What is copywriting?

7 min read
Will Stevens

What is copywriting? If you're new to the world of online business, this is probably one of many questions you've been asking yourself lately.

Of course, you probably have a basic understanding of what copywriting is, and what a copywriter might do in their job from day-to-day.

But as with most things in the world of business, the more you know the better.

In this guide we'll look at all things copywriting - from a basic definition through to what makes good copywriting and how copywriting skills can be improved.

Oh, and if you're looking for a more general guide, checkout our article "What is digital marketing?".

What is copywriting and why is it important?

Copywriting is any writing that is related to marketing or promoting a service. This includes everything from billboard slogans, to scripts for TV ads.

If you're running an online business, then all the written content on your website, social media channels, blog, and anywhere else is considered copywriting.

Copywriting is important because it's your chance to communicate with prospective and existing customers.

The content on your website is your chance to explain why people should do business with you, so good copywriting can seriously increase your chances of making a sale.

Bad copywriting, on the other hand, makes it less likely that people will trust your business enough to buy from you.

So then…

What makes good copywriting?

Although some elements are subjective, there are hard and fast rules about what makes good copywriting.

Good copywriting should:

  • Be well researched
  • Be error free
  • Be well-laid out
  • Meet audience expectations
  • Address the reader's needs
  • Be concise
  • Inspire action
  • Include a call-to-action
  • Employ a consistent tone of voice

Let's look at each of these in turn.

Be well researched

Research is the basis of all good copywriting. If a writer doesn't understand an organization, its audience, and the sector it operates in then they won't be able to produce good copy.

Be error free

If there are any errors in copy, readers will spot them. These errors will reduce the reader's trust in the organization behind the copy (in this case, your website) and make them less likely to do business with that organization.

Be well-laid out

The best copywriting in the world will go to waste if people struggle to read it. So good copywriting takes design into account.

Meet audience expectations

People expect to be spoken to in a certain way in certain circumstances. For example, if you were looking for an accountant you'd expect the copy on their website to be written in a professional, and formal tone.

However, if you were looking to buy a pair of running shoes a website written in a professional, formal tone would seem very strange indeed.

So good copywriting is about the manner in which things are communicated, and not just what is communicated.

Address the reader's needs

Good copywriting will directly address the reader's needs. For example, a product description should explain how the item in question will improve someone's life. So if you were selling a cordless vacuum cleaner, your copy should talk about how it makes cleaning stairs and ceilings so much easier, rather than just giving the weight and dimensions of the hoover.

Inspire action

If someone isn't inspired to take action after reading something, then the copywriter has failed.

Of course, even the best copy won't inspire everyone to take action, but bad copy won't inspire action in anyone.

Exactly what action people should take will depend on the copy's aim. A billboard advertising a travel agent will try and get people to visit a website and then book a  holiday, while a blog post on DIY will likely aim to inspire people to start a new project (and sign up for the blog's newsletter as well.)

Include a call to action

As well as inspiring action, good copywriting will let readers know exactly what that action should be. That's where calls to action (CTAs) come in. Some of the most common CTAs on the web include "buy now" and "Click here to subscribe".

Good copywriting will include one clear CTA which follows on from the copy preceding it, and will result in the reader taking an action beneficial to the organization in question.

You can read more about CTAs in this guide.

Employs a consistent tone of voice

Good copywriting will use a consistent tone of voice no matter where the copy is to appear. For example, if an organization has a website, uses social media and advertises in print then the style and language of the copy should be the same, even though the media are very different.

To ensure this consistency, organizations will use style guides and brand guidelines, so copywriters will know how they should say things.

You can learn more about style guides and brand guidelines here.

Be concise

Brief is better. Good copywriting cuts out unnecessary words and avoids jargon. Concise copy is easier to read and more effective.

What skills do you need to be a copywriter?

The main core skills needed to be a copywriter are:

  • Command of the language
  • Research skills
  • Relevant industry knowledge

Let's look at each of these in turn.

Command of the language

A copywriter has to be fluent in the language which they intend to write their copy in. If not, readers will be able to tell - trying to use Google Translate won't cut it.

Research skills

A good copywriter will be able to quickly research and understand an unfamiliar topic. This is a particularly important skill for freelance and agency copywriters as they're likely to carry out work for several different organizations at once.

Relevant industry knowledge

Although being able to turn your hand to something new is a good skill for a copywriter to have, specializing in one particular sector can also be advantageous.

In some cases, such as medical copywriting, specialist knowledge is a must. In other cases, specialization can help a copywriter advance their career, or simply allow them to charge a higher rate for freelance projects.

There are also a selection of other skills that would be useful for a copywriter to have - such as search engine optimization skills, an understanding of Google Analytics and the ability to run split tests.

Can anyone be a copywriter?

Yes. If your writing and communication skills are up to scratch, it's possible to become a copywriter.

It's often beneficial to have a qualification related to writing - such as an English, journalism or marketing degree, but it's not a requirement.

Building a portfolio of writing (see below) will also help you become a copywriter.

How can I improve my copywriting skills?

There are two easy, practically free, ways to improve your copywriting skills.

The first of these is to read. Reading anything (and trying to understand why it works) is a great way to improve your all-round writing skills. There are also blogs that specifically focus on the world of copywriting, such as Copyblogger. Reading online marketing blogs will help you develop your skills.

The second is to write. It's a good idea to blog, especially if you're just starting out as a copywriter and haven't yet built a portfolio. A well-written blog will showcase your skills to employers, show them that you're committed to writing, and help improve your writing.

The easiest way to start a blog is with a WordPress Website from GoDaddy.

You should also consider completing a qualification in a subject related to writing. If you don't have the time or resources to complete a full-time degree, you could consider a part-time course from the Open University.

Alternatively, there are plenty of online courses out there to help you develop your copywriting skills. Just make sure that you'll be getting value for money from any online course, and don't be afraid  to use social media to ask other copywriters which courses they would recommend.

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