So you want to break out of the ranks of “freelance writer” or “digital media” and find some higher-paying work in content marketing? The good news is, there’s a content gold rush going right now, and people with solid writing skills can find work in every field from tech to CPG to real estate to automotive. The catch is, you’ll need to learn to think like a marketer (or content strategist, or social media manager) to get those gigs.
Whereas an editorial outlet might ask you for a catchier lede, a service-y sidebar or an additional expert source, a marketing manager will pepper conversation with altogether different directives and deliverables. If you want to stand out as someone who can add value to the company, knowing 10 of the right words might be more effective than any 1000-word clip.
Before your interview with a potential client or your first strategy meeting with a new client, thoroughly study this list of terms and practices that are at the top of most companies’ priority lists. We’ve also thrown in some outdated terms you should know and steer clear of in your content strategy.
Client-centric terms to know and use as a freelancer:
1. Case study
What was the client or project, what was their goal, how did you strategize and act in order to meet that goal, and what was the brag-worthy result? In brief, those are the questions to answer in a case study (also called a success story, depending on the approach).
Some content case studies showcase the content output as the result, and that can be fine if the new prospect is purely looking at you to create content. But many will be more impressed by a case study that shows how the content impacted key metrics like site traffic, lead generation or earned media.
Not only will case studies help you get clients, but they’re a fundamental tool of most sales and marketing teams. So if you’ve created a couple impressive case studies showcasing your copy, you may be engaged to write the content for others often.
2. White paper
A white paper is an older format of long-form marketing content — but wow, does it ever have staying power. In every type of product and sector from health food to blockchain, white papers are a marketing piece in the guise of a report or long-form researched article. They typically have narrow topical focus, contain a significant amount of information on a company’s methodology in the focus area, and have an authoritative tone. They are written to showcase a company’s expertise in the product/service they’re selling, or showcase the benefits of a company’s product, or the results of its service.
White papers are typically pretty dry. When you read them online, they can easily be confused with scientific research or academic materials — and that’s the point. Writers with an academic or investigative research background may find white papers very lucrative, as long as they can remember to seem objective, but in reality always convey a positive impression of the company that commissioned the white paper.
Don’t mix this up with shareholders — though they certainly fall under the umbrella. The term stakeholders is used to describe anyone who has an interest — particularly anyone who can be affected by — a business or project. Besides shareholders, this also includes employees, board members, partners/customers, sponsors, and many other players. When you’re creating a brief for a new project, one section may well be defining the key stakeholders, because the whole project is intended to bring value for them.
4. Key messages
“Pitch your company to me in five quick sentences. What are you all about, what do you do, and why should I want to work with you?”
When such a request comes in, you pull your five sentences from your key messages. Which should be finalized, approved by the company owners, and at everyone’s fingertips before you ever get the request. Key messages are a foundational cornerstone of brand identity. They summarize who the company is, what its purpose is, what its core services are, and who it serves. Key messages also typically include some hard facts and figures, like how long a company has been in business, its size, where it is headquartered.
In journalism, you’re always trying to find the fresh story — or at least a fresh new way of saying it. In branded content, especially pieces that are a part of company branding or press materials, you may still be doing that, but you’re also working within an inverse parameter, which is that you must always build content around the brand’s key messages.
It’s data… about the data! Or rather, about the content. Minimal text that explains to the search engines what the larger page of content contains, and its context.
Metadata has been one of the standard features of picture files and blog post pages, but it’s lately become a focus of content marketing strategy. This is because of Google and other search engines. Their “spiders” or crawlers can’t see or hear, so they rely on reading data to understand what a page is about. They also rely on 150-character descriptions of the page. Since writing for the web these days is equally geared toward humans and search engines, a lot of writers and editors find themselves becoming fast experts in metadata.
6. Post reach
Post reach is the number of people who saw a post on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. It’s different from impressions, which is the total number of times a post was viewed. Some people will view a post multiple times, increasing the impressions metric but not Reach.
7. Domain authority score
How trusted is your site? How much value does it provide? Search engines are constantly trying to assess this, using indicators like how many big and well-respected sites link back to yours, and how much original fresh content you publish in your niche. A domain authority score is a reliable indicator for how high a site will rank in search engine results. Obviously the first page is always the end goal, and then it becomes a question, in which search terms do you rank highly?
You may have noticed that sometimes when you type your own name in Google, your bylines for a digital magazine may rank higher than your own site. This scenario happens because the site’s domain authority is much higher than your site. Half of a content marketer’s job is to maintain and improve the domain scores of the sites they work on.
Retargeting is the convenient yet frightening technology by which, once you’ve visited a site, ads for the site follow you around social media and the Internet for days. It’s accomplished via retargeting pixels placed on the site. As a writer, your job is to get the person to the site with great content. Then the marketing team handles the retargeting.
9. Reputation management
While formerly the wheelhouse of PR firms and business consultants, nowadays social media and community managers find themselves on the front lines of reputation management. They’re the ones putting content out and oftentimes responding to customer inquiries on social media. Also, user review sites have become extremely powerful — and not just massive ones like TripAdvisor, but niche ones like HealthGrades.com for doctors, or RateMyProfessors.com for educators.
Branded content creation often includes micro-content that represents the brand on social, and owned blog content intended to compete in SERP results with the uncontrollable content from user review sites.
You hear this versatile word used everywhere from the child welfare system to the medical field to marketing strategy meetings. In marketing, it means bigger-picture results. To give one example: Wendy’s skillful roasting of Burger King was a result; Wendy’s achieving permanent status as the ultimate in trash-talking smart Twitter brands is an outcome.
Terms to throw out when talking with clients:
1. Shadow ban
There will probably always be debate among professional and wanna-be pro Instagrammers about whether shadow banning is real. Basically, what this means is, can Instagram low-key mute someone’s posts or even their entire account for following practices that Instagram doesn’t really approve of?
The channel itself has said no, this isn’t a thing. There are, however, banned hashtags on Instagram — those that have been overtaken by spammers or groups that violate the T&Cs — and if you use one of those, your post or profile reach could be negatively affected.
2. Follower numbers
Since everyone now knows that follower numbers are most often inflated by one means or another, most smart marketers are not using this as a key metric for determining a person’s reach or expertise.
At a first glance some people may still be wowed by a six or seven-figure follower count, but a cursory Google search will pull up dozens of negative articles on the influencers who offer nothing but a high follower count. Also, there are now the Fyre documentaries to show what chasing Insta-Fame can do. Best strategy: Look for content creators with expertise and credibility.
3. Social media automation
There are two main categories of automation tools: those that follow-unfollow or auto-engage, and those that assist with content creation and posting workflow. The former category violates the T&Cs, yet companies constantly pop up offering a customized, human-staffed service. It’s never true, and is always running off a bot. Don’t fall for it. (In the follow-unfollow scenario, a bot follows your account to get your attention, and once you give a reciprocal follow it un-follows you again. It’s a tactic by fake influencers.)
As far as scheduling tools, they are typically accepted third-party apps (though their access and capabilities change on a dime). They can streamline posting regular content, especially if you’re managing multiple accounts. The downside is that you’ll miss opportunities to jump onto breaking news — and if the news supersedes your post of the day (for example, a mass shooting on the day you scheduled National Popcorn Day), you’ll need to hastily take down the scheduled post and rethink.
Also, remember: Social is supposed to be social. You can’t hack it with automated scheduling to the end of time. It requires human attention every day.
4. Private blog networks
Private blog networks were the precursor to the hated “Instagram pod” or Twitter engagement group. They are a group of domains, either owned by the same person or several people, working together in concert to cross-promote each other’s content with backlinks.
Google wiped out most of the casual PBN activity a while back, but devoted black-hat and gray-hat marketers still keep some running. They’re very risky, usually lead to low-quality backlinks, and you should never recommend them — although you may need to do some investigation into them if a client is really intent on finding out more.
Automation, private blog networks, “Power Likes,” engagement groups, and all other quasi-shady practices all are in the wheelhouse of the growth hacker. Supposedly the great ones also have many other methods — more secret and less disparaged — that really can take a user base from 5,000 to 50,000 in a 3-month window.
However, most companies that bet big on this and hire a “growth hacker” might see a jump in social media followers, downloads or site visits, but no commensurate lift in conversion, and no long-term gain. Don’t get swindled. Don’t use this scammy term either.
6. Thought leader
Just like influencers, this term has been so over-used that it means nothing, and it can be off-putting to those who look for very specific qualities in leadership. Typically people who self-identify as thought leaders are tech bros, elder statesman consultants, or salesmen who love Gary Vaynerchuk.
7. Email blast
The other name for this marketing tactic is “mass blast,” which sounds as unpleasant as people feel it is. Email blasts are impersonal, general and not particularly work-intensive, which is the opposite of how people prefer to be approached.
Therefore, while companies large and small are definitely rediscovering email as a great way to reach their user base, they’re segmenting more and more, customizing email communications to the Nth degree, and making every effort to make correspondence feel personalized — especially if it’s a big-ticket product or service.
8. Pivot to [________]
One cynical writer recently opined that the word pivot has pretty much become synonymous with fail. This may be a little harsh, but given the media foundation-rocking failure of “pivot to video,” not to mention “pivot to 3-D TV,” it’s best to stay away from bandwagoning on industry pivots, and just stick with iterating and reiterating till your product is successful on your own terms.