Content writers sometimes feel like our work is taken for granted. When people look at a website, our words are surrounded by the sexy visual work of web designers and the uber-impressive technological work of front-end developers and engineers. It’s understandable people may not spend time appreciating the technical and psychological deep-dive we’ve done to make the words on the site appear as a seamless given.
Here at Red Ventures, content writers often dive into areas of specialty such as analytics, social media, design or engineering and then apply the knowledge we gain to drive our content strategy. Without that strategy put into our words, web commerce would cease to exist. There would be no natural search ranking (SEO), no paid search ads, no calls to action nor customers who felt compelled to answer them.
Writing is easy, right? Anyone can write an email, so that means anyone can write decent content, right? Wrong. While writing is the primary skill required, the job requires so much more. Here are six other skills essential to being a successful content writer.
Tightrope walking. Keyword integration is a major aspect of content writing. It’s what makes web pages appear in search engines such as Google. Being able to write what search engine crawlers need to see to properly index your site while still accomplishing your main objective, which is to sound like a normal human talking to another human is a delicate balancing act.
Mind reading. A degree in psychology isn’t required for this job, but it wouldn’t hurt. The number one rule of writing content is knowing your audience. Content writers pull demographic data from website visits and study the social media followers of a subject or brand’s profile. Before they ever start writing, they must answer a long set of questions: Who is the audience? How are they feeling right now? How do they want me to talk to them? How can I attract and maintain their attention? What might drive them to make a purchase? Will they remember the brand in a positive way? All this requires a lot of time, dedication, patience, strategy and empathy.
Teaching. Although it’s not applicable to every project, microcopy is a big deal. You know those tiny words instructing you on how to use a program or where to go on a website? Someone writes those and they put a lot of thinking into them about how to make them both educational and entertaining. You can thank content writers for every time you’ve cracked a smile when you’re waiting for something to load or been able to use a complicated product effectively. Those words taught you what was going on, and how to proceed.
Method acting. Writing for a brand requires you to take on that brand’s unique persona. When you write for multiple brands, you must be able to pivot between brand personalities and deliver each brand’s unique voice in a way that seems natural and believable. You must become the brand. Anything less would be detectable by customers and come off as inauthentic and untrustworthy.
Negotiating. More times than not, content drives design, which requires us to work closely with a web designer on a prototype. Solid content writers know the value of collaboration in this process. The thing about collaboration in general is sometimes you have two or more people with differing visions. Finding the most effective middle ground may require cutting out portions of our writing we’ve already fallen in love with and understanding that the designer is making the same sacrifices with their vision. One team, one dream, one product with one vision — but it isn’t always easy to execute.
Pride swallowing. Criticism isn’t always the easiest to digest, but writers with thin skin don’t last long. Before we turn in a piece for edit, we review it multiple times ourselves, until our eyes cross from reading. Then, when we feel it’s perfect, we turn it in and wait for it to come back full of edits, corrections, subtractions and even requests for rewrites. Some days it’s hard to swallow the confidence wreck that can come with that experience. In fact, I’m really hoping that when I turn this piece into my editor, she doesn’t rip it to shreds. But that’s part of the process. How can you get any better if you refuse to learn?
There are more skills beneficial to being a great content writer. Frankly, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but another one we must possess is knowing when to stop short of over-informing.
Jenny Lou Bement is a content writer at Red Ventures. She’s currently crafting personalities for the robots that will one day take over the world.
Erin Blackwood is a copy editor at Red Ventures. She welcomes our new robot overlords as long as they’re not overly verbose.
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