I see this question popping up all over the place. “What is a content writer?” The question itself is begged when one reads the job description for a content writer (or web content writer as some places prefer to call them). It’s not hard to explain at all–and yet, judging from the job descriptions out there, most companies don’t have a clear understanding about what skills they should reasonably expect a content writer to have.
That’s Not a Job, That’s Three Jobs!
As a content writer it’s quite common to see a content writer position being offered by a firm or agency or other business entity and think, “Ah! Here we go. This is gonna be awesome!” But then, naturally, you read through the job description. The first four or five items are obvious and you promptly check them off the list:
- Create compelling and engaging content–check.
- Keep up to date on industry trends and community interests–check
- Be able to track progress via analytics dashboard and report on traffic once per month–ehhh, yeah. That’s possible.
- Be skilled in photoshop, web development, accounting spreadsheets, and have a doctorate in Theoretical Physics–Wait, what???
That’s pretty much what the majority of these job postings look like (I embellished a bit at the end, I’m sure you can tell…). There’s a major problem with this. As with anything, the more skills a person has, the less likely they are to be exceptional at any one of them. Some of the add-on skills companies are listing, like web design and in-bound marketing, are separate career paths in and of themselves that typically call for much higher salaries than the company is offering for the role. To the job hunter, this says, “We want to work you like a dog and pay you like one too.”
So What is a Content Writer and What are Their Capabilities?
It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you don’t plan on producing regular content like a blog, but instead just want some basic information (like explanations of services or industry terminology for example) then you might want to look for someone with a technical writing or copywriting background. If engaging content is your aim, or you plan on producing a blog for the purposes of regular interaction with your audience or members of your industry, you need someone with a strong sense of storytelling. Ideally, a journalist or a writer (just regular type, starving is optional–but we ask that you leave the writer better than you found him or her) would meet these standards.
A content writer should also have some standard skills regardless of what your company goals are. Any good content writer worth their salt should have:
- A solid understanding of basic SEO principles. (Writers with advanced knowledge are worth paying more)
- A rudimentary understanding of HTML (CSS is a plus!)
- Basic knowledge of web formatting best practices, as well as AP or Chicago Manual style.
- Basic understanding of how to operate a CMS (or the ability to learn).
Those are four skills you can’t live without. A lot of you are thinking, “What about marketing knowledge, or business development experience?” Those are certainly a plus as well, but they aren’t necessary. You can generate huge engagement without marketing to someone. Brand awareness is a major contributor to conversions as is regular interaction with the brand. If you have a writer that can build a community that regularly engages your brand you’ll get those conversions. You may not have a first interaction conversion–and that’s OK. One in the hand is not worth two in the bush all of the time.
I Want Someone With Industry Experience
A good writer knows how to conduct research and gain an understanding of a topic or product and then grow that understanding to offer unique insights into a product, service, or industry. That’s how you get good content.
Let’s say you’re in the tech industry and you’ve developed a unique device. You want to hire a writer to write interesting things about it to both generate public interest but also foster possible future business relationships. By posting an ad looking for someone with industry experience (you’ll likely find that person, they exist and there are plenty of them), you’re skipping a whole step in the process of developing the site’s content.
Someone new to the topic is going to ask more of the right questions–more of the questions the public audience would ask. If they publish pieces as they continue to learn, that little by little learning transfers directly to the audience. Moreover, a good writer can simply talk to your product teams and biz dev teams to get an idea of how to position content for business development purposes. Keep in mind, it’s possible you could strike up business relations with people outside your industry if they only understood the value of your device.
What to Look for In a Content Writer
If you want to find the greatest level of success, at least inasmuch as your content writer is involved, there are some pretty simple things you should be looking for. First, find someone who is ambitious and takes initiative. Most businesses want that in any employee, but this is really important when it comes to hiring a writer. Second, find someone who is inquisitive or generally exudes the qualities of a journalist. This ensures two things: that they will be able to write with the reader in mind and they’ll ask the right questions to further their own (and by doing so, the reader’s) understanding of your product. In the end, you get more for your money because your content will outperform your competitors’.