how copywriting works

How Copywriting Works: A 101 to the Writing that Fuels the Web

Most copywriters know exactly what this conversation feels like:

“What do you do?”

“I’m an SEO copywriter!”

“Oh…great! So, what do you do?”

When you say you’re a writer, most people assume you’re an aspiring Hemingway, tapping away at your typewriter in pursuit of the next great American novel.

Unless someone has experience in the digital marketing, content marketing, or online world, few people know what a copywriter does. (Not a copyright-er. I have another post on that.)

That said, though, everyone is familiar with the work of copywriters, whether they know it or not. In a world as marketing-dense as ours, copywriters essentially make the digital web spin. They write the scripts for television commercials, radio ads, mail and email marketing materials, and articles that help people find answers to problems and learn new things.

In other words, copywriters are everywhere!

As such, it’s never been more critical than it is right now to understand how copywriting works, and what a massive role it plays in our modern world.

guide to copywriting

What Copywriters Are (and What We Aren’t)

First things first: not all copywriters are clones of Don Draper.

don draper

Although romantic to imagine, that was way back when. Today, it’s 2017. There’s much less drama, smoking, and drinking in the office in this industry than what you see in the Mad Men series. 😉

That said, however, copywriters today fulfill a vast selection of positions.

Here are just a few of the things that define what copywriters are:

1. Copywriters Write Copy for Various Industries and Specialties

Depending on a copywriter’s unique job description, he or she might create marketing copy for a website or work one-on-one with an SEO company to write their website or create their Facebook posts. In other cases, copywriters write physical text material, like books, pamphlets, and educational sheets. No matter what industry they work in, copywriters work with words daily.

2. Copywriters Work with Other Teams to Create Marketing Copy

In most cases, copywriters work with other specialists, like SEOs and sales teams, to create well-rounded marketing copy that fulfills a broad series of goals.

3. Copywriters Wear Many Hats

A great copywriter is also a part-time marketer, editor, and publisher. While copywriters typically work with teams of editors, these skills are indispensable, and the best copywriters must know how to evaluate their content for quality and figure out what will and will not work for a client.

What today’s copywriters are NOT:

1. Novelists. While copywriters do sometimes create text copy, they’re not developing books that sell as novels. Those are typically ghostwriters or other forms of writers. Instead, copywriters may create ebooks, articles, or white papers.

2. Machines. Good copywriters pay a lot of attention to each piece they create. They don’t just churn out work in a one-size-fits-all manner. Instead, they collaborate closely with teams and managers to build customized material for each client.

3. Outbound Marketers. The wheelhouse of copywriters is to create material that makes people want to connect with a company. They don’t typically push themselves or their content on other people. Instead, they work hard to create content that delights readers and makes them want to interact with a brand.

The following graphic applies very much. 😉

what copywriters are

What’s Under the Hood at a Copywriting Agency: What Express Writers Does

Here at Express Writers, we know a thing or two about copywriters. Not only do we hire them – we are them! Before I founded my company, I worked as a copywriter on various freelancing platforms. I landed hundreds of gigs and dozens of clients, and within three months of self-teaching as an online copywriter, I went on to start my agency. (Check out my full story here.)

Today, my agency has a full-service Content Shop with over 40 products:

content shop express writers

And our content agency staffs a team of more than 50 copywriters, strategists, and editors, handpicked by moi (more on our standards here), who specialize in writing, creating, and publishing the following types of content:

  • Blogs and blogging packages
  • Web pages, landing pages
  • Product descriptions
  • Infographics
  • Meta copy
  • Interviews (with our writers, strategists, project managers)
  • Research
  • In-line and developmental editing
  • Keyword strategy
  • Content planning/editorial calendars
  • Expert copywriting in all areas, including Financial, Technical, Creative, Legal, Medical, & more
  • Press Releases
  • Ebooks
  • Slides (PowerPoint or PDF)
  • Ad Copy
  • Slogans/Taglines
  • Scripts
  • Sales Pages
  • Whitepapers
  • Email content
  • Social media posts and custom imagery
  • Social media plans, profile creation

Here’s an example of what we create in a year, per our year-end report for 2016:

content creation report

ALL this content is created by our handpicked copywriters, strategists, and editors, who specialize in different industries, content types, and services.

This gives you a pretty good idea of exactly how diverse copy offerings can get!

What Qualifications do Good Copywriters Have?

The field of copywriters is a very diverse one. While some copywriters attended school for degrees in English or Journalism, others have spent their pre-copywriting lives working as attorneys, cooks, or dog mushers! Copywriters come in all shapes and sizes, and this unique assortment of backgrounds allows copywriters to bring their experiences into the field, creating more diverse and interesting copy.

As it stands today, there is no one-size-fits-all educational program for copywriters. Instead, a copywriter that’s going to succeed in the industry just needs to possess a few key traits. These are as follows:

1. Creativity

First off, copywriters need to be creative. While many people assume creativity is only necessary for people writing novels and short stories, and not people writing marketing copy, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Since copywriters write for such a diverse selection of clients, they need to be agile enough to think on their feet. Storytelling is central to great copywriting, and the best experts out there know how to access their creativity to weave compelling, unique copy that will engage an audience and help a brand meet its goals.

2. Strong Writing Skills

While copywriters don’t need a college degree to excel in the field, they do need strong writing skills. While it’s true that copywriters write about everything from firearm safety to SEO, the center of all that work is writing, and it’s essential that those skills are rock-solid. Copywriters need to be comfortable with the written word and know how to bend and command it to do what they want.

3. An Ability to Work with Others

While many copywriters work remotely, they are not lone wolves. Instead, copywriters work with teams of SEOs, advertisers, designers, and sales professionals. As such, the successful copywriter has strong teamwork skills and knows how to work collaboratively with other people to create a comprehensive product.

4. Strong Research Skills

One of the questions I frequently get as a copywriter is “what do you do if you don’t know the industry?”

Although some copywriters specialize in certain sectors, such as the financial or medical industry, many copywriters write on all topics for their clients. Because of this, it’s critical to have strong research skills. For example, if a customer asks you to write about choosing an engine lubricant for your sports car, and you’re not an expert on sports cars or their engines, you need to know how to use the web to find quality information that can help you write the article.

Here’s a post one of our full-time writers wrote on how to write for even the most boring-est of industries.

5. An Ability to Take Criticism

If you didn’t receive any formal training as a copywriter (and even if you did), criticism is a central part of the job. You can’t always “nail it,” and great copywriters expect to get the occasional negative feedback from editors and clients. In these cases, excellent copywriters take the feedback and learn from it, while people that won’t make it in the industry crumble beneath it.

6. A Hunger for Knowledge

Copywriting intersects with other industries, like SEO and digital marketing, and copywriters who will rise to the top of their industry are continually seeking to learn about these things. In addition to strengthening your writing, these simple tricks will also allow a copywriter to stay on the bleeding edge of his or her industry.

7. A Willingness to Learn

Copywriters who aren’t familiar with the industry before they start need only to want to learn it. Things like social media, proper blog formatting, and good SEO practices can all be learned, and dominating them is what sets one copywriter apart from the next.

Check out the book I wrote on how to create online copy, if you’re hungry for an educational read on copywriting!

How Much Do Copywriters Make?

The answer to this question varies depending on how much a copywriter works, who he or she works for, whether they’re employed by a company or by themselves, and where the copywriter is.

According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for copywriters is $55,000 annually.

That said, though, it’s not uncommon for copywriters to earn far more – as in five figures per project when they work for large corporations or run a successful self-employed business. Joanna Wiebe, famous conversion copywriter, doesn’t work for less than $60,000 per project.

As the world of digital marketing changes, copywriters who also learn relevant and in-demand skills, like video script copywriting and some graphic design, can supplement their offerings, provide more value for their clients, and make more money. Copywriters can also boost their worth by creating a longstanding history of quality content for a variety of customers. When companies see that a copywriter has successfully increased conversions, helped companies draw new customers, or overhauled a company’s online presence, that copywriter becomes more in-demand in the industry.

Public speaking (especially at TEDx stages) can also significantly boost a copywriter’s rep and net them far higher-earning projects and prospects.

How to Find Copywriting Jobs

If you’re a copywriter looking for work, your options are virtually limitless. You can work for almost any major company, on your own, or with a dedicated content creation agency, like Express Writers! Here are just a few places to start looking for work:

  • Express Writers. We’re almost always hiring! Send in a resume as a writer and an editor. You must have at least 2 years of writing or editing experience for either open position area.
  • The ProBlogger Job Board. The premier copywriting work resource, the ProBlogger Job Board features thousands of writing jobs refreshed daily. It’s a wonderful filter for high-quality writing jobs. This job board features many major, well-known accounts, such as Canva and Thrive Market. Targeted directly at copywriters. The brainchild of one of the best copywriters out there, Darren Rowse, this is a job board made by writers for writers.
  • Private Companies. Content marketing is growing at an astonishing rate and, as such, virtually everyone needs copywriters for their businesses. As such, you’ll find that many private companies need copywriters to help them develop their online material. If there’s a company you admire, look at their job board to see if they’re hiring copywriters. If they’re not, you can always reach out and pitch your services according to best pitch practices.
  • Local Companies. Local companies in your area may need copywriting services to grow their online presence. Keep your eyes peeled for companies in your area in need of copywriting services and offer your expertise when you find them!

How to Hire Copywriters

We put a guide together on how to work with your copywriter! Check it out here.

One of the tips our Content Development Specialist, Tara, had to share is a great key of working with writers.

tara quote outsourcing

Our content creation agency works hard to staff the very best copywriters on the web. What’s more, we offer some benefits that individual freelancers don’t, namely the ability to take on far more content and the assurance that your content will always get finished, even if a freelancer falls ill or has a family emergency. As if that weren’t enough, we also staff a selection of industry-specific copywriters so that you can find a professional financial, marketing, or medical copywriter for all your online needs.

5 Things That Make Online Copywriting Great

Now that you know a little bit about how copywriting works at the foundational level – who copywriters are, what they do, how to be one, and how to find one – let’s talk about what separates the wheat from the chaff regarding the actual writing that goes into copywriting.

If you’ve ever read a batch of college essays, you know that not all writing is created equal and that ten different people writing about the same topic can create a series of ten very different results. With this in mind, how do you tell what’s great copywriting and what falls short?

The answer is simple: great copywriting possesses the following things:

1. Detail

Copywriting is nothing without extensive detail. Today’s readers are more discerning than ever, and they’re not easily placated by fluffy, low-hanging content that doesn’t do much to appease their needs or help them find solutions to their problems. As such, great copywriting digs deep.

Here’s an example: if two copywriters had an assignment to write about coal mining in America, the sub-par copywriter would give a definition of coal mining, talk about where and how people do it, and then be done. A great copywriter, on the other hand, will do some research, provide in-depth statistics about how coal mining has grown and changed over the year, discuss the challenges facing modern coal miners, and provide a realistic outlook for the future of coal miners.

The more detailed online copy is, the more useful it is for your readers. This, in turn, helps you create material that ranks well and allows you to stand out as an authority in your industry.

2. Quality

No copy ever rose to the top of the web for being riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes. Today, quality is more essential than ever in online copywriting. In fact, Google itself even made this explicitly clear back in 2015, when they released their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.  Their “Characteristics of High-Quality Pages” section stated explicitly that pages that were to rank as high-quality must possess “a satisfying amount of high-quality main content.”

SQEV Screenshot

Today, it’s easy to create low-quality content that doesn’t take user experience, SEO, or flow into account, and writers who do that are a dime a dozen. To truly stand out, though, copywriting needs to be high-quality, free of spelling and grammar mistakes, and tailored specifically to a company’s unique audience. When all these things are in place, content can not only do its job of educating and entertaining audience, but it can also claim and maintain a prominent spot on the web.

3. A Focus on SEO

 Neil Patel has said that SEO and content go together like peanut butter and jelly, and he’s right! Without content, search engine optimization (or SEO) can’t function, and without SEO, content would just drift around the web, homeless and hungry for an audience and a place.

If you’re not familiar with search engine optimization, it’s the process of using a series of tools, tricks, and approaches (such as keyword researchmeta content optimization, and proper formatting for blog content) to optimize content so that search engines can “read,” categorize and deliver it.

To succeed in today’s digital world, online content needs to marry SEO best practices with quality writing. This means including relevant keyword phrases naturally throughout the material, utilizing strong internal and external links, keeping sentences short and the reading level low enough to appeal to various audiences, and using headers and subheaders to break up text and make it accessible for readers on all devices – from mobile phones to desktop computers.

If copywriting doesn’t focus on SEO, it’s simply not worth investing in!

4. The Right Voice

While a brand like Poo-Pourri can get away with writing in a lippy, off-the-cuff fashion, the ACLU can’t. The difference is the culture of these two organizations. While Poo-Pourri, a “spray before you go” toilet product, is sassy to its core, the ACLU is a serious legal organization where people expect to find professional, informative information. As such, the voice for these two platforms is very different, and great copywriting takes this into account.

Today, a large part of what makes copy successful is its voice. Even if content is well-written and compelling, it won’t perform well unless it’s speaking directly to a platform’s audience and readers. As such, great copywriters must know how to adapt and adjust their voices depending on publication and platform.

5. A Willingness to Play the Long Game

There’s a distinct difference between outbound marketing and inbound marketing. Outbound marketing goes out, from the organization it begins with, to capture and engage customers. Think purchased email lists, unsolicited phone calls, and door-to-door sales.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, seeks to provide material that’s good enough to bring customers in. Think blogging, social media, and video marketing.

While copywriting can be used for outbound marketing (copywriters create most of the material you find in your mailbox), most copywriting jobs today are in the inbound marketing sphere. And this is for a good reason. Today, content is much more effective when it doesn’t shove readers. For evidence of this, all you need to do is look at the rise in ad-blocking software (which Seth Godin wrote about back in 2015) and the fact that the majority of direct mail is never opened.

Today, people want content that builds relationships, rather than trying to jump right into their pockets. As such, the most successful copywriting currently on the web is the stuff that builds trust, explains difficult concepts, offers solutions, and doesn’t try to sell anything at all. While it may be tough for companies to understand why they would invest in a copywriter who won’t try to sell things to their clients, the truth is that, in 2017, the best sales pitch is no sales pitch at all.

Great Digital Copywriting: The Stuff That Makes the Web Go Around!

Today, the web runs on great copywriting. It’s everywhere you look!

From the banner ads that pop up as you cruise a website to the social media posts that make you laugh and the blogs you turn to when you need to learn how to change a bike chain or navigate your newly updated Instagram feed, copywriting is what makes it all work.

To find out more about the ins and outs of online copywriting, check in with us at Express Writers and follow The Write Blog. As one of the premier copywriting agencies on the web, we know a thing or two about hiring writers, connecting writers with companies, and keeping you up to date on all the great news, happenings, and events in the world of online copy!

cta expert content

2 replies
  1. Chris Winters
    Chris Winters says:

    It makes sense that copywriters would serve multiple companies at a time. My brother has always wanted to create his own website. I definitely think that he should consider finding a copywriter that could protect his ideas.

    Reply

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