What Is Content Writing: Skills, Jobs, and More
What exactly is content writing? This is something I asked myself several years ago when restarting my career in a new country. After holding multiple positions in the industry, I’ve gained a firsthand understanding of how to succeed as a professional content writer. In this guide, I’ll share what I’ve learned along the way.
What is content writing?
A content writer provides the text for websites, digital products, and all related assets - which includes marketing videos, blogs, help articles, social media posts, and more. The text provided by a content writer is clear, concise, and considers search engine optimization (SEO) guidelines in order to rank on Google (whenever it’s relevant). Professional content writers must be technologically proficient, and need to be able to write for a range of audiences, platforms, and formats.
Content writing is in high demand because it helps set the tone of a brand’s image and shape the design of products. Eventually, good text can also impact the bottom line of a business, which is why many companies are realizing the importance of hiring quality content writers.
There isn’t an official curriculum or diploma required to be a content writer, but it helps to have an academic background related to writing or editing. For instance, many content writers hold a Bachelor’s degree in English, Communications, Journalism or Creative Writing. Additionally, some may have a more technical degree or training, like in mathematics or coding. Having this kind of expertise can help you better understand the ins and outs of the product you write for, and build your credibility and authority within your industry.
If you’re looking to expand your current education and learn content writing, try an online platform like Udemy and Coursera. This is a great way to acquire the basics, or develop an expertise in a specific type of content writing. These online courses can be especially beneficial if you’re already working full time, and their costs range from zero to a few hundred dollars.
The skills of a content writer
Regardless of the position or field you’re aiming for, there are several talents required in order to succeed in the profession. Here are the top ten skills every content writer needs to ace:
Master writing in different styles
Have strong research abilities
Work with design
Pay attention to details
Understand complicated ideas
Work with data
Thrive under pressure
01. Master writing in different styles
As a content writer, you’re asked to write in different tones, for different formats, and on different platforms. You’ll need to be comfortable juggling various writing styles, based on the guidelines you’re given. For example, if your company has a new product it wants to release, you might have to write text for a new landing page, email blast, social media post, and press release. Your mission: Tailor the messaging for each asset to have the maximum impact for that set of readers.
02. Be tech-savvy
03. Have strong research abilities
Good writing starts in the research phase. During this time, you can gain valuable insights, such as the terminology your audience favors, the existing competitors in the market, and the kind of assets they publish. Not that you want to blindly copy—your unique voice and creativity are what your company or client pays you for. But understanding what the competition is up to can give you ideas on how to package your content and hints of ways to succeed.
04. Work with design
You never create content in a bubble. To be a successful content writer, you need to be familiar with the workflow of designers and how to work with them. This might mean shortening your text to fit character counts or building a layout that will strengthen your content together. The best writers always have the big picture in mind. They make sure to craft text that works with the surrounding elements on a page or product, which adds another layer to their skill set.
05. Pay attention to details
Consistency is key. Especially when it comes to grammar, style, tone, and voice. This could be the spelling and capitalization of a word, how terminology is used across different assets, or making sure to avoid plagiarism, even inadvertently. An experienced content writer is always looking closely at the details to make sure everything is aligned.
06. Understand complicated ideas
“If you can’t explain it to a six-year old, you can’t understand it yourself,” Albert Einstein once said. The best content writers have the ability to take something that’s potentially confusing for the reader and break it down into its simplest form. In order to do this, you need to have in-depth knowledge about your product, market, and audience. You always strive for crafting sentences that are as clear and concise as can be. By providing bite-sized information, you can help your readers reach their goals (buy, find more information, move on to the next step, etc.).
07. Work with data
The words you write, and where you place them, can often be influenced by quantitative analysis. This can be anything from how long people spend on a page, to which button they click most often. A great way to generate data yourself is to initiate A/B tests, where you segment your audience and provide different content to each group. You can then track the impact of the content and measure it over time. Data-driven content choices can make your writing stand out and provide the maximum value to your readers.
08. Be creative
Content writers strive to put forth unique ideas. While there are many proven techniques for different styles of writing, the best way to make a lasting impact on your readers is to create something original. When working on a project, try to brainstorm ideas without editing, and get down as many as possible. It’s even better if you can do this with a group of writers or colleagues, and bounce feedback off each other.
09. Thrive under pressure
Content writing requires you to provide high-quality content in a fast-paced environment. You might work all day on a draft, then come in the next morning and throw it all away. It’s crucial to be agile and keep up with the changes. You need to embrace this, and see it as a challenge to always provide the best content under tight deadlines.
10. Implement feedback
Don't be afraid to listen to suggestions and change text accordingly. Just as you have to work with designers and consider their input, you’ll need to be able to listen to ideas from your colleagues or audience, and improve over time. You are expected to stand behind the text you write, but think about implementing other recommendations in future iterations or content tests.
How to get started as a content writer
Many of the top tech companies in the world, such as Facebook and Google, are usually looking to hire talented writers. But before you start applying for jobs, research the marketplace and consider where your skills fit, and the niche you want to carve. Once you’re ready to apply, you’ll need a professional online portfolio.
You can’t judge a book by its cover, but in 2020, considering the fierce competition out there, you want to impress potential recruiters or clients with samples of your work, displayed in a smart and visually appealing way. You can easily start by picking a pre-designed portfolio template, and add your content in minutes.
If you’re a student or don’t have a portfolio yet, use whatever you have from school and try to complete an internship or volunteer. You can also create a profile with freelance writing job boards like Upwork or freelancewriting.com and start applying for assignments. Finally, get in the habit of writing blogs, and sharing your posts on your social media accounts. This is a great way to spread the word about your work and start to build an online following.
Types of content writing positions
Depending on your interests and exact skill set, there are a variety of different content writing positions to consider, either as a freelance writer or an in-house employee. Some companies may have just a general “content writer” position, where you’ll get to cover a bit of everything, but some will hire you for more specific tasks. Here’s a list of the most common types of content writing jobs:
A marketing content writer provides the text for advertising campaigns, websites and landing pages, emails and newsletters, advertisements, text for images and infographics, product descriptions, and more. They are experts at writing catchy headlines and enticing call-to-action (CTA) text.
Average salary: $75,924/year (Feb. 2020)
A technical writer is a master of taking complicated ideas and making them easier to understand. They often write help articles, eBooks, how-to guides, FAQs, white papers, manuals, case studies, and pillar blog posts.
Average salary: $69,754/year (Feb. 2020)
Creative writers often become outstanding blog writers. This job requires a strong appetite for research, the ability to structure complex content, and a basic grasp of SEO. These long-form scribblers can do much more than blog posts, and can serve as a type of brand journalist. They may provide articles, press releases, brand stories, company bios, internal communications, and more.
Average salary: $79,153/year (Feb. 2020)
Social media writer
A social media writer creates posts for various platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They generally write text on images, videos, interactive media, quizzes, and sometimes PR outreach. Effective social media writers create long-term plans, measure results, and can adapt quickly in reaction to audience feedback.
Average salary: $44,413/year (Feb. 2020)
User experience (UX) writing is an emerging position that requires the skills of a copywriter and technical writer. UX writers provide product copy, text for error messages, help tips, CTAs, and product descriptions. You need to work with technical products, and conduct usability tests and interviews in order to understand your users’ needs.
Average salary: $123,097 (Feb. 2020)
Script writers are great visual storytellers and have vivid imaginations. They’re generally involved in creative projects, especially for promotional campaigns. They may provide the text for a variety of multimedia projects, ads and promo videos, podcasts, explainer videos, and chatbots.
Average salary: $60,408 (Feb. 2020)
A localization writer is an expert at cultivating text for a foreign market. For example, they might take a product that’s in English and localize it for a Spanish-speaking country. Localization is more than just translation, as it also includes adapting the content or product to the local culture and standards. Thus, the position requires a deep awareness of specific foreign markets and audiences.
Average Salary: $73,594 (Feb. 2020)
Jeremy Hoover, UX Writer at Wix
Left handed. I grew up in Boulder, Colorado and enjoy traveling.I like to play golf when I can.