Blogging. Writing social media posts. Promoting your company’s products on its homepage.
How hard can it be, right?
It happens all the time, across all industries: Execs and department heads hear about a digital marketing success story and suddenly want to invest in content writing to take their company to new heights. So they assemble a content writing team by … tapping random employees on the shoulder.
This is like expecting the Avengers to save the day when you only paid for Paul Blart, Mall Cop.
Most people write something every day, whether it’s a “let’s get lunch” email to a co-worker or a Facebook post about their missing parakeet. Unlike everyday writing -- or even traditional marketing copywriting -- content writing requires a specific set of skills you aren’t just born with.
And it’s taxing. Content writing only works with consistent publishing, meaning you need someone who really is OK with writing every week.
Whether you’re responsible for investigating the value of B2B content writing, or sourcing the writers themselves, you must understand what weak or digital-unfriendly copywriting looks like.
Signs Your B2B Content Writing Is Worse Than BSB
(*Sorry, Backstreet Boys fans.)
Trying to figure out who on your staff should handle in-house marketing/sales copywriting? Wondering whether it’s better to outsource to a content writing agency? Look for these warning signs of a bad business copywriter:
- No goals 🏁
- No persona 👨👩👧
- No self-control 📣
- No SEO 💻
- No skill ✏️
- No style 👗
- No time ⌛
For the purposes of this article, we’re referring to “internet marketing content writing” as: blog posts, other website pages, social media posts, lead-capturing downloadables (i.e. e-books and whitepapers), email campaigns, and videos (they require a script, after all).
1. They don’t understand the goals of content creation.
B2B content marketing activities can have different goals, but you generally want the reader to do something afterward. Maybe it’s clicking the link in your LinkedIn post to head to your Services page. Maybe it’s signing up for the webinar promoted at the bottom of your blog post.
Just about every piece of content should tie into a predefined B2B digital marketing strategy. Are you trying to increase web-based leads by 3x over the next 18 months? Enter a new industry vertical previously unserved by your current website?
Marketing copywriting isn’t something you “just do” to check a box or meet the boss’s quota. It only succeeds when you combine purpose with long- and short-term goals.
Finding a good blog post writer doesn’t mean much if they don’t customize their efforts toward your target goals, keywords, and personas.
2. They don’t personalize the content to your ‘perfect’ buyer.
Did you know using buyer personas can make a marketing website up to 5x more effective and easier to use?
If the content writing process is NSYNC, the buyer persona is Justin Timberlake. It’s the obvious star of the show, and the glue that keeps the content relevant years later.
Picture the perfect combination of everything you love about your favorite past and current customers -- the ones you wish you could clone 100x. That’s your buyer persona.
If your writer isn’t writing with a buyer persona in mind -- a fully realized one with input from Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service -- you’re throwing marketing dollars in the void (and again praying for the Avengers or Justin to save you).
Here’s one quick example. Are you targeting buyers in a science or high-stakes field (i.e. medical technology) where proof is paramount? Use data and stats to back up your commentary, because company reputation and even lives could be at stake for the reader.
Every B2B content writer’s checklist for buyer persona development and use should include:
- Emotional data -- what are the persona’s fears, frustrations, and goals? How can you show the reader you understand and care?
- Priority -- A wise man once said, “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” It’s impossible to please everyone at once, so narrow a content piece’s focus to one target audience at a time whenever possible.
- Pain points & opportunities -- acknowledge, either plainly or subtly, the consequences of action vs. inaction on your proposed solution. “Please try our precision machining services” isn’t enough.
3. Your internal team, especially the traditionalists, just can’t contain themselves.
My favorite piece of advice I’ve ever heard about marketing content writing is this:
“Make your customer the hero of the story.”
The days of buyers tolerating used-car salesman pitches are long gone. (Quite literally -- 76% of vehicle shoppers hit up a search engine before visiting a dealership.) This shift goes for B2B buying as well. Unless trained in writing for modern buyer tendencies and the “inbound” methodology, your salespeople, and even your marketing staff, are probably going to churn out the content equivalent of shovelware. Your writing team needs to check itself, asking at every turn, “Am I saying what I want them to hear, or what they need to hear?”
So many business copywriters cram their marketing assets with sales pitch-y language, with no regard for that persona’s typical journey to a purchase. This is either because:
- They’re legitimately super-excited about their product/service
- “That’s the way it’s always been done.”
Of course, in any business situation, the latter answer is not a viable excuse. In the case of the former … patience is a virtue in B2B content campaigns. These buyers’ sales cycles tend to be months long (at least) and involve several stakeholders.
So tone down the elevator pitch, except for buyers who are clearly ready to actually buy. Trying to get the sales team to adopt this mindset can be like trying to convert a BSB fan to an NSYNC fan. Sometimes it takes an external marketing mind to give Sales and the C-suite a reality check as to what customers actually want to hear -- and how content marketing is a long game.
(Pretend this is three-fifths of NSYNC.)
4. They think ‘SEO’ stands for ‘Simple Entertainment Only.’
Being a good writer and being a good digital marketing writer? Not the same thing. Your writing staff must not only understand SEO = search engine optimization, but also how search engines penalize or catapult your ranking based on SEO.
For a page to rank in Google or other search engines, it must prove expertise and trust. Google, by far the dominant search engine on Earth and wherever Thanos came from (I’ve watched zero “Avengers” movies), used to center its ranking algorithm on short keywords. If your page used those 1-2 words, it had a shot.
Today, Google puts just as much weight -- if not more -- on “searcher intent.” Today you can type a question to Google Search just like you’d ask a human being, and still get a coherent, relevant answer. This approach to evaluating webpages makes it harder to succeed by simply including the same keyword 176 times on that page. Now you’ve got to use the right long-tail keywords and adapt your content to your persona’s search intent.
Keywords are certainly still important -- they’ve just evolved. It takes years of practice writing and research keywords, and access to a strong SEO research tool, to master keyword research.
Content writing for marketing and content writing for SEO are different sides of the same coin. Does your in-house staff get that?
5. Your writers aren’t as good as you/they think they are.
You may have staff who you think are “good writers.” And, well, since they have jobs, they are “professionals.”
That does not magically make them “good professional writers.”
After you’ve successfully integrated SEO training and tools into your process, and you’ve got lead-capturing offers and forms in place, you need a bridge. The writing is that bridge. If it sucks, it won’t matter that your SEO is bringing in traffic, or that you’ve got your site all decked out with lead-conversion opportunities.
Does your writing staff understand how to move a reader from point A to point B? Conversion-focused copy is a must not just for blog posts, but also in:
- Landing pages
- Chat bots
- Sales and marketing emails
- Video and podcast scripts
- Social media
That means writing with your desired next step for the reader always in mind.
And, while you don’t need a Ph.D to write (more on that in a sec), you do need to sound like a confident expert.
Scratch a writer off your list if they clog up conversion paths with:
- Embarrassing grammar, spelling, & punctuation
- Confusing, out-of-order sentence and paragraph structure
- Weak language use
- Overly wordy passages
(p80 Tip: From a readability standpoint, make your copy achieve three goals: clarity, concision, and strength. Get content marketing writing tips for all three here.)
6. They still write like they did in college.
We all know academic writing when we see it. Pressured by the perceived (or real) mandate to come across as formal and literary, college writers (and their professors) tend to turn in unnecessarily complex work.
Since the era of cavemen drawing on walls, humans have made better sense of the world through storytelling than through technical terms and data. Those things certainly have a place in the hearts of certain personas (i.e. engineers), but you still need an easy-flowing narrative. Sorry to say, if you’re writing for a “boring” or niche industry, you’ve got even more work on your hands.
Fortunately, there are plenty of storytelling techniques that entertain or add impactful “weight.” Here are four B2B content writing best practices:
- Digestible. This tip is Getting Away From Academic Writing 101. Keep sentences under 25 words, and limit paragraphs to four sentences max. Break up the “giant wall of text” look with links, bold-font phrases, and bullet lists. Analyze whether your audience prefers longer or shorter content.
- Informal. To avoid eliciting eye rolls, avoid industry jargon readers won’t know, or at least link to a helpful resource when you must introduce confusing terms. Employ the general nonproliferation of bloviating with superfluous terminology and language. (See how awful that was to read?) And use contractions!
- Approachable. Exercise that restraint and keep the focus on the viewer. Address them with “you” and “your” when appropriate, so it feels like you’re chatting 1-on-1. Treat content as a conversation, not a lecture -- don’t talk down to your audience.
- Emotional. You can’t assume your audience’s interest in the topic will carry them from point A to point B (“B” being a successfully captured lead or customer). Play off of FOMO, job frustrations, creative passion, empathy, and more to keep your reader on your page longer.
7. They probably don’t have time, anyway.
We mentioned up-front that professional content writing is taxing. It takes frequent and consistent production.
Here’s a sample of what a content marketing copywriter may be responsible in a given week:
- 3 new blog posts from scratch
- 1 reoptimization of an aging post (to freshen up outdated advice, SEO, and lead-capture efforts)
- 5 website landing pages
- Several “discovery” meetings to get directive and insight from in-house experts on the topic
- Several hours of solo research online
- 1 email newsletter
- 30 social media posts (10 each across Facebook, Twitter, & LinkedIn)
- Edits, publication, & sharing of all this content
Does your “decent in-house writer” have the tolerance and time for this? If you’re forcing someone in-house to spend tons of time doing something they don’t like, you’re going to ruin both the content strategy and their morale.
Furthermore, is this writer -- or you, or anyone else for that matter -- capable of tracking the content’s success over the coming months and years. You need to know what’s working and what’s not so you can improve that existing content, or create new pieces, to build off past successes or adapt an off-target strategy.
OK. Is There Any Case for Keeping Marketing Copywriting In-House?
Yes, there are cases where keeping your inbound marketing writing in-house could work out.
You Truly Have a Great SEO Content Writer(s) On-Staff
If you’re lucky enough to have this person(s), hold onto them tightly and pay them well. Remember that they’ll need proven skills in both SEO best practices and emotion-tugging copywriting.
Content writing pricing can be scary at first. If you’re a small business that can’t afford to hire a full-service inbound marketing agency, or even a single, dedicated writer, that’s understandable. A willing and decently talented existing in-house staffer is better than no writer at all. (Just remember that B2B inbound marketing does tend to pay for itself over time.)
Nobody Outside Your Walls Could Possibly Understand Your Product
Are you worried an external SEO content agency won’t “get” your product/service/industry? It’s true that there can be months of ramp-up time for a new writer to understand the intricacies of your product and your company goals. If your in-house subject matter experts truly have the time to devote to content writing, you can try placing it in their hands.
Alternatively, you can investigate how to outsource content writing in a way that works for your company. There are agencies and even freelancers that know how to do research for content writing in niche industries. You can also hire a dedicated full-time writer to work in-house and learn the lingo, although you’ll lose the “all-in-one” aspect of agency services.
Superheroes of Inbound Marketing
Is content writing easy? Nope.
Writing is a skill that develops over years, and content writing is a specialization, not a side gig. Not everybody can or should do it.
If you’re confident in your current staff’s ability and capacity to consistently pump out content, then pat yourself on the back. You’ve truly hired a group of superheroes. If you’re struggling to keep up, or want the assurance that comes with professional SEO and content writing services, consider outsourcing.
To see how a full-blown inbound marketing campaign looks in action, click below to view a variety of case studies for B2Bs just like your company: