Ask a copywriter #1: What is copywriting?

  • 2
  • March 7, 2018
Georgina Kershaw

Georgina Kershaw

Senior Content Writer

I sent an email around the Branded3 office offering to answer questions anyone has about copywriting.

I thought I’d maybe get one response asking how to use a comma (a valid question), but instead, I was sent a wide selection of insightful, interesting, and complex questions about writing and content marketing.

Here’s the first part of a collection of ‘Ask a Copywriter’ blogs, in which I explore what copywriting actually is, what the real differences are between certain types of writing, and the role of a copywriter in a wider marketing campaign.

  1. What is copywriting?

By far the most popular question, and one that is usually accompanied by “I feel stupid for asking this, but…” It turns out no one really knows what copywriting is.

‘Copy’ is the words used in marketing and advertisements. ‘Copywriters’ write these words.

That’s pretty much it.

Arguably, the Great Old Days of copywriting (think Mad Men) are behind us, as marketing has changed in line with audiences and technology, and you can’t sell something by simply saying how great your product is. Now, copy needs to sell without obviously selling anything at all.

A digital copywriter needs to know how to write a wide variety of material, including:

  • Blog posts
  • Whitepapers
  • Interactive data-lead assets
  • Press releases
  • Social media campaigns
  • Product descriptions
  • FAQs
  • And much, much more.

And they need to be able to do it without ever saying “buy this product now, and you’ll finally be fulfilled.” Users are all about the research and coming to their own decisions, so copy needs to help or entertain them in some way, rather than trying to instantly part them with their money.

Traditional ad copywriting is still a thing, and it’s an entirely different discipline to what I do as a digital copywriter. Those copywriters write for magazine ads, billboards, and even TV adverts if there are words on it. But we are all copywriters, and the copy is the words we produce, which, when it comes down to it, are all intended to SELL, SELL, SELL.

  1. What is the difference between copywriting and other types of writing?

When I started at Branded3 – more than five years ago – there was a clear difference between copywriting and writing for SEO. But as the industry has moved away from keyword targeting and the practices that accompanied it, the two have merged.

In my opinion, in today’s digital landscape, there’s no difference between copywriting, content writing, or writing for SEO – the difference lies with the format of delivery.

  • The difference between… Offline and online writing

Readers are more likely to scan online copy, especially on a brand’s page, as the primary reason they’ve landed on the page is for research purposes. That’s why you need to format the page with lots of images to draw their eye down the page, plenty of subheadings, and short sentences they can read quickly.

If they’re reading a book, or a leaflet, or anything physical, they’re more likely to engage with a deeper level of concentration, so you can write long paragraphs and sentences, and trust that they won’t get bored and go back to Twitter. This is why news articles and blogs can – in theory – be written and structured in a more traditional, offline manner, but there is still a higher risk of the reader leaving the page than you might find with offline copy.

  • The difference between… A copywriter and content/marketing/SEO writer/editor (etc.)

My honest opinion is that 90% of the time, companies just choose a word to put in front of ‘writer’ that clearly shows it’s a marketing job, rather than being in journalism. There isn’t really a difference between a copywriter and a content writer, or an SEO writer, at least not anymore.

There is a difference between being an editor and a writer. Editing is a specialism of its own and is generally considered the natural top rung of a copywriter’s career ladder. An editor takes care of improvements and revisions to the writer’s work, and is ultimately responsible for their team’s output.

  1. How does copywriting fit into a marketing campaign, and what are the key aims?

An online campaign cannot exist without words, even if it’s primarily design-lead or even video. Copy is will always be required for social, a script, or to explain the data. So, you should ply your writers with dairy-free chocolate and compliments to keep them sweet, because a copywriter has a delicate balancing act to undertake when they work on any marketing campaign…

  • Balance the campaign’s angle with the client’s brand

The copywriter’s role in a campaign is to both promote the message of the campaign while maintaining the tone of the brand the campaign belongs to.

All campaigns are relevant for a brand’s audience, but the campaign is unlikely to directly discuss the products or services. This means taking that tone of voice that’s been created to be applied to a website or social channel, and applying it to copy that’s not directly related to or promoting the brand.

  • Make the words work for everyone

Along with nailing the tone of voice, the copywriter also needs to make sure the copy:

  • Works for an online audience (short, snappy sentences)
  • Will fit into the designs
  • Features any keywords needed for SEO
  • Reflects data or findings accurately and truthfully
  • Is entertaining enough to keep the reader’s attention
  • Will be link-worthy to journalists and bloggers

And, sometimes, she must accomplish this in less than 500 words…

  • Write it well

In addition to the above, the writing has to be good. This is why copywriting is so hard to measure by traditional means of success. It’s an art, even if it’s for advertising, and good copywriting should make the reader feel like they not even reading at all, but experiencing the campaign as a whole. If the reader has to go back and re-read the copy because they’ve not instantly understood the message, the writer has failed.

Well, this has been long, and I’ve answered three questions so far. That’s what happens when you ask a writer to write about writing. Next time, I’ll be looking at questions about writer’s block, introductions, headlines, and writing for different audiences.

Have a question for a copywriter? Disagree fundamentally with everything you’ve just read? Get in touch with @Branded_3 on Twitter!

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