Updated July 2020.
In a fictional universe, a child was born on July 31, 1980. His parents were murdered by a villian soon after. A kind headmaster, a stern teacher and a high school dropout rescued the child and left him at his aunt and uncle’s. Eleven years later, the dropout returned to take the child to magic school. At the end of the school year, the child foils a plan set by the man who murdered his parents.
Imagine if that had been published instead of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
It’s boring, right? Yes, those are all facts of Sorcerer’s Stone, but that paragraph isn’t nearly as fun to read.
A great marketing writer does for your company content what J. K. Rowling did for Harry Potter: takes a crazy, fact-laden tale and writes it in a way that grabs your attention and keeps you engaged for seven volumes, eight movies, a stage play and a theme park.
Writers are an influential part of your digital marketing team, and I’m not just saying this because I’m one myself. After all, they’re the ones creating the content – distilling research, industry knowledge and complex marketing strategies into an enjoyable and informative read.
This means, of course, that you only want the best on your team.
What makes a good content marketing writer?
The specifics that go within your content – keywords, statistics, etc. – can only take the story so far. You need a talented writer to make these pieces interesting. In your search for that great content writer, look for the following:
Great writing skills
While anyone and everyone has the ability to write, only those who appreciate the fundamentals can create great articles. This means your marketing writer needs a solid foundation of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and all that other stuff most people stop thinking about after college.
If you doubt the importance of basic writing skills, think about the times you see a spelling error in public. If you’re like most people, you might think, “Shouldn’t that have been caught before being put in front of the public?”
Poor writing signals a lack of attention to detail and hurts your credibility, while good writing meets a minimum of professionalism that every company, whether B2B or B2C, needs to display.
Great writing, on the other hand, goes beyond the basics to incorporate attributes like diction, syntax and tone. Top-tier content writers see the act of content creation as a puzzle – a search for the perfect word or phrase that explains the data or information.
An understanding of how people interact with content
Which would you rather read in five minutes: a single sonnet or War and Peace? Keep in mind, you have to start and finish your choice in this time frame.
Of course you’re going to pick the sonnet, and a good content writer knows that. They understand that the internet moves in real time, that people only want to read long content when they’re deep in the sales funnel and that cat videos, though an internet relic, have a positive effect on viewers. Your ideal writer isn’t just a wordsmith; they’re also a content specialist who can cater to your target audience.
Pro tip: If you want your viewers to leave your content with a happy, productive feeling, throw a cat video in there.
A great writer isn’t just a storyteller, either. They think like a content creator. They know that content is also visual and use such cues to clue the reader into what’s important. All the significant details will stand out from the text in some way; for example:
- In-line quotes.
- Images and captions.
Finally, your marketing writers should understand the impact of direct response copywriting – words that inspire immediate action. These include, but aren’t limited to:
Using direct response copywriting can increase your number of click-throughs, page views, downloads, newsletter signups and any other metric you want to measure or improve.
Here, I’m using the word “creativity” to mean the ability to tie different elements together into a cohesive story – even if some parts don’t seem to relate to each other at first glance.
In fact, drawing seemingly unrelated information into your content can be an asset, introducing your readers to a new way of thinking while making your business or industry seem relevant in outside areas. Plus, an interesting angle is always a good way to get readers engaged from the very beginning.
That said, you don’t always have to think outside the box to make an engaging piece of content. Technically, all you need are three elements:
- Subject matter expertise.
- Search engine optimization.
- Proper spelling and grammar.
Creativity is what mixes these pieces together and makes them interesting. Creative content writers use a variety of prose- and poetry-related principles to make their copy compelling, including but not limited to:
- Varying sentence structure.
- Metaphors and analogies.
- Storytelling and allegory.
- Figures of speech.
- Point of view.
- Dialogue and quotes.
So, when you’re searching for the perfect content writer, look for someone with a good mix of creative writing in their portfolio.
You’ll most likely have your writer create multiple forms of content – blog articles, press releases, white papers and the like. Each of these requires a particular writing style, but you’ll want them to contain certain consistent elements (such as your branding voice) so readers recognize them as an extension of your business.
There, you’ll want a writer versatile enough to create multiple forms of content – each with their own writing specifications – in such a way that each piece still embodies your branding guidelines.
Also, some social media savvy is a benefit. Not all content writers create social media posts, but it helps if they have an understanding of best practices. Doing so can help them create articles specific to LinkedIn and headlines that display nicely on Twitter.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, writers don’t seclude themselves in mountain cabins and draw inspiration only from nature, nor do they monopolize space in coffee shops and write in caffeinated binges. Nope, writers are as normal as anyone, meaning they interact with both co-workers and clients.
As such, your writers need to exhibit a certain amount of professionalism. Client interaction may not be a big part of their day-to-day work, but a bad encounter can sour business relationships no matter how brief.
Also, you need a professional content writer – meaning, someone who excels at the less creative, more technical aspects of their jobs. This means writing quickly and efficiently, plus having the ability to juggle multiple projects at once and adhere to tight deadlines. If your content marketing strategy is highly targeted and optimized, no doubt you’ll be creating multiple pieces at once, each in a different format. Your writer needs to be able to manage his or her time well and shift between different content types fluidly.
A willingness and ability to learn quickly
If you’re able to find a content writer with extensive experience in your field, then kudos! You’re one of the lucky ones.
However, most writers have a bachelor’s degree in journalism or communications. Others have extensive content experience but in a market that differs from yours.
These aren’t bad things. In fact, bringing on a writer with a different perspective (and the ability to bring something new to the table) may be better than relying on a veteran (who is stuck in outdated practices).
Regardless, you’ll want a person who is willing and able to learn quickly, especially if your industry is extremely technical or niche. You’re likely planning to get your content strategy up and running, and you need someone who can keep pace.
Freelancer versus in-house team versus content marketing agency
To hire a content writer, or not to hire a content writer, that is the question.
Freelancing certainly has a romantic appeal about it, both for employers and writers. With this group expected to outnumber traditional employees by 2027, you may think a freelance copywriter is your best bet.
While I can’t say that it’s not, I will note that freelance writers are great for filling content quotas (say, a weekly blog post per month), but not so good for adhering to your strategy. They have many other clients and won’t be able to work with your marketing team as efficiently. If your goal is to be a thought leader and create targeted content like landing pages, eBooks and white papers, avoid using a freelancer to produce the bulk of your content.
Another option is an in-house writer, but before you go hiring writers and editors, prepare yourself for the costs. As Dom recently noted, a content writer with a mere five years experience can expect to earn up to nearly $72,000. That’s a good chunk of change and doesn’t factor in taxes, benefits and other costs.
A writer from a content marketing agency comes with the flexibility of a freelancer but is able to focus directly on your strategy. In fact, if you outsource your entire marketing team, writers will work directly alongside your strategists, ensuring the content creation process is timely and efficient.
What great content writing is all about
Don’t get me wrong: Basic writing skills are important, but good content is about so much more than that. You also need creativity, speed and professionalism. Most of all, however, you need someone who understands how writing compels people to action. A perfectly written and optimized piece of content is nothing if it doesn’t accomplish this one goal.
Now tell us: What are your must-haves for a content writer?
Oh, and here’s another cat video to leave you on a high note: