Anyone can create content. In fact, these days it seems like everyone you meet is a content creator of some sort. And it makes sense — in a world where traditional advertising often just doesn’t cut it, every brand worth its salt is turning to content in order to capture their audience’s attention. Consumers want to know why they should pick your brand over anyone else’s, and content is the key to telling them the relatable, honest, human stories that will win them over.

That’s all well and good, but as brands and companies race to secure the most blog clicks and video views, the content competition has become cutthroat. Six years ago, say, it was novel and exciting enough just to do content marketing, but now, audiences hardly pay attention to more than 5 percent of all content. Only the cream of the crop makes it to the top of the massive content sludge pile and actually has an impact.

So how do you rise above the fray? How do you create meaningful content that stands out and serves your brand’s bigger mission? The first step is to get specific.

Embrace your niche

Are you a master of social copy? A wizard of whitepaper? A long-form genius? Sure, plenty of content writers embrace a jack-of-all-trades approach, and that can work for the freelancer whose goal is to get as many assignments as possible without deepening their expertise. But if you really want your content to stand out, becoming a go-to creator in your field is an excellent way to get noticed. Getting really well-versed in a specific topic or two also builds valuable niche credibility. Do you know all there is to know about healthcare? AI? SEO best practices? Make sure your audience knows this and knows what the stand to learn from your brand’s content. Show up to your writing equipped with insights into your field that you don’t see anyone else giving, or have new, information about. It’s amazing how far clear, insightful knowledge in your field will propel you and your brand.

Master the key skills

If you’re a freelancer creating content for brands, congratulations! You’ve unintentionally cut out the hardest part of your job. Once you’re writing for one or a handful of brands consistently, you may not ever have to pitch your work again. If you’re managing a content program, congratulations are in order as well; you’re facilitating both a haven for writers burned by media careers and have tapped into the best way to engage with your audience and keep customers loyal. The next step is making sure your content skills are up to snuff.

  • Strategy: All content creators, whether they market themselves as content strategists or not, should have some level of strategy knowledge going in. Start by understanding your audience and how they’re likely to interact with your work. Do they need a strong introductory anecdote or are they ready to dive right into the meat of your content? Find out, and then gather information to make sure you consistently deliver relevant content. Data is your friend.
  • Research: Great content is backed by plenty of stats and meaty info. The content that stands out is going to be the blog post that teaches readers something new about their industry, not the blurb that’s recycling something they’ve heard ten times already. Know what your audience knows and what they want to know, and be prepared to go digging for those answers.
  • Writing and editing: This may seem obvious, but the thing that makes great content stand out is its quality. As John Fox of athenahealth told Contently, “Hire for storytelling chops, train for marketing savvy.” You can teach strategy, research, and the other ins-and-outs of content marketing much more easily than you can teach a veteran marketer to be a good writer.

Avoid common content faux pas

Content marketing is inherently really, really good storytelling. And in order for stories to work, they have to be honest. If you’re stuck coming up with your brand’s voice or just the hook you want to give your next blog post, don’t underestimate the impact of a true story. Did you get your grandma to talk with a chatbot for the first time because the company you’re promoting has the most user-friendly bot tech in the industry? That’s amazing! Write about it. Don’t think that just because your content is serving a professional purpose, it has to be boring or devoid of human emotion. Your audience is far more likely to remember that story than stats about the technology’s usability alone.

Remember to pay attention to SEO with things like backlinks, keywords, the right word count, and carefully crafted headlines. It’s no longer enough just to push good content into the ether and hope people see it. Without proper SEO practices, there’s a good chance they won’t. Running a content audit every so often is also a great way to clear out your non-performing content dust make sure your pieces are getting seen where they should be.

The good news is that by creating well-written, well-researched work, your content will already be a step above most of the rushed, poorly edited pieces that get published every day. Sure, the competition for content attention is fierce, but think of that as a good thing — as only the best content is recognized, the standard of what’s considered “good enough” only gets higher. There’s never been a more exciting time to be a content creator and see great work make an impact.