The phrase may be “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but it implies that words are the currency, and that’s just as true online as it is elsewhere. Online content is driven by words. Blog posts, Google searches, Facebook updates: they all start with text, with a sentence or a phrase. Images come with accompanying text for people using screen readers for accessibility; online translators help us get the important parts of articles posted in other languages. With all the content we consume online—videos, music, podcasts—it’s important to remember that most of it starts with content writing.
So what’s content? Online content is what we consume when we’re on the internet. Social media is content that’s created and driven by the users themselves, and usually has a personal aspect to it. Other published content comes from individuals, businesses, and organizations who have an interest in providing information online. Putting ‘how to install a new faucet’ into a search engine will bring up a number of videos, infographics, and how-to articles: these are all content, created by people who have shared them publicly.
While it’s true that you shouldn’t trust everything you see on the internet, most of the time content creators offer their information in good faith. For individuals and businesses looking to promote themselves, it’s an important part of their online brand to provide high-quality, useful, accurate information. In order to do this, they need to start with a plan for each piece of content they want to share, and that means that most content starts with writing.
To be fair, most people consider content writing to be the production of articles, blog posts, and web pages. But writing is the first step for other kinds of content, as well. Infographics require research reports, so that the most important facts can be highlighted in the image. Videos require scripts to be effective and useful.
Even artwork and photography posts will usually benefit from accompanying text, describing and highlighting what’s special about the content. All of these things usually start with a plan and an outline, so that in the end they clearly express what the content creator wants to say.
With so many places providing information and content online, it’s a highly competitive arena. Our eyes are the prize for online content; with online marketing, revenue, and brand awareness, it’s all about getting users to your pages and getting them to engage. This means that content writing has to focus on things that make that particular piece of online media stand out.
What’s Important in Content Writing?
Online content writing requires all of the usual spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules of creative writing, professional reporting, or publishing, but the writer also needs to look at their work as a whole and make sure it represents what it needs to. Good content writing should aim for the following:
● Accuracy: Content writers should know what they’re writing about. Luckily, that doesn’t mean the writer has to be an expert in everything; there’s plenty of information available online to help the writer put together an article, script, or outline on nearly any topic. However, it’s the writer’s responsibility to make sure they’re sharing accurate information. Making false claims or giving poor advice can damage a writer’s brand.
● Usefulness: People look for content for many reasons: entertainment, curiosity, seeking advice, even winning an argument. If an article isn’t useful to online users, it won’t succeed. It’s the writer’s job to determine the goal for that particular piece of content and make sure their work fits.
● Uniqueness: With the vast amount of content available online, new content needs to offer something different in order to stand out. This can be anything from a new angle, a distinct voice, or a certain style or format — anything that makes the content different than before.
Content Writing Process
Most experienced content writers start with a dual process: research and outlining. Good content work starts with an outline, so that articles stay organized and flow well, but research on the topic usually goes hand-in-hand so that the writer knows they’re including what’s relevant and important in the outline itself. This is especially important for content writers who may not be subject matter experts; a bit of research should provide enough information to craft an outline that fits the content topic.
After the outline has been crafted, writers often do a bit more research, digging into facts and studies that can be shared and linked in the article to improve its veracity. They’ll look for other popular articles on similar topics, or for less-popular articles that might inspire a new angle to share in their content. This gives the writer a good collection of references for the work, and also gives them a better idea of how to find a unique angle.
The style of content writing usually changes based on the genre and the topic. Casual blog posts on friendly topics usually use an informal style, using ‘you’ for engagement, to connect to the reader and pull you into the article. More formal kinds of content, like reports or papers, often avoid the casual ‘you’ and focus on the facts. A lot of content writing advice encourages writers to be snappy, clever, and entertaining, but it doesn’t necessarily work for every kind of content.
Words are at the center of our online experiences, and content writers help to drive that process. That picture may be worth a thousand words, but it’s likely that the writer is the one who put it there.