First, what is effective content?
Effective content is writing that engages, entertains, and--most of all-- achieves your business goals, such as closing sales, getting mailing list signups, etc. It's content that people actually want to read.
- Use your own voice. Just as your website needs consistent colors, fonts, and design, your writing needs to be consistent in its tone and style. The easiest way to do this is to write in your unique voice.
- Stories are more interesting and memorable than cold facts and figures. Write like the human being you are, and not like a sales/marketing robot.
- Write for your audience, not for yourself. Use language they understand and address what's important to them (more than what's important to you). Speak to them and their needs. Provide answers to questions or concerns they may have. Save your extensive vocabulary for Scrabble.
- Focus on headings. Eighty percent of people read all the headlines, whereas only 20 percent read all the content on a page. Know that regardless of how good your content is, most people will scan it quickly, hunting for what they want. Make the hunting easy with great headlines.
- Summarize any important points or conclusions right at the start of a page. In case people stop reading there, they can still get the gist of it.
- Don't get too clever or creative. Creative, flowery writing has its place (see: beatnik cafes). For your website, don't make your audience think too hard about what you mean or confuse them with your creativity.
- Use the language your audience uses. Mimic how they speak and the words they use. How do you figure this out? Look at who reads your site, comments on your blog posts, subscribes to your newsletter, or buys your products. Look at their websites, emails, and social media updates. You can even ask a handful of them that have paid for your products to describe your products back to you.
- One page = one focus. After someone reads any page, what should he or she do? Be clear about the next step through forms, links, buttons, or any type of call to action. Examples: Buy your product, sign up for your mailing list, read another related article, or leave a comment. Pick one next-step action, but not all of them.
- You don't need to be "selly" to sell. Honesty works, as does teaching or simply explaining how something works. Focus on the benefits to your audience, not on the features.
- Become a curator, not a collector of words. Edit relentlessly. Cut as much as possible. Don't bother with checking word count, bother only with getting your point across clearly.
- Provide proof. Can you back up your claims with testimonials? Use case studies, real-world examples, success stories, or even embedded tweets from your audience that praise your work/product.
- Take a stand. Your audience isn't everyone, and you aren't going to please every person who reads your writing. Have an opinion, draw a line in the sand, and aim to please your audience.
- Be 100 percent technically correct. No grammar issues, passive voice, or spelling mistakes. Hire a copyeditor or proofreader to go over everything line by line.
The most important lesson is this: Write with genuine passion for what you do. Show your enthusiasm for how your business helps its customers. Show your readers why you care about them, and they'll care about what you do in return.