What Do Copywriters Actually Do?

man at typewriter.jpg

Small business owners often ask what copywriters actually do. Or are puzzled as to why they might benefit from hiring a freelance copywriter to help market their business.

Let’s start with some definitions. Copywriting is an elusive word. Not least because the term implies reproduction of someone else’s material or suggests it might be something to do with the law of copyright, the legal rights the creator of an original work has over the use of that work by others.

In its modern usage it has nothing to do with either of these meanings. The word stems from the Medieval Latin word copia (‘reproduction or transcript’) but reflects the way the English language has evolved over the centuries. In time, it came to mean text that needed to be typeset on a printing press. Fast forward to the early 20th century, and, according to the OED, the nouns ‘copy’ and ‘copywriter’ had been sighted in an advertising context.

These days, copywriters come in many different shapes and forms. Some write slogans, straplines or long form content for advertisements and promotional materials. Others write informational or educational copy for websites. Or produce specialist content aimed at a niche audience in sectors such as law and medicine.

The power of words

What unites them is that they all work with words, creating content for advertising and marketing purposes, whether deployed on websites, in social media or in printed materials. The content they create is called ‘copy’. And the words are designed to increase brand awareness and persuade the reader to take a course of action, such as buying a product or service or engaging with a company. Or which are aimed at informing, educating or entertaining readers about an issue, campaign or activity.

How do copywriters do it?

But don’t let the focus on wordsmithery create a false impression of how copywriters go about their craft. No one produces compelling copy out of thin air. Effective content that makes a company, product or campaign stand out from the crowd is the result of a defined process, most of which, like a swan moving gracefully across a lake, is hidden from the reader.

It begins with a significant upfront research effort to understand the product, get under the skin of the intended audience and figure out the key messages.

It continues with a planning or organisation stage where you start to turn the raw material now to hand into something resembling a structure, considering what options will best meet your marketing goals.

Then comes the writing. An often-quoted insight is that ‘you should write like you speak’. Contrary to what some might suppose, this doesn’t mean literally reproducing the digressions, verbal stumbles and filler words (the ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’) that characterise everyday conversation. What it does mean is writing more like you speak. Because using the natural rhythms of speech, making text engaging and fun to read, is a powerful way of connecting with people. And avoids the stiffness or formality that creeps into much writing when people try to impress or hoodwink their audience.

Last, comes the review and edit stage. This is essential. In fact, you might summarise it as, ‘edit, edit and edit again’. Checking the material against the brief and cutting out words which are superfluous or meaningless. No matter how well-crafted the copy feels. This is where the ego needs to be kept under firm control. If a word or sentence doesn’t fit, press the ‘Delete’ button!

The benefits of hiring a copywriter

In today’s hi-tech, high-pressure world, our attention spans are becoming ever shorter. People are also behaving more selectively about the content they consume. The length of time the average person spends looking at a web page is thought to be around 10 seconds or so. Overcoming this problem is a real challenge for anyone seeking to market their business either online or offline.

Inevitably, this has major implications for how you design your website or printed materials. The solution rests in understanding the user experience and identifying what will give your website or brochure a distinctive flavour which sets it apart from the competition.

Good web or graphic design is essential to ensure an effective customer journey. Good quality written content is just as important. It’s of particular value for companies who want to ‘pull’ their customers in rather than ‘push’ out a product or service. Where research shows that creative, impactful copy draws significantly more site traffic, produces more leads and generates higher engagement rates than paid advertising.

There has been a steady shift towards the use of long-form articles and organic content designed to encourage your customers to come to you naturally, rather than via paid advertising. It’s an effective way of enhancing the customer experience and developing a deeper relationship over time. It also addresses the very real challenges generated by the growing use of ad blockers.

Like our gardens, websites flourish with regular care and maintenance. Maybe you’ve got someone on your team who can write the good quality copy that you want. If so, you clearly don’t need to hire someone to do it for you. But maybe you or your team haven’t got the time to worry about what to write for your website or brochure when you’re busy running the business. Or perhaps you know what you want to say but don’t know how to say it. Or are too close to the technical language and jargon that characterises your sector.

These are serious issues. And it’s well worth considering the benefits of outsourcing the work to a professional copywriter.

Get in touch if you want to have a chat about how I can help your business develop a distinctive voice, build trust with potential clients and generate more sales.