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How to Become a Professional Web Writer

Wikipedia.org defines the term professional as, “An occupation, vocation or career where specialized knowledge of a subject, field, or science is applied. It is usually applied to occupations that involve prolonged academic training and a formal qualification.”

Although ‘specialized knowledge’ is required to become a ‘professional web writer,’ there are no well recognized governing bodies that bestow such an accreditation.

One can take courses – mostly online – that are offered by web writers and self-proclaimed gurus; but again, none of them carry universal recognition.

Colleges and Universities are starting to offer courses of this nature, but they tend to be one-off courses, rarely providing certification and that sought after professional designation that would and could separate the amateurs  from the professionals.

So, how does one become a professional writer?  How do you determine a professional web writer from an amateur and what is a professional web writer worth?

Becoming a Professional Web Writer
Yours truly has had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with others making a living as web writers and the consensus is in – most are self taught.

Like anything worthwhile, it involves trial and error and in some cases, baptism by fire.  But it can be learned.

It helps to have a penchant for writing, research, a love of the Web and a curious mind.  It involves continuous learning, the ability to spot trends and patterns and more importantly, doing it day in and day out.

In short, the best place to learn to write for the Web is the Web. There are a number of credible –and not so credible – online sources and resources that will help you get started.  For instance, search engines have ‘content quality guidelines’ that tell you what they value in terms of content and what will get you flagged; or worse, banned.

Forums are another excellent resource.  Try to align yourself with a well established forum that has been around for a while and has a section devoted specifically to your area(s) of interest (i.e. Online Copywriting, Search Engine Optimization etc).  One of the better ‘Online Copywriting Techniques’ forum is Jill Whalen’s, found at http://www.highrankings.com/forum/.

Web writing authorities do exist.  These authorities acquire and maintain their status by publishing insightful articles, studies and observations about web writing.  One of these authorities is Jakob Nielsen:  If you research the world of web writing, chances are good that you will stumble upon Mr. Nielsen’s website – www.useit.com.

In addition to Jakob Nielsen, other popular – and veteran – authorities include Roberty Bly, Bryan Eisenberg, Steve Krug, Rachel McAlpine, Gerry McGovern, Janice (Ginny) Redish and Nick Usborne, to name a few.

Ironically, many ‘web writing authorities’ also produce print publications.  It would seem that a number of people still consume information via the printed word; be that as a result of habit, online readability issues, carpal-tunnel-syndrome-prevention, or all of the above.  As much as yours truly tries to live a paperless lifestyle, the printed word is still the preferred mode of information gathering, especially for longer reads.

What Should a Professional Web Writer Know?
Becoming a professional web writer involves knowledge of a number of web and writing related elements, along with the ability to combine and make order of them – all of this while still writing with your audience and search engines in mind. A professional web writer may be considered someone with a deep understanding and knowledge of:

  • Web page design and technical guidelines;
  • Search engine (SEO) quality guidelines and best practices;
  • Keywords and keyword relevance;
  • Proper grammar and usage;
  • Web content writing; and,
  • Web copy writing/persuasion.

And yes, there is a difference between a ‘web content writer’, ‘web copy writer,’ and just to add to the confusion, a ‘seo writer.’

For instance, web content writing is about answering your visitor’s questions; namely Do You andCan You questions.  Examples of web content would be your
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s), About Us and Contact Us pages, to name a few.

Web copy writing is that copy on your web pages that gives your reader a reson to take take action, whether it be to contact, subscribe, register, download
something or reach for their credit card.

Copy Writing has been around since Sears published its first print catalogue in 1888.  The main difference in this case is the medium, but the message remains
the same – providing reasons for people to act.  Some examples of web copywriting elements would be the following calls-to-action:

  • Free Trial Offer
  • Save 10%
  • While Supplies Last

Most e-tail websites measure success based on conversions: also known as sales in the bricks and mortal world.  Effective web copy should and could help
increase conversions, turning browsers into buyers.  And when it comes to e-tailing, no one does it better than Amazon.

So, if web content explains the person, place or thing you are promoting, web copy should help to persuade yoru visitor to find out more about that person, place or
thing and take the next step in the process.

But before any of the above happens, a visitor must first be able to find your website online: this is the role of seo writing.  Although you write for your audience
first, search engines look for and value relevancy and to be indexed, ranked and found, your site must be relevant.  A large part of this process is determining
the ‘search words’ or ‘keywords’ that your audience uses and strategically building them into your copy.

A professional web writer should know how to write for a website audience AND search engines while also building readability, searchability and persuasion into
web pages.
What Does a Professional Web Writer Do?
Suffice it to say that not all web writers offer the same services.  Some will offer straight writing, while others may offer ala carte services.  For instance, some will require you to provide your own keywords and in some instances, your own copy which they will convert to web friendly documents.

Simply put, a professional web writer writes web content and/or web copy.  More to the point, web content and web copy that consider a number of elements including ‘on page content/copy’, ‘meta data’ and ‘writing’.  Someone offering a complete service would most likely include the following:

  • Page Theme – as a rule, one page should deal with one thought;
  • Page Goals – what is the purpose of the page (i.e. sell, inform);
  • Category and Topical Research – what information will the page contain (i.e. citations, statistics, references, quotations);
  • Keywords Research and Analysis;
  • Metadata development – (i.e. Title, Description Tags, Keywords Tags);
  • URL’s – (i.e. Optimizing and Organizing);
  • Crafting Compelling Headlines and Headings – (H1 Tags);
  • Page Formatting – (i.e. Readability, Scannability, Usability);
  • Call To Action;
  • Editing and Proofreading.

When it comes to web writing, the devil really is in the details.

Challenges in Establishing a Web Writing Career
One of the biggest challenges you’ll have is promoting your services.

Once you’ve determined that you have the desire and basic writing abilities, you’ll need familiarity with the following:

  • Marketing skills – knowing who your audience is and how to market to them;
  • Sales skills – knowing what your services are worth and how to sell yourself;
  • An Entrepreneurial attitude – necessary to manage administrative duties;
  • Creativity; and,
  • Tenacity.

These skills will serve you well; especially at the beginning and until you can build up referrals and a regular client base.

At the outset, a professional website will be your most effective marketing tool.  Your customers will expect you to have a high quality and effective web presence

Those that sell sign products use the following axiom: “A business with no sign, is a sign of NO business.”  A web-based business without a website is akin to
a business with no sign online.  Consider a high quality website that profiles your work as an investment and example of the high quality work you can and will deliver.

Furthermore, the knowledge you have gained during your web writing research will help you to write and optimize your content, ensuring that it gets indexed and
ranked by major search engines.  If developed properly – and in time – your website should yield leads via those searching for your services online.

What Is a Professional Web Writer Worth?
This depends on a number of things; one of which is the value you bring to your client.  There are clients who place a low value on web content development, choosing instead to write it themselves, use print brochures and/or hire cheap labor.  Sadly, there are people who will write for pennies-per-word and low-dollars-per-page.

There are also clients who require high quality content from expert writers familiar with a particular niche, or are willing to educate themselves on certain
subjects, products and services.  These clients know that high quality content is what maintains and attracts existing and new visitors/customers to their web
properties, builds site authority and in turn, advertising revenue.  Clients who value your services are to be cherished: They will pay for your services and
appreciate the value derived from them.  In essence, charge what YOU are worth.

Determining What Your Web Writing Services are Worth
Again, it comes down to value; or, the perception of value.  For instance, some clients view writers as providers of words on paper or in this case, words
that are rendered on someone else’s computer monitor.

Other clients view writers as providers of:

  • Higher search engine rankings;
  • Targeted traffic;
  • Sales; and,
  • Advertising revenues.

Both writers may offer a similar service, but which writer would you rather hire? In essence, talk – or write – in terms of the benefits that your web writing
skills will deliver. Anyone can write.  But it’s the rare individual that can help grow a business.

Ray Litvak
www.writingwebwords.com
Professional Web Content and Copy Writing Services – Toronto

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