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What Do Content Writers Do, Exactly?

As content marketing continues to make a splash as the best way to reach consumers and build trust in a brand, you may be wondering what being a content writer is all about. Whether you're considering hiring content writers for your business or are trying to get into the content writing business yourself, it's essential to understand what a content writer does, and how their work helps a company succeed and grow.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 74% of B2C companies have a content marketing team, and more and more businesses are using in-house or outsourced content writing to gain leads, drive conversions, and boost sales. These days, content writers are becoming essential members of a company's team. And as the world has changed drastically in the 2020s, building a digital relationship with consumers is more important than ever.

The role of a content writer requires a lot of different skills and can cross over with related jobs and fields such as content development, social media management, journalism, and sales and marketing. Some content writers are also Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) or technical writers. However, while the breadth of a content writer's potential credentials may seem intimidating, it's an accessible profession to hire in or to get started in doing yourself.

Content Writer Skills and Credentials

Content writers can come from all kinds of backgrounds, but every content writer must have a solid grasp of the English language, including grammar, style and voice, idioms, and writing for an audience.

Many content writers have degrees in English, communications, journalism, or creative writing, and many employers require such a degree when looking to hire content writers. However, a compelling portfolio of writing samples or great references from businesses that have benefited from your work can be very convincing even if you don't have one of these degrees.

Another absolutely critical skill for any content writer is the ability to research. Content writers must be able to write entertaining, informative, and compelling text for a variety of audiences. To best serve their employer's content strategy, a content writer must be able to efficiently and thoroughly research what matters to their target readers and synthesize knowledge from a variety of credible sources to write content that creates value.

Content writers are crucial in building a brand's reputation. If a brand regularly publishes content that entertains consumers and provides useful information and problem-solving resources, they are much more likely to have a successful digital presence.

Content writers can even help develop content strategy in the first place, for which they will often need some skills in marketing and additional research skills, especially in consumer and user experience research. Content developers may produce additional artifacts such as personas, user journey maps, and other useful tools that focus on the target audience and aid in developing successful content marketing strategies.

However, content writing, at its core, comes back to the writing itself, and two kinds of writing in particular.

SEO Content Writing and SMO Content Writing

Content writing is usually focused towards SEO or SMO content writing strategies. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, while SMO writing is Social Media Optimized writing. Both types of writing can be instrumental in helping a brand succeed and are part of every great content writer's toolbox.

Search Engine Optimization is centered around the strategic use of keywords and key phrases to boost a brand's ranking on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). However, this is far from simply stuffing a web page with every possible keyword. Modern search engines have algorithms to detect this, and instead favor writing that is naturally rich in keywords because it provides useful information on the topic at hand.

Moreover, good content writers know how to strategically place keywords in headings, blockquotes, and links, as well as how to use formatting to make the keywords stand out more to both humans and search engine bots. Towards this end, many content writers are skilled in basic HTML and CSS or common Content Management Systems (CMSs) such as WordPress.

Advanced content writers or content developers will often be the ones to research and choose the keywords in the first place, taking into account how consumers search and phrase queries and what kind of competition exists for which keywords and phrases.

Social Media Optimized writing is designed to maximize sharing and reading by actual humans, rather than focusing on search engines. This writing has to be engaging and entertaining -- and hit just the right note in style, voice, formality, and other markers that connect a brand to a specific type of audience.

SMO writing makes strategic use of headlines, introductory sentences, pullquote tweets, and conventions specific to various social media platforms to tailor content to be maximally compelling. Good SMO writers often use tricks from creative writing and journalistic writing to get audiences hooked and keep them reading, then compel them to share the link with others.

Excelling in this kind of writing requires a precise understanding of both the target audience and the platform being written for. SMO content writers know what works best for individual social media platforms: the kind of post that's a hit on Facebook might not meet that success on Instagram or Twitter. SMO content writers often have skills in social media management and may also perform that function for their employer.

These skills are then combined to create different types and formats of content.

Types of Content Created

Content writers can write a lot of very disparate types of content, including articles, blog posts, whitepapers, tutorials, website copy, landing pages, email newsletters, and more. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 83% of content B2C marketers reported using blog posts and short articles in 2020, while 74% used email newsletters. A majority of businesses have content writers, whether in-house or outsourced, that create blog posts for their website or craft social media posts.

Blog writing is a skill every content writer should have and will be the everyday bread-and-butter work of many content writers. These blog posts are often conversational, informative, and engage with current news and trends in the company's industry. Email newsletters are also designed to keep audiences reading and clicking.

Both types of writing help build trust and connection with a brand by demonstrating a relatable personality and establishing authority on topics of interest as well as providing new or niche information relevant to the industry in question.

Content writers also often write website copy, such as landing pages and "About Us" pages. For this type of content, a writer distills the company's identity and message into a few short sentences or paragraphs that connect to audiences on an emotional level or assure audiences that the company can meet their needs. This snappy, engaging writing is grounded in thorough research and requires a real flair for brevity and writing voice.

Longer content writing often includes informative tutorials and whitepapers, or even entire online courses. This type of content often requires subject matter expertise. Brands that publish accurate and reliable information for free inspire consumers to trust and use their paid products, and content writers are key to these conversions.

Understanding what content writers do is key to effectively hiring and directing content writers, or to becoming one yourself. The skills and expertise of a content writer can truly help a business flourish.

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