Content is essential for success on the modern-day internet. Virtually every business should have a blog, which means nearly every business needs to hire a content writer (or two, or more.) Yet, finding a good content writer can be challenging.
Writing is a field that everyone has at least a little experience with in general. We all need to know how to write to communicate, but there's a very large difference between casual communication and professional content writing. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who believe that because they know their language, it means they know how to be a writer.
This makes it hard to find a good content writer without the long and arduous process of testing them. That's not to say you shouldn't test them, of course; just that you should look for writers with the right qualities first, so you're only getting people with at least a decent chance of passing your tests.
Looking for a content writer means finding someone with the right mix of skills and personal qualities necessary to succeed. What are those skills and qualities? I've pinned down the fifteen most important below.
Most writers can, with some time, pick up a new topic and write about it with expertise. However, it can take some time for them to learn the ropes, and their initial content might be less focused or off-target because of it.
If you have the luxury of time, you can train a good writer in your industry topics and end up with an excellent specialist. If you don't have that time, you want to find someone who already knows what they're talking about.
Research skills are invaluable. Every good writer needs to be able to research a topic, even if they're already experts in the subject matter. If nothing else, it's good practice to research a topic you're familiar with just to make sure things haven't changed since the last time you refreshed your knowledge. Continuing education is important for many careers, after all.
To an extent, the difference between #1 and #2 on this list is the difference between a specialist and a generalist. Specialists know their subject but don't do much writing outside of it, while generalists can research and write about anything with authority.
Research skills are very important one way or the other, so it's always a good idea to look for writers who can pick up a new topic and hit the ground running.
A big part of your content writing is conveyed through your tone and style. Are you casual or formal? First-person or third-person? Personal or impersonal? Authoritative or questioning?
Answering these questions comes down to developing your brand voice. Your brand voice must be consistent across blog posts, even across different writers, unless you're making a point of making those writers have unique voices and styles. Moreover, your brand voice needs to be consistent across content on your website and landing pages, your social media posts, and your content marketing.
A good writer should be able to adjust their default style to match your brand style. Of course, you should facilitate this by producing a style guide that you can give to your writers when you give them a writing test to see how well they can adhere to it and produce writing that fits with your voice.
Some people think content writing is just about writing blogs. The truth is, while some writers specialize in one format, many will need to be able to write whatever kinds of content as the need arises.
You may consider testing your writers on their ability to write content such as:
Depending on the kind of website you're running, you may need all of these or only some of them. You may also consider hiring more than one specialist writer, rather than one generalist, as your budget allows.
Communication comes into play in two different ways.
The first, as you might imagine, is communicating with you and your team. Your writer may need to talk to other employees to ask specific questions or talk to you about questions or concerns they have about the content. They may need to talk to your graphic designers to guide them (or receive guidance) on the images you'll be including. They may need to talk to editors and others on staff as well.
The second way communication comes into play is in the efficacy of communicating the points they need to make and the information they need to convey in a blog post. Your writers must be effective at writing about the specific points you need to be covered. If they can't convey information effectively, their ability to communicate for your brand will be poor.
Your writers don't need communications degrees, but they do need to be able to communicate with others effectively, both in two-way communication and in one-way blog writing.
Content writing best practices can include a lot of different elements of writing, many of which can change over time, between industries, and across types of content.
Some of the core best practices a writer needs to understand include:
These core tenets of content writing are just scratching the surface. Let me know if you want a deeper post about the best practices in content writing!
One of the most common mistakes in content writing is writing content that is overly self-promotional. Modern content writing needs to be able to sell your business and your product without explicitly selling it. Sales copy is important, don't get me wrong, but it's a different kind of writing, distinct from content writing.
Content should be able to identify and convey pain points and problems your users encounter and explain how they can be solved while either mentioning your product in passing or even just implying that you can solve it. The more self-promotional your content is, the less useful or well-received it will be.
It goes without saying, but your writers should be fluent in the language they'll be writing in. This doesn't mean your writer needs to be monolingual or that they need English as their first language! There are plenty of excellent content writers who fluently write in their second or third languages. There are also plenty of people who barely have fluency in the one language they speak. All that matters is that your writers display fluency in the language you need them to write.
Content writing is about more than just writing facts in an order.
Three things go into every piece of content:
The ability to implement a high-level strategy in individual blog posts is one of the major defining factors between entry-level content creators and expert content writers.
Criticism is a fact of life in writing. It's extremely important that any writer you hire is able to accept criticism and knows when and when not to fight back.
Certainly, criticism can be poorly given or poorly directed. But, a writer who reacts defensively, takes criticism as a personal insult, or is unable to actually accept and use criticism is a poor writer. You need to know how to give criticism (and when it's something minor enough, it can be caught in editing and doesn't need to be mentioned), but they also need to know how to receive it.
Sometimes, a writer may have a valid reason for doing something you're criticizing. If so, they need to be able to explain that reason to you, whereupon a decision can be made. A writer who retreats or has nothing to back up their actions isn't likely to succeed in the long term.
The ability to manage deadlines and produce writing at or before them is essential. Of course, turning in work on time is critical for any role, not just content writing.
Depending on how you organize your company and your writing process, you may have your writer break up a larger task into smaller deliverables or even set deadlines on their own. Knowing how much they can produce in a given time is important as well.
The best writers have enough attention to detail to turn in polished first drafts that need a minimum of editing. That's not to say you don't need editing, of course; without it, all kinds of mistakes and issues can slip through. However, the more your writer can internalize ahead of time, the less you'll need to go through rounds of revision.
Writing is, generally, a freelance position. That means your writers need to be capable of managing their time in order to get their work done. Legally, you're not able to command the working hours of a freelancer outside of specific situations; as long as they get their work done on time, that's all that needs to happen. Therefore, independent time management skills are a must.
Content SEO means knowing how to use keywords, how to write meta data, and even how to format content such that things like Schema can be implemented on it. Knowledge of SEO can be trained, but if you want to hire a content writer who can hit the ground running, you want someone who already knows at least the basics of what they're doing and why.
Content aesthetics is an often-overlooked aspect of content writing. Nobody likes reading undifferentiated walls of text. Good content needs frequent line breaks, numerous subheadings, and formatting like bolding and underlines, as well as indentations for things like pull quotes and bulleted lists. A lot goes into making content skimmable and readable, and your writers need to know how to write in a way that facilitates it or implement the formatting themselves.
When you're looking to hire a talented content writer, you want someone who can meet at least half of what's on this list. Sure, most of it can be trained over time, but do you really have that time?
Do you have any questions or concerns about this list of skills and qualities to look for in a talented content writer? Was there anything that we mentioned that you'd like additional clarification on? If so, please be sure to leave a comment down below, and we'll gladly continue this discussion further!