For this instalment of Words that Bite, I’ve decided to go back to basics and explain what a copywriter does.
You may be wondering why, after all this time blogging, I would bother outlining something so elementary as what a copywriter does. Well, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reminded that there are a lot of misconceptions about copywriting, and I thought it might be useful to clarify why a business might consider hiring a copywriter.
A couple of days ago, a friend asked me: ‘Do you work in IT?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘Why?’
‘Don’t you work on websites and things like that?’ he asked.
‘Yes, I write copy for websites, among other things,’ I replied.
‘So, you design websites?’
‘No, I don’t design websites. I write the content for websites. Ideally, the two elements should work together … in perfect harmony.’
He looked confused.
‘But isn’t that the same thing?’ he asked.
‘No,’ I replied. ‘The web designer makes the site look beautiful. The web developer writes the code that makes the site work. I write the content for the website. You know – the words that make a person who visits the site do what the person who owns the site wants them to do – buy something, come into the store, make an appointment, become a member … ’
Now he looked worried, as if he thought that I might be a bad person.
Recently, I met with a client about a website. That client had already retained the services of a web designer/developer. The following day, I had two emails and a voicemail from the project manager, telling me they needed the content for the client’s twenty-seven page website in a week’s time and to let him know whether there would be ‘any risk with delivering your finalised content to me on this date’.
Now I was worried. If a project manager for a major web designer/developer, who presumably works with copywriters all the time, thought that I could research and write high-quality copy for a twenty-seven page website, have it professionally copyedited and proofread, as well as approved by a client, in a week, then something was wrong.
Could I do it?
Would it be any good?
Would I ever take a job with such a deadline?
Because I care about my work and I am not interested in delivering rubbish.
When in Sydney recently, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen for ages.
‘What are you doing these days?’ she asked me.
‘I’m a copywriter,’ I replied.
‘Oh, does that mean you work with copyright and intellectual property?’ she asked, knowing that I have a legal background.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I write copy – mainly content for websites. I specialise in law firms.’
She looked confused.
I am not telling these stories to make fun of the people who asked me those questions. Instead, I’m trying to show that copywriting is one of the most misunderstood professions on the planet. I’ve heard people say that copywriters like it that way, because it is a great job and they don’t want more people to find out about it and increase their competition. There may be an element of truth to that. It is a great job: you can work from home, and there’s plenty of work out there, so there is no need to scramble for clients.
Nevertheless, I think that most people don’t understand there is a skill to writing well. It isn’t simply a matter of throwing a few words together and hoping for the best. Copy is not something that is created in five minutes by me or any other copywriter simply waving our legs in the air. It usually involves two major ingredients:
a) Quite a bit of thought.
b) A whole lot of hard work.
A copywriter is a professional who works with words. The aim of any good copywriter is to find the right words for your business, whether for a brochure, newsletter, advertisement, billboard, or on a website. Usually, it isn’t seen as a very noble profession because the basic idea of it is using words to get people to buy products or services.
Personally, I think copywriting is a gentle art. It is easy to do badly and hard to do well. It can also be tricky because every business has a different image that it wants to portray to its customers. It does this not only through its branding but through the words it uses to communicate with its customers. The first job of any copywriter is to meet the client, and get a sense of the business, as well as the brand. The next task is to find the right kind of language to communicate with customers. The words the copywriter uses are the tools that will persuade customers or clients to select that particular business rather than a competitor.
For example, imagine I have two clients. They are both law firms and they both want me to write a monthly newsletter for their clients.
Client A is an old, conservative firm with a reputation for providing its clients with high-quality advice mainly on commercial and corporate issues.
Client B is a relatively new firm specialising in family law. It wants to show potential clients that it can offer advice on all aspects of family law at a reasonable price.
Even though both clients are law firms, writing copy for them is completely different.
The firms are practising in completely different areas.
Client A’s clients tend to be large companies. The people the client communicates with tend to be in-house counsel (trained lawyers).
Client B’s clients tend to be individuals from a lower socio-economic background who are going through marriage breakdowns or custody battles. They are probably under a great deal of stress, they don’t have a lot of spare cash and this may be their first experience of the legal system.
In each case, I have to think about what kind of information needs to be included in the newsletter. At the same time, I need to know exactly who might read it. The difference between a good letter the recipient will bother to read and one that gets thrown in the bin can depend not only on how the letter looks but how the information is organised. The fate of the letter also hangs on the type of language used, as well as its tone. Basically, everything revolves around the copy. Next time you receive a piece of direct mail, watch yourself and see what you do. Is there anything about the letter that makes you want to read it? Or do you simply throw it away without a moment’s thought?
When it comes to creating websites, people usually focus almost entirely on how the website is going to look. This is completely understandable and I agree it is important that a website looks great. However, more often than not, everyone forgets about the content – the words.
Any copywriter will tell you that this is a mistake, because it is the words that are going to make the potential customer or client do what you want them to when they visit your website.
Yes, the words are the things that are going to persuade someone to hang around on your website for more than the standard eight seconds.
It is the words that are going to persuade someone to click through your website to get more information.
Most importantly, they are going to persuade a potential customer or client to:
Any good copywriter will research your competition and, ideally, work out how to distinguish your website from your competition’s. That is crucial if the website is going to channel people through your sales-conversion funnel.
The important thing to understand is that writing good copy takes time. It is not simply a matter of a copywriter pressing eject and a stream of perfect prose pouring from his or her pen.
I can write very fast if I put my mind to it. I can probably pump out 200 – 300 words, maybe more, in half an hour. However, I have to admit, they will not be high-quality words.
Before I write copy for a client, I need not only to meet with them but to spend some time thinking about their business. I need to consider the best way to communicate with their clients and analyse exactly how I can do it better than their competition does. This takes time. Generally, I charge clients for about three hours’ work for each page of web copy. However, I usually spend quite a bit longer thinking about the job and about what each page should do. I don’t charge for the ‘thinking’. Why? Because I love it. Nothing makes me happier than cracking how to write copy for a website. It gives me an incredible buzz to work out how to write copy that captures the essence of a particular business, and make yet another ‘Home’ page, ‘About’ page or ‘Services’ page stand out from the competition. It gives me a thrill when my clients look at the copy and say, ‘Oh my God, I would never have thought of doing it like that. I love it. You’ve captured our business and brand exactly.’
In the next instalment of Words that Bite, the Pink Rottweiler will look at some Twitter–small business case studies.
Are you a small business that needs advice on whether you need a copywriter? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.