Don’t Forget the Most Important Element of Writing Online

Everything might look great, but if there’s nothing of value there, it’s all a waste of time.

I don’t care about pretty websites.

Don’t get me wrong; they look great. They’re attractive and make for a great user experience. But when I’m visiting someone’s blog for the first time (for whatever the reason might be), how it looks isn’t my main concern. The first thing I do is read their content.

And if it’s neither well-written nor interesting nor helpful in any way to me, well, I do what anyone encountering something like this on the internet does: I leave. And I probably won’t return.

You can have an excellent site design, beautiful photos to supplement your posts, keywords that elevate your SEO ranking, everything that makes online content pleasing to look at and easier to find.

But if you don’t have well-written, consistent, meaningful content for people to absorb once they get to your stuff, you’ve put in a whole lot of effort for absolutely nothing.

It’s very easy to forget that actually writing good content is the most important part of online publishing. And hearing that, it might sound obvious. I mean, duh–we’re talking about writing, so why wouldn’t writing be important?

But I’ve seen people get caught up in focusing on all the wrong things when trying to build an online profile as a writer–social media and enewsletters and all these things all these experts keep telling everyone they have to have.

It’s not that you can’t do all these things. Just don’t forget about the writing–the actual substance of the work you’re trying to promote.

I’ve stopped spending hours on photos, formatting and fancy social media projects related to this blog. It’s not because I don’t think these things are important. But with such a limited amount of time to dedicate to this every week, I have to make choices. Do I spend an hour on this featured image … or do I spend an hour or more writing a blog post that actually provides value to my readers?

I’ve seen far too many people choose the former over the latter when creating any kind of content. I’ve even been guilty of it during other projects myself. But it’s just not acceptable. Having an online presence means nothing if you don’t have worthwhile content to show for it.

Of course “worthwhile” isn’t as easily definable as you’d think. Or so has become the assumption. Because we’re too concerned with being unique to remember that going back to basics is sometimes what’s going to fix all your problems.

Don’t just ramble on about nothing for 400 words: make a point, make it interesting, write in clear, easy-to read sentences. Look at things from unique perspectives, don’t write about something just because it’s trending–write about things you actually care about. Be creative. Do your research. Write like you were taught to write in middle school, except more sophisticated (but not tossing in big words just to sound intelligent). Beginning, middle, end. Flow. Say something that matters and act like you care.

What makes writers successful online is not how many followers they have, how pretty their websites are, how much they’ve published. They have followers because they write good content. Their websites look pretty because their successful content has allowed them to put aside the time and resources to organize that content in an appealing way. They’ve published so much because they put in the time and effort to create quality content for many, many years without removing that from the top slot on their priority lists.

Write well. Honestly, everything else falls into place later. There’s work in that, too–you can’t just write, publish and expect people to fall in love with your words. But if you don’t put the writing first–always, no matter what else has to go into publishing something on the internet–you’re just wasting your time. Writing should always come first. No matter what.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.