What kind of content writer do you need for your next project? Hal Werner explains the different types of writers and what to expect from each.
You need content. That means you need a writer. So, what are you waiting for? Shouldn’t you just find a writer and go?
Not so fast.
What type of writer do you need? It’s important to get a writer who’s a good fit for your project. Not all are created equal — and I don’t just mean how skilled they are. Different types of writers have different specialties. It’s not unlike how it is with basketball players.
To the untrained eye, players all appear to do roughly the same thing — dribble, pass, shoot. But in reality, each player has a position and a particular role. Some help set up plays by passing. Some help clear out space for others to take shots. Some shoot from the paint and some shoot from downtown. Even within the same position, some players are more adept at certain skills. Some block, some steal, some assist, some rebound and some are pros at the fast break.
Writers have different specialties, too. This post will help you better understand each type of writer, what they excel at and the kinds of projects they’re best suited for. That way you can make sure your project is as successful as can be.
Can some writers have more than one specialty? Sure. It’s not unusual for there to be overlap. The key to finding the right writer is understanding your needs and choosing the right type of writer for the job. Let’s get started.
Don’t know what type of writer you need?
1. Brand journalist
Journalistic-style writers are skilled at longer-form pieces. Think about articles you’d see in a magazine or newspaper. This type of writer is great at finding the story and constructing narratives (that fit your brand’s vision and mission). They explore a subject from different angles until they find the human interest in it.
Brand journalists are often masters at writing headlines, since online journalism often lives and dies by click-thrus based on those headlines. Brand journalists can be a solid match for content marketing pieces because they’re naturally geared more for storytelling than for hard sells and product details. They can also be good for the kinds of stories you might pitch for third-party placement, content highlighting your company’s history or reason for being, newsletters, community involvement stories — even blog posts that take on a more narrative or investigative angle.
And brand journalists take the journalistic skillet a step further by knowing how to adapt stories to your brand personality and messages.
2. SEO copywriter/generalist
Generalist copywriters are jacks-of-all trades. They can be great choices for high-volume, short, awareness-level content that doesn’t require a lot of expertise. Because this skill set is more widely available, you can typically get generalist writing help for less than some other types of writers, like subject matter experts.
Another level of generalists are SEO copywriters. At a minimum, SEO copywriters know how to integrate target keywords and phrases into web copy to maximize organic search benefit and avoid penalties. Some can even keyword research (if scoped in the project). Naturally, SEO copywriters are exactly the writers you need when you want to create content to help your website rank better organically in search results to get you more traffic.
3. Digital/UX writer
Modern websites and apps are interactive environments. They’re not like a print ad or billboard. They can involve many screens or pages, buttons, links and all kinds of other actions a visitor/user may use to achieve their goals. That’s where a digital writer or UX writer comes in.
They understand these more complex kinds of digital journeys and they have strategies and tactics to help guide people through the journeys they want to take and how to guide people through journeys the client wants them to take.
Digital/UX writers tend to be analytically minded, and they often want data to help guide important writing decisions. Does a link or button set the right expectation for an app user? Is the copy on a web page put together with a hierarchy of information that makes it easy for a visitor to quickly learn what they want to? These are the kinds of things a digital/UX writer thinks about.
Digital/UX writers are especially adept at writing core pages for websites, and they can even add surprisingly helpful touches to things like error messages and transactional messages.
This kind of writer has a laser focus on driving action. They can often overlap with the digital/UX writer — the main difference being the focus of either creating sales or generating leads.
They typically have a strong knowledge of data, analytics and/or psychology that helps them write more effective copy. They generally understand selling methodologies and know how to synthesize objections and barriers to sales — turning them into copy that that helps potential customers move closer to a sale.
Conversion rate optimization or lead generation writers are perfect for tasks like:
- Online pay-per-click (PPC) ads
- Web banner ads
- Landing pages
- Calls to action
- Sales letters
5. Subject matter expert
A subject matter expert is exactly what it sounds like — someone who has a deep understanding of your industry and can write with authority about it.
True subject matter experts are harder to find than a generalist. And this combination of low supply and higher expertise leads to higher rates than generalists. But if you’ve got a well-defined project with clear goals, a subject matter expert can be well worth the money.
For starters, a subject matter expert can save you some time on briefing and making your own experts available, especially for more niche subjects. They can tackle topics in a depth that generalists can’t. They can write with authority on topics that generalists can’t — authority that can help your brand seem more authoritative.
Because of their expertise, subject matter experts can also take unique, insightful angles on topics that you won’t get from generalists or even suggest topic ideas you hadn’t considered.
Subject matter experts are smart choices for deep content like:
- Pillar blog posts or articles
- Period special content series
- Detailed how-to content
- Executive briefs
- Link-generating content
The biggest advantage of using an influencer is their built-in audience. Whether the content is ultimately posted to your properties or theirs, your influencer helps put the content in front of more and different people that you might not have reached otherwise.
Involving influencers in your content creation can add credibility to your content, with the influencer’s credibility creating a halo effect around your brand. And some influencers double up and function as subject matter experts if they play in a particular niche or industry. Some influencers May even have existing relationships that make it easier to get earned placements with publishers.
So use influencer writers when you need to take advantage of their built-in content amplification abilities.
7. Social media writer
The key word in social media is “social.” Social media writers understand how to write social content in ways that spur conversation and interaction. They’re also well-versed in creating content tailored to the requirements and idiosyncrasies of different social networks.
Social media writers know how and when to use hashtags, links, questions, polls, provocative statements and much more. They also typically know how to manage multi-touch content journeys, since the conversations that start on social often lead to content on other media, like company websites, community forums, contests, etc.
Good social media writers also know the ins and outs of how often you can post, best posting time for different social networks to maximize interactions and how to turn all that into calendar-grade plans.
Social media writers can be a smart way to get more mileage out of your content by repurposing it into snackable social content. Social media posts and social media graphics are their most common assignments. Outsourcing social media content can be a smart move, as more companies try to participate in social media but lack the internal expertise or bandwidth to execute to their full visions.
8. Advertising copywriter
Advertising copywriters are used to working in media where space and time are at a premium, and they are skilled at condensing ideas down into short, powerful messages. They’re at home making every word work harder and keeping copy concise.
Advertising copywriters also adept at finding unique angles on familiar subjects. This can be especially handy if you’re in an industry saturated with competition.
Need to establish or meticulously maintain brand voice? An advertising copywriter is perfect suited for the task.
Aside from traditional media (print, TV, radio, billboards, etc), you can also use advertising copywriters anywhere else you need to keep copy short and powerful, like online advertising, landing pages — even home pages.
9. Technical writer
They’re often masters of sequential thinking, working on instruction-type materials for a client’s products. Good technical writers are thorough, detail-oriented, methodical and efficient, but balance that with the needs of their often non-technical audiences.
Technical writers are great for content like:
- Other helpful technical content
10. Grant writer
Grant writing is a highly specific job with some unique requirements. Not only do grant writers tell stories and convince their audience, but they mix the rational and the emotional in very structured ways.
Good grant writers are organized and detail-oriented, since their deliverable has to meet specific requirements of the grant-awarding organization — often down to formatting. Even a small misstep could hurt your organization’s chances of winning a grant. Not to mention, they have to be prompt, since grant applications almost always have hard submission deadlines.
What’s your company’s mission, vision, personality and story? Grant writers are experts at capturing the essence of these things and weaving them into a proposal.