Become a Writer Today

How to Become a Content Strategist With Amanda Hand

January 08, 2024 Bryan Collins Season 2
Become a Writer Today
How to Become a Content Strategist With Amanda Hand
Show Notes Transcript

In our latest episode of the Become A Writer Today podcast, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Hand, an experienced content strategist and SEO team lead. We delved into the world of content strategy and discovered some valuable insights into this fascinating field.

In this episode, we discuss the following:

  • Client Goals and Data: Content strategy goes beyond writing and editing. As a content strategist, understanding client goals and aligning them with data is crucial. Become a data nerd, master tools like Google Analytics, and marry creativity with data-driven strategy.
  • User Behavior Analysis: Dive deep into user data to understand what drives decision-making and meet users' needs. Learn to follow the user's journey from the first website visit to the final conversion goal. This understanding will help shape effective content strategies.
  • Continual Learning and Skill Development: Embrace the ever-evolving nature of the content strategy field. Take advantage of free courses, such as Google Analytics, to acquire new skills and stay up-to-date with the latest trends. Adaptability and curiosity are essential in this exciting industry.

If you want to learn more about content strategy and how to transition from content writing to strategy, this episode is a must-listen. 

Resources:

Regex SEO

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Thanks for listening!

(preview)

Amanda: I think that there's value in going both ways. I think with the marketing, if you want to go the agency avenue, going agency and being in-house, depending on your agency and how you operate, you're going to have anywhere from 5 to 15 clients that you're working on, which is really going to help you strengthen your skill set. Because it's really important for you as a strategist to be able to understand the differences between industries and between the clients that you're working for and their users, as well as their goals.

(intro)

Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

(interview)

Bryan: My guest today is Amanda Hand, who is an experienced content strategist. She's also the SEO Team Lead for Regex SEO. Welcome to the show, Amanda.

Amanda: Thank you for having me.

Bryan: Content Strategy is always a topic I'm fascinated to hear about, perhaps because I worked in content strategy for some time. So I'm going to ask you a few questions all about what content strategy looks like today. How did you get into the field, Amanda?

Amanda: I started as a writer and editor in the travel insurance space, oddly enough. There was so much opportunity in the travel insurance space to improve content, to make content more human, to make the products more relatable and easy to understand. So it really encouraged me to dive into strategy and get to know the ins and outs of how it worked within the industry. Then I've been branching out from there ever since.

Bryan: Did you take any formal training in content strategy, or were these skills that you've acquired over the years?

Amanda: I actually was a history major in college. These are skills I acquired over the years. My formal training was mainly certifications, and mentorship, and those kinds of things. But a lot of it is skill building that I had over 10 years in the industry.

Bryan: Do you think content strategy is a useful field for somebody to aspire to get into today, or is it quite challenging to work in?

Amanda: I guess it really depends on you. That's a great question. I think it depends on your perspective. I think it's saturated in some ways. I think that if you're not super passionate and willing to really nerd out on it, I think that you'll have a little bit of a difficult time. If you are willing to go all in and make the data your best friend, and understand the ins and the outs, do a lot of testing, continuously grow as a strategist and change with the times, be really nimble with the technology and how quickly that's changing the field, then I do think that it's a great choice for you. There's a lot of opportunity.

Bryan: A lot of opportunity. But yet many writers struggle to find paying work. So content strategy sounds like a good field that they could look to if they're prepared to marry their, I suppose, passion for words with looking at the data as well.

Amanda: Yes.

Bryan: Could you describe what a typical day in the life of a content strategist is?

Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. I think, for me, I do a lot of client-facing work as a content strategist. What a lot of my day looks like is, the first portion of it is spent answering client requests, looking at what the clients think about their content, and making decisions on that side.

Now, if I'm actually going into the strategy part of the work, that requires several hours of deep work for me. I think that anybody who's in content strategy, writing, and editing, you have to be prepared in deep work for a couple hours a day. Because to really get into the strategy for anything that you're preparing to do, you've got to have that time block, that focused time, no interruptions, to understand the data and make appropriate decisions.

For me, I've always got a block on my calendar. That allows for me to have three to four hours of deep work every day, where I'm really able to get into content performance, looking at the analytics, looking at the SEO data, understanding if things are ranking, if pages and articles are ranking for what they should be ranking for, understanding user data. How's the user experience? Are we getting the conversions that we need? Are there things that we need to start looking at changing? 

All of that type of thinking for me, personally, takes time.

Each client is so uniquely different. In travel, you're looking at a completely different approach than what we're looking at in home services. The user data is just so different. You have to really be willing to, on a regular basis, multiple times a week, really go into that user behavior data and make sure that your content is matching the need of the user and the client, of course. Because the client always has goals, always has their goals.

Bryan: Yeah, I'm glad to hear you mentioned the goals of the clients. I appreciate what you're saying about them differing from one client to the next. But for somebody who's listening to this and perhaps has experience working as a content writer, what would their key responsibilities be if they were to transition to becoming a content strategist? What areas would they be responsible for?

Amanda: The biggest shock to me when I made that transition was definitely understanding client goals in data and how content aligns with that. I knew from a writing and editing perspective that strategy was really important. I had my own way of approaching that. Having a background in history, which was my my first degree, writing was a huge part of that degree. So that really helped me strengthened my skills as a writer.

But when you're writing from that perspective, your approach is very different. You care about engagement. You want to make sure that there's conversions happening, and you're paying attention to that data. But when you start to lean into strategy, you realize that there's so much more out there than what you were taught as a writer. So I think marrying client goals, understanding, going really deep into user data, being really good with analytics — being able to use Google Analytics which is now GA4 — really being able to make yourself a little bit of a data nerd really to understand how different parts of content marketing play into the client goals.

You really want to be able to understand user behavior. You want to understand what really drives their decision-making, their curiosity, what their needs are. That's not quick or easy. That's something that really does take time and effort to really get into. So you'd have to really build a foundation with different analytics tools, different SEO tools, different tools to help you understand user data, like working with designers and developers, and understanding even heat mapping, like where the most important language is going to be on the page. That type of decision-making helps marry that creativity that writers often desire to maintain in content strategy with the actual strategy driven by data. It allows you to marry those.

Bryan: If somebody is listening to this and thinking, "Wow. That sounds like a lot. I prefer working with the written word," what will be their first step that they could make to transition from being a content writer to working more in strategy? Perhaps, what will be the first skill they should look to acquire?

Amanda: That's a great question. Personally, I think it's going to take — there are so many free courses out there. Take a course in Google Analytics and really understand user behavior throughout the website that you're working on. That will open so many doors for you. Follow the user from the first time that they land on your website or your company's website to the conversion goal that you have.

Honestly, you can follow them. You might have many conversion goals throughout the content marketing process. So you're going to have to follow the user from, okay, they're converting on this content offer that we created. Then this content offer was successful. They came back to this page and inquired about a product demo. The product demo was really successful. Then they talked to our sales rep. When they were in conversation with our sales rep, maybe they couldn't get the pricing. They didn't meet the end goal, which was buying the software or the product.

You're able to identify, okay, it was during the sales process. Well, that's for the sales team to think about. Now let's look at the content again and say, okay, this part of the content creation was successful. We had the content offer. We had the product demo. Then all of those things converted for the customer, let's see how we can increase that percentage of conversion so the sales team is more enabled to know, get more of that end goal conversion that we're looking for, which is purchasing the software.

I think that a really good place to start would be diving right in, taking courses, and understanding Google Analytics so that you can follow user behavior and see the impact that your content is having.

Bryan: Yeah, there are lots of great courses on LinkedIn Learning. There's also a fantastic book called Content Strategy for the Web, which is worth reading. Amanda, you mentioned Google Analytics. Are there any other tools or pieces of software or platforms worth becoming familiar with?

Amanda: A lot of my work is very SEO-focused. For me, a lot of the tools that I use are going to be SEO analytics, Ahrefs. I use tools like Screaming Frog and Octopus to build website architecture. For the strategy portion, Semrush is probably the tool that I spend the most time in as of late. Those are all great tools to start with.

And if you are looking for something as a content marketer that is really inclusive of the entire digital marketing landscape, there's tools. I'm a huge fan of HubSpot, like a huge fan of HubSpot for many reasons. But their platform, their software, is excellent for content strategy.

Bryan: Excellent. When somebody is looking to break into the field, is it better to try and find a job in-house, or do you think there are lots of good opportunities for freelancers? Sometimes it can be difficult to find paying work when you're looking to break into a new field.

Amanda: Yeah, I think that there's value in going both ways. I think with the marketing, if you want to go the agency avenue, going agency and being in-house, depending on your agency and how you operate, you're going to have anywhere from 5 to 15 clients that you're working on, which is really going to help you strengthen your skill set. Because it's really important for you as a strategist to be able to understand the differences between industries and between the clients that you're working for and their users, as well as their goals.

In-house at an agency is a great opportunity. For me, I started in-house at one particular travel insurance company. I spent four years in-house at this travel insurance company before I transitioned only to contracting. Because I had made so many relationships, I made a lot of incredible relationships, I had the opportunity to do a lot of networking that I would otherwise not have had if I were agency. Because of that, it made it easier for me to contract.

So if you're interested in contracting and operating as a sole proprietor, you might want to consider going in-house within an industry at a company or at an agency that focuses solely on that industry so that you can build a network. So that contracting, when that time comes where you're really transitioning over to that, it's a little bit easier. You have built up a solid book of business, a good reputation in your field as a subject matter expert, as well as a strategist, and writer and editor, whatever your goals are.

Bryan: If a content writer is listening to this, chances are they're pretty comfortable producing articles and blog posts for a website or perhaps for a client. But if they're going to get into the strategy side of things, how would the work differ across varying platforms? For example, social media or video. What are the things might they find themselves doing?

Amanda: They're also different. I absolutely love video because I love storyboarding and screenwriting. Part of the projects that I'm — that's the question you're asking, right? It was the difference.

Bryan: Yeah, please go on.

Amanda: Okay. I Just want to make sure I understand it correctly. I find writing for video and doing content strategy for video to be just so much fun. Because it's a little bit different. I came from more of that travel editorial background where I was doing a lot of ghostwriting in travel for travel insurance companies. So you can imagine that that's a little bit more technical. It's complex writing. There's an academic aspect to it.

After years of doing that, getting into screenwriting and storyboarding and strategy for video and travel was just the coolest thing. I absolutely loved it. Those are my favorite projects to work on, because there's a really creative side to it that I really enjoy. You're marrying sound and visual elements, color schemes with written word. To me, I love seeing that full circle creativity coming through editorial work.

If you are a talented writer or someone who has a journalism background, as a journalist, you understand the ins and outs of that editorial content, it's very hard to find really, really great journalists that can write about anything with integrity. So if that is your niche, there definitely is room for you in the field of marketing and content strategy. A lot of the writers that I've worked with and contracted over the years for projects that I brought on with me had journalism backgrounds. They just tend to have really, really solid approaches to the research and discovery phase of the strategy. I tend to really enjoy working with them because things are very thorough. So that's an avenue that can be explored.

Then of course, there's copywriting and content marketing, which are a little bit or very different than journalistic writing or editorial content. Still, the goals can sometimes be the same. They can all work together. But copywriting tends to be that more — you can obviously weigh in. This is just my perspective. Copywriting tends to be that more creative direct response writing. You're approaching this project from the perspective of, we have a goal that we're trying to meet. We want this conversion on this page, so we've got to write a copy in a way that adds value to the user and makes them understand that this is the product or the service that is right for them. Then you have that content marketing, which is that longer game, where you do have to have a little bit of an understanding of strategy, regardless of whether you're a writer or an editor on the project or not. You have to understand content strategy to effectively deploy a content marketing campaign.

Bryan: Yeah, my experience is – at least, when I was working in the field — the copywriter will produce the words that sell the product or service. I suppose to summarize what they do, the content writer might produce the articles or ebooks. The strategist might decide how everything joins together to achieve whatever the objective is. Then the content marketer will manage the overall campaign and set the objectives or KPIs.

I guess if somebody is interested in becoming a strategist, it's probably important to understand that they might not necessarily spend a lot of time creating the content. They will look at how all the content works together to achieve some sort of business goal. Has that been your experience? I worked in the UK, so we'll probably be looking at it different over the side of the water.

Amanda: Yes and no. I think, for me, because I came from the writing and editing background, I think I was always fully immersed in the copywriting and content marketing side of it. Because I was still writing on a lot of projects, or I was helping writers develop on those projects. As a content strategist, I've always still had my hands in the language portion of it. I've always reviewed it. I've been a part of helping create and facilitate some of the use of the proper language throughout the entire campaign.

But your overall structure, yes. I just think for some people who are going from writing and editing to content strategy, it's going to be really hard for you to not be involved in the writing and editing process, unless you're trying to get out of that. For me, I don't think I ever really wanted to be fully removed from writing and editing because I enjoy it so much. So I think it really is going to depend on your unique goals. But content strategy-wise, yeah, I've always still been writing.

Bryan: One area that's changed how copywriters work is AI. Maybe a couple years ago, you could spend a lot of time writing the sales page or coming up the structure yourself. Now AI tools can provide a type of template that you can then populate and update. Has AI changed how you work?

Amanda: It has, but I have not perfected it yet. For me, I think because I've been writing for 16 years, 17 years, and I did not use AI even when it first came out. I had a lot of challenges with it. I just didn't revisit it because it wasn't efficient for me. Because you have to do so much editing. You just really have to change the content.

Even now with ChatGPT, it's a really, really popular one. I still struggle with that. I'll use it to write emails and things to clients sometimes. I'll write an email. I'll type it up. I'll put it in ChatGPT and ask them to refine it. But a lot of times, I'm not happy with the content that AI produces. I end up using it for idea generation more than anything else, or to make sure that I didn't miss important data points or that I didn't miss anything with my research. So I'll ask it questions to help make sure that I've hit all the bases.

But in terms of actually having it right for me, I don't seem to be having a lot of success with that. I don't know if it's the way that I prompt. I don't know if it's just personal preference. But I do see a lot of writers that I've worked with use it for SEO content in really unique ways. As long as they're self-editing it, it sounds and looks acceptable. But to me, I don't think it's really that great at copywriting yet. Or even at editorial and long-form content, I absolutely would not use it there.

Bryan: Yeah, I find it's better for ideation and for things like generating variations of headlines and coming up with templates. But the results still require a good bit of editing and reworking before you can actually use it. I suppose you could only expect the tools to get better as well.

Just to go back to breaking into content strategy. Are there any particular jobs boards that you recommend people look at or places online that they should go to?

Amanda: The last four contracts that I had prior to working with Regex full time — because I'm in-house now at Regex — I got it from LinkedIn. I think, for me, LinkedIn has been incredible for job postings for content strategy, writing and editing, content marketing. I don't think that there's really any other job boards that I've personally used. But I haven't really had to, just because I had the network within the travel insurance space for so long that LinkedIn was just such a place for me to connect with all of those people and stay connected, as well as conferences. Then when I was looking for new contracts or new leads, I was using LinkedIn to look up those postings.

Bryan: If somebody is looking at different industries or fields — Amanda, I know you have experience in the travel industry field — are there any other industries or fields that are also worth considering or would have lots of job opportunities?

Amanda: Yes, if you have a medical background, if you can do medical writing.

Bryan: That's quite challenging. It's probably the hardest field.

Amanda: It's quite challenging. Yes, it is quite challenging. But if you have a background in the medical or in the insurances, I think that there's really a lot of opportunity there. Because people do not understand. There are so many moving parts to both of those industries. People really, really struggle to understand and relate to the organizations that they're getting this information from.

Think about university hospitals. Think about health clinics. They have to do marketing to get people to come to their facility over another facility. But differentiating themselves from someone else is really hard. Because you see the same headlines over and over again about the quality of care, success rates, having the best doctors. I live in a city where we have a couple of hospitals right around my house. I always look at their advertisements. I'm like, they're not differentiated from each other. The only thing that really differentiates them is their logo. The language, the approach to marketing, all of it is the same. It really doesn't connect to the user in my opinion.

From doing work in medical and doing some medical writing, I really noticed that a lot of the strategy that goes into that and a lot of the push for content is to create and build trust so that people feel good about going to that facility. Same thing with insurance. The products are really complicated. If you can become a subject matter expert in the insurance industry — any insurance: commercial, personal, travel — you can become a subject matter expert, and then turn what you know into relatable content that is easy to read that helps people better understand the products and services being offered to them, you will do very well.

It was hard. I was very dedicated. But once I built trust in the industry, it was a lot easier to get work. Once people realize like, okay, she's a subject matter expert, and she can write. We don't have an in-house writer. Let's get her to do this series for us, or let's get her to do this content marketing campaign. Because I postured myself that way — I took the time to understand the products, I built the relationships, and I cared about the consumer, I'm making sure that they were finding products that aligned with their goals — I did very well in the travel insurance space.

I think there's a lot of opportunity in insurance, because it's very hard to write about those products. And if you can write about them and write about them in a way that follows the regulations — you're able to work with the lawyers and give the lawyers what they want. But then, you're also able to give the consumer what they need to understand the product — you'll be very successful.

Bryan: I would also add Software as a Service or SaaS and financial services. Those are the areas I worked in. If you're comfortable writing about technology or software and how it relates to a business, it can pay quite well. It's a pretty growing field. A lot of people think it's quite challenging to write, but most writers can probably get their head around technical topics. The same would apply for financial services. Both of those fields are certainly worth looking at. There's lots of jobs in those areas on LinkedIn as well.

Amanda, where should people go if they want to learn more about you or your work?

Amanda: They can follow me on LinkedIn. That's the best place. I don't really use any other social media. LinkedIn is a great place to connect with me. I hopefully will be launching my own website in 2024. Then if you follow Regex SEO, I will be doing a lot of writing in 2024 for REGEX's website as well, where I'll talk a lot about content strategy, content marketing in different industry, knowledge and research that's coming out.

Bryan: It was great to talk to you today, Amanda. I'll include those links in the show notes.

Amanda: All right. Awesome. Thank you, Bryan.

(outro)

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