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10 Steps to Help You Think Like a Journalist: From Keywords to Content

Remember the days when you could string together a bunch of keywords, throw it somewhere on your blog, and watch your website rocket to the front page of Google?

While there are still plenty of marketers publishing terrible keyword-stuffed content, the Google Gods have shifted to reward quality, high-value content. And thank heavens for that.

If you want to write content that ranks and converts, you need to stop thinking like a marketer and start thinking like a journalist. Every piece of content you create must be engaging, informative, and yes, entertaining.

To show you where I’m going with this, I’m going to share some advice a journalism professor once told me: “Tell me a story and make me care.”

If you can tell that story, you’re golden. If you can convince your visitors to stick around through quality content, you’ll see more conversions. This rising tide will lift your site’s search rankings. As your search rankings improve, more people will find you. They’ll love your content, convert, and come back for more.

Finding that story to tell — and making your audience give a damn — hinges on one simple question: Who cares?

It sounds harsh, but there’s a reason to be blunt. As much as we all believe our product or service is the best there is, we need to find a better way to share that message. If your answer to that question is anything but your ideal customer, you need to rethink that post.

While marketing writing is a bit different from journalism, they share many critical elements. The rest of this post will show you how to start thinking like a journalist from searching for your keywords to publishing your content.

Below you’ll find the necessary steps you need to take to make your post not only engaging and relevant but searchable and findable.

1. You’ve done some amazing keyword research and now you know more about the topic you’d like to cover. Now what? Now you need to sift through those keywords and select the ones with the following qualities:

  • In your keyword list, look for the long-tail keywords, for instance “Tinnitus” is too broad, but “How to live with tinnitus” is fantastic.
  • When you’re looking through your keyword research, numbers matter so make sure you’re hitting the sweet spot, for example: 1,000/75 percent is a good target to shoot for when researching keywords. The 1000 refers to the search volume, which indicates how many people a month are searching for this specific keyword. The 75 percent means that the keyword is competitive enough to rank organically.
  • Consider combining great related keywords. You can add your primary keywords in the headline and have secondary keywords in subheadings. Another option is to have keyword phrases in your article.

>>>SUGGESTED READ: Topic Modeling: The Importance of Connecting Keywords<<<

2. When you’ve determined what your keywords will be, you can then look at what users are searching for. Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Determine user intent by using Google's search engine to do quick searches.
  • Look at online conversation in social media, especially Twitter and Reddit to learn what users are talking about as it relates to your topic.
  • To see if your topic is timely and buzz-worthy use tools like BuzzSumo or Google Trends.
  • Search newsfeeds and see if there’s been any innovations or developments related to your topic.
  • Don’t forget to research what the competitors are doing. How are they covering this topic?


3. Find the angle that you’d like to focus on

  • What’s new? If you’re covering a topic that has been covered time and again, find a new angle or a new development to cover.
  • Think about your target audience and what they want to learn.
  • Don’t forget about your client. Ensure that the topic you’re covering will help reach your client’s goals.


4. Is it newsworthy? Look for elements of newsworthiness and ask yourself: 

  • Is it timely?
  • Is it relevant?
  • Is it significant?
  • Is it contradictory?
  • Is it emotional?
  • Is it just plain weird?

>>>SUGGESTED READ: Can Bots Write Good Content? <<<

Now that you know what your topic idea is and the angle you’re going to focus on, here’s how to execute it:

5. Create your outline

  • Cover your basics: who, what, when, where, why, how?
  • Use the inverted pyramid method and put the most important facts at the top.
  • Write for your audience. How does this affect them? What do they need to know?


6. Find your sources

  • Interview your client! They’re the experts on the topic.
  • If you have time, consider interviews with experts in the space or customers.
  • Always look for the original source. If you’re reading a blog that cites a study, check the study and cite it. The blog could miss a mis-interpretation of the original study.
  • Be very skeptical as you’re doing your research, be aware of biases and fact-check.


7. Get it in writing

  • The lead is everything. The easiest thing to do at the end of a sentence is to stop.
  • Cite your sources and backup your facts by external linking since it’s also great for SEO.
  • Tell a story and why the audience should care. Tell them what they need to know, be clear and provide context.


8. Take your post from good to great

  • Consider “skimmability”. To make your post more skimmable, add sections with subheadings, bolding, and bullet points.
  • Provide opportunities for greater context with internal links.
  • Be clear and concise and avoid hyperboles and jargon.
    Optimize it.


9. Once you’re ready to take your story live

  • Fact-check everything, especially if you’re writing about a technical topic you’re not an expert on and tap your client as a resource.
  • Check grammar, punctuation, and style.
  • Make sure the article flows properly, has a strong, attention-grabbing lede.
  • Words are important but don’t forget about design and user experience.


10. Edit, edit, edit. Just when you think you’re done editing, edit one more time

  • Give your article one final, final read.
  • Craft a killer headline and consider A/B testing.
  • SEO + engaging: write your H1 (what displays on your site and social media) for humans, write your title-tag for SEO purposes.
  • Measure, iterate, and don’t be afraid to go off-script. if there’s a new development or a breaking story that your client should focus on, don’t be afraid to reschedule regularly scheduled content to take advantage of the attention.


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About the Author: Shayla Brooks

Shayla Brooks

Shayla Brooks is a content marketing leader with expertise in strategic planning, social media, and multimedia content creation, combined with a strong writing and editing background.