Whether you're a Web content writer or a Web copywriter, specialization can be one of the biggest factors in earning a higher income from your writing. Here's why:
The most important point is that most clients will pay more for a specialist than a generalist. You can specialize in niches (such as for content writers) or even in types of writing if you're a copywriter (perhaps you specialize exclusively in online sales letters).
Why will clients often pay a specialist more than a generalist? Because specialists bring added credentials and knowledge to the project. Let's use me as an example:
[Update: The following personal example is no longer valid as press releases have become a smaller segment of my larger business writing work. However, I am leaving it in this post because it still illustrates the point.]
I specialize in press release writing as my primary form of business writing. Why? Because I have a degree in the field, I ran a PR firm, and I was one of the earlier specialists in online PR (giving me an edge with my target markets who are primarily looking for releases they can distribute online). I also have experience that others don't.
A lot of people call themselves press release writers these days, especially when targeting an online audience. However, many of them are simply content writers - I'll often see generic articles thrown into a template from these writers charging $50 or less. I currently have low rates on the professional circuit (under $200 per release), but much higher than most writers my target market comes across.
Yet I'm never hurting for work. Why? They know I have experience in not simply writing the release, but getting them real media coverage, more significant backlinks, and simply more exposure. I also have the credentials and experience to consult with them on the best distribution plans for their release, the best days for distribution given their release type, etc. Generic writers can't offer the same. So clients who are serious about using releases effectively don't have a problem paying more for someone who knows what they're doing.
Let's look now at the sales page example I gave. A well-written sales page might bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars of income for the client. A smart client knows the importance of the sales page copy in bringing in conversions. You'll see a lot of people new to the game who are happy to hire a general writer to do their sales page, because they don't understand the way marketing copy influences buyers. They just want it written cheaply. Yet there are plenty of clients that do understand the value, and they're more than happy to pay several thousand dollars for a masterfully-crafted sales page from a copywriter with a proven track record of high-converting copy.
Now let's look at Web content writing, where specializations often come down more to niches. Are there clients looking for writers willing to write on any subject under the sun with a bit of research? Of course. You can probably find plenty of work as a Web content generalist. But you won't be earning to your fullest potential, and that's simply bad business. Why not?
Most of the poorly paid Web content writing gigs so prevalent today are looking for these generalist writers - they're often site owners who run hoards of sites on every subject they think will earn them ad revenue. They often don't care much about the quality. Another client group here is the writer mill - a company hiring a bunch of writers to churn out cheap articles for their own clients.
A third group (that can be better to work with) includes Internet marketing companies or Web developers. These are companies either building sites for clients or handling their IM campaigns, and they outsource the writing work to Web content writers. The problem here is that you may not get direct access to the end client, you have no idea what the end client knows about you or what they've specifically requested, and it's not usually the highest pay you could find (keeping in mind that your direct client will be keeping a portion of what they're charging the end client).
Is there a market for generalists? Sure. But your goal as a freelancer - a professional with a limited number of working and billable hours each week - should be to earn as much as you can for as few billable hours as you can. This either leaves you time to pursue additional income streams by "investing in yourself" (your own blogs, informational products, books, etc.), or it leaves you time to take more client work. Let's put it this way: Would you rather spend your time writing 10 articles in a week at $100 a piece, or writing 100 articles for $10 a piece? You would earn the same income. Guess which I prefer, and which I recommend.
A common misconception about the scenario I just gave you is that the folks writing fewer articles for more money are still putting in just as much time, because it involves more research. That's not always true - as a matter of fact, in my experience, it's very rarely true. I've had articles paying several hundred dollars that took me no more than 30 minutes to write.
That's because they were within my specialty - my areas of expertise, where I have a vast enough knowledge store to write without needing much background research (if any in some cases). Those clients wouldn't hire a generalist to write those articles. No matter how much research a generalist writer did, they couldn't have added some of the personal elements I would be able to.
My point is this - specialists often spend less time per article than generalists, they get paid more for them in many cases, and they have more time left over to take on even more higher-paying clients.
Let's look at another example to see another benefit of specialization in your Web writing. Let's say we have a serious site owner trying to build an authority website about training horses. They could hire a generalist writer for a modest amount, and probably find plenty of takers willing to do some basic research. Or they could higher someone who was a professional horse trainer to write the content. For anyone trying to build a site with any real authority, they'll probably opt for the latter choice, and be willing to pay more.
Here's the other common difference you'll see. Quite a bit of generalist Web writing gigs are ghostwriting gigs. Expert writers are much more likely to get a published byline. Why? Because the client realizes that the content carries more weight when tied to an expert with credentials in the subject area. And why should you care about getting a byline if possible? Because having your name attached to your content on an authoritative site is marketing for you that you're being paid for!
So by specializing, you'll very often find yourself with more money, more time, and more exposure that can lead to more work. It's win-win-win.