You might be familiar with the content mills, those companies that buy articles and press releases filed by journalists and rewrite them for commercial use. Well, that’s kind of how I started my professional writing career. I wrote a few pieces for content mills in the early 2010s, and then I started submitting my own content to a growing list of publications. Now, I can’t imagine living without my daily content scrums. I pull articles from a variety of news sources and rewrite them for commercial use. Plus, I get to be creative with my sentences!
If you’re looking for a career in content writing, here’s the guide to help you nail down the basics and get to work.
The First Step: Choose A Niche
As the name implies, content writing is a form of writing for commercial purposes. A typical piece of content will likely include a combination of the following:
- An introduction to the topic (e.g., why is this topic significant?)
- Key facts about the topic (e.g., when and where does it happen?)
- An outline of the problem (e.g., what are the most frequent pitfalls that people encounter when dealing with this topic?)
- Description of the solution (e.g., what are the steps that the reader can take to solve the problem?)
- Analysis of how effective the solution was in solving the problem (e.g., is this the best way to handle situations like this in the future?)
- Conclusion (e.g., what is the main takeaway from this article?)
Depending on your background, you will most likely want to choose a niche that you feel passionate about. If you’re not sure what a niche is, don’t worry, you’ll learn soon enough! A niche is simply a small segment of the population (e.g., millennial women or millennial men) with a common interest (e.g., beauty or fashion) who will benefit from your content.
For instance, if you’re a vegan, you might consider writing about veganism for a vegetarian audience. Or, if you’re an animal lover, you could pen an article on behalf of fur-less pets (e.g., dogs and cats).
Whatever your niche, make sure that there is an audience for your content. If you’re writing to solve a problem, make sure that the problem you’re solving is a problem for the audience you’re writing to. If you’re writing to create awareness, make sure that the readers will benefit from your content.
The Next Step: Create High-quality Content
The content mills that you may have heard of buy cheaply created content in bulk and then cut it down (often by a team of freelance writers) to fit their target audience. While this shortcut might produce content that’s grammatically correct, structurally sound, and probably even interesting to read, it’s not necessarily high-quality content. And you’ll certainly want to avoid that if you’re looking for a successful writing career!
Instead of cutting corners, you should aim to create high-quality content from the very beginning. This doesn’t mean that you need to hire a literary agent and buy a fancy writer’s suite with an expensive Macbook, but it does mean that you should put in the time and effort to develop your craft. What’s more, you can take this opportunity to improve the quality of your content and get a leg up on the competition. Some tips on how to do this include:
- Study the craft of effective writing (e.g., what makes for a good headline?)
- Consult with an expert (e.g., an editor or a literary agent)
- Find your own voice and write from the heart
- Use appropriate language (e.g., don’t use slang phrases or poor grammar)
- Consider your target audience (e.g., write for the Millennials)
- Create a quality piece of content (e.g., no spelling errors or grammatical errors)
- Revise and edit mercilessly
- Get feedback from others (e.g., colleagues, friends, or family members)
- Keep learning (e.g., continue your education with a degree program or online learning)
- Get a professional haircut (e.g., if you’re looking for a job in fashion, you’ll need to cut your hair in a way that accentuates your features)
- Join a writing group
- Seek inspiration wherever you can (e.g., read voraciously, follow blogs, or watch relevant YouTube videos)
If you’re looking for a complete guide to becoming a bestselling author, you should check out this comprehensive guide by Bestselling Author Sarah Blake. In it, she covers everything from finding your perfect literary agent to preparing your book for publication. Plus, she shares her top tips on how to become a successful author.
The Aftermath: Distribute And Revise
After you’ve created the perfect piece of content, it’s time to distribute it and then revise it for the best possible results. To do this, you will need to track the performance of your content. To do this, you can use a free tool like Google Analytics to track the number of views that your content receives. More importantly, you can track the number of times your content was shared (e.g., on social media platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn).
With this information at your fingertips, you can see exactly how effective (or ineffective) your content was at reaching your target audience. If you find that your content isn’t pulling in the leads you hoped for, it’s time to revise your strategy and try again. Maybe you need to choose a different niche or find a different approach altogether. Or, perhaps you just need to try a different flavor of content (e.g., a funny quiz or a listicle).
It’s also important to get feedback on your content. To start, simply ask friends or family members who know you well to give you honest feedback. Alternatively, you can hire an outside consultant or expert (e.g., an editorial director or a professional strategist) to review your content and give feedback on the following:
- Organization (e.g., does it make sense that the articles are listed in this order?)
- Content (e.g., is the content useful and engaging?)
- Voice (e.g., does the author successfully convey the spirit of the brand?)
- Style (e.g., are the articles consistent in terms of style?)
- Formatting (e.g., is the information easily digestible or is it largely non-readable?)
- Language (e.g., is there any unnecessary or poor language use that could be avoided?)
After you’ve received this feedback, you can use it to revise your content and improve the odds of success. With a little bit of revision, you could very well end up with content that is both effective and profitable!
Putting It All Together: Create Engaging Headlines
At this point, you have content that is both effective and profitable. But, if your content is merely effective, it might not mean much without a good headline. A good headline should pull the reader in and make them want more. But, how do you go about creating an engaging headline?
A good headline is simply a headline that picks up on the attention of the reader. To create an engaging headline, you need to devise a winning strategy. To do this, you should start with a long-term goal in mind (e.g., increase web traffic or sales through social media). Then, you should set a benchmark that you can measure (e.g., gain 500 new Twitter followers in the next six months)
With this benchmark in mind, you can determine the right length for your headline. For example, if you’re writing for a national newspaper, you might want to keep your headline short and sweet (e.g., 3–4 words) to avoid overloading the reader with content. If you’re writing for a blogger, you could opt for something a little longer (e.g., 7–8 words)