11 Content Writing Best Practices + Free Downloadable Editing Checklist

11 Content Writing Best Practices + Free Downloadable Editing Checklist

Everyone wants to publish great content that generates traffic, boosts leads, earns links and gets shared on social. And why not? Content marketing generates more than three times as many leads as outbound marketing, Demand Metric reports. It drives conversions at six times the rate of traditional marketing, and small businesses that blog have 126 percent more lead growth than those that don’t, according to Content Marketing Institute. Sign me up.

Problem is, most people aren’t content writers and editors, which doesn’t necessarily stop them from creating and posting content. Sometimes the results are stellar… and sometimes the results make me want to chase a box of Ding Dongs with a pint of vodka.

That’s why we created this guide. It shows you how to create high-quality content that:

  • Your target audience is searching for
  • Search engines can find
  • People can consume with ease

As you move through the content writing and editing processes, follow these best practices.

1. Develop buyer personas

A buyer persona is a profile of your ideal customer, and they’re important. According to Boardview, businesses that surpass their lead and revenue goals are four times as likely to use personas in their demand generation strategies than those that miss their goals.


Think about whom you want to read or view your content — your target audience — and create content with them in mind. The best way to develop buyer personas is to analyze your current customers and identify their common traits. For more on personas, read this Vertical Measures article.

2. Use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation

Clean, well-written copy is a brand ambassador; it says you do good work, care about quality and can be trusted. Conversely, sloppy content portrays you as careless and leaves users thinking they can’t trust the brand behind it.

Remember, your content is laying the foundation for clear communication. The better the grammar, the clearer your message. Check out this list of 10 writing tips for marketers. And if you don’t trust your command of grammar and punctuation, hire an editor to review your content before it goes live.

3. Include stats and attribution

Include verifiable statistics from trustworthy sources that support the points you are trying to make. Aim to cite primary sources, which are the originators of research, data, quotes and original thought.

Don’t use Wikipedia as a source, because it’s a secondary source that collects facts from other sources. Also don’t use:

  • How-to databases (ask.com, ehow)
  • User-generated and unverified wikis
  • Directories and message boards (Reddit, Quora, Question Hub)

However, these types of sites are excellent places to get ideas for content and find other credible sources.

What needs attribution?

You should attribute sources for statements that are likely to be challenged or refuted. For example, if you’re going to write something like, “Most marketers don’t wear smartwatches,” include a source to back that up.

In addition, always attribute the following:

  • Statistics, data and research findings
  • Direct quotations (cite the speaker and, if applicable, the publisher; if you don’t cite the publisher, the reader assumes the quote was given directly to you)
  • Published opinion (“The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests immunization for tetanus for children over age seven…”)

Widely known facts don’t need attribution. “Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States” doesn’t need to be sourced.

4. Go long*

Long-form content performs better in search, earns more backlinks and gets shared more often on social.

  • Backlinko studied the correlation between word count and Google rankings and found that the average number one result has 1,890 words.
  • HubSpot found that pieces of content with more than 2,500 words earn the most links.
  • BuzzSumo found that long-form content gets more social shares than short-form content.

*Disclaimer: Yes, long-form is good. But don’t get too hung up on word counts. Instead, focus on meeting your audience’s needs. For everyday blog posts, we recommend 500 words at a minimum (1,000 is better). Shorter pieces are OK, as long as you have a healthy mix of the longer, 2,000-word pieces, too.

5. Mind your formatting

Break it up. People are more apt to skim content than truly consume every word on the page. To that end:

  • Use subheads and bulleted lists to break up big blocks of text into digestible chunks
  • Include images to make posts more visually appealing (more on images below)

Include calls to action (“CTAs” in marketing speak) that invite readers to do what you want them to do next, such as “Learn more,” “Donate today,” “Download our ebook” … here are 31 CTA examples from HubSpot.

Following is a simple example of a well-structured blog post. Although your content may differ from this structure, it is a good example of all the elements each piece of content should have.


6. Leverage keywords

Keywords are words and phrases that echo what your audience is searching for. Search engines scour the web looking for content that closely matches what people are looking for, so it’s important to include those phrases in your headlines, subheads and content.

  • Integrate your target keyword phrase into the headline and body of your blog post. Never force it; keywords should appear naturally and relevantly.
  • Naturally work in synonyms (also known as semantic keywords) to your main keyword. Google “knows” certain words and phrases are related, which is why when you search for “best new ovens” you may also see results for “best new stoves.”
  • Ask yourself: Does your language sound natural? Did you place keywords and synonyms only where relevant throughout the text?

7. Link appropriately

Links are signals to Google that your content is reputable and relevant. They also show the relationship between your site and other sites, as well as the relationship among content on your own site.

  • If you link to external websites, which are sometimes called off-page links, link to reputable and relevant resources.
  • Make sure external links open in a new tab or window, so you don’t send users away from your site.
  • The body of your post should contain internal links (aka “on-page links”) to relevant pages on your website. Internal links encourage visitors to your site to continue exploring your site.
  • The words that you use to link to external and internal sources are called “anchor text.” Use anchor text that’s relevant to the source site and that explains to users what they’ll see if they click.

8. Include images

Include relevant images that support your content and make it more visually appealing. Numerous studies confirm that posts with images get clicked on, read and shared more.

TapSnap image, Chute/Digiday State of the Industry Report stat

Quick tips for using images in your content

Use custom images and screenshots where possible. Because custom imagery has never appeared anywhere else, it gives content a freshness and originality that can be lacking in content with run-of-the-mill stock images. Screenshots are quick and easy – but effective – ways to capture and post information in a visually appealing way.

Before you use an image, be sure you understand the usage terms. Some stock imagery services allow full editorial license without attribution, whereas other image sources have definite citation requirements. Always check an image’s license and give appropriate credit.

To ensure fast page load times, resize your image to under 100KB before uploading. If you’re going to have several images on a page, go even smaller. There are many image optimization tools out there that will help you do this – Optimizilla is a free one we like.

9. Write a compelling headline

What makes a good headline? It is:

  • Searchable: meaning, it contains keywords that your audience is searching for and is likely to turn up in search results
  • Clickable: meaning, it is compelling and interesting, and it makes people want to engage with it (click on it)

In addition, make sure the keywords appear in the first 65-70 characters of your headline. Google only crawls the first 65-70 characters.

10. Don’t be too promotional

Avoid adding a ton of branded references in your content. It’s OK to mention your company name where natural and relevant, but avoid going for the hard sell all the time. The goal of your blog content should always be to help readers find what they need and help solve their problems. Save your branded mentions for end-of-content CTAs.

Put your audience first. The purpose of content is to provide value to the user, not sell to them.

11. Do include a CTA

It’s OK to add a soft, branded call to action at the end of your content. This fills the role of promoting your brand naturally. Here are a couple examples of short, effective CTAs to include at the end of content:

  • If you would like more information about widgets, visit our resource center.
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Case in point…

For great tips on content marketing, SEO, PPC, link building and more, subscribe to the Vertical Measures blog. Or contact us to learn how we can help your brand succeed in digital marketing.

Content Checklist for Editors

A writer has turned in an assignment. Great! Use this printable checklist to make sure the content meets quality standards.


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Find out how much content marketing costs, from creating a content marketing campaign, to strategy, research, content creation, optimization and distribution.

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Megan Krause

Megan is a content manager at Vertical Measures. She joined the company with 15 years of experience in communication and marketing, first in journalism (remember print?) and then in PR, web content writing and editing roles. Megan is passionate about words, language, grammar, punctuation and style, and she loves helping companies create great content that drives leads and boosts conversions. She is fastidious when it comes to editing, outgoing when it comes to people and amorous when it comes to chocolate. She’s a native New Yorker, diehard indoors enthusiast and mom to two amazing teens.