Behind the scenes of what I did as a Content Strategist at Google

As a content strategist/UX writer at Google, my responsibilities were very much similar to a technical writer for a regulatory agency. The land of job titles is quite a tricky one in this field. The audiences, team members, content type, and products can be completely different, but I still go through a particular process for creating and publishing content.

meatgoogle2.jpg

Even though each day is different, I’ll walk you through what I typically do for an upcoming product launch. Keep in mind, I could be jumping in between each step because I own over a dozen product features for Google AdWords, and their launch timelines may overlap.

Learn about the product feature

I’m no expert in Google AdWords, and quite frankly, I don’t have to be, but I do need to know what I’m writing about and most importantly who I’m writing for.

To gain understanding, I schedule meetings with product managers and read their requirements documents to get all the juicy details. I’m also making note of any new content I need to create and existing content I need to update.

Collab with the UX Designer

Being able to see what this new product feature looks like help a lot when writing. The questions I ask during this process are typically what a user would ask as well. I get to collaborate with UX designers and review every single piece of text they’ve written (or not) on the screens. Not only am I learning about how this feature works, but I might be brainstorming the name of a tab or making a list of all the tooltips I need to create to help inform the user.

Brainstorm, draft, and edit

Most of my days are spent editing and writing help center articles, in-product messages, user-interface text, and sometimes marketing content. I find myself referencing style guidelines often and asking my peers a ton of questions so that I’m staying consistent with the voice and tone of the company.

5-star reviews anyone?

During this phase, I’m learning not to take things personally LOL. Red lines, comments, edits are rolling in from the stakeholders. I put on my shield, and this war I’m fighting is on behalf of the user. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but it’s true. Marketers might want me to highlight the bells and whistles, legal counsel might expect me to add some CYA legalese, and engineers might want me to mention backend features that explains how it all works. No matter what they all say, I have to ask myself, would it make sense to the user? Is it helpful to them? Do we need to say that? Do we have time for that? lol

meatgoogle1.jpg

Prep content for launch

Once I’ve made it through the review battlefield, it’s time to add the content to a content management system (CMS). A little bit of HTML and CSS knowledge is helpful, but often WYSIWYG works just fine. Again, I’m always referring to resources and my peers to make sure my content is coded up correctly.

Google is the only company I’ve worked for that requires my content to be translated into over 40 languages. This is the phase where I typically have to humble myself and remember that certain things just don’t translate. Keep it simple, sister.

3…2…1…Launch!

This is the most satisfying stage because I’m obsessed with crossing things off my to-do list, but it’s also the most uneventful. Once the content is out there in the world, not much else for me to do really. To be honest, I’m most likely knee-deep in another launch or 4 to take time to celebrate.  When you have roughly a dozen babies (product features), you realize they all can’t be superstars at the same time no matter what their parents (product managers)say.

It's all about the user

Whether my title is Content strategist, UX writer, technical writer, tech writer, I know that my work plays a critical role in how a product is understood and used. Confused users don’t stick around, and when users don’t stick around, you lose market share and significant dollars.

I’ve pinched myself several times because to me; this is pretty fun and exciting work: 

  • How cool is it to brainstorm the name of a button or tab that millions of people are going to use every day?
  • How cool is it that when someone sees my article, they can follow the exact steps I wrote and get the job done?
  • How badass is it to tell a product manager “Nah bruh, that doesn’t make sense” LOL


In this field, you get to collaborate with engineers, designers, marketers, researchers, and product managers to help users. If you’re interested in getting your feet wet in this field, I invite you to explore my other blog posts and sign up for my free e-course for tips on how to get a tech writing job.

Fun exercise! How would you warn your customer about a $50 late fee for an $8 purchase?

Not too long ago, I was slapped on the wrist with a $50 fee for returning my first Zipcar late. To rent the car for an hour was only around $8, so as you can imagine, I was shocked when I saw my final bill. Of course, I called and the customer service rep was kind and generous enough to reimburse me. He also encouraged me to sign up for alerts so that I can get a heads up about when my reservation was expiring. Like an obedient kid, I listened and signed up.

Disclaimer: This is not meant to bash or support Zipcar in any way. It's just a real-world example of how we can use content strategy and tech writing skills to solve a problem.

Now that I've learned my lesson the hard way, did you think the late fee would be equivalent to booking another hour or was $50 a surprise to you too? Who knows, maybe this is a profitable avenue for Zipcar, but let's pretend that they have an objective to prevent customers from calling about late fees.

Oh! Let's not forget about the customer who may have made a reservation after I did. They would have gotten their car late which makes for bad customer experiences all around. So, our objective here is to reduce the number of complaints about late fees and late cars.

Watch this short video below, put on your tech writing hat, and answer the questions below:

  • Where on the website would you warn customers like me about a late fee?
  • Would you tell me after I've made my reservation or before?
  • Would it be a pop-up alert or some type of warning message in my confirmation email?
  • What type of help article would you write to help customers avoid late fees?
  • Would your tone be positive or negative? See the "Return on time" article in the video.
  • Would you try to disguise the fee amount or make it more transparent?

Tech Writer exercise: write for Android Pay & Apple Pay

Up for a fun exercise? Apple Pay and Android Pay are 2 similar products, but these 2 major brands use completely different approaches when it comes to the words they use about their products.

In this video, I walk through some concepts YOU as a tech writer would get to work on:
- voice
- tone
- clarity
-call-to-action
- user/audience
- visual elements to support the text
- etc.

*change the settings to watch in HD for better visual quality

When you compare Apple Pay to Android Pay, what differences do you see? 

If you like this training, then I encourage you to explore a career in tech writing with me.

5 easy steps you can take to explore a career in tech writing

#1 research existing jobs

As you may already know, many writers call themselves “copywriters, web content writers, content writers, freelance writers,” etc. Tech writers also have many job titles in today’s market.

I’ve listed the hottest roles that are rapidly growing to give you a head start on your research below.

  • Use this worksheet to identify what type of work tech writers do. Don’t be alarmed if you see overlap in responsibilities, it’s just the nature of this career.

  • Which job title best fits you?

    • Technical Writer
    • UX/UI Writer
    • Content Strategist

  

#2 Identify what skills you need

This goes without saying, but you definitely need to learn how to write technical content. Your job is to break down complex subjects so that they are easy to understand. The product or audience you write for may vary. For example, you could be writing instructions for developers or you could be creating tutorials for finance professionals.


 

Shameless plug: I share my 5-step process to creating technical content in module 1 of Get Paid to Write in Tech.


#3 Remember your existing skills and resources

  • Collect what you’ve written. Have you written instructional content before? Maybe at your job you wrote a user manual or a tutorial for a friend who’s not so tech-savvy, maybe you’ve written course content or how-to articles for your blog, etc. Use this worksheet to help you figure out if you already have the elements of a portfolio.

  • Review job requirements. How many of the job requirements do you already meet? After you’ve filled out the worksheet from step #1, take a look at the skills you already have and software you’re already familiar with.

#4 Create a tech portfolio

  • Include existing content from #3 in your portfolio (if applicable)

  • Write instructional content for your favorite website or app. Here are some examples to get your creative juices flowing.
    • Freshbooks
    • JetBlue
    • Evernote
    • Uber/Lyft
    • Google maps
    • WhatsApp
  • Watch this short video I created just for you -  Power of the P...as in PORTFOLIO

#5  LEARN WHAT TECH WRITERS DO!

 


 

I share more insider tips and training like how to work with recruiters and update your online profiles to increase your chances of getting job offers in my course.

Ready to invest in your skills and have an experienced tech writer (ahem - yours truly)  mentor and walk you through the process? Registration for my course is open! Sign up ASAP to take advantage of the beta pricing.

Wanna meet a Tech Writer?

In a travel group on Facebook, someone asked for all of the digital nomads and remote workers to step out and share what type of work they do and detail whether they are working for themselves as a freelancer or for a company. 

To my surprise, the post was not laced with MLM or network marketing jobs! These fellow travel enthusiasts have strong careers that they get to enjoy from anywhere as long as they have access to quality internet. When I saw another technical writer raised her Facebook hand up, I had to reach out to her. We're kind of rare out here, which is the reason for my site - I want to see more of us in this field! Anywho, I asked Jaide Nicole a few questions about her career as a tech writer, so here are her candid responses:

 

Technical writing doesn't seem like a well-known field, how did you find out about it? 

I found out kind of by accident. I was working as an traveling Underwriter for a major US bank during the mortgage crisis and my business area did not have documented step by step procedures. I created a few procedures for the team and was promoted a few months later to a Process development Lead, which included technical writing and corporate training. It's the only work I've done ever since.

Is "Technical writer" your actual job title? 

Yes, for the first time. I have had other titles, such as Process Design Consultant and the one mentioned above.

What did you study in school? 

English. I was able to get into the industry without a degree, but I went back to college in 2013 and will finish my bachelor's in English and Philosophy next year.

Are you certified in technical writing? 

No, and luckily I haven't been asked to become certified (yet!)

What do you like about your work? 

Technical writing has really kept me on my toes. I enjoy it because it is not mindless work and keeps me mentally sharp. Plus, I'm always learning new systems and enhancements because I have to understand a process in order to properly communicate it to a wider audience.

Also, I love being able to work remotely and independently. Although I have to work with one or more subject matter experts (SMEs) to complete a project, the writing part is solely up to me. I can get in my zone and do some of my best work without interruption.

What gets on your nerve about the type of work you do? 

First, no one knows who or what a Technical Writer is until they need a Technical Writer. Once they see my work, they're like "Whoa, I had no idea how important this is!" It can be annoying but I have to keep in mind that this is not a popular industry.

Also, there are an astounding number of people who do not understand the basics of Microsoft Word - it drives me crazy! Often, their formatting is a mess! Usually, if I have the time, I will walk them through the steps for adding comments and using Track Changes to make my job easier.

Have you tried freelance writing? If so, how did that work out for you? 

Yes, I've tried freelancing but I like paid vacation and 401K matches lol. I did freelance work on fiverr.com where I was able to make some money, but not enough. People don't really understand the work that goes into writing and editing and they would request a lot of work for as little money as possible.

Also, working from home full-time for a corporation has (ironically) given me more freedom than I had as a freelancer.

Do you work on a contract or as an employee? 

Full-Time Employee with Benefits

Do you work remotely? 

100% remote since 2012 and wouldn't change a thing!

The average salary for tech writers is roughly $70,000. Do you make more or less than that?

About 15% more.

Do you tend to work alone or is a lot of collaboration involved in your work? 

I write alone, but there is always collaboration from start to finish. My work always starts with a project team so I meet people from all over the company at all levels and work with them to ensure that I am documenting their process accurately. 

What do you think is the most important factor that helped you to get your current job? 

I am very confident in my skill as a writer and my experience in training always helps. Plus, I am pretty well-versed in most Microsoft Office software, so that is always a bonus.

How do you fit in travel with your current work? 

I travel as much as possible and use up every last PTO day for vacations. We are given 27 days per year, so I integrate my trips with paid holidays to stretch them out further. If I am traveling within an hour or two of my current time zone (EST), I will usually not use my vacation days and just bring along my laptop. I recently worked a few days in Antigua this year. But when I travel abroad, I just take the time off and completely disconnect from work.

When you do such a technical job all day, how do you balance your brain cells out?

I run an online shop for handmade journals, bath & body gifts, etc. artsistudios.com is my side hustle, which keeps me creative.  

Who are the types of people that should definitely consider becoming a technical writer? 

I definitely feel like this is the type of career for introverts or people who don't require a lot of oversight and social interaction to do well at their jobs.

The people I've seen do well are typically people who understand the value of CLEAR written communication and pay close attention to details. Obviously, having writing and editing skills is necessary as well, but you have to be interested in writing on a highly advanced and super technical level which is not as sexy as more creative forms of writing.

Additionally, anyone who is interested in training and teaching should look into technical writing; teachers understand the importance of research, clarity, and effective communication which are key to being a good technical writer.

Interested in learning more about how to become a tech writer? Sign up for my free course How to break into tech writing in 5 days.

Sooo....what exactly is tech writing? here are 3 real-world examples

It never fails, every single time I tell someone what I do, it's followed by “What does that mean?”

Tech writers convey technical information to a specific audience in an easy-to-understand manner for a specific task. The most common type of content tech writers create are online help articles, manuals, product specifications, procedures, training documentations, etc. 

 

Based on my experiences, tech writing is all about creating content that helps people understand and use a product or service. It could be the next high-tech refrigerator, project management software, or food delivery app.

So, to keep it simple - I write instructions.

The instructions I write typically vary in four ways:

  • Audience

  • Product (online application, mobile app, or physical product)

  • How people consume the instructions (instructional manual, help center articles, videos, etc.)

  • What they are expected to do with the instructions aka “call-to-action

Let’s dive into a couple of real-world examples:

Example 1: Writing for online advertisers

At Google, I write instructions for online advertisers who want to launch and improve their Google advertising campaign. The product they use to do so is Google AdWords. How they consume the content is via online help center articles.

 

 

I expect my advertisers to implement specific product features that I am responsible for such as create a text ad or add tracking to their website pages. I also write content within Google AdWords itself such as the pop-up alerts that let them know there’s a new product feature for them to try out. I most likely wrote the text they see on buttons, tabs, fields, or other texts to help advertisers navigate their way around Google AdWords.

UItext.png

 

Example 2: Writing for financial professionals

At my previous role with MSRB - a financial regulatory agency, I had several audiences, but I’ll touch on one specifically - dealers who need to disclose financial information about their dealings. I’m talking about municipal bond type deals, not drug deals LOL.

The municipal securities dealers need instructions on how to submit their data so that they are compliant with the rules set by MSRB. The software product to make those data submissions is called EMMA.

 

 

I created a series of instructions in video form because the manuals were quite long and cumbersome. The goal was to help them through the process so that they can continue issuing deals according to the regulations. If that was a bit over your head, maybe this will help.

Example 3: Writing for mobile app developers

If you have the Google maps app on your phone, chances are you've seen a Lyft or Uber icon within the app.

Well, in order for that to happen, developers had to figure out how to integrate their codes so that people can call a Lyft or Uber with just a tap when they search for a destination in the Google maps app.

 

So, to learn how to integrate their codes, developers need instructions on how to do so. They won't typically find it in a help center article, but they're usually housed in their APIs (application program interface).

As a technical writer, you help write those instructions. You help developers figure out what they need to make their apps integrate and work. Make sense?

 

Do you have to be an expert in the product?

As you can see, these examples span across very different products and industries. I don’t have a background in online advertising, financial services, or mobile app development, but I am able to learn and apply core technical writing skills to create the right type of content for my audience.

No matter what product you’re writing about, your focus is on who your audience is and how you can help them achieve a specific goal. Don’t fret, 9 times out of 10, you’re not creating content out of thin air. You get to collaborate with developers, product managers, designers, and other experts who can help you create the best content possible for your audience.

Job titles may vary

At the time of writing this, I’m on a contract with Google as a Content Strategist.

Read more about what a typical day looks like for me here.

Prior to this role, my job title was "Technical Writer."

These are just samplings of what you can do as a tech writer.

Your goal as a technical writer, content strategist, website copywriter, UX/UI writer,  whatever your title may be, is to make that user experience as easy and seamless as possible with the power of words.

Still have questions about what tech writing is all about? Sign up for my free e-course where I dish about what these type of roles are like, how much they earn, and more.

i left argentina for a writing job with google in california

The short version of this story is, I thought it was pretty cool to land a writing job with Google, who would turn down such an amazing opportunity?! Read on for more details.

I was in Argentina

What was I doing in Argentina you ask? Well, I was one of those people who quit their job and decided to travel around the world with other adventurous professionals. After 8 months of visiting about a dozen countries in Europe and Asia, I started my South America journey in Argentina. The country had me at hello and I didn’t want to leave. However, money was running low.

Ran out of money

I know digital nomadness is simultaneously catapulting and crushing wanderlust dreamers everywhere. It works out for some and those are the stories we salivate over all the time. For the rest of us, especially those of us who like to make good money, freelancing doesn’t always cut it. So I needed to do something. I was ready to return back to the US, but figured I should try living in California instead of going back to DC where I resided for 10 years. 

Executed my tried-and-true job search strategy

I worked magic on my resume, professional profiles, and portfolio. In record time, recruiters were emailing me and calling my Skype phone number on a daily basis with a ton of cool opportunities to consider. When a recruiter told me she had 2 opportunities available at Google, I was excited! I took the test and was invited for a Google Hangout interview. I took the subway and made my way to the Urban Metro Microcentro coworking space in my favorite top and did my best to impress the managers I would be working with. About 2 weeks later, I got the contract!

Booked a flight, an Airbnb, and got to work

With only my suitcase in tow and my emotions balled up on my tummy, I arrived at the airport not wanting to get on the plane. Argentina did cry for me and I for it. It was really hard to leave; Even though I was only there for 2 months, it felt like home. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I was happy. Way too many hours later, I finally arrived in Silicon Valley on April 2nd to my overpriced Airbnb that Visa paid for.  I showed up for work on April 4th. 

Want to learn more about becoming a writer in Tech? Sign up for my FREE 5-Day course where I share tips and strategies to break into this awesome industry.