Ad copy can vary greatly depending on where the copy is going to go, the nature of the advert and the given niche or industry. In some cases this will be a very short portion of text for a banner ad, the purpose of which will be to attract attention and encourage targeted clicks. Remember that many advertisers pay per click though, so you don’t want indiscriminate clicks – you actually want to actively deter people who won’t be likely to become paying customers. For more information on ‘pay per click’ advertising, see ‘PPC ads’. Similarly, ad copy might be used on forums or even on the clients’ own website in the form of a banner or a slider on the homepage.
On the other hand, ad copy could also mean writing long commercial scripts for whole-page adverts or videos or it could be similar to landing page copy. You might even have to develop a slogan! Again, the nature and tone of your copy will vary from task to task but generally the objectives are to be as head turning and persuasive as possible. Something to keep in mind here is AIDA: ‘Attention, Interest, Desire, Action’.
Articles are in-depth pieces of content that will go on a website or blog and which will likely form part of a content marketing campaign. For those who are not familiar with the term, content marketing is a form of marketing that revolves around adding value to a website via interesting content and thus increasing visits and building trust and authority. The idea is that by regularly posting useful and interesting articles to a website, the owner can then build up a readership of subscribers who will then be more likely to use products or services from the company.
An article is somewhat different from a blog-post although the two certainly overlap these days. Generally, blog posts tend to be a little shorter than articles and tend to have a more colloquial and casual tone to them. Of course blog posts are posted on blogs and tend to be more sequential/episodic in nature as well.
You can however have some very in-depth blog posts which are essentially full-blown articles and the great majority of websites these days have a ‘blog-like’ structure, so the line is a little blurred.
Either way, when hired to write an article, make sure you write with a clear introduction, middle and conclusion, research your facts and provide some real value by the end of it all. Break it up with lots of clear headings and insert bullets where appropriate.
The ‘perfect length’ for an article is something that’s in dispute but the trend right now is for articles to be longer and more in-depth.
An autoresponder is a piece of software/web service that internet marketers use in order to send out marketing e-mails. These manage the contacts on a mailing list so that the marketers don’t need to worry themselves with handling new subscriptions and cancellations and so they can send out e-mails to their list at the click of a button.
An autoresponder sequence is the sequence of e-mails that get sent out once someone subscribes in a specific order. Tools like Mailchimp and Awebber allow marketers to send out timed sequences of e-mails to people who have just signed up so that they don’t need to keep creating new content and so that everyone starts ‘from the beginning’. This is as an alternative to a newsletter and you can learn more here.
The purpose of these e-mails is to develop a relationship between the business owner and their mailing list and to establish trust and authority. At the same time though, the e-mails may contain calls-to-action which should encourage direct conversions and sales. The tone of these e-mails will depend on the nature of the business/niche but generally they are quite personal seeing as they’ve been sent directly to the reader’s inbox. They will probably be written in the first person. Note that the subject heading is incredibly important as this is what will motivate recipients to actually open the mail. There may be other specific requirements – some sequences will contain an e-mail course for instance – but these should be given by the client.
Blog posts are similar to articles but tend to take on a more casual tone and are more often written in the first person vs the third person.
So whereas you might open an article by saying:
‘Research suggests that sleep deprivation may lead to brain shrinkage…’
A blog post will more likely open by saying:
‘As you probably know, sleep deprivation can have all kinds of effects on brain performance and this is something I can attest to personally’
Whereas an article is generally informative and authoritative then, blog posts are more likely to be conversational and friendly in tone. Similarly to articles though, blog posts are also very often a part of a larger ‘content marketing’ strategy with a similar objective – bring in visitors, build trust and authority and generate fans and subscribers.
Whereas articles typically belong on websites or ‘ezines’ with archive pages which are fairly static; blog posts will more often be published on a semi-regular basis and will move from the front-page over time. This can subtly impact on the type of content you’re writing too – for instance, articles tend to be more ‘evergreen’ (meaning they’ll be relevant ten years from now) whereas blog posts can be more topical and timely.
Again like articles, blog posts can be any length. They will tend to lend themselves to the slightly shorter-form as compared with full-blown articles but there is currently a general trend towards in-depth content which has crept onto blogs as well.
Sometimes blog posts will take on the structure and size of articles, whereas sometimes articles will be shorter and more chatty like blog posts. There is a lot of overlap here then, so be sure to listen carefully to the client’s requirements. That said, you should also keep in mind these general guidelines as the broad definition.
A case study can be written in the form of an article, a blog post or even something like a press release. However you write it though, the objective remains the same: to describe a study, an event or anything else in such a way as to illustrate a point.
For instance, if you were promoting the effectiveness of a new supplement you were promoting, then you might use a case study to write up the positive experience that one customer had. Likewise, if you were trying to illustrate the effects of a low fat diet, then you might write up a few case studies of people who had lost weight or gained it as a result of eating that way. A company could also use a case study to demonstrate their potential value – for instance a web design company might want a case study written to demonstrate how they helped one client to increase their profits.
There are a few different types of case study which include: illustrative case studies (which are case studies that ‘illustrate’ a point), critical case studies (which are used to assess an idea, claim etc.) or exploratory case studies (which seek to prove or disprove a hypothesis).
In any scenario, a case study is normally used to try and back up or make a point in a similar way that you might use statistics. Thus you should aim to be completely objective sounding in your report and should try to remove personal opinion. Writing should be in the third person and should use technical terminology appropriate to the subject matter.
There are no hard and fast rules for the length of a case study. This can be a paragraph included in some persuasive sales text, or it can be written up as a full research paper. Consider carefully the requirements and budget of the client to make this decision.
Content curation is not writing but rather collecting and organizing content in order to create something new with its own value.
This is something you can achieve in a number of ways and with a number of objectives. For instance, a list of quotes or links (a ‘resource’ article) can be considered content curation. Otherwise, you might get more involved and collect quotes, paragraphs, links and more all to create one resource that can act as a primer on a subject or a comprehensive overview.
Curated content will most often appear on blogs and some bloggers like to use it as a ‘quicker’ way to add a lot of content and value to their site without having to write everything from scratch. The only problem with content curation is that it means the content will not be ‘unique’ which means Google will largely ignore it. Thus most bloggers will only want to use this type of post on occasion.
As a writer, your job will mainly be to research and choose the content for this kind of job. That said, you will also likely need to write some commentary, an introduction and a conclusion. This is where you can create a real structure for your curated content and add a lot of value on top of what’s already there.
Content writing is about the broadest term for the work you’ll do as a web content writer. ‘Content’ simply means ‘writing’ but normally describes writing as it will appear on a website or a blog. This is copy that is going online, which pretty much refers to anything you’ll write.
That said, the term content will more often refer to writing that is going to be placed on a website or blog as opposed to an advert. When the work content is used, it often means that the copy is the highlight and the focus of what’s being written, as opposed to serving a role. ‘Copywriting’ is a term more often used for writing that serves a specific purpose – for instance a headline or a description for an advert. Bear in mind however that the writing on the homepage of a company’s website could very easily be considered ‘copy’ or ‘content’. As is often the case, this is a somewhat ambiguous term then with a fairly ‘blurry’ definition.
Think of content as what you use to ‘fill’ your online creations and what offers the value. You don’t buy bottled beer for the bottles (normally); you buy it for the contents.
As mentioned above, copywriting can be used to describe pretty much all the writing you’ll do on a regular basis that doesn’t fall under the description of content. As a general rule, this tends to mean that copywriting is to do with sales and advertising.
Traditionally – before the days of the web – copywriting actually meant writing for adverts specifically and this is the job that you would see in programs like Mad Men. These days, copywriting can apply to writing the titles and descriptions on PPC ads (Pay Per Click adverts), on sales pages and potentially on press releases.
Copywriting can vary somewhat in tone, form and function. As a general rule, copywriting will be written in the third person and will be designed to grab attention quickly and make your advert/product stand out. It can take on a very different style though for instance in the case of a sales letter, where you might use the first person narrative to sell the merits of a certain ‘make money system’ or weight loss program.
The key thing to focus on with all copywriting, is the objective of the ad and what the client wants to achieve. In most cases, this means trying to get people to buy things but in others it might mean getting them to sign up to a mailing list.
How do you do this? Normally by focusing on the emotional impact of whatever the client is trying to promote. The technical term is the ‘value proposition’ – the way that a product or service actually offers value. The old saying goes that you don’t sell hats, you sell ‘warm heads’. Likewise, you don’t sell e-books, you sell flat abs, or you sell money. This is what you need to focus on for creative writing and it’s how you grab attention and motivate purchases.
Creative writing is another broad term that can describe all kinds of writing. What defines this category however is that the writing must be ‘creative’. Of course all writing is ‘creative’ in that it is original but in this context what we really mean is imaginative and entertaining.
Examples of creative writing then include poetry, novel writing, short stories, film scripts etc. Creative writing is a little harder to monetize as compared with copywriting and as such, you’ll likely find it’s less common that you get hired for this type of work. That said, if someone is creating a computer game and doesn’t have a script/story for it, then they might hire you; or if someone has a website of user-submitted short stories and they need to ‘get the ball rolling’ then again they may hire you.
Note that it’s very likely you’ll be ‘ghost writing’ for the majority of writing jobs. This can be especially irksome if you are creating something original and imaginative but it will likely be a requirement of the work.
Creative writing doesn’t have many set rules and those rules that do apply can normally be broken. Just make sure to listen carefully to the requirements of the client to ensure the tone, length and topic of your work are all correct.
CVs and Statements
CVs and personal statements are one of the few commercial jobs you’ll get hired for as a web content writer. That is to say that this is B2C (business to customer) rather than B2B (business to business). Of course the purpose of a CV or personal statement is to help someone get a job and the hope of the client is that a professional writer will be able to do a better job of selling their individual merits.
There are certain guidelines to writing a CV. For instance, a CV will usually fit onto two A4 pages. Certain ‘buzz words’ can also help the client to get the job they’re looking for – things like ‘teamwork’ and ‘self-motivated’.
Another tip is to consider the job that the client is applying for. The most successful CVs are those that have been written specifically to cater to one industry or role – so speak to the client about what they’re applying for and whether they’d like a more tailored CV. Of course you will also need to confer with the client regarding their experience and their skills to ensure that you are portraying them accurately. Personal statements act as covering letters to go along with the CVs.
CVs and personal statements are written in the first person but should use professional language. Avoid abbreviations or slang.
Developmental and Copy Editing
Copy editing is not writing original content but rather editing and fixing pre-existing work. Here, you will be required to alter the writing that you are provided with in order to ensure that it reads as well as possible and is grammatically correct.
Note that developmental and copy editing are not synonyms and involve slightly different tasks.
When ‘copy editing’ you are simply fixing errors. That means you’re reading through and correcting the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors that you find along the way. At a push, you might rearrange a sentence if it’s awkward to read.
Developmental editing on the other hand is more involved. Here you will be editing the structure of the content, inserting sentences and swapping words for more stylistic choices. While copy editing is simply proofing, developmental editing is actually building upon the original work. Note however that you still need to be respectful to the original text, which is to say that the ‘message’ should be the same and that the style and tone of the original should also still come across.
There is also a third option, which is ‘line editing’. Here you keep the overall structure and general points of the original but can swap the working and grammar around more freely to ensure a more elegant and entertaining read.
There’s a good chance that a client may not be sure which of these they actually want and may not be familiar with the terminology. Explain the differences before going ahead with proofing then to ensure that the end product meets their expectations.
One more consideration is that sometimes spelling and grammar can be controversial. The best example of this is the ‘Oxford comma’ which is a comma that goes before the ‘and’ in any list. Use of the Oxford comma can be considered correct or incorrect depending on the personal preferences of the editor and what’s really important is that its use be consistent throughout the website, blog or publication it’s being considered for. This is a point to discuss with your client before editing it in or out.
Likewise, think about the regional differences in spelling and punctuation too and if in doubt – ask.
An eBook is a large body of text that will be sold as a PDF. In other words, this is a book like any other with the only difference being that it won’t be printed onto physical pages but will be consumed as a PDF document via a computer or tablet.
eBooks can be any length and they can discuss any topic. However, they will usually be on topics that sell well online, for instance ‘losing weight’ or ‘making money’. Other popular subjects are dating, building muscle and business. In other words: the same topics that are popular niches for websites as a rule.
From the perspective of your clients, eBooks are very appealing as a form of monetization. With no overheads involved with printing, storing or delivery, they offer 100% profit for each sale. And if they offer to solve a problem, then they can potentially be very desirable for customers.
From your perspective meanwhile, an eBook is a good order as it allows you to focus on just one job for one or more days, thus letting you work at your optimum speed. Of course on the other hand, you will likely be required to do a fair amount of research to write a full eBook and it does require some prior planning to come up with the structure and layout.
Often an eBook will serve as an overview/primer on a topic. You might be asked to write an eBook on ‘Facebook Marketing’ for instance, or on ‘The Paleo Diet’. In either case, you’ll then be tasked with introducing the subject, providing basic instructions, outlining some useful points and tips, going through examples and then concluding the topic. But if you really want to impress your clients, you should try and bring something unique and useful to your work. What can your readers take away that will ensure they’re happy with the $30-$200 they’re likely to spend on the book?
eBooks can range in tone but will normally be third person and accessible for the general public. They can also range quite drastically in length, though the average is 10,000 words. Remember to organize the book into chapters and subheadings and get familiar with the formatting options in Word so that you can easily insert page numbers, a table of contents etc.
e-Newsletters are newsletters that will be sent by e-mail. Often their purpose is to update potential customers and clients on the latest news from the company sending them, with the ultimately objective of trying to encourage sales and maintain brand visibility.
At the same time though, e-Newsletters can also provide news about blogs (usually focusing on the latest posts for those who haven’t visited) or just on the news pertaining to a particular niche or particular industry. Here though, the objective remains the same: to get people to visit your website or just remember your brand.
In some cases, the aim of a newsletter will be to make a direct sale, though this is usually the exception rather than the rule.
The style of e-Newsletters can change drastically on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes your newsletters will be written in the style of a blog (normally if they are associated with a blog of course) while in other cases they might be written in a more official capacity if the newsletter belongs to a B2B organization. Try and think about the nature of your client, the type of client they are writing to and the objective of the e-mail.
There is no set length for an e-Newsletter but they can range from about 400-1,000 words.
If you are hired to write an essay, it will most likely be on behalf of a student who is looking to outsource their work in order to improve their grades. The best essays should be very thoroughly researched and fact checked – incorrect facts can lose your client a lot of marks and are generally not fit for purpose. Likewise, good essays should be written in an objective manner, they should be written in the third person and they should have a clear structure with an introduction, main argument and conclusion. The introduction should normally foreshadow the conclusion, while the conclusion itself should refer to the points made in the main body of the text.
Depending on the subject matter of the essay you are writing, you may be required to use references. This means that you shouldn’t make any argument or point without backing it up with research that has been published and peer reviewed. This is common for scientific essays and when you reference these, you will need to adhere to the editorial guidelines of that educational institution – make sure that you are familiar with these referencing guidelines before going ahead.
As an editor, you will mainly be proofing and checking work that comes your way in order to ensure that it is all grammatically correct and free from typos and spelling mistakes. At the same time though, editing may also involve a few other jobs depending on the client.
In some cases for instance, editing can mean annotating changes and ‘marking’ a piece of work. A writing agency may ask you to do this for instance when they are hiring and testing out new writers – by getting you to mark their work, the agency can see where they have made mistakes and the prospective writer can hopefully learn from those errors. In this case, the industry standard is to use MSWord’s ‘track changes’ feature, which allows you to make edits to the content that can be accepted or rejected with the press of a button. This will also allow you to annotate said changes, thereby explaining your reasoning etc.
In other instances, you might work as an editor for a website or blog, in which case you may be checking over the work submitted by contributors and guest writers to ensure that it is not only correct but also suitable for the blog (meaning that it adheres to your editorial guidelines, fits the tone and style of the rest of the content etc.). In this way, your job will be similar to the editor of a magazine – someone who oversees the content being developed and ensures that it’s all coherent and cohesive.
Finally, editing services might simply meaning checking over work on a case-by-case basis. Here you might be required to perform copy editing, developmental editing or line editing (see ‘copy editing’).
Email copy simply means copy for emails. This might in turn mean writing for autoresponder sequences and newsletters, or it might mean writing single e-mails that are designed with a specific objective in mind.
For a fuller description of autoresponder sequences or newsletters, see the respective listings. Likewise for sales letters, ad swaps and solo ads – all of which are types of e-mail copy – there are more in depth descriptions here in the appendix.
For correspondence, your job is simply to express the feelings of the client in a way that they are happy to put their name to. As is most often the case, the tone of this writing will depend on the nature of the client and the objective of the e-mail message. For B2B clients this will be more formal, whereas for B2C bloggers it can be more conversational.
The most common objective for this kind of writing might be to generate clients for a service. Sometimes web designers or online marketers for instance will send out ‘cold’ e-mails to addresses they have collected or even purchased. Your job here then is to make sure that the e-mail is opened and not just deleted and then to make the service sound professional, great value and a good investment.
Some other points to remember for any e-mail:
- Be polite and courteous
- Be respectful of the recipient’s time: they don’t have all day to read through a lengthy e-mail
- Use ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ when you do not know the person and end with ‘Yours faithfully’
- Use ‘Yours sincerely’ if you do know the name
Fact checking is a type of editing that doesn’t focus on the actual writing so much as the content. Here, a client will be hiring you to ensure that the facts they have included in their content are accurate. This is an important task, as even a single error can otherwise undermine the credulity of the client and lose the faith of their readers.
This means that your job will be to research the subject at hand and to look for any errors or mistakes that might be misleading for the reader. Sometimes this might mean wading through jargon but often it will just mean searching for each fact in Google.
As a general rule, this is a straightforward process. Sometimes however you may find there are multiple sources saying different things, or that there is no ‘one set answer’. In the case of dieting for instance or building muscle, there are multiple different points of view regarding the best techniques and programs to follow – and none is right or wrong as such. Here you may have to make a judgement call, or you may have to point out that there are multiple viewpoints.
Another thing to look out for is reading between the lines. That is to say that sometimes a statement won’t be wrong but will be written in such a way as to suggest an inaccuracy. For example, if the original writer said that something was invented ‘over a thousand years ago’ when in fact it was invented ‘thousands of years ago’, you should make the reality clearer by making that edit. The overall objective then is to make the original writer look knowledgeable – such that even an expert reading their content would come away seeing them as an authority and trustworthy resource.
Fiction writing is a type of creative writing that requires you to invent a story. Fiction writing describes novels, short stories, comic books, films and anything else that involves a tale intended to entertain. Most often though, the term will refer to novels and short stories rather than scripts (which are normally referred to as screenplays).
If you have been hired to write fiction for a client, it may be for their own entertainment, or it might be to populate a website or a book they will be selling. Either way, the main objective here is entertainment. A secondary objective though is to impress with your writing style – as a form of creative writing you will gain extra points for flowery turns of phrase and for creative metaphors and imagery.
There are entire books written on the subject of fiction writing and this is very much a case of ‘anything goes’. Nevertheless, bearing in mind the following tips may help you to handle this task effectively:
- Write what you know – even if you don’t know the genre you’ve been given, try to channel your experiences and emotions in other ways.
- Stories can be written in the first or third person. First person narrative will often flow more easily however if you’re looking to write quickly.
- Short stories often have a ‘twist’ or some kind of moral at the end which ties everything together.
- Show don’t tell – avoid exposition and instead let characters and situations speak for themselves. In other words, don’t tell your readers that your lead character is ‘brash and foolhardy’, demonstrate it in what they say and do.
- Got writers’ block? Overcome it by changing the scene or adding another element to make things more interesting. Writers’ block normally means that you’re bored. Imagine how your readers feel then!
- Keep in mind your audience at all times and ensure that your writing is entertaining and easy to follow.
A guide is a broad term describing any text that is intended to provide information, instruction and reference for a particular topic. A guide can be a book then, such as a ‘Guide to Arduino Boards’, or it could be a supplementary leaflet bundled with a product explaining how it works.
Either way, guides will normally be written using a relatively dry and technical language. At the same time, they should be easy to follow (even for those with no prior knowledge of the subject) and they should offer clear and concise instructions. Never assume anything on behalf of your reader and be as explicit as possible.
Guides will also often benefit from being broken up in terms of their layout. Try to use lots of headers, illustrations and bullet points wherever possible.
Infographics are currently a very popular form of content on websites and blogs. These are images that are designed to quickly provide an overview of a subject in terms of data, statistics and information.
For instance, an infographic might be used to show the rise in ecommerce over a set period and would thus combine pie charts, graphs, statistics and other data in a manner that would be visually appealing. The popularity of this type of content largely revolves around how quickly it can be absorbed by a reader and how sharable it is for the publisher.
As a writer, you won’t usually be expected to create or source the images yourself (unless you also have skills as a designer). However, you might be asked to provide text to accompany the raw data, or you might be asked to write up an introductory paragraph. Sometimes you may need to write an article or post around the information presented in the infographic. This is important as Google cannot ‘read’ images – that is to say that infographics are not on their own SEO-friendly.
A landing page is a single page that entirely revolves around a single objective. Normally that action is getting the visitor to buy something, though it might also be trying to get them to sign up to a mailing list. The former type of landing page is sometimes referred to as a sales page, whereas the latter can also be called a ‘squeeze page’.
You will know if you’ve seen landing pages before, as they tend to utilize a uniform layout and structure. These are the pages that use long, narrow passages of text, broken up into frequent headings with bold, eye-catching statements like:
‘At Last, The Secret Formula To Earn BIG Money While You Sleep Exposed!’
Unlike most other webpages, landing pages don’t tend to feature any outward bound links or any links to other parts of the site. That is to say, you won’t find a menu along the top, or a slider of the latest articles. All attention is focused on getting people to buy – and the text is the most important part of that objective.
When writing for a landing page, you will normally use the first person narrative. Often you will be talking about the product and how it changed your life and the idea is to pique the readers’ interest and to get them imagining how it could change their lives too.
Focus on the emotional selling points, use lots of cliff hangers to make reading compulsive and talk directly to the reader with rhetorical questions and the liberal use of the word ‘you’.
Lists and List Articles
A list is of course a collection of items that is organized into some kind of order. This could essentially be similar to curated content in that you’re gathering information and simply putting it in order, or you might be populating the list yourself with your imagination.
Another type of list is the ‘list article’. This is an article that has a list format, such as ‘Top 10 Reasons to Move Abroad’, ‘5 Great Ways to Save Money This Christmas’ or ‘Ten Best Love Scenes of All Time’. List articles are popular among social sharing sites because of their straightforward structure and clear value. What’s more, they can be somewhat compulsive as people will often want to know what number one is.
What’s interesting about the list article is that you can often choose to write in this format without being explicitly asked to. For example, if a client asks you to write an article for their website, you can opt to make it a list article as a way to quickly come up with topics. Just be careful not to stray into derivative/generic territory as a result.
Meta descriptions refer to HTML tags that are normally found on any website or page.
Of course HTML is the ‘code’ that designers use in order to define the layout of their web designs and this is written as ‘tags’ inside triangular brackets.
A meta description is only visible to the browser, or if you opt to ‘view source’ of a website. It will then look like this:
<Meta Name = “Description” Content = “Pots and Pans – The Home of the Best Value Pots and Pans for Your Kitchen”>
The purpose of the meta description is to describe the content on the page, normally for the benefit of the ‘spiders’ that index the web for search engines. This is also what will show alongside the link if you post one of your articles on Facebook or when it shows in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Meta descriptions have a limit of 160 characters (including spaces) and normally you’ll want to keep as close to that as possible. Many clients will also want you to try and get their keywords in there at least once for SEO purposes.
There are other meta tags you might be required to write too. One is the keywords tag, which lists the search terms you’re trying to rank for. These days, keyword tags are used more sparingly as Matt Cutts of Google has explicitly stated that this is no longer something Google takes into account. What’s more, a list of keywords could actually present a website’s competition with information they might not want them knowing.
Finally, the title tag is what shows a website or page’s title at the top of the browser and in listings and auto-generated links. Google will typically display only the first 50-60 characters of the title tag and so you should try to keep below that number. It’s not uncommon to be asked to write all three types of tags for a large number of separate pages.
Note that a newer ‘type’ of meta tag is being introduced currently called the ‘rich snippet’. This is essentially a type of ‘markup’ that allows you to point out specific aspects of your content to Google and other search engines. This can even result in whole recipes appearing right in the SERPs. While it’s currently uncommon that this plays a role, in future it might have some impact on the way you get hired to write specific types of content (for example you might be asked to include more bullets etc. so that they can be marked).
A news piece is a blog posts or article that covers breaking news. From the perspective of the webmaster/blogger/publisher, this has the benefit of being topical and thus potentially more likely to attract attention and links. What’s more, an exclusive means that there is not yet any competition, potentially making it easier for even a smaller blog to get to the top of Google. News pieces are not evergreen however, meaning that they lose their usefulness after a short while.
A news piece can be ‘general’ news, or it can be industry news. In other words it could be very niche such as ‘gaming news’ (there’s a new Sonic the Hedgehog game!) or it can have a much broader appeal.
For serious news pieces, you should always aim to remain objective and this means sticking to the third person. Usually you will use the present tense or active past tense to emphasize the ‘current’ nature of the story and it should be brief while listing all the key facts. News pieces do not generally have headings but may be split across multiple paragraphs.
For news in a particular niche, written on a more colloquial blog, it is of course more acceptable to use a more conversational tone and perhaps even to include some opinion in the mix. In any niche, the title of a news piece will normally take on the form of a ‘Headline’ which should describe the entire story. If the publication or website you’re writing for is lighter in tone, then you can add a pun as is tradition for tabloids and some industry blogs.
PPC ad copy is a particular type of ad text. A PPC ad is an advert that only costs the advertiser money when someone clicks on it. The best known platforms for this style of advertising are Google AdWords (which appear above organic search results) and Facebook ads (which appear on the Facebook ‘homefeed’).
These types of ads will usually consist of a title and a short description of one or two small lines, usually with a strict character limit. In most cases, the objective of your ad will be to try and accrue as many clicks as possible, the belief being that a click brings each prospect one step closer to placing an order. That said, some clients may be more strategic and try to use the ad text in order to more accurately target their specific audience – by precluding certain candidates who might not be interested in placing an order.
A press release is a statement issued by a company or representative in order to announce breaking news. This text is then made available to writers, bloggers, webmasters and other news outlets, or may be sent directly to them.
Of course any website, blog or magazine needs stories and news in order to stay current and to attract and keep more readers. And as a business launching a product or service, your clients need coverage – as you can see there is a potentially mutually beneficial solution. When writing press releases then, you are writing for journalists in order to provide them with all the information and even structure they might need to write a story on the matter.
Press releases are generally about 1-2 pages of A4 in length (500-1000 words) and they will be written in the third person in present or active past tense. The title will take on the format of a headline. In other words, this type of content is written in a similar manner to an actual breaking news story and this is designed to make it as easy as possible for journalists to write the news up. Some might even copy and paste your text word for word, which is fine.
The main consideration beyond writing style here, is that what you’re writing about is meant to be newsworthy. Often clients will ask for you to write press releases for stories that are not ‘news’ and in this case it’s your job to try and find the interesting angle – which may mean for example coming at it from a local angle, or trying to sell a ‘rags to riches’ story. Ask yourself: would a magazine consider this to be news or a poor attempt at self-promotion? And how can you change that perception?
Product pages are pages on eCommerce stores that list items for sale. These pages might list one or multiple products and in either case, it’s your job to provide the description and the details that will describe what the product is about and why customers should buy it.
The content for a product page will always be third person and professional as opposed to conversational. Here you should describe the various aspects of the product in a concise manner, while at the same time making it sound appealing. This should be promotional as well then but not to the point of sounding like an advert.
Think as well about the prior knowledge of the shoppers. Do you need to provide additional explanation as to what this item does or is for? Finally, think about the other items listed on the same store and remember to differentiate them so as to make the choice easier for buyers.
Generally a product description will be somewhere in the region of around 100-300 words. Bullet points are also commonly used and as a general rule, you need to ensure the content is very approachable and thereby suitable for ‘browsing’ multiple listings.
A profile is a type of social media content. Here you will be filling out the details that a client has showing on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Twitter or on Google+. This normally consists of a description/about section, along with ‘hobbies and interests’.
Of course there are a wide range of different types of profile for different types of social media and different types of client. At the B2C end, you may even find yourself writing someone’s dating profile with the hope that a professional writer can help them to impress members of the opposite sex more effectively.
On the other hand you might be asked to write a business profile. This could mean a listing on directory of some sort, or it could mean creating a Facebook Page.
Whereas individual profiles for bloggers and commercial clients will be written in first person and in a very conversational tone, this same type of content for businesses will be much more professional and possibly written in the third person (‘Microsoft is a software company…’).
Proofreading is a form of editing and more specifically ‘line editing’ (see copy editing). This means you are fixing typos, spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes but not changing the structure or message of the writing (which would be ‘developmental editing’).
Where proofreading is a little different from line editing, is in that you might also incorporate fact checking to ensure that the information is factually accurate and may be required to offer feedback and an overall opinion on the work. Proofreading is checking and fixing, whereas copy editing is just fixing – though of course the two can be used interchangeably and there is a lot of overlap.
A report is an overview of a subject that fills the audience in on the key details. A report can be written on anything but often in the context of digital marketing, it will essentially act as a much shorter alternative to an e-book. For instance, a ‘money making report’ might explain the key details on how to use a particular new technique to increase earnings.
While free eBooks can often be used as incentives to get people to join mailing lists, a free report can do the same thing in a much shorter space of time.
For these reasons, the tone and the format of the free report will often vary – but will often be written in the ‘voice’ of the digital marketer in question as though speaking directly to the reader and will often be structured somewhat similarly to an e-book. The length tends to be around 1-3,000 words and the whole thing should focus on one key point.
Reviews can refer to customer reviews, which are the types of reviews you see left by customers on sites like Amazon or TripAdvisor. The idea of a customer review is to provide ‘social proof’ for the potential new buyer so that they can see that the item really does what it promises to do.
When you write customer reviews then, you will normally be doing so on behalf of the product owner. This may sound immoral but there is actually one ethical way to do this, which involves the product owner subsequently getting in touch with previous owners, showing them your ready-made reviews and then asking if they’d be happy to endorse what you’re saying. Of course other product owners will simply post hosts of fake reviews and whether you’re happy with this will depend on your own ethics.
The aim of a customer review is to praise the product in the first person but to do so in a way that’s realistic. Sometimes this might even mean making a small criticism so as to remove the appearance of bias. You also need to write as though you are a customer and not as though you’re a web writer – which may mean using incorrect grammar. Note however that some clients won’t understand why you’re doing this and might see it as actually being your mistake.
Writing reviews can also mean writing with multiple different personalities. This is a surprisingly nuanced task then and might benefit from some discussion with the client prior to going ahead. This way you can also learn the ins and outs of the product.
A review article is different from a customer review. That’s because a review article is not ‘pretending’ to come from a customer but is instead written in the style of a journalist. Here you are aiming to write a thorough, informative and entertaining review of a product that should at least seem as though it’s unbiased.
Whether or not your review article is actually biased of course will depend on your client. If the client is a site owner wanting to fill their site with useful content, then the objective will likely be to be genuinely objective. However, if you are writing the review for the product owner, then the review will be biased to promote their product but in a way that isn’t obviously ‘rigged’.
Regardless of whether your conclusion is preordained though, a review article should be entertaining (as any article) while also covering all of the important points about that item. Imagine you yourself are interested in buying and be sure to cover all the questions you might have as a potential customer. The tone of the article can be conversational or even humorous but this will depend on the nature of the site or blog it will be going on.
Of course review articles can also review things other than products – including music, films, books and TV. Again, the objectives here are the same: to be entertaining and informative in equal measures. When writing reviews of films and TV though, always try to avoid simply recapping the plot. Not only is this regarded as a ‘spoiler’ but it’s also not actually reviewing the quality of the subject in question.
‘Rewriting’ means reproducing content in order to create something that is the exact same in terms of content, structure and key points but which is nevertheless also unique in terms of wording.
What’s key to understand here is that Google will only rank a site highly if the content is considered unique. If Google searches a website and finds the content has already been published elsewhere, then that site or webpage won’t appear high in the rankings because it offers nothing new.
A rewrite then must be considered unique in the eyes of Google, despite the surface similarities. One way to test that you have accomplished this successfully is to run the new content through ‘CopyScape’ which looks for duplicate content online.
The main reason you’ll be asked to rewrite content is because the client wants copy like something they’ve found online but need it to be original. That said, there are other uses for rewriting too. For example, you might be asked to rewrite the client’s own content if they feel it is low quality and ‘beyond saving’.
As a rule, rewriting is a good job for you as a writer as it won’t require any research or even any planning. You are simply looking at one reference and rewording it.
Sales copy is copy that is designed to be used in sales. In other words, this is writing that is used to sell products but this will usually be long-form unlike ad copy.
We have covered individual types of sales copy at various points throughout this appendix. Sales pages are landing pages, sales letters are a form of e-mail marketing and scripts can also be used for sales.
While the individual requirements vary, sales copy will often be in the first person and will usually leverage various persuasion techniques and psychological tricks.
A sales letter is a type of letter – normally sent by e-mail – designed to ensure conversions (which normally means sales). In other words, this will be a long-form e-mail written in a similar manner to a landing page. This will use a first person narrative and will sell the ‘value proposition’ of the given product. For more guidelines, see ‘landing page’.
A script is something that is read out of performed by someone on film or potentially through a podcast. If a company or individual was looking to create an advert for instance, or even just a vlog, they would normally need a script to read from to provide the narrative structure.
Common uses for scripts then include:
- Vlogs and YouTube videos
- Video adverts
- Kickstarter videos
- Amateur films
Note that in some cases a script can simply be an article read aloud – which is the case for many YouTube videos. More often though, they will be written like plays or screenplays, with each character/presenter/actor given a chance to speak. You might also be asked to include directions which will indicate things happening on the screen – or alternatively you might be provided with a storyboard from which to work.
The basic thing to note is that when writing scripts to be read by multiple people, you should place their dialogue following their name and a colon.
Jeff: That’s how you write a script!
SEO articles are articles like any other, except for the heavy attention to SEO practices. SEO of course is ‘Search Engine Optimization’, which is the process of designing a website or a blog in order to help it more quickly reach the top of Google and other search engines like Bing. Good SEO can drastically increase a site’s visitor count and a business’ turnover and as such, SEO content is some of the most popular on the web.
Content is crucial for SEO because this is what Google looks at to determine the topic of a website and to pair it with the right visitors. Content is largely what people are looking for in the first place when they visit a website too.
To help Google find that content, your job as a writer is to subtly include keywords and phrases that the client has previously researched and selected as popular terms with lots of search volume. You need to do this in a way that is subtle though and that doesn’t damage the readability of your writing.
So let’s say that you were writing for a company that sold hats and your keyphrase was ‘buy hats online’. In this case, you might open your first paragraph with:
‘These days there are plenty of places you can buy hats online but it can still be hard to find the perfect style.’
(Putting keywords in the first line/paragraph is considered particularly effective.)
Note that if you over do your use of keywords, or if you make it awkward to read, then Google can end up penalizing the site. Thus you should be sparing and use a ‘less is more’ attitude. A good guide is to use 1-2% density – so using one keyword for every 100 words.
Of course some clients won’t understand this and will encourage you to force phrases like ‘buy hats online Santa Monica’ into your text. Like they say, the client is always right…
Finally, you can also improve the SEO of a website by using LSI – Latent Semantic Indexing. We could get deep into this subject but suffice to say it essentially means writing around the subject and using lots of natural synonyms and related terms.
This is writing content for slides that will be used in slideshows and presentations. This is increasingly becoming a common requirement online, as more and more marketers are turning to sites like SlideShare for their content marketing. Meanwhile, slideshows can also make effective YouTube videos or marketing videos for landing pages with no need for anyone to step in front of a camera.
The best slideshows for content marketing purposes will be written with relatively short sentences that can be read quite quickly. This allows the slide to move quickly, which keeps up interest and energy levels. Bullet points can also be effective, as can infographics and illustrations.
Slideshows can be written in the third or first person depending on the context and the client. They can also vary greatly in terms of tone.
Social Media Content
The social media content you write for clients of course refers to things like posts they might share with their visitors, comments and profile information (see ‘profiles’).
Social media marketing means using sites like Facebook and Twitter to promote a product, brand or service. This is a very effective way to build a relationship with your audience/fan base and to potentially encourage social sharing and even to give your content a chance at going viral.
Social media marketing is a job in itself then but actually a lot of it boils down to writing – albeit short posts and updates. This has increasingly become a writer’s job as well thanks to tools like Buffer and IFTTT which allow social media users to write large batches of content and then have queued to be published.
Social media content is usually written in the first person, in a friendly-yet-promotional tone.
Solo Ads and Ad Swaps
An ‘Ad Swap’ or ‘Solo Ad’ is an e-mail that is designed to bring in new subscribers or sell a product. This is a form of ‘influencer marketing’ in that the client will be working with an e-mail marketer to gain access to the mailing list that they have built up. When it is an ad swap, they will each be e-mailing each other’s lists, when it is a ‘solo ad’ the client will have paid another marketer to use their audience.
Either way then, you are writing an e-mail that will come from one e-mail marketer in order to promote another one. The tone and format of your writing here will depend on the specific audience that you are writing for as well as the tone that the marketer normally uses. For instance, if this is a B2B mailing list, then you will write with a very professional tone. If this is a mailing list belonging to a thought leader/blogger on the other hand, then your aim will be to mimic their normal writing style which will probably be more conversational. Either way, you should try to be as persuasive as possible as you provide testimony for the client you are trying to promote while at the same time making it sound genuine.
Spinning is a type of rewriting but is much more automated. Originally the term ‘spinning’ comes from the practice of using software to try and make old content unique again and thus usable. To accomplish this, said software would sift through an old article and then exchange words for their synonyms as it went.
So the original sentence:
‘There are many great ab exercises you can use to build a strong core’
‘There are lots of excellent six pack moves you can utilize to create a powerful core’
In theory, this content is now unique, though it unfortunately doesn’t read particularly well. What’s more, most spinning software would try changing ‘core’ into ‘center’ as well, resulting in a completely illegible sentence. This is the problem with spinning generally. Google has since clamped down on the practice and it has now generally fallen out of favor.
But there are two types of spinning that still remain fairly popular. One is ‘human spinning’ which involves getting a person to do what a spinner used to (manually exchange most words). Another is to use a piece of software called ‘The Best Spinner’.
The Best Spinner works by letting you create articles that you will later reword and change. To do this, you will write three versions or more of the majority of your words and the same for sentences. This can be very frustrating as a writer and the end result is often still not particularly elegant. Nevertheless, it’s still something you may be called upon to do from time to time.
Studies and Research Papers
Writing a study means writing up a scientific experiment in a professional manner that will be good enough to end up in a scientific journal.
Studies tend to be anywhere from 5-10,000 words long and they will use a number of specific tropes, styles and sections. For instance, all studies must start with an abstract, which is a short paragraph or two explaining the study, the participants and even the conclusion. A reader should be able to get the entire ‘gist’ of the study simply from reading said abstract.
All studies must appear completely objective though they can be written in the first person (plural). They should report on specific aspects of the experiment (such as controls, participants and measures of significance) and any references to currently held theories or ideas should be backed up with references to other journal articles. You should also use the appropriate language and terminology relating to the topic of the study. For instance, if the study is on the brain, then you should use psychological terms such as brain areas and neurotransmitters.
A research paper is another type of journal article, except this isn’t necessarily writing up a study but could also be an overview of existing research for instance. Similar rules apply.
The main takeaway to consider here, is that there are many very crucial requirements for any study, research paper or journal article. This is a technical form of writing and is normally taught at undergraduate level. If you are not confident in your ability to write in this format, you might do better to pass on these job offers.
A squeeze page is simply a landing page where the objective is to populate an e-mail list. In other words, this is a type of sales copy that is entirely aimed at encouraging a single action and in this case, that action is signing up to the mailing list.
To accomplish this, you will again be writing in the long-form and you should sell all of the merits that the mailing list offers – focusing once more on your ‘value proposition’. End with a strong ‘call to action’ and lace these throughout the content as well.
A testimonial is a kind of customer review but is much shorter than the typical review to fall into this category and is normally implied to be written or said by someone with some amount of authority.
The idea of a testimonial then, is that it should encourage the prospective buyers to trust in the product or service. It will normally thus be placed on a landing page or an ecommerce page where it will be presented as a snippet taken from a long quote:
“I loved the product so much, I ordered four more for my friends and family!” – Geoff from ExpertsRUs.com
Testimonials then are written in the first person and are very short. However, they should also be written more authoritatively than typical customer reviews.
Website content is content that will be placed onto a website. Of course you could argue that this applies to most of the content you create as a web content writer. Here then, the content is going to be used more expressly for the purpose of the website itself. That means it will popular the pages of the website (instead of being a separate blog, or a post on the website).
There are typically the same few pages that need content on most websites. These are:
- The Homepage – Where you will welcome visitors and explain what the website and/or business is about
- The ‘About Page’ – Where you will discuss the company, its mission statement and its brief history
- The Contact Page – Where you will invite the customers to get in touch
- The ‘Products’ or ‘Services’ Page – Where you list and describe what the company does and what they have to offer
Of course there might be more pages than this but this small selection covers the most common and popular basics.
For every part of a company’s website, you should write in the first person plural and should be friendly but professional in tone. For blogs and entrepreneurs you can write in the first person singular and can afford to be a little more colloquial and conversational. Either way, the aim is to very quickly convey the details and to leave the reader in no doubt as to what the website is about or what the company is selling.
White papers are authoritative guides to a particular issue or subject matter. As a web content writer, you will usually be writing these in the context of ‘white paper marketing’. This means you will be structuring the white papers to sell the merits of the product or service.
Think of this as being like a guide or report in your niche or industry but which also promotes the benefits of whatever it is being sold. White papers should thus educate and inform the reader and leave them impressed and interested in the product. Write as though you were speaking directly to the reader. While there is no ‘golden rule’ for the perfect length of a white paper, typically they tend to be 10 pages plus. Think of this as being somewhere between a report and an ebook but with a subtle sales pitch throughout.