That’s a tricky question to answer. Because content writers aren’t all the same, you know?
You’ve got your domestic in-house writer, who’s working on one brand all day long.
There’s the wild and lesser-spotted freelance content writer, who spends as much time pitching for work as writing it.
Then there’s the agency content writer, who has a variety of clients to write for and doesn’t have to stress about finding their own clients.
As a full service digital marketing agency, our in-house content writing team fall into the last category. Their only focus is to create awesome content for our clients.
But how do they do it?
What makes a good content writer?
Wait! Let’s Talk Names
“Content Writer” is a bit of a misnomer these days.
Yes, blogs are super valuable and yes, websites need words.
But increasingly, content being created involves video, imagery and interactive web apps.
Content Writers are expected to be able to produce these things too, as well as words.
Anyone can write, right? While technically true, it really isn’t. To be good at being a content writer in digital marketing, you need the following:
Exceptional knowledge of spelling and grammar
Nothing makes you look more amateurish than having copy that isn’t correctly spelled. A lot of the strategies that involve blogging for clients are based around the idea of being an industry authority.
It’s important to share your knowledge with your audience. It gets you links, helps your customers trust you and is great for SEO.
But if that content isn’t spelled correctly, you undermine your authority and your bottom line.
A study by Survey Monkey highlights the cost of bad spelling and grammar.
- Women are 81% less likely to buy a product advertised with spelling/grammar errors, while 77% percent of men feel the same way
- 85% of millennials are less likely to buy a product advertised with errors
- 83% of people with a household income of $75k+ would be less likely to buy a product advertised with spelling mistakes
Good spelling also avoids things like this…
Did you spot it? Awkward…
Excellent research skills
At least a third of the time a content writer will spend creating content is in the research. Creating high quality content is all about providing value to people, which means you need rich, juicy details!
Authoritative, evergreen content consistently gets share and links. Which is why research-based content works especially well. Know everything there is to know about your subject matter in order to capitalise on those “What is…?” searches.
The ability to ferret out strong sources, collate and examine data and tap into industry experts will result in loads of tasty content. Research can also involve interviewing people as well as doing some serious Googling to get the knowledge you need.
Your first port of call should be the client. They know their industry best after all. Part of your job is to tease out the knowledge and present it in a way that is accessible and valuable to their audience.
How do you know what the audience likes? More research!
Understanding who you’re creating content for and what form they prefer to receive it in is a vital element to content creation. Some clients like a blog post, others like a video.
Some industries still don’t even go online for their information, so you have to find an industry magazine and crack out a bit of long form editorial.
Doing thorough research is key to producing content with real value.
The ability to write in a variety of tones and styles
If you want to write for a third party agency, you need to be flexible with your writing. Being married to “your style” is the fastest way to fail at content writing.
For example, your day could involve a morning of writing a blog for the financial services industry and then an afternoon exploring 8 Problems That Only Glasses Wearers Understand. Writing one with the voice of the other just won’t work, so you have to have lots of voices to draw on.
You also need to be able to write in different formats. Writing web copy is different to writing a press release, which is different to writing a blog. If you want to be good at content writing, get out of your comfort zone and write in different styles.
You need to be able to adapt, like a chameleon!
The ability to write consistently and deliver on time
When clients are paying by the hour, you can’t afford to have writer’s block. To write and be paid for it, you need to be giving your clients great content on time.
Creating content is hard. Really hard. It takes time and dedication and when deadlines are looming you don’t have the luxury to wait for your muse to descend.
Writer’s block is like the five stages of grief:
Denial: “I don’t have writer’s block, I’m just busy with all these other things.”
Anger: “This is rubbish! I can’t concentrate because of [insert excuse here]! It’s your fault!”
Bargaining: “Okay, if I don’t work on things today, I’ll do twice as much tomorrow and I’ll be all caught up!”
Depression: “Why am I even doing this? Clearly I can’t do it, so I might as well quit and go get a job selling doors door-to-door.”
Acceptance: “I need to stop making excuses and just get on and do it.”
All writers get writer’s block from time to time. It’s a natural part of writing for a living. But because it is your living, and clients are relying on you, you need to be able to deliver every day.
The faster you can get through writer’s block, the better. If you’re freelancing, you’ve probably already learned this lesson, and it will stand you in good stead if you choose to move to agency work.
Always remember: You’re writing for business first and foremost.
Content writers don’t just smash out a thousand random words. All the content you create should support the wider marketing efforts and SEO strategy.
In order to be optimised for search, you need to know some SEO. Correct title tags, headings and keywords all help towards creating content that boosts a website’s online visibility.
You need to be up to date with the latest SEO practices, because the principles change all the time. Understanding the principles of SEO will allow you to create content that is coming from the right technical direction. And actually ends up getting read!
Good content can give sites a huge boost in search visibility and is a vital part of the SEO mix.
Knowing SEO gives your work context within the marketing strategy.
Creating content requires imagination and creativity. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and produce content that’s a bit different. Sometimes, creating something totally unique can really pay off. This is especially effective in industries with traditionally dry content.
You know what I mean; some clients work in industries where it’s become the norm to produce content that is dull and stale. But you can shake it up!
Everyone likes to consume content that is both entertaining as well as relevant to them. If you find your content becoming dry, try and think of a way to present information in a way that’s visually interesting.
For example, the laws around drink driving in the UK aren’t interesting. But presented in a interesting way, they become much more engaging to the audience.
Be different. Make people sit up and take notice.
Why do you get your best ideas in the shower?
Doing something monotonous, like showering, puts your brain into autopilot.
This frees up your subconscious to play a no-holds-barred game of free association.
Free association is like joining the dots in a new way, creating fresh ideas.
Try it yourself!
An average day for an agency content writer
Morning: Get up and get ready for work. Prepare for your day mentally as well as physically. After all, it’s well known that you can get some of your best ideas in the shower.
If you’re lucky enough to live close enough to work, walk! Getting some fresh air and having a stroll is good for getting the creative juices going.
Get to work and write stuff. If you have content curation tools, you’ll be checking those frequently to get new ideas.
At any one time you could be working on up to half a dozen pieces at once. Break your day up into the way that makes you most productive.
You’ll be spending a lot of time doing research. Chat to clients, search the web, read books. Anything you work on should be proofed before going live.
I believe strongly in having other people proof your work. You’re always too close to the content you write to spot every error, so passing work around is important.
Rob, Digital Content Exec.
Lunch: If it’s a nice day, take a chance to stretch those legs and rest your eyes.
Afternoon: More writing. You’ll be writing in a variety of voices and styles. You might be called on by another department to help with wordier elements of their work. At MRS, our content team works closely with Design and SEO teams, they are always around to proof other people’s work.
You might have some content marketing strategies to work on. You’ll work together to generate ideas for clients and solve whatever problems they face. Toss around ideas and hammer out the strategy. Use all the tools at your disposal to come up with strategies that help the client achieve their goals.
Home time! Get some rest, soldier. Because you’ll be at it again tomorrow!
Ups and downs of being a content writer
How to See the Worth in What You Write
You spend hours writing content for web. You revise, refine and then it goes live.
How can you tell if people are reading it? It’s not like you can track book sales…
Google Analytics can tell you. Seeing the page metrics gives your work a tangible sense of worth.
It can also help you further develop your work over time.
Getting paid for writing stuff is pretty sweet. It’s great to be able to do this every day. That being said, everyone has their ups and downs no matter how satisfying their job is. Content writing is no different…
Pros & Cons
- Being a content writer means people will actually pay you for writing things
- Everyone assumes your job is easy
- You learn a lot about a lot of things, making you the “Did You Know…?” guy and handy in pub quizzes
- Everyone thinks you’re a Grammar Nazi
- You have access to Analytics data. This means you can see just how many people read your work. This is a real confidence booster!
- Writing fatigue. After a day of writing, it’s hard to come home and work on personal stuff
- You’re writing something different every day
- Work is never finished. Even when it’s live, you can always improve and modify your work
- You get to write for big, exciting clients
What’s it like to be a content writer?
If you’ve just finished a Creative Writing degree and think that being a content writer means writing what you want, when you want, think again. Content writing for digital marketing is about planning and strategy. There’s no point in writing something that no one is going to read.
What you write needs to be creative, entertaining and it also needs to meet the brief of the client. Get it right and you’ll find content writing to be rewarding, interesting and fun! You’ll develop new writing skills while providing a valuable service to your clients.