In many ways, content writing is as much of an art as a skill. Yes, writers with natural talent can succeed, but it’s also possible to learn the ins and outs of content writing and apply skills and knowledge in a way that works. This is especially true as best practices continue to change and evolve with the ever-fluctuating state of the industry.
These content writing skills can keep writers at the top of their game, offering the tools necessary to produce quality content every single time.
Keen Research Skills
No one knows everything, and that makes research the name of the game for many content writers. All companies know the extent to which Google prioritizes quality, so a fluffy piece full of generalizations won’t be winning anyone awards. A great writer needs to know how to comb through sources, find statistics to back up points, and draw clear, concise, and correct conclusions.
In some cases, a niche writer with extensive experience — professional, academic, or otherwise — is needed, but in many cases, a generalist can tackle most subjects in a way that meets SEO standards while expertly addressing the topic at hand. With the ability to closely follow instructions and put research skills to the test, a good writer can produce a piece that satisfies both clients and Google’s algorithms.
As Derek of Floating Authority puts it, “What makes the top content writers stand out is that they take the time necessary to make sure that they follow the instructions they are provided and to thoroughly research the topic at hand, even if it takes them past a specific deadline.”
SEO always matters. Content that is published online is intended to be read by many, but it’s also going to be crawled by Google’s bots for the purpose of indexing. And while content that sounds good and makes an impact with readers is a benefit, so is content that ranks.
Google is always fine-tuning its approach, which means that content needs to keep up. A little familiarity isn’t enough; an effective writer needs to stay on top of how the industry is evolving in addition to what it takes to rank well as the systems consistently grows and changes. While knowing every single little detail of each and every update isn’t necessarily imperative, understanding the key points of what works – and what doesn’t! – can make or break success in the SERPs.
Want to know what IS working? Check out our guide to becoming an SEO content writer.
B2B and SaaS Content Writer and SEO Strategist Alexandra Cote feels that few skills are as important as an in-depth understanding of SEO. “And I’m not talking here about keyword optimization alone but about everything that has to do with on-page SEO at least,” she clarifies. “From SERP research to nail the reader intent, to choosing the right main and secondary keywords, writing amazing meta descriptions, and getting internal links right.”
Social Media Mastery
Social media is no longer a choice; it’s an absolute must for content of all kinds. Consumers use social media to connect with brands and browse local options; 54% of Facebook users even use the site to do product research.
Not all content writers will need to create content for social media, like Facebook posts or Tweets, but knowing what kinds of posts resonate as well as what kinds of headlines get the most clicks can be extremely valuable. Many brands rely on social outlets to distribute content, so writers who are tasked with these kinds of assignments need to know how and why some articles succeed on social, and why others fall flat.
“Content writers must have a good grasp and knowledge on how to maximize such platforms to their advantage. Furthermore, they should also be able to create content that best suits the taste of the social media community”, says Sonya Schwartz, the founder of Her Norm. No one is expecting writers to have the same level of expertise as social media marketing professionals, but a solid knowledge in what will make a difference and what won’t is a skill every great content writer needs.
What can writers do to help their content do well on social? There are many things including:
- Focus on crafting engaging headlines that drive clicks. Tools like Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer can help with this.
- Use content formats that do well on specific social platforms. For example, listicles, slideshows and quiz content all get great engagement on social
- Make the content easily digestible and focus on writing sections that translate well to social messages if a reader wants to share. You can even use services like Click to Tweet to let users share these message with just a click.
An Understanding of the Buyer Journey
How companies speak to their potential customers is at the cornerstone of how business is conducted. Everything, from how products are marketed to how transactions are completed, speaks to the needs of the customer rather than the preferences of the company. As a writer, it’s easy to understand what a company wants out of an order, but seeing the customer side of the equation can be a little harder.
In spite of the divide between buyer and business, an understanding of the buyer journey is a critical part of creating content that resonates. Consumers want to read content that makes them feel as if their concerns are heard and solutions are designed with them in mind – not a company speaking into an echo chamber.
According to Saurabh Jindal of travel-based app startup Talk Travel, being able to understand and speak to the customer experience is paramount to using content to drive conversions. “A good content writer creates content, which pushes the consumer to the next phase of the customer journey, and in a manner which is subtle and does not explicitly try to push the customer,” he explains. By knowing how a piece of writing fits into the over customer journey and what is needed to inspire steps forward, writers are better positioned to inspire purchases and foster customer loyalty.
Want to learn more about writing for every stage of the customer journey? Check out our guide here.
Rarely does a writer write about one topic for one client indefinitely. Instead, many talented content writers write for many clients about any number of subjects. For those focused on one niche over others, it’s likely that clients, tone, and point of view will all vary sooner or later, as will the specific nature of themes about which to write.
As a writer, it’s often necessary to be able to speak confidently about areas outside of your expertise, and explore new fields. It’s also important to be able to confidently switch from a humorous tone to academic to informative and back again. A big part of success in writing is being adaptable and being able to meet client needs rather than simply doing the same thing, day in and day out, for every single client.
As stated by Randy of Soderman Marketing, “oftentimes, especially in an agency environment, content writers have to write about a variety of different topics as well as adjusting their tone and style for each client. This is why it’s so important for writers to be able to adapt. They should be a chameleon.” While every writer has their own distinct voice, content writing isn’t usually the time to show it off. Instead, it’s a time to customize content and tone to provide a client with a satisfying end result.
No piece of writing is perfect on the first pass. Instead, most writing takes multiple reviews to get it to the point where a piece is passable. While outside editors certainly add value later in the game, the ability to read one’s own work and determine areas that can be improved is a key step in the creative process. Ultimately, the first and most important steps in quality control are a writer’s responsibility.
“Understand that once you’re done writing, your job has only begun. Learn the best tools to edit and proofread your work such as the Hemingway App, Grammarly, and Copyscape for plagiarism,” suggests Tim, an Operations Strategist for People Managing People.
He also emphasizes the ability to take criticism and use it to improve current pieces as well as to inform future projects. “Feedback is your friend, so use it as a ‘growth hormone,'” he says. A great writer cares about the quality of the work they produce from a holistic sense, not just whether or not it passes a customer’s baseline level of acceptability.
Process can be your friend when it comes to self-editing. Many writers find that immediately reviewing content after they finish writing it isn’t nearly as effective as stepping away from the project for a while, focusing on something else, and then coming back with a fresh set of eye for the content when they’re ready to edit.
Writing as a job can become stressful and tedious in time, no matter how nice the clients or how interesting the topics. After a certain point, some jobs start to blend together, leading to repetitive and uninspired content. Many times, this isn’t intentional, but rather a product of doing the same thing, day after day.
While it’s quite common for writers to start phoning in articles due to a lack of interest or waning time and attention, a great content writer knows how to keep content fresh and exciting. “Writers might eventually run out of creative juices and subconsciously use concepts and sentence construction similar to past outputs. When that happens, produced content feels pretty identical to each other. However, highly creative content writers always manage to find a new perspective on old topics, which helps keep outputs fresh,” explains Jeremy Owens, the CMO of Seriously Smoked.
To stay creative, writers need to be passionate about the written word as a whole, not just the content they produce for others. Reading books, keeping up to date on industry blogs, and even reading similar articles written by other writers can be a great way to keep skills sharp and provide additional inspiration.
Flexibility in a Changing Marketplace
The wide world of content marketing never sits still for long. From changes in Google’s algorithms to changes in the kind of content people like to consume, the industry is always moving. What worked yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow – and it’s up to writers to know this and adapt accordingly.
“As nothing is constant in business and society, being adaptable and flexible is a core skill in content writing. You must be able to mold your writing based on what’s current, trending, and acceptable in the industry, says Her Norm‘s Sonya Schwartz.
For example, voice search is a continually-growing trend now utilized in more areas than ever before. Creating content that resonates with voice searches rather than traditional search engines isn’t necessarily natural, so content writers need to have an idea of what will work best for voice search, normal web search, or, more likely, both. In order to please customers and create content that achieves goals, writers need to know how to stay flexible and adaptable as the content world changes around them.
The art of putting words on a page can be a rewarding and profitable pastime, but content writers with the right skills are those most likely to succeed. With a talent for writing and a knowledge of the most beneficial content writing skills, writers are well positioned to get ahead – one article at a time.