Content writing is the process of researching, planning, writing, editing, and publishing content for the web. It might be a blog post, video script, sales page—anything that gets published online.
At Ahrefs, we write a lot of content. We have over 230 blog posts, and over 170 videos on our YouTube channel (almost all of which are scripted).
As a result, we get an estimated 724,000+ monthly visits to our blog from Google alone:
And 350,000+ monthly views on YouTube:
In this post, we’ll cover some simple content writing tips that have helped us achieve these numbers, which you can apply to your own content.
- Write about topics people are searching for
- Create the right kind of content for your target keyword
- Create a data-driven outline
- Make your content link-worthy
- Craft a captivating headline
- Kickstart your intro with the AIDA formula
- Make your post easy to read
- Write how you talk
- Add transitional phrases
- Get feedback on your writing
- Keep a commonplace book
When it comes to blogging, most people write about topics that excite them. While that’s fine and dandy, these posts often have short shelf lives.
They might get a boost in traffic after promoting it to their friends and network (“spike of hope”), but that quickly degenerates (“flatline of nope”) once interest wanes.
To fix this, you should write content about topics that people are searching for. For as long as your article ranks in Google for relevant and popular search queries, you’ll receive consistent, passive organic search traffic.
How then do you find these topics?
The easiest way is to use a keyword research tool. Enter a relevant topic into a free keyword tool like Ahrefs’ Keyword Generator, and it’ll show you up to 150 keyword ideas and their estimated monthly search volumes.
Generally speaking, the higher the search volume, the more organic traffic you can get from ranking high in the search engines.
Once you’ve found a keyword that looks to have traffic potential, pop it into our free SERP checker tool to the current top-ranking pages. If these pages are getting a good amount of search traffic, then this confirms that the topic has organic traffic potential.
For example, we can see that the top-ranking pages for the query “best way to lose weight” are getting quite a significant amount of search traffic. So, if you run a fitness blog, this is likely a good topic to target.
Note that we also do keyword research for our YouTube videos. If you want to do the same, try our free YouTube keyword tool.
Have you ever noticed that Google seems to know what you’re looking for—even when you type something super vague or wordy?
For example, look at the result for this query:
Even though we didn’t mention anything about Katy Perry or “fireworks”, Google somehow understood what we were trying to find.
That’s because Google’s entire business model relies on serving the most relevant results. And so they’ve invested a lot into understanding the meaning behind ambiguous searches over the years.
Which means: if you want to rank for any particular keyword, you too need to figure out what searchers want and give it to them.
How do you know what that is? Look at the search results, then follow suit.
For example, let’s say you want to rank for “cold brew coffee maker.” Most of the top-ranking pages are lists of the best coffee makers, so that’s the type of content you should create too.
You’ll have a much harder time trying to shoehorn a page selling coffee makers here here because that’s not what people are looking for.
Recommended reading: Searcher Intent: The Overlooked ‘Ranking Factor’ You Should Be Optimizing For
For every article on the Ahrefs blog, I create an outline for the target topic and show it to Josh, our Head of Content. Then, he comments on it, often suggesting changes or new ideas I might have missed.
Creating an outline like this helps us solidify our ideas before we put pen to paper. We can easily delete or reorganize the article before we commit a few thousand words.
It also prevents writers’ block. Anytime we’re stuck during the drafting process, all we need to do is to return to the outline.
Now, a good way to create an outline is to look for commonalities amongst the top-ranking results. After all, if most of the top-ranking pages are answering certain specific questions, then it’s a sign that it’s something searchers want to know.
Which means you should include those subtopics in your post too.
So, let’s say you want to write about the topic, “backlinks”. If we look at the top-ranking pages, we can see they follow a similar format: definition > why they’re important > types of backlinks
We can easily use this format as the backbone of our outline.
If the commonalities aren’t immediately obvious, you can use Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool to get some inspiration. This tool shows the keywords that one or more pages ranks for, and this often reveals potential subtopics you could cover.
For the above example, all we need to do is paste in a few top-ranking pages for “backlinks,” leave the bottom field blank, then hit “Show keywords.”
Now, a lot of these keywords will just be different ways of searching for the same thing. But if you look closely, you’ll spot some potential subtopics. We can use these to create a winning outline.
Google says links are one of their top three ranking factors. Our own study has also shown a strong positive correlation between links and organic traffic.
If you want to rank in Google for anything remotely competitive, you need links. And if you want your content to attract links, you need to understand why people link to posts about this topic.
The best way to do this is to look at backlinks to the current top-ranking pages and see why people are linking to them. If you notice that lots of people are linking for the same reason, then it’s probably worth mentioning the same thing or something similar in your post.
For example, let’s say you want to rank for “affiliate marketing.” If we look at the top-ranking pages for this keyword, most of the pages have plenty of backlinks.
Let’s pick one and check its backlinks in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer. Just from skimming the “Anchor and backlink” column, we see that quite a few people are linking because of stats mentioned in the post.
It would probably make sense to mention these stats or similar ones in our post too.
Are common link reasons always this obvious? Of course not. You won’t always see clear trends, but we think it’s still well worth doing before writing your content.
People won’t click on your post if the headline is dull and uninspiring.
That means you’ll need to learn how to write irresistible headlines that capture people’s attention and make them want to learn more.
How do you do that? Use a proven formula.
Here are just a few we’ve used before:
- How to [Achieve a Desired Outcome] (In [Timeframe])
- [Number] Proven [Actions/Ways] to [Achieve Desired Result]
- [Number or How to] Simple/Easy Ways to [Achieve Desired Outcome]
- [Number] Reasons You’re [Not Achieving Desired Outcome]
Looking for more? There’s a huge list of them here.
Just remember to keep search intent (see point #2) in mind when writing a headline.
Headlines convince people to click. Intros convince people to read.
How then do you write a compelling introduction?
Use the AIDA formula.
Now, most people would describe the AIDA formula as a copywriting formula—one you can use to write a blog post from start to end. But I’ve also discovered that the AIDA formula works perfectly as a blog post intro.
Here’s how the AIDA formula works.
First, you grab the attention of your readers. For example, in our post on content hubs, we started with a bold statement.
Next, pique their interest by giving them some interesting facts, stories or examples. In this case, we gave an interesting example of a content hub.
Third, create a desire to keep reading by explaining why that’s important. In this example. we hinted at the fact that this page was strategically built for traffic and links, and showed (with stats) that it worked.
And finally, get them to take action. Since we’re using the AIDA formula as a blog post intro, we’ll use a linked table of contents to encourage them to read the sections they’re interested in.
Pretty easy, right?
Check this out:
When reading, there’s nothing more daunting than a wall of text. If your article looks like this, you’ll drive people away.
What you should do instead is to break up the text.
The easiest way to do this is to use images. For example, most of our posts on the Ahrefs blog include annotated screenshots like this:
All of these help demonstrate certain ideas and concepts much better than words.
But images aren’t the only way to break up the monotony of text. You can also use things like videos, GIFs, infographics or even simple subheadings (H2 — H6 headers).
Try reading this:
If you’re like me, you probably fell asleep halfway through.
Now, I’m not saying this writing style is wrong. It’s not. It’s a scientific paper intended for scientists—people who understand that kind of language.
For most of us, it’s different. We’d prefer to read something simple and easy to understand.
So, write casually. Pretend you’re talking to a friend. Write how you talk.
However, this can be difficult for a lot of us. We’re trained from young to write in a formal way: with a passive voice, rigid grammar rules and big words. To “erase” this conditioning, run your content through a tool like Hemingway. This will help identify words or phrases you wouldn’t ordinarily use.
Flow is incredibly important. It helps keep the reader engaged.
If at any point your reader has to re-read a word (or even a sentence), it is likely you’ll lose their attention and they’ll bounce away.
An easy way to keep your writing silky smooth is to add transitional phrases.
These phrases help your sentences flow naturally from one to the other. Here’s an illustration of how they make your writing silky smooth:
Some common transitional phrases you can use:
- Moving on…
And here’s a gigantic list of transition phrases you can refer to the next time you’re writing.
Great content is rarely created alone.
As a content writer, you’re too close to your own work and you won’t be able to spot mistakes on your own. Which is why a second person’s opinion can be invaluable.
For example, it took me a month to write my first ever blog post for the Ahrefs blog. The reason was because my drafts were constantly torn to shreds by our editors Tim and Josh.
Every post on our blog is subjected to that scrutiny. We take turns to read each other’s drafts and offer feedback. We point out things like logical loopholes, poor flow, unclear points, poorly-phrased sentences and so on.
We even make sure to let our readers know that each article they read is not the work of one person, but many people working together to make it great.
Even if you’re working alone, this advice can work. You can easily get input from another person, e.g., your spouse or co-workers. If need be, you can also join communities dedicated to helping you improve your writing.
Their input will make your work much better.
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.”
By keeping one, you no longer have to waste time looking for ideas when it’s time to write. You can simply pull them from your commonplace book and fill out your outline.
Personally, I keep my commonplace book on Notion. Here’s a glimpse into how my commonplace book looks:
This section (“Writing”) is one of the many categories I’ve created. Each item you see here is a new page I’ve created for a book, podcast, article, etc. I’ve taken notes on.
And this is the first place I look to before I begin drafting any of my blog posts.
Writing can be mentally draining and procrastination often seems tempting. And if you’re waiting for inspiration to strike before putting pen to paper, you’ll never publish anything.
If you don’t publish, you won’t rank.
To fix this, commit to a content calendar. This is a schedule of when you want to publish new content and what content you want to publish.
For example, this is how our content calendar looks at Ahrefs:
A content calendar forces you to set deadlines for your upcoming content, which prevents procrastination and obligates you to hit the “publish” button.
Only by publishing do you stand a chance to rank in Google.
Did I miss out on any important content writing tips? Let me know on Twitter.