5 Probing Questions to Ask When You’re Looking for Content Marketing Help

With explosive social media and what is now being called “snackable content,” all over the web, it’s easy to see the blandness that comes with the dumbing down of content marketing. Many of my clients seeking content marketing help have expressed concern about how to engage audiences who seem to have the attention span of gnats.

But when my clients raise this question, it is never to ask me to dumb-down the content I create. They understand there is a tremendous amount of skill that goes into crafting quality, marketable content and that’s why they hire me. While keyword-friendly pages full of incoherent words running together might attract Google’s crawlers, they do nothing for smart human audiences.

Fortunately, there are signs that the trend away from good content is turning in the other direction and I’m happy to be on this bandwagon. It’s the movement toward quality, where content marketing and critical thinking meet somewhere to create information that sells.

In light of carrying the torch for quality content, here are some tips for seeking out and choosing good content marketing help. Hint, hint, this PhD is always in your back pocket!

1. Writing Style & Quality.

Your content writer and marketer has to be solid. Ask for samples, if their website isn’t an obvious, glowing radiation of writing samples. In the old days, freelancers actually had portfolios. On paper. Wild, right? These days, most content marketers and anyone trying to hustle anything has a website.

This makes things more efficient for sure, and it’s amazing how technology has made it astonishingly easy to show off the goods. And how much of the “goods” are not so…um…good? Do a search on any common question in any industry and you’ll find a host of blog posts on various topics. Content marketing help is no exception. Writing styles vary vastly, and so does the quality of the writing.

And speaking of writing style, make sure the work matches your own energy and tone for your business. Most types of business writing, e.g., case studies and project proposals, require a different tone from blog posts and industry articles. Just because a content marketer has great writing skills in one area doesn’t ensure she’s a match for you and your business.

Writing is a creative skill as much as it is a precise technical skill. While they’re both wonderful skills to have on hand, you likely don’t want a techy science writer attempting to craft an entertaining piece for your B2B marketing piece.

2. Ask them what books they’ve read lately, and where they’ve travelled.

Writers have to be inspired by intelligence and depth within and that comes with perspective.

Good writers read. A lot. It helps them to improve their technical writing skills, stay up-to-snuff on style trends (yes, writing style evolves just like everything else), and exercise their vocabulary. And most writers are much more interested in reading a book than watching television or staring at a computer screen. Words are entertaining and stimulating for the imagination and the creative mojo. Being treated like a gnat is not.

Gaining perspective, from a writer’s perspective, is just borrowing concepts and ideas and expanding upon them with one’s own abilities. Lots of great content marketing help comes from that magical who-knows-where place, but lots also comes from being fascinated by linguistics and use of language in general, and using outside concepts to help stir some creative mojo.

Good writers travel. And again, it’s about perspective. If an otherwise brilliant writer were to only spend time at home and only read within her happy little creative bubble, she would constantly use the word “epic” in ways that do not describe poetry with a lengthy melodramatic storyline. Just sayin’.  

Perspective is key when it comes to use of language and exposing oneself to new scenarios, people, ways of life, and the natural environment on a regular basis is important for creating quality writing of any sort.

3. Ask them about the difference between copy and content.

This is one of those juicy “things” for which any modern content marketing guru or freelancer should have a 2-minute-or-less memorized and prepared speech. Copy is for advertising. Content is for beefing up promotional material (blogs, websites, print marketing materials, etc.) with high-quality, informative, and hopefully even entertaining language. There is a difference, and any experienced content marketer knows the difference and does both very well. 

4. Proofreading process—everyone has one.

Even a businessperson who simply writes a lot of emails in a day has a proofreading process.
Professional proofreaders have a more specific process that they typically follow to ensure maximum efficiency. Often their process has several steps, depending on the size of the project. Proofreaders proof for content, grammar, spelling, structure, and for how often these rules can be broken for individual style.

The spell checkers and grammar checkers on the various softwares that we all use these days are helpful, but they are not human, they are not intelligent, and they are not grammar geeks (and neither am I, for the record). Something should totally come out regarding a knowledge or even geekish weirdness regarding grammatical obsession when you look for content marketing help. Yes, including the Oxford comma. No, you do not need a comma before “and” in any listing. Or maybe you do. (I’m actually a huge fan of the Oxford Comma).

5. Ask them WHY they do what they do.

I can’t speak enough about the lifestyle niche that good freelancers enjoy. It’s obvious why a content marketing agency might do what they do…but it should be blaringly obvious why a one- or two-(wo)man show is doing what they do. The answer should be that they’re good at it and are interested in a life where creativity flourishes.

In the human body, adrenaline and oxytocin cannot co-exist. And in the writing world, creativity and stress cannot coexist.

Cookie-cutter content marketing is easy to spot. It almost appears as though some blogs are written by robots—they are so dull and bland and perfectly grammatically correct. Maybe they’re written by overly-caffeinated, underpaid college interns. Or maybe these things are being created by computers and smart algorithms. Who knows? Either way, blandness is not a writing style, and you don’t want it to come with your content marketing help.  

Good content marketers love what they do, are really good at it, gain perspective from all angles to develop and get better at it, and are lovers of language at heart. Look for these things and you’ll find a great content marketer!

Of course, if you’d like the answers to all of these not-so-hypothetical questions, give me a call and we’ll chat about how your content can be as great as mine. Style, flair, perspective and a sprinkling of geekiness go a long way.

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