Ralph’s Guidelines for Writers


This document outlines the official writer’s standards for general usage. It covers everything from receiving assignments to creating a format to acceptable tone and voice, among other things. 

Please read these guidelines thoroughly. Bulleted lists highlighting key information have been made for ease of mental digestion. 

It is recommended that all writers have the following before starting:

  1. A Google account (Google Docs is the preferred doc editor)
  2. A Trello account and access to relevant boards
  3. Keywords Everywhere
  4. Grammarly

Using Trello

All article assignments are given out using an online application called Trello. Trello is an organizational tool that allows users to create, sort, and categorize cards on a “board.” These cards are, essentially, tasks, and these tasks are given out by management. 

If you are unable to access this board, please ask an administrator to be invited. 

Once accessed, simply look for the column or ‘list’ assigned to you. Most likely, it will have your name on it. 

Simply check the list for any cards. You can move the cards around within the list or move them over to another. Check with the admin first before doing this as the list may be in a particular order for a reason. 

Click the card on the board to access this.

Always check the card for instructions and due dates. Oftentimes, they will be left in the ‘description’ portion of the card. 

Feel free to leave comments and notes in the card for your own sake. You can tag other users, add an image, bulleted lists, and color code the card. Do this at your own discretion. 

Once you have finished an article, you will then need to drag the card into the proper ‘Finished’ pile. Please ask management which pile this is either by leaving a note in the card or reaching out directly to them.

NOTE: Management may also ask you to leave a list of internal + external links used in the article. Check whether or not this is necessary when turning work in.

Developing a writing format

This is one of the most important parts of the writing process, at least when it comes to writing with SEO in mind. 

Nailing the format of a post is crucial to making it not only readable for users but for search engines as well. Search engines place heavy emphasis on formatting as they analyze the heading structure and semantics of the post in order to make sense of it. 

Without going into the nitty-gritty details of SEO (outside the scope of this document*), all writers need to know is that the format of your article needs to be logical. That means using the proper headings – i.e H2s, H3s, H4s – and in the proper order – e.g. H2s are reserved for the primary topics of your article while H3s are subtopics. 

Consider the following when creating your article format:

  1. What are the primary topics of your article? These should be determined using a mix of keywords, competitor research, and reasoning. Large topics, which tend to be broader in scope, are generally your H2s.
  2. Do these topics have (relevant) subtopics? Choose subtopics that add real value to your article. Check to see if they have search volume as this improves the chances of appearing on the SERPs. Do not try and include EVERY single subtopic though as this will cause your article to lose focus. Consider whether or not a subtopic or keyword can be the basis for a separate article.
  3. Have you started keyword research? You should have already because these need to be considered when figuring out the topic of your article.
  4. What is the user intent? User intent is a relatively new concept to SEO but it is vital to consider. You must consider why someone would be searching for the topic of this article and then consider the best way to answer their question. Does this article need to be a simple list? Does it need to be a mega-guide with a huge amount of information? What sort of emotions are the users most likely feeling? These all play into the structure of your post.
  5. ADVANCED: Do you know what the key ‘entities’ are? This is a bit more advanced but will one day be the new norm. Entities are essentially things that Google recognizes as just that: things. Google is not able to form answers based upon things and (crucially) the relationships between them rather than just find the best answer to a direct question. Without going too deep, all you need to do is consider what kind of entities are most associated with the topic you’re discussing. Is there a particular place or person mentioned often in competitors’ articles? Is there a similar entity that, when mentioned, might confuse the search engine? Keep this in mind when brainstorming the subject matter of the article.

* If you need a crash course in ‘SEO for Writers’, start by watching this video.

Competitor Research

All writers are expected to do some sort of competitor research when creating their post format as well. This is a tried-and-true method and provides tangible feedback from the SERPs (search engine result pages). In other words, posts that appear higher up on Google are probably using formats it likes. 

Competitor research boils down to the following:

  1. Knowing who the big players are on the SERPs. The less the better, but if you’re going up against a big website, it’ll be a ‘David vs Goliath’ situation.
  2. Checking to see what the top five are writing about. Note their usage of headings, the topics covered, and overall tone. Try to emulate them but never copy. Our goal is to build upon what they are saying and say it better. That might mean writing a shorter, more concise article or expanding and writing a longer article. Whichever answers the given query best.
  3. Noting their keywords. Use a tool like Keywords Everywhere or AHREFs to analyze the page for keywords. Try to use those keywords in your article, the ones worth pursuing at least.
  4. Article length. The days of writing the longest article possible are fading away as it’s not necessarily the case of “he who writes the most wins.” You want to answer the query in the best way possible, not in the longest way possible. That being said, you want to write articles that are around the same length as the competition. Some can be longer, others shorter but nothing on the far edges.

Keyword planning

Before you can actually start writing, you must have a good idea of which keywords you’re going to use in the article. 

Keywords are, to quote Moz

“Keywords are ideas and topics that define what your content is about. In terms of SEO, they’re the words and phrases that searchers enter into search engines, also called ‘search queries.’”

You should have already started keyword research whilst creating the format of your article. The best way to do keyword research is to create a list of keywords that you think are relevant to the subject of your article and then assigning some kind of priority to them.

There will be one primary keyword that coincides with the subject of your entire article. Oftentimes, the primary keyword will be selected first and then the subject of the article will be developed around it, rather than the other way around. 

There will then be secondary keywords which are the primary topics of your article. Like headings, these will be subtopics of your primary keyword and will expound upon it in some way e.g. the keyword ‘cycle to work benefits’ could be a secondary for an article’s primary keyword ‘why bike to work.’

Longtail keywords are a variation on broader head terms that become more refined with the addition of an extra bit of information. For example, ‘where to stay in Lahore for couples’ is a longtail of ‘where to stay in Lahore’. The former is more focused and displays more intent than the latter.

Using keywords

It can feel awkward at times to use keywords in an article, especially for those coming from a more traditional writing background. It IS possible to use keywords in a non-artificial, elegant way though. It just takes a bit of practice.

Consider the following when using keywords:

  1. Don’t stuff. This is a sure way to turn off readers and is not as effective as it once used to be in the eyes of search engines. Use keywords sparingly. A good rule of thumb is to try and use one every 200-300 words. 
  2. Use keywords in key places, not everywhere. Headings, opening paragraphs, and links are all great places to use keywords as it immediately establishes the topic for both readers and search engines. Keywords should not be sprayed on a page without any sort of strategy. This leads to stuffing.
  3. Keywords are relatively malleable. You do not need to use a keyword exactly as it is written in your list. In fact, mixing up the syntax of the keyword actually helps SEO as it gives the search engine extra context. This is called ‘exact match’  vs ‘partial match’ keywording.
  4. Look at the text around the keyword. Search engines now analyze the words around keywords to gain extra context. This allows writers extra freedom as they are able to provide extra information in the case of ambiguous keywords.
  5. Consider the relationship between keywords. Like previously mentioned entities, keywords also gain topical relevance in the relationships between each other. In fact, keywords and entities are sometimes the same so it’s best to use them in a similar fashion. 

Writing standards

Target audience

The target audience for an entire site is usually pretty established. If it has not already been provided to you, it might be given in an article briefing. Of course, an admin will always be able to provide an explanation.

Examples of things to look at when refining the target audience are:

Aged…Strongly interested in…Gender…Income bracket and social standing…

On the other hand, the target audience can vary from post to post depending on the subject of the article. One article may appeal to a slightly different sort of people asking questions from a slightly different angle as opposed to another article. 

When assessing user intent, also consider the possible demographics of the readers for that particular post. How does it deviate from your usual target audience? (Hopefully, not too much.) How do you pivot the article to appeal to them?


Once you know who you’re talking to, you must decide how to talk to them. Like the target audience, the tone of an individual article might be provided to you in a briefing. More often than naught, you will need to come up with it yourself.

Examples tones are:


This tone can, and most likely will change on an article-by-article basis.

NOTE: Avoid overusing exclamation points (!), ALL CAPS, and cursing (shit). These are an effective means of communicating but only in small doses. Using too much of any of these will take their power away.

For more on refining your own voice as a writer, watch this video here.


Writing for the internet is not like writing for school or for publication: it’s far lighter and far less wordy than what one might be used to. 

Here are some common mistakes that all beginning digital copywriters make:

  1. They’re longwinded – Long sentences, long paragraphs, and walls of text are not easy to read online and people tend to bounce when presented with too many. Remember that the average attention span on the internet is around 8 seconds long.
  2. They write in an overly poetic way – This isn’t the place to write the next great American novel or go toe-to-toe with Kerouac. Online reading needs to be clear and to the point, not filled with symbolism or metaphor.
  3. They’re too wordy – Use a thesaurus when you write but don’t go too deep. Writing to the common man is often the most effective.
  4. They’re too aggressive –  This is mostly an issue when it comes to pitching affiliate products but can be pretty bad at times. Don’t be a greasy car salesman, be genuine. 

Rather, write using the following standards:

Use brevity: Say more with fewer words. That means shorter sentences and paragraphs. Sentences should be between 1-2 lines long and paragraphs 3-5. Less is ok but avoid going over. Be clear and concise: Your reader’s attention is on a timer. Hook it in the quickest and most effective way possible. You don’t have the luxury of mincing words.Don’t be overly sardonic: Playing with the reader is fun and makes the article interesting. Sarcasm, on the other hand, can be dangerous as it doesn’t read well and can come off as negative. Be structured: Keep individual sections between 200-300 words and use logical headings.Mix things up: Use bulleted lists, bold, italic, and tables to help break up those walls of text and to present information in fresh ways. As always, don’t overdo it though.

Watch this video for some extra tips on writing style.


Introductions are worth pointing out because it is VERY important that we nail them. This is the first thing that readers see so we need to get their attention without dawdling. 

Remember this when writing intros:

Brief and to the point: No more than 200 words.Introduce the subject clearly: Explain exactly what it is you’re going to talking about. It’s an introduction – people need to know what they’re about to invest their time in or they’re going to leave.Use a format: The best blog articles follow their own format. Here is one that works well.Establish a rapport: Connect with your reader in some. Doesn’t matter if it’s by establishing your credibility, appealing to emotion, or using shock and awe. This is the first time you two are meeting and first impressions are everything.


All writers are expected to do at least one thorough edit of their work before turning it in. In all honesty, the quickest way to lose a gig is to turn in lazy, uninspired writing and to leave rookie mistakes in your piece. Editors have only so much patience before they cease working with unprofessional writers. 

There should be NO spelling, grammatical, or syntactical errors in your writing. All writing should make sense and be understandable not only to the editor but to a potential stranger – no gibberish or vague statements that only the writer can understand. 

At the very least, writers should install Grammarly on their browsers. It offers an extension that checks work as it is written (in the browser) as well as a program that analyzes entire pieces at once.

Once you have finished editing an article, please alert an admin and update the Trello board as needed.

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