12 Skills You Need to Develop to be a Successful Content Writer
So you want to become a content writer? You’ve seen others do it and it doesn’t seem all that difficult. You know how to type on a keyboard, your grammar is good and it seems like a chill job, just put on your headphones, find a topic and start typing away. Easy peasy. Unfortunately, the reality is very different from this and you actually need to be able to do more than just writing if you want to be a successful content writer.
Here are 12 skills you need in order to reach content writing stardom:
A Good Content Writer Understands His Audience
Unless you’re writing a personal diary that you won’t show to anyone else and will keep locked in a safe, you need to know who your readers are if you want to be a good content writer. You are writing for them after all, so you need to need to talk about things that interest your audience and that can solve their problems. It’s one thing to write a blog post for moms and their kids and completely different to write something directed at C-level, high educated managers.
Simply put, the better you know your audience, the better you’ll be able to pick the course for your content and you’ll also be able to engage them better.
Master Different Writing Styles, but Develop Your Own
As a content writer, you’ll probably be in a position to write different types of content. Each of them requires the mastery of a different writing style.
If you are writing blog posts, you should be using a more friendly and personal tone with your readers (use a lot of “you” in other words). News should be short, informational, to-the-point and in AP (Associated Press, there are also The Chicago Manual of Style, The New York Times Manual, APA Style and many others). On the other hand, white papers are more on a longer, informational, solution-providing spectrum, while if you want to write ad copy, you need to be persuasive. In the end, you can focus on just one of these styles, but chances are, you’ll meet at least a few of them throughout your content writing career.
The Internet alone is full of content. All of that content was created by, you guessed it, content writers (though some by AI, but that’s another matter). Is all that content the same? Of course not, and moreover it shouldn’t be! If you want to be recognized as a content writer, you can’t copy other people. I don’t mean just verbatim copying (that’s a big no-no with Google, which will penalize you if it find any duplicate, copy/pasted content on your site), but style copying. You should develop your own, unique style and writing voice that your readers will instantly recognize and enjoy reading.
Always check your content for plagiarism using a program such as Copyscape. Even if you didn’t mean to copy someone else’s work, you might do it inadvertently.
Make Sure Your Content is Readable
You know what makes a visitor run away from your content? The fact he has no idea what you’re talking about! You might think that using big, technical words will impress your audience, but this is never the case. If they can’t understand what you are writing about, they’ll stop reading!
Here are 7 absolute rules of readability you should follow when writing content:
- Always write black on white
- Font size shouldn’t be below 8-9 points.
- Write short paragraphs (5 lines should be the absolute maximum per paragraph)
- Don’t play with fancy fonts. Sans-serif fonts like Calibri, Helvetica, Arial and Verdana are the best to use.
- Use a lot of “white space”. White spaces provide a more clear visual experience for the reader.
- Break your content with subtitles, bullet points and numbering and use bold or italics to emphasize important stuff.
- Don’t use jargon. Jargon scares away readers.
Research Before Writing Anything
I don’t just mean researching a topic you want to write about, but any other type of research you need to do to make your content hit all the right points with your readers as well. Keyword research is particularly fundamental in this day and age if you want your content to be seen by search engines. You can use Buzzsumo for it. Of course, researching the niche and the industry also allows you to know more about it and consequently provide your audience with better and more relevant information. Research takes time, but it is time well spent. WIthout it, your content can easily veer off topic or you might offer inaccurate piece of information to your readers.
Know a Bit of Code Writing, SEO and WordPress
You don’t have to be an expert in these, but you should, at the very least, know how WordPress as you’ll have the opportunity to use a lot of its functions. As for code writing, it’s nice to know some HTML or CSS if you encounter a problem while writing. For example, there’s a particular way WP restarts numbering if you start a new paragraph that I had a problem with until I found out how to fix it.
SEO knowledge is also vital when writing for the online audience. Google changes algorithm very often so you need to be on top of that. Of course, the most important rule with SEO is to make sure your content has quality.
Provide and Answer or a Solution
A good way to engage your audience and get them interested in your content is to ask questions and provide answers right after. People want to be educated and like to learn something they didn’t know until then. If you’re the one to provide them with those answers, they’ll appreciate it. It’s the same with offering solutions. If a reader has a problem, you can be the one to provide an actionable (and hopefully simple) solution. Who do you think he will turn to in the future when he again needs help? You or some other writer, who couldn’t give him the answer or solution to his problem?
Always Source Your Information
The only way foe people to trust you and your content is to offer them accurate information. A lot of times, this information will come from some other source, like another website, blog or a book. After all, no one knows virtually everything, even on just one topic, so it’s a good thing to include a few words of wisdom from an expert in the field. Just make sure you correctly cite your source and where you got it. Always link to your online sources.
Follow the Trends (but Not too Far)
As a content writer, you should always be in the loop about what’s currently relevant and in trend in a niche you are covering. This means researching the web for the newest piece of juicy info and keeping your ear on the ground to learn what people are sharing on social media at the moment. What the shelf-life of a particular topic is, no one can tell, but while it’s relevant, and people want to read about it, don’t miss on it.
However, keep in mind that trends don’t last for long. Be quick to adopt them, but when you see that people are abandoning them, follow them and dump it.
Sharpen Your Writing Skills
Of course, to be a good content writer, you need to have writing skills. Who would’ve thought it? You need to be able to choose the right words that will convey your message to your audience, but also ensure that your grammar and spelling are tip-top. If your readers start reading your content and find a bunch of mistakes in it, they’ll just think you’re a joke.
Fortunately, if you’re a bit lacking in this department, that’s no big deal. Just don’t give up as practice will actually help you grow your writing skills. And if you keep making some grammar or spelling errors, don’t worry, we all do it. That’s what proofreading is for. Just keep writing and when you’re finished, read your content to find if you have any grammar mistakes, or need to edit a sentence.
Keep Your Words Focused
Your content should have a clear direction towards where it is going. Imagine your article to be a train. The headline is the destination your reader wants to reach and the reason they want to read your content or board your train. Subtitles are the stations in-between that tell the reader that he’s on the right train. If you suddenly change course and introduce a new top, mid-article, you’ll confuse the reader and make him jump out.
Be Active on Social Media
Writing is just one part of a content writer’s job. Don’t think that, when you hit that “publish” button your job is done. You still have to get it out there. That’s what social media is for. It’s what you use to make your content word-of-mouth worthy. But that’s not all. Social media also allows you to understand who your readers are (we’re back on the first point), connect with them more and have your name recognized.
Finally, if you don’t enjoy writing and it’s not making you happy, consider why you are doing it. Whether you are writing ad copy, content for websites and blogs, technical guides, novels or haiku, your primary question should be “am I enjoying this?”
Did I miss anything? What other skills do you think a content writer needs to have in order to be successful? Let me know in the comments below and please share this post with your friends.