Are you a content strategist or an SEO copywriter?

There’s a hot discussion in the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group. No, it’s not about keyphrase density or the ramifications of Google’s +1…

…It’s all about the difference (assuming there is one) between being a content strategist and an SEO copywriter.

It all started with this article by Doc Sheldon. Briefly, the article outlines the differences as:

SEO copywriter: The person who writes the copy. According to the post:

“First of all, they write not only for the reader, but for the search engines, as well. They have to be conversant in things like keyword density and placement, and in some cases, even have to do their own keyword research….They have to be able to understand at least the basics of the conversion funnel, in most cases, in order to couch the client’s presentation in such a way as to instill confidence in the readers, and help herd them through that funnel to a successful conversion.”

Content strategist: The person who plans the overarching strategy and editorial calendar.  Sheldon explains how the content strategist is the “hub” of the content creation process.

“He will often be one of the key contacts with the client, in order to get a deep-set grasp of the various aspects of their business, such as goals, problems, competition, strengths, weaknesses, audience and much more…He will usually have significant input into, if not control over, the overall content needs of the client.”

The post ends with an intriguing line:

“Although, many of the self-proclaimed SEO copywriters I know are actually content strategists. Maybe they just haven’t thought of it that way yet.”

Sounds nice…but one top direct response copywriting expert disagrees

Enter Bob Bly, direct response copywriting guru. His opinion? “Everything you describe (as a content strategist) I do as a copywriter.” His belief (and I agree with him) is that a copywriter’s main job is to make their client’s money. It’s one thing to know how to write. It’s another to know how to write in a way that makes people take action (for more about the difference between social media writing and SEO copywriting, check out this post.)

He went on to say:

 

Interesting point.

Here’s what I think…

I can see all sides here.  If you’re working one-on-one with clients, you probably are dealing with “content strategy” issues – you just may not call yourself a “content strategist.” :)

At the same time, there are SEO copywriters who never deal with strategy. A more experienced copywriter (content strategist?) sets the strategy and chooses the keyphrases – and the copywriter does the writing. For instance, new SEO copywriters may not be ready to set strategy quite yet.

Additionally, a content strategist may be looking at more than just Web copy. For instance, she may provide Twitter or Facebook recommendations – but not necessarily be the person penning the tweets. She may set a blog’s editorial calendar – but not be the primary blogger. And she may have high-level SEO knowledge that a conventional SEO copywriter may not have.

What say you? Is there a difference between being a SEO copywriter and a content strategist? If so, what’s the difference? Experience levels? The type of work being done? Or something else?

And while you’re pondering,  I’ll leave you with some wise words from Bob Bly:

“Until you have written a sales letter that generates a greater response rate for selling a product than the current sales letter for that product, you can’t call yourself a competent copywriter.”

Truer words were never typed. :)

 

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14 replies
  1. Doc Sheldon
    Doc Sheldon says:

    Some great points, Heather! I really hadn’t anticipated as much debate as my article seems to have generated. The discussion on LinkedIn provided me with a great take-away, though:

    Whether we agree on where the line may exist between content strategist and copywriter (or if there even IS such a line), we all seem to agree that a professional [insert whichever term suits you] should be doing much more than simply putting words together. They need to be weaving together a strategy which in the end, results in conversions. If we aren’t accomplishing that, we’re doing our clients an injustice.

    Two final points I would mention…

    1. Bob is a perfect example of what I consider to be a content strategist. He may have been a “copywriter” many years ago, but he is much more today.

    2. Your repeated reference to content strategists as feminine is horribly, horribly biased! ;)

    Reply
  2. Heather
    Heather says:

    It was a great post – no surprise it started a debate. Can’t wait to read what others say!

    Regarding my horrible, horrible bias…I was merely trying to balance out how you referred to the content strategist as “he” in your article. Hehe…..:)

    Reply
  3. Eric Pratum
    Eric Pratum says:

    Just an opinion here of course, but I think of content strategists as being concerned with much more than copywriters. Now, that’s not to say that copywriters are not valuable and important, but content strategists should be able to plan for and work with content in multiple media (video, audio, blogs, powerpoints, etc). Copywriters can write for all of those, but a content strategist should be concerned with the presentation of the material, where it is housed, and a number of other factors, right?

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Hey, Eric-

      Thanks for your comment. What’s interesting is that “back in the day,” top-notch copywriters did *everything* around the content strategy – they just didn’t call themselves a “content strategist.” I’m curious if other “old school” copywriters agree with Bob Bly (there’s no such thing as a content strategist.) Or, if they would agree that content strategy is a different animal… :)

      Reply
  4. Art Remnet
    Art Remnet says:

    So it comes down to he said she said, huh?

    Regardless if he or she has the position, the key fact that a SEO Copywriter can “just” write the copy while a Copy Strategist does or interprets the research and sets the direction for the campaign, product/service, or client is the key distinction. One that Heather very clearly outlined.

    Thanks for the great conversation everyone.

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Hey Art – thanks so much for your post. What’s exciting is that SEO copywriters can decide how “deep” they want to get into SEO content marketing. If they choose to “just” write – they can do that. If they choose to delve deeper into SEO content strategy – they can do that, too. It’s nice to have options. :)

      Reply
  5. Gary
    Gary says:

    Great post, Heather! As the social web continues to push business owners, Public Relations pros, and marketing people (like myself) more and more towards (QUALITY) content, the debate between SEO copywriter and content strategist gets hotter and hotter.

    In my opinion, the difference between an SEO copywriter and a content strategist are in their roles. Sure, a full service content strategist may offer copywriting services, or a full service copywriter may offer strategy services, but strategy and execution are two separate things.

    In my experience, it’s taken a content strategist to really get to know the client’s business up-front, set multi-channel strategies that align with that business, and then manage writers, designers, developers, and coordinate with marketers to execute on that strategy.

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Thanks, Gary. One of Bob Bly’s point in the LinkedIn group is he’s always provided strategy as well as writing – but he still considers himself a “copywriter” rather than strategist. What’s interesting is how the online medium has changed the roles and job description…(or, to Bob’s point – nothing really changed, we just spin things differently now…) :)

      Reply
  6. Gary
    Gary says:

    Totally agree. I think social media has played a huge part in the way people consume and create content.

    It’s no longer as much about keyword density and anchor text, as it is about relevance and engagement

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      It’s about time! :) SEO copywriting was never about keyword density and anchor text – but that’s what was “sexy” and what people focused on. I’m so glad that people are thinking about engagement (again) in this post-Panda world. :)

      Reply
  7. Scott Mann
    Scott Mann says:

    We certainly agree with both parties on the subject. Most competent and talented copywriters are ALSO content strategists. So let’s start with the assumption they are one and the same.

    The big difference is when it comes to selling your copywriting service! What you’re selling dictates the level of sophistication of your service and what you can charge for it.

    To a client’s perception, one is a mechanic and the other an artist. Copywriting elicits a “Thanks, great job” while a Content Strategy elicits a “wow, how do you do that?” The only real differences are in how you sell yourself and your price ceiling.

    It may be a gross oversimplification, but think of it like this: charge twice as much and sell to half as many as an artist or charge half as much and sell to twice as many as a mechanic.

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Hi, Scott!

      I love your perspective – thanks so much! This is a great line: “the only real differences are in how you sell yourself and your price ceiling.”

      Thanks for commenting! :)

      Reply

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