A copywriter is someone who writes text (copy) for marketing or advertising purposes. This can include physical materials such as printed adverts, brochures and catalogues, but nowadays copywriters predominantly focus on digital properties such as websites, apps, blogs, emails and social media posts.
They mainly differ from traditional writers in the sense that copywriting is done with a clear purpose in mind; typically their overarching aim is to persuade the reader to take action on something or - in marketing speak - to ‘convert’. This significantly affects the style of written copy, meaning a good writer might not necessarily be a good copywriter (and vice versa).
Copywriting can range from 3,000 word think pieces to a three-word tagline. Think of some famous ones - Nike’s ‘Just Do It’, Budweiser’s ‘Mine’s a Bud’ and McDonald’s ‘I’m Lovin’ It’, for instance. They were all likely written by a copywriter.
However, good copywriting doesn’t come about by magic. It involves a long process that goes far beyond the final result that you see. Before taking a closer look at what a copywriter does, let’s look at why you would want to hire a copywriter, and who would want to do it.
Why hire a copywriter?
If you’re partaking in any sort of marketing activity like making a new website, designing a new app or running an advert in the local paper then you’ll need some copy written. Copywriters can use their knowledge of concepts such as user journeys, conversions and call-to-actions to ensure that your marketing is as cost-effective as possible.
For example, let’s say you are getting yourself a new website for your beauty salon. You decide to write the website copy yourself to save a bit of money. That’s understandable! Fast forward a few months, however, and nobody seems to be able to find your website. The ones who do access it don’t hang around for too long and don’t book an appointment online.
That’s where a copywriter comes in. A good SEO copywriter would optimise the copy on your website so that it is picked up by search engine algorithms, subsequently moving it up the search rankings and ensuring it is seen by more people. The copywriter would then try to convert these new readers into customers by using more persuasive language and improving the readability of the site.
This is one example of the value that a copywriter can bring to an organisation, but there are many more benefits of good copywriting.
Who hires copywriters?
All sorts of companies may decide to hire a copywriter for any number of things: an event planning company for their sales literature, a restaurant for their new menu, a supermarket for their new catalogue, a travel company for a new informational leaflet, a customer service company for new phone scripts for their employees...we can soon see that a copywriter can be involved in pretty much anything to do with words.
As you can probably guess, a modern copywriter must therefore be highly adaptable and able to write in a variety of different styles.
The copywriting process
It would be wonderful if us copywriters could just sit at our desks and do nothing but churn out page after page of brilliant writing, perfectly attuned to the target audience and exactly what our clients are looking for. Sadly, however, we need to do plenty of research and preparation before we even think about writing a word.
1 - Understand the product or service
The first thing that we would typically do before any writing would be to understand the product or service that we’re selling. What does it do? What’s the unique selling point? Who is the target audience? The answers to these types of questions can start to inform an overall content strategy for a client. If you don’t understand what it is then you’re promoting then you can’t get to the heart of what makes it so good.
2 - Understand the audience
The next step is to take a deeper dive into the audience you are writing for. Taking the example of an online clothing shop, let’s say that our target audience are females, aged 18-24, who live in the United Kingdom. How would we shape our writing to appeal to this demographic?
The first thing we might do is take a look at some competitors who are trying to reach the same group of people. We can examine their website, app, blog and social media channels to understand their tone of voice, but also the type of content that they produce. We could even go a step further and look on fashion forums, Reddit and other social media channels to understand what our audience is talking about, what they’re sharing and how they communicate.
This type of research does not only inform how we write, but also what we write about.
3 - Adapt the format
As we touched upon in the ‘Who Hires Copywriters?’ section, copywriting can take on a number of different forms. That means copywriters need to be highly versatile and able to adapt their copy for a wide range of different formats, audiences and purposes. A one size fits all approach will not suffice here.
Deciding upon the style and form of a piece of copy is the last step before actually writing the damn thing. After all, it’s no use writing a 2,000 word, text-heavy article to an audience who doesn’t digest content in that way. Which is where our audience research comes into play. Understand your product, understand your audience and write accordingly.
How the role of a copywriter has changed
50 years ago, you would now have everything you needed to write your copy. However, the shift from physical to digital copywriting has changed the way in which copywriters communicate - and given them even more things to think about.
Traditionally, copywriters were the type of people you might have come across on Mad Men: hard-drinking ad agency professionals who wrote the taglines found on old Coca-Cola adverts like this one.
However, whilst there’s still room for copywriting like this, things have changed a lot. Modern copywriters (probably) drink a lot less whiskey than those on Mad Men, and now mainly work in the digital world. In addition a modern copywriter should have a working knowledge of concepts like SEO, UX and sales funnels.
The style of copywriting has also changed significantly. On old ads from the pre-Internet age it’s normal to see large blocks of text and long paragraphs full of colourful language about the product or service.
Nowadays the focus is very much on short sentences, small paragraphs and headings throughout the page. You might say it’s a response to the short attention spans of Internet readers, who tend to scan through pages looking for key information rather than consuming every word. And although copywriters have had to adapt to that shift in reading style, there is still very much space for descriptive, entertaining and engaging long form copy.
The future of copywriters
The question ‘What does a copywriter do?’ is likely to take on a different meaning in the years to come. We’re increasingly seeing specialist roles within copywriting tailored exclusively to the digital world. One such example is a UX (User Experience) Writer, who writes the words you see throughout apps & websites. This copy is called Microcopy - error messages, text placeholders, call-to-action buttons - that kind of thing.
Not long ago this type of job would almost exclusively have been performed by app & web developers or UX designers - but the value of well-written copy done by a specialist is becoming clear to organisations. They now recognise that seemingly small changes to the words on a page can increase conversions and therefore positively impact the bottom line of a business. And as long as copywriters keep adding value to a company in ways like this, copywriting will continue to become even more specialised.