With the rise of content marketing and the freelance economy there are enough titles for writers to make your head spin. SEO Writer, Content Writer, Technical Writer and Copywriter are the most popular ways you’ll see writers marketing themselves.
But for the uninitiated, it’s hard to know who you’re hiring with all the overlapping terminology.
This post will outline the distinctions between the terms, and the overlap. That way, you’ll have a better idea of who you’re hiring.
We’ll start with copywriters because it’s become the vaguest name for a writer.
Before there was the internet, copywriters were responsible for all the words on billboards, magazine ads and other print advertisements. They also wrote scripts for TV and radio ads.
With so much advertising moving to the web, many copywriters adapted their style. So now, even writers whose work only appears on the internet may still call themselves ‘copywriters.’
A copywriter could write blogs, magazine ads, product labels, or scripts for television ads. Those are four distinct forms that require different skills. Sure, someone could possess all those skills.
But if you’re hiring, you want to find someone who has experience creating the form of content you’re looking for.
You wouldn’t hire a copywriter whose only experience is writing product label copy if you needed someone to maintain your blog. But someone with the skills to maintain a blog and a product label writer often go under the same name—“copywriter.”
You must dive below the title to find out what the writer does and what experience he or she has.
Even as a self-proclaimed content writer, I can’t argue that content writer is much less vague than ‘copywriter.’
But at least content writers work is restricted to the web.
You would never call someone who writes product labels or billboard copy a content writer. Content writers usually work on longer form writing such as blog posts, articles, eBooks and newsletters. But they also may create landing pages and other shorter-form content.
Some content writers will advertise their skills at the short form writing you’d usually associate with a traditional copywriter’s skillset.
This is where some dangerous overlap comes in. A content writer creates marketing collateral to nurture prospects and existing clients. Content intended to nurture is different from content that’s meant to convert prospects into leads.
But again, that’s not to say someone couldn’t be competent at both.
In sum, don’t assume a content writer has the expertise to write anything that appears on a screen.
I have a theory that the term ‘SEO Writer’ only exists because people searched for it.
And because internet marketers (including myself) are slaves to the keyword, we were happy to go along with it.
It may have also been because, in the early days of Google search, the system could be gamed. Meaning someone who knew what they were doing could use all sorts of tricks to get your business on the front page of Google.
Most of those tricks are gone. It’s still important for a writer to understand SEO strategy and on-page best practices, but beyond that it’s not a skill that can stand alone.
Rather, understanding SEO should be a prerequisite for a professional web writer. It’s a subset of a larger skill set.
For example, most research papers are written in MLA or APA style. If the writer’s only skill is to know all the formatting rules for MLA, then they’re not going to write a good paper.
“Low-quality writers latch on to prospects who have been sung the benefits of SEO.”
I’ll admit personal bias, but I’d recommend avoiding anyone calling themselves an SEO writer.
A lot of scammers and low-quality writers latch on to prospects who have been sung the benefits of SEO. It’s an important part of your content strategy of course, but it’s not the be all end all.
Technical writers create educational content. To steal the example from Wikipedia, a technical writer creates an owner’s manual for a car, while the copywriter creates content to sell the car.
A big technical writing category is for web developers. Sites like Code Academy, W3 Schools and more provide tutorials for programming languages.
And to explain everything clearly, they need technical writers. These writers have a background in programming and lend their expertise to the tutorials.
Established technical writers don’t necessarily need to be a subject matter expert.
After all, what are the chances the same guy who builds your car has the skills to write an owner’s manual? But if they aren’t subject matter experts, they should be expert researchers.
Technical writers don’t have to be confined to owner’s manuals, but the things they write are always educational. Google has a boatload of technical content to help webmasters. This is all written by technical writers.
Hopefully this post cleared up some confusion among these terms. Hiring someone to write content for your website can be a pain. If you found this post helpful, you may be interested in a similar post that provides an introduction to outsourcing content.
Tomato image By Softeis (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons