A Web Editor by Any Other Name

By Cathy Hodson

What on earth is a web editor? A web editor is many different things, but primarily, we are editors of website content. Some of us are also designers, some of us are also webmasters, but at our most basic definition – just as an editor of a publication is responsible for the content of that publication, so too is a web editor responsible for the content of a website or websites.

What on earth does that mean? What is an editor? Is an editor one of those crusty, deadline-oriented creatures peering at you over the top of their reading glasses perched precariously at the end of their nose demanding why your article is 3 days late? In some cases, perhaps; although I like to think that might be more apt to a newspaper or magazine editor. Because the Internet is more fluid, more immediate than most print publications, the editor of a website must be someone who can react quickly, provide content quickly, and be able to handle a lot of projects and put out multiple fires all at once. An octopus is a good analogy; so is a one-man band, or a juggler.

A web editor does wear many hats. The editor of a website is responsible for making sure there is fresh content on the website – perhaps soliciting articles, news, events, etc., from various departments within their company’s organization, or from experts outside their company – clients, members, affiliates, etc. Many of us come to web editorship from journalism (as opposed to a computer or designer background) and take great pride in being able to research and write content ourselves, as well as coordinate content from others.

A web editor is responsible for maintaining consistency across the website. This is done primarily through a style. Each publication follows a particular set of guidelines that governs what is capitalized, italicized, abbreviated, etc. See more about Style here. A governance policy is also recommended so that all contributors know what is expected of them. More about that in an upcoming post.

A web editor can be responsible for training others within their company on how to use a content management system, which is basically a publishing workflow system – used when the staffers might require some technical assistance in adding content to the site, or when someone needs to approve what a staffer is adding. A content management system also allows content to go up automatically (through the use of a start date – particularly useful when content has to go up on a weekend or when the authoring staff member might be out of the office at a tradeshow or on vacation) and come down automatically (through the use of an end date) and archive.

These days we are also strategizers – watching over our content and the traffic it generates to determine what our website’s various audiences are interested in, and creating or soliciting content to fill that need.

Web editors plan and coordinate social media activities – getting the word out through the many social media avenues on just what our company is up to, or what the latest news or website update is. We also react to customer service requests and feedback through social media, and in some cases, put out fires.

We are search engine optimizers – tweaking and monkeying with keywords and various other facets of our content to ensure we have optimal positioning under key terms in the main search engine results – both in our website’s search engine and the external search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo! and others.

Most of all, we are people who care about the message. How can we best communicate what we have to say in a way that will grab your attention and make you want to read more?

Stay tuned. You are about to find out!

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6 thoughts on “A Web Editor by Any Other Name

  1. Great post. I think that you have covered every aspect of what a web editor does and needs to know. Consistency is key – The goal of all web disciplines from design to development, from site architecture to content strategy is consistency. So we neatly complement all these fields.

    • Thank you Gazalla! I’m sure others will chime in with any responsibilities I haven’t listed, but we are a versatile lot, that’s for sure. I agree with you about consistency. Enforcing that consistency is also something a web editor must do, not always easy, especially if politics or rank come into play!

  2. This article has truly helped me to gain a better understanding of what a Web Editor does and can do. Several of the other websites that I have visiting looking for detailed information leave a lot out, causing you to assume too much. I do have a question though, that hopefully you can answer for me. I read that the majority of Web editors come from journalism backgrounds. Is it possible to obtain a career in Web Editing with a communications degree? I’m currently in the process of earning my Bachelor’s in Visual Communications with a concentration in Web Design and am eager to pursue a career in Web editing but am second guessing my choice of degree for this job. Any and all information that you’re able to provide will be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Crystal,

      Yes, it is possible to become a web editor without a journalism degree. Web editors come from many varied backgrounds. As long as you have a good command of language, can meet deadlines, and have at least a basic understanding of HTML, Search Engine Optimization, and can field social media responsibilities, it’s doable. There are other things that will come in handy, such as learning about taxonomy, structure, following a style, and writing for the web, as well as others, but those are things that you can learn as you go along or at least take webinars or seminars on. I am a former English teacher. I did work in publishing, and that has helped me, but I know technical people (webmasters) who have come over to the content side; designers who also become content oriented, and many marketing and communications people as well. My biggest suggestion to you is to learn as much as you can – if you have a web editor at work, pepper them with questions, have them show you things or ask them to keep you in mind if something new comes up that they can show you. It helps if you have knowledgeable people around you to help you learn. When I started, I didn’t know a stitch of HTML or how to use FrontPage, which our company was using. I learned HTML by going back and forth between the design view and the code view – making some kind of change to the text and seeing how it was coded. But my biggest help was a web staff that was happy to share their knowledge and help me learn. Good luck to you! Keep reading the Web Editors blog and we will help you learn as well!!

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