When I left college and started my life in recruiting and HR, I never imagined that my job would involve creating great content. And if you’ve spent time in professional writing for business classes, you know that it didn’t prepare you for anything that could truly engage your audience.
Now that I spend much of my time thinking about writing, I think about the mistakes I made when I was creating content for recruiting campaigns. And with so much employment marketing happening online, sourcers and other talent acquisition professionals are being leaned on to create suitable content.
If you aren’t trained as a writer though, how do you get started?
One of the things that I continue to work on is mastering the fundamentals of writing. I don’t particularly like making mistakes and I am most often my own editor too. Here are a couple of things you can do to help improve your basic mastery if you’re struggling with confidently creating content:
- Write first without spellcheck – This was the quickest way for me to figure out what words I consistently misspelled. Write in a plain text editor or with spellcheck turned off. Then, after you’ve got a first draft, read through your copy and see if you can’t spot errors yourself (this will also help eliminate improperly used words that happen to be correctly spelled). Then check it for errors and correct it.
- For grammar, you just have to know – Microsoft Word frequently misses grammar mistakes. I’ve learned how to write over the past few years through tutorials like Daily Grammar. It’s a slow process, believe me.
- Have the right someone to look it over – Whenever you create content, have someone look over it. Ideally, it will be someone with some writing experience, but, in a pinch, a fresh set of reasonably intelligent eyes will help find gaffes and errors.
- Get some copywriting fundamentals – Copyblogger has a great set of introductory pieces on how to create good content that works well on the web. They are easy reads and you don’t have to read them all at once.
It may seem simplistic but you are building a foundation for the other things you need to do.
Scannable, readable web content
The first thing you’ll notice about web visitors is that they are an impatient bunch. If you’re lucky, you have a few seconds to capture their attention and bring them into your piece. It is essential that you have content for people who like to scan content and for people who like to thoroughly read content. As Stoney deGeyter recently wrote on Search Engine Land:
Good website marketing isn’t about building a site for any one type of visitor, it’s about building a site that speaks to as many different visitor types as possible without alienating any. You must have the right pieces in the right places in the right way. Skimmable content allows you to target all types of readers and give them even more than they want. That way, everyone has a positive experience.
Breaking up content is the best way to do this. For the people who want to read everything, they will still do so but the scanners and skimmers will pick and choose what they want.
Looking at many job advertisements out there, you can see that most of them actually aren’t build with this in mind. Long lists of duties, a block of text at the top and maybe a company description doesn’t exactly do well for skimming or scanning to get the maximum information from it in the shortest period of time.
Figure out your headline and nut graph by working backwards
The headline is easier to understand but Michelle Rafter and her WordCount blog taught me about this so-called nut before I ever got my feet wet. As she puts it:
A story without a nut graph is like a walk in the woods without a path: you know you’re going someplace, you’re just not sure where.
The nut graph supplies that direction. It tells readers, ‘This is what this story is about, this is why you should care, this is why you should keep reading.’
Working backwards, your ability to create a great headline, lede and nut graph for your content is based on how strongly you’ve developed the story you are trying to tell. As Rafter states, if you have a weak conception of what you’re trying to write about, you’ll probably have a weak headline and nut graph too.
Too many early writers start with writing instead of thinking. Think about where you want your piece of content to go, what you want your readers to get from it, the key points you’re trying to convey and some interesting facts that will keep their attention and you can work yourself into a decent headline and nut graph.
Create a call to action
If you’re creating content for recruiting purposes, this is a requirement. You want people to do something other than passively read your content and leave, right?
I always felt like I pretended to know what a call to action looked like but I could never really produce anything worth mentioning here. Like a lot of things on this list, I learned through reading articles (like this great one on HubSpot recently) and through experimenting on my own. Depending on what you’re trying to do, you’ll want to try different techniques:
Job advertising calls to action
For job advertising, you want to place multiple calls to action (at the top and bottom of the advert). The text can be simple (“Apply Now” was so uncreative but it worked well). If you have a really great application process, “Apply Now in 60 Seconds” converts great. Even “Apply Now in 3 Easy Steps” works well. Still short and active while also setting a positive expectation.
You can even have a couple options here. In addition to an “Apply Now” call to action, you could include a call to action to have a recruiter call the candidate or for them to enter their e-mail address for more information.
Employment marketing calls to action
For job related content (but not job advertisements), you want to focus on more passive actions. So for example, “Explore Opportunities With ‘Company Name'” is not super creative but works. If you are marketing jobs to a specific niche, you can be more specific with your text “Explore Our Software Engineer Opportunities.”
You can also direct them to additional content pages that get more aggressive with calls to action. So for example, you can direct them from a more passive content page to a page with a video of an employee talking about working for your company. On that page, you could have a call to action that directs them to a contact or apply page.
Creating better content takes time
No matter your experience level, it takes time to create better content for the web. Certainly, you won’t hit a home run every time. But with time, you’ll come to think more naturally about writing for your online audience.