“Web content”, or more simply “content”, basically refers to words.
While it’s true that images, graphics and video count as content, when used in the context of building web pages or blogs, “content” refers specifically to the written words on the page.
Simple enough, right? But… if it’s so simple, why do businesses hate writing it? Why do marketing companies seek out content writers instead of just getting anyone to do it? And why, like me, can you make a living just out of writing things on the internet?
Why pay a content writer?
Writing could be considered both a skill and an art.
Good writing doesn’t just happen. If you’ve ever struggled to write an essay, or agonized over a short creative writing piece, you will know it’s not as simple as just writing the words that come into your head.
In essence, writing is the art of building sentences.
Sentences are built with words. The words chosen reflect the thought that the sentence is conveying. And when you have sentences along the same lines of thought, you have a paragraph. It’s in the building of good sentences that good writing happens.
Choosing the right words in the right order for the right sentence is not as easy as it sounds. From the following two sentences, which one is better?
“Last night, at the Justin Bieber concert, it was really good. He’s a great entertainer, but there were lots of screaming girls, I found it hard to concentrate!”
“I went to the Justin Bieber concert last night. He’s a great entertainer! In spite of all the screaming girls (which made it hard to concentrate), it was really good.”
They are basically the same words, just in a different order. One sentence makes good use of different kinds of grammar and punctuation, the other doesn’t. Which one do you think reads better?
I’m a musician. I’ve been learning one musical instrument or another since I was four years old. Rhythm, tone, key, pitch, phrasing – all concepts very familiar to me, both in music and in writing.
Writing and music have many striking similarities.
The key to good music is – choosing the right instruments for the style. Choosing the right tempo and key. Arranging the chord structure to convey a sense of movement, so the music sounds like it’s “going somewhere”. Use of dynamics – loud and soft. Use of pitch – high and low. Variety and contrast.
The key to good writing is – choosing the right medium for the message. Choosing the right tone of voice. Arranging the sentences and paragraphs to convey a sense of movement, so the writing reads like it’s “going somewhere”. Use of punctuation and grammar to convey loud and soft voices. Use of tone to convey urgency or serenity. Variety and contrast.
Good writing creates a voice in your head with a life of its own. You keep reading because, in a way, the writing seems to be reading you.
When you pay a content writer, what exactly are you paying them for?
It takes skill to write well. Natural talent plays a small part, but a good content writer is someone who actively knows how to write good content. They know the rules, and know how to break them. They use correct punctuation and grammar, and they know how to use them creatively to bring the writing to life. They know the difference between a sales pitch and a eulogy, and they could easily write a remarkable example of both in the same hour.
If your website is important to you and your business, you will see the value in hiring a content writer that is good at what they do. There are plenty of “content writers” out in the marketplace; what you want is a “content creator” – someone who will produce something truly original.
Good writing takes time. Anyone can mash out a couple of paragraphs, but a good content writer will pore over those paragraphs, revising, editing, snipping and re-jigging until they resonate. A good content writer may write a sentence that is near-on perfect, then spend twenty minutes agonizing over one word, because it “doesn’t sit well in the sentence”. A good content writer will write a blog post, read it, re-read it, edit it, re-word it, restructure it, open a preview page then edit it again, open another preview page then edit it yet again… and they will not click “post” until they are genuinely proud of what they are posting (my personal record is fifteen revisions of a full 1200-word post before going live).
If you run a business you don’t have this kind of time, which is why you need a professional who has devoted all of their time to just this. Although the content of a website is often the last thing designed, don’t believe that it’s not just as important as any other aspect.
Good writers love writing. Seriously. If you didn’t pay them to write for you, they would write for themselves for free, because they just love writing.
They are the only people for whom the stationery supply store or the corner newsagent is their favourite store to browse in. They are the only people you could get away with giving blank notebooks to for Christmas. They are the only people who get genuinely excited about the latest in pen technology.
Give a good content writer a job writing content for your waste management services website and they will attack it with all the glee of a child attacking a giant lollipop, because they just love writing, and they love taking the ordinary and making it sound extraordinary.
What should good content achieve?
One thing – keep your readers reading.
Google Analytics will show you your hit rate vs your bounce rate. A hit is when someone visits your website. A bounce is when someone just goes elsewhere without engaging with anything else on your website. Your goal is to keep your hit rate high and your bounce rate low.
Good content incites curiosity. Your homepage can have one sentence if that sentence makes people want to look at your products. Your About Us page can have one paragraph if that paragraph makes people want to fill out and submit a contact form. Good content draws people ever deeper into your website, ultimately leading them to what it’s all about:
Your online presence in all its iterations should always be leading people to purchase your products or services, and good content is the paved road and signposts.
A good writer is a salesperson. Whether they are selling ideas, fictional characters, a story, information, or goods & services, they have the ability to make you want to know more and want what they are offering.
How do I pick a good content writer from an average one?
If someone is a good content writer, they will be writing content whether they are paid to or not. So find their content.
Do you know if they’ve written for any other websites? Are they blogging? Are they active on social media? Find their content, and if you are engaged by what they write, chances are your customers will be too. If you can’t find their content… find someone else.
That sounds harsh, but in reality, it doesn’t matter how many formal qualifications a writer does or doesn’t have. Formal qualifications are definitely important, and a good content writer will have them or be actively obtaining them anyway. But at the end of the day, if you find yourself switching off halfway through their two-paragraph homepage blurb or 250-word blog post, do you really want this on your website?
Find someone who writes content you want on your website, who is reliable, and who loves what they do. Chances are you will end up loving what they do too!