19 Skills A Winning Content Writer Needs To Deliver Results

June 13, 2020 | Sean Foo

Effective content marketing requires content writers with top-notch skills that go beyond just writing well.

Anyone can string along a few sentences, but only a great writer can engage and connect with their audience meaningfully.

It is this very engagement with your content that drives tangible benefits such as traffic and conversions, which is what matters!

Hire the right writer with the necessary skills and you’ll establish a strong online presence.

But finding one isn’t that easy.

That’s why we have gathered a list of the top 19 skills to help you identify a winning writer that will drive results for your business and brand.


1. Powerful Topic Research Skills

To write great articles, you’ll need great research skills.

With over 4.4 million posts published every day, yours need to stand out to be successful. Your articles need to be in-depth and credible – which means doing tons of research beforehand!

In fact, the top 5 search results tend to be 2,000 to 2,400 words long.

It’s possible to achieve such length by fluffing, but readers will just click away. 

This means your visitors won’t be staying for long, which can tank your rankings instead.

To get better at research, challenge yourself to dive deeper each time you write. Dig out the facts, the stats, through Google search or books. 

Whether you are writing a single article, a guest post or crafting a content strategy for your blog, effective topic research skills will form the backbone of your success.

Keep researching and eventually, you’ll get used to it!


2. Conducting Thorough Keyword Research

Even if keyword stuffing is dead, keyword research is not.

To find a restaurant for dinner, customers will still search “restaurants near me” and read reviews ranking high on Google. 

It’s the same for your articles – your audience will still search for certain terms, to find the content they want!

Keyword research nowadays is more about ‘user’s intent’, or what your audience is thinking as they type the search term. 

It’s not just about finding topics with low keyword difficulty and a decent volume of monthly searches, but key topics that go beyond just awareness and have commercial intent.

That means things a prospective customer will search for just before they make a buying decision!

To do keyword research, list down all possible terms your audience will type. 

Then, check out top-ranking articles for each term and learn how they incorporate the keywords into the content and what sub-topics (or sub-keywords) are covered.

A great (and free!) tool is Ubersuggest, which can help you check for the keyword difficulty, and generate more keyword ideas too.

Have money to spend? 

Then check out Ahrefs, their keyword research tool allows you to conduct your research faster with all the various metrics that are important to a content writer including:

  • Ranking keywords
  • The competition level of the current ranking articles
  • Local and international search volume for the term

‘Career Change’ is a popular keyword with high search volume and strong competition


3. How To Form A Buyer’s Persona And Then Write For Them

Crafting a buyer’s persona helps you understand your audience, so you can engage and connect with them better.

When your audience looks for content, they have certain pain points they want to resolve. Knowing what drives them allows you to “speak directly to their mind” – a strong rapport builder!

Knowing your audience also helps you figure out how to angle your content, and what search terms to use, for topic and keyword research. It makes your job easier overall.

To form a buyer’s persona, map out what your audience thinks and feels. Here are some common personas to consider too.


4. Crafting Effective Outlines

Once you’ve done your research, crafting an outline helps you put all your pointers and data into one cohesive flow.

Outlines save you time and frustration!

Writing from scratch isn’t easy, and you can get stuck staring at your blinking cursor, or you may end up over-explaining some pointers while leaving out others.

A good outline meanwhile ensures you cover all your points, and know exactly where you’re headed while you are writing!

To craft an outline, simply note your main ideas as headers. Then, note down what to cover for each idea in point form.

First drafts are always hard – make it easier by writing an outline first!


5. Writing Compelling Headlines

On average, 8 out of 10 will read the headlines, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.

This means if your headline doesn’t impress, the odds of someone reading your content will be much less. 

So your effort in creating the content might as well be flushed down the drain!

In fact, headlines are so important that Upworthy makes its editors write at least 25 headlines for each post – to test which generates the most views. The result? Views can increase by up to 500%, from just one brilliant headline tweak!

To write great headlines, here are 49 tried-and-tested headline formulas you can use, which we use for clients even today.

Let’s face it, a lot of SEO articles out there are variations of the same old headline with subtle tweaks here and there

Great content writers also have the ability to take refresh a stale topic with a new twist.

Take this typical SEO title:

“12 Ways To Get Promoted Quickly At Work”

While this might be technically sound for search engines, it doesn’t inspire much urgency to click on it.

A skilled content writer might reframe it to:

“Why You Aren’t Getting Promoted At Work (& What To About it Today!)”

This instantly makes it more appealing and click-worthy to readers.


6. Flawless Grammar & On-Point Language Usage

Though this one is kind of expected, we felt the need to emphasise this.

Proper grammar makes you look credible. It shows you care about details, and that you are competent. 

In fact, poor grammar repels 59% of your viewers away!

Meanwhile, precise word choices help too. Picking the right words helps you crystalize your meaning, and avoid run-on sentences. So your words become more impactful and easier to read.

To get better at grammar and language usage, The Elements of Style by Strunk & White is a helpful guide to refer to. 

You can also run your articles through Grammarly, Hemmingway Editor, or simply another pair of eyes.

Pay attention to your language & grammar, it matters much more than you think


7. Awesome At Storytelling

Ultimately, what we want to build with our content is an emotional connection. And stories are one of the best ways to do so.

Stories make you sound authentic – your audience feels they’re talking with a human instead of a lifeless business entity. 

This makes them open up more to you, to trust and eventually buy from you, plus they also make your articles more memorable. 

Still recall stories you heard in childhood? 

That’s how pervasive stories can be. Used well, stories can create lasting impressions on your audience.

To get better at storytelling, it helps to share the conflict, then ‘before’ and ‘after’. You can also read Stories That Stick by Kindra Hall, or simply read more fiction!

Need a framework on how to write stories that we all relate to? Check out our guide on how to effectively utilize ‘The Hero’s Journey’ for your content writing.


8. Writing Conversationally

Writing conversationally also helps you build emotional connections.

Ever read an article that you liked? 

Chances are, that article spoke to you like a friend. It spoke simply, knew how you felt, and asked you questions once in a while!

We as readers crave the human touch. We want to know each other better, to build bonds and connections. 

Likewise, as writers, adding that touch makes readers like us. So they trust and eventually buy from us.

To write conversationally, it helps to use the word “you” often. Also, write like you’re talking to one person, and add a bit of your personality!

Whether your task on hand is crafting website copy or a long-form article, aim to use the active voice and write conversationally!

Writing conversationally helps to connect to the mind & soul of your reader


9. Utilizing The Right Tone Of Voice

Understanding the right tone to use helps you sound appropriate for the business you write for.

Imagine if McDonald’s started using a serious, formal tone instead of their fun, casual one. How would you feel? 

At the very least, you might feel disconnected with them, and not want to visit them again!

Using the right tone makes your audience feel you ‘get’ them. It’s like the business’ personality. If it’s similar to the audience’s, you will connect with them.

To know what tone to use, figure out what values guide your business. From there, you can consider how you want your audience to feel.


10. Writing Across Various Mediums & Platforms

If you’re writing for the long-term, chances are you won’t just write blog articles.

You may end up writing on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. You may write eBooks, white papers or even FAQs. Where your audience goes, you’ll need to just follow. What your audience seeks, you’ll need to make content for them to read!

Different platforms, formats require different styles. 

Tweets are short and snappy, while white papers are long and thorough. You need to adapt to each required style.

To grow more adaptable, try writing for formats you’re less used to. Everybody Writes by Ann Handley also shares best practices for different platforms.

You’ll have to go beyond just blog posts, explore the world of social media writing!


11. Weave In Current Events And Trends Into Topics

Weaving in current affairs can make you relevant for the reader.

When the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak happened, people wanted to find ways to manage their new lives. 

Search volumes spiked by up to 9,900% for related terms. So businesses that adopted the trend saw their traffic increase!

Current affairs are part of the context that people read our content in. Playing to the context personalizes the readers’ experience, which makes 80% of them more likely to buy from you.

To stay relevant with your audience, stick to a content calendar with festivals listed, and room for new affairs. 

Remember to stay updated on current affairs and industry news too!


12. Taking Contrarian (Opposing) Views On Topics

When everyone else says the same thing, taking an opposing view can stir controversy and attract you views fast.

Sharing controversial ideas stirs people emotionally. This makes them read, comment and even share your content, even if they don’t agree with it!

As your views will stir strong feelings, it’s important to back them up with credible sources. This is so the contention will be directed at the issue, and not to you.

To raise contrarian views that stir, look out for common assumptions you can disprove. 

When it comes to disagreements, seek to address them respectfully to minimize any backlash.

Being contrarian helps you stand out in a world where everything is starting to look the same


13. Sourcing For Supporting Information

People will trust what you say only if you back it up with reliable, credible information.

According to Edelman, only 34% of consumers trust most brands they use, and 81% say trust is a deciding factor of whether they buy

Trust is of growing importance to consumers, and having reliable sources helps you build trust with them.

In fact, linking to external sources will not necessarily drive readers away. It can even help you build backlinks, and potentially rank higher!

It helps to read up lots before writing, and bookmark interesting sources. You’ll never know when you might need them!


14. Good Grasp Of Digital Marketing As A Whole

Understanding how your content fits in with other aspects of online marketing can help you integrate your overall efforts.

SEO, content and social media form the ‘discovery’, ‘consumption’, and ‘engagement’ of online marketing. 

This means your content can help your website be more easily seen while retaining your audience when done right!

Content marketing is not just creating content. It is also about promoting content, which social media can help. Knowing the right channels for each purpose helps you get results faster. 

In addition, understanding which part of the digital sales funnel your content will be at will help you craft content that might need to be either more informational or salesy.

To learn more, Optimize by Lee Odden dives deeper into the topic. Picking up basic SEO helps too!

Understand what is the purpose of your content and how it fits into the bigger marketing picture


15. Understanding SEO & How To Optimize An Article

Don’t be sad, it’s not that bad! What you need is just some basic SEO skills, which is actually quite easy to learn.

Knowing basic on-page SEO helps you rank your article higher so that more people will discover and read it.

After keyword research, all it takes is just strategically peppering your keyword in 6 places:

1) Your URL

2) Title tags

3) Headers

4) Sub-headers

5) Image alt texts

6) Meta-descriptions

So that Google’s bots can find and index your page!

To learn more, here’s a quick guide by Backlinko to understand and start applying SEO.  


16. Thorough Editing & Proofreading Skill

No one writes perfectly on their first try. It’s only after editing several times, do they finally hit the “publish” button!

As we write, it’s easy to ramble and make all sorts of mistakes. 

Editing helps you cut rants short and fix those mistakes, so your final article is concise and error-free.

It helps to read your article like a first-time reader would. Where can you cut down, and where would you need to substantiate? Think of what your reader knows, or feel less sure of.

To get better at editing, here are 25 tips for editing your first draft. You can also get a friend or colleague to critique your work.

Take the time to edit your drafts to make it picture perfect


17. The Ability To Take Criticism & Improve

When you start writing, you may have an editor guiding you. 

Their feedbacks may be harsh, but accepting them is the best way to learn.

An experienced editor helps you build the right habits, only if you let them. They can tell you why your elaborate explanations suck, so your writing stays concise and relevant to readers.

As writers, we tend to see ourselves as creative geniuses and be rather thin-skinned.

But if you’re serious about improving though, you need to toughen up. No way around it!

It helps to see the criticisms as directed to your work, not you. Eventually, they’ll help your work – and you – improve.


18. Being An Anti-Perfectionist

Perfectionism holds you back from writing your first draft or finishing the article. It is what makes you procrastinate!

No matter what, your first draft will be ugly. No one organizes their ideas smoothly on their first try. If you accept that as reality, your productivity will skyrocket.

No work of art is ever finished, only abandoned. There will always be parts to edit and improve too. It hurts, but you eventually have to let go of your work.

Thankfully the best antidote to perfectionism is deadlines. 

Strict, looming deadlines help make you scramble to just get work done to the best of your ability.

It’s always better to publish an article that is 80% there than a picture-perfect piece of writing that never sees the light of day.

It’s a blog post, not a beauty contest – write it as well as you can and hit the publish button!


19. Meeting Deadlines & Delivering Polished Work

If content is King, deadlines are God.

Content has power only when deadlines rule. Without deadlines, your content will grow irrelevant, or have low publishing frequency. Either way, people will barely read it.

Meeting your deadlines helps your clients meet theirs too. This helps you look competent and professional, so they’ll want to work with you again.

Stick to your deadlines and content calendar, even if you have no clients, boss watching. If you struggle to meet deadlines, here are 14 writing and productivity tips you can follow.


Identify The Right Content Writer And Reap The Rewards

While there might be a ton of skills to learn to become a content expert, serious writers will gladly embrace the challenge to level up their content game.

But what if you want to start writing for your own business?

Where’s a good place to start?

Here are the top 10 content marketing books you can read, sorted to the skill level you are currently at.

Happy writing!

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