In the middle of the 1800s, the world of advertising began to take shape.
As time went on, businesses were beginning to pop up around the globe and a number of advertising-based professions emerged.
There was the advertising agent, the researcher, the commercial illustrator, the account executive, the creative director, and many more.
(If you’ve ever seen Mad Men, you’ve gotten a taste of many of these occupations in action.)
But out of all of the professions that arose from the early days of the advertising industry, it was the copywriter who would become the most highly regarded.
As advertising icon Julian Sivulka mentioned in her book, Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes, about ads in the Roaring Twenties,
“It was obvious that the copywriter was the most prominent member of the advertising team, since illustrations and photography seem almost interchangeable.”
Following these early days, the copywriting profession began to take off.
Copywriters like David Ogilvy and Leo Burnett became legends by helping generate hundreds of millions of dollars for major corporations like McDonald’s, Pepsi, and Rolls-Royce.
And yet, even as these luminaries paved the way for the future of copywriting, it’s still one of the most misunderstood professions in the world.
What the Heck is a Copywriter?
If you Googled that question, you’d get an answer that looks like this…
That’s an awfully bland answer.
But the better way to answer this is to first ask the question, “What is copywriting?”
Copyblogger provides a much more intriguing answer for this:
So, in its simplest form; a copywriter is someone who uses the art and science of strategically delivering words in order to get people to take action.
What Type of Work Does a Copywriter Do?
Copywriting is such a broad profession that there are literally hundreds of things that a copywriter could work on or specialize in.
So, for the purpose of not being too broad, we’re going to focus solely on web copywriting.
As far as a web copywriter goes, you’ll find them working on things like:
But, while all of these tasks eventually require putting the fingers to the keyboard, writing is far from the only work that a copywriter engages in.
What Types of Skills Does a Copywriter Need to be Successful?
Unless you’re a part of a large copywriting agency with tons of resources, today’s copywriters need to be a jack-of-all-trades.
They research. They edit. They proofread. They track and report data. They manage projects and campaigns.
They do everything necessary to get to the point where they’re able to compile words that get people to take action.
Some of the skills that they need to be well-rehearsed in include:
And that’s not even the half of it.
5 Steps to Becoming a Copywriting Superstar
While it will take some time, anybody can become a top-notch copywriter.
Even if you’re not a solid writer, following through with the steps listed below can help you work your way towards eventual greatness in the field.
1. Focus on Research
Research is the foundation of great copywriting.
While authors and generalist writers talk frequently about their challenges with writer’s block, a copywriter is never unprepared to the point where they don’t know what to say.
As David Ogilvy famously said,
Ogilvy understood the necessity of research before ever even thinking about the actual writing process.
He spent many of the early years of his career working for Gallup Polling, a market research agency.
From that experience, Ogilvy understood the power that extensive research gave him when it came to crafting compelling copy that could get people to take action.
How to Research Effectively
Researching effectively comes down to two things:
- Gaining a deep understanding of your product or service
- Gaining an even deeper understanding of your audience
In the Definitive Guide to Copywriting, which Neil Patel co-authored with Joe Putnam, they talk about the importance of understanding the product or service first.
In order to do this, Patel and Putnam advise that you ask yourself five main questions:
- How would you describe the product?
- What’s unique/special about this product?
- What big benefit does it provide?
- What pain does it alleviate?
- What features are included and what are the benefits of each?
Defining and Understanding Your Audience
Not every project that a copywriter engages in is going to be aimed at getting the reader to immediately purchase a product or service.
But there’s little doubt that every project WILL involve the need to speak directly to a specific audience in a way that can get them to take action.
Maybe you want to educate or entertain them so they become followers of your blog. Or maybe you want them to join an email list.
Whatever the goal, defining and understanding your audience is crucial to achieving it.
Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers says that, in order to decode your target audience, you should ask six questions. They include:
- Who are they?
- What’s their most pressing issue, problem, or desire?
- Where do they get their info?
- What benefit of your product solves their problem?
- What sets off their BS detector?
- Who do they trust?
By answering these questions thoroughly, you’ll have the foundation you need to craft compelling copy.
2. Shut Up and Listen
One of the greatest quotes you’ll ever hear about copywriting is by the iconic Eugene Schwartz. He said,
And he couldn’t be more right.
If you research properly, you’ll never have to worry about writer’s block.
But research doesn’t just mean typing a bunch of words into Google and taking notes of what you find.
It also means listening.
Copyblogger contributor Robert Bruce wrote a short but incredibly powerful post about How to Become a Truly Great Copywriter.
His advice…shut up and listen.
Simple, yet powerful.
Research. Listen. Write great copy.
3. Master the Headline
Headlines make or break your copy.
You probably already know that 8 out of 10 people will read your headline, but only 2 out of 10 will end up moving on to read your body copy.
But if you don’t create amazing headlines, those numbers drop even further.
And, since your goal is to get people to take action, that’s something that you simply cannot afford to let happen.
How to Create Amazing Headlines
There are hundreds of ways to develop intriguing headlines.
For blog posts, some of the most popular headline styles include:
Drawing emotion can also help generate higher viewership and more shares.
The process for creating headlines intended to get people to buy a product or service, however, requires a different thought process.
In these cases, your focus should be solely on the customer.
As master copywriter Joanna Wiebe says,
“The best headline copy will come from the words your customers use.”
Wiebe mentions that there are basic guidelines that you should follow when writing home page or landing page headlines. They include:
If you need some ideas to move forward with, check out her article that shows you five landing page headline formulas you can test today.
4. Test, Test, and Test Some More
As Neil Patel says,
“…it’s critical to test all of your copy because it’s impossible to know how customers will respond to what you’ve written.”
We’ve already identified that a copywriter’s job is to get people to take action.
So, if your headlines and body copy aren’t getting people to take action, you’re not doing your job.
That’s where testing comes in.
When you’re writing a blog post, you can test headlines to determine which one generates the highest readership or generates the most shares.
When you’re trying to sell a product or service, you can test your CTA, your headline copy, your body content, etc. to determine what helps you generate the highest conversion rate.
The point is, you need to test. And you need to test a lot.
Why? Neil Patel and Joe Putnam answer this for us…
In the copywriting profession, the most common type of test is the A/B test (also called the split test).
The term came from the controlled experiment technique that medical professionals have been using for decades.
For more information about mastering A/B testing, ConversionXL contributor Alex Birkett put together a great guide on the topic.
5. Pick a Niche
Your job as a copywriter becomes much easier when you make the decision to specialize.
Before we move further, I should note that specializing DOES NOT mean that you won’t need the skills that we listed earlier.
You still need to know the fundamentals of writing, researching, editing, SEO, design, social media, email marketing, etc.
But, by picking a niche, you’re able to strengthen your fundamentals towards a specific type of copywriting and for the industry where your skills are best suited.
Generalists vs. Specialists
It all comes down to the conversation about generalists vs specialists.
In the world of medicine, general practitioners get paid far less than their specialist counterparts.
Specialists also have a much easier time marketing to potential patients.
For example, someone with a heart condition is going to seek out a cardiologist, not a general practitioner.
And the same is almost always true in the world of copywriting.
A SaaS business that wants to build a high converting landing page is going to seek out a conversion copywriter that specializes in working with SaaS businesses.
Positioning Yourself as a Specialist
Copy Hacker contributor Lianna Patch wrote a detailed post for helping you find your niche.
You’d be wise to check it out.
Once you’ve chosen your niche, Patch suggests a simple formula for successfully positioning yourself as a specialist.
Now, if you’re just starting, it certainly doesn’t hurt to dip your toes in the water as a copywriting generalist.
Doing so will help you develop your fundamental skills while helping you decide what niche is the best fit for your interests.
But, as time goes on, it’s clear that choosing a niche can be a much more effective way to make a successful and lucrative career out of copywriting.
6. Seek Constant Improvement
As Robert Greene, author of the New York Times bestseller, Mastery, says,
Greene’s words ring true in the world of copywriting.
Copywriters that commit to constant improvement, and learning new skills and information about the craft, are the ones that will succeed in the future.
Set your sights on constantly gaining knowledge. Never stop learning. Work your way towards mastery.
That’s the key to becoming a superstar copywriter.
The Ingredients of a Master Copywriter
- Focus on research
- Shut up and listen
- Master the headline
- Test, test, and test some more
- Pick a niche
- Seek constant improvement
These are the ingredients that can guide you towards becoming a master copywriter.
Sure, it won’t be easy. But, if you put the effort in, it’ll most certainly be worth it.
At EW, we have our fair share of expert copywriters working their way towards mastery. And, if you need some assistance getting your audience to take action, we can help. Give us a shout. You won’t regret it.