So, you need content. Maybe you’re building a new website, or maybe you’re finally looking to start a company blog. It doesn’t matter the precise reason why you need content, you’re just now in the position of actually acquiring all of it — and that means either writing it yourself or hiring someone to do it for you.
Here’s the thing though: while content writing is, well, writing, it’s also something more than that. If you’re writing it yourself, you’re going to want to know a few things — and even if you’re paying someone else to do it, the same thing applies. You want to be sure you’re either doing everything right, or that you can check someone else’s work.
What is Content Writing?
Content writing — in short — is any type of writing that is done for the internet, typically with the expressed interest of bringing in readers (either just for the sake of traffic or to actually purchase some sort of good or service).
The difference between plain ol’ writing and “content writing” is that the latter is essentially designed to increase engagement on the Internet.
At the end of the day, that’s really all there is to it.
Of course, “writing for the internet” is obviously way more complex than it seems on the surface.
What Makes Content Writing Different?
When you’re writing for the internet, you’re always going to do things a little differently.
That’s true for every medium — if you write books like you write your tweets, you probably aren’t going to find a large audience. Likewise, books don’t make great movie scripts without a little rewriting — hence screenwriting being a thing.
You’re always writing for your medium. Content writing is no different.
When you’re writing for the internet, you’re going to be considering the platform that you’re on. You’re also going to be considering your reader. In the case of the internet, your “reader,” isn’t just going to be the person sitting behind the screen, either. It’s going to be the algorithms and processes that crunch your text into bits so that it can be indexed — say, in a search engine.
That’s what makes content writing hard.
Not only do you have to convince a human that you’re a good writer (so that they’re entertained by your content and keep reading it), but you also have to impress Google. Or Facebook. Or Bing.
Or whatever other algorithm you’re trying to speak to.
This Sounds Complicated, How Much Does Content Writing Cost?
The cost of content writing varies depending on what you specifically need. Are you looking for web content? Blog content? Landing pages? Are you looking for something that heavily quotes other content? A listicle? What sort of business are you writing about? Is it basic? Is it highly-technical? Does it require specialized knowledge?
In general, depending on the above variables, you can expect to pay anywhere between .10c per word, all the way up to $2 to $3 per word.
A 2,000 word, relatively basic blog post typically runs within the ballpark of $1,000 to $3,000, depending on numerous factors. At TCF, our general rate for a blog post of that length for most clients would be $1,000-$1,500.
That’s Expensive! I Don’t Want to Pay That!
Time for some tough love!
Writing is a skill — to be blunt, not everyone can do it.
Think about all the janky, weird, and just downright bad copy you’ve ever seen on the web. All of that content was written by someone, and in many cases, people paid to have that content written.
You absolutely can pay less for content.
Services like Fiverr exist, and there are plenty of people out there willing to pump out text for fractions of a penny per word. But here’s the thing: why do you think their rate is that low in the first place?
Our rates (and the rates of similar writers) are set the way they are for a simple reason: we know the value of our work. That means that we both know how much time we put into it, and we also know it’s value to our clients.
We’ve written many blog posts that have made — and this isn’t hyperbole — millions of dollars each. Our SEO and blog posts directly pull in traffic that gets our customers (and ourselves) business.
Understandably, though, some people still can’t afford those rates. In that case, they need to become a content writer themselves...or hire a decent writer and pay them to learn SEO. (Speaking of training — if that’s what you need, we’ve got you covered.)
Okay, How Do I Become a Content Writer?
The rest of this guide is going to assume that by content writing, you specifically mean writing content to rank for keywords on Google.
To that extent, let’s talk about the first thing you need to be: a decent writer.
You don’t have to be a Pulitzer-winning author to write content that ranks. In fact, while I’m sure I could train someone of that caliber to be a fantastic content writer, they might do a lot of things that would sabotage their writing.
See, I actually love creative writing.
I also love long sentences.
But stuffing sentences full of lush description and really showing off my prowess isn’t really going to do anything. It’s unlikely to get me more leads — and it’s likely to mean that my content is slightly harder to read. That means fewer people are going to click on through.
It also means Google is going to hate it.
Yet, if you aren’t at least a passable writer who knows the ins and outs of grammar and syntax, you’re also going to fall flat on your face. There’s an art and a balance to all of it.
So, if you’re a decent writer, and you’re up for the challenge, it’s on to the next step.
Figuring out What Google Wants (Or Whatever Other Algorithm You’re Targeting)
If you’re writing for the internet, then you’re writing for an algorithm. Google, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook — every platform that exists, any platform that has any kind of search function, has an algorithm that determines what gets seen and what doesn’t.
And if you want to be a successful content writer, you’ve got to learn how to write to the algorithm.
These algorithms aren’t static, either.
Take Google’s search algorithm, for example. It’s changed over time, rewarding different kinds of content. Content writing — at its core — is about knowing what the algorithm wants.
We’re going to wager a guess and say that because you’re reading this right now, you’re mostly interested in Google.
So, What Does Google Want?
We’ve written many, many guides on this subject — so we’ll keep it brief:
Google’s entire goal is to get people to what information they want as fast as possible.
That’s it. That’s SEO in a nutshell. That’s all of it.
But wait! There’s so much more! There’s got to be!
Yeah, obviously it’s more complicated than that, but at the end of the day, you can trace almost all of their algorithm choices back to that simple statement. It’s for that reason that it should be your guiding principle.
That’s where search intent comes in.
When you search for something on Google, like “what’s the best software synth,” you’re telling Google what you want to find. You’re looking for a list — or a guide — of the best software synthesizers.
Google, then, will try to return to you a bunch of pages that answer your query.
All of those pages are going to be written by content writers who are trying to play to both Google and you.
They’re going to do this using a handful of SEO and general content writing techniques.
- Doing SEO Research
Content writers often don’t just write — they are also researchers and SEO analysts. In many cases, figuring out what to write falls squarely on your plate, and if you’re trying to write content for yourself, you’re going to be in the same boat.
This process is generally referred to as keyword research. It includes everything from figuring out a general topic to write about to figuring out exactly what keyword you’re going to target in your post.
If you’re a completely newbie to content writing, a “keyword” is simply a search string — it’s the thing someone puts into Google when they’re searching for something.
We have numerous guides on keyword research, but the general idea is this:
- Figure out what your goal is
- Figure out what other people who share that goal are writing
- Check out what keywords their blog posts are ranking for
- If no one is ranking/writing about it, see if anyone is coming close — say, by writing about similar (but different) topics
- Create a pool of keywords
- Google those keywords and see what is ranking — note what content is ranking where, and what the content actually is (List posts? In-depth guides? Short articles? Long ones?)
- Build some new ideas around those keywords
- Designing Your Content to Match Intent
If you’re writing an article designed to capture people searching for the software synthesizer keyword above, then what are you writing?
Simply put, you’re going to need to answer that query.
How to best do that is going to depend on the situation. What does other, similar content look like? What queries are part of that larger query that someone might ask?
Someone might want to know the best at certain price points, or they might want to know which works best for certain genres. They might want to know what synth is easiest for beginners, or which one is best for advanced users.
The list goes on and on — the only question is, what are you going to include in your post?
If your initial gut feeling is to include everything — well, sometimes you’d be right, but not always. Sometimes just answering the query as directly as possible is right. But then again, sometimes you need to really dig in.
So, how do you know?
Trust your research. What were the top five sites in the SERPs or your space doing?
What were the sites on page two doing? Take notes — see what’s working and what isn’t. If there isn’t any content for your particular keyword, it’s going to be on you to figure that out. In that case, let the available keywords guide your hand.
- Following SEO Formatting Practices
Part of being a content writer is understanding how formatting works — and how you can make it work for you.
This means intelligently planning out your content so you can use H1, H2, and H3 tags effectively. This also means recognizing which parts of your post are going to receive the most attention from both humans and Google.
That means optimizing your first 100 - 200 words to be catchy, effective, and targeted toward convincing Google that your content is exactly what users are looking for (while also convincing users that you’re a good writer — and that reading this post is worth their time).
There’s no specific formula to follow here: this is where being a good writer comes in.
You want to make sure your primary keyword is included, and you want to make sure that you’re addressing the search intent (or at least pointing your prospective guest in the right direction).
- Have a Purpose in Mind – Beyond Just Getting Traffic
Believe it or not, as a content writer, your job isn’t just to get traffic.
You’ve also got to do something with it.
That means being able to use your words to direct all of the eyes on your post somewhere beneficial for your business or your client. After all, what’s the point in getting traffic if it isn’t leading to more profit?
This is the art of conversion.
It’s the whole reason why we (as an agency) exist.
Our rates aren’t cheap, but we can show just how valuable our content is because it converts traffic into paying customers for our clients.
While this step is near the end of this list, it should be at the front of yours. You should build your strategy with conversion in mind.
Don’t write about topics that don’t have a clear intent to purchase, for example. If you’re writing about the best digital synths, you better be selling one — or at least something that someone in that demographic wants to purchase via your affiliate link.
A common content writing mistake is creating top-tier content that has no relevance to your bottom line. So you rank — people love your content! — but it never actually does anything. You get no business from it.
Your topic choice is just the beginning, though.
There’s also how you direct your visitor’s attention in your post. This means including topical, targeted CTAs throughout your post — not just at the end.
Sticking one in the middle is generally a good idea, especially if you can tie an image to it. You want to grab your visitor’s attention without being annoying.
Also, make sure to thoroughly link your content together. Reference other posts you’ve written — do whatever you can to keep people within your ecosystem.
And of course, not every post you write needs to be a conversion monster. Sometimes you’ll want to soak up traffic for other reasons. Just be sure to always have a strategy behind whatever it is you’re trying to do. Don’t just write for the sake of sticking words on a page.
Breaking Down Types of Content Writing
We mentioned above different types of articles — linkbait, listicles, long and short content — but what’s the difference between all of them? Why would you write one over the other?
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the major types of content you’ll see as a prospective content writer:
First of all, we’ve literally written the definitive guide on linkbait.
Linkbait is built to do one thing really well: generate backlinks. Backlinks are simply links from other websites. Backlinks are crucial to getting your content to rank, as the signal to Google that your content is valuable (since other people are linking to it).
Linkbait can be a number of things, but there are a couple real easy ways to bake-in content marketing (and guarantee a few links).
Using HARO, for example, can not only help beef up your article with quality quotes from experts, but it can also basically ensure that those same people are going to link to your content when you publish it.
The “skyscraper method” also falls under this category. While not as widely used, the skyscraper technique is a relatively simple concept: you build a fantastic piece of content that is completely comprehensive, and then you message everyone in a niche and try to get them to link to you as a resource. Often, you’ll deliberately try to one-up a piece of existing content, so you can steal their backlinks.
(While we’re including the skyscraper technique here because, well, it feels like something we need to include — we should mention that it’s rarely effective in modern marketing days due to its popularity.)
Another tried-and-true method is to do something original — something no one else is doing. If you can share unique statistics, a special tool only you have, or something of the kind, it’s relatively easy to get other sites to link to yours.
Listicles are so popular it feels silly even explaining them here! There’s almost no way you can be on the internet in 2020 and not have seen one. If you’ve ever read a “X Best Insert Whatever Thing Here,” post, you’ve read a listicle. Same for “X Ways to Do Insert Thing Here,” or “Our X Favorite Whatevers.”
Lists are great because they’re easy to write — and they tend to get traffic. Of course, there’s a reason why they’ve become a meme of sorts, too — so don’t rely too heavily on them.
- Long-form Explanatory Content
Long-form content is anything over 2,000 words. This is our bread and butter. It’s what we suggest to most clients, and it’s what we write the most of ourselves. It’s not always the answer, but it often is.
Long-form content has one goal: to take a topic and explain every little bit of it as much as you can. Within reason, of course. You aren’t trying to just stuff words on a page — you’re trying to answer every question someone has about a topic. You want to provide more value (for a visitor’s time) than any other page.
That’s my goal with this page, for example. If someone is looking to do content writing, or to become a content writer, I want to make them feel like they have a good understanding of what they have to do — and what content writing is.
- Short-form Explanatory Content
Short-form content is like long-form content, in that it’s content that’s designed to hit a specific topic. Yet, with short-form content, for one reason or another, there just isn’t enough to write about to hit that 2,000 word mark. These posts, instead, tend to thoroughly cover a topic in under 800 words.
While we love long content, sometimes you can write a short piece of content that really answers a query perfectly. In those cases, writing more can actually hurt you. It’ll obfuscate your point, and make your content less useful.
- Topical Content
In almost every case, all of the content listed above should be evergreen. That means that regardless of if someone reads it today or two months from now — or two years from now — it’ll still be relevant. Sure, you might have to update something here or there, but in general the content will be accurate.
For topical content, the point is getting it out the door fast — and on your site as soon as possible.
If you’re announcing a new product, or you’re responding to something in the news, then you’re writing topical content.
Topical content has a steep drop off, but can still be important — and if you’re a content writer, you’ll be expected to drop what you’re doing and pump out something topical once in a blue moon.
There’s nothing wrong with topical content, but it shouldn’t make up the bulk of your website unless your business is literally the news.
Content Writers Aren’t Just Writers — They’re Digital Marketers
There’s a dirty secret in the digital marketing world — content writers aren’t really just content writers. If you’re looking for a job in the industry, simply being a good writer isn’t enough. Likewise, if you’re looking to do some content writing for your own business or website, simply doing everything above will only get you halfway.
Yep — it’s true. While at one time content writers would, well, literally just write content, nowadays, that simply isn’t the case.
The best content writers — the ones that make the most money, and that (most importantly) charge the most — aren’t getting those fat stacks off of their writing prowess.
Okay — sidebar for a second. I’m about to say something that, if you’re a writer (or you want to be one) might sound terrible, or discouraging.
But know that I say the following as someone with an advanced degree in English, who has been a professional writer for a decade, taught writing classes, been to conferences, published academic papers, is married to another professional writer, and has essentially built my entire life on the back of my ability to string words together.
Okay. Here we go:
Ultimately, businesses don’t care about how good of a writer you are. Even if they do care, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to tell the difference between good and great writing (or even good and bad writing, to be blunt).
They care about ROI.
They care about how much money you’re going to help them make.
Very often, the greatest content writers really aren’t super great writers — they’re just fantastic marketers that simply understand what their content needs to do. They might not have a rolodex of verbs to pull from, but they don’t need to.
This often means that they can do three things really well:
- They’re really good at knowing what their market (or their client’s market) wants.
- They’re great at building relationships.
- They’re great at building backlinks.
To break those things down:
Knowing What the Client Wants: Market Research
We can’t overstate the importance of market research and knowing what your clients want (and are looking for). This isn't just about keyword research, it’s about knowing what language they best respond to.
What terms are most effective? What do they know? What are their pain points?
A keyword can get you to the ballpark, but it takes genuine market research to figure out how to hit a homerun. (Luckily for you, we have an excellent guide on market research!)
A content writer is also a PR and social media expert. A good content writer is always looking to feature people in their posts through HARO. They’re also looking to remember the folks who are responsive — and who have their own large followings.
At TCF, for example, every content writer has an absolutely stuffed contacts list full of people they’ve worked with in the past. This means they have a list of people they can quote — and people who owe them a favor.
That’s particularly useful because of the last thing:
They’re Great at Building Backlinks
“Content writers don’t build backlinks!”
We’ve heard that one before. It’s true, though — most content writers won’t. They’ll think it isn’t their responsibility. Here’s the thing: a content writer that wants to keep getting business is absolutely going to call in those favors and go the extra mile.
Why? Because backlinks = visible content.
If you want content that ranks — that people actually see — you NEED backlinks.
Sure, there are plenty of excellent copywriters out there who can craft meticulously detailed prose for your site… but it’s all meaningless if no one ever sees it.
Taking Your Next Steps
No matter what you’re trying to do — we can help.
Looking to become a content writer yourself? Our Rise & Convert class can get you prepped with all the digital marketing knowledge you need to get ahead.
Overwhelmed and just need someone to do it all for you? We’ve got you covered.
You’ve hit the nail in the head Chris. Most people see writing as this easy, dream job to make a quick buck and work from anywhere. But good content writing is hard, and not for everyone.
As you said, it takes more than just good writing skills. And most writers lack the marketing skills necessary to succeed. To become a successful content writer, one should master the full toolkit of marketable skills.
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