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5 Writing Habits That Work

by Shari Finnell

Back in the day when I was a rookie newspaper reporter, I worked for an editor with a morning routine that constantly set his staff on edge … every day.

I can picture him now … a cup of black coffee in one hand, while he anxiously scanned the competitor’s newspaper in its entirety. For the duration, he fired questions at us about why we hadn’t covered what he was reading. Nine times out of 10, we answered with a series of comments that became increasingly repetitive: “Actually, we already wrote about that,” “It was in our newspaper yesterday,” or even worse, “We reported on it a couple of days ago.”

Of course, there were exceptions in which we had failed to beat the competition. Still, we found this daily routine insulting. Didn’t he even read his own newspaper?

As obnoxious as it may have seemed at the time, this editor’s routine had some merit. As long as you know there’s someone out there who could be doing a better job at grabbing your audience, you’re more likely to do whatever it takes to step up your game. In our case, we may have been slightly more motivated by the desire to smugly reply to our editor in one way or another, “Been there, done that.”

Either way, it worked.

In the Digital Age, writing for a web audience is extremely competitive business. With so many other sources of information readily available with just a couple of clicks, you need to make sure your content is interesting and compelling enough to beat the other guy’s site.

Adopt these 5 habits as part of your regular work routine, and you’ll be on your way to producing attention-grabbing content.

1. Check out your competition. Who’s ranking higher than you in search engine results? Take the time to review their sites. It’s likely they have at least a few things you don’t, including better content. Analyze what they’re doing and resolve to do it better, whether it’s outpacing them in the amount of content, the quality of content and the frequency of new content.

2. Read the top blogs. Make this a daily habit. Do it while gulping down your favorite cup of java. It should only take about 15 to 20 minutes of your workday, but the benefits can’t be underestimated. Any good author will tell you they learned most of what they know about writing by reading plenty of good books. As you read, check out the presentation of the blog. What makes it attractive to read? What is the style of writing? What is it about the content that keeps people coming back for more? Don’t overthink it. Just let it digest with the caffeine. The more familiar you become with good blog writing the more comfortable you’ll feel about replicating those factors in your own writing.

Start by checking out 10 of the Top Blogs according to Technorati Authority, which ranks sites based on their influence in the blogosphere. They include:

1. Huffington Post
2. Mashable!
3. TechCrunch
4. Business Insider
5. Gawker
6. Gizmodo
7. TMZ
8. Think Progress
9. Engadget
10. The Daily Beast

You also can check out Time’s Best Blogs of 2011 for inspiration.

3. Let go of a few rules. Of course, there are different styles of writing. If you’re writing a letter to the CEO of a company you’re trying to do business with, it’s likely you will have an entirely different tone than the one you would use for a blog. Think of it as the difference between newspaper style and broadcast style. The latter will be a lot more conversational — quite different than the writing tone reflected in The New York Times, for example. When writing for the web, go for the conversational style. When you finish your piece, read it aloud. Ask yourself, “Is this how I would naturally talk to someone?” If so, you’re likely going in the right direction.

4. Keep it relevant. Score points with your human audience as well as with Google’s bots by producing content that’s relevant to your business. If you sell gadgets for the technology industry, make sure your content explores various angles that would appeal to those in the field trying to seek out helpful information. Your copy should be comprehensive in covering the topics. This not only serves your readers, but it helps search engines distinguish you as a more relevant site when stacked up against your competitors.

5. Write often. This is extremely important for three reasons. As any true writer will tell you, the habit of writing often will quickly increase your comfort level and your expertise. Try it. You’ll see what I’m talking about. Also, fresh, relevant content on your site is another way of scoring points with search engines. Lastly, if it’s good stuff, your readers will appreciate it … and will keep coming back for more.

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