Efficient. Webster defines it as being “productive of desired effects…capable of producing desired results with little or no waste (as of time or materials).”
In the world of content, efficiency has a very specific meaning. It involves creating content and then utilizing that content in as many ways as possible, to make the best use of time and energy.
Content Writers Have No Easy Task
No matter what the topic area for writing, content writers have a set of never-ending tasks.
If they work in a specific economic sector, as employees of a company, they must keep abreast of all trends in that industry, must continually monitor what competitors are writing about, must monitor all news and events in the industry, and then take all of that research and craft amazing content that is unique and engaging.
Freelance content writers have an even more demanding job. They receive orders from a variety of clients, from a myriad of sectors, and must become “jacks-of-all-trades,” if they are to survive and thrive. They receive an “order” from a client, with a deadline, and are then “under the gun” to conduct the research, summon up all of their creative juices, and produce a piece that merits publication and garners popularity among that client’s customer base. No small feat.
Those who think content writers have a typical 9 – 5 job are quite mistaken. It is a career that can span all hours of the day and night, including weekends. And most are not in situations that the Internet likes to portray – a beautiful person, sitting on some wonderful beach, with a laptop in hand. Really? Sand, wind, and sun do not provide a great environment for writing. They are hard-working people who, in offices or in their homes, dig in every day and pump out the best that they can produce.
What Makes a Good Content Writer?
There is no one skillset that makes a great content writer. They come from all educational and experiential backgrounds. Some are journalists; some have been English majors in college and have realized they have exceptional creative writing talents; some are writers of fiction and non-fiction and engage in copywriting to pay the bills while they pursue their real passions. But they do have some things in common:
- They have a flair for creativity. They are able to spin words in a way that captures an audience and makes them want to read and/or view what is being offered.
- They understand their audiences. And in so doing, they are able to use a style, a tone, and visuals/other media that will appeal to those folks.
- They can produce content that has lasting benefit and value – it’s called “evergreen.”
- They are willing to invest the time for research, so that the pieces they produce are relevant and current
- They become proficient in the latest technology that garners audience attention – visuals, videos, infographics, memes, Gif’s, even augmented and virtual reality. There is often a learning curve here, but good content writers are willing to invest the necessary time.
- Above all, great content writers have a passion for their work. Each piece they create is the result of both science and art.
Creativity, Science, and Efficiency – Finding the Balance
Creativity is the “art” of content writing. It means that there are glorious, enticing headlines, entertaining, educational, or inspiring verbiage and visuals, and incentive for readers/viewers to share that content with their tribes.
The “science” of content writing is all of the research and work that goes into finding topics and details that will be most valuable to an audience, to organizing a schedule of publication, and to structuring the content well. Structuring the content includes ensuring that the audience can easily understand what is presented, can scan the content quickly, and will gain some value from what and how that content is presented.
For the writer of content, efficiency is the process of producing great content as quickly as possible, in order to meet scheduling and deadline requirements, to make certain that content provides value, and to find ways for the same content to be utilized in a wide variety of ways and on a variety of platforms. It’s a tall order.
Challenges to Efficiency
Content writers/marketers often fail to be efficient with their content. Here are 22 mistakes that they make that tax their time (and their brains sometimes) and energy and make their work just that much more difficult.
Topic Selection Goofs
- Topics that are too broad: When a content writer selects a topic that is too broad and writes a piece on that topic, two things can happen. The article may become too general rather than providing the specific detail a receiver may want. Or, the article may contain lots of specific details and is then too long and cumbersome for a recipient to stick with it.
- Topics that are too narrow: On the opposite side of the spectrum, narrow topics could be a mistake too. The reader may need elaboration of the bigger picture. It happens.
- Not breaking a topic down: This relates to the first mistake. When a topic is too broad, a writer may fail to see the logical sub-topics into which that topic can be broken down. Each of those sub-topics could become a piece of content on its own. All of the research, then, will be worth it, because it can be used to write several pieces, not just one.
- Old and worn out topics: There are just some topics that have been overworked, and consumers of that content have all of the information they need or want. Unless you can find something new and unique about a topic, leave it be.
Using Content “Smartly”
Here is an area of content writing that bears some careful analysis and some work. When great content is created, the biggest mistake that content writers make is not using that content in efficient ways. Here are some additional mistakes that content writers make.
- Not using a topic in multiple ways: Once you have found a greattopic, why would you end it with a great blog post? A good topic should be utilized in many different ways. A blog post can be re-purposed in many ways – as an infographic, into a podcast, even as a part of a series of posts in an e-book. Contentwritersneed to get as much as they can out of a good piece.
- Not using visuals to replace as much text as possible: The research is very clear. 90% of what is processed in the brain is visual, not textual. And busy folks may not have time to read everything – they may want to see content in the form of a video for example. Content writers can get so engrossed in what they are writing, they may fail to see how to portray their thoughts using complementary visuals alongside their written content.
- Not being mobile-friendly: Over 50% of Internet access is now via mobile devices. If content does not load quickly and is not easily viewed on mobile devices, it will simply not get read/viewed as much.
- Not using current technology: Video is probably the most popular means of getting content viewed at the time of writing. While it is not new, a lot of content writers are hesitant to use it because they worry about the cost. Video does not have to be professionally produced. A smartphone can now provide great video results, and consumers do like video content that is more amateurish. It is more natural and genuine. How many YouTube videos are created with smart phones that have gone viral? Many.
Other newer technology is in the form of augmented and virtual reality. These were impossible for non-techies to produce in the past, but not so at the time of writing. There are all sorts of tools for this now, and the learning curve is simplified.
- Not using humor: You may have an unexciting product or service. But your content does not have to boring. No one really likes to buy insurance – it’s a product that customers cannot enjoy. But look what content creators have done? We have Flo from Progressive, the Gecko from Geico, and the Aflack duck. Humorous posts from these companies are all over the web and get large numbers of shares. Unless you are marketing coffins or cancer drugs, lighten up. Content consumers love to be entertained. Memes and GIF’s are easy to create too.
- Not telling stories: Everyone loves stories. And they can be told in many ways – with text, videos, even photo carousels on Instagram. And they certainly do not have to be long. Content can even tell a brand’s story, like Toms Shoes. It’s one-for-one giving program and photos depicting need kids getting new shoes is a powerful marketing tool.
- Not creating amazing headlines: Upworthy content writing staff spend as much time on their headlines as they do on the content they produce. Why? Because they know that the headline is what engages and compels their audiences to read/view their content in the first place. Using headline-generator tools should be in every content writer’s repertoire.
- Not grabbing attention in first few sentences: In college, we all learned about essay and paper introductions. They needed to be compelling. While content writing is very different from academic writing, the same principle applies. Find a shocking statistic, an amusing anecdote, or ask a question, etc. in your first few sentences. If you don’t, the reader will not be motivated to move on down through your content.
Errors in Research
- Not checking trending topics: With all of the resources out there, not checking for the most trending topics in a niche is still an issue with some content writers. In addition to sites like Buzzsumo that will offer up the most popular topics based on keywords, there are also search engine results like this. Here is a result for “news on Artificial Intelligence.” Any content writer can find this stuff and use it.
- Not monitoring the competition: This is such a simple thing to do, and yet content writers often “forget” about it. Your competition has content all over the web. By checking this content and the discussions that follow, you can pick up questions customers are asking, issues they are facing, and information they are looking for. This should drive topics for your own content.
- Poor-quality resources: Students in college know the drill. When They write essays and papers, they have to use primary resource material, and if they are stuck they may often look for some top services for some writing help. You aren’t in college, but you understand the importance of using authoritative resources for your content. If you use outdate or untrustworthy sources, the value of what you say is severely diminished.
Much of marketing is about human relationships. Marketing through online content is no different, just a bit more difficult. And it involves several different types of relationships. Content writers may forget about these powerful strategies.
- Not leveraging user-generated content: Satisfied customers are the best brand ambassadors there are. And they are always happy to be featured. Contentwriters should be soliciting phots and videos from these customers and use them. The best part? You don’t have to come up with a new topic for a post. WD-40 demonstrates this masterfully. Originally developed as a product to keep things moving (hinges, machine parts, etc.), the uses have expanded quite a bit. Some of them are quite unique. And so, it has an ongoingcampaign for customers to submit their unusual uses:
- Not hooking up with influencers: It takestime to develop connections with influencers, and many contentwriters are too “lazy” to take the long-term view of the benefits of these relationships. Once such connections are solid, your content can show up on these influencers’ blogs, with backlinks to your company’s site.
- Not setting up mutually beneficial relationships with relevant businesses: Most onlinebusinesses have blogs. If not, they should. When a contentwriter can hook up with a related business, and they can agree to post each other’s content, the audience immediately grows. The key is to establish these relationships with reputable businesses whose target population is the same as yours. Examples? Landscapers and patio/deck/pool companies; interior decorators and furniture businesses; clothing and shoe retailers.
- Not targeting and re-targeting specifically enough: Especially if contentwriters are using paid advertising, money can be wasted by not using the research tools that get those ads specifically to the right population. Otherwise a lot of money could get wasted.
- Not promoting discussion: Good content gives consumers either the need to ask more questions or to add their opinions. Every piece of content should solicit responses from readers/viewers. And every good contentwriter will monitor those discussion and respond accordingly.
- Not promoting interactivity: This can be done in so many ways – surveys, quizzes, contests to name a few. Anytime a contentwriter can engage visitors/followers, the chances for that content being shared are greater.
- Not using psychological triggers: There is no lack of research out there on buying behaviors, and content writers must be experts in the use of psychology to motivate shoppers to buy “today.” The fear of missing out is a huge factor in emotional decision to buy products and services, and content writers who can create that fear along with some other proven triggers can generate more sales.
Content writing continues to evolve. It is no longer a matter of just writing blog posts and website content, along with social media postings. There is a lot of science involved in it now. As a content writer, you have to stay abreast of all of the latest trends, not just in your niche, but in how and where content is best presented to your audience. Use these “don’ts” as a checklist as you craft your content, and your audience will grow. Audience growth means more sales.
Author Bio: Daniela McVicker is a freelance writer with a long history in content writing for a variety of business niches. She has developed this list based on her own experiences and what she knows works. When not writing, she is an active participant in organizations that promote environmental sustainability and volunteer tutor in poor urban schools.