How to Be a Content Marketing Writer: The Future of Freelance Writing

content marketing writer

The content marketing industry has reached an incredible high: a projected worth of $412 billion by 2021.

Another big point: when asked if they were using content marketing, 91% of B2B marketers raised their hands. 🙋‍♀️🙋‍♂️

This demand for content marketing naturally correlates to a demand for expert content marketing writers – the people who can craft the authority-driven, engaging written content that builds the trust and loyalty necessary for results.

Without content marketing writers, none of it would work, and content marketing would not be as hot as it truly is. 🔥

Despite how in-demand they are, plenty of people are still confused about the role content writers play in the field: what they do as part of a content marketing team and what they write to draw in audiences.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what these types of online writers do, first let’s explore a marketing writer definition – because content marketing writers are NOT like other writers.

Ready? Go!

How to Be a Content Marketing Writer: The Future of Freelance Writing

What is a Content Marketing Writer?

5 Steps to Be an SEO/Content Marketing Writer

  1. Develop a Content Marketing Writer Background
  2. Understand Strategic Content Marketing & Why It Matters
  3. Get the Skills All Content Marketing Writers Need
  4. Find Your Niche of Expertise
  5. Know Your Worth (The Average Content Marketing Writer Salary)
  6. Demonstrate What You Can Do as a Content Marketing Writer

Case Study: Why Content Marketing Strategy Matters

  • A. Understand the Foundations of Content Strategy
  • B. Know Your Audience & How to Lead Them to Profitable Action
  • C. Learn How SEO Ties In
  • D. Get the Basics of Building Online Authority
  • E. Understand Strategic Content Creation
  • F. Know Why Content Maintenance Matters

5 Kinds of Content Writers and What They Do

  1. Subject Expert Content Marketing Writer
  2. Generalist Copywriter
  3. Social Media Writer
  4. Technical Writer
  5. Conversion Copywriter

Who Hires Content Marketing Writers? 3 Major Sources for Content Writer Work

  1. Individual Clients – Brands, Businesses, and Entrepreneurs
  2. Marketing Departments for Companies and Organizations
  3. Writing and Marketing Agencies

7 Types of Content & Copy You’ll Be Expected to Know as a Content Marketing Writer

  1. Blogs and Articles
  2. Ebooks and Lead Magnets
  3. Creative Copy
  4. Ad Copy
  5. Landing Page Copy
  6. Calls-to-Action
  7. Headline Copy

Are Content Marketing Writers the High-Level Writers of the Future?

What is a Content Marketing Writer?

Here’s a good, solid marketing writer definition:

A content marketing writer is an expert communicator who is responsible for creating online written content – blogs, articles, ebooks, white papers, social media copy, infographic copy, and more – that builds trust and loyalty with readers while engaging and informing them.

Before you can become this type of skilled online writer, there are a few basics to know first.

That includes an in-depth, strategic understanding of content marketing as a practice.

Let’s explore.

How to Be an SEO/Content Marketing Writer

So, you want to be a content marketing writer? Before you dive in, there are a few essentials you need to know. Start here and build up your skillset, as needed.

1. Develop a Content Marketing Writer Background

Whether you have an English or communications degree, whether you took some writing courses or have been an avid reader and writer your entire life, you need to have a writing background to get into content marketing writing.

If you enjoy writing but don’t yet have any experience under your belt (e.g. you have never written stories, blogs, articles, or even academic papers or reports before) – it’s time to sit down and practice, practice, practice.

Did you know reading voraciously is also a great way to learn to write like a pro? It’s true – so load up your e-reader with books, get an Audible account for audiobooks to listen to in the car or while you do menial tasks, and visit your local bookstore or library for fresh reads.

2. Understand Strategic Content Marketing & Why It Matters

To be an SEO/content marketing writer, you need an understanding of strategic content marketing.

Since content marketing is all about creating, distributing, and promoting amazing, high-quality, informative, engaging content to your target audience, going about it randomly won’t work.

Instead, it MUST be backed by a strategy – a game plan, a blueprint, a map that helps you put all the pieces together.

Ultimately, content strategy drives content marketing. It will make your content much, much better and your brand marketing much, much more profitable.

Why does it matter so much? Allow me to share a personal case study with you.

Case Study: Why Content Marketing Strategy Matters

I haven’t always been a successful content marketer. I had to learn the hard way how much a solid strategy matters when you’re using content to draw in leads and sales.

I started my content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75. Two years in, our growth wasn’t much to shout about. I was doing content, but I had no strategy for what topics to write, what keywords to target, how often to post blogs, and how to make my audience convert on my content.

In stats, that looked like:

  • 500 organic visitors to our site per day, at most
  • 215 blogs published
  • 141 indexed keyword rankings

We could do so much better. And we did – once I implemented a content strategy in late 2016.

After I mapped out a strategy and put it in place:

  • We started seeing record income months. Each month, we broke our previous record.
  • Our organic traffic doubled, then tripled, then quadrupled.
  • We started ranking – not just high in the SERPs, but #1 for many hot keywords.

Today, thanks to our content strategy, we have over 1,000 blogs published. We have over 20,000 keywords ranking in Google, and our monthly income regularly reaches six-figures.

To put it bluntly, a content strategy is what separates the profitable content from the content that no one cares about.

(Read my most recent, full report on our numbers at A Case Study in Blogging: 21,600 Keyword Rankings and 90,000 Visitors Per Month.)

So, what exact pieces did I put in place for our content strategy? I’m outlining them below. These are essential for content marketing writers to understand so they can get real traction behind the content they create and publish:

A. Understand the Foundations of Content Strategy

A content strategy answers two fundamental questions about your content marketing:

  • What topics will you write about?
  • What is your differentiating factor, the one element that will make your content stand out from the rest?

Handily, these two questions inform each other.

Once you determine how you’ll stand out, you can use that factor to carve out your expert topic area.

B. Know Your Audience & How to Lead Them to Profitable Action

You can’t write content that hits the hearts of your readers without knowing who they are intimately. And, if you can’t speak to them on a deep level, you won’t inspire them to take action on your content: sign up for emails, download your freebie, or purchase your product/service.

This part of content strategy requires you to research your audience niche, research their search intent, understand their needs at each stage of the marketing lifecycle, and map it all to your content.

C. Learn How SEO Ties In

Do you understand how to optimize your content for search engines? If you don’t know SEO, you need to – it’s one of the major ways content gets traction. Particularly, targeting the right keywords and topics in your content can get you everywhere.

D. Get the Basics of Building Online Authority

Online authority is as much about building a brand’s reputation as it is about encouraging your Doman Authority score to rise.

To do both, content marketing writers must champion publishing content on a brand’s owned domain (I call this your “content house”) vs. “owned” platforms a website and domain built on WordPress. They also need to lobby for quality over quantity in content.

E. Understand Strategic Content Creation

The actual writing stage is only one part of content creation. Content marketing writers are, of course, responsible for this part, but also:

  • How to create a content workflow that’s repeatable and scalable (researching, outlining, drafting, editing, collaborating, publishing, and distributing).
  • What high-quality content looks like (formats, tone of voice to use, research & source-citing, images, links, and CTAs).
  • Why quality ALWAYS trumps quantity when it comes to content.

The actual writing stage is only one part of content creation

F. Know Why Content Maintenance Matters

Content can’t exist in perpetuity without some help. If you publish content and do nothing… expect nothing great to happen.

  • Content needs a little assistance to reach your audience and more eyes, so distribution and promotion are huge to any content marketer or writer and can’t be overlooked.
  • Another element that needs attention is freshness. Check in on your old content pieces every once in a while, update them for accuracy and relevance, or retire them if they’re really outdated or poor-quality.
  • Finally, measure your content’s success. You’ll never understand what worked unless you keep track. Use the right tools, and this part is pretty simple.

So, I’ve shown you the “why” of content strategy for content marketing writers.

If you want to know the “what” and the “how,” you need to check out my intensive, 6-week Content Strategy & Marketing Course. You’ll not only learn about the ins and outs of content strategy but also how to create your very own, for yourself or your clients.

This stuff is indispensable knowledge for any content marketing writer, and is KEY to getting more clients, jobs, and money $$!

3. Get the Skills All Content Marketing Writers Need

Along with content strategy know-how, all content marketing writers need a certain set of skills to truly excel in the industry. Just a few include:

  • Great listener – A great content marketing writer listens and learns as they go. They are continually on top of best practices for SEO, writing for online readers, and content trends.
  • Storytelling and writing know-how – This seems obvious, but not every content writer is a great storyteller too. The best of the best knows how to spin engaging stories out of boring data.
  • Research pro – To create authoritative content, researching (and showing your work through citing sources/linking) is essential.
  • Audience-first mindset – In content marketing, the audience matters most, and great content writers are keenly aware of their audience and how to best engage them.

To learn the rest of the skills you need to be a content marketing writer superhero and bonafide content hacker, check out my FREE resource, the freelance content marketing writer PDF.

content hackers starter kit

Inside, you’ll find:

  • The definition of a content hacker
  • An avatar of a content hacker, including the skills we arm ourselves with to win at content
  • The content hacker’s mission statement
  • 37 amazing content marketing tools I have tried, tested, and use myself, including writer technology to make your writing life easier

4. Find Your Niche of Expertise

To be truly profitable and successful as a content marketing writer, you need to zero-in on what you’re good at – then capitalize on it.

Content writers with a specialty are, on average, higher-earners than generalists. That’s because clients will shell out the big bucks for great writers who can explain expert topics in layman’s terms. If you have deep knowledge of a tough topic BUT can explain it clearly and understandably, you are worth your weight in gold. 🍯🌈

So, if you’re still out there writing on general topics for clients, invest in expanding your education to become an expert writer in a particular area. Some ideas:

  • Do you enjoy crafting headlines worthy of the front page? Why not try your hand at conversion copywriting, which requires knowledge of sales, human psychology, and marketing tactics to reel in readers and turn them into conversions?
  • Are you deeply interested in a specific topic, or do you have work experience in a certain field (health, fitness, finance, tech, etc.)? Commit to learning more (take some courses, read some books), and differentiate yourself as an expert writer in that field.

5. Know Your Worth (The Average Content Marketing Writer Salary)

Another big step on the road to learning how to be a marketing content writer: Know what your skills and work are worth.

You’d be surprised at how many brands don’t understand what GOOD content writing is worth to them. When they don’t get it, you need to be the one to inform them what a fair rate looks like. (This helps set an industry-wide standard that benefits all writers hustling to pay their bills with words!)

In fact, a common question I see all the time is, “How much should I pay a freelance writer for marketing content?”

Here are some helpful averages:

  • According to ZipRecruiter, the average marketing writer salary is about $74,392 per year. This is based on ZipRecruiter’s analysis of active job postings across the U.S.
  • The average range for hourly pay for content marketing writers is $22 – $36, according to the same ZipRecruiter study.
  • According to data from Indeed.com, the average hourly rate for content writers is a little lower – around $17.

Depending on your level of experience, skills, and background, you could make much more than these averages – or much less. That said, these rates are good to keep in mind while pricing your own services and scouting for content writing jobs.

6. Demonstrate What You Can Do as a Content Marketing Writer

The final must-do on the path to becoming a content marketing writer is keeping a record of your past work. That means a portfolio, a website, or just a folder in Google Drive with samples at the ready.

Here’s a perfect example of a good writer portfolio from Sarah Asp Olson:

Writers must be able to demonstrate their competency with the written word. You can’t just show a potential employer or client your degree or a list of your accomplishments – they need to see your work in action, and any results that work achieved.

To that end, I highly recommend measuring the stats for pieces of content you created. What kind of traffic did they draw, how many shares did they get, what was the engagement like? If you can, find out conversion stats, too.

This way, you’ll not only prove you can write, but also that your writing gets tangible results for clients.

5 Kinds of Content Writers and What They Do

Not every content marketing writer is the same. Some work in specialized niches and focus on very specific writing tasks. Here are some of the most common types of content writers, including some digital marketing content writing examples:

1. Subject Expert Content Marketing Writer

This type of content marketing writer is well-versed in a specific subject (or subjects). They’re experts on, say, finance, fashion, food, technology or medicine. These are the types of writers brands tap to lend an air of authority and credibility to their content marketing.

For example, if you’re a subject expert on web design, you might write high-level blogs for a web design company about usability, online design concepts, or setting up a domain.

Similarly, an expert B2B tech content writer would spend their days diving deep into B2B tech subjects – topics like SaaS, the Cloud, or data mining. These are topics the average writer doesn’t know well enough to write about with authority, so the subject-expert has an advantage, there.

Here’s a real-life example – a subject expert most likely wrote the copy for this infographic on cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety. It’s published on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) website:

2. Generalist Copywriter

A generalist copywriter is a nimble scribe who can slip into most general online writing tasks with ease. Need SEO copy for your webpage? Need a great headline, or some compelling call-to-action copy? A copywriter can handle all of it.

A copywriter probably wrote this headline appearing on Panera Bread’s homepage.

This type of content marketing writer is also capable of writing up blogs for general industries such as pets, beauty, and entertainment.

3. Social Media Writer

A social media writer is – you guessed it – adept at penning social media posts on every platform imaginable. They’ll know the right post length, hashtags, images, emojis, and copy to use to get your posts attention and engagement. They also understand how to interact on social to boost brand awareness and connections with the audience.

Here’s a good example of social media writing from @PenguinBooks on Twitter:

4. Technical Writer

A technical writer, or technology content writer, is deeply knowledgeable about dense, technical subjects, but can write about them in an understandable, easy-to-follow way.

These content marketing writers are key in industries with technical products or complicated technology. Often, these writers are called on to write how-to guides, manuals, product descriptions, and instructions.

This article on Home Computer Networks 101 is a good example of technical writing:

5. Conversion Copywriter

Conversion copywriters, or lead generation writers, are especially skilled at leading readers to take action through written copy.

They have an understanding of the marketing lifecycle, stages of buyer awareness, and sales techniques to overcome a reader’s objections, answer their questions, and persuade them to take action.

“Taking action” can mean anything that benefits your brand, whether you want readers to buy your product, sign up for your emails or your course, or take part in a special offer.

Airstory’s home page is a great example of conversion copy with an aim to convince you to download the eponymous browser extension:

Who Hires Content Marketing Writers? 3 Major Sources for Content Writer Work

In the world of content marketing writing, you’ll usually have a pool of three sources for getting content writing work.

1. Individual Clients – Brands, Businesses, and Entrepreneurs

If you’re a freelance content marketing writer, expect the brunt of your work to come from individual clients you have direct contact with, including online brands, businesses of all sizes (size depends on your skill level and experience), and entrepreneurs.

For example, if you’re a subject expert on legal topics, a small legal firm might tap you to write their blog posts. You would have direct contact with their marketing manager and would be in charge of guiding their written content.

2. Marketing Departments for Companies and Organizations

Often, another source for content writing jobs is through in-house marketing departments at larger companies and organizations.

Generally, these companies hire all of their own marketing talent on a salaried basis and maintain a marketing team inside their larger operations. In-house content marketing writers are always needed for these teams, especially as content marketing has grown into a powerful way to reach customers.

For example, Target has its own in-house digital marketing team. So does Booking.com and Verizon Wireless.

3. Writing and Marketing Agencies

When brands and businesses outsource their marketing, they turn to agencies. These agencies handle all marketing activities, including content marketing, and actively hire content marketing writers to work on those client accounts.

Usually, a team of writers will be assigned to one client, and those writers will consistently produce the content for that brand or business’ content marketing. That said, a single writer can be a member of many writing teams and take on many client assignments.

There are some specialized agencies out there: Express Writers, for example, is focused on helping with the content creation piece of the puzzle. We hire writers from most specialties and backgrounds to help other agencies, marketers, and brands with their content needs.

Here’s a screenshot from our How It Works page that gives some insight into our agency workflow:

7 Types of Content & Copy You’ll Be Expected to Know as a Content Marketing Writer

If you want to be a content marketing writer, you need to be familiar with the most common types of content and copy that appear online. Here’s the list:

1. Blogs and Articles

Blogs and articles are, by far, the most common types of content. You’re probably well-versed in this type already, since most people have at least a few blogs they read on a regular basis.

You’re reading a blog example right now. 😉

2. Ebooks and Lead Magnets

Brands that want to demonstrate their expertise unequivocally turn to ebooks and lead magnets as content superstars.

Ebooks can be lead magnets, and lead magnets can be ebooks. Other types of lead magnets (high-value, gated content pieces with desirable information that people want to know) include checklists, guides, and tutorials.

Generally, the goal is to make lead magnets so good, people are willing to exchange their email addresses for them.

3. Creative Copy

Creative copy is a good name for the text you see accompanying infographics, product descriptions on product pages, snippets of text describing different elements on a page, or even blogs featuring a more storytelling, creative angle than usual.

4. Ad Copy

You know those sponsored Facebook and Instagram posts that pop up in your feed? Have you ever read the caption and wanted to click to find out more? Congrats, you just experienced the effect of great ad copy!

A good example of an Instagram ad copy via Wordstream.

5. Landing Page Copy

Landing page copy speaks directly to the reader landing on a page from somewhere else. Home pages are often treated as landing pages, but a landing page can be created specifically for traffic coming from a certain place – like for people who clicked on your Facebook ad, or for people who clicked on the link in your Instagram profile.

HubSpot’s home page is a great example of landing page copy:

6. Calls-to-Action

Even though they’re usually short-but-sweet, calls-to-action (CTAs) are big players on any page. These are short sentences that encourage the reader to complete the desired action, such as signing up for a service, subscribing to an email newsletter, downloading a free PDF, or adding a product to their cart.

If we zoom in on the aforementioned HubSpot home page, we see the simplest of CTAs (but sometimes, simple is better!):

7. Headline Copy

In the content marketing writing world, headlines can be make-or-break. A sucky headline can ruin an otherwise stellar blog post. A bad headline can make your landing pages confusing. A terrible headline will turn readers away, not draw them in.

The headline is the main title of a piece of content. It should be the only bit of text on the page that gets tagged as an H1.

Here’s an example of an enticing headline of a Write Blog post:

All these types of copy and content are good to have a handle on for generalists, in particular, who are just starting out and building their portfolios. Know your way around a content vocabulary, learn how to write a wide range of content, and you’ll get lots of work that will prepare you for the next level of content marketing writing.

Are Content Marketing Writers the High-Level Writers of the Future?

If you’re considering becoming a content marketing writer, good on you – the content marketing industry itself is exploding right now. 💥

Content writers who can do their work with panache, expertise, and professionalism are in high demand. More and more brands, agencies, and businesses will be looking for amazing content marketing writers, so it’s a great idea to get in now.

As the industry balloons, as more and more people want better and better content, the future looks exciting for all of us.

Change is already happening, as we’re seeing content writing become more respected, more highly paid, and a legitimate way for writers to earn a living.

Three cheers for us: We ARE the high-level writers of the future. 🥂

Ready to join the ranks of super-powered content marketing writers? Enroll in my week long, intensive writer training, The Expert SEO Content Writer Course, to get the knowledge you need to succeed.

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