What is content writing?

Nick Harland
March 2022

Here's a definition of content writing, some examples of it and some tips on how to improve your own content writing.

The terms copywriting and content writing are often used interchangeably, but there are some important differences between them. In this blog we’re going to focus on what content writing is, who does it and why they do it.

If you want to learn more about copywriting then we’ve also written about that. Just click, push or poke the word in question.

Definition of content writing

So what is content writing? In its simplest form, content writing is the process of writing for marketing purposes. But unlike copywriting, content writing is not done to persuade the reader to take action. It’s written to inform. For that reason, it’s typically less direct and sales-focused than copywriting.

Because content writing is generally less direct, it tends to come in a longer format. So think blogs and reports instead of adverts and promotional emails. To give you a better idea of what content writing is, here are some examples.

Examples of content writing

This very post is an example of content writing. The main objective of this piece is to inform you about content writing. We’re not asking you to buy anything or take any action after reading it. However, it’s still used as a marketing tool, because writing useful content means more eyes on our website and potentially some enquiries about our services as a result.

That’s why content writing is a little more of a soft sell. If we wrote a blog post telling you all about how amazing we are, it would be pretty boring, and nobody would read it. Writing instead about a topic that more people want to read about will widen the net of potential readers. So instead of our self-promotional post getting 100 views, and one person sending an enquiry after reading it, a good piece of informative content might attract 100,000 views - and then 50 people might send an enquiry. Content writing isn’t totally innocent when it comes to sales and marketing.

Blogs and articles like this are the best examples of content writing. But it can also come in the form of newsletters, reports, case studies, videos, podcasts and much, much more. Here are some specific examples:

  • A social media agency surveys thousands of people to create a report on the current state of social media. This is shared widely, which means the agency gains more exposure and wins more leads.
  • A web developer starts sending out a monthly newsletter with tips and tricks on how to design a website from scratch. Loads of people subscribe, and the web developer starts getting enquiries from some subscribers asking him to build their website. He didn't get those enquiries by emailing them every month, asking them to work with him. But he still got some work from his softly softly, content writing approach.
  • A copywriting agency (let’s call them Big Bang Copy, for example) write a brilliantly informative blog all about content writing. You, the reader, are so blown away by the blog that you immediately share it with all of your friends. It gets thousands of views and Big Bang Copy receive hundreds of leads asking if they can write similarly-good copy for other businesses. Big Bang Copy become the biggest and best copywriting agency out there and eventually take over the world. And it was all thanks to their charismatic, genius, fearless content writer.

More than anything, content writing is a bit of a reaction to the world of advertising. People don’t like ads and they don’t like being sold to. When you read a post like this, you can get the answers to your questions and bugger off. Most people will. You probably will. That's fine - we're not offended. There’s no pressure to buy anything or send us your contact details. Content writing is more of a brand-building, traffic-building exercise than a revenue-building exercise.

Content writing tips for beginners

Still with us? We know, we know, it’s boring. But now you understand what content writing is, how do you best go about it? Here are our top 5 content writing tips for beginners.

  1. When it comes to generating content ideas, don’t guess

Can’t think of what to write about? Then don’t guess what your customer wants to read about. Go and find out. You can use free Google tools such as Keyword Planner and Search Console to see what people are searching for - and then write content around those search terms. There are concrete numbers out there that tell you exactly what people are searching for and how many people are searching for it. Use that as a guide for writing your content. Don’t guess.

  1. Always think of the user

Every piece of content you write should be written with the user in mind. Sounds obvious, but a lot of people only write with themselves in mind. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader, and ask yourself if this content is answering their questions and meeting their expectations. With content writing, the reader is generally here to get some information about something - What is content writing? How do I optimise a landing page? What is the capital of Kenya? - so give them that information in the clearest way possible.

  1. Improve on your competitor’s content

When you’re writing a new piece of content, take a look at similar pieces from competitors. What are they lacking? How would you improve them? Is the information laid out logically? If you don’t improve on your competitors' content - or find another angle - then there’s no point writing it. To find your competitors’ content, simply Google the search terms you researched earlier and take a look at some similar webpages.

  1. Don’t neglect the headline

It's time to write - and the first thing to do is write your headline. This is incredibly important. It's hard work getting people to read your website in the first place, so now they're here you've got to keep them here, else they’ll head off and read one of the millions of other posts out there. In your headline, try including a statistic or figure. Maybe say something controversial. Hint at what’s to come, but leave the reader wanting more. Oh, and don’t overpromise (‘You’ll NEVER believe how this child actor looks nowadays!’). That only annoys people - they’ll know not to bother with your content in future.

  1. Write an intro that hooks people in

Once the headline hooks your reader in, your content has to keep them on the line. Use a peculiar word or turn of phrase. Start with an interesting statistic. Present a polemic argument. SHOUT AT THEM if you have to. Just don’t write a cookie cutter intro that anyone could write (‘COVID has changed the way we work in so many ways…’).

Need some help with your own content writing? Get in touch to see how we can make your business stand out using the power of language.

Nick Harland