Skills You Need for Successful Content Writing

Writing is a dream job, but not for everyone. Some writers are hired to write product descriptions for catalogs, and some turn out to be J.K. Rowling. Unfortunately, however, most writers have a better chance of writing product descriptions than they do of becoming best-selling authors.

While successful content writers seem to have an enviable life — they work from home, make their own schedules and work as much or as little as they please — the vast majority have a hard time making a living of it. They lack the skills necessary to succeed. Because no matter how talented they are, writing skill is simply not enough. So, if you want to become successful as a content writer, you need a full toolkit of marketable skills.

1. Successful content writers must master different writing styles.

The reason is that each form of writing has its own style. News is delivered AP style, in short, informational paragraphs with the meat of the story at the top. Blogging is personable, friendly and often opinionated. Ad copy is short and persuasive. White papers are long; they describe a problem and provide the solution. But, regardless, each and every category is content, and each style writers master makes them more valuable and in demand.

2. Successful content writers don’t pick random subjects.

“Ideation” is a marketing industry buzzword that describes the creative process of finding a subject, title and angle to write about; and ideation begins with analytics. Most ideation is done in a team setting, but freelance writers are usually on their own. Which is why it’s helpful to know how professional marketing teams generate ideas. Before doing that, successful content writers need to:

  • Understand their audience. Marketers call it creating a “buyer persona.” If you know who your readers are, you can write what they want to read. You write for your audience. Not for yourself, not for your company, not for your brand.
  • Perform keyword research. Buzzsumo.com showed that “content writing” is a better keyword than “content writer,” which is what led to a title change. The site also revealed that writing how-to posts are popular. One by Neil Patel on how to come up with topic ideas was shared nearly 16,000 times. (swoon)
  • Check out the competition. What successful content are others in your industry sharing? A competitive content audit gives you a ton of information. Not just about what your competitors are sharing, but who is linking to their content, blogging about it, tweeting it out and posting it elsewhere.
  • Craft a snappy title. After you have keyword, competitor and reader knowledge, take your time, choose your subject and craft a title that will interest readers. The title compels people to read. . . or not. The most important words on your post are the title and the meta description.

3. Successful content writers are original.

It’s your reputation. Every post with your name on it should be original. That probably sounds crazy, with all the tens of thousands of people writing about the same subjects, but it’s easier than it seems. Every talented writer can bring a unique voice, different perspective or new light to an overworked subject.

Related: 6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Content

Plagiarized content is bad for SEO, bad for your employers and even worse for you. Protect your reputation and your career by taking precautions. Before you submit your work, use an online program tocheck for plagiarism. With all the content out there, it’s easy to accidentally duplicate writing.

4. Successful content writers know SEO, HTML, CSS and WordPress.

Don’t panic. You only need a few basics. WordPress themes have varying levels of automatic functions, and sometimes the only way to make your text appear the way you want it to is to dig into the text/HTML tab and manipulate the code to make a title tag or fix a spacing issue. It’s worth your time to learn the basics.

Updated SEO knowledge is also critical. Search engine algorithms change constantly, and writers have to keep up. One thing remains constant: High quality is always in demand. If you can write in-depth content from a unique perspective, you’ll be in demand.

5. Successful content writers are social media specialists.

Name recognition is important. Social media puts everything you need within your grasp. Build your audience, meet publishers and talk to industry experts. When your writing is published, the fun has only just begun. The more active you are on social media, the more likely your followers will be to recommend your content. Successful content writers are active, public and friendly.

So, think again about writing “success.” It stops being about words on paper as soon as “content” is added to “writer.” Content writers are marketing experts, SEO specialists, on-page coders and social media butterflies. With the right skill set, you’ll succeed and find that yours is the best job in the world.

Is Social Media Right For Every Business?

A great man once said, “Do or do not; there is no try.” 

Fine, it wasn’t a great man, but when Yoda said that now-classic line in The Empire Strikes Back, many a geek (myself included) nodded our heads as if it were the common-sense wisdom of the Dalai Lama. In fact, the concept of “trying” something without having a true strategy or direct outcome in mind is becoming a much more sensible approach to Digital Marketing channels. This is especially true with the varied world of Social Media, where channels and platforms like Twitter and Facebook roam wild with Chat Roulette and Wikipedia. One person’s video of six dogs chasing a gazelle with 80 million views is equally layered against an audio podcast that focuses on the best burger joints in Montreal. (No joke. Check out The Montreal Burger Report).

Is there room for businesses and brands in all this random content?

Of course there is. One of the primary reasons that businesses struggle to understand the world of Social Media is that it is often compared with one particular traditional media channel, instead of being seen as a healthy ecosystem where a bricks and mortar brand (and this includes products and services with a business-to-consumer or business-to-business focus) can create and do things with content (text, images, audio and video) across multiple areas with varying degrees of impact and audience.

PodCamp could well have been wrong.

Last week, close to 400 business professionals, hobbyists, media hackers and others with an interest in Social Media spent the weekend at UQAM listening to many different types of presentations (like Revenue Generating Trends for Bloggers, Going Against the Grain with Niche Podcasts, and Your Web Content: Forever or Fragile?) at PodCamp Montreal. What originally started as an unconference (a self-organized get-together where the content and flow of the day is organized and led by all participants), PodCamp Montreal has blossomed into a full-blown, two-day professional conference with sessions in English and French. (PodCamps happen all over the world – just do a search for one in your area).

As someone who has participated in and helped organize these types of unconferences over the years, it was surprising to hear many speakers say: “Social Media is not right for every business.”

The explanation given was that some companies simply don’t have the wherewithal. They don’t have the bandwidth, budget, resources, people, experience or the right attitude. It’s as if everything has to align like the stars to get into this very complex media mix. That kind of back and forth is a huge misconception. It’s usually done so that a company hires any one of these many consultants/speakers to pay them to do the work.

The truth is, asking, “Are social media right for my company?” is a flawed question. Instead, ask yourself: “Should my business be sharing who we are and what we do with the world?” If the answer isn’t yes, feel free to pick up the computer or mobile device that you’re reading this on and whack yourself upside the head until you realize the answer is always yes!

That’s why you’re in business: so more and more customers can find you, buy from you and tell everyone that they know how great you are.

This flawed thinking that Social Media are not for everyone happens because many of these self-anointed experts focus on only two areas of Social Media:

  1. Whatever platform is most popular (like Facebook and Twitter).
  2. The notion that Social Media are all about the “conversation” taking place online about you, your competitors and/or the industry you serve.

Those are both valid spaces to play in, but they’re not even close to the only ones or the reason to get involved in the first place.

What makes Social Media (or any other type of media) truly “social” is the ability to share. Whether that is done on an internal basis with your employees or publicly (or both), sharing is the best place to start. Share everything there is for people to know about you (news, articles, white papers, your thoughts, etc.). Share beyond your own hallowed digital walls (your website) and push that information into the channels where people who might be looking for what you have to offer frequent.

Share and share alike.

Optimizing your site so it can be found on search engines is important, but don’t forget YouTube is actually the second-largest search engine (after Google) and people are doing all kinds of searches within their online social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and beyond. They’re scanning the industry blogs and podcasts to see who is saying what about whom. The more you make your content findable, the more findable you become – everywhere.

Once you begin to benefit from this, you’ll begin to see the many additional options that are available – from tools that can help you to better collaborate both internally and by leveraging the wisdom of your crowd, to listening to the existing feedback and dialogue surrounding your brand. All this public content is there. It can help you better analyze your market position, what customers really think about you and your competitors, and it can even provide indications as to how you can improve and innovate.

Social Media is for every business… that’s just stupid.

What if you sell toilet paper? Are Social Media still right for your business? Charmin released an iPhone app called, Sit or Squat, which allows you to locate, rate, comment on and even add the whereabouts of a clean public toilet. The feature-rich application also allows you to narrow your search to bathrooms that have a baby-changing station (as one of many examples). This crowd-sourced initiative has been downloaded millions of times and – as someone who travels as frequently as I do – has a special place on the first home page of my iPhone. Charmin is enabling and empowering people like you and me to share with the intent of having a better bathroom experience (with the hope you’ll consider buying Charmin toilet paper as you make your way through your grocer’s aisle).

If Charmin can make toilet paper social, what’s got you all blocked up?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here: