A Guide to Writing Content About Things You Don’t Know About

As one of the resident newbies to the Flawless Inbound family, I’ve had to hit the ground running to churn out effective content for clients who have already cultivated long-standing relationships and trust with our previous content-writer-turned-account-manager.

Being on a team of high-volume-, high-quality-producing marketing champs is intimidating (and inspiring) on its own. It’s another thing entirely when you join the group while they’re rolling out a dozen different campaigns for just as many clients. The only choice I had was to dive in.

In my first week, I had to:

  • Get as much background as I could for each client
  • Figure out the content needs of each client’s personas
  • Learn and harness their brand voices
  • Try not to crumble under self-inflicted pressure to write Giller-prize-winning content

Where to begin when you’re not a subject matter expert

My biggest struggle was I didn’t feel confident writing blogs, emails, case studies, web copy, and social media posts on subjects I was unfamiliar with. I felt like a fraud. Who was I to be a self-proclaimed “thought leader” in spaces where I hadn’t paid any dues?

I needed some kind of guide to learn how to write about things I didn’t know about. Naturally, I turned to my best friend, Google, to find the answers.

I found some guides with some general tips like research the topic on search engines or embrace the challenge, but nothing incredibly ground-breaking came up. I even went as far as surfing the dark recesses of Google’s second page (gasp) and the SERPs on Bing and DuckDuckGo. My searches were disappointing, and I wound up with a big fat nothing. Zilch. Nichts. Nada.

The next thing I did was scream into the void of the Twittersphere in hopes that my content marketing peers would scream some advice back.

Spencers blog

Thankfully they did.

The 6 tips for catapulting yourself into the upper echelon of thought leadership

My network of ex-coworkers, marketing peers, and content gurus helped me come up with some great tips that I used right away to get my footing with my new client list. (Shout out to networking and not burning bridges with your previous employers!)

The tips for evolving from beginner to expert content writer are actually quite simple, but they involve a lot of work and personal development.

1. Interview your clients

Take time to meet with your clients and let them teach you about their industry, their products, and their sales processes. Not only will you get knowledge from a primary source, you’ll also likely develop some great content ideas based on your questions. The odds are high that the questions you have about the product are similar to those their prospective buyers ask.

content writer interviewing a client

You’ll probably have more extensive interviews with your clients when you first start cultivating your relationships with them, but you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out as the months go by to discuss new concepts. Most business owners are ecstatic to share their knowledge with rapt listeners—especially if it will help their marketing efforts.

2. Interview industry experts

If you’re working on tangential content that speaks to your client’s industry but not directly to their product, it’s always a good idea to talk with other industry experts. Reach out to your clients and see if they have anyone in their contacts lists you could interview for a new blog or case study.

This strategy not only gets you fresh viewpoints to flesh out your content, but it can also be a great link-building activity. If you can’t swing a full interview with an expert, getting a quote or two to include in your piece will add credibility and provide an organic opportunity to link to the expert’s website or social profiles.

As a bonus, it’s very likely the expert you quote will also share your content with their social networks and boost your readership.

3. Read competitor content

Once you’ve talked to your clients about their industry competitors, lurk on their content as hard as you can. If they’re avid bloggers and social posters, see which topics their audiences are devouring. You can use something like the skyscraper technique to churn out high-performing content (as long as you do it right). For the love of the content marketing gods, please don’t regurgitate the same post and add to the noise echoing throughout the internet. You need to add real value or find a new angle to write about your subject.

competitors' content analysis

If you want to take the red pill and see how far the rabbit hole goes with your competitor content analyses, you can check out your client’s competitors’ content and the content the competitors are linking to. When you finally resurface from your deep dive, you’ll have more sources and topic ideas you’ll know what to do with (and you might even beg to be reassimilated into the Matrix).

It’s important to note that who your clients compete with offline might not be the same as who they compete with on SERPs. Make sure you do your research using something like SEMrush’s keyword gap tool to get a clear picture of who’s actually eating up your SERP real estate.

4. Research, research, research

This is obvious, but it’s worth repeating that you need to conduct as much of your own research as possible. Invest a significant portion of your time rigorously interviewing subject matter experts and trawling the murky waters of whichever search engine you prefer early in the process. I promise you’ll find yourself spending less time staring at a blank screen, unsure of what to write.

Conducting personal research in advance of interviews will also help you develop more thoughtful questions, and you’ll likely end up having a more meaningful, productive discussion with an expert or client. (This preparation also has the bonus of making you look super professional, astute, and attentive.)

5. Let SEO tools do some of the work

Name one SEO or content marketer who doesn’t passionately “stan” one (or many) SEO tool(s). You can’t! It’s practically a rite of passage to engage in heated debates about which keyword research tool or process is the best.

For example, if hearing Rand Fishkin say, “Howdy Moz fans!” doesn’t send your little SEO heart afire, I will completely divest myself of our friendship.

But I digress.

If your search for the thought leaders and high-performing content in your clients’ spaces isn’t fruitful, you can always rely on SEO and content tools. Most of the SEO tools championed by content marketers far and wide have some solution for seeing what content you’re competing against.

content writer using SEO tool

Insert some of the target keywords your clients want to rank for into any of the following tools in my list below, and read (or follow) whichever articles, blogs, or guides that show up. This will flesh out your reading list and help you come up with riveting content ideas for your editorial calendar.

Here is my (non-exhaustive) list of solid SEO and content tools you can use to crack out captivating content:

  1. Moz’s Site Explorer
  2. SEMrush’s Keyword Gap Tool
  3. ahref’s Site Explorer
  4. Keyword.io
  5. Google Trends
  6. BuzzSumo
  7. Answer The Public
  8. Clearscope
  9. Kompyte Content Marketing Intelligence

6. Dedicate time every day to learning

I know it’s hard for anyone to carve out dedicated time for learning—especially when everything in a marketing department or agency already feels like it’s moving at lightspeed—but I swear it’s worth it.

I spend (at least) the first hour every morning clearing my inbox and reading whatever newsletters and blogs have materialized there.

During my first few weeks researching my clients, I curated reading lists by subscribing to relevant blogs in their respective industries.

I screened my sources by:

  • Reviewing each client’s competitors and following whichever blogs they linked to the most
  • Asking my clients which sources they (and their customers) turned to for information
  • Turning to my Twitter (and IRL) networks to see who they followed in each of my clients’ relevant industries

I don’t read every single blog or article I receive, of course (I’m efficient, but I’m no time wizard). I scroll through my various RSS feeds and Top 10 lists in my inbox and read whatever catches my eye. I also note why the titles and content catch and maintain my attention so I can replicate the strategy in my own work.

If you need help finding the right reading resources to follow, you should look into a tool like SparkToro. You can enter subjects or keywords that your audience talks about and get a list of relevant news sources, blogs, Youtube channels, and podcasts they likely follow.

6.1 Don’t forget to keep up with content marketing trends

I’m sure you’ve noticed digital and inbound marketing evolve quickly, so it’s essential to keep your fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in content marketing and SEO in general. I make sure to subscribe and read from the heavy hitters in our industry, and I highly recommend you do the same.

Useful marketing resources to subscribe to include:

  1. Hubspot’s blog
  2. Flawless Inbound’s blog (totally unbiased)
  3. The Moz Blog (I’m a sucker for a Whiteboard Friday)
  4. SEMrush’s blog
  5. Search Engine Land
  6. SE Round Table
  7. The Keyword

The best tools in your arsenal to evolve into a content expert are time and research

As I said before, my first few weeks in a new writing position with brand new clients were a little scary. Thankfully, I could lean on the expertise of my co-workers, content marketing pals, and clients to get me through the growing pains.

content writer research

Rest assured, the road to writing authoritatively on any subject is long since it’s paved by research, time, and patience. However, using the tactics outlined in this guide will make the journey a little more manageable.

Do you have any tips for writing about things you don’t know about? Share them with us!