Everyone thinks writing is tough, especially writers.
As a B2B copywriter, you have to navigate depths of research that would make most people’s skin itch. You have to break complex ideas way down into compelling, digestible arguments.
And you have to face imposter syndrome almost every day.
As a way of making a difficult job a little easier, we’ve created the Pointed Copywriting Content Guidelines as a public working doc (à la Buzzfeed’s epic style guide).
Every serious brand or publication will have some version of their own content guidelines—CoSchedule calls them Standards of Performance, The Washington Post calls them Standards and Policies. In the spirit of clarity, we simply call them ‘content guidelines‘.
TL;DR Checklist: How to Write Content B2B Readers Love
- Write for the reader first
- Use “You” wherever possible
- Use specific examples to show vs. tell
- Use natural words, phrases and idioms
- Avoid fluff, repetition and jargon
- Use power words and stats
- Back up claims with detail
- Use active over passive voice
- Use customer-led content
- Interview customers
- Include a customer quote, pro tip or use case
- Use original research
Each guideline falls under one of three copywriting fundamentals. While we’re all for spelling ‘ok’ whichever damn way you please, the following fundamental rules should NEVER be broken. Think of them as your guiding beliefs for content writing and use each guideline nestled underneath as a checklist to help you self-edit your way straight to the top of the SERPs. 😉
- Put the reader first – Push your best guess to the side and pinpoint your reader’s specific fears, problems and pain points.
- Kill the fluff – Vague claims and jargon are the bubonic plague of content writing in the post-2003 SEO era and it’s our job to fight it.
- Let your customer say it for you – There’s no richer content than customer-led content, leverage these insights across your assets and formats.
This is the only set of rules that really matters when writing on the web. And it’s the exact set of criteria we use to assess the quality of our work at Pointed and decide which writers get to join our team.
Less Fluff, More Love: Content Guidelines at Pointed Copywriting
Rule #1: Write for the reader first
Is there anything more annoying than unsolicited advice? At Pointed, we always take time to show the reader we understand their problem before we hit them with our ideas, tips and insights on how to solve it. Here’s how we do that.
1. Use “You” wherever possible
Possibly the most customer-centric word ever. There’s no better way to speak directly to your reader and build the same kind of trust they would feel when talking to a close friend. (Plus, research shows we tend to use “you” when we’re trying to cope with a negative personal experience, i.e. your reader’s pain points).
No: Some writers find it difficult to connect with their target reader.
Yes: Do you know what your reader is feeling? Here’s how you can find out.
Recommended reading: Your Copywriting Sucks. Here’s How to Fix It. — Kristina Adams, The Writer’s Cookbook
2. Use specific examples to show vs. tell
Where is your reader when they run into the problem that brought them here? What are they doing? How does it make them feel? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, head to your nearest source of Voice of Customer (VOC) data, for example: customer surveys, Facebook groups, Reddit/Quora threads, Amazon book reviews on related topics, etc. to see for yourself how your reader talks about their problems verbatim.
No: You might feel writer’s block and start to get frustrated.
Yes: It started with a blank page and blinking cursor, but now you’re ready to javelin-throw your laptop out the nearest open window.
Specificity — Shawn Coyne
3. Use natural words, phrases and idioms
Fancy words don’t fool anyone. People don’t speak in jargon. While there’s always a place for relevant industry terms, always aim for natural, conversational words and phrases people actually use.
No: The professional writer is one whose sense of integrity does not depend on the superfluous use of advanced terminology.
Yes: Well-fed writers make reading easy.
Knowledge is Power: Using Idioms To Give Power To Your Writing — Alison VanNest
Rule #2: Avoid fluff, repetition and jargon
While we’re on the topic of keeping it real, let’s shine a floodlight on some of the other ways fluff can sneak in. There seems to be a belief that writing B2B content requires you to restate the same idea over and over again in fluffy, jargon-packed sentences. This is a MYTH. If a particular sentence, phrase or adverb isn’t needed, get rid of it. If you’re not sure what that looks like, try the Hemingway app for a few weeks until you get the hang of it.
1. Use power words and stats
Nothing makes a reader’s eyes glaze over quicker than a word like “moreover”. If you’re feeling tempted to use a generic word like: very, many, significant, important, etc. challenge yourself to find a jaw dropping statistic or power word instead.
No: Many content writers have a significant problem finding reliable information.
Yes: 87% of the content writers surveyed say they don’t know where to find credible info.
10+ ways to reduce wordiness in your writing — Calvin Sun
700+ Power Words That Will Boost Your Conversions — Mary Fernandez
2. Back up claims with detail
Get this: Nobody trusts you. Your reader doesn’t know you from Adam. If anything, they actually distrust you. Start every piece with the goal of winning them over. Assume your reader is smarter than you (at least, on this topic), wow them with your research skills and resist the urge to use pointless filler content. Boldly answer their questions, no matter how tough.
No: Urgency is an effective copywriting strategy, but only when used correctly.
Yes: In their paper The Boundaries of Loss Aversion, behavioral economists Nathan Novemsky and Daniel Kahneman prove that loss aversion only works when people believe they have something to lose.
The Detail Principle for Writing Good Blog Posts — Devesh Khanal
3. Use active over passive voice
This one bears repeating. Passive voice has its place but 9 times out of 10 it just makes you sound wordy and boring. Scan your draft for gerunds (-ing words) as an easy way to double check that you’re using active voice wherever possible. And please, keep your tenses simple unless you have a clear reason not to.
No: Complex thinking is an affliction that many writers find themselves prone to.
Yes: Writers are complex thinkers.
Rule #3: Use customer-led content
Customer-led content is a BIG deal at Pointed. There’s a reason why copywriting techniques like customer testimonials have stood the test of time. Your customers have customers. Use them to attract more customers! It really is that simple.
1. Interview customers
Stories are powerful stuff. In fact, studies show they’re 22X more memorable than facts alone. That’s why customer-led content is crucial. Every month we conduct a series of customer interviews, case studies and stories on behalf of our clients at Pointed. Then we turn those quotes, testimonials, use cases, power user tips, emotional insights and other golden takeaways across all our other content.
No: It can be a struggle to write an interview if you don’t know the framework.
Yes: “We had tried to write our own customer interviews but they never seemed to take off,” says Leia Amidala-Skywalker, Head of Growth at TheForce.io.
2. Include a customer quote, pro tip or use case
We keep track of our interviews (and all the golden-nugget sticky messages that come out of them) so that we can use those to write richer content across the board. Always take a minute to scan your brand’s website, data library or VOC library for real-world use cases, specific examples of how to apply a tip or technique, and harrowing one-liners that require zero wordsmithing.
No: We recommend you keep a swipe file of your favorite content pieces.
Yes: “The game finally changed when we created a shared swipe file for the team. We uploaded our favorite pieces into Trello cards organized in lists for ‘Headlines’, ‘Ultimate Guides’, ‘Case Studies’, etc.” says Brittany Ryan, Content Chief at Pointed.
3. Use original research
B2B readers LOVE original insights. If the brand you’re writing for has a research report, customer survey, or any other originally sourced figures, use them to build trust and authority with readers.
No: The three types of content you need are thought leadership, evergreen articles, and customer stories.
Yes: We analyzed 150 pieces of content. Here’s what we learned.
Do you have what it takes to be an awesome B2B copywriter?
We’re always looking for great writers who get it.
Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brittany is the Founder and Content Chief at Pointed Copywriting.