< Our insights

Do you need a content writing service – or a storyteller?

Published Feb 27, 2024 – By Tim Turner


You might not think that a description of a conversation between two workmates was the most promising opening for a piece of professional content, but the LinkedIn blog post in question turned out to be one of the most effective articles I’ve ever written.

A few weeks after it was published, the client in whose name it was published reported that this blog content had produced two strong leads that he was confident of converting into to business worth “tens of millions of dollars”. What’s more, it had also stimulated another dozen or so promising conversations with potential clients.

There are several noteworthy things about this story, not least the fact that the blog that produced such positive results was written without the aid of keyword research, and with no particular regard for search engine optimisation (SEO). It’s a prime example of the power of storytelling as part of a content strategy.

The issue with SEO content

Before you get the wrong idea, I’m not knocking SEO content. The top of the Google rankings for your business’s key search term is your shopfront to the world, and just as all the top manufacturers want their products to be on show in the windows of Harrods and Selfridges, so as a core part of their digital marketing, companies will do whatever they can to make sure their name is one of the first their target audience see on the world’s leading search engine.

Here at Wardour, we’re as invested as anyone in SEO content writing. Since our rebrand last summer, alongside increasing our presence on social media, we’ve spent a lot of time optimising our website content and blog writing so as to propel our listing closer to the top of the search engine rankings for terms such as ‘content marketing agency London’, to make it easier for potential clients to find us.

The issue is that some writing services have prioritised SEO content above everything else, to the extent that they’ve forgotten to prioritise good writing. You've probably seen the results (though you probably won’t have read them in full); web content stuffed with jargonistic keywords that are repeated over and over in different combinations, saying very little at great length.

To return to the shopfront analogy, these web content writing services can be the equivalent of those stores whose windows are filled with big signs in fluorescent colours saying things like ‘OUR BIGGEST EVER SALE! 50% OFF EVERYTHING! ONE WEEK ONLY!’ It’s a crude tactic, and ultimately unproductive – it might grab your attention for a second, but there’s nothing to compel you to explore further.

Even the terminology associated with writing web content for SEO is off-putting. ‘Content writing service’ is a rather cold phrase that implies that you’re buying a commodity – something perfunctory and unrelatable.

The power of quality content

The antidote to this is simple: storytelling. And far from being the opposite of SEO content writing, storytelling is integral to it; although Google will never reveal exactly what drives its algorithms, it has let it be known for several years now that they favour high quality content that is narrative-driven.

There are many forms of storytelling, of course, and there isn’t space here to cover them all. But one of the fundamental techniques any content writer needs to master is the art of the hook.

Let’s go back to that blog post I mentioned at the beginning, and the seemingly banal line about meeting someone for coffee. The client I was writing the blog for had a new colleague who had recently joined from a major bank, and she told him she’d spotted a trend – a subtle but growing problem faced by banks that was costing them money. The client’s firm had developed a technology platform that was designed to help solve this problem (among many others).

When it comes down to it, we all like reading about people and their problems, especially if there’s a solution to provide a happy ending.

So was that how the client set it out in the half-hour Teams call I had in which to elicit the necessary information to write the blog? Not exactly. He knew he wanted to talk about the tech platform (that was the reason for writing the blog); he wanted to focus on one of its applications, and he’d alighted on how it could help with this particular issue that banks were facing. It was only when I questioned him that he remembered why that issue was at the front of his mind, and the story about the coffee-fuelled conversation came out.

And there was my hook. It’s that detail that makes the story relatable and real – that makes it a story, rather than simply a piece of content marketing. When it comes down to it, we all like reading about people and their problems, especially if there’s a solution to provide a happy ending.

Business writing with the human touch

The blog content played on this in other ways, too. For example, rather than focus on the financial implications of the issue in question for the banks, it talked about their individual customers and the behaviours (both innocent and calculated) that were causing this problem. Once again, this gave the reader something they could relate to. Maybe they’d had a similar issue as a customer, or they knew someone who had.

That’s important, because the target audience for the article consisted of the author’s current and potential clients. They’re people who work for companies that might have millions to spend on upgrading and improving their technology platform – but they are, first and foremost, people, and they want to read good content that relates to their personal life. It may be professional content, but they like making an emotional connection – and what is LinkedIn for if it’s not making connections?

Personal stories

I’ll give you an example from another blog writing project I worked on for a different client. This one was also about financial services, and specifically about the way in which banks and insurance companies could use the huge amounts of data they collect to provide a more intuitive service to their customers.

Rather than talk about this in the abstract, the blog content took an example from the client’s own life. She had recently got married, moved out of the city where she’d lived for a few years and bought a car. This was all information that her bank had on file – the change of name and address, the transaction with the car dealership. This combination of data points should have been a strong indication that she was looking to buy a house, triggering an email or text message to advertise the bank’s mortgage deals, and maybe even offer her a special rate as a valued customer. But that didn’t happen, and instead she shopped around and found a good deal with another mortgage provider. Her bank lost the business because it didn’t have the smart technology in place to join the data dots.

As soon as the client told me this story, I knew it would provide the heart of the blog – a real-life story that illustrated a key point better than any amount of description could.

Talk to experts

One final point about the benefit of using experienced content writers from a content marketing agency rather than an SEO content writing service; I wrote these blogs based on conversations with the people for whom I was ghostwriting them. Without that happening at the start of the content creation process, I wouldn’t have been able to locate the stories that would create the emotional connection I was looking for.

I’ve been a journalist for over 30 years, and the activity that lies at the heart of most good written content is talking to experts and using their knowledge, wisdom and experience to tell gripping stories. Will a content writing service take the time to carry out the necessary interviews? I suspect not.

As I said earlier, I’m not against using SEO tools to optimise content for Google (indeed, I’ve done so for the article you’re reading). I believe the ideal content strategy today involves combining the traditional skills of the storyteller and the intelligent technology that can help to shape it in such a way that the search engine will automatically promote it.

Now, does anyone fancy going for a coffee?

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