Content Marketing 101: How To Write Effective Copy

January 8, 2019 Content Marketing 1 comment

In the digital world, a wall of text is an ugly thing.

And your role as a content marketer is to pulverize that “thing” with the sledgehammer I am going to give you.

Long paragraphs suck online. Big time.

Hefty blocks of text are strenuous to read on a mobile device. Ditto for convoluted and complex sentences stuffed with obtuse terms.

(Try reading all 3 volumes of The Lord Of The Rings on the 4″ by 6″ screen of your smartphone to see what I mean.)

Thanks to the book Writing Without Bullshit by Josh Bernoff, I picked up a thing or two about honing my online writing skills.

Presenting his ideas in a clear and articulate fashion, Josh doesn’t mince his words as he critiques (and improves) numerous examples of bad writing in his book.

Here are some of its gems. Apply them to your own online content, and watch your engagement soar.

#1 Be Direct

Speak directly to your reader, using the active voice.

Begin by using the pronouns “you,” “I,” or “we” in your writing. Adopt active verbs (eg “I wrote the book.”) rather than passive verbs (eg “The book was written be me.”).

#2 Front-load Your Writing

Get straight to the point. Use the inverse pyramid principle of presenting the most important information first, followed by the second most important and so on.

Write hard hitting headlines that grabs the attention of your readers.

#3 Begin Boldly

The days of long and meandering introductions (aka the lede) are over.

To grab your reader’s attention, write one or two sentence introductions that ask a question or present a startling fact.

Here are two examples of great starts:

  • Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem. And it is staring at you from your screen.
  • Are you frustrated by poorly performing marketing campaigns?

#4 Edit Everything

Make it a habit to edit your copy.

No one writes tight prose the first time around. Admit your imperfection. Write, and allow time to self-edit.

If you find it difficult to rework your own content, hire an editor.

#5 Count Your Words

Depending on your content channel and purpose, aim for specific word counts.

Tweets peak at 140 characters. Emails have 250 words or less. LinkedIn text posts max out at 1,300 characters.

Blog articles, on the other hand, may be as short as 500 words and as long as 5,000.

If you need to write longer articles (for SEO purposes), break them up into smaller chunks using the tactics shared here.

#6 Say What You Mean

Cut out the padding in your prose and say what you really mean.

Remember that you are not writing a novel nor a thesis. Besides, readers of online content are unlikely to grasp innuendos, clever word plays, or indirect references.

#7 Organise Like Marie Kondo

Nobody likes to read repetitive and disorganised content. Or poorly presented ideas that are run “all over the shop.”

Be as meticulous and neat as famed Japanese neatness guru Marie Kondo. Sort out your ideas into boxes, and compartmentalise them as modules to be served one at a time.

The best content pieces are designed, architected and built in a systematic fashion.

#8 Junk The Jargons

There are only two reasons for you to include jargons in your content:

  1. Show readers how smart you are
  2. Show readers how stupid they are

Since both objectives aren’t going to be profitable for your brand, there is really no reason for you to continue stuffing your content with these “insider” terms.

#9 Prune Your Prose

Be like a Bonsai farmer. Trim, prune and cut your writing.

If you’ve got six sections, see if you can slice it down to four? What about reducing the length of your paragraph by half, or killing an example or two?

Removing weak and redundant materials makes your piece stronger.

#10 Headings Are Heavenly

All forms of online text can benefit from headings, sub-headings, and other forms of content categorisation.

These help to parse your text. They also make it easier for your readers to follow your ideas flow.

#11 Bullets Hit The Spot

While excessive bullet points are bad on slides, they are a godsend for long-form online content like blog posts, web pages, emails, and other online documents.

Here’s why:

  1. Easier to read. Bullet points provide a natural break for the eyes.
  2. Easier to understand. Short sentences are easier for online readers to grasp.
  3. Good for processes. Bullet points help to breakdown multi-step processes into digestible bite-sized chunks.

#12 Tables Are Terrific

Tables are fabulous ways to pack structure and lots of information into your content. This is useful when you need to compare multiple numeric variables against each other.

Tables also make it easier for your readers to interpret relationships between two pieces of quantitative information.

#13 Be Graphic

No, I’m not telling you to write an illicit piece of literature.

Instead, I’m asking you to insert a suitable photo, diagram or infographic to illustrate your point. Often, the right visuals can improve your reader’s comprehension in the quickest manner possible.

#14 Insert Quotes and Links

Like other forms of digital content, quotes and links help to add colour and variety to your prose.

They introduce natural breaks for your reader’s eyes, and improves readability, flow and comprehension.

#15 Reduce Connective Tissue

In the content world, “connective tissue” are flabby transition words that slows down reading space. They include words like “therefore,” “now, let’s continue with,” “Following this,” and other phrases that take up unnecessary space.

#16 Long Live Lists

Contrary to popular belief, list articles (or listicles) like these are not dead.

Virtually every content marketer worth his or her salt use itemized lists to break up their ideas into snackable pieces.

Beyond the customary listicle, you can also use lists in the following types of content:

  • Checklists
  • Templates
  • Assessments
  • Diagnostic Exercises
  • Tests
  • Questionnaires
  • Inventory Items
  • Recipes

#17 Weed Out Weasel Words

Weasel words are qualifiers that make your writing woolly and wimpy. According to the book, they can be defined as follows:

A weasel word is an adjective, adverb or noun that indicates quantity or intensity but lacks precision.

Grammatically speaking, these are called qualifiers or intensifier. They include words like the following:

  • most
  • many
  • few
  • rarely
  • millions
  • cheap
  • countless

You should avoid weasel words like the plague; they make your writing flimsy, clunky and indefensible.


In the online world, flabby writing gets kicked in the butt. Given the overwhelming competition for your customer’s attention, you need to make every word count.

Start making a difference in your writing today by adopting and adapting these techniques for your content. Let me know if it works (or not) – I’d love to read your experience.

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.

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