There is a lot of confusion over the skills involved in content writing. We can all read and write, so, in theory, can’t anyone be a content writer? The answer to that is no, whatever anybody tells you. It’s not an easy argument to make, however, as the difference between working as a freelance content writer, as opposed to, say, a freelance web developer, is that content writing is something that everybody thinks they can do. Let me tell you though, they can’t.
Content writing, like any other skill, is learned, honed and developed over time and good content writers spend a large portion of their time researching their clients’ products while building a portfolio of work encompassing varied styles and voices.
Without even touching on the changing demands of Google where learning what is optimised, recognised or prioritised by the search engine is a full time job in itself, content writing – writing for a specific audience in a specific voice – is no easy task. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t be being paid to do it.
At the end of this article I am going to address three key things that as a content writer you need to get right, and get right every time if you are going to keep your readers reading while staying true to the voice of your client.
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The value of online content
As the role of the internet continues to play an even greater role in our lives, great content has become an increasingly valuable commodity. Well-written content on a website or app can make the difference between success and failure for a startup, as the value of content marketing (to attract and retain customers by creating and curating relevant and valuable content) is being globally acknowledged as a legitimate and longer-lasting alternative to paid advertising.
The content of a website is the voice of the brand, and that voice speaks that brand’s message and values to potential customers. It is crucial, therefore, that whoever is writing that content has an in-depth understanding of who they’re talking to, what they’re talking about and how they can fill the needs of that audience.
Essentially, the content writer needs to be in the minds of both the audience and the company simultaneously, bridging the gap between one and the other; reinforcing the value of the brand and confirming that company as an authority in its field.
So what do you need to keep in mind when launching your freelance content writing career?
1. Get the voice right
You’re applying for a freelance job writing the content for a company website / newsletter / blog. At this stage in the application process research is key. How is your potential client currently communicating with their customers? Is it engaging, do you enjoy reading it, or could improvements be made?
It’s a fine line. Writing hilarious prose for a website that communicates in a serious tone is not going to get you the job. But writing that text in a more engaging manner could do.
Getting the voice right is very important to your potential client. They want someone who can come straight into the job, not someone who needs training on how to speak in the tone of the company.
This research is something you can easily do before you apply and by maintaining their tone, and then improving on the style or readability, you will show yourself to be worthy of the job.
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2. Focus on readability over quantity
You may have trained as a prose writer and spent your youth dreaming of a career as a crime novelist, but when writing content for websites readability is almost as important as the words themselves.
Look at how the client is currently formatting their text. Are there large paragraphs of text? No images? No page breaks? It’s your job to not just make the words on the page engaging, but to make those words easy to read.
Small, three line paragraphs, important phrases bolded or italicized, bullet points, sub-headings and step-by-step instructions go a long way to keeping the reader on the page, not to mention help Google categorize your site more easily.
Many people skim read to the paragraph that most interests them. Make it easy for them! Guide them there with correctly formatted headlines and sub-headers. Readers like to know what’s coming, so tell them right at the start what you plan to write about and what’s in it for them.
Extra tip: If the company you’re hoping to work for has brilliant formatting already, mimic that style in your application piece and that client will already be able to imagine you in the role before you’ve even started.
3. Don’t forget the call to action
Actionable content is far more valuable to both the reader and the company than non-actionable content. Believe it or not, people like to be told what to do. That could be a step-by-step guide on how to prepare for a job interview, or a button that takes them to their shopping cart. Remember, readers don’t just want to be passive, they like to take direct action.
You’re writing this article for a reason, what is it? Do you want your readers to buy something, interact more with the website or recommend it to their friends? Coax them in the right direction with a call to action at the end of the post that ties in with both what you want them to do and what they want to do themselves.
For example, your readers have just finished reading 3 Top Tips to Make You a Great Content Writer. Now they want to know what to do next. Tell them. And tell them at the beginning of the post, so that if they don’t read the whole thing they can skip to the end and click that link.
What tips can you offer new writers hoping to land their next client? Tell us your views in the comments below.
So what’s the call to action for this blog post?
You found this article because you either want to write content or you want content for your site. So let’s keep this simple…