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Are you a Copywriter or a Content Strategist?
Written by Doc Sheldon
Tuesday, 03 May 2011 22:30

In a forum discussion the other day, I saw a comment from someone, saying that a content strategist is nothing more than a glorified copywriter. He went on to say that in many cases, a copywriter was little more than someone that fancied themselves a writer, and had tired of simply blogging.

There are days when I really wish I could reach through the monitor and yank somebody into MY world!

Is there really a difference?

Let’s take a look at what a copywriter is, first.


Briefly stated, a copywriter is someone that can write engaging, interesting copy, and get the message across clearly and succinctly. Wait! Don’t start throwing things yet! There’s a very good chance that none of you reading this even know any copywriters. They’re somewhat of a dying breed, as they typically are associated with print media.

However, there’s a good chance that several SEO copywriters are reading this. And the above definition doesn’t begin to describe what you do.

An SEO copywriter does the above, and a good deal more. 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 know how to smoothly insert the desired anchor text into their copy, without hurting its readability.

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.

They have to have a broad vocabulary, know their grammar and punctuation and hopefully, be able to spell competently. Spell-check will only get you just so far, after all.

There are many people that call themselves copywriters, and some of them are quite good at what they do. Others…. not so much.

Copywriters are usually told what the copy needs to say and accomplish, and the general atmosphere desired for the work. Friendly and casual, formal, instructional and informational… it varies with the target audience. They work their magic, submit it for approval, perhaps make a couple of adjustments… then they submit their invoice. Hopefully, the submitted copy accomplishes the purpose for which it was written.

However, there is so very much more that good copy can do, as most of us already realize. The difficulty often comes in the coordination of the various inputs into the process. As in any other complex function, much can be lost in translation. Too many cooks, and all that…

Now, let’s take a look at what a content strategist does.

Content Strategists

Enter the content strategist.

The content strategist is, of course, a copywriter, too. But he (or she, in many cases) brings a lot more to the table.

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. One step of translation removed.

He will usually have significant input into, if not control over, the overall content needs of the client. Two translation steps removed..

He will usually set the style guide for all editorial work on the project, in order to maintain continuity. Three translation steps up in smoke..

He will also often have approval over the developer’s work on layout and font, usability and accessibility, among other things. There’s a big translation step out of the picture - #4!

He, in effect, becomes the hub of the wheel, rather than just one of the spokes. And if he’s good at what he does, the results will bear it out.

Do all content strategists enjoy that much control over the projects they work on? In their dreams, perhaps. But in reality, such projects don’t land in their lap every day. If they work in-house, for an enlightened firm, it’s more likely. However, as independents, they may work for years before they ever get their first taste of that fruit.

This isn’t intended to be a definitive description of what a copywriter or a content strategist does. It’s just a thumbnail sketch. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that a copywriter and a content strategist are not the same critter. 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.

Doc Sheldon -

Doc Sheldon is a retired business management consultant, and a perpetual student of all things SEO. He’s also a copywriter, providing professional webcopy, articles and press releases. He’s been involved in SEO for a little over five years, and writing professionally for over thirty.

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