What is copywriting? We tell you everything you need to know about it in the essential copywriting crash course. We also give you 10 tips to be a better copywriter.
Sales, advertising, and a great deal of what readers encounter on the internet counts as copywriting.
Copywriting is writing for the purposes of advertising, selling, informing, and often persuading the reader. It’s based around views, engagements, and SEO. It’s not just writing that is meant to evoke an emotional response, it’s writing that’s meant to convince.
Writing copy can be potentially profitable for writers, but it can also make newcomers feel like a fish out of water.
Here’s what writers should know about writing good copy.
What Is Copywriting?
Copy refers to the written word, usually in the context of media and publishing; copywriting can be used to refer to articles, features, blog posts, website pages, social media posts, manuals, advertisements, and a wide variety of other written things.
Generally, the words ‘copy’ and ‘content’ refer to writing used to market, advertise, inform, or sell.
Content that’s competing for viewership, hits, and comments can also be referred to as copywriting.
Other Copywriting Terms
Industries have jargon, lingo, and terminology. The same is true for copywriting.
- SEO: Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the practice of refining writing for search engines and bots; often, specific keywords are used to create bot-friendly writing. Read: Why Content Creation Matters Most In SEO
- Short & Long-Tail: A short-tail keyword is ‘plumber Germiston’, while a long-tail keyword is ‘where can I find a plumber in Germiston’. It often describes exactly what people type into a search engine to find a certain page.
- B2B: Business-to-business (B2B) copywriting is writing that flows from one business to another.
- CTA: A call-to-action (CTA) describes sentences like, ‘click here’ or ‘call now’ that initiates or inspires an action from the reader. Buttons, banners, and links can also be calls-to-action.
- White & Black Hat: White hat copywriting is ethically based; black hat copywriting uses techniques to force-manipulate how search engines see the page. Don’t use this. (Often, black hat copy is meant more for search engines than for people.)
- Engagement: Views, comments, shares, and clicks are forms of engagement. Engagement is one of the most important elements of successfully written copywriting.
- Niche Copywriting: Niche copy is for specific or specialised industries and topics, like health, tech, education, or legal. For many writers, finding their experienced niche is a good way into the copywriting industry.
5 Ways To Write Copywriting
Copywriting is a business, but copywriting is also the art of writing – and writing well.
[Tip: If you want to improve your business writing, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook.]
Writing copy can be seen as goal-oriented writing. The piece only works if it achieves the desired goal for your client, whether it’s more hits or product sales. Beyond this, there are general rules of thumb that writers should apply to angle their writing towards the copywriting sphere.
1. Use short paragraphs and sentences.
Copywriting never has long, drawn-out sentences that first catch the reader’s attention at the very start of the sentence you’re reading an then continues until much later on, while using so many words in a single sentence that you almost forget what the original topic of the sentence was by the time you’ve reached the end of the sentence. (See what happened there? Don’t do it.)
2. Use outlines (with keywords).
The easiest way to approach copywriting is with an outline with clear sections and headlines. (Include the keywords you want to use in the copy.) You can even use mind-maps if that’s your thing.
Outlines help writers to fix issues before they’ve written them down. It saves time, and it means you have a much better idea of where you’re going with the piece. Minus an outline, you’re writing down random things and hoping, vaguely, that they look right when you’re done. (Surely, outlines are a better approach!)
An outline can also help a client understand where a copywriter is taking their brief.
3. Use The Active Voice.
The passive voice was avoided by the copywriter. Generally, copywriting uses the active voice and third-person language – unless you’re writing very specific types of copy (such as product reviews) where a personal touch (first person) is a required one for the brief.
Passive voice feels clumsy in general. In copywriting, it’s worse.
4. Don’t over-use colourful language.
Copywriting, and specifically sales copy, needs language that’s punchy and eye-catching. Writers will soon realise that there’s a way to over-use all of these and make your piece feel like that unappetising, heavy trifle made with everything you could have thrown in.
Choose words selectively. Ask yourself whether the words belong, or whether they can be used in a better, shorter way.
5. Use convincing, yes-language.
Copywriting uses convincing, positive language.
It’s the kind of language that makes the reader involved in the story, but also want to be more involved in it from there. It’s language that makes you read, keep reading, comment, share, and interact.
Say ‘definitely’ instead of ‘no problem’, and while writing copy, always think if the words you’re using could have a potentially negative trigger for the reader (and a more positive way to say it).
10 Tips For Being A Better Copywriter
Copywriting is the driving force behind blogs, magazines, social media, advertisements, and the internet.
Do you want to break into the copywriting industry as a new writer? Or switch to writing copy as a traditional fiction writer? Do you want to build your copywriting skills?
The best place to start is right here. Here are 10 tips for being a better copywriter.
Connect with businesses, start-up companies, professionals, and publications. Connect some more with professionals and experts. Then fire up these connections with emails saying, ‘Hey, I can write something for you. I’ve written this-and-this before.’
Every call, every pitch, every email is a potential connection and in copywriting, connections are important.
2. Marketing Yourself
Great, so you want to be a copywriter. Let’s assume that nobody else in the world but you knows about this. How will you find clients?
Market through message boards, job posting boards, classified ads, and your own website. Get ready to do a lot of cold calling – and sometimes, deal with a lot of emails saying, ‘Not right now, thanks.’
Market some more by introducing yourself to anyone who might even look like they could use excellent, professional writing. Make sure that’s what you can deliver.
Always remember that successful writing is also about the business of it.
3. To Agencies – And Beyond
There are a couple of ways to be a copywriter.
Copywriters can work for an agency full-time, but they can also be freelance copywriters who seek out individual jobs and clients.
There’s no right or wrong way to approach these options. Each has individual benefits and drawbacks, and that’s up to an individual writer’s choice of how much metaphorical steak they’d like to have on their metaphorical plate.
4. Avoiding Copy Mills
Copywriting can have many pitfalls for writers to avoid. One is the copy mill.
Set your rates according to current industry standards. From there, charge either more or less depending on your experience and the job’s requirements.
There are thousands of copywriting agencies (called copy mills or content farms) offering intentionally bad rates. They’re referred to as mills because their goal is pumping out vast amounts of average or bad copy – and paying writers nothing.
These are widely known as the exploitative sweatshops of the writing world. Even if you’re desperate, don’t.
5. Persuasive Language
Copywriting is based around persuasive language. This is language that’s used effectively, not necessarily colourfully. All copy is meant to inspire a certain effect or action upon the person who reads it, hence its use in advertising.
Learn more about the language behind sales and business; learn jargon and terminology. Read everything you can possibly get your hands on, including products that you’ve bought because the ad was an effective one.
It’s an important step to become a better, more convincing copywriter for your clients.
6. The Way Around SEO
Successful copywriters should know what’s going on in the world of SEO; that is, the world of tech and the world of search engines, stocks, and sales.
Know what’s trending. Know what’s not trending. Know which keywords are popular today, last week, last month, and last year.
Must-read: 10 SEO Copywriting Tips for Beginners
7. The SEO Check
An SEO checker does just that: it checks a piece of writing for SEO markers like keyword density and links. A simple SEO check can tell you whether your writing piece is a hit or miss for search engine purposes.
Always check a piece through a basic SEO checker once you’re done with spelling and grammar. If there’s anything that a search engine might not like, a basic SEO tool should be able to point out what to fix. If you use a plugin like Yoast, you will be able to track if you are doing this correctly.
8. Use Online Tools
- Advanced checking tools (like Grammarly) look for overused words, unnecessary phrases, and other writing finer points that your regular old word processing checker is likely to miss.
- Plagiarism checkers (like Copyscape) ensure that your writing piece is original. It tells you where any sentence fragments have been said elsewhere on the internet. It also tells you which sections to rewrite (and how original, by percentage, the writing piece currently is).
9. Editing Copywriting (with Clients)
Copywriting should be edited with care.
When editing copy, cut overly colourful language, and slice superfluous phrases or words. Don’t be afraid to rewrite or rework.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask. Always discuss possible ideas or changes as they happen.
Copywriting follows a brief. Editing with your client ensures you’re as close to the brief as possible.
10. Learning Better Copy
Copywriting is everywhere.
It’s in your computer’s terms of service, and it’s on your cereal box. It’s probably to your left (or right) and even on your fire extinguisher. (Oh, and if you don’t have a fire extinguisher, get one.)
If you want to learn how to be a better copywriter, it starts with reading copy. Read everything. Analyse what made marketing campaigns work (or fail), and why certain pieces of writing have the intended effect (or didn’t).
And of course, don’t forget to write.
If you want to improve your business writing, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook.
By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.
If you enjoyed this, read his other posts:
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