How to Master the Writing Process
A Guide for Business Owners Writing Webpages
Have you ever known someone like this?
Samuel is finally sitting at his home computer to write the content for his website. His website guru asked for it earlier today… again.
The kids have just finished dinner, and his wife is helping them with their homework. It’s the first quiet moment he’s had all day… even though he’s semi-distracted listening to his wife help their kids. Fleetingly, he wishes he could be out there. He misses spending time with them.
But he’s been trying to find time to write this stuff for weeks, and only just now succeeded.
As he starts to write, he stares at the screen, wondering what to say. What do others write? What information looks good on the page? What other sites can he imitate?—HOW do others do this?
Finally, frustrated, Samuel writes anything that comes to mind.
He quickly proofs it and sends it to his site guru to publish.
Six months later, he realizes he is wasting money on a “must-have” website for his business. The site is not helping build his business at all. It’s become an expensive window dressing.
Many small business owners find themselves in a similar situation.
They think the writing process is simple. Most people believe they can put anything on the page, they’ll be found by search engines and their business will grow.
All they really know is — everyone tells them they need to have a website; so they have one.
Here’s a surefire writing process to help you produce excellent web content for your business.
In this stage, you lay the groundwork for the rest of the writing process. This process often takes as much as 50% of your writing time.
Skipping this vital stage makes the next step slow and painful.
To make the most use of this stage, it helps to think through the following activities.
Purpose of the Page
Webpages fit into the customer journey, and it’s essential to know how each page is most valuable.
Here are 11 pages and how they usually fit into your website’s purpose.
You may or may not need all of these type of pages, but you can use this chart to know what type of page to write.
|Page Type||Raising Awareness||Establish Trust & Authority||Increase Retention||Generate Leads||Get More Sales|
|Lead Generation Page||Yes|
Once you know the general purpose of your page, you can refine your message. That understanding allows you to focus better and write in a way that appeals to visitors.
Your next step is to identify your target client.
Creating a customer persona helps you understand who this individual is. The persona helps clarify where they are in the customer journey and the most vital information they are looking for.
Are they at the very beginning of awareness and just realizing they have a need?
Perhaps they are researching specific service providers on the cusp of making a purchase.
That person might be a current client wondering how to work their new product from you.
It also helps to create an empathy map with the persona.
This tool helps you understand what your client is thinking, feeling, seeing, and experiencing day-to-day. The review can help you know what problems they have and how you can help.
SEO Keyword Research
Now that you understand the purpose of the webpage you are currently writing and what your ideal client needs to hear, you can do some keyword research for search engine optimization (SEO).
This research will help you understand what words and phrases people use when they are looking for information.
You can include those phrases and related ones to help search engines identify your site as a potential answer to their question.
After you have a couple of keywords or phrases, it’s time to do some research on your topic.
It helps to check out other websites on the same topic to see what they are saying. When you’re an expert on the subject, you may not need to complete much research here.
Look for “golden nuggets” or key, persuasive facts that help your cause.
One example is the fact that image captions are read 300% more often than body copy. It helps persuade writers to use captions.
A-list writers and subject matter experts use these “golden nuggets” to help make their writing more persuasive.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of other sites? By reading where their content is more substantial, you’ll see opportunities to improve your site.
I once found an opportunity to improve a client’s website by researching competitor sites.
The competitor answered the questions I needed answered, but were woefully lacking on my client’s site. That weakness was clearly an opportunity
Gaps in their information will reveal even stronger tactics to create a more competitive site.
You may find subjects your audience needs to know about that no one else is writing about. Targeting these topics first may gain valuable SEO results.
Create an Outline
After the research is done, it’s time to create an outline.
For something like the home page, you need to base that outline may on the design layout.
For example, you may need to create content for a list or carousel. The designer may use columns on one part of the page. You may be displaying information on tabs or in an accordion.
Sales pages are often organized identically. The need for similarity will help you outline what you need to write on a new sales page.
Many designers use templates, and you’ll decide how to develop the content based on that template.
The most fluid and complex content outlines will be on text-heavy pages such as support pages or blog articles.
Call to Action
One final preparatory step is to decide on the next step you want the visitor to take and include a call to action. The most useful pages clearly lead the person through their journey with you. The easier you make the steps, the more likely ideal clients will continue.
It might be to download a template, comment on an article, check out another page or contact you.
Failure to include a call to action is a huge, missed opportunity. To gain the most from your website, virtually walk your reader through your website to the help they need.
NOTE: The final step should be them contacting you for help solving their problem. But it’s also a mistake to make every page a sales page. Visitors often need to be guided gently to the awareness you can help.
Now that you’ve finished the prep work, it’s time to write your first draft.
Most people think of this stage as the entire writing process.
Like Samuel in the opening story, they quickly combine all the other steps into this one and struggle with finishing the piece.
But writing (the first draft) is only a small piece of the writing process—for me, it’s the smallest part of the writing process. Most professional writers only spend about 20-25% of their writing time in this stage.
Ideally, you’ll start writing from your outline. Close your notes, turn off other electronics and shut out any other distractions and just write.
Don’t worry about editing as you write; it’s better to correct errors later.
Likewise, don’t worry about how the thoughts flow or if it’s organized and logical, fixing that belongs to the next stage in the writing process.
If you stumble across a section where you know you want to use a fact or detail you found, but you don’t remember it at that moment, create a note for yourself. Don’t go back and look for the detail then; use a placeholder and keep writing until you’ve finished your draft.
You may find yourself getting stuck in this stage, facing the dreaded writer’s block. Here are a couple of strategies to help you move past that.
1. Try going back and reviewing your research or conduct more. A good indicator you need to return to the research phase above is when you find yourself asking questions about the topic because the answers aren’t coming to mind.
2. If you’re worried about it sounding right and what readers will think, start by writing the worst lines you can imagine. Often, once you start writing, better explanations will automatically begin flowing.
3. If you’re getting stuck because you’ve been working too long, take a quick break. Writing is a thought-intensive, energy-consuming practice. A break will help you re-energize and reset so you can start writing again.
One technique some writers use is the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer and write for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. Repeat.
Every second or third cycle, take a longer break, maybe 15 minutes. On your breaks, make sure you stand up, stretch, get coffee or water — anything to get out of your chair and away from the computer for a quick moment.
Google Play and the Apple Store have free Pomodoro apps you can use. You can even customize the time settings to find the cycles that keep you at your best.
The writing stage is all about you as the writer. Get the material on the page.
The revision stage is where you’ll rewrite the information so it’s written for your visitor.
Revise & Edit
After you’ve written the first draft, you may find it helpful to take a break. You’ll want to come back to this next stage with a fresh mind.
If I’m not publishing the work myself, this is where I spend my remaining time in the writing process.
For shorter webpages, this stage goes a little quicker. For longer pages, make sure you plan plenty of time for revising and editing.
The first part of this stage is revising your work. Read through the entire article.
You may want to remember the acronym CUBA. Look for material that is:
- Confusing—Create easier to read sentences. Break down complex sentences and reorder discussion pieces.
- Unclear–You can add more information now to add clarity… or delete fluff and distracting information.
- Boring–Add a story or example to make the idea more engaging.
- Awkward–Rewrite the passage until it sounds right. Trust your gut. If you aren’t certain, rewrite it till it feels right.
Be deliberate about choosing a style and tone. If formal writing is your goal, make sure the style matches. If you want to sound more conversational, rewrite it until it sounds like you are talking with your customer.
I find it helpful to use a screen reader during the revision stage. Hearing the text aloud shows areas where the sentences and ideas don’t flow smoothly or sound awkward.
The screen reader takes your preconceived perception and emotion out of the text. Writers find awkward areas their brain would have skipped by reading it aloud themselves.
This is also the stage to go back and fill in information where you left placeholders in the initial drafting.
Check to see if you want to add supporting pictures or graphics to the page. Don’t forget to create alt text and titles for the images.
Your page may look completely different after revising it. Once you have all the information set where you want it, you’ll need to go back and edit and proofread.
- Check for and fix any lingering grammar errors.
- Look for jargon and cliches and rewrite those passages unless you are consciously keeping them.
- Check for spelling errors and frequently confused words (like its & it’s or affect & effect).
- Look over punctuation for errors or inconsistencies (like comma’s in a series).
- Check your headings and title for consistent capitalization.
I end this phase with one final read-through aloud. While using the screen reader to revise, I always find new areas to polish when reading the article aloud.
It often helps to print the page and take it somewhere different, like the dining room table or the patio table.
The last step in editing is to read the work backwards, line-for-line and paragraph for paragraph. Your brain will suddenly see errors you missed in previous rounds.
The final step in the writing process is to publish the article. If a host is publishing the page for you, all you have to do is email it to them and you’re done.
However, some small business owners manage their webpages personally. You’ll want to plan time here for publishing activity.
When publishing pages on my site, I always reserve 1-2 hours just for activity. Short pages will be quick, but longer pages and graphics take more time.
The sheets will always need another proofreading round to catch any errors introduced when you copied and pasted the material. This is also when I resize any images or graphics on the page and add the metadata.
It always helps to know upfront how much time to budget for writing your piece.
When you know your material and audience well or need less research time, the entire process will be quicker.
A home page or product description may only take an hour to write. FAQs and blogs may take several hours each. You may find the times work out differently each time.
Here are two sample time blocks you can use for planning.
|Writing Time||3 hours||10 Hours|
|Prep—50%||1 hr 12 min||4 hours|
|Write—20%||36 min||2 hours|
|Edit—30%||1 hr 12 min||4 hours|
|Publish||1 hour||2 hours|
The writing process is actually more involved than many non-writers realize. However, deliberately establishing an approach will make writing less stressful and more effective.
People who write a lot will naturally follow this process, and they’ll be able to finish their work quicker. Their transition between stages may seem flawless and invisible. But these writers still use these deliberate steps.
I recommend inexperienced writers plan at least twice the time they think they’ll need.
With care and purpose, your next writing project will be a joy to complete rather than a challenge to overcome.
Check back next week to find out how to use the writing process to create focused blog articles.
Do you have questions about the process or need help with a writing project? Contact me, and let’s see if I can help.