What is copywriting? (2021 update)

Copywriting is a fancy word related to any piece of advertising and marketing content aimed to improve your business sales and conversions.

Advertising your products and services doesn’t always get you the results you need. Most of the time, it’s because the words on your website, in your marketing emails, or on your social media platforms are poorly written or ineffective at getting people to take the final step of making a purchase. 

This is a huge factor for success in any industry. Whether you sell DIY home tools or offer insurance services, the way your written content is formulated matters more than you think.

Enter copywriting. It’s a fancy word for writing that you use in marketing strategies to improve sales and conversions. In this practical guide, you’ll understand what exactly is copywriting, and we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about finding, interviewing, and working with a copywriter.

1. What is copywriting?

Copywriting is one of the most important elements of advertising and marketing. It’s the process of writing persuasive words (known as copy) that inspire or motivate people to take a specific action. 

When you open a magazine and there’s a full-page advertisement selling perfume, the words on that page are the result of copywriting. When you go to a website that prompts you to buy something, the words on that page are the result of copywriting. You can find copies in print, online, and even being read on television or over the radio. Copywriting is almost everywhere you look and listen.

Who is behind copywriting? Behind every piece of copy is a copywriter. Copywriters are individuals who are trained to craft words in a way that will connect with the target audience and move them to do something. Most businesses hire an in-house copywriter or on a contract basis to help them communicate with the world and grow. 

It’s important that you don’t confuse copywriting and copyright. They sound the same but are two very different things. You already know what copywriting is. Copyright is a type of protection provided by the U.S. government that allows you to proclaim authorship for an original piece of work. For example, you could claim original ownership of an audiovisual, musical, architectural, literary, or dramatic creation and it would give you the exclusive right to distribute or publish it.

Copywriting vs. content writing: what’s the difference?
Sometimes, the terms copywriting and content writing are used interchangeably but they have different purposes.
The purpose of content writing is to inform, while the purpose of copywriting is to sell. In content marketing, both techniques are used to create content that informs and sells. You see this mostly in a blog.

Types of copywriting

While copywriting is basically writing that sells something, it can be divided up into many different sub-types. It’s important to understand these distinctions because not all copywriters will excel at all types of copywriting. Some copy needs to be very long, like 10,000-word direct response letters. Other copy needs to be very short, like a 3-5 word tagline. And further, some copy needs to engage people while also appealing to an algorithm. Each type of copywriting demands a specific set of skills. Read on to learn the different types and where you can find them. 

Creative

Creative copywriting requires not only getting the information across but getting it across in a way that is attention-grabbing, interesting, and memorable. It requires strategic, out-of-the-box thinking. A great creative copywriter can get an idea and a feeling across in just a few words that stick in the reader’s mind. 

You’ll find creative copywriting in slogans, ad headlines, jingles, tv commercials, and email headlines.

For example, Ricola launched an advertising campaign with a series of statements that included a (cough) in the middle. One of them read, “She’s (cough) just a friend.” It gets your attention, might make you chuckle, and leaves an impression of the brand’s personality in your mind. As a result, you may just grab Ricola next time you’re choosing a cough drop. 

Public Relations

Copywriting for public relations involves any type of writing that helps to construct the reputation of a company or organization in the public eye. It’s important that this type of copywriter understands the company’s desired perception and how to create it. Communications often must come across as neutral while subtly painting the subject in a positive light. Public relations copywriting can come in the form of public statements, articles, speeches, and press releases

Sales

Next up is sales copywriting. While all copy has sales elements, this type of copywriting is directly focused on closing the sale at the moment. Copywriters must understand the target audience in-depth and how a product or service could benefit them. 

They need to dig into the subconscious of the audience, understanding why they really buy. Then, they walk alongside the audience, addressing their pain points, empathizing with them, and showing how their problem can be resolved in a way that is relatable and engaging. Nobody wants to feel like they are being sold. Some places you’ll find sales copywriting is on websites, landing pages, direct response letters, email marketing campaigns, social media ads, Google ads, product pages, service pages, print ads, and billboard ads. 

SEO

SEO stands for search engine optimization, and some copywriters specialize in this type of copy. SEO-optimized copy is carefully crafted to appeal to the human audience while also sending all the right signals to the search engines. Why? Because then your content will show up higher on search engine results pages, driving more traffic to your page. More traffic means more opportunities to close sales. Optimizing copy for search requires in-depth knowledge of SEO best practices including using the right keywords in the right places, properly using headers, and matching the copy to the reader’s intent. SEO copywriting is needed for web content, product descriptions, service descriptions, articles, and blogs. 

Technical

In some cases, businesses will want to persuade prospects into becoming customers by sharing in-depth, technical knowledge. This requires a copywriter who is able to dive deep into the nitty-gritty aspects of your business. Then, they need to present them in a way that is easy to understand and that helps to move prospects through the buying funnel. Technical copywriting is required for assets such as whitepapers or in-depth industry guides. 

2. How copywriting works for business

Surely, you want your business to do well. For that to happen, you need to sell your products or be hired for your services. That’s where good copy comes in. The main point of copy is for people to see your ads, social media shares, landing pages, and more and feel inspired to spend their money. That’s why good copywriting is essential for turning leads into paying clients.

There’s a progression of positive things that good copywriting does for your business;

  1. First, it makes an emotional impact on potential clients with words.
  2. This emotional impact makes them feel like they can relate to your brand.
  3. When they relate, they will feel like your brand can solve their problem or pain point.
  4. The call-to-action helps motivate them to make a purchase. 
  5. This leads to increased sales and conversions for your business.

As you see, copywriting has an important role in the success of your business. That’s why it has to be done strategically. Refreshing the copy for your business in the right direction can improve conversions considerably. 

3. Good copywriting vs bad copywriting

Are you wondering what exactly constitutes “good copy?” Well, as you can imagine, there is also plenty of bad copy. Mostly written by people that didn’t do the foundation work necessary to pinpoint the brand’s Unique Value Proposition (UVP). 

Let’s do a little comparison between good and bad copy. Take, for example, an ad for a hair salon that offers cutting solutions during the quarantine.

The bad copy:

Cut your hair at home with this guide.

The good copy:

Thinking of cutting your bangs yourself? We can help! With this easy step-by-step video guide, you’ll have great-looking bangs in no time. 5 different bangs styles included.  Need further assistance? Let’s do a video call and we’ll guide you.

Your company and your business need good copy to get to the next level. The smartest way to add good copy to your content is to hire a copywriter that will dig deep into your business and its goals.

4. What does a copywriter do?

A copywriter writes words that move an audience to take action. As we covered above, there are many different types of copywriting. However, at the base of all of them is the act of studying a specific audience and understanding their needs and desires. Then, a copywriter strategizes a way to best connect with the audience, show the audience their problem is understood, and present a solution. 

What does a copywriter create?

A copywriter is a person who provides the words for a variety of assets including webpages, blogs, articles, ads, social media posts, emails, posters, billboards, guides, case studies, whitepapers, and more. They use the medium of writing to inform, engage, impact, and/or persuade audiences. The goals can vary from raising brand awareness to positioning a business or organization as an authority, to closing sales. 

The copywriter job description 

Copywriters, in general, do a little bit of everything, including: 

  • Writing content with the intent of informing, educating, or inspiring an audience
  • Writing copy to move readers to action
  • Researching to find information, statistics, keywords, topics, and brand information
  • Editing and proofreading to refine grammar, style, readability, accuracy, voice, tone, and punctuation
  • Working as a project manager, which involves ideating topics, working with other creators, writing, editing, revising, and publishing

It’s a demanding role that requires a high level of hard and soft skills. 

5. Things to do before you hire a copywriter

Regardless of the skills and experience of the copywriter you hire, you’ll still have to do a little preparation to help them understand your business, your audience, and your goals

Thinking through the questions below and providing this information to the copywriter will save you lots of time and money in the long run. It establishes the foundation for a positive working relationship with a copywriter that can take your business to the next level.

Define the objective of your content

The first step is to define the overall purpose and goal for the copywriting work you seek. The following list is the foundation that will help inform your content brief. 

#1. Define the type of copy. First, you have to define what type of copy needs to be written. Is it a landing page, sales page, or an entire social media campaign? Or maybe it’s the copy for your website redesign. Start noting this down in a document where you will be consolidating all the information.

#2. Define your business goals. What is your business’s mission statement? Why do you sell or offer what you do? Write down the purpose of your business in an easy-to-understand paragraph. This is the driving force for all the work the copywriter will do for you.

#3. Define your uniqueness. Looking at what needs to be written, list out any products or services which are mentioned or included. Define each one with its most important features and specifications. What can customers benefit from these products or services? What puts you over the competition? 

#4. Define your target customer. Who is your ideal audience? Define in detail your user persona. Your copywriter needs to know who they’re writing for and who it will be directed at. Be detailed in your descriptions. Start at the quantitative descriptions like age, gender, location, occupation and continue with qualitative features like what they like or dislike, what their hobbies and personal interests are. 

#5. Define your customers’ pain points. Note down your ideal customer’s pain points. A pain point is something in their life or work that isn’t working quite right and needs fixing. How do your products and services fill that gap and solve the problem? Be specific.

Organize your content efficiently

When you hire a copywriter, you’ll give them a brief to work with. A good copywriter will usually have more questions to clarify or double-check things on your brief. Nevertheless, you need to be as thorough as possible to ensure the best optimal outcome. 

The section above about preparing the content is the first part of the brief for your copywriter. After that comes the actual information that they will need to work with. For things to flow smoothly, you need to organize it all.

Let’s take a look at how to organize the content your copywriter will need to draft your copy.

#1. Define the topic. At this point, you already know what type of content you need. Now it’s time to define the topic. Use the information from your keyword research, Google searches, and competitor analysis to find a topic that both solves your clients’ pain points and is something that falls in line with your business and industry. An ideal content topic will be something people are frequently looking for but can’t find exactly what they need—so your business will provide it, drawing in more traffic for you. 

After you’ve defined the main topic of the content you need to be written, create a list of the sub-topics your copy will also need to include. These will form the subheadings of your copy. Sub-topics should be closely related to your main topic, but cover different facets to provide thorough information to your readers. 

You may have some sub-topics in mind immediately, but if you need help finding them, there a couple of strategies you can use:

  • Google your main keyword and look at the “related searches” at the bottom of the page. Many of these will be closely related sub-topics. 
  • Find the Wikipedia page for your topic and pull it from the table of contents. 
  • Look at competitor content and ensure that you are covering similar points, while also adding extra value that puts you above your competitors. 

As you are researching sub-topics, you may find additional topics that are related to your main one but don’t quite fit in the same piece of copy. You can save this for future pieces of copy to create a topic cluster of several related articles or landing pages.. 

#2. List your references, sources, and inspiration. While defining keywords, doing Google searches, analyzing trends, and doing a competitor analysis, you surely came across content that you were inspired by. Keep those in a list with links or take screenshots. If the copy needs technical information, put that all together in a folder as a reference for the copywriter.

#3. Set a temporary title. Come up with a temporary title for the project and for the intended body of copy. This will help keep all things in mental order for you, your team, and the copywriter. Your copywriter can rewrite the title to be maximally effective when published.

#4. Organize all the visual assets. Don’t forget to add the visuals that will go with the copy. Even though the copywriter won’t be creating or editing any visuals, they need to know what visuals will be included in the final design. You can also ask the copywriter to write captions and alt text for the visuals. 

If the visuals haven’t been defined by the time you hire the copywriter, include inspiration visuals that will give a clear idea of what will be included later.

Add the visuals in a folder or set them up on one sheet for easy viewing. If the new copy is meant for an already designed landing page, screenshot the design or include the link in the content brief. 

Set up a content style guide

The next thing to complete is the content style guide. This guide can be reused for other projects. You only have to create it once and then tweak it according to each content project.

Here’s a quick list of what goes into a content style guide:

  • Brand mission and values: Start off the content brief with an introduction to your business and what it stands for. What is the brand mission, brand story, and company values? What does your business solve for people and how?
  • Copy preferences and rules: Continue by laying the ground rules for the copywriter. For example, there might be words and terms that your brand can’t use. Or maybe you want to stay away from a copy that is too pushy or repetitive.
  • Editorials rules and recommendations: Make sure to express in the content brief that you expect perfect grammar, spelling, and syntax in the copy. Offer suggestions for use of contractions or to stay away from overly technical words.
  • Purpose and objective: Next up is the part where you explain the purpose of the project and what goals you’d like to achieve. Do you want to sell more products? Are you looking to bring in more members to your site? Also, include expected results from the project.
  • Target audience: Describe the target audience in detail; who they are, where do they work, what they need, what they expect from your brand. Be specific as to what kind of language resonates with this audience so the copywriter knows who to write for and how.
  • Voice: The voice is what defines your brand when readers come across your copy. It has to match any other copy that you already have published so that customers aren’t confused.
  • Tone: Give detailed instructions about the tone; is it authoritative, friendly, or educational? Is it conversational or leaning towards an academic tone? The tone and voice go hand in hand with each other and you have to describe that to the copywriter.
  • Style: Define things like; using short sentences, not using exclamation marks, or using them at will. Explain to the copywriter if they should use bold or italic words and terms in the copy. Include if you’d like them to use quotes from experts and explain which ones are suitable.

Create a content brief

The more information you give a copywriter about your project’s objective and goals, the better your results will be. Your content brief should include:

  • The audience you’re targeting
  • Explain what your goal is and the intended result you want to reach
  • The optimal length for your copy
  • A list of topic ideas
  • A suggested title for the copy
  • Suggested subheading
  • Related topics that must be covered
  • The key questions the copy should answer
  • The main keywords you want to include
  • The tone of voice you want to be used
  • The list of external and internal links you want to include
  • The list of competitor websites they must avoid linking to
  • The visuals assets you want to include
  • List your references, sources, and inspiration

Define the assignment guidelines

Within your assignment guidelines, you must explain how do you expect the project to be tackled as a team between you and the copywriter. 

Include these things in the assignment guidelines:

  • Your preferred communication platformLet your potential copywriter know about how you’d like to communicate. Do you prefer email and Google docs or do you rather bring the copywriter into your Slack platform?
  • Deadlines for drafts and revisions. Set up a schedule for drafts and revisions. When you hire the copywriter, this might have some adjustments to fit both your schedules. You’ll have to later set up deadlines inside your communication platform with reminders and checklists.
  • Deadline for the finalized project. Choose a preliminary deadline for the project. Don’t forget to leave some leeway for any setbacks or complications. It’s better to set the final deadline for a day or two before you’d really like to have the project finished.
  • Detailed timezones for members involved in the project. If your team is remote and in different parts of the world, they all work at different times of the day. If your copywriter will need to talk to someone on your team, it’s best to inform everyone about the different timezones. That way, no one will be expecting responses at inappropriate times.

6. Find and interview the best copywriter for your project

With all the preparation you’ve done, you should have a good idea of what type of copywriter to look for. Do you need an email copywriter, or a product sales copywriter, maybe a podcast placement copywriter? Many copywriters can work in any style, but some specialize in particular fields. If you have a specific need or goal, it’s best to look for a specialized writer.

Here are the most important steps to follow for finding and hiring a copywriter

#1. Define the type of copywriter you need

Copywriters may also have different levels of experience, which likely affects their skills and rate. Hiring a junior copywriter might be the best fit for your budget, and this can be a great first step for your business. Just remember, at a minimum, copywriters should be able to: 

  • Create an engaging and persuasive copy
  • Write with minimal grammar and spelling errors
  • Meet deadlines
  • Work under pressure
  • Take constructive criticism
  • Have fresh eyes on your company without a predisposed bias
  • Take their time to strategize your content so that it converts

#2 Questions to ask your potential copywriter

In order to hire the right copywriter for your project, you have to ask the right questions. Establishing a positive and professional relationship with a copywriter is essential. There needs to be good communication all around. That way, the first job will be a success and then you can move forward with more projects afterward.

Below you’ll find a list of suggested questions to ask your potential copywriter. As you can see, these questions are great steps towards a positive conversation.

Do you have experience writing for my industry? After asking some questions to get to know the interviewee start asking punctual questions. Start by asking if they have experience in your particular industry. If they say yes, ask for what companies they’ve worked for. If not, ask if they could see it as a problem, or are they willing to take upon a challenge.

Do you have an established research process? Next, ask if they have a research process when starting a new project. Copywriters should be able to dig deep into a company to find out the UVP. Pay attention to what they say their research process looks like. If they say that all they need is a brief, then they might not be the right fit.

Can you show us some writing samples? Ask to see some of their copywriting work. Most will have a selection of their best work on hand. If there is any of their work live on the internet at that time, ask to see it. Ask a few more questions about those projects; are they successful? are clients seeing good results?

What is your preferred style of copy? Ask the candidate if they have a preferred style of copywriting. Some copywriters prefer a storytelling angle while others lean towards a more technical approach. Either way, it’s highly likely that they have a preference.

Do you have a favorite product or service category to write for? Following the previous question, ask about their preferred category or industry. If it doesn’t match your company, don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that they won’t do a good job. If they answer that they prefer a challenge over something they know a lot about, that’s a good sign.

#3. Test your best candidate

After interviewing a few candidates and choosing the top one or two, conduct a test to see if they fit the bill. The most efficient process is with a two-part test that will determine how suited the candidate is for the job.

Ask for a copy test. The best way to know if a potential copywriter will write exactly what you need is to ask them to write something as a sample. If what you need is a set of product descriptions, don’t ask them to write an email copy. Task them with a project just like the one you need or closely related. You’ll probably have better results if it’s a paid test. You can offer a lower rate than what they ask for just for this process.

The copywriter will do their best work if they feel that your testing process is honest and standard practice. Let them know it’s something you always do with candidates. Don’t diminish their work and ask them to prove themselves. Make sure to be transparent in the process.

Give feedback and analyze their copy test. Send the copywriter feedback about their work and offer suggestions about how they can improve the copy. Analyze their reaction and see how they go about editing the work with your feedback. This process will show you how they confront constructive criticism.

From the results of this test, you can make a decision if the copywriter in question is right for the role. Base it on the actual work they produce and on the answers to your interview questions to determine the best fit for your business

Conclusion

Copywriting doesn’t have to be mysterious or complicated. It takes research, skill, and a deep understanding of your business needs and goals, but the benefits of a good copywriting strategy can not be overstated. 

Hiring a copywriter to help your business saves you time and brings expert skills to your business to have the best impact on your bottom line. A skilled copywriter who is armed with all the information they need can amplify your marketing efforts and ROI to new heights and curate your brand image for your target audience. This is why it’s essential to prepare your business information to share with your copywriter. 

Don’t forget to promote your new content efficiently and use the copywriter’s expertise to help you draft the promotional copy to maintain a consistent brand voice and style. 

With the right copywriter and copywriting strategy, your business will grow like it never has before. 

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