By Donald Gray
Ernest Hemingway once stated, "there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed". But while Papa may have had a point in the early 20th century, content writing in the 21st century requires more than a glass of scotch and elegant prose. The modern content creation landscape is fast-paced, ever-changing, and highly competitive, so staying ahead of the curve is vital to success in this arena.
With the advent of Artificial Intelligence-powered writing tools like ChatGPT and Jasper.ai, will there even be a role for human content writers in the coming years? The answer is an emphatic yes, with a few caveats. Here are 6 tips for aspiring content writers in 2023 to ensure that your writing remains relevant, competitive, and successful:
1. Start with what you know.
Content writing is a subset of the broader field of copywriting that focuses on creating web-based content for online consumption. Content writers span many industries and specialize in creating content for specific audiences. Whether it's blog posts, website copy, press releases, product descriptions, or eBooks, the key is to have a good understanding of the topics you write about and the types of writing that will resonate with your intended audience.
If you're beginning your journey as a content writer, it can be tempting to take on any project that comes your way. But to start your career on the right foot, it's a good idea to focus on a niche or subject you know well. That could mean honing your craft in a specific industry or developing a specialty in a particular type of content.
When you're in the beginning stages of your content writing career, developing and maintaining a reputation for delivering high-quality content is a crucial asset. A smaller portfolio of high-quality work is always more impressive than a more extensive portfolio of mediocre writing.
2. But don't be afraid to branch out.
Once you've established yourself as a content writer for a few particular topics, don't be afraid to broaden your horizons. Be open-minded when taking on different types of projects outside your comfort zone. When I started writing about the local music scene in the early 2000s, I had no idea that my live concert reviews would someday lead to a career in financial technology. Hell, I don't even think the term 'FinTech' was on my radar until the mid-2010s, and even then, financial technology as a concept seemed out of my grasp.
You never know where your writing will take you, so don't be afraid to try something new once you've established a portfolio of high-quality work.
3. Know your audience.
Content writing is an art form, but certain principles and techniques are critical for success. Knowing your audience is an absolute must. You don't want to waste precious time crafting content that won't resonate with your readers or, even worse, will turn them away. Research the demographics of your target audience and discover what type of topics, stories, and content styles will engage them.
Do they prefer short, snappy articles or longer, in-depth features? Does your audience engage better with video, podcasts, or written content? Once you know what works best, you can tailor your content to suit your clients' and their end-users' specific needs.
4. Dive deep into SEO.
As writers, we tend to skew to the more creative side of the spectrum, but we can't ignore the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in our work. Our primary objective when writing for clients is to help them rank in search engine results pages (SERPs) by optimizing our content for specific keywords. Researching topics, understanding the intent of searches, and learning to incorporate keywords into the content in a natural, cohesive manner are critical steps in the creation process.
In the old days, content writers were able to get away with keyword stuffing, the practice of cramming as many keywords into a piece of content as possible to manipulate search engine rankings. But these days, Google's algorithms are more sophisticated than ever before, and they prioritize content that is informative, relevant, and written in a natural, easy-to-read format.
Fortunately, SEO writing is more than just data-driven word processing. Analytics can actually guide your creativity, giving you an idea of which topics and keywords to target. Today, the best SEO writing emphasizes a human touch, and there are many resources to help content writers get up to speed on SEO best practices.
5. Invest in quality tools.
Unfortunately, the days of Hemingway's Underwood typewriter are long gone, and quality content writing now requires access to the right tools. As content creators, we need tools to help us effectively research topics, manage projects, communicate with clients, and track our progress.
Fortunately, there's a plethora of fantastic tools out there designed to simplify the content creation process. From cloud-based writing platforms to social media analytics tools, plenty of resources are available to help writers create, manage and optimize their work. While some of these tools come with a price tag, most end up saving you time and money in the long run.
Here are some of my favorite tools that I use in my day-to-day content writing work:
Ah, the age-old word processor argument. While agencies, clients, and editors may have their preferred writing software, I like Google Docs because it's free, cloud-based, and packed with useful features. As a longtime Apple user, transitioning away from Pages was a tough adjustment, but I quickly grew to love the collaborative features, integrations, and add-ons available in Google Docs.
Importantly, Google Docs brings built-in features that make it easy to interact and collaborate with your clients. Like Microsoft Word, you can track changes, leave comments, and share documents with clients or other writers, but I've found that the Google Docs interface packs the smoothest, most seamless experience for both writers and stakeholders. The spell and grammar check features are handy for ensuring accuracy in your writing, and integration with Google Translate brings a new level of fluidity to localization and translation work.
Trello is a project management tool that helps you organize and manage your content writing projects from start to finish. The platform's intuitive drag-and-drop interface lets you quickly set up project boards and assign tasks to other writers. You can also manage deadlines and comment on tasks, which makes it easy to collaborate with your team.
Trello makes it easy to keep track of your progress by creating checklists for each task and tracking the status of each project. Plus, you can use the calendar view to plan out your writing schedule and ensure that you hit every deadline.
As a lifelong writer with a fair amount of ego, automating my editing and proofreading workflow wasn't something I took lightly. But then I discovered Grammarly, an AI-powered writing assistant that can help you find and fix errors in your writing.
With Grammarly, you can quickly detect typos and other grammatical issues before submitting your work. The tool also provides real-time feedback on your writing, which can help you improve the clarity and accuracy of your content. The tool isn't perfect, though, so it's always a good idea to follow up with your own final proofreading pass. That said, Grammarly can be a huge time saver, and it's well worth the investment.
Keeping with the theme of automated editing tools, Hemingway Editor is an excellent resource for ensuring your writing is concise and easy to read. The tool flags overly complex sentences, passive voice, and other common writing mistakes. It also provides suggestions to help you simplify your writing and make it more accessible to readers.
When composing content for the web, always keep your target audience in mind. Hemingway Editor can help you ensure your writing is as clear and engaging as possible.
Whether you're writing for a blog, creating social media posts, or working on an advertising campaign, Hootsuite can help you manage your content distribution. The tool's dashboard lets you easily schedule posts and monitor social media conversations in real time.
Hootsuite also allows you to track the performance of your content across various platforms, which can help you identify which channels are performing best and where your efforts need to be focused. This can be especially helpful if you're managing multiple accounts or working with a team of writers.
At the end of the day, content writing is all about creating high-quality content that resonates with your target audience. Investing in the right tools and staying on top of the latest industry trends ensures your work will stand out from the crowd.
6. Always strive for excellence.
Content writing is incredibly competitive, so it pays to keep your work as high-quality as possible. Investing in the right tools, staying up-to-date on industry trends, and keeping your target audience in mind are all essential steps to creating content that stands out.
Most importantly, always strive for excellence when it comes to your writing. Be meticulous about proofreading, and don't be afraid to ask for feedback from colleagues or mentors.
Content writing is a rewarding but challenging endeavor. With the right tools and a commitment to excellence, you can create content that resonates with your target audience and stands out from the crowd. Invest in the right tools, stay on top of industry trends, and never be afraid to ask for help when needed. With hard work and dedication, you can create content that will help your business reach new heights.
Donald Gray is a Digital Marketing Strategist and Content Writer with over 15 years of experience. Specializing in crafting engaging narratives for some of the world's most innovative brands, he enjoys writing and pontificating about the current state of digital marketing and content production. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.podmixers.com to learn about collaboration opportunities.