At Copycat, we’re always in the process of creating new professional development resources for working and aspiring copywriters. The below blog post is adapted from our in-house manual on all things copy-related, Copycat’s Anatomy
When you look at your individual blog assignments, it might seem like you’re traveling to a new universe with every topic. One day, you’re writing an article on “How to Make Your Dog’s Hair Shiny.” The next, you’re explaining “How to Interpret IT pricing.”
The one thing these articles have in common? Their basic genre. In both cases, you’ll probably guide readers through a series of steps.
And the more you write SEO blog posts, the more you’ll find they fit into one of four broad categories.
In this short guide, we’ll introduce you to the most common article genres and explain how understanding the quirks of each can help you tackle new assignments with confidence.
#1 Introduction to a Topic
Almost every blog post we write at Copycat has a responsibility to inform readers. This frequently takes the form of providing a definition, explaining a concept, or otherwise writing a “101” on a topic related to the client’s industry.
Sometimes, there’s a dead giveaway in the article title—if something is a “guide” or “complete guide” you can guess it’s going to provide an overview.
Such topics can also begin with a who, what, when, or why question:
- Who…? (E.g., Who owes social security tax?)
- What is …? (E.g., What is marriage and family therapy?)
- What does it mean when? (E.g., What does it mean when your cat purrs?)
- When Should I….? (E.g., When should I replace my socks?)
- Why…? (E.g., Why am I tired after exercise?)
Articles titled “What are the benefits of X?” are a potential exception. These are more likely to be listicles.
Note that “How” articles are usually How-to articles, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
How to Approach Introductions to a Topic
Once you’ve identified your article as an intro, how should you approach it?
Take the following steps:
- [#1] Imagine the context for the question – Consider what audience would ask the question and put yourself in their shoes. What background information are they likely to know? What terms need to be defined? Use the context to begin brainstorming topics to include in the article and figuring out what research you need to do.
- [#2] Answer the question or provide a brief overview in the intro – When we’re writing copy, we always want to get to the topic immediately. Is your topic too complex to elucidate in one sentence? Does the answer to a question vary based on several factors? That’s okay! Your intro can provide a provisional overview and foreshadow the complexity of the topic.
- [#3] Create section headings that meaningfully address the question and the audience – As you continue to brainstorm towards your outline, make sure your section headings relate to the article topic and provide information that is relevant to your audience’s query.
- [#4] Define all terms that arise in the article – As we noted, context should help you get a sense of what your audience knows and does not know. If you introduce new terms, continue to provide definitions.
This article is a listicle—and so is any other article that unfolds in numbered sections.
Why list? This is a popular article structure from Buzzfeed to B2B blogs for a reason: lists are easily digestible, simple to organize, and high-performing.
Language that indicates a listicle structure includes:
- Benefits of…
- Ways to…
- Tips for…
- X Reasons Why
Really, almost any time you see that “X,” you know you’ll need to create a numbered list (unless the title is X Steps, in which case you’re really writing a how-to article).
How to Approach a Listicle
The number one error we see with listicles? The list comes late in the article or fails to take up a significant portion of the piece.
If you’re writing a listicle on “10 Benefits of Meditation,” you should start with #1—not with a section defining meditation
In addition, take these steps:
- Brainstorm your topics – Brainstorm as many potential points to include as possible. As you go, you might immediately have ideas for nested bullet points and subheadings—or you might identify the need for more research to fill out your list. When referring to competitor articles for inspiration, be sure not to copy their structure or phrasing.
- Fold background information into your numbered sections – Feel like the context demands a definition, history, or other background information? Instead of including an H2 like “Types of Meditation” in your listicle on the benefits of meditation, create a numbered benefit like “There’s a Method for Every Lifestyle.”
- Provide in-depth information – If you include 80 numbered list items in an 800 word article, it’s likely to feel choppy. Start to group similar sections together, aiming to provide thorough information under each heading. Depending on the context of the article (lifestyle vs. technical), that might include narrative, research, or case studies.
- Pivot if and when needed – Have you gotten through as many conceivable “Types of Bras” as possible in your listicle? Maybe you do need to pivot to another topic like “How to Find a Properly Fitting Bra” or “When to Replace Your Bras.” That’s fine—as long as it comes after the listicle portion.
#3 How-to Articles
How-to articles are some of the easiest to identify, as they often have a title including the phrase “How to.” More seldom, they’ll have a title (or H1) that begins with “X Steps.”
These articles provide the series of steps needed to accomplish a goal, whether that’s:
- How to Invest in Cryptocurrency
- How to Choose a Home Equity Lender
- How to Style Split Toe Shoes
In some cases, the process will be research intensive and require that the steps unfold in a specific order. In others, you’ll have more room to get creative. Nonetheless, you can use the same framework for all how-to articles.
How to Approach a How-To Article
To get a little meta, each of the subsections in this article actually unfolds as a how-to! Let’s unpack our method in four simple steps:
- [#1] Create a narrative context – In the introduction, consider the circumstances in which someone might need to know how to perform the article’s target action.
- [#2] Start with Step 1 and continue brainstorming – Are you tempted to start your article with a section like “What is Cryptocurrency?” or “What to Consider Before Investing?” As in listicles, it’s important to roll background information into the first section (Step 1). This is easy enough—swap out one of the above titles for “Know What You’re Buying.” As in a listicle, continue to brainstorm steps and conduct research to flesh out your outline.
- [#3] Research to come up with specific tips – As in a listicle, short, choppy sections can result in a disorganized article. Look for opportunities to provide tips that prepare the reader to take action (whether under the H2 or as an H3).
- [#4] Pivot when and if needed – The same that applies to a listicle applies here. After you’ve explained How to Choose a Home Equity Lender, you might include a section like “Alternatives to Home Equity Loans” (depending on the client’s thesis and platform).
#4 Comparisons (X vs Y, Pros vs Cons)
In some cases, your article will require you to weigh two options against one another.
These articles often contain the following telltale words:
- Vs. – E.g., Memory Foam vs. Spring Mattress, Marvel vs. DC, Engineering vs. Architecture
- Pros and Cons –E.g., Pros and Cons of Retinol, Pros and Cons of Life Insurance
These require you to look at an issue from two sides, although that doesn’t always mean a 50/50 split.
How to Approach a Comparison
No matter your personal perspective on the two contestants in your article, your job is to play for your client’s team.
To that end:
- [#1] Provide a context for the matchup – Why does the reader need to make a decision? What do they gain from learning about both options? In this, a comparison article is similar to the other genres we’ve discussed.
- [#2] Decide whether you need to choose a winner – In some cases, your client doesn’t have skin in the game. A comic book shop probably doesn’t want to come down in favor of Marvel over DC! In others, your client has a clear perspective that should be reflected in the introduction.
- [#3] Brainstorm headings that serve your objectives – In step 2, you probably got a rough idea of how much time you need to spend on each side of the debate. Keep this in mind as you brainstorm and conduct research.
- [#4] Organize with alternation in mind – Rather than spending the first half of the article on option A and the second half on option B, think about whether there’s a way to do a head-to-head comparison in sections, or to alternate more frequently between the two options. For example, when writing on mattresses, you might create sections on cost, firmness, sleep style, and bed frame compatibility.
The Curious Case of the Yes/No Question
Sometimes, you’re asked to write an article based on a question that’s easy to answer:
- Is CBD Safe For Dogs?
- Is Flossing Important?
- Is Co-Wash the Same as Shampoo?
The Copycat brain trust is split on whether these constitute a fifth genre or can be written according to the conventions of one of the discussed article types.
If it’s helpful for you to think of this as a fifth genre, add it to your mental rolodex!
The important thing to note here is that the appropriate approach to these yes/no articles will vary based on your client’s product and perspective, their target audience, and the resulting complexity of the answer. For example, “Is CBD safe for dogs?” might have a simpler answer if your client sells dog CBD than if they sell a chamomile and probiotic herbal supplement for pups.
In general, we recommend thinking of your article in one of two ways:
- As an introduction to a topic – Answer a yes/no question like “Is Flossing Important?” in the introduction, and then treat the article as you would an overview article on “The Importance of Flossing.”
- As a comparison – Is Co-Wash the Same as Shampoo? No. While you could treat this as an introduction (“What is Co-Wash?”) the presence of two terms in the title suggests that treating this article as a compare/contrast (Co-Wash vs. Shampoo) will help you fully answer the reader’s query.
And, when in doubt about your yes/no article, feel free to reach out and ask for a second opinion!
Expand Your Range With Copycat Copywriters
There’s merit in doing one thing well. But when it comes to building a successful copywriting career, versatility is key.
While each client requires a different approach to research, brand voice, and positioning, they all have one thing in common—their SEO blog posts are designed to answer common search queries. Because these search queries usually fall into four broad categories, so do the kinds of articles you’ll write.
Before you start your next article, consider its genre. And next time you have a question about the art of copywriting, check out our excerpts from Copycat’s Anatomy or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
SEM Rush. Anatomy of Top-Performing Articles. https://www.semrush.com/blog/anatomy-of-top-performing-articles/