When I tell people I earn my living as a content writer, the other person will ask me, “What is content writing?” Or, I’ll see the un-uttered question flashing in their eyes — flickering at me like a deer in the headlights. And I get it. I was an English major in college, a solid writer, and graduated with only the vague idea that content writing meant writing “stuff.”
It’s not untrue; I am a stuff-writer.
Content writing involve writing a very specific kind of stuff for brands or businesses to help them get more website traffic, more customers, and more money.
Thus as a content writer, I am a stuff-writer of things like instruction manuals, blog articles, or website copy — written text not novels or ad slogans–that human eyeballs and Google algorithms read.
So. Let’s go into detail on what exactly content writing is and why it matters below.
What is content writing?
This is an excerpt of a downloadable Glossary for Gen Z Slang featured on Prodege.com and an excellent example of content marketing in action. Businesses who want to know more about Generation Z and how to market to this demographic will find this resource on Prodege’s website where they can learn more about the brand’s market research solutions.
Content writing is a form of writing that’s related to ad or copywriting. It involves writing different kinds of content to meet business needs:
- White papers
- Case studies
- Landing pages
- Blog articles
- Help or support articles
- Thought leadership posts
- Product descriptions
- Check out pages and thank you pages
- Scripts for podcasts or video content
- Press releases
- Text posts for social media platforms
- Professional summaries
- Instruction manuals
Some people consider content writing to be a subform of copywriting. I think of content writing as being equal to copywriting—if not a higher life form—but I do run a content writing agency and will lay my bias on the table.
A copywriter is an ad writer, like Don Draper or Peggy Olson from Mad Men. Copywriters come up with ways to sell your brand or business to your target audience through clever slogans, taglines, commercial scripts, and marketing campaigns.
This famous ad tagline is an example of copywriting. This is what Don and Peggy do.
Nike’s blog, called Nike Stories, is an example of Nike content marketing. (THIS is the kind of writing I do.) It features blog articles about sports, coaching, culture, and other topics of related interest.
Here’s a preview of just three of the many content marketing blog articles you’ll find in Nike Stories.
As a stuff-writer, I do some Don and Peggy stuff. Like coming up with catchy ad copy or business taglines like “We Write Freaky Good Things.” But I mostly do content.
And as a content writer, I inform, educate, instruct, or entertain readers—your potential customers.
Say you are a bird feeder company. A team of copywriters might think up taglines like, “It’s for the birds!” and write related copy for print campaigns in wildlife magazines and newspapers.
But as a professional content writer, I would make sure your audience is receptive to Don and Peggy’s efforts and can find follow-up answers to questions after seeing their ad campaign.
I’d make sure consumers were aware of the different kinds of bird feeders and the one best suited for their needs (positioning yours as the holy grail).
In addition to landing pages, product descriptions, and sales category pages, I’d write pamphlets, downloadable assets, FAQs, and resource articles too. Resource articles on your website are blog articles, but the word “blog” can be trivializing—for many it sounds like an online diary—but think of a blog as helpful, written content to guide current and potential buyers toward your solution.
Topics I might address include:
- Benefits and drawbacks of different kinds of bird feeder structures and materials.
- Best bird feeders for different climates or landscaping.
- Price ranges and bells and whistle—simple A-frame or mansion? Interior webcam?
- Best bird feeders for your area—based on available birds you want to attract.
- Different types of bird food and the needed birdhouse construction to store it.
- Pest management—like hornets, raccoons, and squirrels.
- Maintenance, repairs, and replacement.
The list could go on endlessly.
Beyond just discovering your website, well-structured content can help readers:
- Understand how to select the right birdhouse so they’re thrilled with their purchase (and don’t bash you in the reviews because they buy a decorative metal birdhouse instead of a cedar nesting box).
- Get why their birdhouse started rotting after 3 years, or why squirrels keep getting in (and don’t slam you with negative comments).
- Know the different features or bells and whistles they might need or be able to live without.
- Ability to properly set up a birdhouse—where to place it in relation to other foliage or your kitchen window—like how high off the ground and how to securely mount it.
- Accessories or purchase add-ons like bird baths, bird food, or a secondary birdhouse to attract other types of birds.
This blog article on birdwatching-bliss.com is an example of content marketing for bird feeders. While the page design is not as sleek as Nike.com, it still ranks on page one of Google search results for a search on bird feeders.
It would begin with an online search. Likely, a customer would go to Google, ask their question about birdhouses, and then see your article or web content in the search results.
Ideally, they’d then visit a page on your website that has this information–likely a blog post article.
When you search for information on just about anything, from vacation reviews to the best dating apps, you’re most likely directed to a blog article.
Blog articles are the most prevalent form of content writing that we are all familiar with. But often a blog articles don’t look like a blog article. It can look like a review, listicle, or resource article. WebMD, Livestrong, Oprah Daily, Forbes Advisor, and The Penny Hoarder are common examples of blog article sites.
Again, blog articles aren’t just mommy confessionals and opinion posts. They’re a way for individuals or businesses to educate, inform, and entertain.
This review article on Oprah Daily is an example of content marketing and affiliate marketing. Its purpose is to educate readers and drive sales for Oprah’s brand, Oprah’s Favorite Things, and Oprah’s affiliate partners.
What does content writing do? Why does it matter?
Let’s get more specific now about what content writing can do and why it matters.
Through content writing:
- Customers find your brand on the Internet.
- Customers (B2B or B2C) can learn about your brand or business.
Content writing is a key component of search engine optimization (SEO)–helping your website to rank in Google results and other search engines. Often, the terms content writing and SEO writing are used interchangeably.
Once people discover your brand, content writing can:
- Drive leads (build email lists with an email signup form)
- Drive revenue (sales of products and services)
- Drive referrals (make your content easily shareable on other social and digital channels)
Let’s say 100 people a day somehow find your birdfeeder website. It’s a basic layout. It explains you sell bird feeders and accessories, lists your physical address, and has some Shopify or eCommerce plugins. You list the products and their prices. Great.
But with additional content writing—product descriptions, resource articles, tips, guides, and rich media—your site could get 10,000 traffic visitors a day. Even if only 2% of all website visitors make a purchase, that’s still 200 sales a day, or 6,000 new customers a month.
And this 2% figure is your conversion rate: it’s the number of people doing the action you want (making a purchase) out of all the people who could have taken that action (all 10,000 people who landed on your website).
Content writing is cheaper than copywriting
Generally, content writing is much cheaper than copywriting and delivers more bang for your marketing buck.
Copywriters generally charge more because it’s a more competitive field (the prestige of writing a stick-in-your brain jingle). On top of that, there are advertising costs: livestream and TV ads, podcast sponsorships, banner ads, sponsored posts, and partnerships with Creators and Influencers.
Content writing is generally waaay cheaper than copywriting because there is less awareness for this specific field.
- Businesses are often unaware of how to effectively utilize their blog and it’s an untapped resource on their website. (i.e., They may only use it to house articles about company holiday parties or volunteer events. Or they will post a few articles—not optimized for SEO—before they stop posting altogether.)
- Businesses hire copywriters to do their content writing, unaware of the distinct (with some overlap) skills that are required. There are many job listings, for example, for “Copywriter” but the description reads like a content writing role.
- No associated advertising costs. If you do a print ad in an industry publication, for example, you have to hire a writer and then you have to pay for the ad to be distributed. For content writing, the work is done upfront and paid for once. It’s free to post to your website. The content is structured in a way where you can continually get website traffic and sales. One well-written B2B article, for example, could generate 50 – 500 sales inquiries per month– month over month—even years after the article was published. (There are some businesses though, like Forbes Advisor, who will pay money to promote their content marketing articles on social sites.)
The article about birdhouses in the National Wildlife Federation, which occupies the top slot in Google Search, was published over a decade ago in March 2011 but is still ranking highly (on the first page).
As this article excerpt below shows, the post is exceptionally well structured for SEO. It’s informative, well-organized with structured data, has headers and visual hierarchy, and photos.
It’s not as sleek as what you would find on a website for lululemon or Red Bull, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s well-written, helpful, and informative, and presents the data in a cohesive way easily laid out for readers and web crawlers to understand.
What does a content writer do?
A content writer has exceptional writing skills and creates high-quality content in different text or copy forms—blog post, resource guide, case study, landing page—that get people to your website, but there’s much more to it than just good grammar and a clever way with words.
A content writer can plan, develop, and lead major facets of your content strategy and overall digital marketing.
Beyond just creating content by writing it, a content writer:
- Improves your SEO game dramatically
- Drives revenue
- Build customer loyalty and trust
Improve your SEO | Search engine optimization
A good content writer will amp up your SEO game. They write content in a structured way so search engines can find it, read it, and understand it. If the Google search engine algorithms don’t really understand what your article or landing page is about, then they will never show it to viewers in their search results.
A good content writer will improve your SEO by:
- Structuring articles in a hierarchical way that search engines understand, with headers (H1, H2, H3, etc.), subtopics, and bullets.
- Internal linking to other content (articles, landing pages, product pages, help page) on your site in a way that Google and other Search engines like.
- Securing backlinks. Producing content that is so exceptionally well written and informative that authoritative (exceptional) sites will want to link to your website.
- Optimizing or writing ideal meta descriptions and titles for all of your content (i.e., each article).
- Continually editing and optimizing existing content so that it stays relevant (i.e. Updating your post about AI trends for 2018.)
- Keyword research. This includes mapping and planning the keywords related to your business that you should focus on to drive traffic. Look for words that have high traffic potential but are not overly difficult to rank for on the search engine results pages. Plan content based on keyword intent–“buy birdhouse labor day sale” or “birdhouses that don’t rot.” With one query, the user wants to buy quickly and get a bargain. For the other query, the customer is still gathering information. They might be open to making a purchase or may just want ideas on how to construct their own.
- Identify and troubleshoot website content issues. Examples include thin (not enough) content on certain pages, optimizing image file names and descriptions, cannibalization (two or more pages are so similar that Google is confused and thus doesn’t show either page), broken links, redirects, pages that aren’t showing up in search results, and localization.
- Collaboration with developers and IT staff. A content writer can receive and provide input on how to structure website content (subdomain vs subdirectory, navigation bar, different category pages) so you get maximum coverage in search results, minimize any technical issues (i.e., a page taking too long to load), and help the user easily find what they need and get to where they need to go.
This top search result for the National Wildlife Federation is an example of what excellent content writing does. It puts your brand or business at the top of search results.
If you search “how to select the right bird house” on Google, the top result is an SEO-structured article on the National Wildlife Foundation. The article, entitled “How to Choose the Right Birdhouse” has a preview portion of the article, a featured snippet, visible in the search results.
A content writer crafts their writing in a way to meet a piece’s specific goal, whether it’s to get an email newsletter sign-up, warm up a lead, build brand recognition, or drive a sale. In the end, all of these goals lead to revenue.
Some specific ways you can see this in content writing:
- Strategic calls to action (CTAs) inflected at the right places and with the right wording (i.e. “Learn more today” or “Get $10 off through June.”)
- Content creation itself; understanding the reader’s intent and giving them the content that solves their problems. Obviously, you want a sale. But shouting sales louder won’t make it happen if they’re not ready. Sometimes a long-form content post that educates readers is better than a sales push.
- Strategic internal links to product or service pages.
This sales category page, “Father’s Day,” is another example of SEO content writing for businesses. Searches related to Father’s Day and bird feeders will bring the searcher to this sales category landing page that’s been optimized for Father’s Day search traffic. Even though there aren’t images of a father, the changes made are enough for it to perform well in Google Search. There’s a “Father’s Day” page category in the subdirectory and it is visible in the breadcrumb trail of Home / Trending / Father’s Day.
Build customer loyalty and trust
This brings us to our next section: using content marketing to build customer loyalty and trust.
If you create content that solves your customers’ problems–instead of just selling to them–you’re going to build trust and loyalty with your audience.
Continuing our birdhouse example:
- You can position yourself as a wilderness or bird wildlife expert.
- If you solve or prevent a reader’s problems (wrong structure material, wrong birds, wrong size), they will trust you.
- They will return to your site again when they have other related problems or questions.
It may happen straight away, it may take a couple of months or a couple of years. (After all, we have looked at a top-ranking article for bird feeders that was written in 2011.) But through well-crafted content writing, you can position your brand or business as a helpful expert.
What is an example of content writing?
Examples of content writing include:
- Website articles (called blog articles or resource articles)
- White papers or case studies
- Landing pages
- eBooks or brochures
Often content writing can appear to be a news or feature story on a magazine or news site publication.
Sometimes, content writing is used for paid advertising campaigns. For example, an article about the top ways to earn money online that is promoted organically (non-paid) and through paid ads on social media and search.
Here, a business could run ads or paid messaging about different side hustles. A tap on the ad would bring the reader to an article that promotes different affiliate partners.
This sponsored result or ad, by The Penny Hoarder, is another example of content writing. The reader is brought to an article that promotes The Penny Hoarder brand and urges the reader to sign up for the newsletter. Then, the article presents 50 ways to earn and has 50+ affiliate links to promoted products and services.
Is writing content easy?
As an SEO content writer, I’ll say yes and no. Mostly no? Only because it has a lot of invisible requirements that are not evident to the naked eye. Or at least this was my trajectory as an English major with no professional writing experience. Ability has come with time over the past several years. There’s no quick way to wing it.
It looks deceptively easy because most of us know how to read and write, and some of us are pretty good at it.
But to be a skilled business writer (authoring content that businesses will pay you for), SEO writer, or content writer you need:
- Natural academic or creative writing ability–with wit and incisiveness.
- Innate storytelling ability.
- Excellent grammar and a knack for words.
- Ability to learn AP style (a pain in the neck for most).
- Adherence to brand and style guidelines for the brand or client. A consistent brand voice is a must.
- Understanding of how to organize your content writing matter. Articles you write for a business shouldn’t look like one long essay. It needs headers, subheaders, and visual variation throughout the text.
- Knowledge of SEO best practices.
- Knowledge of keyword research, keyword planning, and keyword structuring.
- Understanding of best practices for backlink building and internal links. (Many inexperienced writers will provide URL strings that are hundreds of characters long, ad links, or affiliate links instead of naked, organic links.)
- Ability to make repetitive content unique. (i.e., For SEO purposes you may need to write unique, long-form articles on closely related themes like “How to Write Engaging Content,” “Interesting Angles for Marketing Content,” or “Using Keywords to Write Great Content to Engage Readers.“)
- Technical training in how to do a search results analysis to understand why some content is ranking on the first page, and other content is not.
- Ability to make an article skimmable, and create content for a reader whose search query may bring them to the bottom paragraph of the article, the beginning, or somewhere in the middle.
- Understanding of how to structure written content for it to appear in featured snippets on the search results page.
- Understanding of image optimization.
- Exceptional research ability. Swiftly research and deliver subject matter expertise (SME) on a variety of topics.
- Ability to know what to write–what content should go on what pages of a website and why. Understanding of how to structure content for L1, L2, and L3 pages, and the types of copy that should go there.
Most “good writers” are able to do the first 3-4 items on the list, but are unfamiliar with the remaining components. That’s where the experience and skill of a professional content writer come into play.
If you’re a decent writer — able to tick off the first 3 to 4 skills on the checklist — and want to give content writing a go, it is doable. Here are some tips.
- Read blog articles from Moz, SurferSEO, Semrush, and Google Search Central about SEO and SEO content writing.
- Find an experienced content writer who can provide continual feedback. They can point out tiny things — seemingly picky and insignificant — that can make or break a post from an SEO or revenue-generating perspective. Things like using italics instead of underlining, or H2 heading instead of bold font or an H1 heading.
- Familiarize yourself with SEO tools like Ahrefs, Buzz Sumo, Spyfu, Google Keyword Planner, Clearscope, Moz, BrightEdge, and SurferSEO.
- Familiarize yourself with some technical tools like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Yoast, Screaming Frog, and Majestic.
- Familiarize yourself with CMS tools like WordPress, including plug-ins and HTML.
- Familiarize yourself with AI tools like Jasper, Bard, and Chat GPT. (These tools have limitations, but they are outstanding for generating lots of ideas that I can repackage.)
- Play around with your own blog. Wix or WordPress are free platforms where you can write and publish content, experimenting with different SEO tactics and content formats to see what works for generating organic traffic.
- Play around with social media posts. Share digital content (i.e., side hustles for working parents) on different platforms with different observations, hashtags, or mentions. See what generates interest. For business-related content, social media networks like LinkedIn are excellent.
Many of these tools are free or there is a freemium version. In my work in digital marketing strategy and content writing, I’ve used all of these listed tools at some point.
Right now, I primarily utilize the shared Google resources, SurferSEO, and Ahrefs with paid (lowest tier) subscriptions. For different clients, I will adapt and use their preferred SEO and keyword tools so everyone involved in the project is on the same page.
For this particular article, I used Surfer SEO to structure my writing. I wanted the finished article to be extensive, on par with other similar articles in terms of length and quality, and above all usefulness to readers.
How do I find content writers?
There are several ways to find freelance content writing services. Generally, the more experienced, skilled, or effective the writer, the more they will charge.
As a marketing manager (in previous jobs), I have found and hired content writers through these methods:
- Content writing agencies
- Freelance writing platforms
- Marketing agencies
- College job boards
- Contact online writers you like
Content writing agencies
Often smaller shops (1-4 persons) like Henmar Creative, content writing agencies have expertise in the content writing process and creating articles, blog posts, landing pages, email marketing, and other communications for specific business goals.
Beyond looking pretty, content writing agencies can structure content that is SEO optimized and supports your sales and conversion funnel. They can also support or manage your broader content calendar.
Costs can range from per hour or per project, with hourly fees ranging from $50 to $300 and project or monthly fees ranging from $500 to $25K.
Henmar Creative, for examples, has completed projects ranging from $5 (early days!) to $30K. Most content writing projects now are anywhere from $750 to $10K per month. We can offer a quote to fit your project scope based on needs and budget. Just ask us!
This is a snippet of a playful and informative guide on how to market to Gen Z. It’s a great example of the type of content that a content writing agency can deliver. It’s a guide that I authored in October 2022 and it has been a top generator for B2B leads.
This YouTube video is a great example of video content marketing. The brand wool& (Wooland) is sharing ways that customers can style one of their dresses. In addition to that video, you can find a “matching” blog article on the brand’s website.
Freelance writing platforms
Services like Clearvoice or Scripted can cost a few hundred to $10K per month. For a few hundred a month, you would likely get 1-2 short articles that may or may not align with pillar and spoke post goals.
Clearvoice’s algorithm, for example, searches the web for writers with experience in writing about your industry or niche. The writing quality is very good, but not as well optimized for SEO, revenue, or lead generation. The content can be good for blog posts or resource articles, but not general web pages (i.e., user flow, landing pages, product descriptions).
Full-service agencies can help you build out a cohesive advertising and content marketing campaign. In addition to landing pages, content articles, and social content, this includes copy for TV, radio, podcast, digital ads, and print advertising.
Marketing agencies may or may not offer content writing as a standalone service; commonly it’s an add-on option for a larger project and costs start at $300 per hour.
College job boards
If you go this route, it will require extensive training and mentoring. This a good, low-budget option if you possess SEO and content writing expertise in-house and are willing to train English major students.
It’s a great opportunity to scout and invest in potential talent, mentoring young (freelance contractor) writers as an extension of your marketing team. It will take time to restructure their content and add SEO optimization though.
Reaching out to your alma mater’s career center or chair of the English department can be a good place to start. Or reach out to a local liberal arts college in town.
Contact online writers you like
I’ve read articles on sites with strong SEO presence–Oprah Daily, FinanceBuzz, The Penny Hoarder–and reached out directly to those writers to ask if they freelanced and what their rates were.
Look for the author of articles you like. Usually, you can click on the author’s name and find their bio with their email, Twitter handle, or other contact info.
As premium writers–writers writing for blue-chip publications–their rates are higher. I have contacted and hired some of these writers, and they quote rates of $0.25 to $1.50 per word. This would make a long-form article or pillar post $1,000 to $12,000 in cost.
Having hired some freelance writers from these sources (in previous work as a digital marketing manager), I’ve found the quality of the writing is outstanding but not as SEO-fluent.
Fiverr is a very mixed bag. There are thousands of Fiverr freelancers who want to become a content writer, and all boast outstanding skills, SEO knowledge, and cheap rates–$5 to $10 range.
Generally, you get what you pay for and I have yet to see a $10 piece of content (article) that any business would want to use.
On the opposite end, there are some writers who charge thousands of dollars per article (i.e. $100 for every 250 words). Finding good, affordable writers who are quick and have decent SEO chops takes trial and error, patience, and willingness to modify and optimize their writings afterward for structure, brand consistency, backlinks, intersite links, and keyword insertion.
A good content writer can take a load off your plate.
The main points you should take from this article are:
- Content writing is a real, distinct career field that entails
- Writing content to highlight a brand or business in order to
- Build awareness, educate, and entertain readers and
- Support ad copy messaging and
- Drive leads, sales, and revenue.
While content writing doesn’t involve writing TV jingles, it can be every bit as creative and delightful. I abhor the cut and dry. Business content can be joyful and upfliting, funny, poetic and flowery or outlandish and absurd.
If your content writing grabs your readers–and Google Search algorithms–by their lapels, then it’s probably doing its job. Or freaking them out. Or both.
Effective content writing is all about finding balance. | One awesome Henmar branding photo, out of a gazillion, taken by the amazing Mycah Bain.
If your content isn’t doing this–or you don’t have any at all–there are ways you can go about building content today. I’ve shared several ways to find writing services and free or inexpensive SEO and content writing tools.