11 Questions you Should be Able to Answer as a Content Writer

Originally published to my account on HubPages in 2014.

Call us web writers, web publishers (if you have your own site or blog), content writers or which ever phrase you choose – we all need to know some basic stuff about writing and publishing for the web. We should all have standard elements which make us authorities as someone who writes online. I looked at what businesses are looking for in hiring content writers and thought I’d share what I found.

What Ideas do you Have?

Before anyone hires a content writer they should find out what ideas the writer has for their topic. Not just that you have ideas, but where the ideas are going and are they on track for what the site/ blog wants? Do you have a sense of what the site is about, the style they like and the direction they want to grow in? Do you know who they are and can you fit in with them? Do you have enough of the right ideas?

Do you use a Style Guide?

Have you ever had a style guide? Do you know what a style guide is?

A style guide for writers is a collection of how-to notes, like a writing guideline about how to use the right words for the right things. It is used by newspapers as a reference.

Style guides were written for individual newspapers as a guide to keeping consistent and accurate standards with all their reporters when it comes to things like grammar, punctuation, titles, abbreviations, measurements, technical terms, forms of address, spelling, and so many other big and small things which come up in writing.

At some point, the Associated Press became the accepted style guide for all the newspapers, press, in the US. In Canada we have our own style guide which (last time I checked) originated with the Globe and Mail newspaper.

Working with Clients?

You may not have experience working with clients you have found yourself. This could be the first time you have had a serious interview about a paid job as a content writer online. So, think of work you actually have done and use the experience and knowledge you have. Don’t try to make something up or pretend you have all kinds of client experience under your belt.

Do think logically and practically. Think about what a client would want and how you could work with them to get them what they want from the site you are writing for (or building).

Professional Organizations?

I think this is debatable as a good thing. I do understand the point – a professional writer who takes their work seriously would be long to professional organizations. But, if you don’t have the budget for annual memberships are they worth it?

I have joined online groups of writers. Communities and networks are great too. I seldom have the time or the energy to put into them however. I’m not an extrovert.

Chances are professional organizations for writers will be less expensive and more interesting for you socially if you find them locally. Find out about writing groups, associations and networks in your location and see what they can do for the price of a membership. If you go to an interview where they ask about professional organizations you can say you belong to your local organization (or the national or international organization if you want to spend the money on them). You can be a lurking member after all. Someone who pays for the membership, carries the card around in your wallet and doesn’t do a thing with it.

Don’t forget to look for writer’s associations in you niche or genre too.

How well do you know Computers and Software?

How well do you know your own computer? Do you know how to use more than one OS (operating system like Windows or Linux or the Mac)? Do you know how to use the features of a word processor? Do you know more than just WordPress as content management software? Can you work on the HTML side of WordPress, type in the HTML code for a link, an image?

  • Do you know keyboard shortcuts?
  • Do you know how to reboot?
  • Do you routinely keep back up copies of your work?
  • Can you work with WordPress or Blogger?
  • Do you know basic HTML and CSS?

Content Writer Versus Copy Writer?

There is a difference between content and copy. I wonder how many web writers know this? The words content and copy have become mixed and usually it is all labelled content, like text based filler. It isn’t so.

Copy is traditionally sales copy. Written for advertising and marketing, to sell something.

Content is not sales based but meant to inform, entertain or explain.

Content is for readers and copy is for shoppers.

Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling?

Do you know the basics?

  • Do you know alot is not a word?
  • Do you know the difference between there. their and they’re?
  • Do you know when to use its and when to use it’s?
  • Do you know how to use effect and affect?
  • Do you know which letters should be capitalized in a title/ header?
  • How is your spelling – spellcheck doesn’t count.

Proofreading?

Spellcheck can’t actually read. Every post should be proofread, manually.It isn’t enough to skim what you have written. A good way to really test it out is to read it out loud. Don’t feel silly or skip this because you “know” you checked it twice already. When you have a really important writing project to work on the best way to be sure you wrote it well is to read it out loud the next day. There is always a snag somewhere when you don’t just read it in silence to yourself. Try it and see for yourself. I know you will be surprised.

  • Do you know how to proofread, what are your best methods?
  • Do you check your work for typos, wordiness and style?
  • What is your best proofreading method or trick?

Search Engine Optimization?

Do you really know your stuff? Working for someone else means doing more than you might for your own conent, it also means doing it their way. How adaptable are you? If your way really is better can you explain and prove it to them? Do you really know what you are talking about?

  • Do you know how to find great keywords?
  • Do you know how to use meta tags and blog post tags too?
  • How many social media accounts do you have and keep active?
  • Do you know how to add a summary to your post?
  • Do you know how to write a great headline for keywords and readers?

SEO is really not my favourite thing. But, it is a part of the online content writer’s world now. It has even begun sinking into print writer’s job descriptions.

What Blogs Do you Read?

You can mention the well known standards like ProBlogger, CopyBlogger and ReadWriteWeb. But, surprise your interviewer and name some sites they may not have heard of but would love to read. Stick to content relevant to writing and publishing online but find an amazing but not so well known blog to introduce them to and show them you know what you are doing out there.

What are you Reading?

I think this is a smart thing to ask. What have you read lately? Fiction or non-fiction? What kind of writer doesn’t have their nose buried in a book at least a few times a week?

It’s a good thing to read about writing, about publishing and topics related to the publishing industry. Read books, ebooks, magazines and blogs too.

Be well rounded when it comes to fiction. If someone talks about a book from classic literature won’t you feel a bit silly if you don’t at least know the general story?

I Want RSS Feeds Back

Where did the RSS feeds go? It is harder to find them on any site, even if they do give an RSS link. Too many don’t have RSS at all. Why?

Newsletters are the replacement for RSS feeds. Newsletters which seldom have any news, just more marking.
Subscribe used to be an RSS feed link. Now they want your email address. They don’t want to give you something when they can take something from you instead. No doubt this is about getting email addresses. No matter what they say, sites do collect and sell email addresses. They may not call it selling (that wouldn’t be nice or popular), but it is the same thing. All in the name of marketing and making a buck.

So much is based on marketing. It’s more important than readers, or shoppers. People are exploited by marketing, especially on the Internet. If people really mattered would they be treated like lemmings this way?

Why are RSS feeds disappearing – because they want to drag you back to their site where all those plump, juicy ads await you. Those videos that you can’t stop, those pop-up ads which have become popular again (mostly spamming newsletters ironically enough).

Why is WordPress Still Free?

WordPress is the Cadillac of CMS for web developers making cookie cutter sites for clients paying thousands of dollars (sometimes). For end users, it is deliberately chopped up and dumbed down. Web developers don’t want clients tinkering, maintaining, changing, or even updating their sites. There are cases where the web developer actually owns the site, the client just has rights to the contents. Clients pay for the site, choose the content, but otherwise get in the way. But, they do pay.

So why is WordPress still free? Why not claim their share of the money being made? Or, will they? It happened with Movable Type.

For those dwindling few who can’t afford/ don’t want a web developer… why are you still using WordPress?

When Gutenberg replaces the current post editor it will take away more functions than it adds, for the end user, the people writing their own sites. WordPress will say it streamlines the editing functions. But, have you taken a look at it? I did. The editor is gone.

Posting to WordPress will become cut and paste with content blocks. This makes it much easier for web developers to configure plugins, themes and other services they can sell to clients who don’t really want to deal with any part of putting up a site themselves. Clients just supply the content, remember. Any editing of the content has already been done before it gets pasted into WordPress.

The new WordPress will be a lot like the old GeoCities. A lot of people won’t know much about GeoCities. It was an online web host, but your sites were on their domain. Sort of like Blogger which gives you the site.blogspot.com domain. I don’t remember if GeoCities let people add their own domain, Blogger does. Anyway, GeoCities made it easy to put up a site. The structure was there, all you really had to do was add your own content. GeoCities was free to use, but they did run a few ads on your site. If GeoCities had not shut down, would they be competing with WordPress now?

Online site building software: Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace, and others, are just competition for WordPress.com because WordPress.org people still make their own sites, right? Yes, if people were making their own sites, but too often sites are made by web developers and people just cut and paste their content into cookie cutter sites built by web developers using WordPress software and assorted plugins the client doesn’t need to know about. How is this really different from an online web site builder? The online website builder is a lot cheaper but does require some hands on work beyond just dumping content into it.

Why not just write for sites like HubPages and at least get paid for your content instead of paying to put it online?

Maybe the only reason WordPress is still free is WordPress.com. If you haven’t taken a look at WordPress.com for awhile, go login and take a look at the features there. Long ago the .com and the self hosted WordPress were not so different. But, that was long ago. WordPress.com is free to sign up for but then it becomes a Facebook game. Features are offered like pretty treats, shiny extras, and premium goodies virtually yours when you pay with real credit cards.

At the end of the day you are paying to use WordPress.

What Kind of Software is WordPress These Days?

WordPress removed the Link Manager which had a simple built in bookmarklet to add links to your site, in existing categories, with tags. It was a nice, simple feature to keep a list of resources (links). But, it was removed from WordPress a few years ago.

I use the Restore Lost Functionality plugin for links now. He added the bookmarklet too. Might do the same for PressThis now that WordPress has decided to remove that function too.

Seems a silly decision when so many sites are using content curation. The bookmarklet made it easy to turn content from other sites into a full post without having to leave your web browser. I use it a lot.

However, I have found PressForward, which does have a working bookmarklet (and extra features) for WordPress content curation. I’ve been using PressForward for about two years now and suggest others take a look.

WP is really becoming software for developers only. I keep looking at other CMS which are more publisher friendly. WordPress is losing that.

On the other hand, the new function for adding links in posts really irritates me. It gets in the damn way! Why can’t they decide to get rid of that instead?

Is WordPress still the best choice for web publishers? I don’t think so but I have not found another CMS to trade up for, yet. b2evolution is my top pick and I would have kept using it if it handled images differently.  However, the way things are going it could yet be a trade off between WordPress not handling links well and b2 not handling images well. I probably use links more than I do images.

Planning for Your Future Self

I have memories of pure dread for the coming day. Something I didn’t do perfectly, something I put off, or something I did pretty badly and now… tomorrow would come, as tomorrow tends to do, and I would have to face everything. It is a hideous feeling as a child. It doesn’t get a lot better as an adult but, we can at least plan ahead better than our younger selves. At the very least, we have different options.

I learned to plan in order to avoid the looming dread of facing tomorrow. I’m not perfect at planning. I still procrastinate too. But, I keep working on it.

CopyBlogger is posting about planning for your future self. Making small changes to your habits now to avoid future problems.

How will things be for your Future Self?

When you’ve posted on your blog regularly for months?
When your savings account is nice and healthy?
When your regular workout habit has you feeling fit and strong?
When you’ve launched your side hustle?
When your novel is finished?
And of course, if you don’t get those habits in place — how disappointed, stressed, anxious, uncomfortable, or cranky will you be?

Marketing Headlines

I don’t like the trend to write sensationalist headlines. They over promise, over dramatize and disappoint. Headlines all about marketing are too common and just add to information overload. People can only read so much in a day. Too often these marketing based headlines lead readers in but don’t deliver any real information, nothing fresh, relevant or important. Fluff!

Headlines like those do not build you as an authority on your topic. Traffic to your site may pick up but, especially if you are running a business, trust in your business will go down. You don’t deliver as promised.

100 Great Tips for Whitening your Teeth your Dentist Doesn’t Want you to Know…. 

Sure there are 100 tips but most of them are things you already know and a lot of them are things the author has not tried themselves, so chances are they don’t work. As for the element of things being secret – that’s just hype.

How many of these headlines will people read before they go blind to them? How much mistrust will you build trying to get people to come to your site?

Propaganda and sensationalism are fragile shells to walk on. Once the shell breaks it is very hard to rebuild trust with customers, readers or the public in general. 

This post was inspired from Copyblogger’s Content Excellence Challenge suggesting people write headlines as marketing propaganda. I don’t think they thought the idea through.

The New Potential of Documentary Film Making

Documentary film makers seem like the new bloggers, zine makers, and freestyle writers and publishers in general. I thought podcasts were the media with the most growth, freedom and potential. I am changing my mind as I look at the range of documentaries, in particular. Film making and documentaries are not new but there has been a lot of change since film went digital. For one thing, it’s pretty easy to use a camera you can keep in your pocket versus the video cameras you lugged around on your shoulder.

Exploring Outside the Blog

I’m going back to working with text files again and start working with pdf. A webzine, rather than a blog. Well, a webzine as a working name.

Running a blog has become ruined with marketing and pressure to conform. I’ve always liked doing things my own way. Following all the “rules” for bloggers means putting marketing first. I don’t want to do that. Yet, each time I try to get working on my sites again there is all that stuff telling everyone how to do everything better, almost always involving SEO and marketing. I don’t want to live like everything is for sale. I don’t want to blog that way either. So, blogging is out.

Of course, that means deciding what blogging actually is and what I want to do next. Once upon a time it was a web log, keeping dated entries about changes made to your projects on the web. Some personal posts became sprinkled in and next thing you had the personal online journal. Blogs came from that, later. Dated entries were the key to what was a blog and what was not. That is so lost these days, there are blogs which don’t want to post dates at all. They call it evergreen. I call it, not a blog.

I have a lot of old content to merge with something new. Once I take it out of CMS software I won’t have to keep trying to find ways to make it display for software, just the txt or pdf file type. That will be a LOT easier.

I’m keeping something blog-like to post things I find along the way, in niche and topical blogish displays. Likely on Blogger because I can use Open Live Writer to create the post and then filter it to whichever site I want it to show up on. They will be content curation sites, not blogs. I can post links to niche sources in the sidebars, as I find good links. But, dates, marketing, and professional templates won’t be important.

The Joomla Image Upload and Post Editing is Bugging Me

I am trying. I have made progress. But, the Joomla post editing and image uploading are not very user friendly. I feel like I’m working with a sluggish elephant.
I don’t know yet about template changes. I’m leaving that until the end as I go through the guide I’m using to get around Joomla. It is quite different from WordPress, especially in the beginning. My big break through seems to have been understanding that everything has a category, not just your blog posts, or links. It does add more function to your site, what you can do with what you have. But, it also makes it complicated. When you have a glitch it becomes a real job to find the source because there are so many places to look. As a beginner I’m finding it very time consuming.
Last week I was at the point of giving up and trying yet another CMS. But, I stuck it out. I did find the problem that time but, the same solution did not fix (what seems to be) the same problem on two other sites. 
So far the post editor and image uploader are bugging me every time I post. Maybe some of that will be fixed with a different theme/ template. But, with all the function in Joomla why is it so hard to do the simple things? I’m at the point of disliking using images with my posts. 
Also, I am discouraged about the link thing. I left WordPress because it was becoming focused on commercial sites and web developers with clients rather than individuals building their own site. As I get to know Joomla I see the same trend here. The link manager was taken out of the core CMS. Why remove a feature people might actually like to use? Because web developers don’t want anything Google SEO says it doesn’t like.
Most of Joomla’s extensions (plugins, if you prefer WordPress speak) are premium. Sure there are some outdated free extensions, but they tend not to work, or even upload into Joomla 3. Other free versions are so limited the point of them is just to make people realize there isn’t any point to doing without the premium/ professional extension. 
I miss having spellcheck when I write a post. I can’t even use keyboard shortcuts in the post editor. So I need to open the code editor to cut and paste or add text to any post with HTML. I did look at post editors and related extensions. That was a land of confusion in itself. Most of them combine a template maker into the whole process, as if that will fix everything. But, I did not find any of them which were just post editors which would work with my existing posts in Joomla articles. Two which I might have used wanted to import everything and make second copies for the extension. Then you (I) have to remember to use the extension to make every post I write from then on. Well, what if something goes wrong? What if the extension is abandoned, dies with some fatal error, etc? Where would that leave me and all my posts, not quite in Joomla but sort of in Joomla? 
I have yet to find a way to schedule posts. Everything has to be made a featured post in order to show up on my site. Then every new post is either published or not published. There is no way to schedule a date for it to post. Yes, I can leave posts sitting outside of featured but I would really rather not have to remember to post them, or need to be online in order to post them. (I do like to get away the odd time and leave the electronics behind).
I think that’s everything bugging me. Possibly more will come to mind between now and now when I post this. 
If I hadn’t bought two books (print) to help me figure Joomla out… If I hadn’t spent money on 3 premium Joomla extensions (and not found any of them to be what I had hoped)… If I hadn’t spent months migrating and renovating my sites since leaving WordPress (late last year!)… I think I would stop using Joomla at this point. But, there should be a point where you don’t go back and stick with your guns, right? 
Anyway, what else would I try? I’ve been through almost a dozen CMS since last year. I do know, I am not going back to WordPress. The problems with WordPress are still there. The time of the independent web publisher is getting tougher, but not drying up yet. However, I am watching for that big chunk of meteor rock falling from the sky.

Did Disqus Kill Commenting?

When you think about it, did Disqus kill blog commenting? I stopped commenting on other sites because of Disqus. Having to register for their service and even then most of the time I would have to login with it only to have it not find my account. Far too much trouble when something like Twitter was so much simpler. Now I just leave a note on Twitter, with a link referring to whatever I wanted to comment on. Much easier, less stress, and it works.



By the way, Disqus is now spamming you but you can pay for it to stop. Or just stop using Disqus. People might start commenting on your site again, or not. I think the days of leaving comments on blogs are gone. Too much hassle to deal with software, like Disqus