Now that you’ve decided to use articles to promote your website and earn more money online, you should learn what a great article looks like. Internet articles generally have three parts:
• Title and/or subtitle
• Body text
• Author’s byline, credentials, and links
Each part of an article has a different purpose, and all three are equally important. In this chapter we’ll explore what makes a killer article that is enjoyable, informative, and attracts a reader’s interest.
Articles aren’t ads: Being informative and entertaining
As previously mentioned, the goal of an article is not to sell a product, but to give away useful information. The body text of an article should not be a commercial for what you’re trying to sell.
An article’s true purpose is not to sell product; rather, it is to sell your website and position you as either an expert or a person to be trusted (preferably both). No matter what your internet business is, you are in a crowded field. There are dozens, even hundreds, of other websites offering products or services similar to yours. Providing knowledge in the form of articles helps people realize that you know what you’re talking about, and gives them good reasons to buy from you rather than your competitors. Remember: an article is not an advertisement.
With this in mind, you may now be wondering exactly what it is you should be writing articles about.
Here’s the good news: articles are flexible. You can write an article on just about any topic you have knowledge of, as long as you can relate it in some way to your website and your products or services.
Following are just a few examples of the many forms an article can take.
• How-to: Perhaps the most popular type of article is one that explains how to do something, get something, use something or find something. For example, if you’re running an Internet business you could probably write an article giving people advice on how to start a small business from home. Think about your area of specialty and list some things you can do that most people might not know, but would like to learn.
• Opinion: Whatever industry or type of business you work in, there are always breaking evelopments, new products, or business advances. You can write an article focusing on an emerging aspect of your business, and offer your opinion on how it will affect the industry.
• Personal story/inspirational essay: Nearly every business owner and Internet marketer has a compelling reason they went into business for themselves. Consider writing an article or series of articles about why you chose the path you did. You can make it humorous, or inspirational, or both. Human interest stories are a popular article format.
• Book excerpt or condensation: If you’re selling a book, e-book or ecourse, you’re in luck: you have articles built in to your product. You can offer your website visitors a free sample chapter, or write a condensed article based on one of the ideas in your book. Book excerpts and condensations also make great articles to post elsewhere around the Internet, and if you use HTML or PDF format to post an excerpt it can easily be passed around via e-mail.
• Top ten lists. Many engaging articles are centered around a list concept.
You don’t have to use the number ten; any number will do. Think “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” or “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” These are books, but the concept for articles is the same.
Example: if your website is geared for businesspeople, you might write an article about the six features you need in a good PDA or SmartPhone.
You can generate articles in one or more of these formats that will get people interested in finding out what else you have to say. Remember to stay away from making your articles sound like advertisements. People read articles to be entertained, get ideas, or learn something they didn’t know before.
Stimulating your Muse: How to generate article ideas that get read
Coming up with interesting ideas for articles is a challenge in itself. The more ideas you formulate, the better your chances at having a continual stream of fresh content for your website and general distribution on the Internet. Where can you find these elusive ideas?
There are several methods you can use to brainstorm article ideas that will be of interest to your customers, potential customers and website visitors. Following are a few to get you started.
Chat rooms and message boards. With billions of Internet users online, you are bound to be able to find chat rooms and message boards that relate to your topic. These people are your potential customers. Spend some time visiting chat rooms and reading through message board posts to find out what they’re talking about, what concerns they have, and what kind of information they are most
interested in. Checking out chat rooms and message boards serves a double purpose: it can help you generate article ideas, and give you some leads on where to post your articles after you’ve written them.
Television, print media and online news. Stay current with the most recent topics and trends in your industry by watching news broadcasts, skimming newspapers or browsing the latest online news feeds. If you notice anything relating to your topic or business that seems to be drawing a lot of attention, write a few articles about it. Timely articles are more likely to be spread fast across the Internet, and by taking advantage of current events in your articles, you can increase your visibility.
More timely ideas. Use the time of the year to your advantage when brainstorming article ideas. Can you relate your topic to a season, a holiday, or an upcoming celebration? Invest in the latest issue of Chase’s Calendar of Events, which lists hundreds of typical and unusual holidays throughout the year,
and look for several you can tie into. For example, if you run a website design business, you could write an article about looking your best online for Build a Better Image Week in September. You can also discover more about current hot topics in public discussion by browsing online non-fiction bestseller lists to see what books people are buying.
Your website and current customers. You can generate article ideas according to what your customers are already asking about! Check your guestbook comments regularly and keep a file of any questions customers ask you via e-mail or phone.
You can also ask customers and visitors to participate in a survey and let you know what types of articles or information they would like to see on your website.
If you don’t know…find out!
You may come up with quite a few ideas for articles on subjects you are not familiar with. If a topic would make a great article, but you don’t know much about the subject area, relax: everything you need to find out more is right at your fingertips.
Internet research is a great way to educate yourself and gather enough information for a compelling and factual article. The most obvious way to do this is using a search engine like Google or Yahoo. However, it can be hard to sort out the good, the bad and the ugly in search engine results.
Fortunately, there are plenty of free sources for good information online. Try plugging in your topic or subject at one of these websites:
Wikipedia – www.en.wikipedia.org: This free online encyclopedia contains over one million searchable articles on various topics.
HowStuffWorks – www.howstuffworks.com: A comprehensive searchable website that explains “how everything works. Categories include people, science, health, entertainment, computers, auto, home, money and more.
Fact Monster – www.factmonster.com: Another searchable database that features an online almanac, dictionary, encyclopedia and atlas.
RefDesk.com – www.refdesk.com: This site indexes and reviews web-based resources and archives quality informational websites. RefDesk.com features a facts subject index, a “fast facts” section, links to essential online reference resources like dictionaries, almanacs, calculators, encyclopedias and genealogy databases, and more.
Writing the article text
Once you have your topics and you’ve done your research, it’s time to start actually writing the article. You don’t need the title first (we’ll talk about titles in the next section); and in fact, sometimes you can come up with a better title for your articles after you’ve written the text.
Your article needs a beginning (introduction), middle (body), and end (conclusion). Without an introduction, readers can get confused and may stop reading if they’re not sure what you’re talking about. Conclusions are important because they sum up and reinforce the main points of your article.
Feel like you’re back in a high school English class yet?
The basic structure of an article is where similarities to essays and school reports end. Writing for the Internet is different than writing for anything else. Online markets are highly competitive, and it’s easy for visitors to click away from your website if you don’t hold their attention.
Here’s how to do it:
• Use short sentences and short paragraphs. Big blocks of text on a screen are difficult to read, and the typical Internet surfer’s eyes will glaze over when confronted with a page of solid text. Don’t indent, and skip a line between each paragraph. Include the occasional one-sentence paragraph to attract more attention.
• Keep the language level conversational. Internet users aren’t impressed with ten-cent words; if they have to stop and look for a dictionary, they’ll probably just try another website. You aren’t insulting anyone’s intelligence by lowering the vocabulary level. You are making it easier for people to digest the information you’re offering them.
• Create a sense of interaction by using the word “you” in your articles, as though you’re talking directly to the reader. For example, instead of “A termite infestation can weaken the structure of a house and cause serious damage,” you would say: “If your house becomes infested with termites,
you could be looking at serious and costly structural damage.”
• Use bulleted lists (like this one) to further break up the text on the page and provide fact-filled summaries that draw the eye.
• Images can spice up an article as well, but go easy on them. Slow-loading pages (which most often happens on graphics-heavy sites) are still one of the biggest reasons Internet users look for cleaner pastures.
Finally, keep in mind that grammar and spelling does count when writing articles for the web. Do not: use “chat speak,” refuse to capitalize anything (or, conversely, capitalize everything), skip the punctuation, or otherwise generate sloppy prose. You are trying to position yourself as an expert, after all!
Running a spell check on your article before you post it is a great idea, but spell checks don’t catch every mistake. Reading the article aloud can help you spot inconsistencies or flaws. You could also ask a friend or associate to read it over for you—a fresh pair of eyes can find mistakes yours can’t.
A note on article length
How long should your articles be? The answer is: “As long as they need to be— and no longer.”
Internet articles generally range from about 200 words (three or four short paragraphs) to about 1,500 words (about six pages). Much longer than that, and you’re entering e-book territory. The length of the article usually depends on the topic being discussed.
400 to 800 words is a good general target for most articles. For those you want to post in places other than your personal website, you’ll want to keep them on the shorter end of the scale. It is much easier for another webmaster to post a 400- word article that can be put on one page than one that must be broken up and given two or three pages of its own.
Whatever length you choose, it will be sufficient as long as you include all the information you want to convey, and no more.
Titles, Keywords and Links
When you’re writing article text, your primary concern is what readers will think. When it comes to titles, keywords, and links, your main objective is search
The majority of Internet users still find most of the websites they visit through search engines. Keywords and links help to boost your search engine rank, and the titles of your articles will be the first thing people see in the results.
Titles that shout “Read Me Now!”
Which of these articles would you want to read?
Using Vinegar in the Garden
The Cheap, Safe Way to Rid Your Garden of Weeds (Without Digging!)
Both of these articles would discuss the same thing—how to use vinegar as a natural weed killer. However, the second one sounds more compelling, exciting and useful. Chances are, you would choose to read the second article over the first if they both popped up in a search engine.
The titles of your articles should invite further attention, if not outright demand it. Coming up with an interesting, compelling title takes time, but it is well worth the effort. Think of your title as a newspaper headline. If your title appeared on the front page, would you buy a copy?
There are several ways to generate article titles that stand out from the crowd and get read. Here are a few examples:
• Use numbers, such as “Five Steps to True Happiness” or “Three Good Reasons to Choose Fixed Insurance Over Variable.” You don’t have to limit number titles to list-style articles. Nearly any article can be broken up into a number of steps or reasons.
• Create a play on words using a popular phrase. For example, an article about how to wash the outside of your second-floor windows might be titled “Don’t Let Window Washing be a Pane in Your Neck.”
• Make your title a question: “Can You Really Make Money Online?”
• Compare something to something else: “Why Apples are Just Like Oranges.”
• Fill in the blank: “How To (Blank),” “From (Blank) to (Blank),” or “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About (Blank).”
Another good way to get ideas for titles is to pay attention to newspapers, magazines, and popular websites. You can keep a file of headlines that catch your attention and use them as a basis for your article titles. The more you practice coming up with attention-grabbing titles, the easier it will be.
Keywords—Use them, but don’t abuse them
Ah, keywords…the bane of an Internet marketer’s existence. Use too few and the search engines will ignore you; use too many, and your website could be banned from search engines altogether. Then there is the matter of choosing the right keywords for your website.
The use of keywords is a puzzling science with no exact answers. It can be difficult to understand why some keywords generate massive results, while others yield next to nothing. Let us start by defining the term “keyword.”
Keyword: A significant word or phrase found in the title, text, abstract, or subject headings of a web page, which can be used as a search term in an electronic catalogue or database, particularly search engines.
Got that? Keywords are single or multi-word phrases relating to your topic that help Internet users find your website when they enter them in a search engine.
The strategic placement of keywords throughout your articles can help to raise your page rankings and online visibility.
Your first step should be to generate a list of relevant keywords for the article you’re working on. Choose several words or phrases relating to your topic that Internet users would be likely to use in a search for the information you’re offering. For instance, if you’re writing an article about small business startups, your keyword list might look like this:
business, small business, startup, entrepreneur, work from home, start a business, business startup
After you’ve written your article, go through the text and count the number of times each of your keywords or phrases appear. Three to five times each is a good range to aim for, and you may want to repeat your main keyword (in this case, “small business”) even more—eight to ten times.
The trick is to make the keywords sound natural within the text. You’ve probably seen websites stuffed with keywords to the point of generating nonsensical (or downright irritating) sentences: “When your small business is ready for a small business startup, your small business should get the best small business resources for small business startups.” This makes for clunky, uninteresting
reading; something you want to avoid.
It’s also a good idea to incorporate your main keyword or key phrase into the title of your article. Search engines give more weight to page titles than text, and when you post your articles on your website, you will name the page with the title of the article.
Links within articles
Including links to other articles or resources relating to your topic is a good way to provide your visitors with more valuable information. However, you should be sure to link to other websites that complement, rather than compete with, yours.
It’s counterproductive to direct visitors to websites offering the same information as you.
Links also carry some weight with search engines. There are four basic types of links: inbound, outbound, reciprocal, and on-site. Inbound links are links on other websites that point to yours. Outbound links are the opposite: links from your website leading to another website. When you exchange websites with another webmaster (offer to place their link on your site if they will do the same for you), this creates a reciprocal link. Finally, links that lead to other pages of your website are called on-site links.
Of these four, inbound links have the greatest influence with search engines. If there are many websites linking to yours with no return links appearing on your site, search engines assume your website contains information people are interested in. This is part of what makes article marketing so effective: when you allow other websites to use your articles, you create lots of inbound links to your
website and boost your online visibility.
Outbound and reciprocal links influence search engines to some degree, but not much. You should limit the number of outbound and reciprocal links used in your articles and concentrate on outbound links instead.
Once you have built up a good number of archived articles on your website, you can start including on-site links within the text of your articles to refer visitors to similar information. On-site links help keep visitors on your website longer and increase your chances of converting them to customers.
Bio, Disclaimer and Signature File
At the end of every article, you should include a short biography, a disclaimer, and a signature file. These components establish you as an expert on your topic and direct readers who find your articles on other websites to yours.
Your author bio: making you the expert
An author bio is a short one- or two-paragraph description of you and your experience concerning the subject of the article. Bios are written in the third person (Shelly Smith is a word processing expert who owns and operates
WordWare, Incorporated…). Your bio establishes your credentials and convinces Internet users that your information can be trusted.
What if you don’t have any professional experience? No problem. You can include anything in your bio that relates to your topic: life experiences, hobbies, high school or college credits, even personal interest. If you’re just starting out in your field, use the reasons you decided to enter this particular business to formulate your bio.
Here’s a sample bio for someone with limited experience:
Once you have some practice in generating bios, you can start tailoring your bio to match the contents of each of your articles. Customized bios can be humorous and fun, or helpful and to-the-point. You’ll also find it easier to refer to yourself in the third person with more practice.
The crucial signature file
Your signature file can be part of your bio, or it can appear separately following the bio. It contains a link or links to your website and a brief one or two sentence description of what is available there.
The active link contained in your signature file is what allows search engines to catalogue your website and track the inbound links. This is an important part of article marketing that some people overlook. You should make it a habit to include a signature file with every piece of information you post on the web.
Warning: Thou shalt not steal my article
Every article you write should include a disclaimer giving readers permission to repost and redistribute the article on their own websites. However, you must state that your bio and signature file have to be included, or you won’t be able to take advantage of inbound links and additional traffic.
Your disclaimer should read something like this:
This article may be freely reprinted or distributed in its entirety in any e-zine, newsletter, blog, or website. The author’s name, bio and website links must remain intact and be included with every reproduction.
This ensures you will be given credit for the article, while allowing others to use your content without contacting you first. Webmasters often don’t want to take the time to contact authors for permission, and are more likely to reprint articles that don’t require contacting.
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