The smartest, fastest, and easiest way to start creating amazing content is to learn from the best. What systems do they use? How did they go from being unread to running one of the top blogs in their field?
I reached out to a hand-picked selection of copywriting and marketing experts – people who reach more than a combined 125 million readers every month.
Here’s what they’ve learned from years (even decades) of studying and writing.
I’m really excited about this section, and I guarantee it’ll be one of the biggest breakthroughs you have from this entire Ultimate Guide.
“5 Steps to Creating a Profitable Facebook Advertising Campaign” is my favorite recent post. It reminded me that you don't have to create advanced content to drive a lot of traffic. There are a lot of popular topics that still aren't written on well.
Something I learned recently is that most of the posts that have done well on the social web typically don't do as well on Google.
Writing basic content that has high search volume usually isn't as popular as click-bait from a social media perspective but, in the long run, these high search volume posts usually generate more traffic due to their search engine rankings.
Use a lot of statistics and data. Posts with stats tend to generate more backlinks, which will increase your overall search engine rankings.
Favorite thing I've written recently is "The Four Stages of Life" because a lot of the ideas came out of my own major life transitions happening this year. I also think the piece manages to be both intellectual and a bit poetic while not sounding up its own ass with self-importance. That's a hard balance to strike.
When to stop. I used to approach writing the same way most people approach work: do as much as you can. But what I've learned is that I really only have 2-4 hours of really good content in me each day. Anything past that, even if I push myself to get it out, it's probably not going to be very good and I end up just creating revision/editing problems for myself later on. So in a way, it's been more efficient to write less. Focus on quality over quantity. An amazing 1,000 words is worth more than a decent 3,000 words, both in terms of publishing, but also in terms of workflow and my own mental sanity.
When I get so sucked into it that I forget I'm the one who wrote it.
Publish now. On a blog. On Facebook. On forums. Wherever. Start putting stuff up and getting feedback as soon as possible. There's almost no downside today to putting as much of your writing out there as possible. It gets you used to exposing your work and receiving feedback/criticism. For me, you really aren't able to get a sense of how people are viewing your work until people are actually viewing your work. So get it out there ASAP.
“There's almost no downside to putting as much of your writing out there as possible.” — Mark MansonTweet this
Here’s why I love this piece of content:
I get comments like this on almost every single post that I publish:
I totally get where people like Andy are coming from. Creating epic content for a plumber isn’t easy. But as someone that’s ranked content in some mind-numbingly boring industries, I know it can be done.
And I love this post because it’s black-and-white PROOF that you can create remarkable content in any niche (even so-called “boring” ones). In the post I reveal how a Backlinko reader (Mike Bonadio) created a viral infographic for his client in one of the most boring industries online: pest control.
So if Mike can do it, so can you :-)
I also love this post because it shows that remarkable content can boost your bottom line. (Because last I checked you can’t pay your employees with Facebook likes) That means that it’s important for your content to be strategically designed for a positive ROI. And that’s exactly what happened with Mike’s infographic. Not only did Mike’s client get a surge of traffic, but the buzz boosted their organic search traffic by 15.5%.
That means that this single infographic resulted in more clients walking through the front door.
Pretty cool, right?
I always base my content on something that’s already proven to work. I used to fire up Wordpress and stare at the blank white screen. And I’d get NOWHERE. Today, I base my content on a topic, framework or structure that’s already performed well. (I call this The Skyscraper Technique)
For example: A while back I noticed that several other SEO blogs attempted to list out Google’s elusive list of 200 ranking factors. Even though these bloggers listed only 125 ranking factors, they got crazy amounts of links and shares. So I decided to take this proven topic and make something even better. The end result was a post on my blog called, Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List.
And to date that piece of content has generated in over 3,000 backlinks…
...and 363,000 unique visitors.
I recently learned that telling stories (ANY stories) makes your content 2x better.
When I first started blogging, I avoided personal stories and anecdotes at all costs. I thought to myself, “People subscribe to your newsletter for actionable SEO tips. They don’t care what you made for dinner”. But I kept reading about the power of storytelling. (I also noticed how much I enjoyed reading Ramit’s hilarious stories in his newsletter emails)
So I decided to give it a shot.
I published a post that had some actionable tips like usual... But this post also outlined the story of my SEO journey.
Even though this post was 70% story, it was well received. In fact, it has over 400 comments:
Don’t hit the “publish” button until you’re sure that your content is the bar-none, #1, undisputed heavyweight champion of awesomeness on that topic.
“Don’t hit publish till you’re sure your content is that topic's heavyweight champion of awesomeness.” — Brian Dean, BacklinkoTweet this
I'm lucky enough that I get to write lots of fun articles, but one recent standout is: A couple traveling from Thailand to South Africa without flying shares what it's like to live and earn on the road
I love getting to speak with people who are doing the things the rest of us dream of. Plus, getting to scroll through every single Instagram of their adventures isn't so bad, either.
What makes an article remarkable is generally one of two things:
1. Providing a unique insight or experience. If you've seen 25 articles sharing something you disagree with, write about your take, and why. If you had an epiphany that changed the way you think about something, share it. If you got to do something other people don't get to do — say, visited an unusual place, attended a cool festival, got access to somewhere other people don't get to go, met someone other people don't get to meet — you can bet people will be interested in reading about it.
2. Presenting information in an unusual way. Most of what's written and what we read is information we've heard before, and that's ok. In fact, it's a good thing — who remembers something they read once a few months ago? You can make your version stand out by writing it the way you'd want to read it. Do you like lists? Pictures? GIFs? There's no rule that says you have to write a neat article of five three-sentence paragraphs. If you write the way you want to read, other people will want to read it, too.
A great example of providing unique insights and experiences, and sharing in a different way is the website Wait But Why:
Why I'm Always Late — Being late isn't a revolutionary idea, and chances are, most people who are late have a similar process that they consider a boring, typical part of their day ... but people love to read about themselves, and people who aren't late are fascinated by the glimpse into an experience they don't personally have.
20 Things I Learned While I Was in North Korea — Who gets to go to North Korea?
You don't have to say it all at once. Every article doesn't have to be 1,000 words outlining your nine principles of wherever your expertise lies. What about sharing one at a time? Let's be honest: Everyone skims articles sometimes, so why not provide a little less information to digest at once? You readers will still get the information you want to share, but in bite-sized chunks that will hopefully keep them coming back for more.
You are the only person with your original experiences, insights, and opinions, and that's what will set you apart from everyone else.
“If you write the way you want to read, other people will want to read it, too.” – Libby KaneTweet this
Every quarter, I publish my epic business and lifestyle reviews on my blog. I purposely call them "epic" because these posts are different from everything else out there, written in an engaging story format so people get an insight in my business and life. They are several thousand words long, covering everything I've done for the past 3 months, the lessons I learned and goals for next quarter, mixed with text, a lot of photos and even some videos from time to time.
Not only have the epic review posts been very popular with my audience, but I also learn a ton from writing them myself, and reflecting over what I've accomplished so far.
I like to outline the blog post, epic guide or email first, and then write up my draft quickly so I have something to work with. After I have a rough draft, it's time to fine tune things, add images, more examples, possibly feature experts, add call-to action, set up a content upgrade etc., and anything else that can be of value for the content I've written. I usually create a Dropbox folder to keep things organized.
Something I learned very early on when I started publishing content online, was that if I do a lot of research, the content will usually end up much better, because I know exactly what my "competitors" cover. A great tool for finding the most popular content on a particular topic is Buzzsumo.com. You can even see the influencers who shared the content on social media, and you do outreach to them to see if they would be open to sharing what you've written as well.
That brings me to something very important; if you've written something great, be sure to spend a lot of time promoting it too. That's absolutely key, or nobody will read your epic content you spent so much time creating.
After I've written the content, before I hit publish, I tend to ask myself a few questions:
1. Would my target audience share it?
2. Is what I've written the best content out there on this topic?
3. Does it include inspiring stories to engage my audience?
4. Is it actionable?
5. Does it contain examples and original data that support the content?
6. Is it timeless/evergreen?
7. Is the overall content of high standard and quality (everything from design, images, easy to read, great formatting etc.)?
If the answer is yes to these questions, then I know that what I've written is not only good, but REALLY GOOD and will be well received by my audience and other people who stumble across the content.
Write 500-1,000 words every day, and make it a habit that sticks. The most successful people in the world produce something every single day, often in the form of writing daily. Everyone is different, but for me it works extremely well to get my writing done in the morning after my workout. Block off some time and just get it done, that's how you improve and get better.
Something very powerful I did in the very beginning to improve my writing and find my voice more, was to take a 30-day blog challenge. I went all in during this challenge, and wrote around 45,000 words... pretty crazy considering that I'm not even a native English speaker. That's how I became more comfortable in writing long form epic content, and even though it takes me 20-30 hours to write an epic guide, it's well worth it because it's the best content out there on the topic.
My most recent favorite is also the most personal that I’ve ever published, titled “There’s Always More to Say: Tattoos, Semicolons, and Suicide”, the post is more or less a rundown of my personal history with depression and suicide.
It’s my favorite for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that I feel was able to truly capture the feelings of the condition and allow people in. Like all personal posts, it was scary to write and publish, but I’m of the mind that such vulnerability is one of the missing pieces for anyone who publishes personalized exposition.
In the most technical sense, while it’s certainly a clearly written piece, it’s not my most impressive piece of writing. However, where I think it really shines is in the storytelling.
Which I think should be the takeaway here: if you tell good stories, and tell them well, people will read and absorb just about anything you write.
In The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield says, “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”
For most content creators (and here I am especially referring to myself) I think that overcoming the inertia and just getting started is one of the most challenging parts of the entire endeavor.
The specific reasons for this are probably different for every writer, but I personally seem to struggle with blank pages. Sitting down to write and starting at a bare word doc creates massive anxiety for me, which in turn hampers my ability to create.
To overcome this, I’ve got a few strategies.
Firstly, I notice that the more “formal” the writing seems, the harder it is to get going. While opening getting started in a word document is difficult, writing in an email comes more easily. For that matter, typing it in an app like Notes, or even in the body of a text message allows things to flow pretty easily. So I’ll often write up to half of an article somewhere else, and then copy and paste it over to a word doc. Further, I find that things flow more easily when I write by hand than type them, so I often get started in a notebook.
Secondly I create a simple outline. I more or less write my three main ideas, and then leave space for 1-3 supporting points for each of those ideas. From there, I write one sentence for each idea, and one for each supporting point. Many times, just creating this skeleton is enough to grease the wheels and let things flow.
Thirdly, I impose time limits for specific projects. When it comes to my writing, I can fall into the trap of perfectionism, and agonize over every word. Probably necessary if you’re writing the great American novel, but when you’re writing about nutrition, this is a waste of time. Once I’ve got an outline done, I like to force myself to finish a draft as quickly as possible.
Hemingway said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” No matter what I’m writing about, I try to follow this maxim.
As long as a piece communicates the information clearly and effectively, and there’s at least one sentence that I feel truly proud of as a writer, I’m confident shipping it.
Read everything you write out loud. In fact, have someone else read it out loud. If there are sentences that cause them to stumble or if the article does not flow well, be willing to go back and edit—a lot. If it sounds like shit, it reads like shit.
“Read everything you write out loud. If it sounds like shit, it reads like shit.” — John RomanielloTweet this
I recently wrote about How I Rebuilt My Savings After Losing Every Penny. I liked writing this article for a couple of reasons. First, it made me revisit one of the lowest points in my financial past, which wasn’t even that long ago, so it was satisfying to think about how far I’ve come. Second, I think it resonated with readers because it’s an experiential post and a failure post, which people love, but I also offer real-world, practical tips for how to overcome a blow like that. When I write about personal finance, I like to mix practical advice with anecdotes. Even embarrassing ones.
Hands down, a good story is what makes an article stand out. A good story can make even the most boring topic seem compelling. Personal finance topics put most people to sleep, so it’s my challenge to try and make those topics as accessible and engaging as possible, and I think telling a story is an effective way to do that.
I’m not always successful at it, and it’s especially challenging when you’re writing about something like social security or retirement plans, but the articles that get the most attention are always the ones in which I’ve illustrated my point with an anecdote or some other compelling story.
The concept of “shitty first drafts” helped my productivity immensely, because it’s the perfect antidote to writer’s block. The blank page is intimidating, and one way to overcome that intimidation is to write a shitty first draft.
It’s a term coined by writer Anne Lamott, and Stephen King called it writing “with the door closed.” Write like no one is going to read or judge your words. Write only to communicate your idea; don’t worry about it being beautiful, just get the words on the page. Then, go back, edit it, and make it pretty. But you can’t edit anything if you don’t have anything on the page, and shitty first drafts get words on the page.
Don’t try to do what everyone else is doing.
You miss out on your own unique perspective, which is a huge asset. I made this mistake with my own blog. Because I wasn’t 100% confident in what my perspective, voice, or niche was, I instead tried to mimic other websites that were doing what I wanted to do. In short, I wasn’t being myself.
After a while, I realized this was pointless.
Those websites were already out there, so what was the point in just copying what’s already been done? I stopped trying to fit in and instead focused on writing what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write, even if it changed as I changed. Not only are readers more receptive to that authenticity, but I actually enjoy the process, which is kind of the whole point.
“Don’t try to do what everyone else is doing. Your own unique perspective is a huge asset.” — Kristin WongTweet this
My favorite post recently is the article: Fat Shaming vs Body Acceptance: Is it okay to be fat?"
The editor on Team Nerd Fitness and I went back and forth with this article probably a dozen times, with 10+ hours invested into the writing of it. We took on a controversial topic, took a strong stance on it, presented historical and scientific evidence, personal anecdotes, and presented our case in a logical, fun, enjoyable way. Funnily enough, we received hate mail from both sides of the argument, but those were dwarfed by the 100+ emails thanking us for saying what needed to be said and not being afraid to do so.
I'm always reminded of a quote: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”
The best possible cure I've found to overcome writer's block is to set myself up to succeed: a clean desk, a cup of coffee, distracting websites blocked (I use the program "Freedom"), and a great playlist (usually vocal trance).
I then task myself with writing 500 words of whatever. It can be terrible, it can be grammatically incorrect, but I need to write 500 words. Usually after 20 minutes, an idea is sparked, something new is discovered, something written gets me in the zone, and I can kind of zone out and just crush content.
This is a tough one, as it's pretty subjective. However, it's often the things that I have the most fun writing, the articles that I truly enjoy putting together, that tend to resonate the best with my audience. I love breaking down a difficult concept or a controversial topic and attacking it from a unique angle with our twist of Nerd culture references and lessons. Occasionally I'm off in my predictions, but when I'm writing something and saying "I can't freaking wait to publish this," those are the articles that go over incredibly well.
Please be freaking unique, especially if you're jumping into a crowded industry. Nerd Fitness has been successful because I write in a way that you can't find anywhere on the internet: diet and fitness advice, catered specifically to beginner nerds, wrapped in nerdy metaphors and video game analogies. Don't try to appeal to everybody - start by catering to a tiny subset of people that you can speak with directly, and only after you've made a name for yourself in that arena can you start to expand your target audience.
“Don't try to appeal to everybody - start with a tiny subset of people you can speak with directly.” — Steve KambTweet this