Ever heard the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned?”
Fun fact: It came from a content writer. Benjamin Franklin, to be exact. Franklin, the publisher behind Poor Richard’s Almanack under the pseudonym “Richard Saunders,” wanted to make money for his publishing company. But he knew he couldn’t do that without first writing something people would find worth reading.
Enter the Almanack, which Franklin stuffed with calendars, poems, astronomical information, aphorisms, weather predictions, and even the occasional mathematical puzzle. Franklin had hit his goal of creating something worth reading—and people ate it up.
How much has changed in the age of digital content writing? Surprisingly little. This “genre unto itself” is still about the basic question of learning how to write something other people will want to read.
What Is Content Writing?
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”-Benjamin Franklin
Content writing is digital marketing in writing form. It’s taking that old aphorism of Franklin’s—writing something worth reading—and applying the same principles to the internet (which is why you’ll frequently hear it called web content writing).
To put it in modern terms, content writing is the process of turning words into neat stuff worth clicking on. It’s the writing behind blog posts, articles, scripts for podcasts, Twitter threads, whitepapers, ebooks, or just about anything else online that requires words. If you’ve ever bookmarked an article because it featured storytelling too good not to save, you’ve witnessed the value of content writing in action.
Who Is Content Writing For?
There’s no reason to publish an article online unless you, as the content writer, intend to have an audience. Effective content writing is all about creating something to resonate with that same audience. To accomplish that, it usually aims to meet specific purposes:
- Search engine relevance: First, your content needs to be an answer for a relevant search query. For example, if we want to rank for “how to write web content,” we can’t very well write an article about ducks.
- Search engine intent: The value of content starts with the need it fills. Someone searching for “how to write web content” is clearly hoping for an educational post with tips and insights.
- Traffic and conversion: Web content writing that meets the above criteria isn’t just going to rank high. It’s going to get retweeted, bookmarked, emailed, and shared. This boosts traffic—with the ultimate goal of using a call-to-action to boost conversions.
SEO and Content
“On a broad scale, I see SEO becoming a normalized marketing tactic, the same way TV, radio, and print are traditionally thought of as marketing tactics.”
-Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager at Bing
SEO content writing might sound highly technical, but it basically boils down to this: Can you craft a piece of content catered specifically to the users behind a specific search query?
With something like 5.4 billion Google searches per day, writing great SEO content is essentially as good as mass media advertising. That’s the reason behind the deluge of articles, how-tos, listicles, and even the less-appealing clickbait across the web. Content writing is a new battleground in advertising—only in this battleground, the pen is literally mightier than the sword.
Types of Content Writing
Articles and Blog Posts
Articles and blog posts are the bread and butter of digital content, especially as it relates to content writing and SEO. How-to guides, listicles, comprehensive articles, investigative journalism, financial analysis—they all fall under the umbrella of pure content writing.
This year, Morning Brew—a roundup of the morning’s business news—surpassed four million subscribers. Much like pre-digital magazines, direct mail newsletters, or subscriptions, the concept behind today’s digital newsletters is not a static, one-time post, but to promise readers a consistent flow of valuable content.
Social Media Posts
A few hundred characters might be all you have to work with, but it’s no less content writing. Especially popular are Tweetstorms and Twitter threads. Social media isn’t just about sharing links you’ve found—which is the content writing of others—but publishing your original content writing, too.
Think of Poor Richard’s Almanack as a sort of yearly whitepaper, a big piece of all sorts of valuable content that colonial Americans ate up. Today’s whitepapers are often the same. They’re depositories of key information and essential insights. Many content marketers require you to sign up for an email newsletter just to download one—which is often the point of creating the whitepaper in the first place.
Other types of content writing, including web content, YouTube scripts, podcast scripts, or any other digital medium that requires thought and research, might also fall under the umbrella of content marketing.
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Types of Businesses That Need Content Writing
Looking for creative writing jobs, but aren’t sure where to find them? It might be easier to point out which businesses don’t need content writing. After all, any company that can drive traffic to its website on the strength of the writing alone is doing something right.
With that in mind, these industries are always looking for high-quality web content writing:
Fun fact: The famous MICHELIN stars, the most prestigious awards in cooking, come from—well, MICHELIN. As in the MICHELIN, the company with the MICHELIN Man, the French tire company. Oddly enough, the company has become a trusted authority in travel thanks to its thorough travel guides that are considered essential by many travelers. It goes to show how quality content writing can take on a life and reputation of its own.
If there is an industry proving that content writing isn’t as simple as sitting down and churning out whatever words pop into your head, it’s healthcare. The industry has a highly educated audience, which illustrates the importance of serious research for creating whitepapers and valuable articles. You better know what you’re talking about.
There will always be demand for informative content. Heck, you’re reading educational content right now. The education industry harkens back to the original idea behind writing: turning ideas into code you can transmit at a distance. As long as there are people willing to learn something, educational content will be essential.
The Morning Brew’s success shows just how much demand there is for good financial writing. Or take wealth manager Ben Carlson’s blog, A Wealth of Common Sense. Although a blog is ostensibly to attract potential clients, Carlson puts enough insight and effort into his financial blog that it’s essentially become like a miniature magazine, worth reading on its own.
How to Write Web Content
Creating powerful, insightful content through your writing is the key to attracting an audience in the digital age. So what’s the catch? Work. You can’t just sit down and hope that your words will resonate. You have to put in the time and effort to make your content worth clicking on.
To that end, your content needs to do one thing: take work off of the hands of the reader and put it into the content. Here’s how you do it.
Step #1: Research
To write content worth reading, you need one of two things. First, it helps to have an idea so profound that other people will not only feel it resonates with them, but also feel as if they’re hearing something for the first time. This one is difficult, but it does happen: Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans post is an example of content famous because it had a fresh idea.
But not everyone is full of original or profound ideas. If that’s the case, you can lean on the other of the “two things”: using research to connect fresh dots. Sometimes simply compiling a list of links so your readers don’t have to do it is enough to create useful content.
Step #2: Organize
This is the hidden step in content writing, but also the most important. You don’t have to write particularly insightful or original content every time. You only need to write valuable content. And how do you do that? Simple. Go the extra step and take the time to organize the ideas you’ve encountered in your research into an easily digestible format.
The success of the “listicle” is an example of how this work alone can make an engaging piece of content. Sometimes, people don’t need something wholly original. They just want a series of ideas available to them at a glance.
Step #3: Write and Edit
If good content performs work on behalf of the reader, writing and editing are not exempt. Writing clearly—using tools like Grammarly to ensure few errors—makes the words easy to digest. Content editing removes fluff, elucidates points, and polishes the draft up to a fine sheen. Yes, it’s important to have the mechanics of writing down pat, but that’s not any more important than the work that goes into coming up with something to write.
Making Your Content Writing Shine
What is it that makes content writing resonate? Truth be told, no one knows for sure. There are some principles—like what you read above—that will help you. But there’s no telling what will ultimately strike a chord with your readers. There’s only one thing you need to take away: Content writing isn’t a product, but a service. If you’re not serving the reader, you’re not really providing valuable content.
In the previous section, the actual drafting may seem like a tiny fraction of the overall content writing formula. And it is. But that’s the idea behind content writing in the first place. It’s not just writing. It’s the art of figuring out something worth saying.
Get Your Content In Front of the Right Audience
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