What is Copywriting ( + What Does a Copywriter Do?)
- Willy Wood
Everyone knows the primary goal of every business is to sell their products or be hired to provide their services.
But when it comes to the “how-to” of turning prospects into customers, there are many subgoals that need to be achieved along the way.
Businesses need to:
- Build brand awareness
- Generate leads and build relationships with prospects
- Show that they have solutions to prospects’ problems
- Make compelling offers
- And, of course, provide persuasive calls to action that close the deal.
And the primary vehicle for achieving all of these important subgoals is the words (copy) the company uses to convey their marketing and sales messages, which means that copywriting is one of the most valuable aspects of any business.
But what is copywriting, exactly, and is it a good career to get into? We’ll answer those questions—and many more—in this post.
Let’s get started!
What is Copywriting?
Copywriting is a form of business writing designed to improve conversions and sales by motivating people to take specific actions—click a link, donate to a cause, schedule a consultation, or buy a product, for example.
Copy is the words used in that writing (including spoken words, as in scripts for videos and webinars) and copywriters are the ones who write that copy.
Copy is all around you, though you may not have realized it before. The emails from companies in your inbox, the ads you see in a magazine or on Google search results pages, the fundraising letters that land in your mailbox, the product review videos you watch on YouTube, the radio commercials you hear between songs on your favorite station, the billboards you see as you drive down the highway—all are copy.
And while some people might view this type of writing as manipulative or even sleazy, that’s really not the case. Copywriting is really nothing more than talking to people about their problems, offering them a solution, and persuading them to take advantage of that solution. Seen in this light, copywriters simply help people solve their problems.
All businesses need copywriters—for-profit businesses and non-profits, online and brick-and-mortar businesses, solopreneurs, small businesses, and even Fortune 500 companies. And if you’re thinking about getting into copywriting, this is great news because the demand for copywriters is huge and still growing!
What are the Different Types of Copywriting?
While all copywriting is persuasive writing designed to get the reader to take some action, there are many different types of copywriting underneath that broad umbrella and the specific goals of these types vary.
Marketing copywriters are much more than just writers helping businesses sell their products or services. They have a deep understanding of buyer psychology and often act as consultants for their business clients, helping them plan their sales campaigns. They then carry out the campaigns by creating the various deliverables that bring the company’s vision to life.
SEO copywriters specialize in copywriting that strategically incorporates specific keywords to increase organic traffic to a company’s web pages. It’s one thing to write a landing page that converts when people land on it but writing that landing page using the right keywords to attract more people (and the right people) to that landing page is next-level copywriting. And this is expertise that companies will gladly pay for. Consider that according to recent research, 69 percent of businesses invested in SEO in 2021.
Sales copywriters focus primarily on copy that makes a strong push to get a prospect to make a purchase. In other words, they’re experts at closing the sale. To do so, they have to understand the customer’s problems and needs, understand the benefits offered by the company’s product or service, and write persuasive copy with a strong call to action. Sales copywriters generally specialize in direct response sales letters (print or online), landing pages, email marketing campaigns, product and service pages, and print and social media ads.
Social media copywriters specialize in creating social media posts and ads that drive engagement and use calls to action to get clicks. Does this work? Well, consider that on Instagram, 50 percent of people say they’ve visited a website to buy a product they’ve seen in Stories. This type of copywriting requires the writer to be persuasive while using only a small number of words. It also requires expertise in creating attention-getting headlines, using features such as hashtags, and choosing images that support the words in their posts. Furthermore, effective strategies vary from platform to platform and a social media copywriter has to be aware of what works on each platform.
Email copywriters are highly valuable to all businesses, as the average ROI for email marketing has been shown to be $36 for every $1 spent. Email copywriters specialize in writing attention-grabbing subject lines and engaging body copy with strong calls to action that drive clicks to the company’s landing pages.
You can choose to focus on one of these types of copywriting or create your own personalized mix.
What Does a Copywriter Do?
Being a copywriter means doing a lot more than just writing. Copywriters work with clients, bosses, or project managers to…
- Identify the purpose of the project
- Learn about the problems faced by the intended audience as well as their needs and desires
- Learn about the products and/or services the company offers as solutions to these problems
- Do research to find information, statistics, and keywords to use in their writing
- Write the words for the various deliverables used in the campaign with the goal of moving people to take action
- Revise, edit, and proofread their copy to refine style and readability and ensure a professional, finished product
- Make sure that the written material they produce works well with the images provided by graphic designers
So, those are some of the things a copywriter does, but the conditions in which they do this work can vary considerably. In fact, one of the best things about being a copywriter is the flexibility of the working arrangements you can choose from.
The four main options are:
- Being an on-staff copywriter, where you work from a company’s office as an employee, doing copywriting work for that company only.
- Being an on-staff copywriter at an agency, where you’re employed by the agency but do copywriting work for a number of the agency’s business clients.
- Being a contractor, meaning that you work on a contractual basis on one or more jobs from the company’s offices. These contracts are generally short-term, so you aren’t locked into a long-term arrangement.
- Being a freelancer. Freelancers usually work from a home office. In this arrangement, you’re responsible for sourcing your own clients, but it also provides the most flexibility and freedom.
And, of course, you can choose to work full-time, part-time, or do it only when you want to as a side hustle.
As you can see, being a copywriter gives you great flexibility to design your work life as you see fit.
What’s the Difference Between Copywriting and Content Writing?
Most people make a distinction between copywriting and content writing. As we’ve pointed out, copywriting is persuasive writing designed to get someone to take some action that leads to a conversion or sale.
Content writing, on the other hand, is business writing primarily designed to inform, inspire, or entertain. Content writers typically write long-form content such as blog posts, white papers, case studies, and ebooks.
But the more you look at the two, the more the distinctions blur. Good content writing almost always contains some element of persuasion, in addition to its other goals. This may take the form of links to additional resources or suggestions for other pages to visit on a site.
And even when no direct calls to action exist in a piece of content, there’s usually some long game being played—for example, the content might be focused on establishing thought leadership and positioning the brand, and this brand positioning then allows the company to better market its products or services.
Perhaps the best way to distinguish the two is to say that copywriting is more immediate, focusing on short-term goals and direct calls to action, while content writing focuses on more indirect and longer-term sales goals.
What Skills Does a Copywriter Need?
As you’ve already seen, copywriting requires a number of skills, both hard and soft. Some of these skills include:
- Strategizing and putting together effective marketing campaigns
- Communicating well with bosses and clients
- Strong research skills
- Strong writing and editing skills
- Understanding a business’s target market, including their problems and desires
- The ability to craft effective calls to action
These are some of the most important skills that copywriters need in order to truly excel in their role.
How Much Do Copywriters Make?
Of course, if you’re seriously considering copywriting as a career, you’re obviously interested in learning the answer to this question. And the great news is that it’s absolutely possible to make a very good living as a copywriter—think six figures per year!
In fact, according to Glassdoor, the average pay for a senior copywriter is $92,105. And that’s the average, so a good percentage of senior copywriters make well into six-figure territory. Compare this to the average income of all writers (in which copywriters are included)–$69,510 per year—and you can see that copywriters are at the top of the hill when it comes to making a living at writing.
This comes as a shock to many people because we’ve always been told that “there’s no money in writing.” Well, that’s true for many types of writers, but copywriters are able to command much higher fees than most other types of writers.
Why? It comes down to two main reasons:
- Basic supply and demand. There are hundreds of thousands of businesses out there, and they ALL need copywriters. No matter what type of copywriting you want to do or what niche you choose in which to employ your talents, there will always be copy that needs to be written.
- Businesses can tie copywriting work directly to their bottom line. Meaning, they can see the direct impact of your work on conversions and sales. So, if you do a good job of writing copy that leads to more sales, businesses will be more than happy to pay you well.
Now, there are no guarantees that you’ll make a specific income. So much depends on whether you work full-time or part-time, the quality of your work, and your level of experience.
The good news is that the more time and effort you put into improving your skills, the more work you’ll get. And the more experience you get in the job, the more you’ll be able to raise your rates.
How to Become a Copywriter
So, how do you become a copywriter? Luckily, you don’t need a copywriting background to start. All you need is a willingness to learn. After all, no one was born knowing how to write copy.
One simple thing you can do is to start noticing effective copy in the world around you. When you notice an ad, a sales letter, a billboard, or anything else intended to persuade you to take action, pay attention. What about the copy works? What doesn’t work so well? How would you go about making it more persuasive? This is a great way to start getting into the copywriting mindset.
At the same time, you’ll need to start the process of acquiring some new skills. Before you can start offering copywriting services to clients, you need to get the training that will give you those skills.
You’ll need to attain both knowledge and skills in fundamental business concepts like features vs. benefits and psychological triggers as well as more specific knowledge and skills in the genres in which you’d like to specialize—blogging, email marketing, or writing case studies, for example.
In addition to focusing on specific genres, you may also want to identify the content field(s) in which you’d like to work. If you have a background in health or fitness, for example, you might start looking at the kinds of copy being written on those topics, as well as checking out copywriting jobs posted on job boards in those fields. Copywriting is so much more enjoyable when you’re writing about topics in which you’re interested.
Finally, you need to understand that copywriting is a business. Sure, the writing part can be profitable and lots of fun, but remember that, especially if you’re going to freelance, you’ll need to market yourself to generate leads, you’ll need a website, and you’ll need to develop a portfolio of work to show prospects as soon as possible.
So, if your background in business is sketchy, you’ll also need to get some training on the basics of running a business.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what it takes to become a copywriter, here are a few of the most commonly asked questions about the job:
FAQ #1: Can anyone become a copywriter?
Well, maybe not anyone, but if you have decent-to-strong writing skills, there are really no formal requirements. While some companies or agencies might like to see their on-staff copywriters and contractors have a degree in a related field (like journalism, communications, or marketing) or relevant certifications, most don’t require these things.
Really, in addition to a facility with language, all you need to succeed as a copywriter is a willingness to work hard and persistence.
FAQ #2: How long does it take to get good at copywriting?
It depends. Let’s face it, some people are naturally more skilled in writing generally and therefore pick up the more specialized copywriting skills needed for the job more quickly. But even for the “naturals,” there’s a learning curve.
Also, “copywriting” isn’t just one thing—every sub-genre within copywriting has its own dos and don’ts, so the more types of copywriting you decide to try to master, the longer it will take to gain expertise.
In addition, copywriting isn’t just about the writing. You also need to learn all the ins and outs of your target markets and the customers in those markets, not to mention learning how to work effectively with clients. So, reaching a basic level of competence may not take all that long, but really becoming highly skilled in all of these areas can be the work of a lifetime.
FAQ #3: What resources can I tap into to learn copywriting?
There are many copywriting courses and certifications available online. Probably the best single site to check out (because of the vast number of courses they offer and the high quality of those courses) is the American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI).
You can also enroll in internship programs offered by companies that hire copywriters. Such real-world training is invaluable.
FAQ #4: Is copywriting a good career?
It’s a great career! Here’s why:
- Every business needs it, so there’s always going to be demand.
- On the flip side, there aren’t nearly enough copywriters to supply all of this demand, so your value to clients will always be high.
- It allows you to express your creative skills.
- It’s extremely flexible—you can do it full-time or part-time, and if you freelance, you can do it from home or from literally anywhere in the world.
- You can get up and running with little investment.
So, What is Copywriting? One of the Best Careers Out There!
As we’ve shown, there’s a practically unlimited demand for copywriters. As long as there are businesses trying to sell products and services to customers, there will be a need for copywriters.
And as long as you put in the time and work to learn the necessary skills, you’ll always be in demand and be able to charge substantial fees.
Plus, there are a number of ways to build a copywriting career that fits your lifestyle—whether you want to do it full-time or part-time, from an office, from home, or from some white sand beach half-way around the world!