Much has changed since Rachel McAlpine started writing books in 1995. And yet, the need for clearly communicated ideas expressed in compelling language is higher than ever before.

There are scores of opportunities for well-honed freelance writers and content creators out there. We talked to Rachel McAlpine and asked for some advice on the importance of great content, how to become a social media content expert, how to research a new industry, and other topics to help the freelancer sharpen their craft and find new opportunities.

Rachel McAlpine teaches writers and content creators business writing superskills at Contented.

With search engine algorithms changing to filter out keyword stuffing websites, why is great content more important than ever before?

Great content is the best SEO asset you’ll ever have.

Writers all need to understand at least the basics of SEO copywriting, whether for a software procedure, a blog, some marketing material or a non-fiction book. A document may be superb in other ways, but it’s pretty well un-findable if it does not contain keywords that identify the topic.

Even in the ’90s, business owners were begging me for a magic SEO trick. Then and now, this is the magic trick, according to Google: “Provide high-quality content on your pages… This is the single most important thing to do.”

SEO is not quite that simple, of course! But high quality content attracts repeat visitors and links. It sets your site apart from your keyword-stuffing competitors, and Google is always one jump ahead of the bad guys.

Contented offers courses for both Business Writing and Writing In Plain Language. Can you talk about the difference in tone, and how a writer might select the right voice for the job?

Stylish writing comes in many variations, as I should know; as a poet, I embrace ambiguity. For most other writing, clear communication is the number one goal; and at Contented.com, we train people to reach various levels of clarity.

First, all writers need to understand how to be understood. Plain language is the gold standard of all business communication, and yet most people go through school without ever being taught this crucial knowledge – so of course. we teach plain language. Next, for international communication, English needs a bit of tweaking, and so we teach Global English. Technical writers need even more discipline to ensure that their work is translated accurately into non-English languages, and we introduce them to Simplified Technical English (STE). (Global English and STE are covered in the same short course, Writing Translatable English.)

Do you have any advice on how to create great social media content that raises brand awareness without being too pushy or sales-y?

We give writers a kick-start with a few courses on using social media for business. This is often crucial because the staff who are required to manage a company’s social media are often the very people who have hardly dipped their toes in. So above all, get in there using a personal or hobby profile before you start implementing the company’s social media strategy. Remember the theory, and watch how it works in real life.

For someone to truly excel as a content creator, they must be an expert in their niche or industry. How might a writer go about finding their niche, and how can they go about finding the most cutting-edge news and updates in that field?

Well, good journalists can write about anything in the universe! For this, they need curiosity, research skills, perseverance, and trust in their own processes. These are exactly the same factors that will help writers to find their niche. Be curious: explore all your own interests, expertise, industry, areas of ignorance, hobbies, and neighborhood. Rule nothing out. Research systematically: use Google Scholar and Google Alerts to the max. Follow magazines, news sites and blog portals, not just your favorites but highly specialized ones. Tailor Twitter lists to discover the latest from key sources and ignore the rest. And keep great records.

For someone who hasn’t actively pursued writing, how might they go about analyzing their writing objectively to see what areas need improvement?

  1. Check the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Score. If your writing scores 60 – 70, that indicates that 13- to 15-year-old students could probably understand it.
  2. Show the document to someone else. Ask them what the passage was about. If they get it wrong, that’s the writer’s fault. Bingo – user testing in a minute.
  3. Ask a competent writer to highlight errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation in a document. Don’t rely on grammar checking software: they get things wrong and over-emphasize some issues.
  4. In a Word or other document, use Styles correctly. Then view it as a Master Document showing just the heading levels. Yu will see the structure with your own eyes. Does it make sense as is?

By the way, I use a Mac. PCs may have different terminology, but you can handle that.

Freelance writing is growing exponentially, thanks to the Internet. Would you recommend that an aspiring writer go into content creation? Where might they go about finding good writing opportunities?

Get visible on the Web; without that, you are nothing to prospective employers. Write your own blog. Get your personal domain name, preferably your actualname.com. Do freebies for your portfolio. Work your network. Join a freelancers group or list. And good luck!

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