No, I’m not a Web Editor

Rachel Lovinger   July 12, 2010

Web Editors & Content Strategists driving towards same destination on different roads. (image via geoftheref)

The Breakdown: Is ‘content strategist’ really just a new name for ‘web editor’? This tired question needs to be put to rest.

While it’s exciting to see interest in content strategy grow by leaps and bounds, the rapid addition of new people taking part in the conversation means that many well-hashed out questions are getting asked again. And again. And again. Sometimes we Content Strategists smile and answer patiently, but sometimes the gloves have to come off.

The one that never ceases to make me shudder is “Isn’t this just a new name for ‘web editor’?” This is kind of like asking “What’s the difference between a car maker and a race car driver?” The car maker has to understand mechanics, physics, and aerodynamics in order to design a vehicle for speed and efficiency. The driver puts the car on the track and makes it perform. They each have their own set of skills, knowledge, focus, goals, and problems to solve, even though they both play with the same machines.

It’s not an exact analogy. A content strategist may perform some tasks normally completed by a web editor, or, conversely, some CS work may fall in the web editor’s lap in absence of having someone officially in a CS role. This is natural because both roles are heavily invested in the creation of content, and in web development many people find themselves wearing multiple hats.

But Content Strategy is, at its core, a discipline that sits at the intersection of Editorial, Business, UX, Design, and Technology.  There tends to be a lot of emphasis on the editorial segment because – believe it or not – content has long been a neglected aspect of web design. But the real goal of the content strategist is not just to write good content. It’s to make sure that the content:

  • Is aligned with the brand and business objectives
  • Meets the user’s information and experience needs
  • Supports designs that in turn present the content in optimal ways
  • Can be implemented and managed using technology that enables a sustainable workflow

Do web editors generally do stakeholder interviews & user testing? Annotate wireframes with content specifications? Create content models, DCTs and workflows? Design metadata schemas and build taxonomies? Probably not, because they’re busy planning, assigning, researching, creating, editing and/or producing the actual content of the site.

Now, if anyone else challenges you on this point, just direct them to this post.

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8 Responses

  1. Ian Waugh says:

    I’m a Web Editor and I do ensure content is aligned with objectives, I do make sure it creates a compelling experience and I do use workflow technology to help others to contribute to the site.

    I understand the need for content strategists to define their role… but surely the truth is that, just like Web Editor, it’s just a job title.

    We all know that all of these emerging web jobs can be called almost anything… and nobody’s job description is anything like anyone else’s.

    In my experience it’s a massive leap for most organisations to have anyone at all who is responsible for web content. I think we need to face up to the fact that there will be a huge crossover between web editor and content strategists.

    The attempt to ring fence content strategy like this is just as futile trying to ring fence what web editors themselves are responsible for.

    Can’t we all just get along?

  2. Shelly Bowen says:

    I second that. I know a couple Web editors who are rapidly and enthusiastically becoming content strategists, but the function and purpose of the role is different, and someone will eventually have to step into their Web editor shoes.

    Thanks for publishing this clarification!

  3. Great post and discussion!

    I think clarifying between content strategist and web editor is helpful. That doesn’t necessarily mean web editors don’t do any content strategy or vice versa. But, I see how the mindset for these roles differs.

    Project scale is a factor in how much these roles overlap, too. For bigger projects, I think it would be nearly impossible for someone to fill both roles.

  4. @Ian First, to be clear, I have nothing against Web Editors! That being said, it sounds like your job has evolved. Yes, it’s just a job title, and many of us have daily responsibilities that fall outside anything that could be predicted in a job description, but at some point you have to step back and notice that your responsibilities are so far outside an old definition that, perhaps, it’s actually become something else.

    In my case, I have never been a web editor, and I rarely ever do “traditional” editing tasks, so it doesn’t really make any sense to have my job conflated with “web editor” just because some web editors do some of the same things I do.

  5. I’ve been calling myself a Content Developer for years. Never really heard the term Content Strategist but it doesn’t really matter.

    I like what I do. I especially focus on working with people who have blogs. I work with my clients to asses what their goals are, why they want to have a blog and then we work together to figure out what their message should be.

    I don’t fix grammar, punctuation etc but I do think about what they write, offer constructive criticism and more.

    Often clients contact me because they want to make more money. So we dive into their business plans, operations etc so that I can understand who they are, what they do and develop strategies to deliver effective content.

    I work with small businesses and so the compensation for me isn’t huge but I get to work with people who want and need the help. The results come in quickly and it feels great to know that my strategies work.

    This is a long over due post. I’m so glad that you wrote it. Thanks Again!

  6. Lise Janody says:

    Agreed: content strategy and web editing are not the same thing. The confusion arises because there are a lot of web editors out there who do perform a lot of the tasks now associated with content strategy. Their jobs have indeed become something else. In fact, I think it’s one reason so many people are excited about the subject: at last, there’s a full-blown practice that defines many of the tasks that have gone unnoticed and unrecognized by so many for so long.

    My guess is that you’ll see some web editors either change their job titles or at the very least, include content strategy in their job functions. (I’m specifically referring to web editors in enterprises, not in agencies.)

    There will be companies where the sheer volume of content will (or should) require that there be both a content strategist and a web editor. In many other cases, however, the functions will continue to be carried out by a single person, most likely the web editor. The good news is that thanks to an increasingly large and publicly available toolset, this one person is now much better armed to take on content strategy responsibilities and/or hire agencies with content strategists on board.

    A final note: though you may be sick to death of the subject, I think you’ll need a bit more patience, because the question is not likely to go away any time soon – especially in Europe, where content strategy is just getting off the ground. Consider it one of the negative consequences of being a precursor in the field ☺

  7. […] No, I’m not a Web editor – content strategists stake their claim… […]

  8. Barbara says:

    Years ago, a newspaper columnist (whose name I forget unfortunately) wrote, “Content creator is to writer what waiter is to farmer.” Steve O’Bryan, helping writers is a big part of what editors do. I don’t hear so much from content strategists about supporting writers to write.

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