Creating Quality Content - Part 1: Content Research & Planning
Quality Content Doesn’t Just Happen: Here’s How We Do It
This post is the first in a series about how to write quality content. Today, we’re going to discuss writing prep. It may not be the most glamorous part of writing, but don’t discount this important step. Just like your morning routine sets the tone for your day, the way you start a new writing project can make a huge difference in the quality of your final content.
Whether you’re raring to go or feeling stuck, having a pre-writing checklist can help. You’ll save time, prioritize better, and write content that’s more valuable to readers.
Use these content strategies to set the groundwork for great text before you even write a single word of your first draft:
Get the right people involved.
Strategy #1: Plan ahead
A crucial part of writing quality content is giving yourself enough time to do it. Planning ahead makes it easier for you to get the most out of the time you do have. The two things that can take the most time are:
A good rule of thumb is to give yourself at least a day or two between writing a first draft and submitting the final content. You don’t want to edit on the same day you write. A good night’s sleep and some time away will give you more clarity as you put the final touches on your writing.
Here’s how to maximize your efficiency:
Find the best time to write
Start with your time management. Organize your day so that you’re writing when your mind is at peak performance or when you have a block of time to write without interruptions. Some people work best first thing in the morning; others find their brain is sharper in the evening. Play around with different schedules until you find the best fit for you.
Start with an outline
Create a table of contents to outline your thoughts before you start writing. I did this meticulously when working on this article and it made the writing much easier. I had so many ideas jotted down, but outlining my thoughts helped me organize everything into chunks and weed out the points that were redundant or unnecessary.
Define your goals and KPIs
Thinking through your goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) can help you narrow your focus and prioritize. This is especially important when you’re short on time. For example, if you’re writing an article intended to reduce the number of calls to support, then your focus should be on understanding what’s confusing users and why. If you’re writing content designed to get more likes, shares and comments, then you want to focus on creating content that’s original, engaging and relatable. (But more on that in Part 2: Crafting the Text.)
Plan ways to track your success
Once you know your goal, make sure you have a way to get data and feedback about your content, after it’s published. This might mean using Google Analytics or other web analytics tracking tools.
Strategy #2: Research
Become an expert in your topic. Here’s how:
Study the industry
Look into what’s popular, new trends, industry news, etc. Read the most-shared articles on your topic to get an idea of what’s trending right now. You can easily find this info using a tool like BuzzSumo. Bonus Tip: A unique trick that I picked up from copywriter Jesse Forrest's Skillshare class is to read Amazon reviews of books that relate to your subject. This gives you a lot of insight into your potential readers and what they’re looking for.
Get to know your competitors
Spend a lot of time analyzing the competition. Notice what they’re writing about, how their content is structured and the terminology they use. Find areas that they’re not talking about and see if you can offer this content to readers.
Connect to your target audience
Get to know the people who will be reading your content. - Talk with users to hear their ideas. - Follow relevant groups on Facebook. - Check out the content on their websites. For example, if you're about to write an article about the best new Nikon lenses, spend 20 minutes reading websites of top photographers. Notice what they’re interested in and the language they use. This will help you create and define your voice. If you have a food blog, initiate a meetup for foodies (If you do, invite me please). My book club once hosted the author of that month’s book. She got to hear our feedback and learn which parts of her story we related to; we got to meet her and ask questions—a win-win.
Know what users are asking and what’s on their mind. At Wix, UX writers have regular meetings with our product support team so that we’re always in sync. Support can offer a lot of insight into what confuses users, what they want to know more about and how you can improve the content. As a UX writer, I make sure to go to usability tests and workshops for Wix users. I see how users interact with the product, where the text works (or doesn’t) and where I can improve the content. If you’re a blogger, review reader comments. That’ll give you an idea of what your audience likes to read, what irks them and what kind of content they take the time to respond to.
Talk to experts
They can add credibility, advice and value to your content. Which brings me to the next strategy...
Pro tip: Writing content for a product? Read more about how we do product research.
Strategy #3: Bring in the experts
For many of us, writing isn’t a one-man show. Here’s where the experts come in. Whether you’re writing a blog article or a tooltip in your product, meet with the right experts before you write a single word. Once you have a comprehensive understanding of the product or topic, you can create content that will be valuable and accurate.
For example: If you’re writing about health, talk to a doctor or nutritionist. When I wrote content for a new developer product at Wix, my experts became all the developers I worked with! Find and touch base with several experts during the research phase. The earlier you meet with them, the more efficient your writing process will be. Sometimes that means going out of your comfort zone. The expert might be someone at your company who is higher up the ladder. But don’t shy away from scheduling meetings with people you feel could make your content better, more credible and more useful to readers.
Here’s an example of how I put this into practice recently:
Since Wix users create content for their websites, we often guide them in how to optimize for search engines. I was writing a tooltip about how to add alt text to a button and I thought it was a no-brainer. (A tooltip is a box with more info that appears when users hover over an information icon.)
The tooltip explained that alt text helps boost SEO and makes a site more accessible. It was a tricky panel so I met with an expert on the SEO team. He explained to me that in this specific case, the alt text is more about accessibility than SEO.
This 5-minute meeting with an expert changed how I wrote the text:
In the “Before,” I included the words "alt text" in the label because SEO is very important to Wix users and I wanted them to find it easily. Once I knew that SEO wasn’t relevant here, I rewrote the tooltip to give more guidance about the button text.
It’s not always easy to find time to research and talk to experts, but doing so will make your content more valuable and give readers a reason to trust what you say.
What’s on your pre-writing checklist? Share it with us in the comments below. If you just started one, let us know what’s been working for you!
You’ve just read Part 1: Content Research & Planning. Next up: Crafting the Text. We’re going to go over how to write engaging content that’s valuable to your readers.
Read the next two posts in the series:
Part 2: Crafting the Text
Part 3: Editing, Publishing & Beyond
Lana Raykin, UX Writer at Wix