How to Become a Content Writer – The Complete Guide

How to Become a Content Writer

There’s a lot of money to be made writing blog posts, landing pages, product descriptions and the like for all types of businesses, but there’s also a lot to learn before you can begin. This guide is intended to walk you through the basics so you can see success and start earning money with freelance content writing jobs right away. 

Getting Started

It takes more than a keyboard and the ability to type to be a commercial writer. If you want to succeed in the online content creation industry, you must:

  • Understand the basics of writing, including sentence structure and composition
  • Have a better-than-average grasp of basic grammar, spelling and punctuation (or take the time to learn it before you start – Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips is a great resource for newbies)
  • Be able to follow instructions to the letter and ask questions when there’s something you don’t understand

In the digital content world, things move rapidly. Successful writers and editors are able to absorb information quickly, communicate professionally and, above all, hit their deadlines. It’s as simple as that.

Types of Content Companies

Some companies work with freelancers they find on job boards, while others have full-time writers on staff. Most medium and large businesses, however, outsource at least some (if not all) of their content to companies like Crowd Content.

There are many types of content creation companies, but they all fall into one of three basic models:

• Marketplace: In a content marketplace, you work directly with clients and communicate with them as questions arise. Most clients edit or review the work you deliver, but sometimes there’s a freelance editor in the mix.

• Enterprise: With an enterprise model, you deal with an in-house Content Manager or Project Manager rather than directly with the client. Project managers assemble teams, create instructions and place orders; they also review submissions and manage deadlines. Freelance editors are always involved in these types of orders, and some companies use a third layer of review called QA.

• Agency: Content agencies often offer clients services that go above and beyond content creation (SEO, strategy, etc.). Those that hire freelancers usually require a higher level of expertise, though they typically pay a bit more. 

Why is this important? If you’re new to this industry, there’s a lot for you to learn. If you have some basic skills or expertise, you’re much more likely to get the mentoring you need from an Enterprise operation, where Project Managers are tasked with creating and training teams of workers. Marketplace clients expect writers and editors to already be “experts” before they pick up orders.

Crowd Content is one of the few content creation companies that successfully run both a Marketplace and an Enterprise operation. When you’re accepted as a writer or editor on our platform, you can apply to work for either (or both) sides of the business. 

What You’ll Need

Most content creation companies have proprietary platforms where you write and submit your work, and they’ll usually require a PC or Mac laptop or desktop computer. If you have a tablet, you may be able to make it work, but that’s dependent on the platform you’ll be working on.

You’ll also need:

• Internet access

• An internet browser

• Word processing software (optional)

• A valid PayPal account

Internet Browser

There are a lot of browsers to choose from, but Chrome seems to be the one that most writing platforms get along with best. You do have the option of trying out others, including Firefox, Opera and Edge, but don’t be surprised if you run into compatibility issues here and there.

Word Processing Software

You don’t absolutely need a word processor to get going, but it can help. The platforms among different companies vary wildly in their capabilities – some don’t even have built-in spellcheckers – so you may find it helpful to write in a word processor and then copy/ paste your work into the platform’s text editor. If you don’t have access to word processing software, you can download something like Focus Writer for free or pay a minimal monthly fee for a subscription to Microsoft Word and the rest of the Microsoft

Office programs. Using Google docs is another option.

PayPal

You’ll want to get paid for the work you do, and you’ll find that most content companies pay via PayPal. Once the funds are in your PayPal account, you can transfer them directly to your bank, or you can request a PayPal debit card, which works exactly like your bank debit card.

How It All Works

Let’s walk through what you’ll experience when writing commercially for Crowd Content. Note that most other writing platforms are similar but have their own rulesets and ways of doing things.

  • After you create an account, complete an application for one or more of the various Marketplace or Managed (Enterprise) teams. Once approved, you’ll be given a quality rating based on the work you did on your application. At Crowd Content, there are four tiers: one, two, three and four stars.
  • When you log into the platform, you’ll have a personal dashboard that shows any work that’s available to you on the Marketplace or Managed Content sides of the platform. What you see here depends on your application approvals and the quality rating you were given. You see all open work at your star rating and below as well as any work for teams that you’ve been placed on or any direct order work.
  • A four-star writer sees all open orders, for example, while a two-star writer only sees open orders placed at one- and two-star orders.
  • When you view an order on Crowd Content, you’ll see a title or topic, instructions on how to write the piece, when the order is due, how much it pays and any other information the project manager or client included.
  • You can choose to pick up orders based on all this information. You’re a freelancer, so you always have a choice about whether to accept work or not. That’s even true if you get direct orders (orders placed solely to you) that you don’t want to write for any reason. You can pass on those orders and even let the client know why via the system chat — for example, you might want to let them know you’ll be out of town and can’t complete orders next week but would be happy to write content for them when you get back.
  • After you’ve completed the order, submit it — and this is where things differ depending on whether your order was in the Marketplace or Managed Content.
    • Marketplace: The client may have added editing to the order. If they have, the order will be picked up by an editor before going to the client. But the client is still responsible for ultimately approving or rejecting the order. The client or the editor may send it back to you with notes to make revisions. Once the client has accepted the order, you’ll be paid for it on the next payday. In our Marketplace, it can take anywhere from a couple days to a few weeks for the client to review and approve orders.
    • Managed Content: Once you submit a written order, an editor will review the piece. The order may be edited and submitted, sent back to you for revisions or rejected if it significantly fails to meet the minimum requirements for the task. Once the editor submits the order, it goes to QA. That’s where a member of our team reviews the order to be sure it meets the client requirements. QA will either accept, reject or send it back for revisions. Once QA has accepted the order, you’ll get paid. When working on Managed Content, completed work is typically reviewed within a few days.
  • Even if your order is accepted by the client, editor or QA, they may opt to leave you notes. It’s important to go back and read these notes and view the changes made to your order using the tracked changes tab. In the world of commercial writing feedback is gold. Learn to accept feedback and put it into practice, and you’ll do well.

How Much Does It Pay?

Private clients, like those found on job boards and places like Upwork, often pay by the hour or by the piece, but most content companies pay writers and editors a set per-word rate. The rate of pay varies widely among different companies. At Crowd Content, pay rates for writers range from a few cents up to 10 cents per word and sometimes even more. Editors are paid between 1.5 and 3 cents per word.

The per-word pay doesn’t always give an accurate picture of how profitable a writing job might be. The figure you should look at is how much money you can make per hour. Short product descriptions that require minimal research but only pay four or five cents per word might work out to be more profitable on a per-hour basis than a 2,000-word feature article that requires heavy research and multiple rounds of revisions — even if that feature article pays more per word.

When Do I Get Paid?

Some content companies pay once or twice per month, but others pay more frequently. Crowd Content pays its writers twice per week — Tuesday and Friday — for all work that’s been accepted by the client or Project Manager by the evening prior.

Next Steps

Ready to start? Here’s what you need to do next:

  • Read this guide in its entirety
  • Brush up on your grammar and punctuation skills
  • Open a worker account with us
  • Apply for work

Keep in mind that other companies may have different requirements. You may be asked to complete an English grammar test before you’re able to apply for work, or you may have to create a portfolio. Before you do any of this, make sure that the company’s pay rates are within the range of what you’re looking to make.

Want more information? Grab our free ebook, Intro to Commercial Content Writing here.

Best Practices: General

No matter what companies you choose to write for, Enterprise or Managed Content projects tend to have lots of information around them, including style guides, project briefs and in-task instructions. When working in a Marketplace environment like ours, the amount and type of information you get from clients will be all over the map. When in doubt and unless the client states otherwise, follow these simple rules: 

Style 

  • Defer to AP style. 
  • Use American English spelling. 
  • Use title case for all titles, headers and subheads. 
  • Format titles, headers and subheads appropriately using H1, H2 and H3 tags or via the formatting functions of the platform in question. 
  • For blog posts and marketing copy (product descriptions, etc.), use second person (you). For landing pages and other website copy, use first and third person. 
  • Vary your sentence structure. Use some simple and some compound sentences. 
  • Avoid rhetorical questions. If you do use them, limit to one per article.
  • Avoid exclamation marks. They do have their place, but they should be used only rarely.
  • Avoid cliches and overused jargon (with ease, is a snap, is a breeze, etc.). 
  • If you cite a fact, study or statistic, link to it. Always try to link to the primary source — not a site talking about the source — and avoid using data that’s more than a few years old. The exception here is that something like Census data is perfectly fine to use, as it’s only updated once every ten years.
  • Never use Wikipedia or random blogs as sources unless a particular blogger is an influencer in the industry you’re writing about. 
  • Stay evergreen — unless you’re writing something that’s absolutely seasonal or a client has asked for content about current events or news. 
  • Avoid negativity at all times, particularly in marketing copy. Better to say, “This cleaner keeps your floors looking like new” than “This cleaner gets rid of all the icky goo off your dirty floors.” 
  • Use common contractions (it’s, you’e, etc.). 
  • Defer to Merriam-Webster for spelling and hyphenation. 
  • Watch out for repetition in words and phrases. Don’t start back-to-back sentences or paragraphs with the same word. 
  • Stay concise and avoid fluff and filler. 

Structure 

  • Use bulleted and numbered lists and subheads to break up the text. 
  • For blog posts and general articles, start with an intro paragraph and end with a conclusion. 

SEO 

  • Before you start writing, Google the primary keyword to be sure you understand the intent of the search – what information the reader is really looking for. 
  • Unless the client tells you not to change keywords in any way, always correct them for grammar, spelling and punctuation. 
  • Use the primary keyword in the title, first 100 words of the intro, one subhead and at least once or twice in the text, depending on how long the piece is. When you’re writing something like a 50-word product description, you might only use the primary keyword once, for example. 
  • Try to use all secondary keywords at least once. 
  • Cover the topic comprehensively, and work in as many semantic keywords as possible. If you haven’t been given any semantic keywords, you can generate some for free using LSIGraph.com. Don’t, however, shove in a semantic keyword that’s clearly not related to the search intent of the primary keyword or the topic at hand. 
  • Do not ever keyword stuff. 
  • Remember that readability always trumps the keywords.

Best Practices: Metadata 

The most common types of metadata you’ll be asked to create are meta titles and meta descriptions. These are the pieces of information someone will see on a search engine results page (SERP) when they make a search query. You can see an example below.

Meta Titles 

You may be tempted to use an article’s title as your meta title, but that could be a mistake. Google will only display up to around 70 characters (including spaces) of your meta title in the SERPs. How much of the title is displayed depends on a variety of factors, including what type of device the searcher is using. If your title gets cut off, the reader may not know what to expect. 

Many companies also want to get their company or website name in the meta title, and they usually do it like this: 

  • Title | Company Name 

Note that the pipe symbol and company name should also be counted as part of that 50- to 60-character allotment, and you should work your primary keyword in the title if possible. 

Meta Descriptions 

The purpose of meta descriptions is to get readers to take an action — in this case, to click a link to go to a page listed in the search results. Meta descriptions should:

  • Be engaging and enticing 
  • Contain the primary keyword 
  • Be up to 160 characters in length, including spaces 
  • Start with an action verb, if possible

Best Practices: Blog Posts

Companies use blogs for many reasons. These articles can inform or educate an audience or help position a company as a thought leader in an industry. Behind it all, though, search engine ranking is always a high priority, which makes blog posts one of the most asked-for types of content. 

When writing blog posts, follow the style, structure and SEO guidelines set forth earlier in this document — unless the client’s instructions differ. Before you begin writing, determine the purpose of the content (to inform, educate, convert, etc.) and who the target audience is. How you broach the subject of buying a Bluetooth speaker would probably be very different if you’re writing for Boomers instead of Millennials, for example. 

Also note that depending on the purpose of the blog post, it may (or may not) require a call to action — typically called a CTA. If that’s the case, you’ll want to encourage the reader to take action: call, click, schedule service, etc. Unless told otherwise, you should always hyperlink to the page on the client’s website where the reader can take that step.

Blog Post Lengths 

Most of the blog posts that we produce at Crowd Content are somewhere in the 500- to 750-word range. Clients who are after backlinks or creating pillar pages will often create long-form blog posts of 1,000 to 2,500 words or more.

Keep in mind that to really get any decent SEO value out of a blog post, the lowest word count should be roughly 300 to 350 words.

Types of Blog Posts 

You may think of blog posts as just being articles, but there’s a science behind them and there are many variations you can use to drive the information home in different ways. Here are some of the more popular types of blog posts: 

  • Listicles: 10 Places for Fun Summer Travel, 3 Recipes for Date Night 
  • How-To and Tutorials: Learn Spanish in 3 Easy Steps, How to Host a Holiday Party 
  • Link and Resource Lists: 10 Best Instagram Stories, SEO Tools the Pros Use 
  • Checklists: Things to Pack When Traveling with Kids, Off to College Checklist
  • Reviews: ASUS vs Dell Laptops, Why SEO Pros Choose SEMRush 

For examples, and more content types, download the ebook here.

ALSO – How to Find and Succeed With Freelance Copywriting Jobs

Lisa Rohner

Article by

As Director of QA/Enterprise Production, Lisa is in the trenches of content marketing everyday. She manages large-scale projects for some of the web's largest etailers, ensuring they get high-quality results on time.

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