Hacks are everywhere within the tiny world of digital marketing.

From agencies that promise top positions in Google within a few weeks for just $199 to the link builders who promise 30 links within a month from reputable websites and no penalties, the digital marketing hacks are everywhere.

I witness these hacks weekly, from new clients that got sick of paying for fruitless services, to the endless SPAM emails – some from @yahoo addresses! – that promise unlimited ROI for basically zero spend.

Due to a career span of more than 20 years as a writer – both in print and online – what sickens me most are the hack digital content writer. Those who promise quality content for a penny a word, or are half-decent but never progress. Many get by but have zilch to show in regards to work that influenced.

Writing ain’t easy. And it’s getting tougher by the day as more and more of these hacks are discovered and rob work from those who deserve it. By deserve, I mean the ones who put the endless time into their craft.

13 No BS Skills Demanded of an Digital Content Writer in 2020

To make a career out of writing in modernity, one must continually develop his or her writing skills. One simply can’t become complacent with their current work. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, complacency kills – especially in writing.

The following are 13 must-have skills for writers as we head into 2020. These are the no BS skills that need constant attention – the ones that will keep a writer fresh and needed versus complacent and out of work.

These tactics can be used for writing blog posts, white papers, video content, social media posts are any type of online written website content

1. Listen More Than You Talk

Do more listening than talking. I learned this as a newspaper reporter around the turn of the century. I had a little sticky note posted to my computer that said “Listen 90%, Talk 10%.”

Spend more time listening, and your content will naturally come across stronger. The more you listen, the more you learn, and the more you can contribute to your readers. And don’t just think this goes for the subject matter you’re currently writing about; listen more than talking every day in life, from cohorts to spouses to children.

They will admire you more (people LOVE to talk), and you’ll always be in continuous learning mode.

2. Learn the Art of Observation

Just as important as listening is a constant flow of observation. Start with people, and notice how they animate themselves when talking about things. You’ll quickly find out what’s important to them, and be able to excite them to get more valuable information about your writing.

Also, when researching, observe themes within that research. When out and about, take in as much as possible.

3. Research Heavily

Research is as vital as the art of writing itself. Nowadays, most – if not all – research is completed online. This is super convenient, but you must trust your sources. This doesn’t always mean the top results in Google. Sometimes the most valuable content is buried in search results due to the respective websites not ranking well (newer website; no SEO, etc.).

Do your proverbial due diligence and check the sources. You typically can’t go wrong with many .edu websites. A massive resource for everyone is Wikipedia, which is an optimal place to start. But be warned of false information. Check the citations and go deeper.

One false fact can ruin years of a strong reputation. Make sure to research diligently with full focus – just as much as you would during the writing phase.

Research is just the first phase in the craft of writing, which I call “The Written Word Rule of Thirds: Research, Writing, Editing,” which I will blog about soon.

Also, always keep a notebook (digital or paper, though I recommend the latter due to the clarity actual writing produces) to take notes on whatever research you’re completing.

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4. X-Ray Reading

The more you read, the more knowledge you’ll obtain – not just about the subject matter, but also about the act of writing itself (even if subconsciously).

Take the time to learn how to read with X-Ray vision. A great book on this is aptly called The Art of X-Ray Reading by one of my all-time favorite writers on writing, Roy Peter Clark.

He teaches how to rip apart a text – very similar to what I did while studying literature in college. The daily X-Ray reading doesn’t have to be as in-depth as deconstructing a text by Thomas Pynchon (my postmodern literature friends would understand), but you should always look deep into articles to find that extra something – like the theme of ???

5. Know SEO – Even if Minimal

I write about the absolute need to learn SEO in publications like Search Engine Journal and Forbes. Thoughts on SEO should always be in the background – even if minimal such as proper keywords and writing strong keyworded titles and meta descriptions, the latter two what “sells” your online writing within the search engines.

6. Don’t Forget Grammar

This goes without saying. Proper grammar is vital. Read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need by Susan Thurman. And if you’re stuck with style guides, read The Best Punctuation Book, Period: A Comprehensive Guide for Every Writer, Editor, Student, and Businessperson by June Casagrande; this book provides style guides for AP, MLA and APA.

7. Edit. Edit. And Edit Again.

Make editing a religion. Edit. Rewrite. Edit again. Rewrite again. Walk away for a day. Then edit one last time.

As a digital content writer, you must be beyond maniacal about the editing process. But also remember that perfectionism is not possible. I consider the act of perfectionism another form of procrastination or lack of self ability.

Just as you should research an equal amount of time as you write, you should also equally edit as much time as you write.

digital content writing tips for 2020 SEO and UX

8. Hyperfocus

Buy Chris Bailey’s Hyperfocus, and read it not once, but twice. This helps teach you the art of getting super focused on a project, and get more quality work done in less time. If you learn how to Hyperfocus for a few periods per week, you’ll get more completed in less time. Part of this means killing all distractions while focusing only on the task at hand, whether that’s researching, writing, or editing.

For more, read 7 Time Management Tips for Online Writers.

9. Embrace Patience

A digital content writer must learn patience. Good writing takes time – even more so for good online writing that must appeal to various voices and search engines. In another must-read book for anyone, Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become truly proficient. The rule equates to about 20 hours a week of writing for 10 years. Have the patience to make this mark.

10. Become Disciplined

Besides patience, one needs discipline. If you’re serious about something, you must put in the time. Block the same amount of time every week and dedicated it to the craft of writing. As I said above about the “Thirds” of writing, make sure you are creating content during these hours – not just research or editing.

11. Learn Organization

Become organized. Just as the crazy non-sleep working hours of Silicon Valley is detrimental to progress, as is the antiquated 9-5 workweek, many take pride in being unorganized because of articles that prove some artists were unorganized.

This is another form of laziness. The more organized a digital content writer, the more quality work he or she will produce in less time. The organization can include everything from a tidy desk or working space, to organized hours of the day to get things done to the writing process itself (intro and conclusion before main content, or vice versa?).

Do what works for you. Organization helps keep the mind free of clutter, even if subconsciously. And the less clutter, the more space for creating truly valuable work.

12. Explore the Unknown

Push yourself to do things you fear. If you are afraid of drowning, go white-water rafting. If you’re scared of automobile speed, do local track day in your everyday driver. If you fear loneliness, go camp overnight by yourself somewhere desolate.

All will reflect in your digital content writing.

Also, push yourself to the extremes in all your passions, such as writing itself. Challenge yourself to take a giant leap from your comfort zone. If you are always blog writing, attempt an online e-book or a novel.

13. Learn Self Promotion

Learn how to self promote all of your work. This doesn’t only mean sharing on social media or throughout online forums or newsletters. Self promote through contributing to other publications – even for free (which will likely be most!). The ROI on guest posting on other reputable online publications comes from brand authority and the act of writing itself. Remember what Gladwell’s 10,000 Rule…guest contributing helps that tremendously

Concluding Thoughts

Proficient and remarkable online writers are in high demand. But only a few writers have the skill to succeed in such a challenging space.

These tips take a different approach to strengthen the skills needed for the digital content writer in 2020 and beyond. They veer from the basics of writing in a digital world, from knowing your audience to SEO – all subjects addressed throughout ContentMender’s previous blogs.

Take the time to implement some – or all – of the above into your learning strategy. Stick out among the noise, and make a comfortable living doing so.


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