Once upon a time, there were merchants who sold their products and services on the internet. To get their websites rank high on Google they would hire a squad of so-called content writers to scrape stuff from Wikipedia, stuff it with keywords, and slap it on the blog. But then, Google’s algorithm got updated so sites with a low-quality keyword-stuffed copy could no longer appear at the top of searches. Now merchants needed to create original, engaging and useful content that would keep customers interested and guide them to a buying decision. Content writers of the past didn’t really fit for the job anymore.
If you’re a content writer doing it the old way, you might want to rethink. Writing content that gets results is not easy. It takes years of experience. If you want to build a career as a content writer, here are seven vital skills to get started.
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The first skill every writer absolutely needs is: doing research and building arguments.
The purpose of content writing is to convince the reader of your argument, or your take on the topic you're writing about. Any argument is based on the research. That's why content writers should be good at analyzing lots of data, classifying information, arriving at insightful conclusions, and building arguments that justify their points of view.
Writing great content requires the knowledge of things. You can't just write great content if you don't know what you're talking about. Research is a tool for building that knowledge.
If you know the topic you're writing about really well, the next thing you need is to be able to explain it simply and clearly. This brings us to the next skill a content writer needs to possess:
Do you know why it's so important for content to be clear and simple? Because clarity helps the reader see the value in the content. If people can't understand what you're trying to say, then your content is not useful, right? On the other hand, when your message is crystal clear, it is very likely to resonate with people.
Most of us don't really know how clarity is produced. I talk about how to write with clarity in Part 6 of my book From Reads To Leads: 11 Principles of Writing Content People Will Read and Respond To.
Now imagine, you got your point across in a crystal clear manner, but made a glaring spelling mistake in your headline. Will people who read your content think you're a professional they can trust?
Without grammatical accuracy, it's hard to gain credibility and trust from your readers.
We all make dumb mistakes in writing, okay? Making mistakes is normal. You can make as many mistakes as you want. In your ugly first draft. But when it’s time to put your words in front of people, poor grammar can ruin the most amazing piece of content.
And then, even Grammarly won’t help you!
Grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling, and choice of words — pay attention to these before you hit the publish button. Content writers have no excuse for poor grammar.
Just like they have no excuse for a broken flow.
Being able to create a perfect logical flow in writing is the next vital skill every content writer needs to have.
Imagine you’re running along a cliff trail above the ocean. And suddenly the cliff ends abruptly. To make matters worse, you stumble against a stone so you almost fall off the cliff. How does it make you feel?
Your readers feel the same way when your sentences have a literal stop between them and when there are gaps between paragraphs. Readers don’t want bumps, unintended surprises, new ideas being dumped on them without warning, and an unexpected dead-end. They want an enjoyable and stress-free journey. Logical flow. It’s like going on that journey during a sunset on a yacht through the ocean.
Okay, now let's come back, we still have three more skills to discuss.
What does it mean to be original as a content writer? It means taking unusual hooks and angles that will capture the reader's attention and engage their curiosity. It's your ability to come up with distinctive words, memorable phrases, interesting stories, unexpected metaphors, and unique case studies to illustrate your point. To sound original, avoid clichés and stock phrases.
Do you know what else can help you add originality to your work? It's conversations with other people.
Communication is the next skill a content writer needs.
Most of the things you're going to write about don't live inside your head. They live in the heads of subject matter experts, your target customers, your clients, or your manager. Their knowledge, expertise, and insights can be gold. And you can discover that gold only if you go out there and talk to them.
Don’t be a writer who’s sitting alone in her home office, fingers on the keyboard, tapping out words in 12-point Arial. Talk to people, exchange opinions, listen to what they have to say – you will get tremendous value from communicating with others.
The key to being a great content writer – just like being a great journalist – is to listen. And do you know who else needs to be a good listener? Marketers.
Content writers are marketers too. And so, the knowledge of marketing is the next vital skill for any content writer.
As a content writer, you need to be able to put yourself into your reader's shoes, understand their problems, figure out what they might be interested in, know where to take your readers next, and be able to measure the results of your efforts. You need to know how to optimize your content for search engines and how to create content that drives engagement and sales.
Marketing is a wide discipline, but content writers absolutely need to know how it works so their efforts don't go in vain.
So there you have it, 7 skills every content writer needs:
Which of these skills is the hardest one to master? Share your comments with me on YouTube. I'd love to hear your thoughts!
What's the difference between copywriters and a whole bunch of other creative specialists that have something to do with writing and marketing? Time to figure it out!
A content brief is a set of instructions to guide a writer on how to draft a piece of content. I call this document a specification. So what makes a good specification or a content brief for writers? Discover in this blog post!
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