This article was written by Holland Webb, one of Compose.ly’s very own content writers.
There’s a content marketing revolution underway, and freelance content writing has never been easier to find, better paying, or more fun. In what other job can you work in your jammies, snuggle with your pets, or take long lunches with friends?
But success as a ghost blogger isn’t all work-from-home benefits. Content writing demands creativity, accuracy, accountability, and solid writing skills. Moreover, with a growing number of companies hiring writers online, it’s more important than ever to produce quality work to maintain client relationships.
To help you get the most out of your freelance experience, we’re sharing eight essential tips for creating top-notch blog posts on Compose.ly.
1. Clarify the assignment guidelines
After you’ve read the project brief, take time to craft a thoughtful message to the client. Ask questions that help clarify what the client wants (and doesn’t want!) included in the article. Even a brief email can save you the time and trouble of creating a first draft the client can’t use.
Compose.ly’s platform makes it easy to get in touch with your client. Our message system in the bottom right corner of your screen connects you to your client instantly. Plus, we’ll ping your email when you get a response. We also ask each client to provide links to their website, social media pages, and competitors’ sites as part of the brief. That makes it easy for you to further research the client, gaining a clearer picture of their tone and audience.
2. Hook your reader in order to reel them in
The median time a reader spends on your article is 37 seconds. If you don’t hook their interest in the first line, they’ll click away to a different article or even to a competitor’s site.
Crafting a hook is less about creative phrasing than it is about solid research. If you know what you’re talking about, chances are a good hook will pop into your head. If it doesn’t, try writing the rest of the article first and adding the hook when you’re done.
A good hook can be a quote, a short anecdote, a powerful question, or an interesting fact. It could also challenge a reader’s assumptions or state the thesis of the post. Whatever hook you choose, be sure it accurately conveys the message, tone, and information that’s coming up in your piece. Nothing frustrates a reader more than to get started on a piece and realize it wasn’t what they were after.
3. Write fluff-free content
In the words of the famed English professor William Strunk, “omit needless words.” Your client expects you to deliver a piece packed with helpful information, inspiring stories and case studies, and clear calls to action. Blogging has no place for extraneous words, repeated concepts, or poetic phrases. Get straight to the point.
Unless you’ve been specifically asked to use technical jargon, stick with the simplest and clearest English words you can find. Today’s online reader has neither the time nor the interest to check the dictionary every few words to decipher your meaning.
4. Stick with the active voice
Remember the difference between active and passive voice? In the active voice, the subject acts on the object. In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon by the verb.
- The cat chased the mouse. (active voice)
- The mouse was chased by the cat. (passive voice)
Unless you have a particular reason to write in the passive voice, 100% of your sentences should be active.
Worried that a passive sentence slipped in? There’s an app for that. Hemingway App is a free, easy-to-use application that helps “make writing bold and clear.” Copy your text into the app, and it will highlight your passive-voice sentences in green. You can correct them before submitting your piece to the client.
5. Keep skimmability in mind
Studies show that most online content gets scanned, not read. By the time your readers’ eyes have adjusted to the harsh backlight, filtered out advertisements, and absorbed bright website colors, they’re tired.
Besides, the internet is full of information. That means users aren’t reading for pleasure or knowledge as much as they’re searching for information bites. The easier it is for them to see, grab, and go with, the happier those readers are.
How can you make your work skimmable? Try bullet points, subheads, and short paragraphs. The same information — even using the same word count — feels less overwhelming to the reader when he sees plenty of white space on the screen. Blog content that makes skimming and scanning for information a breeze also makes your client more valuable to their readers. In turn, you’ll more likely get a repeat customer for your blogging service.
6. Don’t forget to include your client’s keywords
Incorporating keywords is crucial to creating quality content that your clients will love. After all, clients want blog posts that are keyword optimized for search engines, meaning they’ll appear higher on search engine results pages. To accomplish this, Compose.ly’s clients can specify primary and secondary keywords/phrases in their blog post assignments. Be sure to include them where appropriate, such as:
Your client’s primary keyword should be included once within the title.
Body of text
Your client’s primary keyword should be included in at least one of the subheadings, or more depending on the length of the piece. Secondary keywords, when appropriate, can and should also be included.
Your client’s primary and secondary keywords should be included naturally throughout the body text. If your client has included too many keywords to the point where it’s unnatural, you should communicate with them to come to an agreement about which keywords can be cut.
While there’s no set amount for ideal keyword frequency, you should try to find a reasonable balance. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should go overboard — in fact, Google penalizes sites for keyword stuffing.
What counts as keyword stuffing? It’s repeating a keyword nonsensically, which we naturally don’t advise as good copywriting practice.
7. Link like a true SEO professional
First things first: unless your client specifically tells you not to include any links in your piece, you should definitely include some. As a general rule of thumb, you should include at least one link every 150-200 words you write. When linking, you should keep the following goals in mind:
The reader should know exactly what’s behind your link
Just because you’re linking to relevant content doesn’t mean the reader will know that it’s relevant. You need to structure your sentences and anchor text to ensure the reader knows exactly what’s behind the link you’re presenting to them. For example, I could link to an article about how to interlink in this very sentence, and you’d know exactly what you’re going to get. On the other hand, if I’m sloppy with my sentence and anchor text, it will be unclear to you about what I’ve provided you with.
What’s the point of making your anchor text clear? It will make users more likely to click your links, increasing your page engagement, which is good for SEO — and it’s also just good form.
Your link’s anchor text should include the major keywords — but not in a “rich” manner
In general, you should include the major keyword/key phrase in your anchor text because it helps the reader understand what’s behind your link — but also because it’s good for SEO. However, you should avoid using “rich anchor text” at all costs.
What is “rich anchor text”? Here’s an example: Your client, Pat’s Flowers, wants one of his ecommerce pages to rank for the keyword “pretty flowers” — if you link to that page with the anchor text “pretty flowers,” you’re going to invite a Google penalty. Instead, you should include the important keywords in a longer string of words, like so: Pat’s Flowers is the best place you can go to buy pretty flowers.
The anchor text for your link can be long
In fact, in our view, it should be. Long anchor text helps users more quickly understand what’s behind the link, makes it easier for users to click, and looks less spammy. The era of clicking this link or being told to click here are long gone. Give people a little bit of meat to click on — don’t be stingy with your anchor text!
8. Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.
When a client hires a writer through a content writing service such as Compose.ly, that client expects high-quality work. As a hired blog writer, you bring knowledge and skill with grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
What if you aren’t an eagle-eyed proofreader? How can you submit clean copy? Start by letting your writing sit for a while. Do something else, so when you look at the piece again, errors will stand out more clearly. Use Hemingway App, ProWritingAid, Grammarly, or another online tool to help you spot errors.
Ultimately, however, there’s no need to fret. So long as your typos are few and far between, clients prioritize your ability to produce clean and clear prose they couldn’t write themselves.
These are just eight quick tips to help bolster your freelance writing career. What hard-earned wisdom about blog writing would you like to share with your fellow Compose.ly writers? Comment below and let us know.