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Truly “great” content is fiercely subjective and painfully inscrutable, so a single doc can’t possibly cover everything there is to know. Instead, we’ve tried to distill what works on Shopify’s publications and what traits we believe make for a great piece of content.
This is provided to all contributors as a way to quickly get on the same page without a lengthy back-and-forth over email. What’s outlined below serves as a general guide for creating uncommonly good material for our merchants, but you’re more than welcome to consult the editorial team (editor<at>shopify.com) with any specific questions you may have.
I. Start with a point of view
Even highly tactical posts benefit from a strong opinion and/or a unique viewpoint. Consider this quote from poet Philip Larkin on how he wanted his readers to feel: "Yes, I've never thought of it that way, but that's how it is."
We begin our pitches by listing the Premise, Author Objective, and Reader Incentive. Their job is to surface what the piece is about, what you’re trying to say, and why readers should care.
- The Premise is the small slice within a topic you’ve decided to address. (Tip: It’s easier to provide lots of value with a narrow topic.)
- The Author Objective is what you’re trying to teach, show, or prove to our readers. What point are you trying to get across?
- The Reader Incentive is why our readers should care. What’s at stake if they click “Back” or if they don’t heed the advice in the article?
Generic incentives are the most common cause of a piece not living up to its potential. There needs to be a distinct reason why this post should reach our readers’ inboxes. Let’s identify it early.
II. Treat writing like a conversation
No one likes being on the receiving end of a self-centered lecture. People enjoy learning from other people, especially through personal conversations. Write the way you talk, and avoid language that implies your audience “should have known better.”
Assume your reader is fairly new to your topic, but is intelligent overall. That way you won’t patronize or accidentally speak down to anyone. As an added benefit, this will help you avoid the curse of knowledge, a common cause of bad writing that usually manifests as acronyms and jargon, non-obvious references, and prose more concerned with being clever than being clear.
III. Write deliberately for the web
It pays to remember distractions are always just a click away. Writing for the web means combining substantive material with approachable formatting.
Effective writing pleases at a glance but rewards careful study. Make strategic use of worthwhile breaks in the text with bullet point lists, informative callouts, eye-catching visuals, and compelling subheadings.
- Do include thoughtful formatting choices to highlight and strengthen your article’s most important ideas.
- Don’t pollute your article with chaotic styling; all of your formatting choices should add, not detract, from the value of the piece.
IV. Aim for actionable + referable
Actionable content is something you can act on today, or in the near future. Referable content is something you can keep with you as you make progress.
Great content is often a mix of both. Offer readers tangible takeaways, but try to design your piece so continual value can be extracted from your suggestions i.e., the ideas within can be revisited when merchants plan their own roadmap. (“How did we begin building our store’s keyword strategy? By following Julia’s post on Shopify.”)
If your article is valuable today and not tomorrow, you may be addressing a swelling trend, or you’re trying to lay out the future. Occasionally, that’s okay. But the majority of “great” articles have a reasonably long shelf-life, regardless of their topic.
V. Capture key ideas visually
Just about everyone has stumbled over a confusing passage in a textbook, only to have clarity restored thanks to “See Fig. A.”
If you’re describing an idea, concept, or example that’s best expressed with a graphic (or a clean, high-resolutionscreenshot), supply something simple and we’ll apply polish. When appropriate, favor demonstrating an idea over merely describing it.
VI. Create ‘10x content’ the right way
Writing gains potency through precision, not length. While “10x content” is often translated to mean “super long ultimate guides,” you should always aim to fit the most valuable ideas available into the smallest space possible. Double-down on depth, not width.
That doesn’t mean we don’t love publishing long, in-depth articles! Some topics demand them. But there’s no need to expand your post with the assumption that more is better – great work comes in all sizes and is always just as long as it needs to be.
VII. Give more than you get
This might seem like an unfair proposition, but when it comes to publishing, it’s been proven time and time again the more you’re willing to give the more you can expect to get in return.
Make it your top priority to effectively solve a painful, infrequently addressed problem for readers. Or, discuss a challenging idea most would prefer shy away from. In return, we’ll work hard to make sure your work is distributed to the right people, and that it’s obvious you wrote the piece and have additional resources (products, other writing, etc.) that readers might enjoy.
Bottom line: We want to ensure, as best we can, that writing for us is worth your time.
The traits all of our best contributions share is they’re opinionated, built from real experience, and offer non-obvious advice to help solve fundamental challenges. Here are a few contributors that have helped set the standard.
- How to Improve Your Facebook Advertising Funnel with Sequential Retargeting
- What I Learned Analyzing 60 Days of Emails from a Fast-Growing Ecommerce Brand
- Drive More Ecommerce Sales with Live Chat Without Being Trapped at Your Desk
- Retention Marketing: Grow Your Business by Selling More to Current Customers
Note: Please check in after your post is published to answer a few comments. Articles that drive conversations tend to be the most popular!
The fine print
Except we’ve highlighted it, so there are no surprises. When writing for Shopify, please keep these points in mind:
1. Contributors are allowed one link in the body of the article to non-gated content they own. Contributors are allowed two links to a product or owned property in their author bio. (Bios are 2-3 sentences.)
2. Shopify reserves the right to edit your writing to fit our style guidelines. We want to maintain your voice, but you should prepare yourself for a number of strategic edits.
3. Shopify owns the rights to any and all content published on its platform. Shopify reserves the right to repurpose, republish, update, or remove contributed content at any time.
4. Please don’t republish material you write for us on any other platform.
5. Please act like a professional. The following will not be tolerated in any form:
- Plagiarism, even self-plagiarism.
- Mentioning or linking to clients you work with for payment, or not disclosing your relationship with a client who is mentioned in your article.
- Questionable promotional tactics to drive traffic to your contributed article.