You want to be the world’s best online writer, a David Ogilvy of the blogs, a Shakespeare of the social media. Or maybe you just want to be good enough to get by on freelance writing.
Where do you get your education?
How do you improve?
I faced these questions / still face these questions as I aim to keep improving as an online writer. I majored in journalism in college. There wasn’t a content marketing course back in the day.
Everything I’ve learned has been self-taught.
And I’d love to share some of my favorite lessons.
I’ve emptied my swipe file. What you see here is everything I’ve got. You want to learn more about writing for the web, content marketing, the most persuasive way to communicate online. Here’s the place to start.
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. – Isaac Newton
Here are my giants.
The Nuts and Bolts of Web Writing
1. Stock & Flow: The Ideal Writing Mix for Your Online Content by Robin Sloane, Snark Market
Stock is your evergreen, tentpole content that draws traffic from the moment of publish to the end of time. Flow is the filler, the stuff that keeps your blog churning or your social media streams full. Check out the article for details.
2. David Ogilvy’s 10 Most Valuable Lessons on Advertising by Gregory Ciotti
Ogilvy is widely considered the father of modern advertising, and his 10 most valuable lessons contain advice that worked when he wrote it in the 1960s and that work for online writers today. Here’s lesson #2 of 10.
The temptation to entertain instead of selling is contagious.
3. Web Copy That Sells: 9 Can’t-Fail Formulas by Karri Stover, Business 2 Community
Pretty much the cream of the crop for copywriting formulas. Appetizer. Main course to follow.
4. The Minimalist’s Guide to Becoming a Better Writer by Demian Farnworth, Copybot
Simple tips in 3 basic categories—reading, writing, and critiquing—to help you be a better writer.
4. If Don Draper Tweeted: The 27 Copywriting Formulas That Will Drive Clicks and Engagement by Kevan Lee, Buffer
Shameless plug alert! I wrote this article, but I didn’t really write it. All the formulas listed here are the incredible work of super smart writers and advertisers. It’s all them, none me.
6. My All Time Favorite Blog Post And Why It’s So Great by Jason Miller
Jason’s post on LinkedIn offers a great review of the factors that go into an all-time great post. Just a sampling of factors:
- Unique voice
- Easy to read
- Has personality
- Has fantastic visuals
- Useful and inspiring
7. Minimum Viable Personality by FakeGrimlock
Here’s the post that Jason Miller references as his “favorite blog post” of all time. It’s written from the point of view of a dinosaur.
8. Master This Copywriting Formula to Dominate Any Social Media Platform by Demian Farnworth, Copyblogger
This one’s great if you want to get deep into one, single, can’t-miss formula for writing on social media or blogs.
Content Marketing Advice
9. Why Content Marketing Fails by Rand Fishkin
It’s an article wrapped in a SlideShare with amazing takeaways for articles. If you work backward from the title (Why Content Marketing Fails), you’ll have a pretty awesome case for How Content Marketing Succeeds.
10. 12 Things You Should Be Using Your Blog For (Besides Blogging) by Corey Eridon, HubSpot
My favorite tip: Go into your old blog posts and make them great.
11. Use this Hollywood Secret to Write Addicting Opt-In Copy by Felicia Spahr, KISSMetrics
Spoiler alert: The secret is Open Loops, and they work like this (click through to the story for some cool examples, including one from Buffer):
Open Loops in TV shows are the equivalent of that cliffhanger that keeps you up at night, consuming your mind with thinking about what’s going to happen the next week, or that story line that was never quite explained. Those aren’t just “blips” in a script. They are put there so that it’s harder for people to get up off the couch than it is to stay and watch “just one more episode.”
12. 25 Lessons from 25 Months of Content Marketing by Gregory Ciotti
One of my favorite lessons: Don’t forget about “solved” problems. In the case of Men’s Health, they’ve found that the market for fitness information is so great that their “solved” headlines can work over and over again.
13. 5 Breakthrough Techniques For Running A High-Traffic Blog by Garrett Moon, CoSchedule
15. I’ve been blogging for 8 years by Jessica Hagy
A short, two-minute read, this fun piece on Medium hits on some of the unspoken truths of content marketing.
You have to make time to make things.
And it’s worth it to find it and protect it.
16. The 6 Elements of a Powerful Blog Post by Neil Patel, QuickSprout
17. How to Boost Your Blog Post Production Speed by 600% by John O’Nolan, Ghost
If you’re looking for a new blogging method, give John’s a try. I was fortunate to stumble onto many of the techniques he mentions here (ideas, outlines, etc.) and I would have been better off for finding his post first.
18. 7 Marketing Diagrams That Explain Content Marketing by Orbit Media
19. Publish Your Blog Post Without SEO, and 1000s of Visits Will Be Forever Lost by Rand Fishkin for ProBlogger
20. 11 Common Blogging Mistakes That Are Wasting Your Audience’s Time by Henneke, Copyblogger
I use this post to check in every so often to make sure I haven’t fallen into any of these bad habits. The need to publish daily is a constant one for me.
21. Guest Blogging Strategies that Helped Grow 36,733 Email Subscribers by Gregory Ciotti
22. From Ideas to Traffic Results: How We Run a Blog with 700,000 Readers Per Month by Belle Beth Cooper, Buffer
23. How to Find More Content Ideas than You’ll Ever be Able to Create by Peter Shallard, Copyblogger
24. 28 Ways to Write Moneymaking Headlines by Noble Direct Marketing
25. 5 Simple Ways to Open Your Blog Post with a Bang by Copyblogger
26. The 3 Keys to Effective Guest Posting by James Agate, ThinkTraffic
I started thinking about the possibilities of guest posting thanks to Think Traffic founder Corbett Barr’s blogposts and articles on the topic. This article (a guest post about guest posting—meta!) has some super advice.
27. It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Present It by A.J. Kohn, Blind Five-Year-Old
Here’s one that I failed to consider for a long time: the readability of what you write. Now I often picture what a post will look like as someone reads/scans, along with what I’ll actually be writing. How’d I do on this post by the way?
29. How to Be More Creative in 5 Simple Steps by Jeremy Duvall, Crew
Creativity is 85 percent a learned skill. Wow. Really? If that’s the case, it’s so great to have resources like this one from Jeremy that cover the topic so deeply. The creativity training routine he outlines is top-notch.
30. Your Life in Weeks by Tim Urban, Wait But Why
Fair enough, this one has little to do with writing other than a huge motivation to make each day count.
31. How to Be Great by Leo Babauta, Zen Habits
I wish I could copy/paste the whole thing right here so you could read right away. Every time I breeze through this one I want to go out and create something.
32. Failure Is an Option by Chase Reeves, Fizzle
One hurdle I often face with writing something is a fear that it might fail. Turns out, failure is perfectly alright.
33. The Creators Code by Hiut Denim Co, Medium
A short one from Medium, this 60-word manifesto is a superb reminder of why and how we do what we do.
34. At iDoneThis, we believe in taking it slow. by Walter Chen, iDoneThis
The slow web movement is something really close to my heart and, I believe, close for a lot of writers, too. Online writing runs the risk of being shouted down by the noise of a busy Internet. What the team at iDoneThis has shared is that there’s another way—a quieter, simpler way that might just improve the writing work we all do.
35. The 5000th post* by Seth Godin
In typical Godin fashion, this one’s brief. But it does outline several of the lessons he’s learned in reaching the 5,000-post milestone. To paraphrase one of my favorite parts:
Don’t write because it’s your job, write because you can.
36. What should you do to help your child pursue her dreams of becoming a writer? by M. Molly Backes, Medium
First of all, let her be bored. Let her have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do. Limit her TV-watching time and her internet-playing time and take away her cell phone. Give her a whole summer of lazy mornings and dreamy afternoons. Make sure she has a library card and a comfy corner where she can curl up with a book. Give her a notebook and five bucks so she can pick out a great pen. Insist she spend time with the family. It’s even better if this time is spent in another state, a cabin in the woods, a cottage on the lake, far from her friends and people her own age. Give her some tedious chores to do. Make her mow the lawn, do the dishes by hand, paint the garage. Make her go on long walks with you and tell her you just want to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood.
It gets better from there (and before there, too). Molly is a teacher and author who certainly knows her stuff. I want to print this article out and hand it to every middle school child.
37. How To Hack Writing A Personal Essay by Harris Sockel, Medium
Some really great, actionable tips in this one, going beginning to end with how to create a personal essay from scratch.
38. How to Encourage More Creative Thinking by Gregory Ciotti, Sparring Mind
Did you know: Dr. Seuss produced Green Eggs & Ham after he bet his editor he could produce an entire book in under 50 different words. Really cool insights and examples from Gregory.
39. The 25 Greatest Quotes About Writing via This Isn’t Happiness
Just a really great collection of inspiration. One of my favorites (from Kafka, kind of an ironic inspiration):
“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
40. Bring Sanity to Your To-Do List With the 1-3-5 Rule by Sam Spurlin, 99U
Write down one big thing, three medium things, and five little things to do each day. Then do them!
41. How to Stop Procrastinating by Using The “2-Minute Rule” by James Clear, Quora
James is one of my favorite voices on productivity and getting more from yourself and your day. The 2-Minute Rule breaks down like this (lots more examples and background in James’s post).
- Part 1 — If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.
- Part 2 — When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.
42. How I Write 8 Blog Posts a Week While Running 2 Companies by Neil Patel, Quick Sprout
The headline here says it all. Neil is a busy guy, so it’s amazing to peek inside his writing process. I’ve adopted his “intro/conclusion” technique for the blogposts I write, and it’s been a big time saver.
43. 5 Ways to Instantly Become More Productive by Steve Kamb, Nerd Fitness
Steve tells a great story (maybe it’s familiar to you): He used to publish blogposts according to a schedule and would always be up incredibly late the night before cramming for the post that needed to be written, edited, and published. He since found several hacks—really useful things like technology tips, tools, and strategies.
44. The Origin of the 8-Hour Work Day and Why We Should Rethink It by Leo Widrich, Buffer
This was the first Buffer blogpost I ever read—and boy was it a good one! It set me down a path for thinking of productivity in a whole new way, not so structured as before but rather an intuitive approach where I listened more to how and when my body would respond. I’ve squeezed out a whole ton of extra writing because of it.
45. Pretty Much Everything I Know About the News Business by Sean Blanda, Medium
Sean’s article touches on a lot of journalism topics that can also fit for online writers, too. Things like understanding an audience and even the aforementioned stock and flow concept get mentioned here.
46. The 7 Things Writers Need to Make a Living by Sonia Simone, Copyblogger
A list of intangibles—more like love and confidence and less “a keyboard” and “a thesaurus”—this piece from Sonia is hugely relatable for those of us who write regularly.
47. Here’s How Maria Popova of Brain Pickings Writes by Kelton Reid, Copyblogger
I could have picked any number of “Here’s How X Writes” posts from the Copyblogger series, so narrowing it down was hard. Read several, or them all. Maria Popova’s interview was especially fascinating because she creates so much writing content all by herself, and she’s so well-versed in the writing of others.
48. Making Your Writing Work Harder For You by Patrick McKenzie, Kalzumeus
You’re waaay into my treasures box now. This link is an archived newsletter of Patrick’s that contains so much good stuff on writing, blogging, and marketing strategies. For instance, should you place the date on your blogposts? What types of content should you be posting? Patrick’s answers will get you thinking.
49. The 20 Best Lessons from Social Psychology by Zach Hamed, Medium
Quick, bite-sized snippets of psychology lessons that can help you understand the behavior of the people you’re writing for.
50. A Brief History of Bloggering by Giles Turnbull, The Morning News
A fake history, for that matter. A really funny piece that, in its own satirical way, sheds some light on what online writing has become. A snippet (that doesn’t really shed any light but is a bit humorous):
Depending on who you ask, the first bloggering happened in the late 1990s, when the web was still young, and clicking links to pages where you’d click more links was cool. This was in the days when the only use for an animated GIF was to tell people you were still working on your web page.
51. Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle by Elmore Leonard, New York Times
This piece originally appeared in the NYT in 2001, and it has tons of good takeaways for authors and writers in general. Stuff like “Never open with the weather” and “Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said.’”
Bonus: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO WRITING BETTER THAN YOU NORMALLY DO. by Colin Nissan, McSweeneys
Another fun one. Jokes. And a great one to end on.
Over to you
What are your favorite articles about writing? Feel free to share in the comments below or send them my way on Twitter. Excited to hear what you think!