According to Flannery O’Connor, a good man is hard to find.
(Image via Amazon)
But what about a good web copywriter?
Sure, plenty of people out there say they can write for the web.
But, as the common saying goes, talk is cheap.
How do know when you’ve stumbled on a professional word ninja, or when you’ve been hoodwinked by an upstart money-grubber masquerading as a copywriter?
Luckily, we have some ideas.
Look carefully at their qualifications, both the ones they say they have and the ones that shine through their writing samples.
The best web copywriters will be able to claim all of the skills we have compiled below.
If you’re a copywriter working your way up in the industry, study this list and take note. Having these skills could be the key to nailing your next big gig.
9 Skills, Traits, and Characteristics the Best Web Copywriters Have in Spades
The best web writers have honed their raw talent and turned it into an occupation where they earn money for every word they set down. Do you (or the web writers you’re hiring) have all the skills on this list?
1. Nimble Creativity
The best web writers need to be able to turn on a dime and write in a completely different style and voice for different clients.
That means their capacity for nimble creativity needs to be very high.
Online writers also need to be able to produce copy and content when that creativity well is drying up. A nimble, can-do attitude is essential, here. Sometimes, you just have to buckle down and get some words out.
The best writers who live and breathe online content will be able to do it and do it well, no matter the circumstances.
2. Research Chops
Research is a huge part of online writing. To underline your authority, you have to prove yourself in your written content and copy.
That means relying on the knowledge and research of others, along with your own. It means citing sources and studies, and providing statistics and evidence that back up your claims.
The online writer who is well-versed in research best-practices, including how to properly cite sources and link to them in content, is indispensable.
3. Strong Understanding of the Basics of Constructing Great Sentences
Writers construct, tweak, and manipulate sentences to get their ideas across clearly. Without the basic ability to craft really good ones, can you call yourself a writer?
This ability includes understanding grammar do’s and don’ts like noun-verb agreement and comma usage, but it also includes knowing how to create a compelling call-to-action, how to write effective meta descriptions, and how to compose a zinger of a headline.
As a copywriter, you need to know which of these are correct. (Image via Grammar Girl)
4. Sales and Online Marketing Knowledge
Does your web writer understand the various stages of the buying cycle/sales funnel? (Have they even heard of a sales funnel?) Do they get how to tailor their words to what the audience knows/doesn’t know at a particular stage?
(Image via ShanePatrickJones.com)
What about landing page copy? Do they understand how best to craft a page that leads the audience to take action?
If they don’t, they should.
If you’re the writer, according to Content Marketing Institute, your knowledge should be T-shaped.
You need a deep knowledge of content – best-practices that earn traffic, engagement, and conversions, and how to tie in SEO –- that’s a given.
You also need at least a passing understanding of online marketing concepts like technical SEO, UX, press & PR, and analytics.
5. Generalist AND Specialist Expertise
A web copywriter needs to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of one… Or two.
The former is important for that aforementioned nimbleness factor. You need to be able to pivot from topic to topic without much trouble, research topics if you’re shaky, and write about them like you know what you’re talking about.
That is the power of a skilled generalist writer.
On the other hand, you also need specialist knowledge in at least one topic. This means you have the background to write about that topic from the viewpoint of an expert.
This background can include education, experience, or a mix of the two. According to Snag a Job, a blend of both is a good place to start honing your expertise.
Either way, the best writers can specialize and write with an incredibly authoritative tone for at least one industry.
6. The Power of Persuasion
Persuasive writing is a huge part of copywriting online.
The attention-spans of your readers are shorter than ever (the average currently clocks in at 8 seconds – one second shorter than that of an average goldfish). They’re distracted by every shiny thing that’s blinking at them or screaming in all caps.
They’ll click away from your content faster than you can blink – unless you can persuade them to stay.
This means knowing and using proven writing styles and copywriting formulas that keep visitors glued to the page. It also means formatting your words for maximum ease-of-reading on tiny mobile device screens or headache-inducing computer monitors.
There’s a lot that goes into persuading audiences online, so the copywriter who can do it (and do it well) is worth their weight in gold.
Want to get better at persuasive writing? Check out the work of past and present copywriting giants. Look to David Ogilvy, Joanna Wiebe, Jon Morrow, and Robert Collier.
A copywriter’s job is to speak to the reader on a deep level. You need to be able to address their hopes, fears, and desires like they’re your own.
The only way to truly get on their wavelength is to empathize with them.
If you have a fair amount of natural empathy, you have an advantage. If you don’t, you can practice it.
- Step outside yourself. Put your thoughts and feelings aside.
- Imagine trying on the perspective of the person in question, like a pair of glasses. What do you see differently? How do you feel?
- Try to stay in that headspace while you write.
- You can also try reading lots of books written in the first-person perspective (with lots of “I” language – “I did,” “I said,” “I wanted,” “I tried,” etc.) These narratives literally immerse you in someone else’s thoughts and may help you hone your ability to empathize.
8. Little-to-No Writer Ego
A copywriter’s job is not to get their own writing style airtime. If you’re in the hot seat, your job is not to write the way you want to write.
A copywriter’s job is to get other people’s words out there, and to do it in the best way possible. Copywriters have to write to make their clients sound knowledgeable and interesting, and their products enticing.
They need to write for their clients’ audiences, not their own.
Naturally, many copywriters also have higher writing ambitions. They may have wanted to be a writer from a young age, or have dreams of completing a longer work of fiction or nonfiction under their own name.
For some writers, their motivations for their personal writing career may clash with what’s expected of them (and what’s needed of them) as a copywriter.
If your writer ego is a little too big for its britches (don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a failing; it’s actually what gets many writers published), you may want to rethink copywriting.
Similarly, if you find it very hard to put that ego aside and write with equal verve for clients, you might want to rethink copywriting.
9. Self-Motivation and Determination
These days, most copywriters aren’t hunched over desks in a communal space, writing elbow-to-elbow with their colleagues in a Mad Men-esque office setting.
(Image via Slate)
Instead, most are working from their laptop in a coffee shop or toiling away behind the monitor in their home office. Some even are scraping a living from a seat on their couch in their tiny apartment.
(Take a look at how our remote team here at EW gets down to business. We each have our own personal spaces and methods.)
Needless to say, when you’re working alone with no boss over your shoulder, the chances that you’ll deviate from the task at hand are 10 times – nay, 100 times greater than if you are working in an office with supervision.
That means the best web copywriters are self-motivated, determined, and on-point when it comes to time and work management.
They don’t need constant supervision because they have the skills to stay focused and on-task.
This focus is 100% necessary, especially when an assignment looms that is hard to write. You have to wade through that beast no matter what, and the best copywriters can get through with aplomb.
Without that kind of self-sustaining motivation, you’re sunk as a remote copywriter.
Web Copywriters Who Reach Success Have These 7 Skills in Common
Great web copywriting is an art and a science. You need lots of technical knowledge, but you also need to know how to riff once in a while (and understand when you can riff on the rules).
Arguably, though, these eight base skills serve as the foundation for greatness.
You don’t have to be born with them. You can cultivate them, grow them, and become a bonafide amazing online writer.
So, whether you’re getting your foot in the door or looking for fresh talent to do the writing for you, look for these characteristics. Make them your mantra.
Great writing will surely follow.