There’s something of a mania in our society for sorting people out by what a test says they’re good at. Some of us, we’re told, favor the right side of our brain while others favor the left. More detailed tests can tell whether you’re a visual interpersonal learner, a musical intrapersonal learner or some other combination. Recently, I took a Gallup StrengthsFinder test at work that was surprisingly accurate, but at the same time was way off the mark.
The results of these tests, I must say, always seem a little too neat.
It’s not too big of a surprise that I ended up as a content writer. This is a job that requires a number of skills — some of which don’t often show up at the same party with the others. For example, a content writer must read widely, have precise research skills, and be willing to continually massage and fine tune their writing skills — all the things introverts do so well in the quiet of their own minds. A content writer must pair these skills, however, with an ability to communicate with their team, speak confidently with clients, and be socially outgoing overall.
And that’s not even the half of it.
Using a number of contradictory skills is part of the daily work of being a content writer, and this is how it should be. After all, this is a creative job at its heart, and creativity involves combining and discovering the connections that exist between two or more unlike things.
The creative element
Thoreau, in his typically grandiose way, wrote that in the morning, “Some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night.” For myself and many others, mornings are definitely my most creative time, even though my day starts off in a pretty formulaic fashion. I drink coffee, spend some time with a book, ride my bike to work and, on my way, I listen to a podcast.
Maybe the bike ride gets the blood flowing to my brain or those episodes of Radiolab are particularly insightful, but whatever the case, once I get to the office, I just try to type. This is my creative time when the ideas are coming in hot off the griddle, and I need to serve them up in the form of well-formed sentences with a dash of flavorful style.
Many think this is the extent of a content creator’s day: coffee, typing, thinking up clever things, brainstorming, asking my editor about the latest changes in AP Style, and occasionally checking the thesaurus.
Modern, internet-based storytelling, however, is a good deal more complicated — and interesting — than this.
Matching the message to the medium
Marketers are fond of repeating Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum that the “medium is the message.” Basically, this means the medium (be it a television commercial, a billboard or a banner ad) influences how the message is conveyed.
Writing primarily for an online audience, my work needs to be suited for the online environment. Just like you wouldn’t write a newspaper article and try to fit it on a billboard or compose a novel via Tweets (though some have tried), online writing has to be suited for its unique digital medium.
This can mean a lot of things.
Stylistically speaking, the writing needs to be brief, punchy and pack a lot of information into a small number of words.
But what makes content writing truly unique is that it has to be tailored to stand out among the thousands and thousands of other content pieces online today.
Here is where strategy, data and metrics — things that seem foreign to a lot of writers — come into play.
Strategy and analytics
Writers must also pay attention to and incorporate SEO words. Using tools such as Google’s Key Word Scanner, I research what words receive the highest search volume per month. Based on this information, I come up with key terms and phrases to incorporate throughout my writing.
Other tools can tell me what words other sites or blogs are using and what kind of engagement they’re seeing. After studying this data, I can come up with an effective SEO strategy that will maximize the likelihood that what I write will appear in search results and help direct people to a client’s website.
In addition to effectively using keywords, I have to be sure my writing matches the client’s goals. This includes staying on point with their overall campaign, matching their brand voice and effectively conveying the key message they want to get across.
Of course it would be far easier to merely write a piece about, oh I don’t know, the best trampoline designs for 2016, but a lot of groundwork needs to be laid to make sure your piece on trampoline designs appears in the search results when someone is actually looking for that new trampoline.
Working within these parameters and bringing together a number of seemingly conflicting skills is part of the creative challenge, and for me, it makes crafting great stories exciting.