content writing

8 Keys to Content Writing Success (for Freelance Writers & Marketers Hiring Writers)

These days, content is apparently king.

But writing content that rules over your competition is not that simple.

According to Time, the average reader spends only 8 seconds reading a piece of content. 

(That’s probably gone down some, considering that statistic is a few years old.)

So it goes without saying: creating engaging, valuable content that helps your target audience is vital.

These days, in order for businesses to increase traffic and revenue, it’s essential to invest in content marketing — and therefore, expert content writing.

According to CMI, higher quality content creation accounts for 78% of content marketers’ increased success in the industry, over the past 12 months (CMI’s 2018 Benchmark).

cmi 2018 benchmark content

What’s more, 47% of marketers today are outsourcing their content.

cmi 2018 benchmark

So, we’ve established how much content creation matters today — and how nearly half of all content created is outsourced!

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re one of three individuals:

  1. A writer who has heard of content writing as being one of the most profitable forms of writing.
  2. A content writer looking to brush up on your skills to get yourself ahead of the game.
  3. A marketer or business owner who is looking to step up your marketing strategy by hiring a content writer.

content shop

No matter what drew you to this article, you will walk away with a clear understanding of a major factor in online business success:

Successful content writing.

Let’s get into the good stuff!

content writers guide

What Is Content Writing — Rather, What’s Good Content Writing?

Written content comes in a number of mediums: blogs, social media posts, web pages, articles, white papers, video and audio recordings.

It is information on a specific topic focused on a targeted audience.

The key here is audience.

If written content fails to attract its target audience, there’s not much point to the content, to begin with.

A lack of audience engagement in your content results in a low ROI.

For writers and marketers, creating engaging, valuable content that helps your target audience is vital. How do you do this? @JuliaEMcCoy shares her 8 keys to content writing success! 🔑 Click To Tweet

So then, what makes attractive written content?

Think about the best movie you’ve seen recently.

Got it?

Why do you like it? Was it the special effects or music score? Maybe it had a great storyline or focused on a topic of interest.

Chances are, the best film you can think of was a combination of these aspects in order to make it memorable.

So what’s my point?

Good content writing is similar in the way that it combines several key aspects in order to engage readers and perform well in search engines.

Impressionable writing requires creativity, SEO tactics, consistency and purpose.

We’ll soon delve into ways on how to achieve this.

But first, let’s cut to the chase:

Why Is Good Content Important?

Quality online content drives marketing in almost every aspect.

If your content is also optimized for search engines and draws organic traffic, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Leading businesses know the value in this and are looking for the talent to create it. The internet is a crowded place and it’s only becoming harder to stand out.

State of Inbound

While good content brings in audiences, great content generates higher conversion rates.

This is THE trick in driving revenue.

Lucky for you, we’re going to reveal that trick.

We’ve laid out easy-to-follow guidelines which focus on:

  • What content writers should strive for
  • What employers should look for
Why is great content important? See, with good content you cannot only attract your audience, but you also encourage them to engage leading to higher conversion rates. 📈 - @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

8 Keys to Successful Content Writing

Successful content writers have it all.

Aside from being wordsmiths, they are SEO specialists, social media gurus and expert marketers.

They create the online content, which drives traffic, charms Google and turns skimmers into subscribers.

Although this description seems loaded, it’s easier to grasp when broken down.

So, what are we waiting for?

Successful content writing in 2018 is:

Amy Pohler giphy (4)

Amy Poehler!

Just joking.

1. Audience-Focused

Reel in your audience and you’ll reap the rewards.

This is because Google’s main focus is keeping searchers happy.

So, if you’re catering to audiences, Google will cater to you.

By creating relevant and helpful content that puts your audience first, you will enjoy more success. It’s a healthy cyber relationship.

To know how to help your audience, you need to understand their pain points.

Research your competition and take note of what they’re providing.

A competitive content audit can help you focus on WHO your competition is and HOW they’re positioning themselves in front of your shared audience.

When you know your audience, you can answer their burning questions in a voice that speaks to them.

Remember: healthy cyber relationships rely on communication to survive.

Good content caters to the audience, and if it is so, then the higher the chances of Google giving you the reward of bringing your search results ranking to the top. ☝️ Know more about @JuliaEMcCoy's keys to successful content writing. Click To Tweet

2. Dynamic

The best online content writers can master a wide-range of writing styles.

Why’s that?

Content writing projects come in all shapes and sizes.

New Media Services sums it up well.

quality content summary

Some examples of online content forms and their individual styles are:

  • News: Short and concise paragraphs, including the summary of the story near the top of the content piece.
  • Blogging: Friendly, inviting and opinionated. See any of the posts on the Write Blog for examples.
  • White papers: Long-form while providing a solution to a problem.
  • Case studies: In-depth information providing valuable knowledge based on research of a certain scenario.
  • Ad copy: Concise and convincing with the goal of increasing conversion rate. Scroll Facebook on any given day and you’re bound to see ads in the right panel. Here’s an example of an ad from a consultant that makes millions using ads.
  • Ebook: A powerful marketing tool, which can be offered free to boost email subscribers or sold as a product. Here’s an example.

A successful writer is experienced in these fields.

Through this expertise, they can help businesses achieve specific goals with quality content.

As an online content writer, you need to have experience in writing for different copy styles such as ebooks, blogs, and news. 📘 Know more about @JuliaEMcCoy's tips in good content writing. Click To Tweet

3. Expertly Written

Know your topic like the back of your hand.

Once you’ve formulated an idea for your content, be sure to follow through with it.

How exactly should you follow through?

You’ve guessed it:

In-depth research.

Your readers are coming to you for reliable information. If you’re wishy-washy about the subject, your readers will pick up on it and immediately move on.

The way to exude true confidence is through knowledge.

The way to obtain this knowledge is through deep research.

If you dig deep into your topic and deliver the details with a knowledgeable and conversational voice, your content will ultimately become more helpful.

This expert help is what Google values.

More importantly, it is what audiences are searching for.

Successful content writers offer expert problem-solving with every piece they write.

Great content is expertly written content. It's all possible as long as you know -- and have the patience -- in doing in-depth research. 👓 @JuliaEMcCoy on her successful content writing tips. Click To Tweet

4. Readable – Super Readable.

Readability comes in a number of guises.

However, the trick that hooks most readers is flow.

Let me explain:

Nowadays, readers scan.

As scary as it is, the average attention span of humans is dropping.

Based on data from Microsoft Corp. study

So, to catch their attention, you need to write…





Audiences want to easily get material and walk away having learned something.

Bam. There you have it.

So how do we do that?

Here’s how you can create more readable content:

  • Be engaging – This means cut the fluff. Create content that is clear and concise. Audiences want the most amount of information in the easiest and most digestible way possible.
  • Use the active voice – The active voice is much more powerful and engaging.
  • Proofread – By taking the time to scan through your writing before posting, you can make sure the content is easy to read. This DIRECTLY impacts your ability to engage audiences and keep them reading.
  • Use clear structure – By formatting your content into short paragraphs while using bullet points, numbered lists, and multiple subtitles, you encourage readers to read the article in full. Studies show the success of using formatting patterns that mimic the way audiences read.

Not only will your audience prefer easy-to-read content, Google will too.

If your content sounds ‘strange,’ when read aloud, it can affect your page ranking with Google now.

Since the Google Hummingbird update, the need for readable content has never been more important.

Google and your readers prefer easy-to-read content. Do this by formatting your content into short paragraphs, using bullet points, numberings, and headers. Don't forget to proofread, too! 👀 Click To Tweet

5. Creative

One word is key here: ideation.

According to Cambridge Dictionary, ideation is, “the action of forming ideas in the mind.”

Content writers must continually formulate ideas for either full stories or angles on a specific topic.

Sound familiar?

A content writer’s ability to consistently create many different concepts, ideas and angles that appeal to a specific audience is key to successful online content marketing.

Let’s go back to the statistic

cmi 2018 benchmark content

Where most people go wrong is right here, at the ideation stage.

Sujan Patel, co-founder of Voila Norbert, believes more time spent in the ideation stage will save writers wasting their time in creation, in this article on CMI.

sujan patel

Read The Secrets of Content Ideation: Why 4 Out of 5 Articles Fail

The link between ideation and creativity starts with your title.

By finding the right blend of creative writing and keyword use in your titles, you can entice searchers to visit your page.

This can boost click-through rates (CTR) which in turn helps you increase page ranking.

Good content isn't only about consistently throwing out what comes in your mind. It involves ideation and creativity for overall success. ⚽ Read more about @JuliaEMcCoy's keys in successful content writing. Click To Tweet

6. Consistent

Being consistent is what keeps successful content writers alive on the web.

This consistency can be implemented in a number of ways:

  • Voice – Your voice defines you and your brand. Keeping this consistent is crucial for successful content writing.
    After researching your audience and topic, you’ll be able to develop the right voice. Your audience will get to know you through your tone and approach. This is comforting and professional, so stick with it!
  • Posts – By consistently posting quality content, the chances of you attracting a steady readership increases.
    A popular online marketing tool for businesses to build brand awareness is through the use of blogs. Blogs feed consistent content to the web, which helps readers find your site and learn more about you and what you offer. Furthermore, blogs also support your brand and create authenticity. In fact, last year, 65% of marketers planned to increase their use of blogging.
  • Focus – Whatever you do, don’t waver when it comes to your content’s focus. With so much competition, it is crucial that you keep your content focused. Picking a small niche and writing about topics under the same umbrella often leads to greater success. Don’t hop around aimlessly, or you’ll risk losing the loyal audience you’ve created.

For example, let’s say you follow an amazing food blogger who you get almost all your dinner ideas from. She comes up with healthy and quick meals that fit perfectly with your lifestyle. One day, you visit her site expecting a daily recipe, but instead, find a post on color-coordinating your wardrobe. The horror! Chances are you’d be turned off by it and would quickly search for a substitute food blogger. Audiences expect you to provide what they need — consistently.

Be consistent in your voice, posts, and content's focus. 🧐 Know more of @JuliaEMcCoy's 8 keys to successful content writing. Click To Tweet

So You Think You Can Write? The Definitive Guide to Successful Online Writing written by Julia McCoy

7. SEO, CSS and HTML Smart

A successful content writer is a Jack of all trades… and a master of many.

Although they don’t need to be experts at all of these skills, a basic level of knowledge does come in handy.

Being able to quickly adjust a site’s HTML format in times of need will save you the HUGE hassle of postponing everything to track down a web developer. These skills will also help you improve the aesthetics of your content.

In terms of audience engagement:

While content writing leads, attractive visuals please.

Via: ContentSEO

What is of greater importance, however, is this:


Successful content writing isn’t possible without good SEO knowledge.

Point blank.

In this day and age, if you’re not comfortable with SEO basics, you may as well get comfortable with page 3 or 4 of Google.


Every online content writer needs to be SEO, HTML, and CSS-smart. No need to be an expert for all of these, having basic knowledge can come in handy! 👩‍💻 - @JuliaEMcCoy on her 8 keys to successful content writing. Click To Tweet

8. Social Media-Friendly

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

When audiences aren’t searching through Google, almost all eyes are on these platforms.

Via: Hootsuite

The ability to capture attention on social media is one of the most powerful tools in digital marketing.

Once quality content is marketed effectively on social media, it has the ability to ‘go viral.’ This significantly boosts SERPs and your ROI.

It can generate a wider readership, which boosts site traffic and can lead to higher conversions.

In short, a solid social media strategy can pave the way for your content to make huge profits.

Social media platforms are also a magical tool in helping you personally connect with your audience.

This connection can develop a sense of community. As this grows, so does your number of subscribers and the ability to answer your audience’s specific questions, directly.

Besides Google, get your content visible on social media pages like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These are magical tools that can help you connect with your audience. 📱 - @JuliaEMcCoy on the keys to great content writing. Click To Tweet

What Are the Main Takeaways From This Guide?

Competition online is heavy.

The key to win over readers is to know what you’re writing, who you’re writing for and how to help them.

Furthermore, you must write in a way that pleases the Google gods.

As content writing continues to dominate the business of online marketing, the demand for expert copywriters with content marketing skills will increase.

In the end, your overarching goal should be clear:

Create quality content.

By producing high-quality content that provides value for your readers, solves their problems and gives them new insights, you will work your way to the top.

Now you have the keys, what’s stopping you from opening the doors to success?

Need Help?

Freelancers: To graduate to the next level of content writing success, check out my training: The Content Strategy & Marketing Course.

Clients: For a content writing team you can count on, learn more about our story here and try us out today.

how to develop a target persona

A Guide on How to Develop a Target Persona and Reach Your Audience (Hint: Stop Over-Creating)

Did you know there are over 200 million pieces of online content created every minute?

205 million emails, 3.5 million Facebook and Twitter posts, 400 hours of YouTube videos, and 1,200 WordPress blog posts later, the evidence is there. Internet users create a ton of content.

Even with so much time and energy spent on writing and sharing content, the more shocking statistic may be the amount that is not shared, clicked, or retweeted. After Moz pulled 757,000 posts for analysis, they found that half had less than 12 Twitter shares and zero external links.

That’s a scary low amount of engagement. The audience was not even there, and their disinterest showed.

So, how do we avoid making the same mistake?

It happens when we stop creating too much ineffective content, and start focusing on engaging our audience based on a target persona.

In this guide, I’m going to give you an actual guide to creating a nitty-gritty target persona, four keys to talking to your target persona and reaching them with your content, then go into a guide on how to stop over-creating, and dive deep into reader-persona-tailored creation. Ready?

how to develop a target persona

How to Develop a Target Persona: Your Granular Guide to Creating a Target Persona

There are so many guides out there that tell you why it’s important to build a marketing persona, without also telling you how to do it. Generalities are all well and good, but they don’t get you very far!

So, with that in mind, let’s break down how to build a customized, specific persona that helps you understand who your brand should be talking to. Check out how we’ve graphically represented it (thanks to our wonderful lead designer, Antonella):

granular guide to target persona

1. Draw the outline of your perfect customer

To build the foundation for your persona, answer these questions right now:

  • Does the person tend to be male or female?
  • How old is he or she?
  • Does this person have a family? A spouse?
  • Where does this person live?
  • What does this person do?
  • What type of company and industry do they work within?

For example: Meet Leader Larry. Leader Larry tends to be male, he’s generally between 40-55 years old, he’s married, with two teenage children. He works as a senior manager for a major “Fintech” company.

2. Get granular with your details of the persona

You’ve got the outline, now it’s time to dive deeper with your details. Answer specific questions, like the following:

  • What is his biggest pain point?
  • What are the biggest challenges or difficulties this person faces within their job?
  • Is your target persona the one making the decisions or does he need to talk to upper management?

For example: Leader Larry’s biggest pain point is developing customized training and educational materials to help bring his staff up to speed on new technologies. While he’s a senior manager, he’s not the ultimate decision maker in his company, and, thanks to corporate red tape, he’s finding it difficult to create training materials and have them approved by upper management in a time-effective manner.

3. Figure out how your persona accesses and consumes content

  • Does your target persona engage on a mobile device or a desktop computer?
  • Does this person consume content during the working hours or after-hours, while he or she is at home?
  • How much content does this person consume? Do they want more?
  • Does your target persona use social networks? If so, which ones? HINT: If you have a person in mind who represents your target audience very closely, head to his or her Twitter feed to see what they’re sharing, reading, and interacting with. This will help you hone your content down the road.
  • Who does this person see as an influencer?
  • What do they care about enough to trigger a purchase?

For example: Leader Larry uses a desktop computer to consume content during the working hours. He maintains a profile on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. He’s an active reader of industry news and updates. He participates in several relevant LinkedIn groups, where he meets influencers and consumes related content.

4. Put it all together

Now that you’ve developed an accurate picture of your target persona, it’s time to put it all together. From here, you’ll be able to identify the content types this person is likely to enjoy, the channels you should publish them in, and the pain points you’ll need to solve to earn (and keep) this person as a client.

Bear in mind that target personas may change or shift over time, so it’s essential to keep revisiting the information you’ve developed here to ensure it’s still relevant, and update it if need be.

4 Keys of Developing Content that Speaks to Your Target Persona

Next, let’s take an overview look at four keys that help you know how to create, and who to create your content for.

How to Create for Your Target Persona Key #1: Readers Are Like Celebrities, Give Them the Red Carpet Treatment

The Golden Globes recently took place in LA, and if you know anything about Hollywood awards shows, you know that the events are a big deal. From who wore what (and who wore it best) to the viral speeches, there is almost always a surprise or two that no one saw coming.

This year, the Globes averaged 20 million viewers; while that huge number could have been credited to the host or the Trump jabs (or both), it was an 8% increase in viewers over 2016.

There are some key points we can take away for our content marketing efforts and target persona development that come straight out of a Hollywood awards show.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

How to Create Content for Your Target Persona Key #2: Your Audience Wants Something Rich

In a fast-paced, technology-driven world, your audience doesn’t have time to sit and read long paragraphs of boring content before finally getting to the point. (Neil Patel) Rich content must be short, sweet, and relevant.

The stars don’t walk the Red Carpet in an off-the-rack dress from Target. They don glamorous designer dresses that cost a pretty penny that fit the theme of the night.

Your audience doesn’t want off-rack-content; they want rich, engaging material.

If you find that creating content rich in relevance is challenging, you are not alone—nearly half of content marketers surveyed say that their lack of strategy development is a contributing factor to their stagnant success. (Content Marketing Institute)

stagnantWhoever your customer may be, they deserve more. If what you are delivering is the same as your competitors or it lacks what your audience needs, they will move on until they find a better solution.

How to Create for Your Target Persona Key #3: Your Audience Needs Special Attention

What would be the point of a Red Carpet without flashing cameras, interviewing journalists, and a live television broadcast? The whole idea behind the opening of awards shows is to pay attention to the stars.

Your audience needs the same attention. They should be lavished with relevant understanding of their needs and shareable content that fills blog posts, social media sites, and emails on a consistent basis.

Whether they know it or not, your readers are looking for something tailor-made, something that will jump out and hit them where they need it most. And if we can’t get it to them within an average of 15 seconds (Time), we may have missed our chance.

How to Create Content for Your Target Persona Key #4: Your Audience Wants You to Use Their Name

No one wants to be just another face in the crowd, lost in a sea of generic, watered-down messages that are unfocused and irrelevant.

There is a reason the barista at your local coffee shop calls out the name of a customer when their extra-hot-soy-latte-no-foam is ready.

It’s personal.

Relevant content creation is easier when it’s written toward one particular person, which is why every writer needs to develop a persona.

3 Additional Methods to Stop Creating Content and Start Developing a Persona

Michael Brenner from CMI reminds us that when we are creating content, one problem that can arise is creating for the boss, when we should be creating for the audience we are aiming to reach, engage, and convert.

The challenge is to stop creating content, and instead focus on creating a content brand as we focus on our target persona. Let’s discuss how, in three additional nitty-gritty steps.

1. Get Personal (Human Factor)

Writing for one general group of readers misses the human factor that must be present for content marketing to be effective.

Developing a buyer persona provides us with the perspective and focus necessary to visualize that one person, that target goal, who is the reason behind why we develop content in the first place.

So how does that happen?

    • We figure out who our target is through customer data (Google Analytics).
    • We learn who our competitors are (Kissmetrics).
    • We dig into social media comments, personal interviews, and surveys to find out how to develop a buyer persona (HubSpot).

2. Lavish Your Audience with Love (Engagement)

Engaging your customers means first knowing your target audience and then understanding how to reach them.

Yes, this may mean you need to move out of your comfy cozy corner of content marketing and branch out to try something new.

It means lavishing your audience with diverse, exciting content that they will engage with–created with love, just for them.

Diversified content uses infographics, videos, and relevant subheadings to draw the reader in and make them want to stay. “Scannable,” readable content is key to keep busy people engaged, so don’t forget bullet points, lists, and revising your headline till you reach perfection.

3. Show Them They’re Special (Focus)

When you make a concentrated effort to develop content that is focused on your audience, it will show. The engagement will be present, the shares will increase, and the readers will keep coming back for more.

As SmartBlogger reminds us, readers don’t want to be informed; they want to be seduced.

Don’t worry about being someone else or following another writer’s style; there are enough imitators in the world. Your unique quality content and focused voice on a topic or brand is what should shine in your content; your efforts are worth more than simply filling a page with words. As I’ve said on Twitter:

Stop Creating Too Much Content This Year, and Work On Creating the Right Content


Our challenge in this New Year is to stop creating content simply for the sake of creation.

Instead, engage your readers by intentionally focusing on their specific need, and then developing a buyer persona so you who to focus on, help, and speak to–and watch your content results soar!

Does your brand need a boost? Connect with Express Writers today and let’s chat!