Top Lessons Learned From Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
Photo by Diggity Marketing
Composing content that engages, informs, and then, converts is the ultimate goal of any content marketer.
A great content marketing strategy helps you harmoniously communicate the intended message to the right audience appropriately.
Bad content marketers essentially omit one or more of the key processes and they suffer greatly for it.
A copy that is ill-prepared will often face the following predicament:
- It will fail to stand-out
- It won’t capture your readers’ attention
- It will not deliver your message as intended
- And worst of all, it will have a hard time converting your first-time readers to loyal customers
Ok, I am not saying that no writer or content marketer can succeed by not following a proven strategy because there are always exceptions and we can never rule that out.
Nonetheless, learning to become a good writer and to create good content should not be an issue if you learn not to make the obvious content marketing mistakes and educate yourself on the topic.
Ann Handley’s book, Everybody Writes is a perfect example of where you can find such an education.
Arguably one of the world’s most influential content marketers, Ann teaches the basics of copywriting in her awesome book. From planning your writing process, polishing your grammar, and spicing your content with storytelling, Ann Handley provides all the tactics you will need to scribble professional-grade content.
Top Writing Lessons From Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes
Are you the type that doesn’t like reading books?
Maybe you just don’t have enough time in your day to dedicate to a book…
Nevertheless, if you dislike reading books, or your regular roster is too tight to let you read Ann Handley’s content writing guide book, the following takeaways from the book can help you upgrade your writing prowess.
- Anybody can write
Many people think that writing is an art reserved for professionals with divine writing talent. But Ann Handley starts her book by refuting the common misconception. She says that anybody can write and she’s absolutely right!
Handley claims that writing is a valuable life skill for all people. Even if you are not a marketer, you will need the expertise to write posts or comments on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media networks. Think about it, how many times a day do you express yourself through writing? How often do you communicate using words?
Also, your writing skills help you write letters, postcards, and or emails to peers, friends, and family members. Writing helps you create the best impression of yourself or better yet, help you show the REAL you to the people you care most about!
While anybody can write, writing good content needs regular practice. In her book, Handley relates the writing process of working out your muscles in a gym. The more often you work-out, the better the results you get. Think about it… Just like with physical exercise, you don’t have to start by going to the gym for two hours every day, you just need to set a little time aside and write something to build momentum.
Finally, if you wish to write like Shakespeare or any other top writer you treasure, Handley proposes that you simply focus on writing and reading more. After all, practice makes perfect, right? Learn to hone your writing craft to unimaginable levels and you too shall be known for your work.
- Strategize before you write
Just like any other process, articulating content requires a well-thought-out strategy.
Therefore, before you lay your fingers on the keyboard, Handley proposes that you take the time to understand what you want to write, the reasons why you want to write, as well as the audience you are writing for.
Prior planning will give you the order and rationality you need to put down your ideas correctly. In line with Handley’s content writing guidebook, there are three critical areas you should include in your writing plan. They are:
Outline the goals for writing
Marketers don’t write for the sake of writing. They either write to educate their prospective readers, attract quality leads, establish authority, and or improve conversions. Since content varies depending on your goals, Ann Handley proposes that you identify the primary reason you intend to write. Then, tailor your write-ups to help you accomplish the goal in mind.
Identify the audience you are writing for
Handley argues that your audience is not anybody willing to read your content. It is the exact group of people you are looking to educate or persuade. Identifying your audience will help you tailor your content to resonate with your readers’ needs. Writing for a broad, undefined audience will not yield the expected outcome.
The audience is so important to what you write that you might want to plan your work around it. Read on to see how we do this at our agency.
Identify matchless topics for your content
The internet has several pieces of content based on familiar topics. So, if you want to stand out from the noise, Ann Handley proposes that you create your content based on unique but relevant topics. That way, you will have fewer competitors contending for your prospective audience, and more readers yearning for your content.
Research, research, and them research some more!
Bonus tip – Content Canvas Model:
At Agency 41, we follow something we call the Content Canvas Model.
Each article we write starts with one of these three things (they are the blue colored blocks in the model):
Sometimes you write because you have a topic in mind that you’d like to cover in your writing. This is where you “enter the canvas” and start your article from the topic side.
Without identifying a problem you wouldn’t be able to propose a solution. Better yet, even after you write, failing to highlight the problems and not using them to create an emotional bond with your audience will hinder your content’s ability to best engage with your readers.
The stakeholders are the people affected by your content. Who are you writing for? Chances are there are more than once stakeholders. Find out who they are before you start writing.
- Flavor your content with storytelling
An editorial posted on Digital Information World reports that stories leave a significant impact on consumers’ minds.1
Why? The human race is wired to enjoy and remember stories more than plain marketing content.
Into the bargain, story-based content spawns more word of mouth referrals, and it lets you easily communicate complex information. Despite the benefits of storytelling, many marketers find it hard to incorporate the art of storytelling into their regular marketing content.
Are you one of those marketers who find it hard to flavor their content with storytelling?
If you are, Ann Handley’s book, Everyone Writes, has got your back covered. It highlights reliable tips that will help you create captivating stories on every topic you are looking to write about.
- Use an ideal length for your content
There is lots of confusing information on the ideal length of blogs, videos, webinars, social media posts, and other content used in digital marketing.
As an example, some content creators recommend short-form content, instead of long-form content. They argue that readers have short attention spans and less time to read through long-form posts.
Furthermore, content creators claim that creating short-form content is relatively easy.2
On the other hand, other content creators recommend long-form content instead of short-form. Why? They argue that long-form content lets you cover topics comprehensively, increases your site’s chances of ranking high, and it cements your website authority.
Wavering thoughts confuse many content writers. Actually, a majority of marketers and content writers don’t know the appropriate length of an excellent blog, social media post, video, or any other content. Are you one of those mixed up content creators? If yes, subsequent are reliable suggestions based on Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes:
- Non longform blogs should be around 1500 words
- Podcasts should last for an average of 22 minutes
- YouTube videos should be three minutes long
- Facebook posts should have 100-140 characters
- Tweets should be 130 characters long
- Don’t be a perfectionist!
If you have just completed the first iteration of your blog, book, or any other content, and you think it is terrible, don’t give up, you are still on the right track. Content writing pioneers from writersedit.com say that first drafts are always imperfect.3
In her book, Ann Handley supports the claims that the first iterations of any piece of web content are never perfect. She says that sometimes, even those top-notch authors out there hire editors to clean up their content.
On that account, Ann Handley advises that you should never waste your precious time giving much thought to grammatical errors or trying to arrange your thoughts logically. Instead, consider the first draft as an outline for your ideas.
After you have completed writing the draft, Handley proposes that you take some time off to cool down your brain. After the break, you will come back with a different mindset to organize your thoughts logically, as well as fix grammatical errors within your content.
At our agency, we look forward to failing as long as it is fast and we gain something from it. Don’t be afraid to fail! Iterate, revise, and get back on track.
- Use simple words throughout your content
Are you fond of using complex expressions in your content to make yourself sound smarter? If yes, Ann Handley says that you have been doing it wrong.
The most influential content writers use simple words in their content. After all, you want your work to be as easy to digest as possible.
Why should you limit the use of complex words? According to Ann Handley, readers dislike content with hard-to-understand words since they do not have time to keep referring to a dictionary while scanning through your blog, social network, website, or any other digital platform.
Apart from saving your readers from having to keep a dictionary nearby, using simple words will help your readers to understand your marketing message just the way you intended.
On that account, you should make a habit of using simple words in your content. Otherwise, your prospective readers will bounce back once they find out that your content has a lot of complicated expressions.
- Make your content readable
A majority of people who visit your site lack time to read through your entire content. As a result, they skim through your content, looking for the most relevant bits of information, and leaving out any other content that matters less.
If you want your website visitors to keep reading, Ann Handley proposes that you focus on using short paragraphs, each presenting a new idea. She says that the average paragraph should have three to six lines.
In addition to the short paragraphs, Ann Handley recommends that you use short sentences. Ideally, each sentence should have less than 25 words. You may also want to use bullet points or lists to break your content into easy-to-scan segments.
Readers dislike scavenging for information hidden in unattractive walls of text. Experienced content creators claim that a majority of readers will lose their reading craving once they spot content with walls of paragraphs.4
- The way you start of your sentences matter
According to Ann Handley’s best-selling book, Everybody Writes, beginning a sentence powerfully is the foundation of writing engaging content. The art sparks curiosity, and it encourages readers to continue reading.
On the contrary, annoyingly starting your content’s sentences can piss off your readers, thereby giving them a reason to avoid your blog, website, social network, and any other digital platform.
Even so, many marketers and content creators find it hard to start their sentences powerfully and appealingly. In truth, a majority of content writers don’t also pay attention to how they begin their sentences.
The result? They end up creating content that can hardly keep their readers engaged for a minute.
So, how should you start your sentences? According to Ann Handley, you should drop redundant modifiers like “In my opinion,” and “I think that.” Instead, Handley suggests that you proceed to state your points directly.
- Limit the use of passive voice
While passive voices aren’t grammatically wrong, Handley claims that too many passive voices make your writing flat and unexciting. Moreover, passive voices reduce your content’s clarity, comprehension, as well as readability.
Ten people attended the event.
The event included ten people.
Instead of using passive voices, Handley recommends that you use active voices. Why? Unlike passives, active voice livens up your content. Your readers wouldn’t mind reading your content from the introduction to the end.
- Use various tools to simplify content writing
HubSpot.com’s content developers claim that writing content isn’t a walk in the park.5
You would need lots of time to conduct research, sketch your thoughts, write your content, edit it, as well as publish it across various digital platforms.
However, Anne Handley says that you don’t have to execute the content writing processes manually. In its place, you can simplify the content writing process by using automated content writing tools found online.
For instance, you can use Google to conduct your research, Microsoft word to jot down your content, and Hemmingway App to edit your content. Handley’s book, Everybody Writes has suggested several other top tools that would boost your productivity, help you generate blog ideas, as well as help you generate images for your content. You can explore some of the content marketing tools we have specifically identified as the best for content strategy in 2020.
- Don’t shy off from breaking some grammar rules
Handley’s content writing handbook uses over 30 pages outlining several grammar rules that you ought to follow while writing content. However, she insists that writers can break certain rules that don’t make sense.
For instance, the renowned content creator argues that you can start your sentences with “but,” “because,” or any other conjunction. Furthermore, Handley claims that you can end your sentences with a preposition as long as they make sense.
You can also use splitting infinitives, slang, and contractions in your marketing content. Breaking such minor grammar rules will help you talk to your audience in a more personable and conversational way.
Who Should Read Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes?
Primarily, Ann Handley published her guidebook for amateur and seasoned writers who create marketing content. However, media professionals, bloggers, influencers, PR teams, and any other person who writes, and is willing to improve the quality of content they publish can also read Ann Handley’s book.
Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes, is one of the best content writing guidebooks that the market has to offer.
This best-selling book inspires amateur and seasoned content writers to create insightful and engaging content that readers would love.
It provides ultimate solutions to common writing issues, and it suggests some of the best tools that can simplify content writing. It is a must-read for marketers, bloggers, journalists, and any other content creators who are looking to hone their writing skills.
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