Under the Microscope: Must-Have Skills for Content Writers
Good content is readable. Great content is read.
In a world where Google Docs is predicting the rest of your sentence before you’ve even thought of it, every man and his dog is calling themselves a content writer. And while, yes, technically anyone can put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, creating beautifully crafted content is about so much more than pulling together a string of coherent words.
If you’re looking for a fresh injection of inspiration, keep reading, as we uncover the non-negotiables you should be hell-bent on finding when hiring for your next project.
A solid research process
As writers, the topics we take on are varied, to say the least - and as much as we’d like to profess that we know as much about aerospace engineering as we do about interior decor, the truth is, we don’t. But you know exactly what we need to know - our job is to use you as our baseline and build on our understanding from there.
For a content writer, a lack of pre-existing knowledge on a given subject shouldn’t matter. We know that we’re not being hired because we’re experts in a given field, but rather because we’re able to sound like we’re experts in any given field - and this is where the research process comes in. If a writer isn’t comfortable carrying out detailed independent research, they've already lost the battle.
A strong knowledge of SEO
If a content writer is being hired to write for the web, chances are there’ll be some element of optimisation involved in the job. Content that’s designed to rank in SERPs will be informative, valuable, naturally keyword optimised and semantically relevant to its intended audience - if not, it’ll never hit its mark.
Alongside this goes the understanding of what the client wants to achieve. Blindly optimising a landing page or blog post without a real understanding of user intent - including in cases where terms can have multiple distinct meanings - can negatively impact a site’s organic performance. In these cases, the content writer has completely failed to do their job.
An understanding of formatting
Formatting will vary depending on the nature of the content job, of course. Longer guides and white papers might need to be broken up with more subheadings, bullet points and any other scannable elements that will make the content more digestible. Alternatively, blog posts might benefit from images and infographics between every other paragraph for a sense of visual variety.
Speaking of paragraphs, in terms of a general rule of thumb, these should ideally be no longer than around four or five lines. If there’s something to be said, a skilled writer should be able to find a succinct way to get the message across. Any experienced content writer knows they’ll lose the interest of their audience if they wander into wall-of-text territory - which is why this paragraph ends where it does. See?
A lack of ego (hear us out)
Writers have egos, naturally - and we’d be lying if we said they aren’t dented from time to time. When proverbial blood and sweat and literal tears go into a piece of writing, having it torn apart is no fun. The real skill here is being able to take on any constructive feedback, absorb it and put it into action - making that piece of content the very best that it can be.
Writing on behalf of other brands and businesses means understanding that they have a clear vision - working together in an honest way is what will allow the vision to come to life on the page. So, writers need to be willing to edit, edit and edit again, if necessary. There’s no room for ego here - at least not for too long, anyway.
The ability to set and meet deadlines
As a content writer, there are two different types of deadlines to deal with. Firstly, there’s the deadline set by the client - you. This is something both parties have agreed upon - it’s a contract and it’s immovable. Failure to meet this deadline will result in an unhappy customer and leave the content writer looking fairly red-faced, not to mention without work.
Secondly, and in some ways more importantly, there are the content writer’s personal deadlines to help them meet that all-important end one. This involves being self-motivated and disciplined. It means allowing the time to step away from the content when the ideas won’t come, factoring in editing time and still hitting that target date.
A clear and confident voice
A content writer needs to have the ability to shapeshift depending on the topic at hand. While, for lengthy, data-led articles, a professional, to-the-point tone might be required to ensure the facts are relayed in a succinct and easy-to-understand way, for a blog post about weddings, a more descriptive and illustrative style of writing will help readers visualise what’s being written.
The point is, regardless of the subject matter, length and style of piece - or even where the content is being hosted - it’s vital to have a distinctive, engaging voice. Content that has the potential to rank in search and engage the user once they land on site has the best shot at performing well. A crafty contenter should possess the ability and know-how to achieve both.
To finish off, a very important closing point. We shouldn’t have to say this, but we will anyway: sentence structure (otherwise known as syntax) - along with spelling, grammar and punctuation - is sacrosanct. Unless this is nailed on, you need to move along - this content writer is not for you.
Ready to speak to someone who has spent years carefully honing these skills? Our team would love to help you transform your content from readable to read. Get in touch for a chat.