“There’s no rule on how to write,” said Ernest Hemingway. “Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; and sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”
To anyone seeking a content writing tutorial, this quote is probably reassuring and disappointing, an encouragement and a let-down at the same time. You might have hoped there was a different, unique, and easier answer to “what are the basics of content writing?” than “what are the basics of writing?” But ultimately, these two crafts boil down to the same challenges—a blank screen or page, and the question of what to share with the reader who will see it on the other side of publication.
But content writers do have a few advantages at their disposal over fiction writers or other creative writers. For a content writer, the message of the work at hand is already determined, and the story waiting to be told is clear.
Without the demand of putting their heart and soul on the page, what does a content writer do? They are free to share the values and insights of their employer or client with less ego and personal attachment than they might have to a fully creative work.
Some people doing content writing aren’t even concerned with doing personal writing outside their job functions. Instead they just want to use their way with words to pay the bills and help businesses achieve their goals.
So what kinds of content are there to write? How do you get started on a marketing writing project? And what skills of research are needed to help content writing be easier and more successful? Let’s explore all these answers and more as we examine the topic of content writing in-depth.
What are the Types of Content Writing?
Understanding the types of content writing depends in part on your understanding of the question, what is content writing? Some marketing teams draw a distinction between the role of copywriter and content writer. In these cases, a copywriter would be responsible for shorter-form content like email marketing and social media posts—content that directly motivates the reader to take an action.
A content writer, by contrast, would be responsible for writing longer-form content like blogs or white papers—content that builds a relationship with the reader over time, and educates them about your company industry or pain points.
However, in modern content creation, this distinction may or may not be super valuable. With audiences taking longer to make buying decisions and do research, a copywriter might find their social posts are doing just as much education or relationship-building as a blog. And by contrast, a white paper or eBook might be the piece of lead gen content that converts a lead to a sale.
Ultimately, a content writer might end up working on any of these types of content writing, depending on the business and marketing strategy at their employer:
- Website content
- Blog content
- Social media posts
- Ads and sales copy
- Webinar scripts
- Video scripts
- Ghost writing
- Article writing
- Case studies
- Infographic copy
- Email content
- Proposal writing
- Technical writing
These are just some of the examples of content writing a writer might be called on to create. Ultimately, any writer supports their employer through content creation, regardless of formal job title.
Where Do I Start in Content Writing?
Some readers might be wondering, how do I start content writing? This might be because you’re a business owner or marketer who needs to take on content. Or you might be looking to build a career as a content writer. For those readers, breaking into professional content writing can happen as a freelancer, or by getting hired at a marketing agency or business with a marketing department. But to gain all those opportunities, writers need a portfolio of strong content writing to show off their skills in the best light possible.
Whether you want content writing to be your main job, or just need to get stronger at making it part of your daily tasks, there are a few tips to cover for starting out in content writing:
- Learn How to Outline: The work of writing gets a lot less intimidating if you write down your main point and outline what you want to say first. Look around at content writing outlines and templates to find a style that will work well for you.
- Use Tools for Editing: From the built-in spelling and grammar checker in many word processors, to paid tools like Grammarly, there are lots of programs that can help you review and edit work.
- Go Public and Get Feedback: If you’re building a portfolio on your own, publish your content on your personal website or a site like Medium to get feedback from others online. This will not only help you get better at writing, it will also help you learn to remove ego from the process.
These tips will be useful along the timeline of the writing process at different points, helping you stay focused, gain confidence you’re not making mistakes, and learn what readers think of your voice and perspective.
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How Do You Write Content Writing?
So now, let’s talk about the heart of the matter—how to do content writing more easily. From the perspective of Ernest Hemingway, this would mean without feeling so much like you want to break out the dynamite and blow the whole project up in the air.
At the end of the day, some content writing projects will be easier than others. But with these tips in mind, content writers should hopefully be able to find a point of reset and step back to regain focus on any project.
- Choose Interesting, Specific Titles and Headlines: A specific title helps the writer frame the content and keep the goals of the piece in mind. For instance, a blog titled “5 Ways to Recycle” is already easier to write than just “Ways to Recycle.” And it’s probably going to be slightly more interesting to audiences too. But what about “5 Modern Ways to Recycle?” Now you’re getting somewhere. In the same vein, having clear headlines for the sections within the article will help each segment stay focused on one topic, with a clear transition to the next section.
- Create an Attention-Grabbing Introduction: An interesting title might get someone to click on your content, but if you don’t catch and keep their attention right away, they aren’t going to keep reading, or watching. Don’t tell them what they already know, and also, don’t talk to them like they should already know what you’re going to say. Lastly, don’t immediately talk about why they might not consider the information you have to share important. Instead, think of a positive, exciting way to catch and keep their attention. In this post, we used a quote!
- Focus on a Single Topic: Sometimes writers want one piece of content to explain everything and tell it all. But just because this is what you want, doesn’t mean it is what audiences want—or will stay interested in. Focus on a single topic as you are writing. If new ideas or tangents come to mind, that’s great. Just note those ideas for your next project.
- Define Your Voice and Tone: Good content writing isn’t just about getting enough words on the page. Storytelling is a major element of good content writing. So, how do you want to tell the story of this piece of writing? Is it supposed to be exciting, a warning, encouraging, or motivating? These thoughts will determine your tone, the attitude with which you share the message. There are also considerations of voice, or how you want audiences to walk away thinking about your brand. Do you want to seem friendly, smart, professional, approachable? Some of these might be possible at the same time, but others will be mutually exclusive. Deciding how you want to come across is an essential part of content writing.
- Get Others to Help You Edit: No good creative work can be completed in a vacuum. Even something small and low-stakes like a Tweet or Facebook post will benefit from the review of another person. This could be a stakeholder on your team at work, or a peer who is also doing writing. This added insight will help you fix everything from minor typos to big issues with the order of information, your reasoning, or being out of alignment with your voice and tone.
By following these five tips for how to write content marketing, you’ll soon be writing sentences and paragraphs with confidence. But there are two more important elements to consider: content research skills, and SEO in your content writing.
Developing Content Research Skills
Audiences don’t just want entertaining content that is fun to read: they also want content they can trust and share with others. That means without an old friend or ex-coworker dropping in to leave a comment that makes them embarrassed your work wasn’t fact-checked. This potential to alienate your customers with bad content is one reason that well-researched content is essential to marketing.
Another benefit of developing your content research skills is that research actually makes content writing easier. With good research studies and authoritative insights from news or thought leaders on your side, you no longer must construct the entire story on your own. Instead, you can let authorities speak where they say it best and fill in the gaps of your brand storytelling.
For instance, maybe you want to write an article about recent technology shifts in your industry. You could put pressure on yourself to paint the picture all alone and describe to your readers the technology and implications. But not only is that a lot of work, it basically means you need to be an expert already.
By drawing on sources and data about what is happening in your industry, you can find statistics and examples that help you make points. Not only will this make your work clearer and more compelling, it will also build your reputation as a trusted source of information with your potential customers.
This brings us to a third value from writing well-researched content: the opportunity to get backlinks. If your content is full of information alongside your brand’s unique and valuable perspective, it’s possible your blog or web page will become a source for others writing their own content.
They will then link to you as an authority, just like you should always link to the sources you have drawn on for transparency. (If the link belongs to a competitor, try finding another source with the same information...that won’t also poach your business.)
With the case made for developing content research skills, here are some practical tips and strategies for how to get better at content research:
- Start with a Google Search: A Google search for your primary topic is a great place to start any content writing research. First, this let you see the top-ranked pages for your concept. Then, once you review those pages, you’ll hopefully start to have more questions about the information, which will lead you to look up more specific information or statistics.
- Pro Tip: When it comes to searching for data, consider including words like “statistics,” “survey,” or “report” so Google can direct you past the fluff to more hard numbers.
- Stick with Quality Sources: There is lots of information on the Internet, and more added every minute. But that doesn’t mean it’s all real or accurate. Part of developing research skills is learning to tell a quality source from a not-so-good one. Is there an author of the content identified? Does the website where you found the content have any authority in the field? If it’s not clear where it came from, you probably don’t want to cite it.
- Pro Tip: Wikipedia is not an ideal source to link to, but it can lead you to many great sources. Scroll down to the bottom of the entry you’re reading to find the list of sources that have been used to create it.
- Verify Information: Even the most reliable-seeming sources can be outdated, inaccurate, or even just be messed up with a typo. Whatever information you’re sharing, it’s advised to check and make sure it can be verified across several sources. You can copy-paste a statistic into the search bar or compare predictions and expert insights to get closer to the truth across sources.
- Pro Tip: While all the sources don’t have to say identical things, it’s best if at least two other reliable, quality pages can confirm the fact, data point, or perspective you’re citing. Sites with .org, .edu, and .gov URLs are generally great sources.
- Don’t Fight the Data: Sometimes we set out to find information about a topic, only to learn there was a lot we didn’t know. In these cases, the ethical thing to do is to change the structure and plan for your content. This might mean choosing a new topic or pivoting the idea. But what you should never do is alter facts or misrepresent the situation.
- Pro Tip: This insight is why research can be an important part of the outlining process we mentioned earlier. A quick five-minute search and skim of sources before committing to the idea can save a lot of time in the long run.
- Research Off the Web: Lastly, while there is lots of information on the Internet, it’s certainly not the only source of knowledge, and sometimes it’s not even the best one. Marketing content writers can also use insights from subject matter expert interviews, audience polls and surveys, books, magazines, and personal experience to inform content writing.
- Pro Tip: Record any interviews you are able to conduct, so you can refer back to them later for quotes or to re-check anything you might have missed. Remember to always get the subject’s permission before you record!
By starting with a Google search, you’ll get the lay of the land as far as content on your topic. Then, your ability to tell good sources from bad will help your content writing be accurate and well-researched.
Verifying information and accepting your findings as they emerge is just part of the process. But, researching off the web through interviews, surveys, and books can help lend more perspective and maybe affirm your direction, even if data says otherwise.
If research reveals a vulnerability in your position or message, sometimes the best thing to do is own the data, then explain to your audiences why you feel the same way anyway.
SEO and Content Writing
Search engine optimization writing, or SEO writing, means ensuring target keywords are included in the titles, headlines, metadata, and body copy of your content.
Titles: Use the keyword you want to rank for most in the title—but remember, the title should also be interesting.
Headlines: As you break up written content, a webinar, or a video into different segments, try to use other keywords in the headlines. For video, you can include these in the description so they still come up in written search, too.
Metadata: This is the snippet that shows up underneath your link in search engines, which plays a major role in getting your content to rank.
Body Copy: There are often opportunities to use more of your keywords in sentences throughout the content. However, it’s important not to sacrifice readability. When in doubt, take the keyword out and just say what makes sense.
Doing keyword research and setting the SEO strategy for content may or may not be the job of the content writer. If you are providing a content writer with keywords, or looking for your own, it’s best to start with a larger list than needed and allow that keywords which don’t fit the piece can be saved for another project.
Google uses over 200 factors to choose which pages rank at the top. The organic presence of keywords audiences are searching for is one of the most important ones. Many marketers consider SEO one of the most valuable tools in content marketing.
Here are a few more tips for SEO writing that can help you use keywords well and get closer to the top of the search:
- Target Multiple Keywords: Users don’t always search the Web using two or three word phrases. While shorter keywords may be your most-desired target, remember to include questions and longer phrases related to the keyword as well. You can use free tools like Answer the Public to find out the questions and long search phrases or subscribe to an all-in-one content planning platform like DemandJump.
- Aim for the Answer Box: For queries including “how-to,” “what is,” and “list of,” Google serves an answer box at the top of the results. This snippet is chosen from all the content available based on what is well-formatted and provides a logical answer to the question. If you include a headline with this phrasing and follow it with a numbered or bulleted list, that’s the beginning of the journey to be featured.
- Optimize Through Updates: Even the best-written or best-produced video will eventually become out of date. SEO writing doesn’t just mean creation, but also revision. Go back to your content that performed well when it was first published, and update your statistics, along with tweaking the keywords to align with any new changes in strategy. This best practice keeps all your content optimized and is a low-effort way to get a boost in search rankings.
Like research, a list of SEO keywords can actually make the work of writing easier. When keywords help a content writer decide the title and headlines of a piece of content, the framework is therefore somewhat predetermined. Within this structure, the creative professional can shine.
Make Content Writing Easier Through Automation
These tips and insights should go a long way toward giving any content writing project better momentum. While not every day of writing is going to be easy, it can be made easier, not just through best practices like the ones we have discussed, but also cutting-edge tools like Demand Jump.
This platform is developed to share real-time keyword recommendations that are changed as fast as consumer behavior makes them evolve. The machine learning algorithm even divides the keywords and questions into different phases of the customer journey.
This means writers can use the exact content writing topics and keyword phrases that audiences are looking for, whether they want to be educated, reassured, or motivated.
Plus, competitor insights are also integrated, so writers can see what content is already ranked for the same keywords. This allows more educated decisions about where to focus their efforts to win away traffic. And a one-click keyword outline helps writers obtain a full list of the search phrases that will make page-one happen.
DemandJump is the dynamite tool that will help your content writing and marketing explode to the top of the search rankings. End the struggle and take some of the effort out of the content writing process by signing up for a free trial today.