By Bianca Mendez
Do you find you have a knack for writing heds and deks that are SEO-friendly rather than magazine cover-ready? Are you the first to volunteer to help crank out a 100 slide gallery for your brand’s site, or find yourself sneaking a peek at its latest Drupal upgrades? If you’ve answered yes to any of these, then you might want to consider a job as a web producer. Ed’s been making friends in web production lately, and is here to give you the scoop on what you need to become a (paid) tech wiz.
Become Obsessed with All Things Web-Related
Not to state the obvious, but the first step in your production career is to want to learn about the web. “I want to hire someone who has the desire to work in technology and to learn more about technology and the Internet,” says Melissa Katz, Senior Web Producer at Shape.com. “I can tell when someone is trying to get a job to break in, and they come in and they’re going to be interested in writing and freelancing. That’s not what we want.” Let your interest with the web shine through your résumé. “Even being part of your college paper’s online presence or managing your own personal blog can contribute to developing the necessary skills,” adds Maggie Mallon, Senior Digital Director at Glamour.com.
Eat, Sleep, and Breathe HTML
Ask any web producer and they’ll tell you that HTML is a huge term to know on the job. “It’s a good thing to know why the content appears the way it does. Even if you work in a CMS that doesn’t require you to hand code, having a basic understanding of HTML allows you to be able to troubleshoot problems on your own,” says Pamela Masin, Web Producer at Oprah.com.” New to coding? Masin suggests learning it yourself by managing your own personal blog. Or, you can enroll in an online program like Codecademy or Code School to brush up on your skills, adds Mallon.
Become an SEO Nerd
Understanding search engine optimization (SEO) is an imperative skill to have according Katz. By adding in the right keywords in your hed, dek, and throughout the story, you’re helping your story rank higher in search engines, which ultimately, means more success for your site. “Writing SEO copy is difficult because you have to use SEO keywords in a strategic way that’s also engaging to audience and gets them to click your story,” says Katz. The secret to mastering SEO? Practice, attend every SEO training session presented at work, and master the art of writing snappy, optimized heds and deks.
Familiarize Yourself with Other Areas of Editorial
As an entry-level web producer, you’ll most likely have to build multiple pieces of content per day onto your site’s content management system (CMS). And when building a piece of content in the CMS, presentation is key. Does the story work better as an article, or a multi-page gallery? Does the story need a longer intro or does it have to be edited down more? Are photos necessary? “It takes an eye to really understand how the flow of a story would work and do the reader the service, because at the end of the day, it’s all about the user experience,” says Katz. Which is why picking up other skills in editing and photo research is beneficial for your role. Just make sure that whatever you’re building, make sure it’s done in a quick (and neat) manner. “The web is always on so you have to be prepared for that and if there’s an issue you have to be ready to jump and fix it,” says Masin.
Whether you’re crafting a catchy hed or testing out a story on multiple content types, acquiring these basic production skills can lead to many doors in the digital world. Some web producers even get opportunities to pitch and write for their sites. It’s this versatility that got Masin’s attention. “I didn’t go into the industry thinking I’d become a web producer, since it’s a position you really don’t hear or know much about. But I’m so glad the opportunity fell into my lap because it combines all the different parts of online that I’m passionate about,” says Masin.
The Need-to-Know Tech Terms
SEO: Search Engine Optimization – tactics to increase the rank of a piece of content in search results (like Google) and as a result get more visitors to the site.
HTML: HyperText Markup Language – a web “markup” language to create a web page. The right coding allows you to bold, italicize, hyperlink, and add other style elements to a page.
CMS: Content Management System – an application that allows you to publish content to a website. This varies depending on where you work.
WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get. A text editor that has the commands like bold, italics, underline, and hyperlink where you can translate what you’re writing into HTML without hard coding.
Content Type: The way you input your story (such as, an article, a gallery, a blog post) and how it’s presented on the site.
Front End vs. Back End: The front end refers to what the user sees on the site (for example, what you see when you go to Ed2010.com). The back end is the admin portal that the web producer sees when building a story, before pushing it live.