What makes a great content writer today?
It’s a question everyone wants answered, so they either know how to become one, or know how to hire the best in the business.
It’s been proven that great web content gets great results, and everyone is after a piece of the pie.
However, not all content writers are created equally (as a quick tour of a handful of blogs would tell you).
So, the trick becomes becoming (or finding) a writer who packs the requisite skills to give your online presence that boost.
In all honesty, finding a good writer isn’t that hard.
In today’s content-crazed world, it’s unusual for someone not to have at least dabbled with the written word, either for personal or professional gain.
The trick is finding someone who is more than just a writer, someone who understands the fundamental differences of writing for the web, and can apply them to your brand.
Here are the eight vital skills every modern content writer should possess.
1. Know Key Writing Practices
This seems so obvious it almost goes without saying, but it’s so important I’m going to say it anyways.
You need to know how to copy write, and you need to do it exceptionally well. There are so many writers out there producing content that yours must be of extremely high quality to stand out.
That means more than making sure you don’t have comma splices and run-on sentences. It means the cadence and flow of your content appeals to your target audience.
One suggestion is to employ the techniques popularized by Jon Morrow which breaks a blog introduction down into short, digestible, captivating paragraphs to draw in the reader.
In short, it’s knowing how to copy write well, and apply it within the scope of web writing best practices.
2. Tell a Captivating Story
We all know a good storyteller — and probably a really bad one, too.
What separates them? What makes one person’s tale riveting and another’s sleep-inducing?
There are several factors including pacing, humor, timing, and — of course — subject matter. Whatever the secret formula, a great writer needs to use it in their content.
One underutilized technique is simply getting personal. Write like you are a real person talking to real people.
Writing for the web can sometimes remove the human element from the content, but it’s essential to constantly remind yourself you’re writing for human beings.
A captivating story demands to be read. Audience engagement and comprehension will be far greater if the story pulls them in rather than bores them.
Great writers should practice reading their writing aloud. It will give a good sense how it would translate into a spoken-word story, and will help give a better feel for pacing.
3. Be Social Media Savvy
Marketers can sometimes overly categorize themselves.
“Oh she’s the social media expert, I’m the SEO guru.” Or, “I just write the blog copy, he takes care of the promotion.”
But here’s the thing — marketing is a holistic endeavor that works best when all parts are in play simultaneously.
As a content writer, you need to be conscious of what’s going on in the social media sphere. Not only to keep current (which you have to) but to understand your audience better, and prepare for the promotion phase.
On social media, you have access to a wonderful mix of old customers, new customers, and soon-to-be customers. Sharing your posts and seeing how they gain traction among the varying factions will give enormous insight into future writing you do.
Social media can act as a brilliant window into the demographic you wish to target, and in turn be a launch pad for sharing what you write. Don’t ignore it, even if it’s not your field of interest.
4. Can Weave Wit Into Their Content
The best blogs always inject a bit of sharp wit, don’t they? (I assume that’s why you’re here.)
Humor is a powerful tool for writers to draw in their readers and make important information interesting.
Long, meaty pieces of written content are great, but they can be exhausting to read in-depth if they’re not utterly engaging.
That’s where wit comes in — a dash of humor here, a clever reference there, perhaps even a relevant gif to spice things up.
Point is, if you want to maximize the impact of your writing, make it funny. You don’t have to be a professional comedian (although that wouldn’t hurt). Just try to write something that makes you smirk a bit when you read it.
Are you smiling yet?
5. Knows That Well-Researched Means Well-Received
If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to be a researcher, too.
The best web writing being produced right now certainly isn’t fluff. Instead, it’s well-researched, meaty, lengthy content that acts as an effective tool to inform its target audience.
There’s still a lot of old-fashioned mentalities out there that think quantity equates to quality (probably assuming constantly fresh content benefits SEO).
It’s true, in a sense. Publishing more frequently will be a boon for your blog. But if that content isn’t particularly well researched or in-depth, its impact will be significantly limited.
As Neil Patel of Quicksprout notes, longer, meatier posts just tend to do better. Rather than turning readers off, they actually get shared more.
Writing is simply the fun part — before that comes a lot of preparation, and any content writer worth their salt is ready to dig in and get their hands dirty.
6. Know the Basics of Good SEO
Yes, modern-day SEO experts are a dime a dozen, and it seems like every second content marketing blog post serves to demystify it a little more.
While keyword-focused SEO has never been less useful, it’s still an important tool to use for the modern content writer.
Knowing how to choose the right keywords, applying proper headings and subheadings, tagging images correctly, and writing killer meta descriptions will all serve to give your posts that little extra boost when ranking on search engines like Google.
The problem is when people get too focused on the SEO aspects of a piece, and forget it actually needs to be written well.
Content writers need to have a good fundamental grasp of SEO so they can apply the best practices in their writing, without sacrificing actual quality.
You can learn the basics of SEO here.
7. Understand the Target Audience
Who are you writing for?
Please don’t say “everyone.”
I hate to break it to you, but not everyone cares.
A fundamental step to good web writing is knowing exactly for whom you are writing, and why.
It’s about understanding the demographic of your audience. IT specialists probably won’t understand your Kardashian references any more easily than Magic the Gathering players will get football allusions.
As mentioned above, social media can be a valuable insight into just what your target audience is into, and what kind of content will resonate with them.
Using an analytics tool (like the near-ubiquitous Google Analytics) will give you a deep dive into the demographics of people interacting with your brand online, and further hone your targeted approach.
8. Stay Current & Open to Change
While I write this piece, I wouldn’t be surprised if a dozen new best practices were officially published related to writing for web.
As the amount of information available online grows in surges and spurts, the change it ushers in can become frustrating for the already work-saturated marketer and content writer.
Not all of that information is valuable, but much of it is. It’s imperative that as a content writer, you constantly stay up to date with current trends, latest updates, and changes in practices.
It’s all well and good to be aware of flux in the content world, but you’re going to have to apply what you learn, too.
Like any professional, some writers are resistant to change. “I’ve been doing it for years, I think I know what I’m about,” is far too common of a mentality.
The absolute best content writers (actually, any professional) will always adopt beneficial changes as they come. It’s sorting out what is useful and what isn’t that comes with practice.
The point of all this is that there’s a LOT expected of the contemporary content writer.
You need to write, first and foremost, with impressive clarity, immaculate word use, and perfect punctuation.
But there’s a lot more to it than that.
As a content writer, you need to be a jack of all trades and a master of most. From on-page SEO to social media savvy, it behooves today’s web writers to use many of the vast array of tools at their disposal.
No one said it was easy — are you up to the challenge?