There is a huge demand for people who can combine technical expertise with professional communications or writing skills. Employers look for people who can write company web sites and other online copy. The jobs break down into two distinct categories: working for companies that are primarily online information providers and working for the web operations of more traditional firms. Both are hungry for fresh talent.
Knowing how to create good-looking web pages is not enough, to get this work you’ll be expected to write compelling content that keeps customers coming back.
These jobs are not necessarily suitable for journalists and others moving from old media. Web writing requires a different mindset. Keeping copy flowing through a site and making sure all the clicks work is much more important than worry about whether a site is well-written or not. If you’re a hard-bitten newshound you might be expected to swallow your instinct for high levels of accuracy and checking.
And then there’s the tricky subject of search engine optimization—that is writing the kind of copy that ensures your company features at the top of Google searches from relevant keywords. As The New York Times points out this can mean waving goodbye to elegant, well-crafted prose and witty eye-catching headlines. These two aspects of online writing probably explain why grammar and readability standards are often so dismal on most web sites. Online businesses know ex-newspaper journalists are often good at delivering readable material that scores well with search engines.
If you’re interested, you’ll find online communications jobs advertised under I for Internet or M for marketing, not J for journalism. Online writing is a great opportunity for out-of-work journalists—and there are a lot of them these days—as the supply of jobs is far greater than the supply of talent.
Many journalists think they can’t do this kind of work because online production tools are difficult to use and that it may involve scary things like databases and programming. In fact, most content production is not at the hard-core code-cutting level. That’s usually all done by more geeky, backroom types. And today’s content management systems are no harder than editorial systems. In fact I’d argue they can be simpler.
Right now junior content producers and editors earn salaries in line with people of the same age working in other industries. In other words, you won’t get much of a pay rise if you sign up. However, while the basic salaries are not exciting—the opportunities are fantastic. Some employers offer options, equity or profit share schemes—which puts an entirely different perspective on the offered salaries.
Many of the online editorial-oriented jobs on offer today are in companies which only have a few employees. They offer a chance to get in on the ground floor. There’s always a good chance that options will be worthless, equity minimal and any profit share doesn’t amount to much. In a small organization you’ll have plenty of scope to make sure there are profits.
Even if the promises of on-top-of-base-salary income never materialise, you’ll get to learn how a small company at the sharp end operates. And you’ll see the mistakes. You can take that experience to another start-up or use it to form your own business.