Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction
- 2 What is a Web Content Writer?
- 3 Why Write for the Web?
- 4 Being a Great Web Writer
- 5 The Business Model
- 6 Dealing With and Managing Clients
- 7 Accounting and Law for Writers
- 8 Productivity and Efficiency Tips for Writers
- 9 Basic Tools Every Writer Should Use
- 10 Hardware
- 11 Closing Words
- 12 Appendix
Hello there reader and welcome to the Web Content Writers’ Manual. If you are interested in becoming a professional writer and working online, or if you are already a writer who is looking to hone their craft and rise to the top of the heap, then consider this manual to be your definitive and ultimate resource.
Being a pro writer is a technical and skill-based job and working online introduces a lot of new important considerations and angles. This guide will teach you everything you need to know to run your own premier writing service, from understanding the terminology to learning writing technique and SEO basics and finding and managing clients.
Once you’ve read this entire book through once, you will be a better writer and you will know how to set up your own writing business for maximum profit and flexibility. At the same time though, we hope you will keep dipping back in every time you need to check facts, get inspiration or deal with a writing-related problem or question. Consider this your digital writing bible and don’t leave home without it!
A good place to start would be with a definition. What is a web content writer? How does this job description differ from other writing jobs? What is a writer for that matter?
A writer of course is someone who gets paid for writing. In other words, it means that the main bulk of your job will revolve around putting words on the page, most likely to be read by a customer, client or some other recipient.
Being a web content writer simply defines where that writing is going and what style of writing you will be focusing on. Web content writers write for the web – for websites, for blogs and for digital marketing campaigns. This is a very varied description seeing as the type of writing appropriate for a blog post is very different from the sort of writing that’s appropriate for a news article.
Specifically, the sorts of places your work will end up if you write web content include:
- Blog posts
- Online articles
- Website content (the welcome page, about page etc.)
- PPC ads (pay per click ads, the most common forms of which are Google Ads and Facebook Ads)
- Banner advertising
- E-mail marketing
- Sales pages
- Scripts for YouTube videos
- Online courses
- Meta tags and descriptions for search engines
- Press releases
- White papers
- Social media posts
- And lots more
There’s a full description of each of these in the appendix but suffice to say, they all present unique challenges and criteria.
However, there are a few commonalities between many kinds of web content and some things that set the job of a web content writer apart from the ‘average’ writer.
For instance, anything that will be read by web traffic (so anything going on a website or blog) should be designed to grab attention and make a quick impression. What’s important to keep in mind here is that the attitude and mindset of someone online is very different from that of someone reading a leaflet or a book. Online, we are constantly distracted by things vying for our attention and we’re used to being able to get the information we want very quickly. In other words, attention spans are short – and your writing needs to take that into account. Web content is often punchier, more broken up and makes heavy use of headings.
Web content writing will also often involve some basic application of SEO. SEO is ‘Search Engine Optimization’ and essentially refers to the ways that you can make a website or an article more likely to get indexed by Google. This involves the subtle use of ‘keywords’ or ‘keyphrases’ that will be laced throughout the text (more on this later).
Likewise, you may also be asked to consider the ‘social sharing’ aspect of your writing. Many clients want their content to get shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites and have the hope that it will ‘go viral’. This means the content will need to have a ‘clickable’ title and will need to encourage people to share and to discuss.
Web content can also interact with other forms of media that wouldn’t be available in print. For instance, there might be an interplay between your copy and a video embedded on the page. You can also make use of hyperlinks in order to expand on your point and to reference external sources. At one point it was speculated that hyperlinks would completely change the way we experienced writing – that it would become more dynamic and interactive as a result through ‘ergodic’ text. This didn’t quite happen but it is one more element that the web content writer has to consider that the journalist doesn’t.
Otherwise, the web content writer will be largely mimicking the roles of other kinds of writers. If you write articles for a blog or website, you’re essentially being a reporter or a journalist but taking the above into account. If you’re writing adverts and sales pages, then your job becomes very similar to that of a traditional copywriter.
Meanwhile, many of those specific jobs now incorporate web content writing too. There’s a lot of overlap in other words – so perhaps the biggest asset for someone in this field is the ability to adapt to whatever task they’re presented with.
Perhaps a better way to really understand what a web content writer does though and why they are needed, is to look at the role they serve from the perspective of the client. Why are people willing to pay good money for this service? How do companies benefit?
The first thing to understand here is that you are performing primarily a B2B service. That means business to business – this is not a commercial venture with customers, it is a business service with clients.
There may be the odd exception to this rule. On occasion you might be asked to write someone a love letter, a short story or their university essay (whether or not you choose to do that will come down to your own ethical code). In the vast majority of cases though it will be businesses and entrepreneurs that you are dealing with. What this in turn means is that your clients are looking for ROI (return on investment). They are spending money on your writing service because they believe that in the long run, they will earn more money back. Your writing is helping them to sell, it is helping them to establish authority and it is helping them to influence.
There’s a bit of a saying in the world of digital marketing which is that ‘content is king’. What is meant by this is that writing is very much what makes the web go around. This is very good news for you because it’s what gives your writing value and what enables you to charge for it. The next question then though, is why this is true.
The answer is that this is what the consumers want. Think about your own web usage. When you go onto Google and search for something, what are you looking for? Normally the answer is content. What you’re looking for is writing so that you can be entertained, so that you can better understand a subject, so that you can solve a problem or give the right answer in a pub quiz.
The results then that come up are the ones that Google thinks have the best and most relevant content to your query. This makes content absolutely central to SEO and to digital marketing.
We’re going to describe the process of search engine optimization more in detail later in this book. Right now though, you just need to know that content is central to it.
Another thing that’s relevant at this point too, is that SEO is constantly changing. Google is constantly updating its search algorithm because it doesn’t want marketers to be able to easily manipulate it. Google’s interest is in helping its own users find better content – not in helping businesses to make money.
Thus SEO is somewhat unstable and some say it is ‘dying’. This is in fact not true. What is true is that SEO is changing and evolving and it is becoming something else. Specifically, SEO is being replaced with content marketing – or at least the two should be used together.
The key to remember here is that content is not important because of how Google works. Google works the way it does because content is important. When you use content marketing, you are skipping the middle man.
You see, even without Google’s involvement, it’s the content that people are looking for on a website and that they enjoy. Content marketing recognizes this and focuses on adding lots of great quality content so that users keep coming back to read the site. You probably have a few blogs you check regularly and a few you’ve subscribed to the RSS feed of. That’s because they provide great quality content.
In turn, this gives those blogs and websites the opportunity to market to their audiences on a regular basis. What’s more, it gives them the influence and the authority to be effective in doing that.
Imagine you’re interested in building an online business. You might search around for some content on web design, on writing and on business. If you found a great website that gave you lots of information, you might make a note of the brand and go back there in future. And then if you needed to hire someone to build your site, might you not consider the owner of that blog who has already demonstrated their knowledge? And if they were to sell an e-book on how to make a great website, would you not be more inclined to read it? When you work for a company that is interested in content marketing, this is what your job becomes – helping your client to gain subscribers and to build trust and influence.
And let’s not forget that writing is also what sells things online. This has always been the case even before the days of the Internet. When you see an advert on TV, it’s the persuasive script that will successfully sell that product or not. When you read an advert for something in a magazine, it’s again the writing that will make you want to buy. Writing in leaflets, pamphlets and more all help to explain what businesses do and then sell the things that they’re offering to their readers.
Thus the job of a copywriter has always been around – but now it has gone digital.
Imagine you’re interested in using an EPOS (electronic point of sale) system to handle transactions in your small shop. You’d then start looking for EPOS providers online by searching on Google. The content on that site would help you to find it but more importantly, the homepage would be what told you that a) this was what you were looking for and b) this company knows what they’re talking about.
When you land on that page, you will make a snap decision in seconds as to whether or not you want to learn more about the company. Your job as a writer hired by that company is to ensure that the site quickly and efficiently says what the company does and persuades the reader that they should stick around and buy.
Meanwhile, copywriters will also write the text for adverts that show up in Google search results (AdWords) on web pages (AdSense) and on Facebook (Facebook ads). These give you a very small amount of characters to work with and your job here is to grab attention in an even shorter space of time and to get people to click on the ad (or more specifically to get the right people to click on the ad).
These are just some of the jobs of a web content writer but as you can see – writing is absolutely instrumental to the way the Internet works and to the way business works. That’s why you’re going to be in demand and that’s what you will be doing to provide value.
Now you know what it means to be a web content writer, the next question is: why should you want to be one?
For many people, the idea of being a writer is appealing because of another unique aspect. We’ve seen how being a web content writer differs from a being a copywriter or journalist in terms of what you’ll be doing. Now it’s time to look at how being a copywriter differs in terms of how you’ll be doing it.
You see, when you write for clients online, another major difference is that you’re working online. You’re finding your clients online. You’re submitting your work online. In other words, you are untethered and you can work from anywhere.
Most web content writers are self-employed and will work on laptops. This basically gives them the freedom to live their life however they like. This gives you the freedom to practice what Tim Ferriss calls ‘Lifestyle Design’. This is the ability to design your job around the lifestyle that you want, instead of being forced to adapt your lifestyle to your job.
The ultimate expression of this is to become a digital nomad. A digital nomad is someone who actually travels around the world while working. Think about it: if all you need to work is a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection, you can very realistically travel around Europe while earning your living. Speaking from personal experience, one of my favorite memories was working with my entrepreneurial friend in Croatia. We had travelled there mid-week (for less than $100) and both intended to work there while we explored the country. One evening we were sitting in a bar, drinking a few beers and listening to incredible music (which turned out to be Schiller) and soaking in the atmosphere while watching people pass in the street outside. It was a fantastic moment and I’ve had many other experiences like this that make writing online a truly rewarding and freeing career move.
Of course you don’t have to move away from home to enjoy lifestyle design. This can also mean just working the hours that you want to work. Doing away with the commute. Working with your favorite music on. Having the time to meet up with friends for lunch. When I used to live in Bournemouth (in the UK), I would sit in a hammock at a local bar and watch the sea lap against the shore. These days I’m living in London and will often sit and work in the British Library – which has an excellent vibe for focusing.
So yes: freedom is one of the biggest reasons to work for yourself online.
And at the same time, it’s also just an incredibly rewarding and fascinating job. As a freelance writer you can choose to specialize in a subject (more on this later) which will mean you’re earning a living from researching and writing about a subject you love. Love football? Great – then you can make that your career. Alternatively, if you choose to be more flexible and take all kinds of clients, you will find that you learn all kinds of amazing things as you work. My friend and I were once locked out of our house and I managed to pick the lock based on a recent article I had written on lockpicking. More recently, I impressed my fiancé by fixing the toilet cistern based on knowledge I had learned from writing. Writing has helped me work out more efficiently, it has taught me a lot about business and it has benefited my relationships and finances.
Being a writer is also a relatively romantic job. When someone asks you what you do for a living and you say ‘freelance writer’, they will always follow up with more questions. See if you get the same response saying ‘I work for Fedex’. My friend is a pilot and I’m a writer and when we go to parties we both get a lot of attention based on our careers (though granted, he gets a little more attention than I do!).
As a content writer you’ll run your own business, you’ll be challenged and you’ll be creative. You’ll enjoy lots of freedom and actually there’s a lot of money in it if you’re smart. That’s why you should write for the web!
Reading that above section you may well be feeling inspired to become a content writer. Hopefully – that was kind of what I was going for!
But before you get too excited, do bear in mind that writing online also has its downsides. This book is a definitive guide and aims to be completely objective – we’re not trying to sell the concept of writing here.
So what are honestly the drawbacks? And how do you know if writing is right for you?
Here are some considerations:
You Will Need Incredible Discipline
One thing that a lot of people will say when you tell them you’re a freelance writer is that it ‘must take a lot of self-discipline’. And you know, they’re not wrong! Being a writer and working for yourself means there’s no boss breathing over your shoulder. It means that if you wanted, you could just relax on the sofa and watch TV instead of doing any work. No one would know and you wouldn’t be ‘in trouble’. But then again, you’d also not earn any money. Your income and your success are all tied to your ability to stay off of Facebook. If you struggle with self-control, writing may not be for you.
You Will Deal With Difficult Clients
Most clients you work with will be great. But as in any business, you will come across a few rotters who can make your life miserable. And what’s key to remember here is that as a writer, you are still trading your time for money. That is to say that you’re not completely free to spend all day lounging on the beach. This is not ‘passive’ income, as you would get from selling a product online. In many ways then, having clients is similar to having a boss.
Your Income is Not Stable
This is true of any self-employed job. As a writer, you run the risk of dry spells. There may be times when you will go weeks without clients. This is rare, mind you, as writing is very much in demand. But that being said, you don’t have the same guaranteed salary as you do with employment.
That said, in some ways being self-employed is actually more stable than working for someone. The thing to remember about working for an organization is that they also need to find clients. If the company goes bust, or if they’re forced to cut back, your job might be at risk leaving you with zero income.
As someone who is self-employed though, things are not so binary. You might go through a ‘quiet spell’ – but even then you’ll still probably have some clients and you’ll still have some sources of income. This not only means you’re never left with zero income, it also means you should get ample prior warning that your business is waning before you’re left in the lurch. This gives you more than enough time to get off that ‘sinking ship’ should you need to.
It Can be Boring
There are few things more soul-crushing than writing 50,000 words on car windows. But it happens…
You Can Go Stir Crazy
Talk about an unsociable job! If you go out and work in cafes, then you will interact with people that way. But you’re still going to be spending the bulk of your day staring at a screen and typing silently. This also isn’t a particularly active or healthy job, so you’ll need a good fitness regime to balance that.
You Need to be a Good Writer
One other small thing: you need to be a good writer. Now writing is something you can hone and get better at. Overall though? Having the ‘voice’ is something you’re pretty much born with… or not. Before you set out to be a content writer, it’s a good idea to get a friend to honestly appraise your writing. If you don’t have it, then there may be other, better jobs for you.
Now you know precisely what a web content writer does and what the pros and cons of the job are, you should have a good idea as to whether or not it is for you. And seeing as you’re still reading, it’s probably safe to assume you came to the conclusion that it is.
In that case, it’s time to start putting the job under the microscope and looking at the nuts and bolts of it. How do you go about being a great web content writer? How can you take your raw talent/interest and transform yourself into someone who is just fantastic at what they do? This is important because it’s what will ensure you get repeat customers and good reviews. The better you are, the more you can charge!
This is a rather broad question and one that you could go into great, great detail on. What makes a good writer is a matter that is up for serious debate and everyone will have different ideas on it.
What makes great web writing though is a little easier to define. Your objective here is first and foremost to make your writing highly readable. In other words, it should be easy and enjoyable to follow what you’re saying. Readers shouldn’t have to go over sentences twice and they should feel almost as though you’re speaking to them. This is where that natural ‘voice’ comes into play. Of course your tone should be more or less conversational depending on the client, the niche and the goal. But in general, the reader should be enraptured by what you’re saying to the point that they forget they’re reading and just feel entirely engaged.
At the same time, great writing should avoid repetition, it should avoid sounding contrived or forced and it should flow elegantly. Having a large vocabulary will help with this as it will let you vary your use of words and it will let you communicate more subtle nuances. Every word you pick for an article, script or anything else will have an undercurrent to it and an implied subtext.
Take this example: saying ‘thank you for coming’ is different from saying ‘thank you for being here’. Why? Because saying ‘thank you for coming’ will very subtly imply that the people you’re speaking to might not have bothered to come. To the very sensitive reader, this could thus be interpreted as being very slightly passive aggressive! Saying ‘thank you for being here’ on the other hand sounds much more genuine. The difference is incredibly slight but having a large enough vocabulary to be able to pick the right word makes all the difference.
What this ability also requires is empathy and a theory of mind. In other words, you need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the reader as you’re writing and imagine how they are feeling at any given point throughout the text. This is especially important where your objective is to sell. Understanding how your reader will be feeling is what lets you grab attention, what lets you build intrigue and what lets you motivate and tweak all the right emotions.
This is part of what makes a truly great writer. What’s also important is your ability to know what to write. Of course this is going to be defined in your briefing but you still have leeway within that.
For instance, someone might tell you to write an article on ‘losing weight’. This is a pretty broad description and so you can now choose what areas of that topic you want to focus on and how you’re going to structure the article. The key is to focus on what’s interesting. What is it about that subject that hasn’t already been covered lots of times before? What angles will make people excited to be reading?
Tip: One way to ensure your writing flows and hits the right buttons is to try reading it aloud. This will make it easier to hear the awkward or stilted parts and to imagine you’re speaking to someone.
Remember too when writing for the web that your content needs to be good at quickly grabbing attention. While you should always have an introduction leading into your articles, you want to keep these short and punchy. Try to say more with less and separate out your work into lots of short paragraphs to maintain momentum.
What you also need to think about as you write, is the goal of your client. Remember: this is a B2B service and the focus is on ROI – return on investment. You are there to earn them money and if your writing helps them to earn more than they pay for it, they will keep coming back to you time and again.
Sometimes the client won’t be explicit in telling you what they hope to achieve. In these cases, your job is to read between the lines, to figure out what their goals are and to help them meet them. Do they want to inspire their readers? Are they trying to get them to click on more links? Are they trying to position themselves as experts? Keep the goal in mind and make sure your writing serves that purpose.
Likewise, you also need to be adaptable in terms of writing style. As we briefly touched upon earlier, the way you write for a blog post on a website about computer games is going to be very different from the ‘About Us’ page of a law firm. One will be colloquial, chatty and entertaining, the other will be technical, officious but also friendly and approachable.
This is the other requirement of a great writer: to be the chameleon who is able to blend their writing into the content already on that page and already part of that marketing campaign. Again, this requires a good theory of mind and good empathy. If you want to be a better writer, these are some skills to work on.
Tip: When writing, think about your audience and imagine you’re speaking directly to that person or those people.
It goes without saying that good writing should be free of errors as far as possible. That means no grammatical mistakes and no spelling mistakes.
One easy way to do this is to use a good word processor that will highlight any errors as you are typing. Another tip is to avoid ‘forcing’ work when you’re not in the zone, to avoid distractions and to use a good keyboard. We’ll look at all this later.
The other way to avoid errors is to proofread your own work. In other words, you need to go over what you’ve written and this is another scenario where reading aloud can help you to spot things. Another tip is to take some time out before proofing your work – if you do it too soon after writing it you may be too ‘close’ to the project.
The amount you get paid for your writing is going to dictate the amount of time you can spend working on it. Some clients will ask you to thoroughly proofread your work but pay you a pittance for the end product. Of course there are limits to how much time you can spend reading.
To quickly proofread a large amount of text, a good strategy is to read the first paragraph (mistakes here are far more glaring) and the last paragraph. Then read the first and last sentence of every other paragraph in between. This is a quick way to check for errors that Word didn’t pick up and while it’s not flawless, it will save a lot of time. If on the other hand you are getting paid a decent wage for your writing, you should provide that value by taking the time to read the content all the way through and aloud. You can also try outsourcing this process, as it’s actually much easier to proof work you didn’t write.
An important consideration during all of this is to remember that some aspects of grammar and even spelling are open to debate.
Take for instance the ‘Oxford comma’. This is a debate about the use of commas in sentences. If you have a list of items, you should separate each item with a comma. The last item though will be preceded with a coordinating conjunction or a connective (such as ‘and’) whether or not you put a comma before that point is where the confusion comes in.
When using the Oxford comma, also known as the ‘serial’ comma, you do use the comma before the conjunction:
“Lettuce, broccoli, pineapple, and cucumber.”
Normally though, you would leave out the comma:
“Lettuce, broccoli, pineapple and cucumber.”
The latter is the more common choice but some people argue that using the Oxford comma can help to avoid confusion. The example on Wikipedia currently is:
“I would like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God”
Here, it looks as though you are saying that Ayn Rand and God are your parents. Insert the serial comma though:
“I would like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand, and God”
And it becomes clear that you are thanking three separate groups.
Which is correct? Neither – it’s a matter of personal choice. As a general rule though, if you’re working with a client for the first time, it’s a good idea to go with the more common example (in this case, no serial comma) as that is what they will expect to see.
Then there are examples of rules that few people follow any more. ‘Less people’ is technically incorrect and should be ‘fewer people’. And most authorities state that you shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘And’. Often though, bending these rules can actually make your content flow more naturally and as such, you should prioritize readability over strict rules.
The exception? If you’re writing for a very official, technical or authoritative client. This is another excellent example of adapting your text to the client.
What’s also important, is that your content remain consistent. So if you’re making the decision to use the Oxford comma, then all the content on that site should use the Oxford comma. Inconsistencies will always stand out as errors, which is why another good tip is to read the content on your client’s website before submitting work. If you’re not sure? Just ask. A professional blog, like a magazine, should have a set of editorial guidelines that will lay down the rules for each of these points.
You also need to bear in mind regional differences. Working online means you’ll be working for clients all around the world and that means you’ll have to switch between American, British and Canadian English for instance. This results in spelling differences (color vs. colour) which you can navigate by ensuring your word processor’s dictionary is set to the correct locale.
At the same time though, this also impacts on grammar, structure, style and more. Some phrases like ‘folks’ are more common in the US, while others like ‘knackered’ are more common in Britain. More importantly, in the US you refer to a business as singular, whereas in the UK, you refer to a business as plural.
So in other words, in England you would say “Microsoft are a large company…” while in the US you would say “Microsoft is a large company…”. And actually there is ambiguity here too as either is technically correct and you have to adapt a little here based on the context. For instance, even in the US, you would say that Windows was “their patent” and not “its patent” which can result in inconsistencies.
So whatever you do, there will always be complications here. The important thing is just to be aware of these inconsistencies and ambiguities so that you can discuss them with your client if they flag up your phrasing or choice of vocabulary. Phew!
Stick to all of that advice above and you will find your writing looks good, reads well and performs well in its key objectives. This will be the work of a great writer and you should find most clients are satisfied with what you have to say.
But if you want to make a great impression, then there are a couple of little ‘tricks’ you can use. Think of your work as a product and realize that like any product, the writing you provide can be dressed up to look more valuable.
One way to do this is to use a good font. This is subtle but when a client receives work that is written in a smart font, it will look a little more professional and they will be more likely to think they’re getting great value. Likewise, using large, bold headings and multiple font weights can also help to sell your content. Put all your work in a zip file with sensible file names and insert notes and references where appropriate. If it’s an e-book, provide the Word document and a PDF and make sure to add a table of contents and page numbers.
All of this will subtly sell the idea that your service is a ‘premium’ service and it will ensure you stand head and shoulders above your competition.
Finally, being a great web writer requires a good understanding of SEO. We’ve looked briefly at what SEO generally involves, now let’s look at how you take it on board.
As a writer, the main requirement for SEO is to insert keywords and phrases. These are strings (a string refers to a selection of letters) that the client has researched and found to be ‘in-demand’. More specifically, they are things that people are searching for on Google but which aren’t too competitive.
So if you’re writing for a website that sells hats, their keywords might be:
“Buy hats online”
“Buy hats Santa Monica”
“Cheap winter hats”
Your job as a writer then is to include these terms in your content so that they flow naturally. For instance:
“How to Look Great This Winter
Staying fashionable can be hard at the best of times but when winter comes around, it only becomes more of a challenge. Not all cheap winter hats are exactly fashion accessories and thick woolly coats aren’t particularly conducive to showing off your physique. Even if you try and buy hats online you can find the selection of fashionable hats to be lacking!”
Here, you can see that the three words have been included in such a way that they wouldn’t stand out to the reader. This is your objective: include the words for Google, without damaging the flow of your text for the human audience.
What’s more is that you mustn’t ‘overdo’ your keyword insertion. As mentioned, Google doesn’t like to be manipulated, and as such, the ranking algorithm is constantly changing. Once upon time, webmasters would try and cram as many keywords as possible into their text (known as ‘keyword stuffing’) but these days that’s a surefire way to have your content penalized and potentially even removed from the search results.
As a general rule, most experts advise a ‘keyword density’ of about 1-2%. So if you have a 500-word article, you can insert your keywords 5-10 times throughout, as long as it looks natural. Likewise, it’s important not to use a keyword if it doesn’t fit naturally into the content. So while ‘buy hats Santa Monica’ might be a good fit for a meta tag (website code), it’s not something you should be trying to force into your writing – unless the client demands it. Unfortunately some clients are a little behind on their SEO knowledge and will instruct you to do things that aren’t actually in their best interests. Remember: the client knows best – though if you feel it’s appropriate then a little free consultation can win you Brownie points and avoid a poor end product.
Another tip for proper keyword use is to think about where you’re putting your keywords. This is important because Google looks to some areas of text more than others. Specifically, headings, opening paragraphs/sentences, conclusions and bullet points are given more importance. If you can, try to get your keyword in these spots.
Another new term in the world of SEO is ‘LSI’ or ‘Latent Semantic Indexing’. This refers to the fact that Google has become smarter and now knows to look for synonyms and related terms. It uses this to check that you are writing naturally around the topic instead of trying to just ‘tick boxes’ – but it also uses it to try and better understand what your content is about.
For instance, if your keyword is ‘cheap chips’, Google needs to look at related terms and language in order to know whether you’re talking about microchips or about French fries/crisps! This is another reason that it’s important to have a good vocabulary as a web content writer.
Tip: How do you improve your vocabulary as a writer? One of the easiest tricks is simply to read a lot. This will also improve your knowledge and is the best way to learn the ‘writers’ voice’ if it isn’t coming to you entirely naturally!
As mentioned, SEO is becoming more complex and less reliable with time. If you are hired by a client to write a topic then, you should focus primarily on the reader and the content marketing angle. Assume that SEO and keywords are not needed unless specified otherwise. If the client does provide you with keywords, then insert 1-2% density and use LSI.
Using all the tips above, you should now be a good web content writer (well, the tips above + practice anyway). Listen carefully to feedback too and you’ll be able to satisfy your clients and stay in hot demand.
But being a great writer alone does not a professional writer make! That is to say, you aren’t a professional writer until you’re earning money – so the other thing you need to know is how to find clients, charge them and profit from doing what you love. That’s where the business model comes in.
Fundamentally, this is how being a web content writer works and how you will earn money.
- You advertise your services on a freelancing site, or on a forum
- Or you advertise on your own website and use SEO/content marketing/advertising to send people there
- You get offers from interested clients via e-mail, through your inbox or via the service you are using
- You may be asked to send a sample of your work, or you might be able to jump straight into working
- You provide the work you’ve done as soon as possible via e-mail, in Word format
- You get paid the agreed amount – normally based on word count and normally via PayPal
- You get repeat work from the client(s) or you repeat step 1
That’s the main outline but of course the specifics can vary depending on your preferences and how you want to work. For instance, the amount of work you do is going to vary drastically, as is the amount you charge, the type of work you’re willing to take on… etc.
One decision you’ll have to make is whether you want to go full time or part time. Going full time is more than possible but if you’re currently working for an employer, you might find that going part time to begin with is an easier way to transition.
A lot of people feel ‘trapped’ in their 9-5 jobs because they have too many responsibilities and commitments to quit and try working for themselves. The reality though, is that you actually don’t need to quit your job in order to find out whether you can succeed as a freelancer. Instead, a better strategy is to try earning money on the side and then to quit your main job only once you’ve demonstrated to yourself that you can support your family that way.
So for instance, you can start out writing just in the evenings or just on the weekends and only once you have a few steady clients then you quit your job. In the meantime as well, you’ll be able to earn a supplementary income, which can make your quality of life that much better!
I actually started working as a writer while I was still at university. I began in year three because I was running out of cash and then when I finished my degree, I didn’t have the stress of finding a job that all my friends experienced – I already had money coming in and I just scaled up.
Another question you’ll face when creating your online business is whether you want to focus on a particular subject area as a writer, or whether you’re going to take orders from all kinds of clients in all kinds of niches. Of course there are clear benefits and drawbacks here to taking either approach.
By focusing, you may find you can actually charge more. You can position yourself as the ‘number one fitness writer’ and thereby you are charging not only for your writing skills but also for your knowledge. This is a great way to set yourself apart from the competition too and to make sure you really love what you do – the writing you do will be much more focused on the areas you love and as such, you should find that it flows much more easily.
On the other hand though, focusing that much on a single niche (niche means ‘subject matter’ in this context by the way) will automatically reduce the number of clients you have available and thus it will be harder to find work. You may also find that working on multiple different projects keeps things from getting boring. Ultimately this is a decision only you can make – though there’s nothing to stop you from trying both!
This is the next key business decision you need to make: deciding how much you’re going to charge. Of course your initial impulse might be to charge as much as possible but this will then limit the number of clients who can afford you and make you less competitive. Charge too little though and you’ll have to work much harder to make ends meet.
What’s standard to charge as a web content writer? It varies drastically actually but a good guideline is that you’ll probably end up charging anywhere between $1 per 100 words and $5. Most people will be somewhere in between these numbers.
Another point is that you can charge different amounts to different clients. If one client is providing you with a lot of steady work, then you may decide to offer them a discount to keep the work flowing in. You should also think about the nature of the project – if something is going to require lots of research and proofing, you might want to charge more.
You should also think about how much you need to earn to live the lifestyle you want and then work backwards from there. I need a minimum of $150 per day to live the lifestyle that I want and for some clients I will work for as little as $1.50. That means I need to produce a minimum of 10,000 words for them to earn my minimum.
Other clients though I charge $2.50. Those clients I can work considerably less for as they have smaller requirements. Thus I have to do more work to get those clients. And for me: $150 is the minimum while $200+ is the target. For that reason, I try to complete as much as possible for both sets of clients. Often I will finish 15,000 words in a day and my record was over 30,000. That day I earned around $500 in a single day. This should tell you a little about the earning potential in this industry – if you’re good at managing your time and managing your clients.
Remember: you are also going to have to pay tax on your income like anyone else, so factor that in when you’re deciding how much to charge. Likewise, you may need to.
When you start becoming a web content writer, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance and the excitement that this represents. As someone who works for themselves, entirely online, you are a pioneer. That is to say that the job you’re doing is only possible thanks to modern technology and only 20 years ago, it simply didn’t exist!
But the economy of the internet works rather differently compared with the rest of the world. Case in point: you now have to compete with foreign workers. This includes workers in India, Africa and China where the cost of living is considerably lower and where they can charge far lower rates. This is a big problem for web designers and programmers but for us writers it’s slightly less of a challenge. Why? Because most of those writers speak pidgin English. The quality of writing work outsourced to India is generally far lower which means you can easily charge more if you demonstrate the difference. It’s something worth bearing in mind though if you want to stand out.
Now you know what you’ll be charging and what you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis. The next question is where you’re going to find your clients. Where do writing clients come from? There are a few options which we will address here…
We’ll start with freelance sites because they’re the most popular and well-known option. I’d also say they’re not the best option though, so keep that in mind as you read.
Freelance sites include the likes of UpWork (formerly ODesk), Elance, People Per Hour, Constant Content (this one is aimed directly at writers), Freelancer and even Fiverr (where you offer services starting at $5). You can also get some work from LinkedIn if you’re lucky and good at selling yourself.
The idea of these sites is to match freelancers with particular skills with clients looking for certain services. All these sites thus provide work for writers, for coders, for web designers and for a range of other online professions.
The way they work is relatively simple and effectively they act as social networks. You create a profile – often listing things like experiences, qualifications and certificates along with information about yourself and your service – and then you put in proposals for job listings, or wait to be contacted. Often these sites feature a test system too, which you can use to demonstrate a certain level of expertise in your claimed areas of interest. As a writer then, UpWork or Elance will get you to answer some basic grammar and spelling tests to verify your skills. Over time you can collect positive reviews from clients, which will increase your odds of getting more clients and you should generally gain momentum as you go.
As a writer, you’ll generally charge per word. Note though that sites like UpWork like ‘hourly’ rates, which you can also choose to offer. If you do that though, you might end up using tracking software to prove you worked the hours you said you did. This can be invasive and inconvenient and a little off-putting.
That’s one reason I don’t highly recommend going this route. Another is that the amount of set-up involved with these is very high. It will take you a long time to fill out all your details, pass the tests, put in proposals and trawl jobs. All of this means you then have less time to spend writing and less time to spend earning. Not good!
Another problem is that you’ll now be relying on a third party for your work. UpWork, Fiverr, Elance etc. all handle payments for you but when they do so, they also take a cut of your income. This is annoying in itself but it’s even worse when you consider how they try and prevent you from sharing contact details. There are ways around this but it all leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth.
As a business owner, building a list of e-mails and leads is an incredibly lucrative and smart activity. You want to ensure that you have the means to contact your old clients whenever you like, to discuss through e-mail using your mobile and generally to be unrestricted in how you choose to do business.
Throw in the fact that you’ll be competing with a lot of foreigners and that the average rates are very low and you generally are better off looking elsewhere.
So what do I recommend? The way I personally have always found my clients is through forums. These are webmaster forums frequented by website owners and business owners, as well as digital marketing forums. On these forums, members will discuss the best marketing techniques, SEO, Google, social media marketing, affiliate marketing etc. At the same time, they also look for services, networking and more.
If you think back to the section on ‘Why the Web Needs Writers’, you should note that these people are pretty much all your target demographic. So if you post here stating that you’re offering your services, that you’re a great writer and that you charge X amount per word, you can find you get a lot of responses.
The top three forums for doing this are Warrior Forum, Digital Point Forums and Black Hat World. Of these, Warrior Forum is likely to get you the most work and the best rates – though you do need to pay to advertise there (about $20 but you will make this back very quickly).
Note that the key to success on these platforms is to really sell yourself. Think of your forum post as a sales letter and try to outline precisely why it is that you’re the best writer in the business. Explain your expertise, your experience and your qualifications, provide samples of your writing and throw in a little time pressure and scarcity to promote a quick response. Again, you can also gather reviews and testimonials on these forums that will help you considerably.
I have been writing online for the past 7 years and in that time I’ve posted about 4 adverts. Two of these were to Digital Point Forum and two were to Warrior Forum.
This has gotten me enough writing work to last for all this time. Why? One reason is that I got very lucky. I’ve been working for two websites for that entire 7 years. The other reason is that on two occasions I managed to get work through a writing agency.
What is an agency? Basically, this is a company that hires writers and then finds them clients to make money. Of course if you can find a client willing to pay $3.50 per 100 words and you can find a writer willing to work for $1.50 per 100 words, then you can pair the two off and make a profit of $2 per 100 words! If you can find 100 clients and 100 writers, you can then start making a lot of money.
That’s how an agency works and at first you might be unsure about using them. After all, aren’t they just taking your money?
Well yes – but they’re also providing a lot in return. When you work for an agency, you should find you’re able to get a very steady and ongoing supply of work. Some of that profit they’re taking from you they will be reinvesting in marketing and branding and this will help them to bring in more clients on your behalf than you otherwise could. You won’t have to deal with awkward clients, you won’t have to negotiate rates every time and you may even get to pick and choose your favorite projects. You also know that your client is reliable when it comes to paying and won’t have to go months without seeing remuneration.
In other words, this streamlines the entire process for you and makes life much easier. While you’ll lose out a little profit, it can also let you work to a larger scale and makes your income far more stable.
Another option is to completely go it alone and to create your own website and your own brand. You can call yourself ‘The Copy King’, buy ‘CopyKing.com’ and then use the website to showcase your work, to talk yourself up and to integrate with marketing campaigns. You’ll then promote your own site as you would do for any other business – using advertising, SEO and social media marketing.
Doing this requires a lot more work and involves a small investment right from the start. On the other hand though, it also means you can charge much more than you otherwise could and it gives you a lot more control and freedom. This way, you eventually could take on employees and set up your own writing agency, or even a franchise! This then is a far more scalable way of doing business, so really it depends on your aspirations and your goals as a writer whether or not it’s worthwhile.
Of course there are plenty more ways to find clients too. One is simply to contact websites that you like and offer to write for them. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone once in a while either! Or you can go into a shop and offer to help them manage their web presence. Suggest working with a web development company in order to share clients, or even offer your own web development skills if you have some! You could try working for a small magazine as their blogger (again, just pick up the phone), or you can offer your services on Craigslist, GumTree and Reddit. Another good source of work is in writing forums where hobbyist and professional writers hang out. ‘Writers’ News’ is one such example of a forum where you will often be notified of new work (the forum has an accompanying magazine too which also features work opportunities).
And the great news is that there’s nothing to stop you from using multiple strategies. You can advertise on Warrior Forum for instance and at the same time be going around local shops and handing out your card. Don’t limit yourself to one avenue and constantly be on the lookout for opportunities.
On another note, I would highly recommend that any writer consider having a side hustle. A side hustle is a project you manage yourself that you can use to bring in supplementary income. I personally have my own fitness blog, as well as selling various apps. At the moment I make between $600 and $800 from these projects alone, which means I don’t find myself in quite as much trouble when I have a slow week and don’t get much interest from clients. It also means that I’m able to stretch my creative muscles when I’m tired of writing about things I’m not interested in and it means I can potentially earn much more than I could from the writing gig alone.
As a web content writer, you have a skill that’s very easy to monetize and you will come into contact with lots of online businesses. Have a go at emulating some of them when you get free time and that way you can build a more resilient business and you can enjoy a more varied and rewarding day-to-day workflow.
Finding clients to work with though is only the first step. The next step – and the much more difficult part – is working with those clients and juggling multiple clients at once. This is going to be the source for some sleepless nights and it can all get pretty stressful. In this section you’ll learn everything you need to get as good at it as possible.
The first thing to recognize when it comes to dealing with clients, is that every minute you spend talking to them, is another minute you are not earning money.
As we’ve mentioned, most writers are charged by the word and not by the hour. So if you’re paid $1.50 per 100 words and you can write 2,000 words an hour, that means you’re now earning $30 an hour – which is a pretty good/standard wage. Over the course of 8 hours, a normal working day, you’ll be earning $240 though that would be without a lunch break.
That’s the theory anyway. In reality it unfortunately doesn’t work that way. Why? Because of the clients. If you think that you’re likely to spend about 2 hours a week finding clients, you’ve just lost $60 a week. Now if you think you’ll spend an hour a day discussing with clients, you’re suddenly $75 worse off per week. That’s $135 a week – which is a lot!
So your objective as a web content writer should always be to cut down your communication overhead. That’s why I’m happy to work for less for writing agencies – although they pay me less per hour, I also earn that money back in time saved (not to mention the fact that it’s a lot less stressful).
Something you’re going to learn pretty quickly then, is that some clients aren’t actually worth the amount of time they require to keep happy. Even if they aren’t ‘mean’ or ‘difficult’ clients, they might just ask a lot of questions. Others will insist that you have ‘Skype meetings’ to discuss every little matter. If someone is hiring you to write 1,000 words for them and they want a 1 hour Skype meeting to discuss… well then it’s not really worth your while. Often these types of clients are people who enjoy ‘playing business’ and feeling important, as opposed to being serious about efficiency like anyone with a real business to run would be. Likewise, if one client keeps wanting you to make changes to your work, then they may be costing you money too.
Some clients will just be downright difficult. Some will give you obscure and misguided project outlines, or they will try and micromanage your articles to the point of ridiculousness. Others will be aggressive or unflattering. These clients are also the kinds of clients who are most likely to leave negative reviews – even if your work is high quality. Other clients just take months to pay, or don’t pay at all. Again, something that will come with experience here is a kind of ‘radar’ for good clients versus bad clients. Try to make sure that you pick and choose your clients and recognize that not all work is made equal.
Refer to what some bloggers refer to as the ’80/20 rule’. Chances are that 80% of your profits and work come from 20% of your clients; so get rid of the other 80% and life will get a lot simpler.
Another point worth mentioning is ethics. All of us have some kind of ethics or moral code that we try to live by and this is something that may be challenged occasionally if you’re working as a writer.
For example, some clients will ask you to write reviews of products you know don’t work. Or they will ask you to write opinion pieces that go against your personal beliefs. Some writers will consider this fine and think of it as being professional – being able to distance yourself from your work is a requirement in a number of different industries. Other people though will be very uncomfortable in these positions and so will turn down job offers on that basis.
Which you decide to do is entirely up to you but a good idea is to come up with your ‘rules’ from the beginning so that you aren’t left worrying and stressing over particular jobs. Inform clients of your rules going in and that way you can avoid problems later on.
When you’re working with new clients, you might find that some will ask to see a sample of your work before you start. This is a relatively common practice on forums like Digital Point Forum and Warrior Forum and sometimes the prospective client will offer to review your service in exchange. This can be useful but it’s important to ensure that they aren’t taking advantage of you.
Having a few samples of your work on hand can be a good idea as this way you can send pre-written articles when you’re asked. In other cases you might be given a specific task. Never write more than 500 words for free and only do it at all if you think the client is likely to order a large amount of work. While it can be awkward to refuse someone a free sample, as long as you make it sound ‘non personal’ there’s no reason it should be. A good line to use is:
“Sorry, I do not provide free samples. However, you can see many examples of my work on my website at www.example.com”
This is something you’ll have to use your intuition and common sense about but just be a little cynical about it. I once had a client who would ask for ‘samples’ every time he had a new order to put in. He also took months to pay – so eventually I let him go.
Another option is to say that the client pays for the first sample only if they’re happy with it, which makes your service risk-free without costing you money in loss-leaders.
Another ‘awkward’ aspect of the business is knowing when to ask for payment. Do you charge before or after the work has been submitted?
Again there’s no right or wrong answer here and it’s all going to depend on what you feel comfortable with. Of course ‘payment on receipt’ is a good selling point and can make your service more appealing but it also leaves you open to late or missing payments. Another option is to accept 50% up front and 50% on receipt. This is also a little fiddly however.
A good rule of thumb then, is to offer payment on receipt for small orders but to ask for payment up front if the work will take more than half a day. Long-term clients who you trust can pay on receipt while clients who have a bad track record you can agree to work for only if they pay first. Again, a bit of flexibility can go a long way here and every situation is different.
The way you get paid is also something that can vary. If you are using a freelancing site like Fiverr, Elance or UpWork, it will probably have its own payment processing system built in and in that case, this is how you will get paid.
Otherwise, the ‘industry standard’ is definitely PayPal. PayPal keeps your details safe and all you need to accept payment is your e-mail address. It will make it easy to manage and log payments and can be helpful for accounting and tax returns too. To set up a PayPal account, you simply need to add your details and verify your bank account. Some clients will require an invoice for their own accounting and you can do this relatively easily in PayPal by going to ‘Request Money > Create Invoice’. Invoice templates can also be saved to help streamline the process, as can common recipients. Note that PayPal does charge fees though and this is something to take into account when you are negotiating pay (some writers get their clients to pay the PayPal fees, or you can just increase your rates slightly to account for those fees).
The other payment method you might choose for working with clients is direct wire transfer. This is cheaper but a little more fiddly and is only really recommended when you have built up a long-term relationship with a client. You might even get a large advance and then work to pay it off – this is something again to discuss with clients as your relationship matures.
Note that no matter what nationality you are, the standard is to charge in US dollars. This is the ‘universal currency’. Unfortunately if you’re not based in the US, this also means that your salary will be very dependent on the fluctuating strength of your currency. My pay can vary by 10-20% based on the strength of the GBP alone!
When you start out in your online business, it can be very nerve wracking and you might feel as though you have to agree to everything your clients suggest. This is something you’re going to have to get over if you’re going to be successful in business though: make sure you’re willing to ask for more money, to refuse free samples and generally to protect your best interests.
BUT at the same time, make sure you do this politely.
Sometimes a client will write to you and use a less than respectful tone. They might also have unreasonable demands and it can be very tempting to retaliate in kind.
As I said earlier, I started working online when I was at university still. At this point I was working part time though, so when I left and moved back in with my Mum, I put in another ad to find more clients.
One client wrote to me and told me exactly how much they were going to pay me – which was less than the rate I had advertised – and then proceeded to make (incorrect) annotations all over the free sample I sent them. This is a pet hate of mine – if a client can annotate and highlight all your errors, then they could have just fixed them themselves and saved everyone some time.
So I started to think about telling this client where they could go. I wrote a rather rude and childish draft e-mail (bearing in mind I was 21 at the time) and showed it to my Mum. She basically told me I could send it, but it wasn’t professional and wouldn’t help me in the long term if I was serious about running my own business. I eventually gave in and responded with a courteous message where I told the client I would make the changes and would try harder in future. We negotiated a rate somewhere between the two.
That client then stuck with me for four years, eventually started paying me more than any other client and was the reason I was able to move out and get my own place.
The not-so-thinly-veiled moral of that story? Sometimes it pays to swallow your pride.
If you are selling a service then the client is always right. You should always be positive, optimistic, friendly and professional. If they have a complaint – no matter how unfair it is – you should always apologize and work to fix it. If they keep being unreasonable then you dump them as a client but you do so in a manner that is polite, friendly and not personal. Tell them that you have too much work at the moment or that you’re narrowing your list of clients. Thank them for their previous orders they sent you and wish them luck in the future.
You never know – they might remember you one day and pass your details onto their friend at Google. Probably not but the point is that you shouldn’t recklessly burn bridges. Especially if you’re trying to get good reviews.
One of the biggest challenges of working as a web content writer is managing lots of large clients and lots of large orders. This is particularly difficult when you’re providing a varied service and sometimes it can seem almost impossible to handle all the work you have on.
It may be tempting for this reason to focus on just the one client – such as a writing agency. I don’t recommend this however, as it leaves you with a far less resilient business model. This is the definition of putting ‘all your eggs in one basket’ and it leaves you open to lots of difficulties in future.
That said, if you have a good selection of clients, you don’t need to keep advertising for more – especially if you’ve gotten into a nice routine.
For clients that order a bit more sporadically, a tip is to ‘under promise and over deliver’. In other words, agree to a minimum amount of work you will be able to complete on ‘X’ amount of notice. This is what you are committing to and what you must always do in order to maintain that crucial trust that will make your business work – strive to never send work late unless the circumstances are extreme. This agreed amount though should be less than you are capable of doing. That way, if something unexpected should come up, or another client also puts in a big order, you’ll be able to handle both lots without letting anyone down. What’s more, on most occasions you will complete more work more quickly and this will keep your clients happy.
Under promising then means saying you’ll get work in a little later, or saying you can complete fewer words in a day than you really can. Again, this can be a scary prospect as the fear is that clients will leave us if we don’t offer a next day ‘Turn Around Time’ (TAT). In most cases though clients won’t actually need work the very next day and won’t get around to uploading it for a while. They’ll be perfectly happy to wait but pleasantly surprised when you get work in early!
It’s also important to make sure that you don’t miss work and that you don’t forget long-term orders that have been put in. Having a separate work-e-mail account can help you to avoid work getting lost and creating folders or labels in Gmail/Outlook to keep ongoing work can also be a helpful little trick.
One of the less enjoyable parts of running your business no doubt is having to manage your own accounts and deal with the legal aspects. You are running a business and that means you’re responsible for your own tax, your own business, your own intellectual property… The specifics will vary depending on your region but this brief introduction should serve as a good primer on these subjects.
In most countries, being employed means that tax is handled by your employer. You will be subscribed to a PAYE system (Pay As You Earn) and you’ll not have to worry about adding up your income, overheads etc.
If you are self-employed though, this changes and you will have to file your own tax returns at the end of the financial year. Normally this will be done online and the amount of tax you pay will be calculated by the amount you earned, versus your overheads. In other words, your turnover isn’t taxed but your ‘net profit’ will be.
As a writer, your overheads will be relatively minimal. You don’t need to pay for materials and you aren’t hiring staff. However, things you can ‘claim back’ as overheads include your computer, your home office (a percentage of your mortgage/rent), your advertising fees and more. This doesn’t mean you get those expenses back, it just means you aren’t paying tax on them.
Over the course of the year then, you should keep a spreadsheet of all your income and of all your expenses. You might even consider opening a separate account for business expenses and income which will make things much easier to track (and as mentioned, all of your payments will be logged on PayPal too). You’ll also need to keep historical data of your records in case you ever get ‘audited’ – this basically means that someone will come to your house/office and check that you’ve been filing your accounts accurately.
To start filing your own tax returns, you will need to register your business first. In most cases, you should choose to be a ‘sole trader’, though if you’re planning on expanding you could be a ‘limited business’ instead. If all this sounds a little complicated and stressful, then consider using an accounting firm. They charge between one to two grand but they should ‘pay for themselves’ in helping you to make savings on your tax and in helping you avoid legal troubles.
You have your records to keep and your clients have theirs. Thus you might be asked to do a few things to help with their accounting and paperwork to.
For instance, some companies may ask you to fill out a W-9 form. This is basically a means for you to share your Taxpayer Identification Number, which companies need if they pay more than $600 a year to any vendor. It’s the government’s way of making sure that everyone is declaring their earnings and of tracking money as it moves through the system. You can find these forms online and they’re relatively straightforward to fill out, so just don’t be surprised if you get this request.
Companies may also need invoices for their records, which again serve as proof that they paid the expenses that they’re claiming on their tax returns. You can make these through PayPal, or alternatively you can type them up if you’re being paid by bank transfer.
Some companies will also ask you to sign contracts. An NDA is a non-disclosure agreement that means you can’t talk about the business to anyone. This might be required if you’re writing a press release for a new product for instance and is the company’s way of protecting their intellectual property. Other companies will require agreements of understanding or memorandum of understanding. This describes the agreement between you and your client that outlines the way you will be working – your rates, your TAT and who gets the rights to your work. It’s not actually legally binding but can simply help to outline the terms of your agreement.
These days, companies can accept signatures using online services such as DocuSign. Alternatively, if you have a device with a stylus, you can use this to sign off on PDF and Word documents.
Another aspect of the law that pertains to writers is ‘intellectual property law’. This refers to the legal ownership of your writing and any other creative works you might have played a part in.
The main type of intellectual property protection that writers should focus on is copyright. Copyright protects creative works – including writing – from being used without the creators’ permission. As soon as you create something, it is protected by copyright and belongs to you. When you write something for a client, you will normally be giving them the copyright along with the work. This means that no one else can copy it, no one else can use it and they can press charges against anyone who does. Sometimes this is described as the private label rights. So if you are selling an e-book with PLR it means you’re selling the rights for that person to sell the e-book on.
Whether or not you’re still allowed to use your own content is something that you need to clearly discuss with your client. Either way though, if the client refuses to pay, they technically will not own the copyright to the work and thus they can’t legally publish your work. Of course proving this and taking legal action aren’t so easy, but in principle you’re protected. Obviously though, this also means that you aren’t allowed to sell someone else’s work and pass it off as your own.
The only other area of intellectual property law that might matter to you as a web content writer is ‘trademark’. If you’re creating your own brand as a writing agency, then you might want to protect your trading name. This means protecting your company name through the intellectual property office to prevent other individuals or companies from using the same name to provide their own products and services.
Why do rights matter so much when it comes to writing?
Well apart from the fact that it doesn’t look very professional to re-use someone else’s work, having exclusive rights is important because most clients want original work. That’s because Google only likes to index content that it thinks is unique and if a website publishes ‘duplicate’ content, it will penalize the site and this is very bad for SEO. There are other cases where this won’t matter quite so much though – if you’re selling an e-book for instance then the content isn’t going to be indexed by Google, so it doesn’t matter if it’s unique or not!
Finally, one more term worth understanding is white label. White label services are basically services where you remain ‘invisible’. So if someone is paying you to write for them and then selling that work on (probably because they are a web design company or a writing agency), you are providing a ‘white label service’ in as much as it’s going to be their brand that gets the credit. It’s essentially a B2B version of ghostwriting.
If you were earning passive income, you would be able to scale your business by automating production, increasing workflow and possibly franchising.
But you’re not earning passive income. You are providing a service. That means that the only way to scale your business is to scale your own output… to be more productive, focused and efficient.
As mentioned, I will write as much as 30,000 words a day sometimes and this is what ensures that my job stays highly profitable. How do I do this?
There are a few tips that I find really help that might benefit you too. One is my trick for beating writer’s block: to write about things I find interesting and fascinating whenever possible. If you’re experiencing writers’ block, then often this suggests that you aren’t that interested in, or excited by what you’re writing. The key then is to take that subject and to make it interesting. Often this means trying to find the thing that you can get excited about within the larger subject. In other times, it might mean combining your interests.
So say for example you’ve been hired to write a blog post on football but you hate football – what would you do? One option is to spend a long time researching football and then trying to motivate yourself to write a dull article – which by the way will also come across in the text. A better strategy though is to combine the subject with something you do find interesting. You could make it a gossip piece for instance about one of the players. You could review a football computer game. Or you could write about fitness and strength training for football. Lots of options there then and many can help you to get more engaged with what you’re writing and to get more interested.
What can also help is just taking pride in what you’re doing. If you’ve been tasked with writing the homepage for a business, try to feel the sense of pride that should come from being asked to represent a company in this way. That’s a lot of trust and you should do your best to make it the best homepage you possibly can. Simply thinking about it like that, will get you more excited and more engaged – it will help you to enter a ‘flow state’.
Some other tips that are also useful:
- Pick the right music and get some good headphones. Feeling immersed can really help.
- Several people report – myself included – that listening to music on loop can be effective for helping you to get into a flow state.
- Moving somewhere free of distractions can also be beneficial. This is another good reason to go to a coffee shop or library rather than staying at home.
- Try unplugging your mouse. This makes it harder to get distracted by the web – Facebook isn’t as easy to browse with a touch screen!
- Work on tasks you enjoy first. This will prevent you from procrastinating at the start of the day and will help you to ‘warm up’ into being productive.
Most of all though, you will find that writing speed comes with practice. When I first started out, 4,000 words a day was the very most I could do. Over time, you will come to learn the most popular topics that clients want you to write and a lot of orders will be repetitive. While it’s not that much fun to write the same exact article pretty much, it does help the words to flow much more easily. You can also take advantage of this if your client lets you write whatever you like. I have one client for instance who lets me write on any health topic. As such, if another client asks me to write about some type of disease or diet plan, I’ll then use that research again to quickly knock something up for the ‘general’ health client.
When you need to research something that you know nothing about, it’s important to resist the urge to bring up an article on the subject and reword it. This is known as ‘human spinning’ and isn’t really an example of an original piece of work. In fact, Google might still consider it to be a duplicate. What’s more, there’s no way to guarantee that the source you’ve chosen is accurate.
Instead then, the best way to research your topic is to read a few articles on it quickly and then to sit down and write something entirely new using the information you’ve learned. And go a little deeper than Wikipedia – try using Google Scholar for instance to look up research papers. Then think about what you can bring to the table using what you already know, write about your opinion on what you learned and focus on the parts you find most interesting.
This makes it impossible for your content to be considered duplicate and it means that you’ll have a more balanced approach. Sure, it will take a little longer, but if you skim read it can be fairly quick – and especially if you do your research at points when you can’t be writing anyway (while eating your lunch, while waiting for the computer to load using your phone). Another strategy is to watch YouTube videos on the subject – and if you increase the speed to 1.5 or even 2, then you can learn a lot very quickly!
Being disciplined is one of the key skills you will need to stay focused on your work for hours straight when there’s no one there to force you to.
But at the same time, you also need to be disciplined in your spare time – you need to be able to switch off and to unplug. The problem here is that as a web writer, you will always be able to earn more money. You could work 7 days a week and you’d earn at least an extra $200 a week… $10,400 a month! But then of course you’d also have no free time and the quality of your writing would suffer. You could work late into the night but again… you’d probably feel it the next day.
Just as important as being disciplined at work then, is knowing when to switch off – and that even means not answering your e-mail every five minutes (another good reason to have a separate work e-mail account). You also need to take the occasional holiday (for your own sanity) and you need to stop worrying about work during that time off.
One good tip is to set up an auto-responder when you’re away from the ‘office’. This can inform your clients that you’re away from the desk and that you will answer right away. If you’re worried, then invite them to text you if it’s a real emergency – you’ll find that very few clients will abuse that unless it is really an emergency. If you’re having trouble switching off, then I recommend the book ‘The Four Hour Workweek’ for more ideas.
Here’s a quick tip when it comes to efficiency: keep all of your work. I once had a client who quit his business and didn’t upload over a year’s worth of work. After a long time had passed, I e-mailed them and asked them if I could use the writing and they said yes: suddenly I had a huge backlog of content to sell!
Likewise, you can re-use your old content in other ways sometimes too – for instance as a source of research if you’re writing a topic you’ve covered before. This can also be helpful if a client should lose their work and need you to resend it to them.
If you should get a difficult client who doesn’t pay meanwhile, you should still be able to use that work. Hang onto it and you can try selling it to someone else – or they might even order something similar. You can also upload it to a site like Constant Content where people can decide to buy it if they want it. Or if you have a website in the same niche, you can publish it yourself. If you have enough you can put it together into an e-book and then sell it on Kindle.
In short, you should let nothing go to waste. Even the paragraphs you end up deleting from articles can be kept in a word document and then reused as the introductions for new ones.
One more efficiency tip: consider outsourcing your research. You can do this by using a VAS or ‘Virtual Assistant Service’. These are companies, often based in India, who offer to perform research, correspondence, communication, admin and more for very low rates – sometimes as little as $3 an hour. If you have a big subject that needs researching, or if you’ve been given a ‘fiddly’ writing task (such as finding and rewording the titles on every page of a website) then you can outsource the ‘grunt work’ this way. In the past I have even used my coding skills to help me perform certain writing jobs!
Another tip to help you get more from your writing business is to make sure that you keep a list of your clients along with their contact details and information about them. This can be incredibly useful in the future if your work is running low. Why? Because as with any other service, there’s nothing to stop you from messaging old clients with promotions and deals to try and get a little more business. Before you pay for another advert on Warrior Forum, consider sending a message out to your previous clients; it’s free and you also have a pre-existing relationship with them.
Having a list of clients is also useful for preventing you from getting confused about rates, websites and brands. This way, if an old client contacts you out of the blue, you’ll know how much to charge them and what sort of work they are likely to want. It’s just good organization.
Note that you can also get more from your existing clients in other ways. If you’re looking for more work, then consider just asking your current clients if they know anyone else who could benefit from your services. You can even offer a finder’s fee! Alternatively, think of other things you could sell them or other ways you could work with them. If they have been buying content for a website, why not suggest selling an e-book together and splitting the profits?
A bad workman blames his tools but it’s a foolish workman who doesn’t think tools are important!
As a web content writer there are a few different tools you’ll come into contact with. Some you’ll be forced to work with, others are optional force multipliers that can save you time and earn you more money. This list will talk you through all the basics.
Of course the main piece of hardware for any writer is a computer. This is a pretty standard tool that most people will have and you really don’t need anything with crazy specs. The most low-level computer should be able to run Microsoft Office and that’s really your only requirement. A nice screen can make a difference though! Likewise, a solid state hard drive can also make a difference as they load faster and bring up software faster – this can shave seconds or minutes off of your working day. If you like having loads of tabs open in Chrome or Explorer meanwhile, then you’ll want at least 4GB of RAM.
A printer can also be useful for research, for giving your eyes a break and for proofing your own work. A good smartphone can be useful for e-mailing and for creating portable hotspots when you’re without wireless. And a smartwatch can be helpful for getting e-mails from clients quickly. These are all optional extras, though.
One thing that is important is a decent keyboard. If you’re writing huge numbers of words a day, then a comfortable keyboard will help you to avoid RSI and it will let you work faster with fewer errors. The best keyboards are mechanical keyboards that will be soft and responsive for typing. You should also avoid keyboards that are too small, as these force you to contort your fingers too much to reach the keys and characters.
Some writers recommend keyboards that feature a ‘DVORAK’ layout. This is an alternative layout that competes with QWERTY and is allegedly more efficient. In theory, it allows your fingers to travel a shorter distance and can speed you up further but the evidence isn’t conclusive on the matter and it does require you to relearn the keyboard layout. This is something interesting to consider but certainly not for everyone.
If you’re interested in being a Digital Nomad or working out of coffee shops, then you’ll need a portable computing set-up. A great option is a Windows tablet with a keyboard. The Surface Pro 3 is great for this as a light, thin touchscreen table that is remarkably fast and powerful. You can go even smaller though if you want something pocket-sized with an 8’’ Windows tablet such as the Dell Venue Pro 8 – and if you have an Android phone, you can hook it up to a keyboard and mouse and even work on that when you’re on the go.
Finally, you’ll need a good satchel or bag you can keep your laptop in, a good pair of noise-canceling headphones and a notepad and pen. This will complete the ‘writer look’.
Really though, writing tools these days are all about the software. Here are some things you will need to learn to use to deal with the largest range of clients and orders.
While Skype meetings do mean additional communication overhead, some clients legitimately do need to discuss their orders in depth and Skype is the accepted way to do this. Having Skype is pretty much an essential requirement then. Others will want to talk on Google Hangouts, which are the second most popular IM service in the industry. Some might even use WhatsApp. Just make sure you’re reachable however your client wants to reach you, as you don’t want to miss opportunities because you couldn’t have a meeting.
CopyScape is another tool that’s critical for the industry you’re going into. This is a paid web app that can check any piece of content to ensure it’s not a duplicate of anything else online.
As mentioned, duplicate content is useless as far as SEO is considered and most writers will not want to pay for content that has been copied. What’s more, you might be in breach of copyright if you’re selling content that isn’t unique.
If you’ve gone about doing your research the way we recommended earlier, then there should be no risk of that content being duplicate. However, if there’s any doubt in your mind, then you should run it through CopyScape to be certain (it only costs a few cents each time). If you don’t, then you may find your client does and if they find it isn’t unique, you can get a bad review.
If you stick to this rule, then you’ll be able to state ‘100% Original – CopyScape Proof’ in your ad and this is a big selling point.
These are note taking apps which you can use through your browser and which sync up with the cloud to be accessible on smartphones and other devices. Taking notes is highly useful for writers and it’s a great way to jot down ideas for articles, things you’ve learned while researching, article structure and more.
And just as good – if not better – is a notepad and pencil. Something that every writer should carry!
Microsoft Office is Redmond’s productivity suite, which includes MSWord, Excel and PowerPoint among other features.
Of these, Word is by far the most critical piece of software and is something no writer can do without – but Excel will also come in handy for managing clients etc. and all the others have their place too. The latest Office is Office365, which is available through a subscription rather than the usual one-off payment model. If you do get yourself a small 8’’ Windows Tablet, bear in mind that these often come with a free subscription – meaning you might even save money by buying a tablet.
There are free alternatives to Microsoft Office too, such as Open Office. Note though that Office has a number of features that you can find very useful as a web content writer. The ‘Mark Changes’ feature is particularly useful for proofing work for example and for editing work that clients send you with annotations.
These are cloud storage options that you can use to save files. Not only does this let you start work on one device and continue it on another, it also makes collaboration possible with clients and business partners, it keeps a backup of your work and it lets you send work to clients without firing off hundreds of e-mails. I have one client who I share a Dropbox with and they know to check the folder for new work every Monday. The client never needs to send an e-mail and thus we have zero communication overhead. Google Drive also has the benefit of being linked to Google Docs (providing you with free office tools) and this makes collaboration particularly easy.
There are other ‘collaboration’ tools you might use as well. One good example is PHPCollab, which makes it easy for clients to assign projects to multiple writers. As a writer, you can then upload the work you complete and simply mark it as ‘complete’. Again, this is a streamlined and efficient way to share work that cuts back on the time wasted with communication. You can suggest using these tools but normally it’s best to let the client lead the way in terms of your working relationship.
Contact management tools or CRMs are tools you use to store your contacts and to save their e-mail addresses. There are a number of options here including Salesforce, CRM and SugarCRM. Considering the probable size of your business though, you should find an Excel spreadsheet is more than fit for purpose.
These tools are of varying quality but the concept is interesting. A readability tool or readability ‘calculator’ is a piece of software designed to check the quality of your writing. It looks for examples of sentences that are long or overly complex and then marks you down on them.
The principle is sound but often the results are arbitrary. Sometimes sentences work better when they’re longer and it all depends on the audience you’re writing for. Still, they can sometimes alert you to some points you may not have thought of and you may find it’s something that some clients use to mark you on – so just be aware that they’re out there.
Another tool you might be asked to use is an ‘article spinner’. The most well-known for these is ‘The Best Spinner’ (great name there). The idea behind article spinning is to basically take an article and then make it unique in the eyes of Google by swapping words for synonyms.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work. Not only is it dubious legally (it’s still copyright) but it also tends to produce incomprehensible gibberish. Back in the day it was useful – if unethical – to use this kind of software. Today, most SEO experts agree that it’s a completely useless strategy that’s only likely to get your site penalized and to upset Google. BUT a lot of clients still request that you use it, so keep this in mind too.
Wow, that’s a lot of information to take in – and we’re still just scratching the surface. In the appendix you’ll find a huge guide to all the most common types of writing that you might get asked to work on and how to handle them. You can refer to this whenever you’re given a task you’re unsure of.
But for the most part, you should by now have the gist of how being a web content writer works. Hopefully you find it as rewarding, enjoyable and exciting as I have and hopefully you have a long lucrative career.
The future of writing for the web is a bright one. We are only using the internet more and more these days and as YouTube and Netflix gradually replace TV and e-books gradually replace books – the amount of work there for you is only going to increase. Ecommerce is on the rise too, meaning plenty more opportunities to write product listings and the tools available for outsourcing and remote working are improving all the time. This is a great time to become an online writer.
And remember: this all takes a little while to learn. If you’re finding it tricky staying disciplined or finding clients at the moment don’t get disheartened. Like anything, there is a distinct learning curve here and you need to stick with it to hone your craft to perfection. Give it time and a little patience and in no time you’ll be a card-carrying web content writer! Now the question is, what will you do with all that new freedom? And how will you get even better?
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. view more