significantly lower than the scores of competing pages, you’re probably missing important subtopics that searchers care about. Filling these “content gaps” might help improve your rankings.

However, there’s nuance to this. If competing pages score in the 80-85 range while your page scores 79, it likely isn’t worth worrying about. But if it’s 95 vs. 20 then yeah, you should probably try to cover the topic better.

Key takeaway

Don’t obsess over content scores. Use them as a barometer for topic coverage. If your score is significantly lower than competitors, you’re probably missing important subtopics and might rank higher by filling those “content gaps.”

There are at least two downsides you should be aware of when it comes to content scores.

They’re easy to cheat

Content scores tend to be largely based on how many times you use the recommended set of keywords. In some tools, you can literally copy-paste the entire list, draft nothing else, and get an almost perfect score.

Scoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draftScoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draft

This is something we aim to solve with our upcoming content optimization tool: Content Master.

I can’t reveal too much about this yet, but it has a big USP compared to most existing content optimization tools: its content score is based on topic coverage—not just keywords.

For example, it tells us that our SEO strategy template should better cover subtopics like keyword research, on-page SEO, and measuring and tracking SEO success.

Preview of our upcoming Content Master toolPreview of our upcoming Content Master tool

But, unlike other content optimization tools, lazily copying and pasting related keywords into the document won’t necessarily increase our content score. It’s smart enough to understand that keyword coverage and topic coverage are different things.

Sidenote.

This tool is still in production so the final release may look a little different.

They encourage copycat content

Content scores tell you how well you’re covering the topic based on what’s already out there. If you cover all important keywords and subtopics from the top-ranking pages and create the ultimate copycat content, you’ll score full marks.

This is a problem because quality content should bring something new to the table, not just rehash existing information. Google literally says this in their helpful content guidelines.

Google says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the tableGoogle says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the table

In fact, Google even filed a patent some years back to identify ‘information gain’: a measurement of the new information provided by a given article, over and above the information present in other articles on the same topic.

You can’t rely on content optimization tools or scores to create something unique. Making something that stands out from the rest of the search results will require experience, experimentation, or effort—something only humans can have/do.

Enrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your contentEnrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your content

Big thanks to my colleagues Si Quan and Calvinn who did the heavy lifting for this study. Nerd notes below. 😉

  • For the study, we selected 20 random keywords and pulled the top 20 ranking pages.
  • We pulled the SERPs before the March 2024 update was rolled out.
  • Some of the tools had issues pulling the top 20 pages, which we suspect was due to SERP features.
  • Clearscope didn’t give numerical scores; they opted for grades. We used ChatGPT to convert those grades into numbers.
  • Despite their increasing prominence in the SERPs, most of the tools had trouble analyzing Reddit, Quora, and YouTube. They typically gave a zero or no score for these results. If they gave no scores, we excluded them from the analysis.
  • The reason why we calculated both Spearman and Kendall correlations (and took the average) is because according to Calvinn (our Data Scientist), Spearman correlations are more sensitive and therefore more prone to being swayed by small sample size and outliers. On the other hand, the Kendall rank correlation coefficient only takes order into account. So, it is more robust for small sample sizes and less sensitive to outliers.

Final thoughts

Improving your content score is unlikely to hurt Google rankings. After all, although the correlation between scores and rankings is weak, it’s still positive. Just don’t obsess and spend hours trying to get a perfect score; scoring in the same ballpark as top-ranking pages is enough.

You also need to be aware of their downsides, most notably that they can’t help you craft unique content. That requires human creativity and effort.

Any questions or comments? Ping me on X or LinkedIn.



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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, scaling a brand effectively requires more than just an innovative product or service. For B2B and e-commerce marketers, understanding the intricacies of growth strategies across different stages of business development is crucial.  

A recent analysis of 71 brands offers valuable insights into the optimal strategies for startups, scaleups, mature brands, and majority offline businesses. Here’s what we learned. 

Startup Stage: Building the Foundation 

Key Strategy: Startups focus on impressions-driven channels like Paid Social to establish their audience base. This approach is essential for gaining visibility and creating a strong initial footprint in the market. 

Case Study: Pooch & Mutt exemplified this strategy by leveraging Paid Social to achieve significant year-on-year revenue gains while also improving acquisition costs. This foundational step is crucial for setting the stage for future growth and stability. 

Scaleup Stage: Accelerating Conversion 

Key Strategy: For scaleups, having already established an audience, the focus shifts to conversion activities. Increasing spend in impressions-led media helps continue generating demand while maintaining a balance with acquisition costs. 

Case Study: The Essence Vault successfully applied this approach, scaling their Meta presence while minimizing cost increases. This stage emphasizes the importance of efficient spending to maximize conversion rates and sustain growth momentum. 

Mature Stage: Expanding Horizons 

Key Strategy: Mature brands invest in higher funnel activities to avoid market saturation and explore international expansion opportunities. This strategic pivot ensures sustained growth and market diversification. 

Case Study: Represent scaled their efforts on TikTok, enhancing growth and improving Meta efficiency. By expanding their presence in the US, they exemplified how mature brands can navigate saturation and seek new markets for continued success. 

Majority Offline Brands: Embracing Digital Channels 

Key Strategy: Majority offline brands primarily invest in click-based channels like Performance Max. However, the analysis reveals significant opportunities in Paid Social, suggesting a balanced approach for optimal results. 

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How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report

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How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report

One of the most essential aspects of a profitable Google Ads strategy is reaching the right people, with the right message, while they’re searching.

To do this correctly, you need to know exactly how your ads are doing and what words potential customers are using to search.

This is where the Google Ads search terms report comes in handy.

This report is a goldmine and an invaluable asset to every Google Ads account.

With insights into exact phrases being used to trigger your ads, the search terms report can help:

  • Significantly refine your keyword strategy.
  • Enhance your targeting.
  • Boost your return on investment (ROI).

Let’s get into why the Google Ads search terms report is not only helpful but essential for maximizing Google Ads profitability.

What Is The Google Ads Search Terms Report?

The search terms report is a performance tool that shows how your ad performed when triggered by actual searches on the Google Search Network.

The report shows specific terms and phrases that triggered your ad to show, which helps determine if you’re bidding on the right keywords or using the right match types.

If you find search terms that aren’t relevant for your business, you can easily add them to your negative keyword list repository.

This helps you spend your budget more effectively by ensuring your ads are only triggered for relevant, useful searches by potential customers.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between a search term and a keyword:

  • Search term: Shows the exact word or phrase a customer enters on the Google Search Network to trigger an ad.
  • Keyword: The word or phrase that Google Ads advertisers target and bid on to show their ads to customers.

How To Create A Search Terms Report

Creating a search terms report in your Google Ads account is simple, and better yet – it can be automated!

To view your search terms report, you’ll need to:

  • Log into your Google Ads account.
  • Navigate to “Campaigns” >> “Insights & reports” >> “Search terms”

Below is an example of where to navigate in your Google Ads account to find the search terms report.

Screenshot taken by author, April 2024

After running this report, there are multiple actions you can take as a marketer:

  • Add top-performing searches to corresponding ad groups as keywords.
  • Select the desired match type (e.g. broad, phrase, exact) if adding new keywords.
  • Add irrelevant search terms to a negative keyword list.

3 Ways To Use Search Terms Report Data

As mentioned above, there are numerous ways you can use the search terms report data to optimize campaign performance.

Let’s take a look at three examples of how to use this report to get the best bang for your buck.

1. Refine Existing Keyword Lists

The first area the search terms report can help with is refining existing keyword lists.

By combing through the search terms report, you can find areas of opportunities, including:

  • What searches are leading to conversions.
  • What searches are irrelevant to the product or service.
  • What searches have high impressions but low clicks.
  • How searches are being mapped to existing keywords and ad groups.

For searches leading to conversions, it likely makes sense to add those as keywords to an existing ad group or create a new ad group.

If you’re finding some searches to be irrelevant to what you’re selling, it’s best to add them as negative keywords. That prevents your ad from showing up for that search moving forward.

If some searches have a high volume of impressions, but very few clicks, these will take further consideration. If it’s a keyword worth bidding on, it may indicate that the bid strategy isn’t competitive enough – meaning you’ll have to take action on your bid strategy.

If a search term is being triggered by multiple keywords and ad groups, this is a case of cross-pollution of keywords. This can lead to lower ROI because it’s essentially having multiple keywords bid on that search term, which can drive up the cost. If this happens, you have a few options:

  • Review and update existing keyword match types as necessary.
  • Add negative keywords where appropriate at the ad group or campaign level to avoid cross-pollution.

Ultimately, using the search terms report in this way allows you to determine what is performing well and eliminate poor performers.

2. Understand How Your Audience Is Actually Searching For Your Product

Something I often see is a mismatch of how a company talks about its product or service vs. how a customer is actually searching for it in the real world.

If you’re bidding on keywords you think describe your product or service but are not getting any traction, you could be misaligning expectations.

Oftentimes, searches that lead to conversions are from terms you wouldn’t have thought to bid on without looking at the search terms report.

One of this report’s most underutilized use cases is finding lesser-known ways customers are searching for and finding your product.

Finding these types of keywords may result in the creation of a new campaign, especially if the search terms don’t fit existing ad group structures.

Building out campaigns by different search themes allows for appropriate bidding strategies for each because not all keyword values are created equal!

Understanding how a customer is describing their need for a product or service not only helps your keyword strategy but can lead to better-aligned product positioning.

This leads us to a third way the search term report can help your campaigns.

3. Optimize Ad Copy and Landing Pages

As discussed in #2, customers’ language and phrases can provide valuable insights into their needs and preferences.

Marketers can use the search terms report to better tailor ad copy, making it more relevant and appealing to prospective customers.

And let’s not forget about the corresponding landing page!

Once a user clicks on an ad, they expect to see an alignment of what they searched for and what is presented on a website.

Make sure that landing page content is updated regularly to better match the searcher’s intent.

This can result in a better user experience and an improvement in conversion rates.

How Using The Search Terms Report Can Help ROI

All three examples above are ways that the search terms report can improve campaign ROI.

How so?

Let’s take a look at each example further.

How Refining Keywords Helps ROI

Part of refining existing keywords is negating any irrelevant search terms that trigger an ad.

Having a solid negative keyword strategy gets rid of “unwanted” spending on keywords that don’t make sense.

That previously “wasted” spend then gets redirected to campaigns that regularly drive higher ROI.

Additionally, adding top-performing search terms gives you better control from a bid strategy perspective.

Being able to pull the appropriate levers and setting proper bid strategies by search theme ultimately leads to better ROI.

How Understanding Audience Intent Helps ROI

By understanding the exact language and search terms that potential customers use, marketers can update ad copy and landing pages to better match those searches.

This can increase ad relevance and Ad Rank within Google Ads.

These items help with keyword Quality Score, which can help reduce CPCs as your Quality Score increases.

More relevant ads likely lead to higher click-through rates, which leads to a higher likelihood of converting those users!

How Updating Ad Copy And Landing Pages Helps ROI

This example goes hand-in-hand with the above recommendation.

As you start to better understand the audience’s search intent, updating ad copy and landing pages to reflect their search indicates better ad relevance.

Once a user clicks on that relevant ad, they find the content of the landing page matches better to what they’re looking for.

This enhanced relevance can significantly increase the likelihood of conversion, which ultimately boosts ROI.

Use This Report To Make Data-Driven Decisions

Google Ads is an integral part of any digital marketing strategy, often accounting for a large portion of your marketing budget.

By regularly reviewing the search terms report, you can refine your marketing budget to make your Google Ads campaigns more effective.

Using this report to make data-driven decisions that fine-tune multiple facets of campaign management leads to more effective ad spending, higher conversions, and ultimately higher ROI.

More resources: 


Featured Image: FGC/Shutterstock

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