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Skills every freelance content writer should master

Illustration by

Jon McCormack

Words by

Tal Imagor

July 23, 2021

Just because you know your way with words doesn’t mean you can be a successful content writer. Getting an A on every school essay and even studying journalism does not prepare you for the world of content. This is especially true in the freelance arena, where many writers will often compete over the same project.

While clients today definitely want to hire wordsmiths, this is not enough for you to get consistent work. “A content writer may win a contract just because they know the basics of WordPress,” says François Joly, an SEO consultant, and founder of Gokam.

This is just one example of a skill that will open many more doors for you. We’ve spoken to several experts, who both collaborate with content writers and hire them, to get their input. They gave us some inside knowledge on what will make you more appealing as a writer, and land you more work.

 

Basic CMS and HTML skills

“If you know how to use the back-office and upload articles by yourself, you’d be seen as more independent,” Joly adds to his point about being familiar with WordPress. “The back and forth between the copywriter and the project manager are usually quite time-consuming and expensive for the client,” he says. So if you can take care of uploading the articles, or making any corrections directly in the CMS (content management software), you can even charge more for your services. 

A natural continuation to this is understanding elementary HTML, as most CMS use it. It can come in handy when you need to format your articles with headlines, bold, and italic, or add links, images and videos. “If you have an HTML course on your resume, you will definitely look more competent than other freelancers,” Joly stresses. 

You don’t necessarily have to pay for a course, there are many online schools that provide this skill for free. Another good resource for the fundamentals of HTML is W3School. As for WordPress, it has its own tutorials to help you learn the platform and practice using it.

 

Creating SEO optimised content

“The first thing I look for is a content writer who understands the structure of a piece of content, and how that relates to the search results,” says the SEO consultant James Taylor. “If the content writer just provides the information within random paragraphs, it can be hard for Google to understand the context behind the data.”

Taylor continues to explain that a good article needs to include tables, bullets, prices, or be structured as a list, to capture the coveted position zero on Google. “If the content is structured correctly from the outset, this saves a lot of time by ensuring that you're not having to revisit the last six months of articles to optimise them for featured results.”

Joly goes a step forwards and suggests that every content writer understands how to perform keyword research and use it in their writing. “People usually don't know what to write about, so your keyword research can help you understand the demands of the market,” he clarifies. It will present the questions that people have, or problems that they face, which will help you write high-value content.

Keyword research also relates to Taylor’s point about structure that works well for Google. It can help you find what to write about, but it can also help you structure the article. “You can break a topic down into multiple parts (subheaders) using the keyword research,” Joly says. “If people are interested in several aspects of the same problem, you can answer all of these questions in designated parts of the article.”

There are some free tools that you can use, like keyword.io, Keywords Shitter, Keyword Tool, or Ask The Public. The idea is to input some words that relate to the industry and your article ideas and find out what comes up the most in people’s searches.

 

Deep knowledge of the industry

“According to Google Quality Rater Guidelines, one of the factors indicating that content is high quality is whether it’s written by a recognized expert,” reveals Kim Anderson, Senior Creative Editor at Real Estate Bees. “For that reason, it is helpful to have industry-specific articles published under your name on reputable websites, which will show your track record in that industry.”

Joly provides some examples of sought-after expertise. “If you were to specialise in crypto, you will be flooded with work. Few people can write about it, as it’s a complicated topic, but the more complicated, the better.” Other industries are Tech, Finance, or Health. “These industries have bigger budgets as well.”

“Try to become a contributing author in popular publications to achieve an expert position,” says Anderson. “Another benefit of concentrating on a particular niche is that with time you won’t need to do as much research,” she adds. “Oftentimes, you will be able to use facts you already know rather than spending time looking for them online.”

 

Understanding social media 

One skill that can come in handy, and is not related to SEO, is social media. “When you first publish an article, nothing happens, as the SEO takes some time,” Joly explains. “So being able to promote the article yourself on social media using the company accounts will, again, save your client time and money.”

Additionally, knowing the latest trends on social media can make you seem more professional while giving you even more ideas for things to write about. “If you hang around platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, you can add a lot of value to your work and multiply the reach of your articles,” Joly concludes. Moreover, if you develop a big following on social media in your private accounts, clients will want to hire you to bring them more exposure.

 

Honourable mentions 

There are a few more skills that are slightly less important, but still add value to your services. Basic graphic design, for instance, with tools like Canva, or Photoshop, is a big plus. Being familiar with MailChimp or Hubspot is also great. The ability to write in another language is extremely valuable, though not easy to achieve.

All of these will save the client time and the need to hire additional people. Any combination of the skills in this article will make you indispensable to the client, and ensure they keep coming back to you. It will also allow you to charge higher fees, and prove that you’re worth it.

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