Is it right to hire a ghostwriter for your web content?

Is it OK that someone else writes the words in your web pages or should it all come from you? Will people assume you’re a fraud if you don’t credit the writer? I’d like to address this, as it is a creeping doubt that lingers at the back of some people’s heads. We’re all brought up to be honest, right? In this article, I want to explain why I say it’s time to exorcise your fears of a ghostwriter.

A content copywriting meeting
I did not take this picture

I write web content for businesses and they don’t credit me

Being a content writer for other companies is a blast. You get to be the ghostwriter, the ringer who soups up the digital message. You get an insight into their business and become a temporary part of their team. One of my favourite things is to read some of the existing material to establish a voice, and then write in that voice.

I also enjoy the variety of topics I get to cover. There’s no getting bored, and for a creative, that’s a huge bonus. Taking a quick browse over my logs, here are some of my most recent subjects:

  • Email marketing campaigns / software review
  • Software outsourcing
  • WordPress optimisation
  • SEO for article headlines
  • YouTube marketing
  • Google AdWords and Analytics
  • Travel
  • Interior decorating
  • Inspirational life stories
  • Language learning
  • The first chapter of an e-book

It helps a lot that I have 20 years of IT, web design and digital marketing experience to inform these articles, but it isn’t the only reason I have 100% acceptance rate from my clients. I guess I was just born to be a writer.

Of course, there are downsides to having to stay “behind the scenes”. I can’t link to most of my commercial articles. To do so might be a breach of confidentiality, and I think we can all agree that it’s important that clients trust in my discretion. But is it right that I pen the words and they pass them off as their own?

Is getting someone to write your web copy cheating?

You would be surprised how often this attitude comes up. “Oh, I will have to write all this content myself.” This adds so much delay to the completion of website projects it should have its own name. Let’s call it “content self-foot-shooting” for now. Clients will struggle over the exact wording of a home page when a five-minute conversation with a professional web content copywriter would have produced material that could then be tweaked and polished for web perfection.

So, is there a moral component to passing off someone’s words as your own? We’re taught in school about the evils of the “p” word — plagiarism. It’s really hammered home that you should not use other people’s words as it is cheating. Ghostwriting and copywriting can get tangled up in our minds with that memory. In school or uni work, it would be true, but this is different. You’re not using the words as a way of deceiving an assessment. Professionally written website copy is important. And it’s important enough to get an expert in to do it.

In this specific, commercial case where payment has happened, it is an entirely legitimate practice. After all, people are happy to present websites as if they built them in-house when most of the time someone else has done the work. They put graphics and photography on their site, and if the terms of use permit it, they don’t credit these externally sourced materials.

Stock pictures and ghost writers for websites
I did not take this picture, either.

Nobody questions that the web designer, the graphic designer, and the photographer have expertise that is necessary, but not necessarily something that is credited. So why should the writer be different here? As long as they are paid adequately, what’s the problem?

The history of the artist for hire

I think it comes down to our perceptions, as a society, on art. Art should have the artist’s name on it somewhere, right?

Web design is not considered art, despite its emphasis on the visual, its complex blending of technologies, its understanding of the psychology of user interface… Graphic design and photography will maybe have more credence, but both are historically too new to be lumped in with what we traditionally consider artistic — writing, painting, sculpting and so on — things that were around in that period of history when art became more than just another job.

In the time before the superstars of the Renaissance, visual artists and wordsmiths were not necessarily considered extraordinary. They were another craftsman, employed for their skills, and paid off without acknowledgement. There were no flamboyant signatures at the bottom of their work, no printed placard to explain all the symbolism contained within, no courses dedicated to studying their work. They did their job, took the money, and went home.

Fast-forward to the modern day and you will find writers-for-hire penning the books of celebrities who aren’t known for their gifts with language, and this is seen as somehow false, or wrong. But is it really any different than hiring a workman to refit your house rather than attempting it yourself?

There are arguments to be made on either side. I like to think writers can be both functional and artistic when the need arises. But here’s the one answer to the question that you should be asking: if everyone’s happy, and everyone’s fairly paid, who really cares?

If the words reflect what you really want to say, and the writer is okay with you using their words without acknowledgement, then I suggest everyone stops worrying and learns to love the ghostwriters of this world.

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