Content Strategist vs. Writer: What’s the Difference?

Sara Zailskas, a content strategist for Realtor.org, the website for the National Association of Realtors, explains why organizations need someone to keep an eye on the big picture in addition to superior content producers who focus on the details.

A friend and colleague who’s lucky enough to be setting up a content position for her website asked me to define the difference between a content strategist and a writer. My answer was that all web writers should be content strategists too; if you’re writing copy for the web, shouldn’t you be contemplating the different ways – the best ways– that copy could appear?

But that wasn’t her question. Here’s what I said:

A traditional web writer accepts an assignment to write about X and receives direction about how to execute that content or is at least familiar enough to follow a format. The writer is educated in nuances such as sentence length and SEO within the content and has a good understanding of how users react to web presentations of copy versus print. That person’s main job is to write and ask key questions about audience needs and the goals of posting the copy.

A content strategist’s role is more consulting than writing, although writing –especially wordsmithing– is involved to some degree. A content strategist would work with the writer or assigning department to define the goals and needs and strategize how that copy will appear across all platforms. We’ll help shape its presentation, considering the type of content, the audiences, metrics of past performance, length of time spent with the content, and more. Someone else does the bulk of producing the content.

You might be thinking that good web writers should already be asking all those questions, and I would heartily say yes. But the truth is, when your main goal is to write and really shape the voice, nitpick the words, and hone each piece of content in an assignment for placement, you most likely don’t want to dive into great detail about analytics or debate the many ways the content can be purposed. And because of that attention to detail, web writer’s copy should be far and above anyone else’s, and it does the job it should.

I feel similarly as a content strategist. I get all giddy inside thinking about where people will find the information and how it’s going to look. I want to know what’s worked well in the past and what hasn’t and what people are responding to. I want to investigate it, and I ask a ton of questions that raise other questions. We  propose how the copy should play out and make sure the person doing the writing gets why we’re assigning it the way we are.

And while I know that I produce great copy, I’m envious of the folks who get to hone in on the details and wear the “writer hat” because, in the traditional role, that is their main focus. Conversely, they’re probably glad they didn’t have to take part in all the debate and review!

If your organization is lucky enough to be able to separate the positions, good on ya’! And for those who must make the most with one solitary content figure, be wise and go with someone who is thinking of it all.

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One thought on “Content Strategist vs. Writer: What’s the Difference?

  1. You are describing an editor in chief when you write: “I feel similarly as a content strategist. I get all giddy inside thinking about where people will find the information and how it’s going to look. I want to know what’s worked well in the past and what hasn’t and what people are responding to. I want to investigate it, and I ask a ton of questions that raise other questions. We propose how the copy should play out and make sure the person doing the writing gets why we’re assigning it the way we are.”

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