Are You a Content Strategist or an SEO Copywriter?
Are you undervaluing your work — and selling yourself short?
I’ve talked to many freelance and in-house copywriters who claim that they’re “just” a writer. Sure, most of their time is spent writing copy. But they’re also setting the editorial calendar, using tools like BuzzSumo to find new topic ideas and even explaining Google’s latest updates to their clients or team members.
To me, it sounds like these writers made the leap from “writer” to “SEO content consultant.” They just may not know it yet.
I mention this for a few reasons:
- If you’re helping clients with strategy and you’re not being paid for it, it’s time to change your process and raise your prices.
- If you’re providing SEO help to your department — even if you’re technically “just’ the writer — start documenting your advice and tracking your successes. It may be time for a raise.
- If you have a strong handle on SEO content strategy, you may want to consider adding, “SEO content strategist” to your LinkedIn profile. Chances are, you’ll attract a different type of client.
Below is a post that I originally wrote in 2011 that I think is even more relevant today. I’d love to know your thoughts — please leave your comment below. Thanks!
There’s a hot discussion in the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group. No, it’s not about keyphrase density or the ramifications of Google’s latest update.
It’s all about the difference (assuming there is one) between being a content strategist and an SEO copywriter.
It all started with an 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.)
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, Instagram 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.
As another perspective, here’s a great post about how content strategists are not copywriters (but sometimes they have to be.)
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. 👍
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! ;)
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…..:)
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?
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… :)
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.
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. :)
Touché. I was simply deferring to my AP Stylebook 1953 Edition ;p
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.
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…) :)
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
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. :)
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.
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! :)
Hey Heather great post by the way . Copywriter can also be great strategist . Its all about the capacity and ability everything can be done !
Okay: I write content, web copy, and sometimes, even newsletters and email marketing templates. On top of that, I am in-charge for developing strategies for our content marketing department. I analyze Google Analytics, make monthly reports, and coordinate with our social media manager about what gets shared online. What am I? Haha! To be honest, I’m not really into labels. I love what I do…But then there are times where people ask me what my profession is, and I end up being confused myself. -_-
By the way, great post!
@Anna, have you ever considered the title “SEO content goddess?” Considering everything that you do, I think it would be appropriate! :)
I do all of them, but I am just an employer. no more than that. :(
I would say I am definitely a content strategist. Awesome post and insight on the difference between the the two. More copywriters should make that move to content strategist and come out their shell.
I love the debate here. Great article and I love it when people take a stance. I would say that I am a content strategist. I believe that to be a real master of SEO you have to know how to do it all and once you get a grasp of it then you can specialize but I agree that so many seo’s especially ones that sya they are just copywriters really know a lot and are selling themselves short.
Although I’m not answering the question directly, I can’t resist but make a few comments about SEO & copywriting.
Those of us in the industry know the difference between just SEO, SEO copywriter, content strategist etc. But I find that a lot of people, do not. And I find that on occasion, business owners believe that the SEO copywriter is actually responsible for their entire rankings in Google. I started off in SEO and am now venturing into SEO copywriting because I HAD to learn it. I mean, what good is traffic if you can’t convert it? But now that I’m in it and networking with people, I’m baffled when people say that merely making changes on a website can significantly impact Google rankings in a medium to high difficulty niche. I mean, there is so much more to it than that!
Yes, the words on a website are important to convert the traffic, to make your viewers relate to you and stay engaged. And I have since increased my rates because if you have someone who is able to bring traffic to your AND convert that traffic… well, what else could you ask for?
Thank you so much for the information, after reading this I do consider my self a content strategist. Websites like this can help the SEO community a lot.
I like citation:”If you’re helping clients with strategy and you’re not being paid for it, it’s time to change your process and raise your prices.”
Thank you for the info you have shared, after reading this article I consider myself a content strategist. Websites like this can help the SEO community a lot.
Thanks for this article! I was just moved from a digital content writing role to what was explained to me as being an SEO strategist role at work, however my official title is Digital Content Strategist. I honestly didn’t even know the title existed until I received it, and I was initially confused, thinking there had been a miscommunication. I have been doing most of the Content Strategist tasks described in this post, as well as managing backlinking. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for reaching out, Brady — and congratulations on the new role! :)
Pretty late for the discussion, but here is my take.
Content and digital managers exist because they can pinpoint how a company should market themselves. They conduct various research and suggest/implement strategies. They then pass these tactics to the right people, which hopefully will do what they were asked.
The problem today is clients think that copywriters are all-around workers. In reality, a solid marketing plan like knowing your audience and competitors removes the need to ask a copywriter to do other tasks aside from writing.
Copywriters turn a Digital Manager’s findings into words.
“Copywriters turn a Digital Manager’s findings into words.”
I. Love. This. Thanks, Hannah!