By Shana Burg

Writing skills for today’s professionals have evolved with technology. You may be an old school writer who published print articles in newspapers or even books. Now if you want a job in the profession, you’ll need to upgrade your writing skills.

I wrote two novels for young readers. Then the publishing industry began to collapse. No one seemed to be in the market for an award-winning children’s author. At least no one at a company that could provide me with a regular paycheck.

So I got to work upgrading my writing skills for the digital age, as well as my digital skills in general. This involved acquiring a whole new vocabulary. Gone were words like “managing editor” and “column inches.” Instead, I learned terms like “UX writer” and “SEO.”

A red toolbox

If these terms are new to you, don’t worry. I’m going to introduce you to the new vocabulary that will guide you as you upgrade your writer’s toolbox for the digital age.

And even though I’ve got your back, you’ve got the goods. That’s because you’ve probably put years and years into developing your writing skills. It doesn’t matter where your words were published or in what form. If you know how to communicate clearly with a particular voice and structure, then you can easily write for the digital world. It will just require a little additional knowledge.

Copywriting skills vs. UX writing skills – What’s the difference?

Before we talk about specific writing skills that are in high demand right now in the marketplace, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

Or at least the same screen.

Let’s make sure we know the difference between copywriting and UX writing. The specific jobs that are in demand fall into these two categories. But depending on which category of writing skills interests you most, you’ll need to learn to put a different spin on your writing.

 

Copywriting

Copywriting involves subtle or overt marketing. The aim is to sell. This type of writing might appear in email campaigns, social media ads or posts, blogs, or on website pages that are designed to promote a special offer for a product.

 

An old-fashioned ad features a teen girl in a bathing suit holding a bottle of soda in a green glass bottle

 

Copywriting is designed to grab the attention of a particular audience. I say “a particular audience” because good copywriters don’t write a word before they have a crystal clear idea of the type of person they are trying to attract with their copy. If you are writing about a new eyeliner for teenage girls, your copy might have a whimsical tone. If you are writing about finances for middle-aged executives, your tone might be more serious.

According to Glassdoor.com, the national annual average base pay for a copywriter is $60,296.

 

UX Writing

UX stands for User Experience. A UX writer puts words together that help a product user better understand how to use a product. While the copywriter’s aim is to sell, the job of the UX writer is to explain.

 

Two people stand in front of a whiteboard reviewing a UX flow

UX writers produce the words that help users navigate how a product works. A UX writer might write copy for an app, website or an explainer video. When UX writing, it’s important to use the clearest language possible and put yourself in the shoes of the user.

The title of UX writer is relatively new, so it’s harder to get salary statistics. That said, Indeed.com lists the annual salary of a UX writer as ranging from $51,000 to $93,619.

(When you try to search for UX writer jobs, you might come across the title of UX designer which is closely related. However, the UX designer job encompasses not just the writing of text, but also the creation of images, sound, or other multimedia.)

So now, let’s pause to reflect a minute.

Are you the type of person who can convince your friends to meet you for a walk at 5am on an icy morning? Do you enjoy helping someone decide between which of 2 products to purchase? Do you write ad copy or press release? And are you always digging into a novel before bed? If you said yes to these questions, chances are that you are an excellent copywriter.

Are you the type of person who loves to explain complicated information to someone new at work? Do you read user manuals before you use a new product rather than try to wing it? Are you a journalist or voracious nonfiction reader? If you answered yes to these questions, you are a natural UX writer.

Do you have an idea of which category of writing skills you might like to develop? Great. It’s time to dig in further and take a look at 6 content types. Each type of content requires particular knowledge and writing skills. So it’s not a bad idea to drill down and decide which content type you want to master first.

3 content types for copywriters to master

There is so much marketing content flying around these days every minute. Who is generating that content?

It could be you!

 

Infographic: A Minute on the Internet in 2019 | Statista Image source:  Statista

1. Email marketing

Just because you can write a business email doesn’t mean you can write a marketing email.

Two different beasts.

If you’re already a decent writer, you can pick up the knowledge required to be an email marketing master.

And this skill is in high demand. Why? Because executives know that email marketing has the highest ROI of all types of digital marketing, returning $44 for every $1 spent.

So if you can add email copywriting to your writer’s toolbox, you’ve got something hot, hot, hot.

An illustration of a computer keyboard with yellow envelopes flying from the screen

Now then…

What do you need to know about email marketing? Here is a list that you can use to explore further. You can Google these items to learn more or search for online courses on email marketing.

  • Subject Lines

    Writing a great subject line is essential. If no one opens your email, then the chances of closing the sale are zero. There is a whole art to writing a good subject line and entire studies have been devoted to the matter.

  • Voice

    A company will specify the tone you’d be expected to use when copywriting in its brand guidelines. These days, it is popular to send emails that are written in the first person and signed by a particular person like the CEO.

  • Call to Action

    Every great email includes what is called the Call to Action (CTA). This is the next action you want your reader to take. Your end goal is probably to get your reader to become a paying customer. However, you need to ease the reader down the sales funnel. That’s why the CTA might be to have the reader click and read more about your product, or to forward your email to a friend.

This is just a small bit of what you need to know to be an email copywriter.

 

2. Social media posting

Maybe you love social media. Maybe you hate it. But social media writing skills are in demand.  

I’ll be honest, for the most part this is a young person’s game. The last two social media people I managed were 18 years old.

If you’re going to join a marketing team, you’re going to need a basic understanding of social media. You may end up managing some kids and editing their copy, so you need to speak a bit of their language.

An illustration of a woman's head with social media icons flying around it

What exactly do you need to know?

  • The Goal

    A company might set a goal of increasing “engagement” on a social media channel. Engagement refers to how much viewers are interacting with a post by commenting on it, liking it or sharing it. Alternatively, for a company with a product like an app, the goal might be to get “downloads.”

  • The Channels

    Different channels or platforms serve different purposes. A platform like LinkedIn is mainly for career topics and job seekers. A platform like Instagram is visually based and the audience skews young.

  • Paid Ads vs. Organic Content

    You can pay to advertise on social media or you can post organic content for free. While you’re probably familiar with uploading a post to Facebook or LinkedIn for free, do you understand how the paid advertising works on these platforms? Copywriters to create both organic posts and paid ads.

I’ll let you in on a secret – on a personal level, I don’t really like social media.

If I haven’t seen you for 30 years and your dog dies, it ruins my day to find out. Honestly, in this case, I’m a little sad about your dog but now I’m wondering how long will my dog live. Then I get sad. And then I’m mad that I’m sad. Mad at you. But I digress…

No matter what your true feelings about social media, it’s wise to get in the social media game, at least on some level, if you want to be a marketing copywriter.

3. Blogging

As you’ve probably noticed, almost every company or individual proprietor has a blog. They excitedly set up these platforms. Then they quickly realize they can’t keep pace with the content creation required to post regularly.

The catch is that Google rewards those who post regularly by turning up their posts of the first pages of the Search Engine Results Page.

So copywriters are desperately needed in every sector to create the content to fill these empty or stagnating blogs.

I think blogging is the most fun. It’s long-form enough to indulge your curiosity about a particular topic. It often involves research which I also like.

Freelance copywriters might get paid by the word or by the post. It depends. But it pays to practice so that you can write quality content fast.

A man's hands on a laptop keyboard as he blogs

Are you interested in blogging and taking your writing skills to the next level? Then you might want to learn more about these areas:

  • Content Marketing Writing

    Content marketing is what you call the type of writing that does not overtly sell a product or service, but instead, provides added value to the reader. Let’s say you are working for a company that sells fish tanks. You might write a blog for this company about aquarium care or how to raise healthy tiger fish. While content marketing writers might also write social media posts and marketing website copy, the core is the blog. All the other content types can be adapted from this form. Once you have your long post on aquarium care, you can extract from it social media posts and emails.

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

    When you’re reading a blog post, there’s more to it than meets the eye. If the blogger is using SEO, the goal is for the blog post to show up on the first page of Google’s search engine results page. As I did with this post, the writer will use a special tool to research what keywords people who use Google are searching. I tried to find out what writing-related keywords were popular and discovered that each month about 33,000 people searched the term “writing skills” in the Google search bar. So I decided that this would be the focus of this post that you are reading right now. I want this post to show up in the top three results when someone enters the keyword “writing skills” in Google. That’s why I’ve included the term “writing skills” in the post title and first header. 

Build your digital portfolio

I had “clips” from the 1990s. These clips were samples of my writing that appeared in newspapers and magazines. They were called “clips” because I actually took scissors and cut out the articles. Then copied the articles on a Xerox machine and sent the clips to potential employers.

3 mobile devices - a tablet, laptop, and mobile phoneIf you don’t have online clips, the great news is that you don’t have to wait for someone to hire you, in order to develop a new digital portfolio.

You can set up your own blog and start writing.  (To set up your blog quickly and cheaply, you can find help on a service like Fiverr.)

You could also set up your own social media profiles and start posting.

Or you could write emails and use those as samples of your work.

The great thing about the three types of copywriting we’ve discussed is that you can start to hone your skills right now. Today.

 

3 forms of UX writing to master

As with copywriting skills, the demand for people with UX writing skills is enormous. Knowing how to write these three types of digital copy can make you highly competitive in the marketplace:

 

1. App copy

There are more than 2.1 million apps available in the Google Play Store, as well as in the Apple App Store.

As with copywriting, the demand for UX writing is huge. And when it comes to writing the copy for apps, you can guess that the demand will probably only continue to grow.

 

An aerial view of a person working on a UX flow for an app

 

If you want to be a UX writer who writes app copy, what are the basic things you need to learn?

  • Navigation

    Take a look at some of the apps you have on your phone already, or download some new ones. A UX writer needs to help the user navigate easily from one screen to the next. Look at the buttons used for navigation. What do they say?

  • Clarity

    Above all the UX writer needs to clearly communicate in bite-sized pieces to the user. Notice on your apps how each screen is devoted to a clearly discrete thought or call to action for the user. The user generally takes one step or digests one piece of information per screen.

  • Flows

    UX writing is usually mapped out with a flow. A flow shows the progression of the user’s journey through the product. Let’s suppose you are on an online banking app. There might be a button that says “Deposit Money” and another button that says “Check My Balance.” The user will be taken to a different screen depending on which action she takes. The flow reflects the different possible paths of the user.

 

2. Website copy

There are many types of website pages that could be created. There could be a marketing website designed to sell a service or product. But what about once the user has already subscribed to the service or bought the product?

An illustration of a computer screen, keyboard and mouse 

In that case, there might be several website pages devoted to the use of the service or product. The goal of these pages is to explain to the consumer whatever is needed to make them love the company you represent.

What do you need to know about writing product website pages?

  • Landing Pages

    A landing page is a particular page devoted to a service or product offered by the company. Let’s say a customer goes to an online music store and purchases a record player. (Did you know record players are making a comeback?) Once the purchase is made, the customer might arrive at a landing page that explains how to set up the record player and best use it without scratching the records.

  • SEO Optimization

    Like blogs, websites and landing pages can also be written for SEO optimization. So whether you want to be a copywriter or a UX writer, it makes sense to understand what SEO optimization is all about.

  • Translations

    Keep in mind that your copy might be translated into other languages. If it is, the words in those languages might be shorter or longer. I wrote copy for a website that was then translated into Nordic languages. Man, do the Nordic languages use long words! I needed to be sure to keep my English sentences super short so they would not look like entire paragraphs once translated.

 

3. Explainer Video Scripts

Have you heard that video is where it’s at these days?

Yes! A company that posts a video on a social media platform is much more likely to get views than if they post simple text with a still image.

And a very popular type of video that companies are producing is called the “explainer video,” because it simply tells the viewer what the product or service is, or how to use the product or service.

An illustration of a computer monitor with a video play button on the screen.

Here’s what to explore more about writing explainer video scripts:

  • Platform

    You will want to understand where the video will be posted before you start writing the script. The platform will determine the length of the script. If you are posting on social media, you will want to keep your video to less than one minute. However, if you’re posting in-depth instructions on a landing page, make the video as long as is required to clearly convey the information.

  • Voice

    Does the website have a playful tone or is it more straightforward? The answer to this should be in the brand guidelines and should depend on who the audience is for the product or service. You may want the voice in your explainer video copy to match.

  • Images

    You will likely work with a video producer who will create moving images from your script. You should specify if you prefer animation or live action video. Either way, when you’re writing the script, you can put general ideas for the video producer. However, you don’t want to prescribe what each visual should be. You should also keep in mind that if you’re showing something on the screen, it may not need to be written in words.

 

Writing skills for your new toolbox

Remember, you can’t build all of these skills overnight, and you don’t have to. Just pick one content type that seems interesting and spend ten minutes a day learning more about it.

Sand running through an hourglass

How will you learn?

  • I always like to get a For Dummies book on a new topic.
  • Search your topic on YouTube and find a video to watch.
  • And then actually sit down and practice writing whatever type of content has captured your fancy.

Keep in mind that the UX writer job didn’t even exist a decade ago. This means that everyone started brand new at some point in the not too distant past.

A millennial who has worked as a content marketer for the past year might consider herself an expert in the field. That means in no time, you can anoint yourself with the expert label too. Of course, with your new skills, you’ll likely be working with plenty of millennials. You’d be wise to learn about how to do that, too.

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